0416 – be precise about execution and work hard

“Are we limiting ourselves when we think local?”

I was thinking about this in the context of writing. Should I write about local issues, or write about international issues? This is one of those things that you don’t want to overthink about. What you really want to do is write about things as well as possible. Write about whatever you’re interested in, but aim to make it the best possible piece of writing within the parameters and constraints that you have. And then proceed to write the best thing you can again. And write more and more. This is a problem you might want to think about if you’re writing every single day, publishing over and over again, and you’re finding that you feel somehow limited despite All That Output. But if you’re not writing and shipping and publishing, you’re wasting your time with a hypothetical question. Just get better at writing. It’s not like you’re condemned to writing only one thing or the other.

Don’t think “local vs global”. Just write, and write good, and hard.

“41- Why haven’t I changed already? What needs to happen for the change to happen?”

Oooh. Good question. I’m goin to imagine it’s a close friend asking me this, rather than myself, so that I can be more impartial and straightforward.

There could be a bunch of reasons why you haven’t changed. The tempting answer is “Because you don’t really want to”, but that’s a copout. I believe you when you say that you want to, or you wouldn’t keep asking. The problem is that you’re stuck in some context that hasn’t changed. And if you don’t change your context, if you don’t change your environment, then you’re stuck in the same habits, routines, feedback loops. And these things are way more powerful than your conscious mind.

So the question you have to ask is– how can you overpower these habits? It’s not just a matter of willing yourself hard enough, because willpower deteriorates. You have to make some significant, “drastic” changes of some kind that shock you out of your pattern. For example, I was having trouble keeping to a bunch of targets that I had set for myself. I tried all sorts of rationalizations and thinking and systems and whatever, but none of it really, really worked. In the end, what seems to be working is– I made a bet with somebody that I would meet my daily and weekly targets. I bet $50/day and $250/week. I haven’t missed any of them in the past 5 weeks or so. Why? Do I now want it more badly than before? You could argue yes, I now want it up to $500/week more. I would say that I don’t FEEL like I WANT it any more than I already did, but I now feel the BURN of failure a lot more immediately than I did before.

In the context of the procrastination equation, this is about reducing Delay. The other variables are Expectancy, Value and Impulsiveness. If you’re not changing, it’s because change doesn’t seem immediately critical, you don’t really value the change as much as you think you would (or you don’t keep it front-and-center of your mind), or you don’t truly believe that you can change– you expect to fail, and so you don’t even really bother trying. OR you’re overwhelmed and distracted by other things.

Changing habits is really, really hard man. There are some insights from Power of Habit that can be quite useful. First you need to recognize the habits that you want, and the habits that you don’t want. Or before that, even, you need to recognize the outcome that you want, and then identify the habits you’d need in order to get the outcome that you want, and the habits that are blocking you, that you’re going to have to kick.

So let’s say you want to become fit. That’s an overly vague goal, you can’t value it all that much because you can’t visualize it, you don’t really see the benefit. It’s just a sort of vague stated goal. You should instead say, I want to run 2.4km in 11 minutes. Then identify your current time– say it’s 14 minutes. So you want to improve your 2.4km timing. To do this, you need to practice running. (This is something you’ll want to break into sub-tasks– actual 2.4km runs, speedwork, stamina work, etc… but let’s not worry about that for now. Now you need to introduce the habit of running. You can introduce complexity later. Just like in video games!). Running is a new habit that you do not have. You need to find somewhere to insert it into your flow. Say you live in Singapore, where it’s way too fucking hot to run at 10am. (By the way, even this is sorta debatable. You have to ask yourself just how important these runs are to you. If it’s really important, it might make sense to just suck it up, hydrate, run, shower, hydrate some more. Take some precautions to avoid heat exhaustion, but you know.) OR you could run after work, before you get home. Or you could run right after you get home. Or you could wake up earlier and run. You just need to make it a priority, identify the opportunities you have to make it happen, and then commit.

Once you’ve identified the opportunities for running, you should start thinking about how you usually fuck it up. What stops you from running in the morning? It’s too hot. What stops you from running right after work? I don’t have my running gear at work, and I don’t know what’s a good running route at work. (That’s actually quite a solvable problem, and a solution that might be worth trying.) What’s stopping you from running right after you get home? Inertia? Tiredness? What?

When you go through this process you start to realize that maybe you just haven’t dissected this problem thoroughly enough. But it’s just really a matter of asking some simple questions. What is the change that you want to see? If you can’t describe it in concrete terms, it’s not going to happen. Why does this change matter? If you can’t describe it, it’s not going to happen. Do you believe that you can make this change? If no, it’s not going to happen. (Break it into smaller steps.) What is the context in which this change will happen, what are the precise requirements? If you don’t have the instructions written down super-clearly, super-precisely, it won’t happen.

That’s it, man. You’re spending too much time thinking about motivation and meaning and all that shit. What you really need to do is figure out the execution in as precise detail as possible. You’re bad at this because you don’t have a lot of experience doing this. You keep describing yourself as “a thinker, not a doer”. This requires Te, not Ti. It requires Se/Si, not Ne. Your usual approach doesn’t work here.

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