0405 – dealing with slipping and with foggy black boxes

Had a couple of interesting conversations at work today that I want to explore a little more fully.

The first is about what it’s like when I’ve decided to commit to something, and find myself slipping. This happens over and over again in my life, to the point where it’s practically a part of me. It’s crept into my spinal cord, probably. Underneath my stated beliefs, which I am capable of mouthing without actually thinking very hard (I’ve been re-reading Power of Habit, and it’s interesting to read about people with brain damage who’re still very capable of constructing logical-sounding explanations for things). It’s weird. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to get better at thinking and explaining and all that, and then I come to this point (I’ve been here before) where I realize that all of that can actually be diversionary. They allow me to come up with paths around things that make me uncomfortable. It’s rationalization. I’ve written this before, but I’m writing it again anyway. I might be doing it in the hope that repetition makes things stick better. [1]

The thing I need to repeat is the fact that explanation and rationalization and all of those things come after the fact. I should instead study the evidence. I was watching Dr. House with my wife and it was interesting to see a few bits where the doctors were visibly fixated on some theory or another. We all obviously do that over and over again. It’s a challenge to let go. I suppose that’s what meditation is for. And I haven’t quite stuck to that as much as I say I want to. I haven’t quite made it as much of the priority I say I want it to be.

Well, I’m learning. I wish I could go faster. I feel like there’s some sort of zen lesson for me to learn here– that I can’t go faster without slowing down. That I need to really sharpen my saw, tune my guitar, so on.

But that still doesn’t answer the question I need to answer, which is– how have I kept myself going? How have I kept doing the updates that I’ve been wanting to do? It might be a little premature to talk about it now– I’ve only kept it going for 4 weeks. I want to do 12 weeks. And I want to make sure I don’t give up thereafter. And I also want to keep to my exercise, my reading, my meditation, all of those things. How do I do that? It seems like introducing stakes is part of the solution. I’m feeling tired now. (I was writing the second part of this vomit before the first.) I’m going to have to ride this one out to the end, and then I’m going to have to rest. But I have to stick with it. I have to keep coming back. I have to keep trying again and again before I get it.

I feel like it might just be the weight of growing up. I don’t have as much time to waste anymore. But I still certainly waste time, when I’m not quite all cognitively there. So… I don’t know. We’ll meditate on it.


The second is about what it’s like when I feel confused by, afraid of or repulsed by the “foggy black boxes”. In the context of work, I’m talking about things that I have not thought about too much, or done very much about, because I don’t really know very much about them and I assume they’re not a high priority. But they’re things that bug me anyway, perhaps because I sense there’s something important or useful behind the fog. I’m sure there are many things I know nothing about that don’t bother me at all… are there? It’s interesting. There are many different classes of things that I do not know very much about.

The simple takeaway was that I shouldn’t be so afraid to talk to people about things that I’m unsure about, that I do not understand. I admire one of my colleagues for being very comfortable with saying “I have no idea what you just said.” I’m happy to concede that I don’t know about something, but I’m not so good at saying I didn’t understand what you said (instead I’ll try my best to interpret it, and I imagine people often accept our interpretations of things becaus the effort needed to really be rigorous about making sense of things through communication is insanely hard). I’m also not good at approaching people with “Hey, I don’t know very much about this and I want to know more.”

At this point I Googled “what to do when you don’t know what to do” and I actually found a nice article on TinyBuddha that kind of captures it for me. It really does seem to all boil down to this general anxiousness that I have. Maybe it’s from my childhood or from failures or whatever, maybe it’s guilt, whatever it is. It’s here. It’s not helpful. I have to ask it to leave. And I have to do it firmly but nicely, with kindness. And I have to be calm about it.

[1] It’s interesting to read my old work. I’ve done a bit of it. I should and want to do more of it. In particular, I’m interested at how sometimes I repeat things that I’ve read or heard elsewhere in an attempt to sort of internalize what I’m saying. I parrot all these theories and stuff. I’ve been doing it ever since I started blogging. When I read that now, it’s quite transparent and I can see where my “original” thoughts were and where I was mainly trying to use whatever it was I had my brain wrapped around at the moment. And yet nowadays when I talk, or respond to things, I find it very difficult to isolate my influences. There seems to be a little bit of everything. It seems like all of the characters I’ve brought into my head began to talk to each other and intertwine with each other and I can’t quite tell where one begins and another ends.

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