0368 – ugh fields

It’s 3:25am and I should be asleep but I’m not. Me and my wife seem to be having this weird silly habit where we stay up too late for no reason. I have work to do tomorrow morning, but I’m still here. I was staring into space for a while. Now I feel like I’d like to do another word vomit and then I’ll feel like I’m “ready” to go to bed. I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way. I suppose I’d like to have some accomplishments before I go to bed.

But despite that I want to say to myself that I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I’m not disappointed. I felt like I needed a rest, I felt like I needed to chill. And while I’ve been awake longer than I should, I do feel like that I’ve been relaxed and that must be a good thing. Though I think reality is going to smack me in the face tomorrow, I’m not going to be sorry about it. I’m not going to feel guilty and make things worse. I’m just going to accept things for what they are and confront them as they are.

Things need to change, though. I want them to change. I want to be asleep before midnight everyday. Why aren’t I doing that? I’ve been waking up late for a while. I don’t want to blame my wife for any of this– it’s up to me to decide what my priorities are and to take action that is consistent with these priorities. So I could and should probably interpret this as– I’m not super clear about what I’m doing. I’m taking some things for granted, I’m hoping that things will fall into place with the amount of effort that I’m putting in.

I have 700 words to go and my conscious mind is not all here. My eyes are getting heavy but I’d like to finish this even though I haven’t exactly thought about what I want to be writing about with this one. I guess I’ll write about “ugh fields”, since it’s warm on my mind and I think I can riff on that.

I read a post on LessWrong recently about “‘Ugh’ fields” that really resonated with me. I’ll try to describe or interpret it from memory, so I’ll probably get it wrong, but it’s worth doing. An Ugh Field is a space that you brain does not like to go to. I’m not sure how exactly to define it– it could be some ideas, it could be a place, any sort of space that your brain does not like or want to go. Your brain associates it with pain and discomfort, and chooses to avoid going there. Rather, to be more precise, there is no choice available. You don’t go there at all. You don’t look there. When you’re approaching it, you feel a little anxious or uncomfortable. Or VERY anxious and uncomfortable. AND more often than not you really don’t know why.

It could be oversimplified and reduced into a mere comfort zone problem, but I feel like that doesn’t quite capture the fear and disgust and avoidance that the brain experiences when approaching an “ugh field”.

What are my ugh fields? My first thought is “I don’t like work”. I enjoy my colleagues and my office, and I enjoy whenever we have successes, but I realize that my brain instinctively has a broad, overall sense of fear and dread when it comes to work. And I don’t think it’s my work specifically, but just work in general– it goes all the way back to homework and tests. I liked attending lectures but I disliked tutorials, I disliked worksheets, that sort of things.

And when I’m saying this now, I recognize that there’s an instinctive path that my brain tends to take there– I then get into this angry/upset rant about schools and how adults treat children. And that usually takes up a lot of energy. It wears me out. I’ve definitely written a couple of really long status updates about this on Facebook in the past, and I got a lot of Likes, which felt really good at the time. But what have those Likes actually done for me? [1] Not very much. I’m wary of falling into the comforting and familiar role of complainer– and there’s a universe of details and complexity to be explored there. It can be endlessly fascinating, complaining and finding faults and all that stuff. But it’s also stagnant. And I don’t want to stagnate. [2]

So I guess this is just me trying to re-focus myself. I need to concentrate my forces and go straight into my Ugh Fields, one at a time, one by one, and fill them out. And then I can move out and go somewhere different with myself, which is I think what I really want to do.


[1] There’s a line from Alexander Mahone in Prison Break Season 2 that really stuck with me– a subordinate was thanking him profusely for something, and his response was “I don’t need gratitude, I need leads, information, etc.” And I thought that was really powerful. Like, we’re extra nice to our parents and teachers on the special days that we assign to them, but what they REALLY want most of all is for their children to become great, to become successful and good and kind and all that good stuff.

[2] I feel like I’ve been stagnating for a while, and I don’t want to keep stagnating. So I need to change things. My life changed dramatically in 2013, and I guess 2014 was me adapting, and by 2015 it feels like this is my new normal and I need to start changing things, start focusing on things, start doing things differently. What’s the first thing I should do differently? I suppose I should focus on being more proactive, and anticipate what are the gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill. People self-limit their ability to learn, just read books and talk to people.

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