0421 – beware false victory, and validation

I had an interesting thought this morning when I woke up. I published 4 word vomits yesterday, which is 4 times more than I’m mentally committing to in my head. So this morning I found myself thinking, “Hey, I don’t have to write one today. I can relax and take it easy.” It’s a natural ‘victory lap’ sort of response. And technically… “what’s the harm,” ya know? I got 4 days worth of work done in one day. I can take a day off. Heck, I could take 3 days off, and just pretend that I did 1/day as planned.

But this is usually where I mess up, because I have no sense of proportion, and I don’t know how to be measured. I’m bad at maintaining my lead… whenever I get some sort of lead, I typically get cocky and restless and squander it. This keeps me in some sort of status quo. I’m reminded now of all the gambling games that people would play in school– blackjack with coins or whatever. The expectation was, if you win lots of money, you keep playing so that you give others the opportunity to win it back. Which is a bit of a sucker’s game, if you think about it. But I guess we were playing for entertainment rather than to be serious about making money. It was all chump change anyway. [1]

But I don’t want to fixate too much on the past. All I need to know, really, is that there’s a lot about me that’s been trained and habitualized to seek a kind of homeostasis, equilibrium. I don’t have a lot of practice pushing forward and through things. I tend to try things for a while and then give up halfway, move on to something else, and so on. Nothing substantial. Except this writing habit, maybe. Which seems to have developed a little bit out of chance, a little bit out of habit.

So anyway, I’m trying to deliberately break out of that pattern. In the future I may decide to take a day off after doing 4 days worth of work, but not today. Not in the context of these word vomits. I can always write a 1000 words, it’s always a pleasure except maybe when I’m terribly sick or some sort of crazy emergency. (And I’ve noticed– the last time I was crazy sick, I still had the energy to go on social media. Which is kind of depressing, kind of distressing. What does it tell me, what does it mean? I suppose a kind view would be that I seek comfort in people. A more neutral view would be that I have a craving/addiction for the notifications and feedback I get from social media– people or virtual personas.

I chatted about this with a couple of my colleagues over lunch, and it got me thinking. I realize that validation can be a useful tool when you use it to help you learn– meaning, when you get validation for having accomplished something, when you get it for growing, for becoming more effective in some way. I mean in a very specific, narrow sense– like improving your performance as an athlete, or getting better with your drills as a musician, that sort of thing. That’s probably what the validation machinery is sort-of optimized for. [2]

So I guess the lesson or answer here for me is really just to go back to thinking about my desired end-state. The boss asked me, has there ever been an instance where you used to care about getting validation from somebody, but you don’t anymore? (Aside– I need to learn to get better at asking these sort of questions of myself, instinctively. It takes practice, and while they seem obvious on hindsight, they’re not always obvious moving forward. I suppose everything worth doing is obvious on hindsight because it’s so useful, effective, gratifying that it seers itself into your long-term memory and it reorganizes your other memories etc around it. Like how Facebook now seems like such a “sure thing”- as do Google and YouTube– but there were most definitely times not too long ago where I personally used MySpace, Yahoo and Google Video, and didn’t really see why I would make the switch for any of those things.

Anyway. I just need to keep focusing on shipping vomits every day. They won’t be perfect. That’s fine, that’s a part of the process. I’m repeating a bunch of truisms but it feels like repetition is necessary.

Ship every day. Check every day. Revisit. Analyze. Write. Think. Check. Stop. Pause. Meditate. Think. Check.

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[1] I also find myself thinking about the casual poker games me and my friends used to play. We used to do weird silly things like– hey if it’s the last round, everybody should go all in, so that we end the game on some sort of exciting high. But of course that’s completely unfair to whoever’s winning– it turns the whole thing into a single game of chance at the end. It’s interesting to think about why we did that. Within the context of a small group of friends, I suppose we subconsciously didn’t want the “poker player” status to get too legible. It would be weird or odd if anybody was demonstrably, consistently better at something than everybody else… then it wouldn’t be worth playing anymore, for the purpose of mere socialising. Is that the case? Maybe.

[2] I was tempted to say “that’s what it was meant for / designed for, but we know that natural selection doesn’t give a shit and isn’t deliberate about how things are put together. People with validation drives somehow outlasted people without, probably because they were able to learn and grow in some way. But that doesn’t mean validation is entirely a good thing by itself, or if it was once in some context, the way my brain handles it is probably suboptimal in some way in my personal, modern context.

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