Many vomits ago I wrote about the concept of a “The Big Red Button”. It’s a fun thought experiment– if you could have a Big Red Button, and you could write down what it would do (assuming it fits within the realm of plausibility), and pressing it would make it happen, what would you put on it?
Somehow, this yields slightly different thoughts from “If you could have a wish granted” (perhaps because it inspires wishful thinking…?). I suppose a more rigorous way to do it would be– if you could have a sort of “personal trainer genie” that would physically force into following some routine, some set of behaviors, some set of actions, what would you set?
For a mundane, simple example, it could be “do 10 pushups every day.” That’s a slightly underwhelming thing to waste such an epic button on, but you see how it plays out. From now until the day you die, you do 10 pushups everyday. It’s not inconceivable. Suppose you then modify that to be, “do pushups to failure every day”. Maybe modify it further to be, “do the optimal set of sets of pushups, with good form, to maximize upper body strength gains.” Some people actually do that. And some people would benefit from just 10 simple pushups.
What else? Suppose we could have an unlimited set of buttons. What would we use them for? I think it’s important to meditate and reflect every single day. What’s stopping me from doing it? I suppose sometimes it feels like I’m not in the right mood. But there’s never going to be such a thing as “a right mood”. And one of the cool things I’ve learned from this writing experiment so far is– if you commit to a process regardless of circumstances (except maybe morbidly critical ones), you start encountering all sorts of different versions of yourself. You find that the way you write when you’re optimistic is different from the way you write when you’re depressed (I tend to question my own motivations, interests, purpose when that happens). You’ll discover that you’re much broader than the person you think you are, and the person you’ll get to know if the data points you collect about yourself are all collected in the same context, same mood, “when you feel like it”. Doing things when you don’t really feel like it is incredibly powerful.
I’m starting to learn that with the gym, too. I hated travelling to the gym to share the equipment with a whole bunch of people who often aren’t very focused on their training, and it’s a long ass commute and just generally unpleasant. So I bought myself a mat and a squat rack and a bench and a set of weights, and in 7 days I worked out hard about 4 times. I’ve taken a couple of days to rest my sore muscles, but I’ll definitely be hitting the weights again tomorrow morning. I really look forward to it and it’ll take zero effort. I hope I can maintain this habit indefinitely, but that’s always scary so what I think I’ll do is– I’ll count down to 100 sessions completed, and then 1,000 sessions completed. What can I say, I like big-ish numbers.
I was reading Wait But Why’s great post on cooks and chefs, and one of the points Tim made was that we live very limited lives. We color within the lines, and we fear and worry for our “safety” even when we aren’t actually in danger. (Starting a company, for example, can seem scary, but it doesn’t actually risk your life and you can afford to fail as long as you don’t set yourself up for horrific financial debt.)
What would I do, if I inherited my life right now, and had all the freedom and opportunity to do whatever I wanted (which I actually do)? As I said earlier, one thing would be to get my fitness sorted out. The body and the mind are part of the same thing and it’s important to discpline and train them both. It helps us learn to work hard, to persist in order to get what we want. It helps us learn that we’ll have to fight through the not-so-good days, that we can’t just wait for some good day to show up. And endorphins are a hell of a drug.
But what else would I do? I would better study and examine the tools of my trade. I run a blog that works on wordpress, but I don’t actually understand precisely how wordpress works. That’s not very good, it would be a good idea to get a better sense of how wordpress works. There are all these black boxes on the periphery of the stuff that I work with, and I ought to sit down and dissect them. I also ought to plan my day every morning. I’ve started doing this a little bit better, but I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement and I’ve got to keep doing it. Internalize the fact that things need to be broken down into quantifiable next steps with specific time expectations and so on.
What else would I do? I have a ton of books in my study that I’d like to dissect. It’s all this information and knowledge just sitting there, waiting for me to assimilate them into my brain. What do I really hope to achieve with all of that, anyway? A part of me just feels like it would be kinda cool. But I suppose what I really want is to get a sense that I have a reasonable big picture model of everything, with a sense of what I ought to fill in the gaps about. I was going to say “there are a lot of things I still feel like I need to know more about” or something to that effect, but as I wrote that I realized that that isn’t true. There’s only one thing that I need to get better at, and that’s improving my own software, my own system of operations. And everything else will take care of itself.
So I suppose if I could have the red button do one thing, and I had only one button, it would be this– commit to a daily process of refining my own software, from first principles. Meditate and reflect and act and review. I’ve written this before, I’ve known this all along, and it’s nice to have more data that backs it up, but the data I actually need isn’t “out there”, something that I need to read (though that’s always nice). What I need is to do the work, and use those results as evidence that I can do so much more than what I’m doing.