0404 – some things change, some things stay the same

I took a bit of time to read some of my older writing– some from back in 2006, some from back in 2010 or so, and some from 2012. I have a bunch of thoughts about those. There are broadly two sets of things, I think. The things that seem to have changed, and the things that seem to have remained the same.

I feel like I might’ve already written about the things that have changed. I’ll quickly run through that first. [1]

I write more succinctly now. I try to avoid big words unless they serve a particular purpose. I try not to meander so much. I use shorter sentences. I try to condense things. I try to explain myself less. I try to get to the point sooner. I digress less than before. I’m more rigorous in my thinking. I question myself more. I’m more willing to delete things that aren’t working. I break things down into their components. I try to avoid arguing from emotion. [2] In general I think I’ve become a little more analytical, a bit more patient with myself, and I have generally higher standards. I also have a little bit more discipline and focus, but not really enough to write home about.

What hasn’t changed?

My thoughts about what is important in life hasn’t changed. It can be simultaneously amusing and slightly troubling to read myself in 2006 and 2010 and see myself saying the same things– that I need to sleep well, exercise regularly, that I need to focus on things that matter, that I need discipline, that I need daily habits and routines that I can rely on. It’s amusing because it’s so simple. It’s slightly troubling because it feels like I haven’t made a lot of progress on that front. I don’t want to keep having to say this over and over again, again when I’m 30, again when I’m 45.

Here are just some of the things that I’ve been thinking, saying and writing for years now:

“Good enough” is not good enough. Manage your money, your health, your relationships. Awareness counts for little without decisive action. Art is created best by people who worry less about creating art and more about expressing truth. Think before you act. Follow through. “Stop trying to please others, just tell the truth.” Do stuff, see how you feel about it, use those feelings to inform what you should do next. Communicate. Seek mutually beneficial outcomes. Design your life. Nobody owes you anything. Don’t use perfectionism as an excuse to not do things, anything worth doing is worth doing badly in the beginning. Choose your friends carefully. Be grateful. You’re only entitled to your labor, not the fruits of that labor. Aim to be substantial– don’t just regurgitate what others are saying, dig deeper than others have dug. Schedule things that won’t happen by themselves. Declutter your spaces, and your mind. Help others. Enlightened hedonism means knowing when to stop. Don’t deceive yourself. Develop a good work ethic. You are not as perceptive as you think you are– there is always something you’re not seeing. Embrace the detours. Self-help books don’t work unless you extract and deconstruct the ideas, immerse yourself in them, experiment and apply them. Stressors are important. Do things that excite you. Regulate your mental states. Work in decisive bursts.

The above are just some of the prescriptive things I”ve writen over the years. I think they’re all still valid and true, but simply stating these truths hasn’t gotten me as far as I’ve wanted. Perhaps I’ll never be satisfied, but I also feel like I can perceive of a state that is much more satisfactory than this– after which everything else is just gravy.

So what then? One thing I want to do is to go over my old goals and resolutions and make sure that I achieve them. Those that are similar to the ones I have now, I’ll just tack them on together. I imagine it will give me a sense continuity. I like the idea of finishing what I had set out to do when I was younger. But I can’t spend the rest of my day doing that, I’m also going to have to do some work. Well, whatever the case, I’m going to finish this vomit first. Then I’m going to take a short break. Then I’m going to do a chunk of work. Then I’ll reward myself by making progress on rolling over my old thoughts and writings and picking up what sticks.

I feel like there’s something I wanted to talk about in this vomit that I haven’t addressed yet. I thought about it when I read a post somewhere about Joss Whedon talking about the meaning of life. And how it’s basically consistent with everything else every thoughtful person has said throughout the centuries. In that regard, there’s nothing new. There’s nothing we don’t already know. We just need to breathe deep and embrace the fact that this is it. That’s what I believe.

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[1] For a split second I was thinking whether I should say “but I’ll…” or “so I’ll”. This itself is something I could probably explore for a whole vomit– how tempting it is to talk in explanations– which are often untested, unverified. It’s tempting to describe some sort of causality to things, to tell a story. In my head, the thought “might’ve already written about it” and “I’ll pick that first” arose at around the same time. But I can’t really be sure if the first thought necessarily led to the latter. I’m probably choosing to write about it first because it’s simply more familiar in my mind. Availability bias.

[2] Emotion is inescapable and important. But it can also be used as a substitute for actual argument. (I’m reminded of the joke about the pastor underlining in his notes, “Argument weak, raise voice here!”) I don’t want to think about raising my voice until I’m reasonably certain that what I’m talking about is grounded in reality. This can be challenging, but it’s a good challenge to undertake. When you describe something accurately, other people can use your writing as a tool whether or not they feel the way you feel. I’m not being very accurate or precise here, unfortunately. It takes a lot of effort and energy to do that, and I’m currently writing a vomit about something else. Maybe in a later vomit.

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