0112 – vomit summaries + first principles

I decided that I was going to summarize and “process” my first hundred vomits before moving forward. I found myself repeating a few thoughts and ideas, and I figured that I ought to consolidate things. There’s also a sort of accumulated fatigue thing going on- a part of me is tired and wants some sort of change.

I naively hoped to summarize 100 vomits in a single post. Turns out 10 vomits pee posr is more like it. This is me systematically overestimating myself. In this case I understimate what I’ve done so far, and overestimate what I’m going to be able to do in the immediate future. I suppose this is consistent with the “overestimate changes in next 2 years, underestimate changes in 10” idea. We’re just bad at approximations like these… unless we practice.

I keep thinking that there’s some sort of holy grail- if I just rearrange things in some special configuration, I’ll snap out of the slump I don’t even realize that I’m in- and I’ll start churning stuff out like a beast. This might be doable but it cannot be at the expense of a minimum work threshold. In fact, it’s starting to be clear that the minimum work threshold is where the real magic happens. So I just need to do more of that. The exercise is feeling good and I can see changes in my body- I just need to adapt that to my work.

I do not want to be talking about this at word vomit 200. Things have to change so that they can get more interesting. I want things to be more interesting. I have to take steps to make things more interesting. I have to ration my time better. The beeminder stuff is working well for me.

I think it’s time for me to go on a “second level social media detox”. Tumblr seems to be my biggest weakness at the moment. The pictured are too pretty. Sometimes I read stuff that’s touching, compelling. But I have work I want to do and I have books I want to read. I can’t do these things until I finish those things. Have I even finished OB Markers yet? I don’t think so. I should get on that. I have too many unfinished pieces lying around and I should quickly and systematically finish them, merge them or discard them. Why have I been taking so long? Addiction to distraction.

Getting off cigarettes and Facebook have been great, and revealing. But I’m going to need new things to talk about soon, or I’ll be repeating myself, and repeating myself is boring. When you catch yourself repeating yourself over and over again, I think it’s a sign that it’s time to challenge yourself with something. Step outside the comfort zone and do something different, look at something in a new way. That’s where the magic happens and that’s where life gets interesting.

For me the challenge I think is to get my work done at a rate that is systematically ahead of deadline so that I can explore new and interesting things. This means writing. This means publishing. This means growth. I’ve been catching myself falling into old “discomfort minimizing” habits rather than “work maximizing” ones. I wonder if it’ll help to introduce cycles. I should probably steepen my requirements on beeminder so that it becomes more of a challenge.

I feel like I got a lot out of the summary of my vomits. Revisiting words that are from over 90,000 words ago allows me to approach them in a more neutral, impartial manner. The raw magnitude makes me more detached- in a good way. I don’t get too overwhelmed or desensitized- rather, I find myself able to be more attuned to what actually works. I liken it to reviewing your practice takes. That’s an element of deliberate practice, which is an order of magnitide more powerful than meandering practice. In chess players, intense study was a greater determinant of technical ability than anything else- even actual tournament gameplay time. Of course, these are people who play a lot to begin with. Way more than anybody else, way more than casual players.

This reminds me of a thought I had earlier, about refining the heuristics surrounding the 10,000 hour rule. There’s not much point analysing art if you don’t know how to wield a paintbrush (assuming you want to be a painter). That technical proficiency is a necessary prerequisite to mastery.

I know that I want more out of life and I know that I can do it. I have it in me. More accurately, there’s no me. Things are possible within a spectrum of possibility and I can visualize superior maxima points in terms of resource allocation. Should I sit down and write that out? Maybe I’ll do that but I don’t think I’ll do it within the context of this vomit. I think I’ll do it with pen and paper. Going to go home, do my pushups and squats, eat my dinner, get a quick bit of work done and then I… will meditate and figure it out from there. Maybe I’ll read. Or plan my work and get started somehow. Or just relax with the wife.


Been feeling an urge to compartmentalize and refactor my life again- to take stock of everything and lay it out neatly. First principles.

It starts with the bag of chemicals that I call me. Mind (in the most mechanical, hardware sense) and body. Physical processes. Optimizing this starts with sleeping well, staying hydrated, exercising, eating healthy. I messed this up throughout my teenage years- I was constantly sleep deprived, staying up online for no good reason. I didn’t exercise.(On hindsight, one of the best pick-me-ups when feeling down is a brisk walk outdoors. Humans just aren’t meant to be cooped up. )

The best things I’ve been doing here have been to quit smoking, sleep better and eat more healthily. I’ve also incorporated a daily exercise routine into my life which makes me feel fresher, stronger, more confident. I think I’m reaching a stage where I should start pushing myself harder on the exercise front.

Quitting cigarettes has been great. I still end up bumming cigarettes from close smoker friends if and when I see them (roughly about once every two weeks or so), so I’m technically still a smoker, I guess, but I spend weeks being “clean”- and it’s a different existence altogether- cleaner, brighter, fresher. I smell better. Everything tastes better. The coughs and sniffles are gone. My nose and mouth feel “organic”, like fresh juicy vegetables rather than the dead, acrid ashtray they had become. I might still smoke a cigarette every so often but I feel very “done” with being a smoker- with having the constant companionship of cigarettes in my pocket. It’s a crutch, like a smartphone. It’s something to occupy yourself with, something that gets you off. Surely everybody understands what that’s like. Anybody who uses social media on the phone and has a coffee habit already kinda knows what it’s like to be a smoker.

Anyway. What comes after taking care of the meatbag? There are a bunch of things. Curiosity. My marriage. My job. My blog. Guitar. Reading.

I think of these things the two critical things are my marriage and my job- and this is maybe where I can do some refactoring because there are less important things that clamor for my attention. Tumblr, for instance, which I will put in the “creation-of-identity-through-cheap-performance” category. Facebook, Tumblr, Quora… all “general” social media use falls into this category. Getting into arguments on Reddit or Hacker News falls into this category. We do it to feel good about ourselves. I call it cheap because it’s easy to do- easily replicable. It’s like responding to email. It’s the very opposite of deep focused work. It’s like paddling and fooling around at the surface of the pool of idea/knowledge/brainspace instead of diving to the depths, where the treasures are.

I think getting off Facebook was good for me when I did it last and it might be time for me to take another sabbatical-from-everything, more intensely. What does my tumblr really mean to me, really? I don’t know. It’s interesting but it really ought to be a treat, like alcohol or candy. I don’t know.

Meditation is important and I need to do it more. The last time I did it, it compelled me to pick up a specific book. What will it compel me to do this time? It allows the dust to settle. Maybe I should keep a log of post meditation insights. Or maybe I should meditate before leaving work, and before leaving home, so that my vomits are less noisy. Let’s try that now, Brb.


0111 – activation energy hypothesis + tattoos, piercings, mohawks

16th oct

How do you quit smoking? How do you become a responsible person? How does change happen? I know books are written about this- I’ve been meaning to re-read the Heath brothers’ book- but for the most part the cultural narrative we like to spread is that you just need to believe, you just need faith, you need to read the right thing, be inspired the right way, watch the right movie…

At a first-order level, this ia obviously wrong to some degree- otherwise there would be no need for new self-help books to be published. The canonical self-help book would be out, everybody would read it, everybody would be wise and make great decisions henceforth- everyone with great careers and relationships and bodies. Even if just about 30% of people got this, the resultant peer pressure would eventually change the whole world.

I might be wrong in the projections there but I think we can say with some certainty that our general ideas (and subsequently our behaviour, if inspired by them) aren’t anywhere close to what works best. We always prefer the best story, sometimes at the expense of the truth. I thought this was well contained in the juxtaposition between a superman comic about a jumper and an smbc comic about superman as a transitional power source… I’m getting ahead of myself here. I shoulf have written that separately when I had the time.

There’s something about the smartphone that makes it a lot more receptive to vomits than time actually spent at the keyboard. I think it’s because it’s that much harder to open a new tab and start surfing the net for “research”. Clearly I’d boost my work productivity if I stop multi-tasking. I have to experiment with this. I have to acknowledge this as truth and bind myself to it. Maybe I need to further bite-size work into pomodoro chunks of deep-distraction-free-writing. It absolutely doesn’t make sense that I get more writing done in my commutes than at work. So I need to change something. Maybe I should incorporate write or die into my work. That worked for me for a while when doing my vomits.

Feeling a little anxious and overwhelmed with more information coming through me than I have the ability to transcribe. It always makes me slightly nauseous. I remember getting this when reading a book by EDGE- it might’ve been “what is your dangerous idea”, or “what do you know but cannot prove”…

I will get disjointed and unhinged for the remainder of this, I think it’s the only way.

Clearly monotasking is the only way forward. I knew this to varying degrees in the past but have always repressed it, just add I have repressed meditation and structured guitar practice and god knows what else. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable? Inconvenient? That’s silly! It’s always silly when you hold these inner workings to the light of scrutiny- irrational, clumsy, clunky, childlike, immature. It’s embarrassing to reveal it initially, but then it becomes a huge relief… but if you let yourself get carried away by the relief, relapse is imminent. It takes several relapses to learn.

I’ve quit smoking many times. Sometimes several times in a day, as the joke goes. But this is I think the first time I really truly feel my heart bursting with anger and frustration and resentment to what cigarettes did to my body and my life. Ah but wait- that’s not an entirely new feeling. It has crossed some invisible, unknowable threshold, but the feeling has been building and growing for a long time. It’s like that native american story about the battle of the wolves inside you- the one that wins is the one you feed. And you have to feed it and nurture it for a very long period of time, enough so that it can cross the Dip. The Dip is long and dark and treacherous. As an explorer you have to be willing to lose sight of the shore.

Not very articulate today. Feeling this strange undercurrents of emotion. It’s like being overwhelmed beneath the surface, so not really overwhelmed. Is there a term for this?

The world is so much brighter and richer off cigarettes. I will seek pleasure from completing work and sticking to my word instead.


I have often been interested in body modification. I haven’t actually done it much myself. I once bleached my black hair brown, and I have a ear piercing with nothing in it. I tweeze stray unibrow hairs, but I don’t bothee styling them. I sometimes fantasize about getting an outlandish hairdo, like a big mohawk, but it seems more trouble than it’s worth. It’s more of something I’d like to have had done- something I have a cool photo of- rather than something I want to maintain and live with.

Yeah, we’re inevitably entering identity-construction and performance territory again.

Anyway what triggered this was me seeing an smrt staff lady with a made up face and an eyebrow piercing. I thought she looked kinda cool. As cool as you can look working for smrt, at least. And this got me thinking about self-image. (Contrast: Paul Graham does not give a damn about how he looks. Have you seen him in his shorts and slippers? Oe maybe he wants to communicate that he doesn’t give a damn. I’m guessing it’s more of a comfort thing though.)

When I was in secondary school we used to care a lot about the shoes we wore, and our hairstyles and our schoolbags. Maybe not THAT much- I’m probably exaggerating this on hindsight. But several of us would face disciplining for our attempts to make fashion statements, to accessorize with fancy shoes and hair. Many of us spent a lot of time waxing and styling our hair. There was a lot of debate and argument about acceptable footwear, acceptable sock length, what you can or cannot wear around your wrists, neck. I had a white belt I proudly wore in secondary school, and a studded belt I wore in JC. I’d hide them under the fold of my shirt. I liked the belt partially because it was easy and comfortable to wear, but it was also a sort of cosmetic defiance of authority. I thought rules against belts and shoes were silly and I enjoyed finding ways to subvert them. We’d wear colourful boxers and slogan tshirts under our shirts.

On hindsight, the best way to look good is to work out, eat healthy, take care of your skin and get your school uniform tailored to fit you nicely.

A bunch of malay guys liked to taper their pants, wear ostentious caps… it was all very interesting, this preening. I knew a tamil guy with massive Elvis Presley sideburns. He made it work for him. Racial harmony day was always an opportunity to do something subversive. A guy dressed in a sari. Another as an arab, knowing that others would make the “terrorist” connection. Very smart, actually.

But the best thing you could do I think was to be a star soccer player or athlete, or a great musician. Those were the guys with a quiet aura of confidence. (Alternatively, be good-looking and popular with girls. Having a girlfriend that others found attractive is/was a huge source of social capital.)

I think it’s interesting how badly some kids want to assert their individuality. I was one of them. I would have liked to have better observed, studied and understood others who weren’t like me. What motivated them? Why were they so comfortable falling in line? Was it a bargain/choice, or did they just not see any alternatives? Was I different intrinsically, or was it just what I was exposed to? I don’t think I’ll ever get a simple or clear answer to that one. People are different.

What’s interesting is how schools suppress this identity-creation/performance/projection. The cynical answer- which I will always be eager to present- is that schools exist to standardize kids. To pigeonhole them, assess them, sort them out. They need to turn them into interchangeable cogs with minimal autonomy.


0110 – life should be interesting + boring task mgmt stuff

I logged into Facebook on a whim- I try to keep off it these days. I saw that Nassim Taleb was in Singapore. What are the odds of that? He elbowed me in the stomach accidentally when we were taking a group photo. I’ve met Lee Hsien Loong. Been tweeted by Margaret Atwood, Jimmy Wales. I’ve met and taken pictures witb Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan. I make it a point to always try to ask a good question.

Yesterday I revisited the idea that life shoupd be interesting. I spent that night playing guitar. I’d like to be able to play with sounds better. Above all I think I’d like to play with words. This is why I’m doing the 1000×1000 words project. Completing it will be interesting. I had a nice burst in the 60s or 70s but I’ve slowed down since. I’m not really happy about that. Life is excruciatingly short. I shouldn’t be missing my daily grind towards my goal. The grind IS the goal. The whole point is that a regular commitment to reading and/or writing will alter your mind, probably permanently. That’s the person I want to become. I want to be better than I’ve ever been.

I look back at my writing from earlier this year and I see a noticable difference. I’ve changed already. Is volume the differentiator, or is it something else? Probably both volume and experience.

But this doesn’t feel like a very interesting question to explore. You do the work, you reap the dividends, you refine your process along the way.

What is interesting? I’ll have to split this into work and pleasure. Well- do I? There are some things I can’t shake. Problems of procrastination, discourse… These are things I’d like to help work on. I’m not bring very clear. There’s a very noisy lady on the train (on the phone) and I’m struggling to tune her out.

I’ve come to feel more strongly about phrasing. I feel a need to hack away at bad phrasing.

Consider that last sentence. “I feel a need to heck away at bad phrasing.” The sentence that came out of me was actually “I feel a need to hack away at what I believe to be bad phrasing.” That’s a sentence that’s easily understood when spoken, because a speaker can use gestures and emphasis to guide his audience. “I feel a need to hack away at what I believe is bad phrasing.” (“is” is better usage then “to be”. It’s simpler and effectively means the same thing. There’s less chance of confusing your audience.)

[I meant to say “confusing or losing your audience”. It’s a minor but valid distinction. You can confuse an audience without losing them. I feel a need to cover all the bases. But this additional clarity comes at the expense of overall readability. I systematically sacrifice the general for the particular. Sometimes this is exactly what you want to achieve: sometimes precision is the most necessary thing in communicating something. But this isn’t the case with my writing. My overelaboration is a habitual tic, not a stylistic choice. I don’t recite poetry to swordsmen because I have some elaborate objective- I do it because I lack swordsmanship.

So this is what’s on my mind that I’d like to make deliberate. I’d like to write with fewer weasel words. In the long term, I hope I think with fewer weasel words too.


Life is short. At 23 I already have regrets. Not practicing harder. Not working harder. Wasting too much time on selfish things like winning arguments. I’ve developed some useful skills from arguing, but not so much from general idleness. I don’t think so. I wish I had been in more relationships. I wish I had invested more permanent skills.

I hopefully have at least another 10 years to live. That’s how I’d like to look at it. Longer pictures and I start romanticizing at the expense of actions.

Okay so I have ten years to live. I have to go to New York. (I should explore this train of thought, which had ended abruptly here, alas.)


This is going to be a task management type vomit so it might be pretty boring.

Why did I just think that? It’s a premptive apology. To who? The reader? Nobody’s meant to read this, this is for me. Am I apologizing to myself? I’m trying to reduce my own expectations? No, I’m definitely writing for others- but this is a self-selected audience of less than a hundred people, so why am I apologizing? If you don’t like it here, stranger, you’re welcome to leave. In fact I encourage it. If you’re here, you’re already wasting your time on something incomplete, unvarnished… potentially just noise.

It’s the equivalent of a standup comedian or a band in a nearly empty club apologizing for his unprofessional performance. Why apologize? Why not give it your best shot?

Maybe the apology isn’t for the lack of quality. The lack of quality is apparent to everyone. The apology is for the lack of effort. And that’s apparent only to the performer. (It might be inferred by the audience, but only the performer can be certain.)

So I’m not sorry that this is a pain in the ass to read. It is what it is. Take ir or leave it.

Okay, about task management, which I suck at. I’m writing about it because writing is a thinking tool for me.

One of the cool things about the work I do is that I don’t have an overly rigid set of tasks. You could say that one of my most pressing tasks is to think of better tasks to do. That said, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking instead of doing. Thinking as an excuse to avoid doing the dirty schlep work than inevitably needs to be done.

So I think it makes sense to schedule certain amounts of schlep work at regular intervals- things like responding to emails, for instance. It doesn’t make sense to think about whether or not I should be replying to emails right now. I should have a fixed period of time during which I answer emails and then leave it at that. Not having such structure is tiresome. It wastes precious cognitive resources day in and day out. I’ve noticed that having a fitness routine has made me fitter, happier and more productive, and I have since accepted that my life is better with fitness routines. Now I want to expand and extend that into other routines.

This is already working out for me. I have developed a routine of doing word vomits during my morning and evening commutes. The result is that I end up writing about 2000 words a day without having to dedicate cognitive resources to figuring out whether I should or not. My beeminder is noe a prompter that tells me I should practice guitar, read books, meditate. Maybe I should schedule all of those things, too. The point is that removing the “should I or should I not” and replacing it with a “yes, unless…” or “no, unless…” is a much superior way of doing things.

Why didn’t I learn this when I was a kid? It seemed silly and trivial, and also it was stuff that I wasn’t actually very interested in. But I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater- by refusing to learn how to serve the agendas of others, I failed to learn to serve my own.

I didn’t respect anybody, and I refused to follow orders from anybody I didn’t respect. Well turns out I don’t really respect my conscious decision-making self either- so I don’t follow my own orders. I think the hack lies in questioning the obedience given to the subconscious- why is HE deserving of such unquestioning obedience? If you’re going to disobey undeserved authority, nobody should be immune.

So anyway… I need to chunk tasks together. It’s a little depressing that the most productive parts of my day seem to be my daily word vomits. I need to do something vomit-esque with my work. But what? I need to contain things into explosive bursts. Maybe I should start a pomodoro the moment I get into the office.

I tried eating some sushi after work before coming home. I feel a little clearer and less wasted.


0109 – Manufactured Context + commit to flow, and interestingness


  • we don’t have much free will if any
  • stop insisting you’re in control
  • modify your context/environment
  • pursue what is interesting

Yeah, it’s a slight play on Noam Chomsky’s manufactured consent. There’s no deeper reason for this though, I just liked the idea of using a phrase that evokes another idea. Let’s explore to see if there’s any additional value in the proximity of the two phrases.

Here’s my understanding of manufactured consent: it’s a subtle form of manipulation. Inception (the movie) demonstrated how it works- you plant an idea in somebody’s head in a subtle, insidious way. The target must be thoroughly convinced that she came up with the idea herself. This is done most visibly through the media- we all should know by now how advertising convinces people that they’re ugly, imperfect, in need of improvement, blah blah. The advertiser’s defense is that the advertising only works because the ads remind people of real prejudice they encounter in real life- they’re just providing solutions to problems that people already have. They aren’t creating the problems, just drawing attention to them.

Thing is, people don’t have nearly as much free will as we like to pretend we do. We’re very susceptible to suggestion, peer pressure. Personally, this is where I am in life right now- so forgive me for shallowly assuming thst everybody else is in similar circumstances. (This is going to be a common refrain… I should just speak for myself and leave it at that.)

I realize that I have been held back by my stubborn insistence that I am in control. That I choose my actions, my path. I realize now that this is arrogant, naive, and worst of all, false. I can’t speak for humanity but it is clear to me that I am hugely affected by context, by environment. It would be easy for me to pretend that I’ve quit smoking because I’m somehow a better person, because I somehow decided that this is what I’m going to do. But this is rather false. The main reason I’ve stopped smoking- or the catalyst, really, is that my colleagues don’t smoke- and I admire my colleagues. To be blunt about it, I desire their approval. Here’s a simple counter-example that will shatter any bullshit I might construct: if my boss picked up smoking tomorrow, all my rationalization would go out of the window. I’d come up with new reasons to explain why it’s great that we’re smoking- more conversations, more ideas, etc.

So clearly context is hugely significant here. It affects my actions and/or decision-making, and the rationalization happens largely after-the-fact. Up till now I’ve spent far too much time analysing rationalizations when really I ought to have been studying and playing around with contexts.

(Strange segue: I was writing the word vomit so far on my smartphone because the wife was using the laptop, which now has a shiny new 23-inch monitor buddy. When she stopped, I thought maybe I’d be more productive at the desk. I can type faster, surely? But I got quickly distracted by twitter and reddit, and got no writing done. I’m writing this on my phone again. Here’s an interesting example of context: I seem to be more inclined to do vomits on my smartphone then on ny computer. Why is this? It doesn’t intuitively make sense to me. I come up with after-the-fact rationalizations. )


Discussions about education are rather depressing to have. There’s a real shortage of talented teachers. Education systems were built primarily for indoctrination and childcare. They were built in the spirit and image of the industrial revolution. Seth Godin asks us, what is school for? To tech obedience, compliance. For assessment. To impose order on illegible chaos.

Literacy is a human right. Everybody should be literate. But education is about lighting fires, not filling cups. Cramming is such a strange concept if you think about it. Why do you need to learn this much material in this much time? To prepare you for a future where you do more of the same.

Education should begin with the raw, wrenching facts, maybe. How big is a country? How big is the earth? How big is the sun? The moon? Solar system? Galaxy, universe? What was slavery? People used to own other people. Human trafficking is still a thing. What is rape? What are drugs and why do people use them? What is pleasure? How should life be lived? How can life be lived? Why go to school? What is money? What is wealth? What is poverty? What is inequality? What is institutionalized racism? What is addiction? Why does it happen? What do people hurt each other? What does it mean to make a living? What is friendship? What is love? What is marriage? Why does it exist? Why is it necessary? Why is it so hard to get rid of obsolete things? Why are distractions so compelling? Is life about chasing highs? What is optimal? Why do grand gestures feel so good? Why is it so compelling to live in the now? Should that be subverted? Why? How? How interesting can life get? What can one do to systematically exit the comfort zone?

Commit to flow. Commit to done. Life should be interesting. The same old conversation over and over again is not interesting. I want to have more interesting experiences. What’s the most interesting thing I could do right now? A cigarette is not interesting. A beer is not interesting. Even harder drugs are not interesting. Shower is necessary. Sleep is necessary. But neither is interesting. Even Facebook is not interesting. Twitter and tumblr are not interesting. Sex is not interesting. Masturbation is not interesting. Meditation is reasonably interesting.

Here’s what’s interesting- playing Beatle songs now that I have a better understanding of m7/min7/maj7 chords. Something in the way she moves. Writing a counterpoint to shuli’s post will be interesting.

Work will get really interesting once I get past my plateau and get to start playing with new things.


Oh man, 20 odd words left. I guess I’ll use this space to explain what I’m doing- I have a whole bunch of drafts in my Evernote- moments where I started writing and then didn’t cross the 1,000 mark. I contemplated deleting them all, but that kinda hurt- because I know I’m going to be summarizing them later, and what if there’s good stuff to summarize? So I’m conjoining multiple draft into single vomits. I think it’s still in line with my final end goal of having 1,000,000 words of reflection, introspection, thinking.


0108 – future as escapism

12 sept

Feel the urge to tidy up, to have a landing page. But life is messy! It’ll never be possible to tidy up years of mess! Well- what if I simply delete the non-essential? I believe that I’ve downloaded a backup of my blogs.

There’s a constant fear of losing what I’ve got. But why not lose it, really? How much is essential? How much can I afford to simply carve away? Most of it, surely! If I were forced to start from scratch I probably could. So why not do that? It feels a little dramatic and a little traumatic. Surely such extreme measures are not necessary! But what if these are simply ways for me to cling on to my self worth?


The future is a source of escapism from the present. Romanticized. Avoid doing what needs to be done just paint rosy picture. I’ve wanted to do a summary of everything Elon Musk has said but that’s a bit of a daunting project and not at all a priority. It strikes me as something that doesn’t get done- by me or anybody else, to a standard that I believe would actually be worth reading- because it requires a time commitment that doesn’t make sense. The process of assimilating Elon’s thoughts in a way that is genuinely useful will peehaps direct a person to action rather than contemplation. You’d be too busy building something that matters.

I have too much nonsense on my plate and I spend too much stuff rearranging everything instead of taking the bites that I need to take. Okay so if I’m going to take a bite of anything, what should I bite? I need to figure out how to activate my credits. So let’s try doing that now.

Busy. Do it when I get home. Why do I want to write the things I want to write? Because I want to be perceived as smart, witty, intelligent. That’s the main thing. Secondly I want to help make a difference. More often than not the stuff I want to say has already been said, and it’s easier to simply point to What’s been said than it is to start from scratch. Up till now I’ve convinced myself that the pursuit of articulating something is a worthy end in itself- you develop your mind. While this remains true, I think it makes a lot more sense to focus on creating value for my employers and colleagues, who’re actually paying me and counting on my help. I owe them my fullest attention.

I have too many to-do lists and apps and whatnot. I convince myself that sorting stuff out will make it easier for me to act. But really all I need is to draw out a urgent/important matrix and just follow that. I have been doing non-urgent and unimportant things because it’s easier. I’ve been optimizing for short term comfort instead of long term sustainability. Story of my life. I’m only writing this now because there aren’t very many better things I can do with my commute. Otherwise I shouldn’t spend any time on it. I shouldn’t be on Quora, it’s not worth my time at the moment. It feels good sure, but not as good as crushing it at work. Which is what I ought to be doing, which is where I ought to be getting my personal fulfillment from. When I get home I’m going to sit my wife down and explain my situation to her so I can get her input and advice.

Decluttering needs to be done. Focus.


Cigarettes are horrible. You don’t realize it when you’re a smoker but they really fuck you up. It gets in the skin of your face. It burns your lips. It chars your throat. It coagulates your mucus and makes it dank and gooey, viscous. You start to get body aches. You subconsciously squint a lot to keep the smoke out of your eyes, and it stains them. Your teeth get stained yellow. You get calculus deposits. Your entire nervous system gets duller. You don’t really feel the wind on your skin anymore. You forget how food smells, tastes. Your skin gets dry. It cracks. You get ulcers and sores in your mouth. You forget the pleasure of your partner’s scent as she sits next to you. You forget the pleasure of a deep breath of fresh air.

When you stop smoking your mouth feels likr it’s moulting- shedding a layer of toxic death to reveal one that’s fresh, alive.

Your field of vision expands and everything looks more colorful. This can be a little overwhelming at first and it might make you feel like smoking again for the comfort of focus. It seems like you can’t focus on anything. It’s normal. Your brain’s finally getting some oxygen. Everything starts to look brighter and more colorful. It looks like a different world. My guess is that this has to do with nicotine being a depressant- it makes everything dull.

Nicotine is a psychoactive chemical.


So tired. I was talking about how I think that there are similarities between social media addiction, cigarette addiction and procrastination.

Procrastination is the general state. I imagine this state can be explored in many ways- playing games, online shopping, scrolling through tumblr/reddit/9gag. The details here are irrelevant. The point is that we have some things that we intellectually know or believe that we ought to do, but we avoid doing them and do other things instead. To some degree it helps to eliminate the distractions- you can’t smoke cigarettes you don’t have. That said, no amount of not-smoking will take you on a run and put healthy food down your throat. (Smoking is a bit of a unique and possibly tedious example because it’s literally damaging to your health…)

Let’s use homework and Tumblr. No amount of not-tumblring will get your homework done. Assuming you want to do well in school, it makes more sense to spend your resources optimizing for homework done rather than tumblr-not-scrolled.

Two thoughts- what is it that makes procrastination more alluring than the work of responsibilities, and can we somehow reverse that? Homework is generally lame, and I’m willing to write it off as incurably painful/boring… but I also procrastinate when it comes to things like writing or practicing guitar. Why do I do that? Things like not getting up, not going for a run…

What’s the reason? If we did absolutely nothing, there’s no complication- tiredness or inertia explains it. Can’t do anything. But why are we able to surf tumblr instead of work?


0107 – book summaries, facebook fatigue, focus

3rd sept 2013

I’m convinced that good book summaries and quotes are important. It’s startling to go through a good book and then find that it’s almost crininally under-shared. It seems to me- and I don’t want to be condescending about this, but it’s a little hard not to seem it- that most people don’t do the reading. They just stay on top of current affairs and news that’s passed through many different hands. It’s the information dietary equivalent of eating nothing but processed food. Junk food. It starts to affect your health and you start feeling kind of sick- ay least I did, which is why I left Facebook and generally tried to keep a low profile.

How many people who talk about Lee Kuan Yew have actually read his memoirs? I think it’s important that you do if you’re serious about wanting to be constructively involved in ‘serious discussion’, or if you want to have a well-informed opinion.

I think it’s a little messed up for me to go around having discussions about things I don’t really know very much about, especially when information is so freely available.

Take the Great Paper Chase article me and the wife posted on sharankaurner.wordpress.com. It’s spreading pretty quick now. I knew it was going to happen the moment I found the article. Here’s why.

OB Markers is a book by a former Straits Times editor, who had close working relationships with people in power. He saw things others wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Yet because he’s an editor, he’s not “sexy”. The general public doesn’t immediately realize how valuable his perspectives might be. I bought the book at least partially on indirect recommendation from Bertha Hansen, whose writing and thinking I admire.

So I was reading OB markers and it’s full of interesting and valuable quotes (which I will be sharing soon, in a blogpost). I’m pretty sure that very few of these quotes and insights, if ANY, are in popular imagination. I bet the same applies to say, SR Nathan’s memoirs. Why?

A lot of people aren’t interested in doing the reading. It takes a certain appetite and disposition to sit down with a thick bloody book that doesn’t immediately promise to be interesting, valuable, exciting. All of that is the reader’s responsibility more than it is the author’s. (Speaking fron the perspective of someone who reads to investigate, learn, expose, reveal. Quality of writing makes a huge difference in absorption rates. Every writer should write as compellingly as possible. I break this rule myself because I’m writing with an express purpose, not for mainstream public consumption. I write for me. But the moment you write something that you want others to read…)

The people who DO read these books are a minority to begin with. Of those that do, many simply skim through it, reading the way a couch potato might watch television. Going through the motions, just enjoying the experience of reading words and turning pages. They might not really be present. They typically forget the details and nuances of whatever they’ve read. They might struggle to then talk about the book to others- all they can say is whether it’s good or bad, to what degree.

Some of those that read… take it a little more seriously. They analyse. They question. They consider implications. They mskr comparisons. They clash ideas against one another. They come up with interesting perspectives that are somehow superior to what they had before.

But not all of these people share. In fact, I’m horribly certain that most of them don’t. I bet that some of the best minds thst make the best connections and associations are uninvolved in broader communities. I married one. Every single day my wife stuns me with her amazing questions… which she then keeps to herself.

So what seems trivial- writing book reviews/summaries- becomes a remarkable thing, because so few people actually do it. I mean, if people really read self-help books and followed the instructions, we’d have many more successful people around. Ohviously, most prople just skim through them and it’s business as usual almost immediately afterwards. No lasting change. You need lots of focus for that. Careful attention. High volumes and lots of repetition.


I guess I feel pretty good. I walked away from Facebook because I felt like I had nothing meaningful to say, and I was being overwhelmed with overly processed noise. I needed silence and peace to clear my head. I felt a little uneasy but it seems pretty clear to me now that the answer is reading- reading that follows curiosity.

FATIGUE. I got tired of Adapt when it got to the really big issues like global warming and financial crises. I AM interested in those things- in fact I think I’ve always been interested in pretty much everything- but I experienced a sense of “this doesn’t help me, this isn’t what I need.” I have more skin in the game now. I have a job and bills to pay, and those are my priorities. I need to get better at my job and avoid falling into the trap of just coasting along. To do that I need to develop self-mastery and discipline, and engineer my environments such that they help or force me to learn whatever it is that I need to learn so that I can then get myself into a position to be able to do anything about financial crises.

Why care about such big ideas, anyway? I used to love them- theories of large complex systems had me enthralled. They’re just beautiful to contemplate. They gave me a glimpse of a wondrous world, they helped me see just how fabulous reality is. How rich, how marvelous.

But I think there’s a saturation point to that. There are diminishing returns to awe and splendour if they don’t influence action. I have to build and participate in the world, not simply observe it or conceive of it. I don’t simply want to watch the NBA all day while sitting in my couch. The fat and unfit sports commentator is a grotesque mental picture. Once you’ve seen enough of the game to realize that it’s a beautiful game, the natural progression should be to play it. Watch and learn, yes, but also do and learn. A well-lived life with lots of exercise is much better than a sedentary life with lots of ESPN. It’s possible that the fat slob watching ESPN understands basketball better than the kid playing it with his friends after school… and yet– no, right?

Understanding is not knowledge. You can know how to do something better than somebody who understands it. Practically speaking.

I mean, practical knowledge is all that matters in practical living. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe in. One should know how to make good decisions. Knowing how to manage one’s time effectively is far more useful than knowing how financial crises happen. Besides, if you’re really good at managing your time, you’ll them be able to find time to read up avoid financial crises. If you CAN’T manage your time, however, then no amount of knowledge about financial crisis will save you.

This is a huge problem. I never learnt discipline, focus, time-management. While I now intellectually acknowledge them as important and valuable, a part of me resents the world for not having taught or given it to me. This is irrational of course, and it’s obvious when I’m in a reflective state of mind. But it’s not always so obvious.

Resentment: what the fuck was I learning in school when I didn’t know how to focus? Isn’t the ability to focus pretty much the most important skill in life, from which all other skills are built? Steve Vai said that success at guitar or anything else was about focus. How do you get fit? Focus. Focus and change your environment. It’s really the most important game of all. Focus focus focus.

I had an app called write or die that would force me to focus on writing- in terms of sheer volume- because it had a ticking meter that would go down. Clearly I need more ticking meters in my life. I don’t pay attention to the passage of time. I don’t value time. That seems to be the pressing problem. That’s partially why writing in notebooks was so effective- I was a log more conscious then of the passage of time. But my smartphone is always with me, so I should use this. How do I combined the powerful effect of pen and paper with the convenience of my smartphone to ensure that I appreciate and manage my time? How do I learn to focus? Tactics are almost irrelevant.

So that’s the grand game then. The only game worth playing. Learning how to focus. I need to track moments. Rather than having deadlines looming- which is depressing and a constant reminder of my incompetence and failure- I need something to build. Don’t break the chain is too trivial.


0106 – pointlessness of argument

1st Sept 2013

Smoking: I had two cigarettes yesterday. I didn’t enjoy them and my mouth is icky even now. It’s not nearly as icky as it used to be following months of heavy smoking, but I’m a lot more sensitive to it now… like a cluttered table in an otherwise empty room,  comparee to a house packed to the brim with endless mess.

Syria: I saw a video on /r/morbidreality of a father carrying his little daughter in his arms. Her head was split wide open, in half. It was mortifying. I felt horribly sick. She was still slightly alive.

That said… I think it’s difficult to have an informed opinion on Syria. I have no idea what’s really going on there. I have no idea what the US’ s real reasons are for wanting to get involved. Here’s a train of thought: the North Korean government inflicts hell on its populace, too, but the US probably won’t get involved there, because China. The US/West has done all sorts of horrible things over the past two centuries, so the “right makes might” rhetoric is really hollow. It’s even kind of funny, in a dreary black humor Ha Ha People Die kind of way.

I don’t want to take sides or patronize or claim any sort of authority or understanding. All I’m saying is that things are almost certainly not what they seem- what we see and hear is very removed from the truth,  to the extent where… I’m starting to be convinced that even having an opinion on such foreign affairs is almost entirely a waste of time unless you are personally invested somehow. If you don’t have real skin in the game there is no sense talking about it: it might feel good but it doesn’t help.

What I think might help a little is to point out that the Emperor is naked- more support and visibility for whistleblowers, more questions, more demands for transparency and evidence. None of us know what Obama knows, so it’s really hard if not impossible to evaluate his decision-making. We might make the same decision in his shoes.

What we do have to do is to make it as difficult as possible for structures/institutions to exploit people’s ignorance. I think we do that by acknowledging that reality is ridiculously complex, almost nobody has any real idea of what’s going on… and we ask lots of questions.

That’s assuming you want to do something about it directly. I hate that father’s are carrying dying children in their arms, but I’m not sure if me arguing on the internet about it is the best use of my time.

3rd Sept
The year is beginning to die. You can feel it, you can smell it. Another year full of promise that turned out to be simultaneously more and less than you’d have expected. I’ve learnt quite a bit this year, and made some pretty drastic changes in my life, and yet so many things are pretty much the same as they’ve always been.

That’s the rub when trying to tell a story. There are tonnes of data points you can choose from. So there are many different narratives just waiting to be conjured up. And almost all of them are valid, defensible. At least internally. It boils down to what you want to hear. And who or what you’re accountable to.

I have a lot to learn. I am still vague and blunt, as a writer, as a thinker and as a person. I don’t like this, it makes me uncomfortable. I want to be more useful, precise. I’m not. I’m woefully incompetent and I have been for a very long time.

But conditional self-esteem is a bad thing. One shouldn’t peg one’s self worth to his accomplishments or capabilities. That quickly gets you judging other people as well, and then you get trapped in this endless competition of one-upmanship… and that might be an acceptable condition if it led to some sort of greatness, but it seems to me that greatness is a consequence of transcending perfectionism. Well- maybe not. Maybe that just sounds nice, and greatness is a consequence of a kind of pathological sickness that’s socially acceptable as long as the warm and fuzzy police are okay with it. As long as you stick to the arbitrary rules and deliver on your promises.

Eh, why so negative. There’s not much point discussing greatness anyway. It might be vaguely inspiring or something, but the important thing is to do the daily work. And that’s ugly and unglamorous as heck.

So negative. I think it’s because I haven’t been shipping. I haven’t been doing very much anything. My work rate was strangely diminished. Too much nonsense on my plate. It’s my own fault- I start too many things and never finish them.

Here’s something I have to get off my chest. Maybe I’m saying it just to feel better, but here goes: sometimes I don’t give a fuck. In fact, I don’t give a fuck. About anything other than myself. I am a selfish person.

I like to think that I’m consistent about this. Nobody owes me anything. Nobody is obliged to do anything for me.

I believe that people deserve their space. Nobody should ever feel obligated to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise want to do. Exceptions might be in the case of, say, mandatory military conscription for the preservation of the city-state. I didn’t enjoy NS, but I understood why it was necessary. I can make an exception for compulsory primary school education. In both cases I think the net social benefit exceeds the personal cost or discomfort. (That said I think there’s a moral obligation for people in both education and defence to try to create more meaningful experiences for both NSFs and primary school kids, and to encourage them to learn and grow and develop themselves with as much autonomy, mastery and purpose as possible… within the constraints of those circumstances.

I’m probably going to change my mind about this very quickly. It feels like something I really can’t have fixed opinions about. It changes with the weather. But I don’t want to pretend to be altruistic if I’m not. I am who I am. I do what I can. Enough with the hopeless moralizing.

0105 – be aware of your addictions and dependencies

(old post- 31st august 2013)
Haven’t written because I feel like I’m repeating myself and I have zero authority. None, not even to speak for myself.

I think I was well and truly addicted to Facebook. I think it was a legitimate psychological addiction, dopamine and all. And I think walking away from that revealed a lot to me. And I’m coming back to some maybe acid thoughts here but life is a trip and you can go anywhere you want. You can smash stuff and throw things out the window- there may be some repercussions but you’re not nearly as enslaved as you think you are, or as you behave.

I honestly think going off Facebook gsve me some perspective on smoking. I think my “social” addiction might be worse than my nicotine addiction- which makes sense of you think about it because we are deeply social creatures.

So I’ve been a parasite, dependent on others for my self worth and validation to some degree. I tell myself that I’m smart and don’t have to work hard at anything and I use that idea to try and show off, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe what I’ve always needed was a really public failure. But even then I typically find some way to psychologically insulate myself. I’m really good at that. I protect my psychological state at the expense of my relationships, my legacy, my everything. Maybe.

The whole phenomena is honestly too complex for me to do justice to in one attempt, 1000 words or not. I’m not sure if clarifying it will be helpful. I’ll just dump some observations in the meantime. Remember this is what I do to pass time on trains instead of social media or games… why did I just say that? Trying to make myself look good. Overdeveloped skill. It might be useful on the other side of growth but for now it’s simply stopping me from properly acknolwedging negative feedback…

Its interesting to quit smoking and then pick it up again and then quit again. You start to get an understanding of what it really does to you. Your mouth, tongue and teeth gets coated in a layer of gunk that becomes filthy- it really stinks and it feels unclean, unhealthy… almost like some sort of death, decay. Your lips get parched and burnt. Sometimes your tongue develops ulcers and slight burns… so it seems. Your air passages get clogged up. This is especially noticable in the morning when you wake up- sneezes and runny nose, a deeper wisdom in the body anxiously trying to repair itself before the pleasure craving kicks in and takes over. You arrest the dissenters- gas them,  ISA them. Everything looks safe and quiet. Everything is dying under the surface. The occasional cough.

When you stop you start realizing that cigarettes made you squint.  Every time you took a drag- a grimace, it keeps the smoke out or something. Your vision changes. The world starts to look a little brighter and more colorful. Your field of vision expands wider. This can be overwhelming and hard to take in- which is part of what sent me back to smoking in some of my earlier quit attempts.

When you stop your digestive system gets a little confused, maybe excited. Burps and farts and unfamiliar bowel movements. You start to feel more relaxed and clear. You take deeper breaths.you start to smell and taste more. Your skin feels less abused.

Everybody kinda knows that stuff intellectually but it’s really something else to experience it. You realize how subjective your experience of reality is. It’s an entire different way of being.

(This is only 607 words. I had copied an earlier bit from an earlier post without realizing. But I know that previous vomits more than make up for the word count.)


0104 – manage your information diet and lethargy

(this is an old post- should really be about 20 vomits ago or so. 26th of august.)

“This mrt ppc curve is not maximised” – RJC kids on the train.

I’ve been feeling tired, lethargic and unproductive lately. I think I might be slightly ill, slightly dehydrated, and I haven’t really-properly exercised in a while. I’m determined to think of this is a plateau which I will overcome.

I’m thinking it’s really important that I continue to watch and influence my information diet. I’ve been saying several times that I want to deny myself certain distractions but I haven’t done very much about it. I’m still coasting on the good feelings I have from deactivating Facebook, but it’s really not that big a deal. I still find ways to distract myself. It’s frustrating.

I’ve been deleting and aggregating my bookmarks online. I think I need to work in short bursts because long runs simply don’t do it for me. I know pomodoro works so why don’t I use it? I think I simply have too many options on my plate. I need to eliminate, eliminate, simplify, meditate. I feel like I’ve fallen into a backlog trap with my work, which is very reminiscent of the problems I’ve had since I was in primary school. I’m tired of writing about how tired I am. But I don’t see what else I can write about. What else could possibly be meaningful other than me developing self-control, self-discipline, self-mastery? I don’t have anything useful to contribute to the world other then a bunch of opinions, which are pretty cheap and easily replaceable, reproducible. I think my blogging-as-inquiry is leading me to the realization (have I stated this before?) that blogging is insufficient. Wit is insufficient. Networking and socializing is insufficient. All of the skills I’ve developed are relatively worthless in this regard. My usuak approach does not work here, the best chain-gunner in the world will not be able to operate a sniper rifle effectively. I have to unlearn and relearn. I have to empty my cup. I think this means I have to empty a LOT of things… but I don’t have the luxury of spending too much time doing that. I have to Do. Why is this so hard? That’s not even a useful question- it’s hard, the why is simply a curiosity, a parlor game. The question to answer is how do you tackle something that’s hard?

You break it down, of course. You find the weakest spot and you hit it as hard as you can. Okay, what’s the weakest spot in my current enemy (myself)? Where can I hit hardest to do maximum damage with the limited energy that I have?

Let’s take just the present moment. I’ll haze to go home and shower immediately- do my pushups and squats (which have to be non-nrgotiable because it’s ridiculously easy to get lethargic and unfit when you’re working and not paying attention). Clean the cat litter before showering. Have dinner with the wife… should I try and get a little bit of work done before that? Probably not. I should probably draw up battle plans, which is what D told me he did when things got tough.

I think I have to seriously experiment with writing on pen and paper instead off online. Sometimes it seems like my word vomits are the most productive part of my day and they really shouldn’t be. I cannot be trusted with an internet connection unless absolutely critical- which is usually only at the stage of publishing and sharing. I can’t continue this cycle of thinking I can be trusted and then discovering that I can’t.

Going to ask the wife to help me with this.


31st august 2013:

That was a pretty quick recovery. I had tuna, eggs and vegetables for dinner last night and I had a kaya toast set for breakfast this morning- and I noticed that I wasn’t lethargic after lunch. I realize that my understanding of nutrition is woefully limited by my own standards. And I realize this applies to a lot of things. I go through life with an unremarkably piecemeal understanding of things. I’ve never really fully mastered any video game- even metal slug and bare knuckle which I think I’m pretty good at- I never break past a certain threshold of “good enough”. This is fairly consistent. I claim to be perfectionist in theory, but in reality I give up on things before they get really really good. There was a period of time where I tried to improve my metal slug x playing further, which was a little remarkable, but what a pointless pursuit! It would’ve been more impressive maybe a decade ago. If I’m going to get really good at something now it had better be something that’s genuinely useful to me. So blogging, then. Fitness, nutrition (never thought I’d care about that but I’m getting older and my energy levels at 23 seem to be more limited than I thought they would be- isn’t this supposed to be the endless youth phase?). Attention management, focus. Conquering fear of imperfection and daring to ship over and over, to create, to lay seige to that which lay before me.

I’m always afraid of giving my everything. The neurosis that makes me hold something back is powerful and deep rooted. But it has to be extracted, now. Yesterday. Surgically. This is way overdue.

I was writing about what smoking does to the body. I had to wonder- does social media have similar effects? Does it wear down your mind? I think it did for me. I love the internet deeply but it also often keeps me from doing the deep work I believe I should be doing, that I believe I am capable of doing. But what is this bloody deep work I keep alluding to? What is this mystical state of productivity I seem to romanticize? There’s no such thing, Visa. All we have is this moment- one foot in front of another, one word in front of another, putrid mouth, dithered mind and weary muscles. Deep breaths.

I was reading something about the Gervais principle and I realized that, within that framework, I’m a loser/sociopath. But I don’t want to be, damnit! I’m a drone most of the time but in moments of awareness I want to take drastic heroic action. But there are no drastic heroic actions, don’t you understand? There’s only the steady drip-drup-dripping of the everyday commitment- you unattended this when it comes to vices and addictions, the challenge is merely to apply it to the inverse. This is nothing new, it is phenomenally boring. Same old shit x1000. You most certainly do NOT want to be making these same bullshit excuses at 30, not even 25… The time for extreme surgical action is now.

I have to declutter. I made some progress but I need to take it further. I need more meditation.

Cigarettes suppress your appetite. They burn and numb your tastebuds. They hinder your sense of smell.

I wonder if social media does something similar. I wonder if it suppresses something and substitutes it with something else. Earlier I caught myself craving informatioj and updates- new things to look at, new things to “act on”, novelty. I think that’s a kind of fetish, a kind of perversion, “extremization”, addiction to speed and volume.

It reminds me of playing in a band as a beginner musician. You want power, and the two ways to seemingly get power are speed and volume. Bud volume damages your hearing, and you get numb to it. Speed is exhausting and you get numb to that too. You hurt your hands, you hurt your ears, you get acclimatised to it and it takes more and more to get the same pleasure.

But real power or heaviness doesn’t come from volume, speed, hoarseness. It comes from intensity. Control, dynamics. Pulse. The real challenge for a musician is to play slow, not fast. Slow forces you to listen to every single note. It forces you to face weakness, inconsistency. The challenge is to sound powerful and heavy even at low volumes. To have great melodies and rhythms that resonate, that are memorable. This is the pursuit of a certain kind of complexity that isn’t immediately apparent to the beginner who just wants hard loud fast now. The same seems to apply to every sort of complex field: writing. Cooking/drinking/eating. Dancing.

My stomach hurts, why? Am I hungry? Whey is it trying to tell me? It’s a little sharp for regular hunger. But I last ate at… 1pm. It’s been 6 hours. Maybe that’s too long. I should try having more meals at smaller intervals. It seems tedious, but so is smoking, isn’t it? Smoking is remarkably tedious. You have to remember to light up every hour or so, sometimes more often, especially when stressed. You have to carry a pack with you at all times. Truly remarkable how responsible smokers are at taking care of their habit. Same for social media, for games…

The challenge I think is to pay attention. To listen to your body. To listen to your subconscious. These things are hard to notice over the noise of ad and id overload.


Cigarettes are horrible friends. They deserve to be cut out of your life. You think they make you feel good but it’s an illusion, a low hanging fruit- like getting into internet arguments.

Cigarettes, internet arguments, procrastination and abusive relationships all have a little something in common. They’re all destructive.


0103 – The sneaky procrastinator waits patiently for The Slip

A picture speaks a thousand words, so lets start with that.



Do you see The Slips? If I didn’t use this external to keep myself accountable, the slips would’ve been the beginning of the end- where I’d have tapered off and done nothing.

My targets for “meditate”, “guitar” and “read” are all incredibly low- 2-3 times a week each. I expected to be dominating them, the way I thought I was dominating “exercise”.

The data doesn’t lie: I’m far less capable than I think I am. This isn’t a put-down or an act of self-loathing. I’m pretty proud of myself for sticking to this for as long as I have. I haven’t broken any of the commitments I’ve made to myself in this context- if I practice guitar today, meditate tomorrow and read a book the day after, I’ve been on track so far, and I intend to stay on it. What’s blowing my mind is how much I’m “struggling” to keep up with something I thought would be “really easy”.

What does 20 pushups a day sound like? Simple, doable, right? Yet I slipped- you can see right there, in that little blip in exercise. It’s the smallest slip I’ve had, but it’s still a slip. There were a few days where I was just really tired and exhausted and didn’t want to do anything at all. I think it was a decent call to make, and I’m still very much on track. I’m not a machine. But the point is that I think too highly of myself.

I thought I’d be very quickly progressing on all fronts- that I’d soon be meditating, practicing guitar and reading daily, within a week or two. I left my targets (the slope of the dotted line) alone instead of updating them mostly because I wanted to feel good about dominating them. (I increased the slope of the Exercise line- you can see it has a slight curve to it that the others don’t).

I can’t help but think about what causes the Slips. Why do they happen, and why do they persist? Sure, I’ll miss a day of exercise because I’m tired or not feeling well- but it seems like statistically, missing a day is very likely to lead to missing another day. The longer I go without doing something, the longer I keep going.

It makes me think about my childhood. When I was a kid, my parents and teachers used to scold me for not doing my homework. My parents would take away my computer privileges and attempt to monitor me- my mum would write up a timetable for me to follow, and she would police me for a week or two.

The thing is, I knew that she’d never be able to keep it up. She has her own life to live, she has her own responsibilities to worry about. Nobody can permanently police anybody else (unless that’s their full-time job, I suppose). If you wait long enough, eventually your supervisor or boss is going to have to look away, to do their own thing- and then you can start fooling around again. Funnily, this is the one thing I have almost absolute faith in: the fallibility of others. Everybody eventually moves on, everybody eventually leaves, so you just have to wait.

The thing is, this clearly applies to my own conscious self. This is part of the source of my personal akrasia. The saboteur bum inside my head knows that my conscious self, the decision-maker who attempts to control his behaviour will eventually have to leave the room. I’ll eventually get distracted, I’ll eventually stop paying attention. And then the bum can have his way, spending hours and hours on the internet, Tumblr, wasting time with frivolous distractions, smoke cigarettes, generally being a bum.

So I realized that I needed some sort of scaffolding- an exoskeleton for the brain, a prosthesis to keep me going. To prop me up even when my conscious self is out of the room. A part of the solution is to keep bringing the conscious back. Another part is to modify the environment to limit the damage that the saboteur bum can do on his own.

So beeminder is working great- it emails me when I’m I’m about to screw stuff up, and the email shows up on my smartphone, and in that moment it becomes something I have to confront. If I don’t meditate when it tells me that I’m about to screw up the commitment that I made to myself, then I can no longer feign ignorance. I can’t pretend that “things just happened”, no- I’d have consciously decided to let things fall apart. While this isn’t the perfect, fun, stylish solution I’ve dreamed about, it’s working well. It’s like the clunky suit that Tony Stark built to get him out of the Afghan cave. It’s working well for me so far. And working is better than hypothetical-perfect.

Once I’m well and truly out of the cave, I plan to build or help build the actual suit.

Anybody interested in this analogy should read Venkatesh Rao’s Shleps, Puzzles and Packages: Solving Complex Problems The Iron Man Way. I think a lot of procrastinators in the ENTP-stereotype tradition will relate to RDJ’s portrayal of Iron Man to some degree- witty, broad range of interests, follows nose, etc- but the point is that Tony Stark had to build the goddamn shitty suit in the Afghan cave before he got out. Many of us are stuck in the cave and dreaming of one day seeing the Extremis armor (or some equivalent) materialize. No dice. We have to work with what we have and bootstrap a makeshift solution and get the hell out of the cave. It’ll get a lot more interesting.

I think this is my shlep- the writing, the confrontation of clunky day-to-day works. I’m going to build relationships with other people who are in similar predicaments. I’m going to help myself, then I’m going to help other people, and then we’re going to build an army of ex-procrastinators and we’re going to be a force for good, to a phenomenal degree.