I woke up this morning feeling a little tired and frustrated. It might have had something to do with the fact that I spent a very long, late night with a friend and a stranger, chatting about startups, sci-fi, fandoms, MagicL The Gathering, IP and the literary merits of Playboy. Ended up cabbing home at 5am.
It was a pretty good conversation, but I suppose the day before I told myself that I wanted to break my 10-vomits-in-a-day personal best, and I didn’t. I will do that today. I’d like to do 16, to be precise, because that would take me over the 300 mark. Again, I know all of this is completely arbitrary, but it feels like difficult arbitrary things are somehow more satisfying that simple arbitrary things– it feels like the brain is able to tell (or simply chooses to tell itself) that difficult things ought to be rewarded.
I wonder where I’m going with these vomits, and I wonder what will change. I think I might actually deviate from writing in the first person, and start expressing my thoughts through hypothetical conversations or arguments between others. I like how Jane Jacobs did that with her book The Nature Of Economies (I think that was it). But I don’t want to overthink it in advance (except when I’m dedicating a particular vomit to thinking aloud about it– AKA this one), so I’ll just run over these thoughts loosely and then allow things to happen naturally as and when I feel like it.
I suppose I want a feeling of power and control- but why though? Because I have often felt helpless in the face of forces beyond my control and I hate that. Hate seems like a strong word, but it feels appropriate. The thing is, I don’t feel helpless 24/7– rather, there tend to be certain instances from time to time where I feel helpless, and in those instances I regret not having prepared, not having become stronger and more able, and I hate those instances in particular. The problem for me is that these instances are exactly that– instances. I feel very strongly about them in the moment, but that feeling does not translate into long-term action, long-term behavioral change.
I remember getting scolded and chided so many times in school for my tardiness, for not doing my homework, and every single time I (think I) remember genuinely wanting to change, to turn over a new leaf, to become a better person, to start doing my homework methodically, to start keeping track of everything, to being focused. And somehow that never worked out. And this went on for the rest of my life. I didn’t do as well for my exams as I “should’ve”, and I had to promise the Ministry of Education (this is true) that I would work harder. And I feel like I meant it at the time, but again, that degenerated pretty quickly. Over and over again. Looking back at my life, I see a cycle of me getting upset and frustrated by difficult circumstances, and then not doing very much about it. And that itself is something that frustrates me at a meta level, too– but I know that I can’t just get angry about it and flagellate myself for it. There must be something fundamental I’m missing, and there’s something totally wrong about my approach. Clearly getting frustrated and upset is not helping to solve the problem– it might even be perpetuating the problem (if not by causing any direct damage– which is possible! – then through opportunity cost.)
I don’t want to be frustrated anymore. I don’t need to keep mirroring the teachers and authority figures who I had frustrated. I can do better than that. I am my own authority figure, and I will be firm but kind. I will ask myself what I want. I will allow myself space to express myself, to pay attention, to play. I am my own parent now. It is okay that I ended up staying up late yesterday, and that I’ve spent more money on cabs in the past 4-5 days or so than I normally do in a month. (I think.) I have savings, I am more responsible than I realize, and I can and will just be a little more thrifty for the rest of the month– so that I can stay on top of my life and my circumstances.
 How does self-flagellation cause direct damage, when it comes to trying to solve a problem? Well… let’s use parent or boss analogies. Does yelling at a child or employee really change their fundamental behavior? It gives them something new to be afraid of, something new to try to avoid. It also signals to them that they can’t be trusted, and that they’re incompetent. How would I deal with my child if she were screwing things up? I would try to talk to her gently and ask her what happened, and try to communicate to her– ideally by asking questions rather than telling her outright– how the better outcome would be better for her.
“Have you thought about what you want” might be a powerful question worth asking. If not, why? “Got time what.” Which is… quite fair. Are you aware of the fact that your life trajectory can be radically different if you take one set of actions over another? No, probably not. How do you communicate that effectively within the context of a classroom? It’s difficult– you’ll need people to literally see the different outcomes, and meet people living in the different outcomes. I suppose we could say that it’s very important for people to get excited about things, so that they’ll be able to identify some end-state that they’d like to work towards– because pleasure is typically found in the fulfilling, flow-enabled pursuit of something that we really care about. Though I wonder if some Zen types would disagree with that. We’ll get around to experimenting with that, too.
Changing behaviors requires changing rewards to cues, but even that itself requires some sort of motivation, some sort of intent, some sort of desired end-state that one recognizes to be preferable to the current one (or to the one that we’re headed towards on the current trajectory.)