0198 – progressing recursively

Progress is really slow and frustrating. I don’t know if that’s the case for everybody but it’s the case for me. I think I can appreciate when progress is slow and measured- when you can see what you’re doing, but in my case I think a lot of it is just wasted idling time. I’ve been drawn to using a combustion engine metaphor- you can tell when an engine is warming up nicely, and when it’s sputtering. I do a lot of sputtering, and it’s simultaneously wasteful and unproductive.

I think one of the hardest things for me to do- that’s really critically important in order for me to get to the next level- is to cut off distractions and alternate pursuits. I need to be able to commit to something and then refuse to take all the enticing divergences that pop up along the way. I’ve learnt over time that this simply doesn’t work. It’s frustrating for me to keep trying and failing. At the very least I know that I’m not going to give up, because the idea of giving up displeased me.

It seems plausible that self motivation for me might really be about learning to get displeased by a greater number of my own behaviors over time. Smoking started to displease me. Took me a long time to quit anyway, but ultimately I had to learn to think of myself as someone other than a smoker. Social media addiction had also become part of my identity. That displeased me too. I left a few times and went back a few times.

The final thing that made me quit smoking… It was a few different things. One was the ashtray that I had bought. It felt permanent, and I knew that it wasn’t permanent. Another was learning about Jason Mraz, who loved cigarettes enough to write a song about them, but then quit and became a health nut. If he can do it, I can do it. Mraz suggested reading Allan Carr, who I had read once before. Read him again. Made the decision to quit. I still had some cigarettes left. I met my friends again the next day. We were all smokers. I smoked with them.

It felt pleasant, like old days, but I also felt strongly that I wanted to be done with the old days. I didn’t want the old days to continue being my present for years to come. In July of 2014 I had my last cigarette and decided that we were to part ways. I wanted to make a break from that life. Even now I’m sure that I’m missing some part of it. I liked that my wife quit with me- her health was easier for me to prioritize than my own. I liked that my friends were somewhat impressed. I liked that one of my close friends didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked him if he’d believe that I’d go another week without smoking. I’m now one of his data points, his Jason Mraz. When he eventually quits smoking, if he does, it’ll be “if visa can do it, I can do it.” Maybe. Hopefully.

I think ultimately it’s about the quality of your experience of reality, and what occupies your thoughts. I’m starting to get pretty tired of even thinking or talking about cigarettes. I needed to focus on the next addiction, to grow and learn and empower myself to fulfill my interests and utility functions.

I knew social media addiction was a part of the problem. I was spending 30 to 40% of my time on it and it was consuming me, with a very bad return on investment. I guess when I started out, it didn’t feel like I had many other investments to make… though that’s a lie, I always knew that deep reading was one of the greatest sources of utility ever. Writing too. And exercise.

These are not new ideas. They’re very basic, fundamental ideas. And it annoys me slightly to think that I’ll probably still be talking about that 40 years from now if I don’t die first. But But I also know that I grossly misjudge things. Maybe I’ll internalise everything and we’ll keep going. Who knows? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to throw myself into it. To really dig into the details each and every single day and just rip into it.

I’ve been getting very into the idea that visuals are really important when it comes to communication. The same for the human voice, too. Basically anything that has more bandwidth than writing is worth pursuing as a medium of communication, because by definition you can pack more meaning into less space. I know that I have taste when it comes to visuals, but I don’t yet have the ability. I’ve gotten Increasingly frustrated with saying that. The basics of visual communication aren’t complicated. You can deconstruct all of into dots and lines. So if you want to get better at visual communication, you start by learning to draw lines, and by decomposing complex shapes into simpler ones. I can do that.

And so I’ve started doing that. I started practicing lines deliberately- long and short lines. I started practicing the alphabet. I did it over and over again. I started wondering what the economy of my letters were. Surely I was being inefficient? Yup. I realized, for instance, that the way I wrote my P’s were unnecessarily elaborate. I figured that if I practiced each of my letters over and over again until I found the most economical, elegant way of writing them, my handwriting would become more pleasing.

Another thing I discovered almost immediately was that I’ve been pressing my pen and or pencil too hard to the paper when I write. I do this because I used the resistance from the paper to help me decide how to write. I needed the feedback from the paper to keep my letters in check, rather than relying on my own muscles, my own aesthetic sense. I needed friction. What I’m beginning to discover is- I don’t need those constraints. I can write big and large and loose- it’s a mess initially, but there’s a lot more life and flow to it. And it’s a lot more interesting. I can work with that.

I think there are parallels between that and many other forms of work and play. I’m unnecessarily stressed and frustrated because I still press hard against the paper. What I should do is let go, listen, play. And then analyse, revise, deconstruct. I’m too self conscious. I should be willing to fail and let people tell me I failed, but it shouldn’t be because I lived too small.

Feels a bit odd for me to talk about living large vs living small. I’m a tall, loud, noisy man. What am I talking about? There is some nuance that is unexpressed. I guess I’m loud because I don’t know how to speak volumes with a soft word. I need to deconstruct everything that I do that matters to me. I need to break things down into their basic constituents and practice them over and over again.

I’m not yet certain what the implications are there for word vomits- I guess I should keep going. As fast and smooth as possible. Lightly on my feet. One buttock playing. Getting to one buttock playing requires a lot of practice. You need to try variations of everything and let your subconscious evaluate it. That seems to be the case. My boss suggested to me that I spend a week or at least 3 days not worrying about chasing rabbit holes, about worrying about the implications of every new piece of input that comes my way. Rather I should just collect those inputs in a brain dump (I now use workflowy, which I much prefer to Evernote because it gets really granular and you can collapse and expand bullets and lists infinitely). I also feel like I should start doing videos on my youtube channel to help me get better at speaking.

It seems like too much. I need to start small. I’m very tired.

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