0553 – self-regulate pt 1

It’s interesting and scary to contemplate the mind sometimes. And how it’s compelled to do certain things in certain ways, or not do certain things under certain circumstances. Screw conversations about whether we have free will or not– the more pertinent question is, what are the bugs in our mind, and how do we fix them? If they can’t be fixed, how do we keep them from inhibiting us?

I was just talking about this with a friend.About how if a “todo” task isn’t sufficiently precise, it doesn’t get done. “Buy Groceries” can sit pretty on a post-it for days and days. I won’t do it unless I write “go to NTUC FairPrice at Yishun MRT after work today and buy broccoli, carrots and chicken.”

What’s counter-intuitive is just a tiny bit of vagueness or fuzziness can stop the task from happening altogether. Intuition would suggest that something half as vague would get done half as well, or half as quickly. But in reality, it simply doesn’t get done.

I’m a loss-averse, pain-averse creature. I don’t really like that, but that’s how it is and I have to work with that for now, possibly for always. The pursuit of pleasure and gain doesn’t seem to motivate me anywhere near as much. As far as possible, I seem to be ‘happiest’ or ‘most stable’ just doing nothing. When left to my own devices, I like doing nothing. I like talking long random walks through the Internet. (If only that shit was good for my health. Maybe when we have some good AR, we can do both at the same time.)

I do know that I enjoy doing squats with heavy weights and feeling the burn and feeling the strength gains and the endorphins and stuff like that. I haven’t had much of a chance to do that recently because I’ve got RT commitments. I’m currently 11/20 done, and I’ll be done completely in May. This will be the first year since I finished my NS that I wouldn’t have had to go to CMPB to answer for why I didn’t complete my IPPT or my RT. It’s a great source of shame for me and I hate thinking about it, but I think it’s necessary that I think about it. That I really sit with myself and my feelings and confront myself about what’s going on, and how I allow these things to happen. And to be aware of all the post-hoc rationalisations. I mean, I want to fix this. [1]

So… what’s going on? Fundamentally my challenge remains the same as it always has. Self-regulation. Time management. Focus. Prioritisation. Fear management. So let’s walk through that again. We’ll do this again and again 500 times if we have to, until we get it right. We already know that we’ve made progress– we’re much, much better at these things now that we were at the start. We’ve gone on social media fasts. We’ve gone smoke-free. We’ve gone from squatting 30kg to 90kg. We’ve gone from being completely unreliable at work to being moderately reliable (although there’s still so much more improvement to be made here). We’ve gone from being a distant, disengaged spouse/son/friend to being more proactive. These are all steps in the right direction. We just need to keep going. And then we’ll overcompensate and take victory laps. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves there. The focus is on the struggle that’s in front of our face. Right now the struggle is to complete writing this. But that’s become somewhat easy, hasn’t it? We’ve done it over 550 times. We can write a thousand words. So what’s next?

What’s next is establishing more precise behaviours. It’s like controlling your muscles, right? It’s all in your brain. It’s all about your brain getting better at firing neurons in a more “patterned” way or something like that. Playing a more difficult piece on guitar requires more hand-eye-ear coordination than playing a simple one. And you’ve gone from simple to pretty hard with deliberate practice. [2]

So. The goal is to develop self-regulation skills. That means being mindful of how much time and energy is being spent on things. Deciding how to allocate these resources in pursuit of my interests and goals. That requires knowing what my interests and goals are. I think I have a fairly good idea, but it’s always worth revisiting. I want to become a great editor who inspires writers to do their best work. I want to be immersed in really good writing and thinking that challenges and inspires me. That opens my mind. That keeps me compassionate and excited and cheerful no matter how rough life gets. The main things stopping me from feeling that way– or the only thing, really– is my own incompetence at getting out of obligation debt into a surplus situation. I still haven’t ever “finished my homework”, I’m always two steps behind and improvising.

I’ve written about this many, many times. Writing alone will not solve it. But as long as I’m committed to writing regularly, I will continue to repeat myself until I internalise it effectively.


[1] The next line that always comes out of my mind is “I really do”, but “I really do” doesn’t mean anything. Reality doesn’t give a shit about how much I say I want something bad, what matters is the change in behavior.

[2] A lesson from guitar-playing that I’ve always been a little hesitant to face up to is that my progress never happens in a linear or consistent fashion. I noodle around here and there mindlessly for months before getting bored with myself and then devoting myself to some intense practice, after which I cross some threshold or plateau and get better in a sudden leap. My question to me is– why not just have a series of those intense practice sessions, and get a lot better all at once? What’s stopping me from doing that? Nothing! Just inertia and a general sense of malaise or whatever nonsense. It’s not happening because I have not developed the skill of setting targets and then achieving them decisively. I’m doing this more for work, but I’m still a novice here.

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