0205 – reflect on recurring dreams and pay attention to yourself

I just woke up from a shitty dream. I’m not sure how it started (dreams usually begin in the middle, right?) but involved me having to re-take examinations that I had flunked. I retook my… PSLE, I believe? And maybe did well. I remember getting into a cab and going to my secondary school again, maybe to ask if they’ll take me back. I’m not sure why I was retaking my PSLE. I remember thinking- I did well for E-maths but poorly for A-maths the last time, and even if I do well for A maths this time I’m going to have some trouble with H2 maths for my A levels- and I’m married and I have a house and I have bills to pay and I don’t have time to do all these things, to get all these things right. I felt like an absolute failure, like I was wasting all this time and everybody’s money and resources and it just felt really, really horrible. I woke up almost in tears.

Pause.

Now I find myself thinking- why? Why does this keep happening? Why is this such a big deal to me? And I’m reminded of another conversation I had with somebody about how- for the longest time I thought none of this mattered to me. I didn’t think it was an issue for me, I thought I had successfully ignored it, avoided it, not cared about it. But it turns out that underneath it all I do care. I actually care about a lot of things very deeply. Most things, even.

There’s this thing happening in my neighbourhood right now where a Resident’s Committee is surveying people about whether they’d like their community cats “removed”. What the actual fuck. We’re such disgusting human beings. And then I zoom out and remind myself that that’s just one thing that’s happening. There are literally millions of such despicable things happening everyday- people getting raped, murdered, tortured, battered, abused, all sorts of horrible devastation. And I’m never going to be able to put a dent in any of that. All I can do is focus on my own circle of control/influence and seek to expand that, so I can at least maybe make some people better off by a little bit before I die, and before we all return to sand and become nothing in the heat death of the universe.

Pause.

Maybe that’s projecting too far. I don’t know. I can’t know. All I can know and work on is me. And I think I’ve worked myself into a bit of a cramp, and I need to uncramp myself with meditation and breathing and relaxation and warm showers. I need to realize that it’s okay to fail, and that it’s okay for the whole thing to fall apart, because everything does fall apart in the end, and yet I need to put in the effort to get things right. I need to focus and prioritize and manage my time, work backwards, do first things first, be proactive, realize the distinction between productive and busy, yadda yadda. I’m faking it till I make it, and I do believe that I’ll make it eventually. I just seem to have this need right now at this moment to wallow in a sort of self-pity and self-disgust and I’d like to get over that pretty quickly if I may, please.

Pause.

I didn’t take any vacation days this year. I don’t mean that as some sort of brag. That’s just stupid and self-damaging. It’s really failure of prioritization and self-management on my part. But I gotta let that go and let myself be okay with that. I can’t keep beating myself up over sunk costs. All of this is a manifestation of a disease that I can always, at any moment, take immediate steps to fix. It’s just that those steps are always the hardest, the most painful, the ugliest. It’s easy to bitch and whine and cry and hurt about how all of this is. I read somewhere about failure in silicon valley and how failure ain’t actually all that bad. I’m not being precise enough- by that I mean to say that it’s easier to lapse into drunkenness and to blow away all your money and to destroy your marriage than it is to sit down and fix things. And yeah I’m thoroughly aware of the alternate POVs and how sometimes you just need to let things go, sometimes it’s okay to fail,

Pause.

Clearly that bunny trail is a clusterfuck that’s difficult to explore and clarify, because rationalization kicks it. The narrativistic bias kicks in. Explanation kicks in. And while that requires effort, it’s relatively easy, and it keeps you in that same space that you’re in. It finds you the most comfortable spot in the cave. The real challenge is to leave the cave. Or if the language of challenges and difficulty sounds overly self-flagellating, well, the real joy is to leave the cave. The real pleasure. The real happiness. If I want that I have to do the things that fix the problems that I have. Quitting smoking was part of it. Quitting social media was part of it. These things were unique to me, and may not necessarily apply to anybody else. I can and should learn from others but really I just need to do the most important work that’s in front of me, that I’m constantly putting off.

Pause.

I’m fine, really. All of this is just the messy midpoint before I burst forth with clarity, happiness and joy. I truly believe that. I truly believe that I’m coming out of a funk that I hadn’t quite realized for what it was. And that moving forward, I’m going to be more disciplined. I’m going to take charge of my life. I’m going to do first things first, and I’m going to work backwards from what matters. I’m going to be a lot smarter about things, and I’m going to change my strategies and the way I play. This is just a bit of a learning blip. I truly believe this. And I’m truly going to fix this. There is literally nothing more important.

“Take it easy, but take it.”

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/05/05/kierkegaard-on-presence-unhappiness/

 

0204 – fixing anxiety, pausing and changing environments

I’ve been feeling so anxious and cramped up recently. I haven’t been able to trace it to a single precise point- it’s caused by a lot of accumulated backlog, a lot of unmet obligations, so on. This is a recurring thing that’s happened throughout my life.

Pause.

I think my main problem- or the main feature of my existence that causes these problems and this anxiety (which I am very eager to be rid of) is my poor ability to prioritize, focus, monotask. I wrote about the importance of monotasking almost 150 vomits ago, but it’s still a problem.

Lately I’ve found it necessary to meditate. When I first started contemplating the idea it seemed like something interesting, something cool. I didn’t want to meditate nearly as much as I wanted to be a person who meditated. Even then- did I actually want that? I don’t think I was clear about what “a person who meditated” actually meant. I think I wanted to be cool, and meditation seemed cool. I think I was preoccupied with getting social approval. I didn’t really have anything great going for me at the time- I wasn’t really working on anything except my blog and my Facebook group maybe. I mostly just wanted to look cool, look smart, impress people, get Likes. I used Likes as a sort of proxy to convince myself that I was alright. As long as I can entertain people, make people laugh, or move them in some way to take some action, then I was going to be okay.

I don’t think I was entirely wrong about that, I think that was valid for the context I inhabited then. Makes perfect sense when you’re a conscript in the army. Makes sense when you don’t feel like you like school.

Pause.

So my main thing is an inability to focus. I have no filters. I haven’t quite figured out how much of this is genetic or inherited, and how much of it is behavioral, nurtured, learned, indoctrinated. And I’m not sure anymore if there’s much point in attempting to make a distinction. The most important thing is that I figure out how to cope.

Sigh, can we go straight to the important stuff?

I can’t focus and I can’t prioritize. I thought I knew why but I think I ought to start over in thinking about this. I need to worry less about the origin conditions- which I may never be able to figure out, or which I might only be able to figure out when I have a long enough break to indulge in such reflection. But I bet it doesn’t work that way. I bet thinking about it will just kick up a dust every time. Argh, I shouldn’t even be making such bets. I have no idea, so I should just recognise and accept that I don’t know.

Pause.

The cruellest thing about being bad at prioritisation is that it’s really hard to fix- because you’re bad at prioritising. You might know that you want to get better at prioritising- but what’s the first thing you do? Acknowledge and recognise that you have a problem, yes. I’m good at that. Step 2? Let me Google that because it seems silly to start from scratch on this one.

Step two of AA is to believe that there’s a larger power that can help you. Hmm. 3 is to submit to this larger power. Hmm. 4 is to make a moral inventory of your faults. Ok, done that. 5 is admit past errors- yeah, done a lot of that. 6 – accept responsibility, yup. It’s all me. 7- humbly ask God to  remove the shortcomings… hmmm. 8 list of people you’ve wronged… Yeah done that feels good. 9- make amends where possible except when it makes things worse- uhuh. 10- more personal Inventory 11- more prayer/meditation 12- help another.

Well… I feel like that’s good and all but not quite enough, when we’re talking something closer to cognitive-behavioral therapy of sorts. Needs more nuance, needs more structure.

I feel so inarticulate it hurts. I stumble over my words so much. Why?

I need to meditate more.

Pause.

Since writing the bulk of this post a few days ago, I have been meditating more. I have been taking more time for myself to reduce my own anxiety. And it feels like a great start. It feels like it might be the start of the solution to the mess I’ve worked myself into, and that does feel amazing. I wish I had learned it earlier, I find myself thinking. I find myself thinking a whole bunch of wishes, and I start formulating all these hypotheses and connections- which is normal for my brain to do. But I have to let all of that go, because all of that is a distraction from the present moment when I’m trying to focus on the present moment. Sometimes these connections and inversions are incredibly useful- when I’m trying to be creative, or when I’m having a conversation with somebody.

Pause.

I think the past year has been a challenge for me, and a year of transition of sorts. I was chatting with my wife about how much we are affected by our childhoods and our starting conditions- we spend at least about 10 years in a context and environment that we have no control over, and then after that our control is very limited (and influenced significantly by our experiences in the first 10 years anyway, so you might as well consider that still not-in-control). Exceptions might be if you have parents who are very focused on helping you think and learn for yourself, and if you’re exposed to different ways of thinking, seeing, being, and you’re allowed to internalize them, test them, so on and so forth.

Then we thought about- when do these things change? When do you get to change the effects that your initial conditions had on you? (Not talking very much about genetics here- we’ll leave that as an unknown for this context?) I thought about this in terms of time, but the wife pointed out that it makes more sense to think about it in terms of context/environment. You change when your context changes. Time is involved, but it doesn’t quite seem to be the key feature- time can pass within the same environment without much change. (Unless maybe over a really long time you build yourself a mental/cognitive environment-within-the-environment, but I imagine that takes really long and is really painful and hard.)

Pause.

We’ll see.

 

0203 – mindfulness and grand theft auto

(2014-dec-14)

I spent a long time today lying on my sofa, looking out at the sky outside my window. I found it to be very calming. Lately I’ve been feeling like everything is too chaotic, too noisy. I was starting to get really anxious and stressed, and I was feeling like I was constantly falling behind everything, constantly lagging, constantly playing catch-up, never quite able to keep all of my balloons and plates in the air.

I revisited Guruka Singh, whose happy, jolly face is still pleasant to encounter- but I don’t know, it wasn’t entirely what I needed. I revisited Jon Kabat-Zinn, watched a couple of his videos and I found myself thinking yes, I need to revisit this. I need to meditate. I need to calm down. All this anxiety and flitting around wasn’t helping me to get anything done. I was just kicking up a dust cloud, running from point A to point B, panicking… like a person freaking out because they’re late (I do that a lot).

I’m really fucking tired of freaking out all the fucking time. I cannot sustain this, and so I need a pretty significant lifestyle change. It can’t be a one-off thing. I managed to quit smoking, cool. I’ve reached 200 word vomits, cool. But I’ve done all of this- and everything I’ve done- has been in this state of constant fear, constant panic, and as I get more responsibilities, as I become more accountable for things, random improvisation doesn’t help anymore. I can’t just coast along anymore. I’ve always known this to be true, just as I’ve always known that smoking was bad for me. I’ve been writing about how maybe-i-oughts meditate for a long time. I’ve been writing about how I ought to drink more water, how I ought to exercise. I keep reminding myself of these things. I keep forgetting. A part of it might be ADHD or whatever, sure, and as long as I persist I do trust that I’ll eventually figure stuff out.

So I’m here again, at this funny observer/participant crossroads where- yeah I know that I’ll make it as long as I don’t quit, but that part of not-quitting means fixing things along the way so that you don’t fail, so that you don’t die. (I mean ‘die’ in a video game sense, I’m not suicidal or anything. I recognise that life can and will get better if you let it, and that in some sense I’m really just beating myself up over a whole lot of nothing.)

I KNOW that I will find peace. I KNOW that it is entirely up to me, and that it’s inside me. I have made the decision. I made it weakly a while ago, and now I’m making the affirmation. I’m revisiting it. I’m becoming the kind of person who insists that shit gets done. The saboteur will die a slow, painful death just as the smoker did.

I’m reminded of how I used to play Simcity (I’ve written about this before) and how I used to play Grand Theft Auto (I haven’t written about this, I think.) Let’s talk about the GTA example. When you first start a game of GTA2- (GTA3 and Vice City and the rest have better onboarding, I believe), you just start out with this guy in the middle of a city- in front of a city block- and you’re free to wander off punching people, stealing cars, driving around, getting in trouble. There are actually quests that you can do, but it didn’t occur to my young child-self then that that was an option. I didn’t pay attention to the instructions, I didn’t know what the arrows were. I thought GTA was just about stealing cars and running over people, which seemed fun. For a while. Eventually you get the police chasing you, and you have this fun little chase sequence for a while, but then they overwhelm you and you die. And then you start the whole thing all over again. That cycle gets boring (just as Simcity gets boring when you build too many roads without doing any zoning and then you have too many maintenance fees that you can’t pay, and so your budget goes into deficit and then they fire you for being a shitty mayor.)

I’ve been living my life kind of like that, I think. Running around randomly in GTA, or building too many roads in SimCity without doing any zoning. In both cases, running around IS fun, and building roads IS fun- but that’s not all there is. You need to do the quests. You need to build the actual city. Those are the bits where the real challenge is. Those are the actual main quests that challenge you to grow and develop your skills, and they rewards you disproportionately for it, too. What I’ve been doing is sort of running around in free roam forever and then wonder why I don’t have any money, or why I don’t seem to be getting any stronger, and why my in-game experience starts getting so shitty.

I need to focus. I need to prioritise. I have limited time and limited energy, so I can’t afford to dawdle around on free-roam and hope that everything just works out. Because I know that doesn’t work. I’ve done it long enough to know that it doesn’t work. I’ve faced the undesirable outcomes in many different forms, enough to know that it doesn’t work.

If I want to learn and grow and challenge myself, focus is the only way. The free-roaming bit and the random road building stuff is only afforded when I get the cool stuff done. And the huge side-benefit is that free-roaming becomes a lot more fun when you do the fucking quests. (The quests give you respect from the gangs, legitimacy, currency, and they walk you through the things you need to do to evade the cops, etc… all in all making the experience a whole lot more sustainable.)

Ok bye.

 

0202 – smoking cessation and ten minute pomodoros

I had my last cigarette back in July 2014. I didn’t think that I would’ve stopped smoking so soon. I thought that I’d have to accomplish a whole bunch of “littler” things before I could quit smoking. At least, that was the plan. I thought I’d get my life in order first. Smoking helped me destress, and it helped me to ‘space out’ my day. It gave me a rhythm, it punctuated my otherwise unfocused, messy and chaotic life.

I thought I would’ve learnt to sleep well before I quit smoking. I thought I would’ve learnt to eat well before I quit smoking. I thought I would have developed a regular exercise habit before I quit smoking. I thought I would be reading and writing regularly before I quit smoking. I thought I would learn to manage my time effectively before I quit smoking.

I quit smoking. I haven’t done any of the above yet. I find it simultaneously amusing and humbling.

If I can quit smoking, I reasoned (and continue to reason), I should be able to do a lot of other things that are broadly recognised as less addictive. Because cigarettes are addictive, and you do kinda feel shitty when you stop. It’s tough. A lot of other things should be relatively less difficult.

I did manage to wean myself off of social media after I quit smoking. That was an interesting. Did I think I was going to quit smoking before I quit social media? I can go back and read old vomits and check, and maybe I’ll do that at some point. I think I expected to quit social media first. But no, I quit smoking first. It’s a funny thing.

What does all of this mean? It means somehow that I’m simultaneously more and less in control of myself than I like to think. More, in the sense that I can do things that I don’t quite feel are doable, and less, in the sense that… a lot of the things that I say I’m going to do, or say that I want to do, I’m not actually capable of doing in the short run.

To be more precise- there must have been something about the way that I quit smoking that was beyond my usual system for dealing with these things. My usual system sucks. My usual system involves me getting all pumped up, anxious, eager, excited, worried, frustrated, upset. My usual system involves big promises, grand plans, imprecise scheduling, imprecise commitments, failing, fucking up, promising to do better next time.

It seems to me that if I reverse engineer my smoking cessation, I should be able to apply it to other things that I’ve been trying to change. What were the components of my smoking cessation?

* Buying an ashtray- ironically, making an investment in the ‘temporary habit’ made me feel really bad. It’s like… earlier I had sorta-managed to kinda-fool myself into sorta-thinking that this was temporary. Buying an ashtray makes it very real, and very permanent.
* Jason Mraz – somebody who made the transition, made the change, and seemed really happy for it. I think there are a few “ex skinny guys” that I can strive to emulate.
* Allan Carr – somebody who studied the problem intimately and understood it better than anyone else
* A group of people I wanted to distance myself from. Or a circumstance, or an idea. I had a clear sense of “I don’t want to be that.”
* A group of people I wanted to impress, be a part of. I had a clear sense of “I want in.”
* A frustration with the cycle of misery- “Eventually” was starting to frustrate me because I had revisited it over and over again.

The money wasn’t actually a big deal for me.

So I guess I should start doing this for my other habits. I should probably pick just one and focus on that before anything else.

– The most painful/scary one might be cooking. I’m irrationally afraid of cooking, because it’s all so vague and opaque and scary to me. If I can fix that I’ll probably start eating more, eating better. This will probably give me the most utility, or second most.

– Exercising regularly might be relatively easy to adopt. I simply think of it as anti-anxiety medicine. When I’m stressed, I feel shitty inside. My stomach starts cramping up, I get nauseous. I imagine these are physiological “fight/flight cortisol something something” systems (derp derp) that get resolved. So maybe I should start there.

– I’ve started meditating too, again (everything is “again”, again, because I start and stop things over and over again. Just like I used to quit smoking over and over again, until I finally stopped for real.)

– I should be writing everyday. This… should just be a part of a morning or evening habit. Whenever I meditate, I rediscover the simple truths, like “I ought to exercise”, “I ought to prioritize/manage my time”.

Hm… looking at all of those, I think the meditation habit makes the most sense. Just sitting in silence quietly, breathing and allowing thoughts to come and go though my mind, allowing my body to relax. It then helps me figure out what the best next steps ought to be. It’s like making a commitment to tuning your instrument, or sharpening your axe.

Okay. So should I plot out the journey for those things other than meditating? I know who I like- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Guruka Singh, bunch of other folks. I know what I don’t want- I don’t want to be so stressed and anxious and worried all the time. I want to be able to enjoy my life, spend time with my wife, smile as I walk, appreciate the present moment instead of rushing from point A to B while looking at C. Is there any specific reading I need to do? I’ve watched the videos already. I can watch them again. And again. I know that repetition makes things stronger. And I find Jon very soothing, so it’s good. What do I want into? Clarity. Piece of mind. Deep, slow breaths.

I will rest a while now, having written this. I will figure out what to do while I’m resting, and then I will execute.

Oh yeah, I realize- I think the 25 minute pomodoro system is actually too long for me. My ADHD/general failness requires me to commit to smaller timeboxes. I’m switching to 5 mins, 10 mins. This took 2x 10 mins to write. See ya.

 

0201 – breathe

I did not imagine that this is what I would begin the 200 series with. I knew that it was probably going to be something different, or something unexpected, but this was outside of my range of “unlikely things that might happen”.
 
The past few days have been strange. Scary. Weird. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been on the brink of some sort of burnout. Or perhaps I DID burnout. It reminds me of 2007, when I felt upset and miserable all the time and wondered if maybe I was on the edge of depression. Or was I depressed altogether? It’s difficult how subjective these things seem. I always imagine that it only counts if you’re utterly incapacitated. But I’m significantly inconvenienced, significantly hurting, significantly unable to live the life that I want.
 
(Ah, but what if what you want is unreasonable? Maybe the solution is to want less. I like to think that I’ve thought about that. I don’t want material possessions. I don’t want a watch, I don’t want a car. I don’t want everybody in the world to love me anymore. I don’t want a huge fanbase or follower count like I used to. I don’t want to run an incredibly popular blog anymore. All I want is to be able to sleep well at night. All I want to do is to smile and be confident and happy that I’m on top of the things that matter to me. To be a good husband, to be a valuable member of the team at work. To laugh heartily. To not feel like I’m breaking promises, missing deadlines.
 
I’ve definitely written this before. Several times. Over the years. Just as I had written several times about how I ought to quit smoking, and I had written several times about how social media addiction was a problem for me. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since July, not one. Not a single puff. And I unfollowed 99% of people on Twitter and Facebook, rendering both my feeds really boring. So I spend very little time on that.
 
But when I remove those things from my life, it just reveals so much more ugly. It’s like destroying the first Reaper that’s right in front of your face, and then seeing that there are a hundred more in the distance advancing towards you. Cigarettes and Facebook were just the numbing agents I was using, self-medicating with, to keep me from having to pay attention to the desolate landscape of my life. Now- here the moment I say ‘desolate landscape’ I know that that sounds like overkill, hyperbole, that I have a lot of things to be happy and grateful for. I mean outside of that. So maybe my metaphor isn’t good enough, apologies for that. I’ll figure out something better along the way.
 
My back is killing me (I think stress/posture/anxiety related), and I’ve been having shit quality sleep and have been waking up really tired and out of it. I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work to become better and- yeah I’m seeing some results but I feel like I’m really losing steam. When I’m on the train on the way home I feel tempted to scream or hit strangers. I mean- there are no voices in my head telling me to do it, and there are no hallucinations or anything- I’m just a lot more irritable. A lot more frustrated. Everything seems to be in the way between me and the person I want to be, the life I want to lead.
 
I realize I have to let everything go. I have to prioritise my own health before anything else, because it would not be cool if I end up with legitimate health problems induced by stress- stomach ulcers or high blood pressure or whatever. That is not a price I am willing to pay.
 
I find myself grasping for things that I imagine might help. I started reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. I looked up Guruka Singh on YouTube again. I think back to how I felt in a sensory deprivation tank, how the breath is like an ocean, and how I need to take deep, expansive breaths.
 
I know that there exists within me a power that I do not comprehend. I don’t mean that in a metaphysical spiritual touchy feely way. I mean literally, there is an intelligence, there is a strength, there is potential. Legitimate potential. It truly exists, I truly believe it. I have seen glimpses of it before. I can understand if it’s not something you can turn on at the flick of a switch, but I know that it’s something that can happen more.
 
Am I making sense? Am I missing something? I’m just in a lot of pain and I need release and relief. Writing helps me with that. I need to keep dropping things off my ship so that I can get back to really simple fundamentals and get myself to do the really most important things. I have been suffering tremendously from a problem of prioritisation. I grew up trying to persuade myself that I didn’t need priorities, that I could just improvise and random-walk and flit around from thing to thing, and that would be fun, that would be okay. That I would be some sort of roguish/vagabond/happy-go-lucky type. And you know, I think that’s still possible- just that there’s actually discipline involved in that, too.
 
A strange thing that I’ve got going for me- I’ve been making my bed every morning for a few weeks. I’m pretty sure I started doing this because of a speech by Admiral McRaven. He said to make the bed. And he seemed like a man who was in control of his life, enough so that they tasked him with leading other men into situations of absolute chaos. He also suggested a whole bunch of other things, and maybe I’ll revisit that.
 
But first I’ll make the bed. First I’ll sit in silence and breathe, because my brain needs tuning. First I need to put everything out of my mind and put myself first- not my cravings or my urges or my desire for random distraction and random-walking and random-exploration, but my stated self, my “that’s who I want to be” self.
 
I can do this. I believe it. I just need to relax. And then I need to pick one really small thing out of the most important things that I need to do, and do that- working backwards from what I’m supposed to deliver. It’s the hardest thing in my life so far, to have to confront this reality so starkly without distractions and without escape clauses. But I either fix this, or I ruin my own life. I know that sounds needlessly dramatic, and that the lizard-brain is wired for this sort of drama… but I have too many data points already. If I fail here, yeah, I can build myself back up eventually- but it will take so much longer. If I miss this bus I will have to wait months, maybe years for the next one.
 
You will not fucking defeat me, Resistance/saboteur-bum. You will not take my life hostage. I will fight you. And I will fight you with commitment and conviction that you have not seen before.

 

0200 – cold wistful rainy day

Writing this on the train. Such a cold wistful rainy day. Makes me nostalgic, contemplative, reflective. I think about how far I’ve come, how much things have remained the same, and how ultimately nothing matters.

I’m reminded of the rainy days when I was a primary school kid, when I would get into a school bus in the morning when it was stil dark. I would shower in the bathroom that I shared with my parents, standing in the bathtub and using the rather ornate nozzle-thing. Then I’d get dressed for school, I think I’d have a milo before getting on the bus. I had school-bus friends that I’d play power-rangers with. I wonder how those guys are doing. I don’t remember their names. I rememer sharing a pencil with some kid in kindergarten. I remember colouring time, I remember drawing rockets, sharing crayons. I seem to remember this kid who was good at drawing castles. I remember being a little uncertain about which hand was left and which was right. I remember all the little Bible parables they’d tell us in kindergarten, and I remember all the prayer in primary school- and I think it’s interesting how little people who experience that as outsiders seem to talk about it. It’s like we all collectively agreed that it’s just something we’re not going to talk about.

I think about the rainy days when I was in the army- there was one particular day when I was doing my Basic training recourse, when it was raining super heavily, most of the course was over. We slept with such glee and joy. I enjoyed those cigarettes that I smoked then. Nostaligic moments like these almost make me want to pick up smoking again but I know that I have to put my foot down about that. Perhaps forever. At least until I do things that I surprise and impress my subconscious audience with. The main, most important thing is that I earn the begrudging respect of my own subconscious. Because the people in there are really hard to please. Sometimes really mean, hurtful, spiteful, all sorts of nasty shit. But good stuff too. I don’t really want to get into that.

Life is so fucking absurd. It’s really the most absurd thing there is. I don’t understand how people are able to go about their digital marketing jobs everyday and not talk about all this crazy absurdity. I suppose I should assume that everybody is wiser than I am, and that the inevitability of the heat death of the universe simply means that we amuse ourselves and we do what work requires of us and we just play along, follow along, don’t think too much, don’t rock the boat, don’t-

what the fuck is this self-pitying bullshit that I’m writing? I’m very, very tired of this. It’s seriously not interesting. We already know the hand that we’re dealt. We already know that the house is rigged, that we inevitably lose. Then what? What are we going to do? What is left to be said? What of music, what of poetry? What is this entire train of thought a symptom of, anyway? All of this is really, I think, an elaborate form of self-flagellation maybe. A coping mechanism, definitely. A kind of cigarette-in-pixels/ink. Well, i’m smoking this bitch, at least, for now, at least. It makes me feel better so fuck it. It makes me feel better so fuck it. I’m not hurting anybody.

I’ll do better. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe someday. I don’t know. I won’t give up. I’m tired. I won’t give up.

===

Everything that “matters” only matters within some closed or bounded system. Things only matter contextually. And we get to choose our contexts, so we get to decide if we want to feel that something matters.

When you experiment with contexts enough though (conceptually, as a thought experiment, or by literally moving and changing your physical contexts- which I think is dramatically underrated), I think the inevitable demise of the Universe as we know it starts to weigh down on you. Well, it did for me anyway. After a while it’s just the elephant in the room. Hey, we’re all going to die, as will everything in existence as we know it. Everything will just decay to a lukewarm nothingness.

Nothing much we can do about that right now. So we might as well focus on something else for a while. I think I established in an earlier vomit that the only thing we actually have is each moment, each day, up till the end of our lives… and that’s it. That’s all the experience that we can optimize for. It might make us feel good to do things that live on after we’re gone- but that’s an evolutionary byproduct more than anything else, isn’t it? We were social creatures before we were individuals. So this is an inescapable facet of our existence, of our reality- until/unless we can outright rewire our brains. People who get hit really hard in the head become completely different people. Drug addiction makes you a completely different person. Having children changes you. There is no real you independent of contexts. There was some guy who was living in isolation for years in forests- and when they finally got to speak to him and ask him about his experience, he described how when he was alone he often ceased to realize that he existed. When there’s nobody to perform your identity to, there’s no identity at all. Identities are narratives we construct to try and craft some consistency, some semblance of predictability- it’s for the convenience of others.

That makes me think about all the “be true to yourself” type of advice. I’m still in two minds about it. On one hand, there does seem to be a likely chance that most of us have predispositions to prefer some activities to others, some contexts to others, and so on. On the other- anything we describe as our “selves” probably has some contextual origin. I like English because I was born and raised reading and writing in it. Now I think in it. Blah blah blah. I’m not sure that this is something really worth pursuing- there are countless thinkers and writers and actors and artists who’ve spent their entire lives exploring. This isn’t going anywhere- I might dig deeper next time but I’m really quite okay with leaving this train of thought here. I think it’s a distraction from figuring out the answers to more Important question

 

0199 – set precise goals to measure your progress towards self-mastery

What’s a reasonable age to expect to plan to develop self-mastery by? The elegant cop-out answer is that it takes a lifetime, that you’re never done. Ah, so wise, so profound! But not very helpful, is it?

Why do I say helpful? What kind of help am I looking for? Ah. That’s a better question. Refinement. What do I need to do (and how quickly can I do it) to feel like I am in control of my life?

Well- do I not feel in control of my life? Kind of. Sometimes. Okay. What’s stopping me from feeling in control? What would make me feel more in control?

I don’t seem to have full control over my behavior. Okay. But I don’t need to have absolute control over my behavior, do I? I just need to identify the thing that bothers me the most and then fix that. Get that out of the way. [1]

Well, what bothers me? I think what bothers me most is that I feel like I’m frittering away my time and energy. I feel like I’m not applying myself properly.

Okay. What does applying myself properly look like? What are my priorities? My highest priority actually I think might be to achieve financial freedom as quickly as possible. Is that it? No… doesn’t seem like it. I want to achieve some sort of freedom or Independence. But what sort of freedom is that exactly? If I don’t make it precise I’ll never get it. I do all the meaningless research and reading probably because I’m trying to avoid something uncomfortable. What makes me uncomfortable? What am I afraid of? Do I have some underlying craving or urge that I’m denying? Um. A part of me always feels like smoking cigarettes but I don’t think that’s it. I’m happy to be smoke free. I want to figure out what other things in life I ought to be ‘smoke free’ of.

It feels like my brain is pushing me towards “numbing” behaviors. I’m experiencing “avoid/run/hide” type behaviors. Why? Is it some sort of imposter syndrome; I feel like I don’t deserve to be where I am? That doesn’t quite feel like it. I guess I just feel exhausted from having so many fucking things on my plate. But that’s entirely my fault. It’s up to me to cleanse and prioritize things. A part of me feels like my work will never be done, like this state that I’m in is going to be this weird state of incompleteness. That doesn’t capture the whole picture- I know that incompleteness and impermanence are features of our reality- there will be things on the to do list and un-answered emails when we’re on our deathbeds. So what’s different? Can’t I just accept this as reality? Why so anxious? Maybe I should just stop to smell the roses and enjoy this as the nature of reality?

But I know I have more to give. I know I have more to contribute. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. And I simply don’t like the idea of not executing. Of not getting stuff off my plate so I can focus on the things that matter the most to me. But fuck man, what actually matters to me? When life gets tough and messy my instinct is to hide away from everything. To smoke and drink away whatever is troubling me, to wait it out until the storm blows over. That’s not going to cut it anymore. It’s not a coping mechanism, it’s an avoidance mechanism. And I’m tired of avoiding things.

A part of me also feels like I’m not sure what actually matters to me anymore. What do I actually care about? What do I actually want to do with this precious, cruel gift of limited time? I just have to figure out what satisfies me once I drop all the superficial, contextual stuff. What am I afraid of?

===

[1] I stopped writing here, but when I reread this I realized that I took a wrong turn here. “Frittering away my time and energy” is not a problem I can solve by eliminating distractions, though eliminating distractions has certainly helped me to get a clearer sense of things. Okay- rather, it might be possible to continue approaching this from a “keep eliminating things from the bottom of the list” perspective, but it seems likelier that I will get happier faster if I just get the big, important things done everyday. I’m tired because I’m not doing the big important things. If I get the big important things done first, then I will have extra energy to do other things. At least, that’s my hypothesis. I haven’t run in too many days. That’s a rather important thing. I need to fix my diet. That’s a rather important thing. These are things that I’ve increasingly understood to be important. Why don’t I do them first?

That’s the main problem I have to solve. What’s stopping me from doing the big hairy important things? I learned earlier that procrastination can be boiled down to (in a simplistic model) of 4 things- expectancy, value, delay, impulsiveness. Yeah, I’m impulsive. Yeah, a lot of these things have delays. But I feel like… I don’t know, I feel like making progress on those fronts don’t seem like they’re going to make much of a difference. I could be totally wrong, of course.

Urgh, I need to mull this over longer. Will give it a few more shots then leave it to the subconscious. Why do I not do the most important things first? Because they’re hard? Because they’re scary? I KNOW they’re valuable. I KNOW they’re important. But I guess I know these things intellectually, the same way I knew intellectually that smoking was bad for me. Why did I ultimately quit? Why? Why? Why? I feel like I know the answer but not really. I eventually snapped and got rid of most of my social media. I got rid of cigarettes. What do I have to get rid of next? Doing things that aren’t the most important thing. So I guess I need to monotask, to work in only one tab for all my work at work. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. This is just the painful schleppy part. Gotta keep going. Gotta keep going. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. I refuse to give up.

 

0198 – progressing recursively

Progress is really slow and frustrating. I don’t know if that’s the case for everybody but it’s the case for me. I think I can appreciate when progress is slow and measured- when you can see what you’re doing, but in my case I think a lot of it is just wasted idling time. I’ve been drawn to using a combustion engine metaphor- you can tell when an engine is warming up nicely, and when it’s sputtering. I do a lot of sputtering, and it’s simultaneously wasteful and unproductive.

I think one of the hardest things for me to do- that’s really critically important in order for me to get to the next level- is to cut off distractions and alternate pursuits. I need to be able to commit to something and then refuse to take all the enticing divergences that pop up along the way. I’ve learnt over time that this simply doesn’t work. It’s frustrating for me to keep trying and failing. At the very least I know that I’m not going to give up, because the idea of giving up displeased me.

It seems plausible that self motivation for me might really be about learning to get displeased by a greater number of my own behaviors over time. Smoking started to displease me. Took me a long time to quit anyway, but ultimately I had to learn to think of myself as someone other than a smoker. Social media addiction had also become part of my identity. That displeased me too. I left a few times and went back a few times.

The final thing that made me quit smoking… It was a few different things. One was the ashtray that I had bought. It felt permanent, and I knew that it wasn’t permanent. Another was learning about Jason Mraz, who loved cigarettes enough to write a song about them, but then quit and became a health nut. If he can do it, I can do it. Mraz suggested reading Allan Carr, who I had read once before. Read him again. Made the decision to quit. I still had some cigarettes left. I met my friends again the next day. We were all smokers. I smoked with them.

It felt pleasant, like old days, but I also felt strongly that I wanted to be done with the old days. I didn’t want the old days to continue being my present for years to come. In July of 2014 I had my last cigarette and decided that we were to part ways. I wanted to make a break from that life. Even now I’m sure that I’m missing some part of it. I liked that my wife quit with me- her health was easier for me to prioritize than my own. I liked that my friends were somewhat impressed. I liked that one of my close friends didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked him if he’d believe that I’d go another week without smoking. I’m now one of his data points, his Jason Mraz. When he eventually quits smoking, if he does, it’ll be “if visa can do it, I can do it.” Maybe. Hopefully.

I think ultimately it’s about the quality of your experience of reality, and what occupies your thoughts. I’m starting to get pretty tired of even thinking or talking about cigarettes. I needed to focus on the next addiction, to grow and learn and empower myself to fulfill my interests and utility functions.

I knew social media addiction was a part of the problem. I was spending 30 to 40% of my time on it and it was consuming me, with a very bad return on investment. I guess when I started out, it didn’t feel like I had many other investments to make… though that’s a lie, I always knew that deep reading was one of the greatest sources of utility ever. Writing too. And exercise.

These are not new ideas. They’re very basic, fundamental ideas. And it annoys me slightly to think that I’ll probably still be talking about that 40 years from now if I don’t die first. But But I also know that I grossly misjudge things. Maybe I’ll internalise everything and we’ll keep going. Who knows? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to throw myself into it. To really dig into the details each and every single day and just rip into it.

I’ve been getting very into the idea that visuals are really important when it comes to communication. The same for the human voice, too. Basically anything that has more bandwidth than writing is worth pursuing as a medium of communication, because by definition you can pack more meaning into less space. I know that I have taste when it comes to visuals, but I don’t yet have the ability. I’ve gotten Increasingly frustrated with saying that. The basics of visual communication aren’t complicated. You can deconstruct all of into dots and lines. So if you want to get better at visual communication, you start by learning to draw lines, and by decomposing complex shapes into simpler ones. I can do that.

And so I’ve started doing that. I started practicing lines deliberately- long and short lines. I started practicing the alphabet. I did it over and over again. I started wondering what the economy of my letters were. Surely I was being inefficient? Yup. I realized, for instance, that the way I wrote my P’s were unnecessarily elaborate. I figured that if I practiced each of my letters over and over again until I found the most economical, elegant way of writing them, my handwriting would become more pleasing.

Another thing I discovered almost immediately was that I’ve been pressing my pen and or pencil too hard to the paper when I write. I do this because I used the resistance from the paper to help me decide how to write. I needed the feedback from the paper to keep my letters in check, rather than relying on my own muscles, my own aesthetic sense. I needed friction. What I’m beginning to discover is- I don’t need those constraints. I can write big and large and loose- it’s a mess initially, but there’s a lot more life and flow to it. And it’s a lot more interesting. I can work with that.

I think there are parallels between that and many other forms of work and play. I’m unnecessarily stressed and frustrated because I still press hard against the paper. What I should do is let go, listen, play. And then analyse, revise, deconstruct. I’m too self conscious. I should be willing to fail and let people tell me I failed, but it shouldn’t be because I lived too small.

Feels a bit odd for me to talk about living large vs living small. I’m a tall, loud, noisy man. What am I talking about? There is some nuance that is unexpressed. I guess I’m loud because I don’t know how to speak volumes with a soft word. I need to deconstruct everything that I do that matters to me. I need to break things down into their basic constituents and practice them over and over again.

I’m not yet certain what the implications are there for word vomits- I guess I should keep going. As fast and smooth as possible. Lightly on my feet. One buttock playing. Getting to one buttock playing requires a lot of practice. You need to try variations of everything and let your subconscious evaluate it. That seems to be the case. My boss suggested to me that I spend a week or at least 3 days not worrying about chasing rabbit holes, about worrying about the implications of every new piece of input that comes my way. Rather I should just collect those inputs in a brain dump (I now use workflowy, which I much prefer to Evernote because it gets really granular and you can collapse and expand bullets and lists infinitely). I also feel like I should start doing videos on my youtube channel to help me get better at speaking.

It seems like too much. I need to start small. I’m very tired.

 

0197 – 4 parts to procrastination

There are 4 parts to procrastination.

Expectancy- What you believe the odds are that you’ll get it right. Do you expect to succeed? Sometimes this has a burst of “Yes I can” But then fades away.

Value– how important something is to you personally. Do you really care? Sometimes you’ll have to do something you don’t really care about- like school, for instance.  I was never able to successfully persuade myself to care about school, despite multiple efforts, threats, incentives, etc. I think a part of is giving yourself a clear vision of how doing it will lead you to somewhere you want to go. I didn’t really have that. But introducing that wasn’t enough. There was still the other 3 factors to worry about.

Delay. Humans experience something called hyperbolic discounting, or time-blindness. People with ADHD have It exceptionally bad. If you grew up without having to do chores, without having to be accountable, without bring responsible for anything, it would be even worse. The further away something is, the less it matters. Without prostheses, us procrastinators can only ever focus on anything that’s right in front of our faces. So it’s important I think to design and develop prostheses ourselves that help us achieve what we want to achieve.

Impulsiveness- this is maybe 25% innate tendencies, 25% habits and 50% environment. I’m pulling those numbers out of thin air- they might be totally warped. Maybe it’s 90% innate tendencies, as evidenced by people who experience brain damage and then become completely different people behaviorally. Regardless, it’s clear that we can build habits and adjust our environments to influence this factor to some degree.

The overall equation is loosely ( E*V / I*D ). If you want to reduce your odds of procrastination, increase expectancy, increase value, decrease impulsiveness and decrease delays. Each of those things lend themselves to several tactics. It’s important to diagnose the problem accurately. This is where I think I used to get messed up.  If something was a problem of delay- exams, for instance, reminding myself of why it was important value wouldn’t be the best approach. Rather, I would have to take littler, smaller problems on at more immediate dates, and then make those things costly through commitment devices, etc.

All of this applies to things that you know within yourself that you want to do, but aren’t doing, for reasons you don’t quite understand.

Sometimes you’re going to encounter a big hairy task that disgusts you and fills you with dread, discomfort and anxiety. These are lizard brain reactions. It made sense to our cavemen ancestors that if something turned your stomach, you ought to just avoid it. We don’t really have that luxury today. We have intractable problems that we can’t quite avoid or flee from. Or problems where the cost of fleeing is dramatically larger than the cost of facing it- but the cost of facing It makes us uncomfortable, so we hold our ground like deers in headlights. We stick our heads in the sand and wait for the storm to blow over, leaving behind wreckages of relationships, promises, commitments, even your own health.

There comes a point- often way further out than you’d like or expect- where you get tired of describing the problem, of confessing, of apologising. Yes, it’s therapeutic to confess- but that doesn’t address the root causes of the problem. At the end of the day there are subroutines of neurons firing in your brain that are making you do things that make your life and others’ lives unpleasant and Inconvenient.  And life is way too short for that stuff. Eventually you decide that taking action to fix things is the only option you have left- you’re tired, then you’re tired of being tired, then you’re tired of oscillating between those two states. You recognise that 2 or 3 layers of meta tiredness are enough. Get to 4 or 5 layers and you probably become outright suicidal.

(Guy next to me Is looking at pics of miss Philippines on Facebook.  Lady next to me Is playing candy crush. We have so much less autonomy than we believe. As the guy from Lesswrong said, it takes only marginally more autonomy to accomplish great things. The challenge Is to get good at the right things that subsequently compound into greater things.)
What then? Then you start doing stuff. What do you do? First you decide what to do, then you do it. How long do you spend deciding what to do? There are two ways I imagine approaching. One is the GTD system- which suggests that you set aside 2 whole days of your life to go through everything. This requires that you have 2 whole days of time. Unlikely. The other is to satisfice. List out the first bunch of tasks that come to mind, that you know are important and urgent. Then do anything that takes less than 2 minutes to do. Do up to maybe 5-10 of these.
There are other people who’ve written about this pretty extensively, so I need to sit down and read all of that shit. It shouldn’t take too long. I just need to make it a priority. I need to teach myself to prioritize. I need to learn to cut things short when they aren’t in my dominant interest. I need to lay down brick after brick after brick instead of planning each new bloody castle in the sky. I need to unwire 20 years of programming that has gone into my head. I need to do this daily. I need to do this every hour if possible. I need to do this as often as I can reasonably manage. I need to be kind and fair and stuff to myself, but I also need to get shit done because otherwise I don’t sleep well at night. Sleeping well at night is a function of me getting shit done. The more shit I done, the happier I get. And that’s as simple as it is. That’s all that counts. There is no grand insight there. There is no magic. No epic solution. Everything I need is already on the table.
Everything I need is already on the table. I just need to publish. Over and over and over again. For myself, for work, for everything.
 

0196 – go go go

A conviction that’s difficult to openly admit- is that I think nobody has any fucking idea what they’re doing. I think everybody is bullshitting their way through pretty much everything. That’s an overly broad statement, so I’ll have to refine that. I think the vast majority of everything that’s being said around us is full of shit. I think most people are full of shit. I recognise that I’m writing from some sort of bitter, angry state right now and I expect to get out of this state by writing this. By writing myself out of it. Why am I bitter? I’m bitter because I feel jealous, or because I feel underserved, or under-expressed in some way. I’m bitter and angry because I realise that I haven’t been doing myself justice. I’m not maximizing my potential, and one of the consequences of that is that I have to live with the choices that have been chosen for me. he who will not obey himself will be commanded. I’m sick and tired of being commanded.
 
I spent a little bit of time on Reddit, etc doing research to me and it’s clear to me that tonnes of people have no idea what they’re talking about. Some people are able to describe things more lucidly, more effectively than others, but they still don’t really know what they’re talking about. It’s infuriating, frustrating, why do I have to listen to all of this shit? I don’t, actually. That’s why I left Facebook. I’m going to have to leave Reddit, too. I’m going to have to stop reading most of everything that comes my way, unless it’s filtered by people that I trust to recommend quality things to me. Or it has to come after I’ve done the writing.
 
Every fucking day I need to do to the writing. The last time I published a word vomit- 0195- that was on November 23rd. Over a week ago. That’s why I’m so bloody edgy. I need to bleed everyday. I need to spill ink everyday. If I’m not spilling ink, I’m getting into this space where the world crowds me out. And that’s tiring, exhausting, painful. I can’t stand it. I need to write everyday for the rest of my life, there’s really no other way out of that.
 
I know what the things are that I should be thinking about. I know what the things are that I should be writing about, to some degree at least. The most important thing at any given time is that I pick something of real value and then execute it. Execute execute execute.
 
Argh, fuck the news seriously. It’s like we’re all just bombarding each other with inane shit. If only we could all sit down as a species and ask each other where we’re hurting, why, and if we could all help each other through it. Well- actually I’m not sure if that’ll accomplish anything. I talk about this as though I’d like somebody to sit me down and talk me through some things, but I’ve actually done that- with my wife, with my boss, with people I trust- and I inevitably come to this space where I learn or realise or revisit this realisation that ultimately I have to figure this stuff out on my own. By figure this stuff out I mean beyond conceptually. Concepts are great. Ideas are great. Frameworks, narratives, insights, all of those things are great. But ultimately you have to swallow the water yourself (you can only lead a horse to water).
 
People keep talking about lists and tools and frameworks and blogposts and stuff like that but what really matters? What really gets to the heart of all of it? What is product market fit? What are people actually looking for? How do you really dig into the heart of a problem? What do we really know or understand about a problem? Do we really fucking know it?
 
This is a mess. I am a bit of a mess. I will tidy this shit up. This probably won’t be worth anything but I really felt like my hands had to go through the process of typing out a bunch of words. It’s a mechanical thing. I just need to get this fucking shit out of me. It doesn’t need to make sense. It doesn’t need to have some ulterior purpose or motive. I just need to pour everything out. Dump it all out. Because I’m tired. And it’s entirely up to me to take care of myself. To fix anything and everything. And I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is but I know that it’s solvable. It’s within some space that can be demarcated. We are biological creatures. I just adjusted my posture. I put on the motivational video with the epic music that I wish existed, that I discovered works for me. And then I need to breath really deep. I need to drink some water. I need to keep going.
 
What is the count now? 800. Sometimes I need to get angry. Sometimes I need to get mad. Blow the fuse. Throw off the chains. Break the chains. Destroy everything .Set the world on fire. Set myself on fire. Light up all the neurons. It’s all about set and setting. When you want to explode, fucking explode and leverage the hell out of that shit. It’s not about anybody else. It’s about you. It’s all about managing your own mood. About setting yourself up to get from where you are to where you want to go. About managing your energy. About managing your fire. About setting everything on fire. On expanding. On growing. On publishing. On writing. The words just need to spill. Spill all the fucking ink. Pour it out. You know that there’s a goddamn million words inside you. Stop living small. Stop limiting yourself. Stop reacting. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop waiting for later. Yes, exhaustion is something to worry about, to look for and to manage, but that’s hardly ever your problem, is it? Your problem is that you don’t rush to the insight.
 
Rush to the insight. Finish early. You’re done, go. Go. Go. Go. Go. GO.