The Principle of Entropy
Entropy as a mental health concept can help explain that if we don’t actively work to keep things organized, they will revert into a state of disorganization.
On the theme that scientific principles and theories have mental health correlates that we should pay attention to, I would like to add another scientific principle that can help us with police psychology called “entropy.” Let me put this second law of thermodynamics in a simpler form for us to understand.
Entropy is a measure of disorder or randomness. The principle says that a closed organism or system will look to reach its most disorganized state unless energy is provided to keep it in line. Essentially, unless we apply work to keep something organized in the fashion we want it organized, entropy will look to undo the organization and make it more random. We are doomed to live a life of disorder unless we work to make it orderly. A real shocker there I bet you are saying. This science principle has been applied to information theory, business theory and even to explain aging when the body starts to deteriorate and fall apart. I believe we can look to our own lives to see the explanation of entropy.
Go no further than your desk to realize that entropy can affect you. If you haven’t worked to keep everything in line, your desk will look like mine with papers and pens all over the place. I admit, I like having some disorganization on my desk, but where is the level when I am willing to clean up or apply work? My desk quickly goes over the level I want it to be, in fact it may only take a day sometimes to get to be a mess. Ever notice how life is so much harder when you have to look for everything all the time? How about your teenager’s room if you’re like most parents of kids. Don’t be surprised to have the argument: ”Clean your room, Suzy”, “Don’t touch anything dad, I am studying entropy in school.” Maybe not, but if they are a very bright quick thinking kid, they can get you to think with that for a second or two.
Entropy in your Life
But let’s hit closer to home. Careers have “entropy” also. If you don’t do the work on your career, you end up in the same places for a long while without any direction. Now you can be working, but without applying work to advance yourself, not just doing your job, entropy will take over. You may have to send a memo to tell someone you are doing a good job, or let people know in other ways you are accomplishing something. There is more to work than the task of doing a job. If you want to advance, you must keep people aware of your good deeds.
Let’s talk about your relationships. Want to know what entropy looks like in marriage? Divorce! If you are not doing the work to compliment your spouse, bring home a flower or other gift occasionally, make a special evening, or whatever your spouse likes, entropy will take over and that is not good for anyone. People don’t stay when there is few rewards. (So send me a cookie sometime so I keep writing).
Remove Stress by Fighting Entropy
How do you fix it? I teach the concept of entropy very simply then ask, “what is the work you have to do to make your marriage work,” or “to make your boss like you” or “to be happy?” People will come up with some bizarre things, so you have to act as their filter. I might tell them how to reward their spouse or let the boss know when you’ve accomplished something. We all have different levels of disorder and we have disorder in different areas, so I ask “where does entropy work hardest on you?” As people get the insight of entropy, they start thinking about what is NEXT for them to do rather than living in the problem. That is always useful in therapy or in self-development.
So exorcise entropy from your life and you will move forward more productively in the future, and maybe you won’t have as much to complain about. But then again, maybe you like to complain. We’ll get to that in another blog.
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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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