0227 – ethical self-focus, a declaration

Am rather dissatisfied with that last post– felt like I was spending a lot of time trying to provide context to what I wanted to say, without actually saying what I wanted to say. I’ll say it here then.

I’ve been developing an increasing preference for a world-view or decision-making-system I call ethical self-focus. The first 3 of Covey’s Habits Of Highly Successful People are all self-focused- the “Private Victory” segment:


This is also really just a “focus on the area that you can control, instead of the broader area of everything that you are concerned about.”


So none of these are new ideas.

What’s new to me is this– focusing on the things I can control means discarding and/or disregarding most of everything that I can’t control. Or even things that I can sort-of control.

The simplest way to improve my sense of control is, almost cheating-ly, to reduce the number of things that I’m concerned about. To get really close to optimal, I’d eliminate absolutely everything except the non-essential. One of the major things there for me was the opinion of others, the opinion of Internet strangers, of acquaintances I didn’t really respect, etc.

The next thing after that is– ceasing to worry about “big picture” issues. When I was a teenager, I think, I went through a phase where I wanted to know as much about the world as possible. I developed an obsession with systems thinking- with how things influenced other things. I fell in love with Atheism [1]. I loved the idea of big complexity, of big interconnectedness, of “patterns patterns patterns“, as Jason Silva would put it. I was just in love with that. I enjoyed feeling my mind grasping at big ideas, at expanding with each new big picture. [2]

All of this really came together while I was in Junior College and then in National Service– both experiences in which I had very, very limited control. I haven’t really re-read all of my writing yet– I’d like to make time for that– but I think when I do I’m going to be startled by how much time I spent toying and playing with hypothetical ideas. The main difference is probably that I have bills to pay now. I now need to think about the difficult question of how to put food on the table and a roof over my head. It’s an interesting challenge, and one with real stakes. And so my world is different now.

I have been a working adult for 2 years now– a married homeowner with two cats and bills to pay. I have often put my own leisure, my own curiosity, my own joy, etc on the backburner– sneaking away little pathetic glimpses of it in between work that I do in long, slow and tedious steps. Really, I ought to be doing my work in terrific bangs, and then relax and enjoy my existence while I have it.

Contemplation alone is not enough for this. Data-collection is not enough. I need to meditate to calm my mind, and then I need to attack very mundane-seeming problems with ferocious intensity. Doing that means saying no to a lot of things. And I am choosing to be a bit extreme about this. I’m saying no to a lot of friends, a lot of interests, pursuits.

Let’s supose I start by saying no to everything. What’s the first thing I say yes to? Breathing. Drinking water. Eating healthy food. Work, because it allows me to buy food and drink water, and pay for the roof over my head. What next? Anything that helps me get more efficient at work, so I can do it faster. Exercise, because it cleanses and improves my brain, improves my mood. (This means I should go for a run later today.) Reading and writing, because those are both my great loves and my great empowerers– the more I read, the more I write, the more effective I become as an individual at whatever I want to do. Then what? My marriage, which is important to me. And then… actually, I’m willing to cap things off there, really. What else do I really need? I seem to have a taste for some trivial distractions… I need to make a deliberate statement to myself– I’m doing it here– that everyday news does not interest me. It does not help me. I don’t need to have an opinion on the gentrification of San Francisco. I can revisit all of that if and when the time comes. But in the mean time, I am going to focus all of my resources– all of my time and energy– on bettering myself.

[1] I now prefer not to take sides– I don’t have the answers and I don’t want to pretend that I do. I’ll simply ask questions. It’s a much more enjoyable to have discussions when I begin with the fact that I haven’t made up my mind, and I don’t know what to think.]

[2]  But eventually all of those things started to… develop a sort of predictability, weariness. Once you’ve had your mind blown several times, you sort of adjust for that. You anticipate that your mind will be blown again. I wasn’t nearly as mindblown by Interstellar as some people say they were- I enjoyed the experience, sure, but it didn’t really introduce anything new to me. This is why I think I’m going to have to turn to classics, to the greats of fiction and science fiction and what not. But really, once you learn that you are starstuff, that everything is connected, that there will be a heat death of the universe, that your brain is the most complex thing we know, etc etc, what else is there?

I don’t mean to imply that I am world-weary. I think the world is exciting. But I think it’s going to take a lot more to shock or startle me. I’m going to continue searching, but my instincts tell me that the next most important thing I should work on or pursue isn’t exactly perspective from a different POV, but rather… inward journeying through different action? I’m thinking about this one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *