For two weeks I managed to stick to a daily habit of writing down what I had done that day, watching a motivational video (why we fall, on YouTube), and sort of meditating. It wasn’t super amazing but I did get something out of it. Listening to those words over and over again made something sink in. And of all the great phrases, the one that stuck with me the most was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s words: “figure out for yourself, who do you wanna be? What makes you happy?” That has entered my brain to a degree that most other phrases haven’t. I’ll explore that in a second.
Radical honesty + Addictive behavior
Louis CK is a phenomenally honest comedian, which is a huge part of why he’s so funny. He wasn’t so funny when he started out- probably because he was playing to the crowd, doing what he thought they wanted rather than what he wanted himself. You can explore his journey beautifully in his eulogy to George Carlin- he started doing things that weren’t PC, that were outright awkward, and he stuck with it.
One of the things that Louis CK has said that has stuck with me is his description of his own problematic relationship with food– his tendency to overeat. He jokes that some people probably eat until they are full- ‘that is good, that is all the sustenance I require’. For him, the meal isn’t over when he’s full- the meal is over when he hates himself. Cue laughter.
(EDIT: I watched this months later and it captures it very well: The West Wing – Leo McGarry explains drug & alcohol addiction)
I relate to that. It’s addictive behavior, and I experience it myself when I spend 6 hours online and the sun starts to come up. Or when I eat too much candy or sugar or something. Or when I spend a day procrastinating and lounging around until I finally get to bed defeated and frustrated- and I hate myself. And the cycle continues.
In a post before I explored the idea of how procrastination should be resolved by lighting fires rather than filling buckets. Prioritising tasks isn’t the hard part for me, it’s overcoming the inertia of fear, perfectionism, lethargy, laziness. I don’t really need a fitness plan, I just need something that gets me out my existing frame. I just need to get off the couch and get to the gym. Coming up with the fitness plan is just another form of procrastination- sharpening the axe but never taking a swing.
But I kinda stopped there. Follow curiosity, yes. Follow passion, yes. But what so you do when you’re stuck somewhere with neither? How do you light the actual fire? That’s the most important step. We can talk about expansion and kindling and everything else later, the most important thing is keeping the fire alive. How do you do that? How do you avoid death? As long as you can keep the fire from dying you can reasonably do more interesting things later on.
Ineffectiveness of guilt trips?
Sometimes my wife tries to guilt trip me when I’m doing the equivalent of Louis eating a cinnabon with the hot cum. She says, “is this what you should be doing?” The answer is no, of course, but guilt tripping me when I’m in that state is just ineffective and frustrating for anybody involved in the process. Every smoker knows that he’s killing himself. Every self-identified fattie knows that he’s killing himself. Is this what you should be doing? Of course not, but give me the hot cum, I don’t give a shit, I hate myself. I think this is what people don’t often realize about some deep procrastinators and addicts- we feel that we deserve to suffer, to be a useless Gollum existing as a barely cognizant shell for our addictions and vices. When I’m scrolling through my 100th page of Tumblr, I’m no longer a person who cares about what I should or shouldn’t do. The idea of some sort of restraint or responsibility becomes laughable. It’s very hard to reason a person out of a position they didn’t exactly reason their way into.
No solution yet
So how to solve this problem? I don’t have a good answer yet, just a series of failed hypotheses. Trying to think about grand lofty goals doesn’t seem to work, though it’s probably good to have. My guess is that it’s necessary but insufficient. Guilt doesn’t work well on me, even though I do feel bad. But feelings- I’ve explored this before too- don’t really matter. Words are empty air.
Necessary but insufficient: grand idea/vision/purpose.
What would make me really happy, right now, in this moment? First thing would be to get this vomit out of the way. Next would be to get really good at my job. To make my wife happy, too. To be on top of my life instead of pathetically being behind time, missing deadlines. Going to Mars is a nice idea, a nice fantasy. But it can’t happen right now so it can’t make me happy right now.
What I want to focus on- when Louis CK is taking about overeating and the cinnabon, he’s following his programming. He’s not happy. He’s clearly unhappy. He hates himself. And that’s why it’s funny- his brutal honesty about the situation is unexpected.
What is your programming?
What is my programming? To feed my addictions. To feed the Saboteur-Bum. Reminds me of the parable of the two wolves- the one that wins is the one you feed. And when I’m not paying attention, I feed the Saboteur-Bum. I’m programmed to. And to be happy I have to fight that programming. It will never happen by accident or on the elusive Some Day. It happens moment by moment. At each moment I have to choose to feed the good Wolf, to do what makes me happy.
That felt unnecessarily messy and convoluted. Let’s start over.
Does this make me happy?
I think questions like “what makes me happy” and “does this make me happy” are incredibly helpful.
I don’t mean this to be about the pursuit of unenlightened hedonism. I think that has a tendency to make me hate myself (the cinnabon eaters).
Right now I think nothing would make me happier than becoming really good at my job + being a good husband. Becoming a better writer. Letting go of my Cinnabon programming.
What am I doing because I think I should? And what actually pleases me? What are my actions, and why do I take them? How can today be a good day? One where I go to bed and sleep well?
Had a good meeting that went well. Spending less time on frivolous distractions. Did a few pullups here and there; need to scale that up. Not to push myself to become a better person.
There is no future, no grand narrative. Only this moment. Seconds, minutes, hours, days. Wake up this is your life, the few inches in front of your face. Your commute, your work, all of it. Now. There is no some day. There is only now.
A life well lived is hard to do. And it will be the sum of days well lived. The social media signals are misleading. High fructose corn syrup. Not filling, not fulfilling.
Do it for joy, not as a sacrifice
Was talking about this with the boss a week ago. We sell things to ourselves in the wrong way. We sell fitness and healthy food as some sort of noble sacrifice. Get rid of the lazy junk food eating fat ass. It feels noble or righteous but it’s fundamentally problematic. Exercise gives you endorphins. It literally makes you feel good.
So why isn’t that the benefit? It’s a simpler narrative. I should exercise because it makes me feel good, not because being unfit makes me sad (and hate myself). Similarly, eating healthy actually feels good. It doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. It shouldn’t! Reading a good book is more pleasurable than reading a series of listicles. It just is!
In all cases, the HFCS version is just cheaper, easier, more accessible. But if at any moment in my life I were presented with a choice between fulfilling and unfulfilling, obviously the latter is the superior job. If I wish I had read more, then I should read more now before that regret gets compounded!
Seems to me like we have all this guilt and puritanical hangups baked into our thinking that we really ought to let go of. Pursue joy. Figure out what makes you happy. Identify your programming.