0246 – reminder to focus on fundamentals after the feels

So those were some strong feels in the last post, and strong feels are good to have- at least some of the time, from time to time. But I’ve been around long enough and I’ve been through this long enough to know that I can never do anything entirely on feels alone. Things have to be built on something that’s true. Something that maps well to reality.

Before I got all feelsy, what I wanted to talk about was how it doesn’t always feel good to make progress. Progress can be painful– and it can be unrewarding. I was watching a video about addiction and dopamine, and how over time your brain reduces the dopamine receptors that are available, so the same activity feels less good.

Similarly it seems to me that there are some activities where… you don’t quite get the right amount of dopamine for what you do. You do something that should be improving your life, improving your survivability, you’re making a contribution to the world or to society in some way… but you don’t feel it, and you should. [1]

Well, okay. Reality is a bitch, and it doesn’t always operate the way we wish it would operate. Else nurses and teachers would be paid better, and AIDS researchers won’t be blown out of the sky, etc. We live in a world that is grotesquely cruel and unfair. [2] So I can whine about it for a while to feel the self-pity and commiseration, but once I’m done with that I should figure out what is my best course of action, and then start acting.

It feels like I should simplify my life. There is work, which matters a lot to me. I think we have a good shot at building something that’s best in the world at what it does, and I would like to not fuck that up. I would like to be a contributing member to that team, and that requires me to do some levelling up. Which is painful and uncomfortable, but entirely necessary and very reasonable.

Parallel to that, I’d like to develop myself as a writer. Which requires me writing as much as goddamn possible, which I am doing a little bit of right now.

And beyond that, I’d like to improve my life-situation and that of my wife’s, which involves some book-keeping, some planning, some commitments.

Those are it. Those are all the things. What else matters? My health, my exercise, my meditation– those are things that fit within these existing desires. Kick butt at work. Kick butt at writing. Be an awesome force of love for my loved ones. I have some old acquaintances and friends that I care about, but those people aren’t priorities for me right now. I check in on them from time to time, schedule coffee and beers to catch up and reminisce and share world-views and stuff, but that’s primarily so I feel better about myself as a social animal.

Ultimately everything is so I feel better about myself. There are some distinctions that need to be made, I realize. I used to take a very short/simple/cheap path towards feeling better about myself. That meant slacking off, playing video games (short term rushes), eating sweets, drinking, smoking, bumming around, playing cards. Those things feel good a lot quicker than say, writing or working out. They aren’t as hard.

I told myself that it’s all about feeling good– you work out to feel good, you smoke a cigarette to feel good. In both cases you’re just fucking with your brain to feel good. I think that is still completely true and valid. I think what I hadn’t considered is this–

the brain, especially all the parts that aren’t the conscious mind, is way smarter than I realize. It is aware of distinctions in signalling. It can tell the difference between masturbation and sex. Yes, in both times there is some rubbing and there is some discharge, but really, the context matters so much. I think this I underestimated when I was younger. The difference between cheap signals and deep signals. Deep signals are highly persuasive. Cheap signals are superficial. Deep signals involve doing things that have real costs. I’m thinking now about Arnold’s podcast with Tim Ferriss, where they talked about how he had the best smile and seemed most confident at the Mr Olympia. I’m thinking about how… if you want to get to that sort of confidence level, you can’t just fake-it-till-you-make-it. You need some deep-rooted expertise that you truly, deeply believe that you can rely on.

And I guess all the smoking and drinking and Facebook status updating was all a distraction for me from the fact that I didn’t actually think I could be relied on. The world told me I was unreliable. I knew I was unreliable. The journey from unreliable to reliable seemed to unrewarding, too messy, too ugly. The mark is indelible, once you fucked up you dun fucked up good, forever, for life.

This is untrue and I need to banish this thought from my head. With lots and lots of conditioning and positive reinforcement.

[1] “Should” here being what would be optimal, in some broader sense. Wouldn’t it be awesome if everybody felt amazing when they helped others, and felt terrible when they were mean, and we didn’t feel this sad tribal impulse to pick sides and then just refuse to listen to each other, hollering, name-calling, etc?

[2] I’m thinking now of something either by Watts or Toile, talking about how things only seem ugly and horrible when we view things from a limited human perspective– but if all of reality is merely the universe sort of pleasuring itself, exploring itself, playing and dancing, then it’s just bumps and bruises and scrapes and stuff. Part of the fun. Ah… okay. Whatever really. Just an alternate perspective to consider. Doesn’t change the fact that it sucks for the people who have to go through it while they’re going through it. You wouldn’t tell a cancer sufferer that it’s just the universe scraping its knee, would you?

That said, it’s not like we have a proper sense of priorities. It’s not like this means we actually drop the stuff that’s entertaining and funny and lame, and then redirect resources to cancer research. The fact is we’re all irresponsible and lazy as fuck, as a species, and it’s really quite marvellous that we’ve survived as long as we have so far. I’m guessing there’s a small core group of people in the world who are really keeping everything together. I think I’d like to join that group, for the simple selfish reason that I’d feel less lonely and alienated.

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