0645 – manage your psychology

Some of the best and most interesting conversations I’ve ever had have been with my boss, who has more experience and perspective than me. I find it helpful sometimes to reflect on the things he’s said that didn’t seem immediately obvious or intuitive to me. Off the top of my head, some of these ideas are…

  • “Maybe you should find new friends / hang out with better people.”
  • “What exactly are your desired end-states?”
  • “What’s stopping you from getting what you want? Why isn’t X happening?”
  • “Isn’t that entirely within your control?
  • “What is your system of doing things? Everybody has a system, whether they articulate it or not.”
  • “If you want to achieve great things, you have to become a person who insists that shit gets done.”
  • “The hardest thing is really managing your own psychology.”

I want to reflect on that last particular point. The way I think about it is this – every person has some amount of resource available to them. It’s a very limited resource – and as I get older I’m beginning to see how this resource is far scarcer than I ever let myself believe.

For over a decade, I’ve been buying into my own bullshit that I have a vast amount of energy just waiting to be unlocked, waiting to be tapped into. The longer I’m around, the longer it becomes clear that that just simply isn’t the case. There are vanishingly few magical days where I crank out hour after hour of incredibly productive work.

This is a painful and uncomfortable truth for me to internalize, and when I look back on my life I think it becomes obvious that I run away from this truth whenever I can. But I’m getting older and I’m getting tired of lying to myself, I’m getting tired of avoiding the truth. The quote from Ray Dalio comes to mind – success happens when you engage honestly with life’s truths, and failure happens when you avoid them. (Precise quote: success is a matter of accepting and successfully deal with the realities of your life.)

So a reality of my life is that things don’t get done unless I’m really focused, and I don’t have a lot of focus – if focus was a muscle, I’m incredibly unfit. I often feel like a fraud when I show up to work – I feel like I’m pretending to be somebody I’m not, like I’m wearing a mask. I’m faking my way through everything, saying and doing whatever it takes to just get through each interaction. And this is despite having one of the best working environments imaginable. I don’t want to get into too many details there except to emphasize that this is entirely on me, this is entirely a function of my weaknesses and failings and failures. And I don’t want to dwell on those, either – I want to focus on building strength and power.

I have made some breakthroughs in my life. They feel like they’re too few and far between, so I need to do them more. The most recent ones were with exercise and cooking, and in bits and pieces about being accountable and responsive at work. I’m still nowhere as high-functioning or as professional as I want to be. Okay, so what’s stopping me from doing that? It’s not a lack of knowledge. My mind is a junkyard of tonnes and tonnes of information, and I know how to search for the things that I want.

I think the #1 missing thing from my life is a sort of efficient central engine that keeps me on track. I alluded to this myself 4 years ago when I wrote “productivity apps fill buckets when they should be lighting fires” – my point there was that I wasn’t sufficiently lighting a fire under my own ass. A conversation I have with one of my friends over and over again is that I wish I had a peer that I really admired – not a mentor (though I suppose I could always use more of those), but a peer – something like a Lennon-McCartney, Axl-Slash, Tolkien-Lewis relationship. Somebody who would challenge me to be better, who I could challenge in turn. And I’m starting to think that maybe the reason I don’t have someone like that in my life is that I don’t meet the criteria. A great peer isn’t looking for someone she needs to prop up, she’s looking for someone she finds intrinsically inspiring. And so I need to become intrinsically inspiring. I need to manage my psychology well enough that I naturally have a fire inside my belly.

It’s a little bit sad to think about how much less idealistic I’ve become over the last 4-5 years, but those feelings are just feelings. I can wallow in them, or I can just acknowledge them and then use them to inform my next decisions. I’m still only 26 years old. I could still turn this ship around and have a great decade ahead of me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not going to live very long, like I’m going to die at 35 or 40 or something. I don’t know why I have that feeling, I just do. I feel this sense of urgency. There’s a strange thing about having a ton of urgency in your mind and yet simultaneously being totally still and totally distracted. It’s probably best exemplified by the phrase “deer in headlights”. That’s been me for 20 years and it just won’t do anymore. I have to cut that shit out. I’m going to finish up my vomit then I’m going to throw myself into just slashing through all of my tasks in my Todo list.

I need to manage my psychology. I need to be in charge of motivating myself, finding purpose, orienting myself, deciding what needs to happen next, getting things done and earning my own respect. Becoming proud of myself. I’m going to go for a run in about 45 minutes once I’m done with a few tasks. I have a good life, one of the better ones by far. I can do a lot better than I’m currently doing. I believe that to be true. But what I need to focus on is taking the next step. Lots and lots of little steps. I believe it.

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