0435 – earn some self-respect

I feel a little funny writing this, because it’s probably something that I should write for myself, personally, rather than something that I write about in a semi-public way. (I call these vomits semi-public because they’re not very accessible. They don’t get a lot of hits, and I like it that way for now.) To quell that, I’ll write something else entirely for me in private. But in the meantime, this is what’s on my mind, and one thing I’ve learnt is– if there’s something on my mind and I’m not writing about it, I can’t seriously write about anything else.

So. I’ve been reading The Fountainhead, and I’m halfway through. It’s interesting. I get it, I understand why some people are crazy about it and why more people are crazily against it. (It’s quite meta. The book is about an architect who’s relentless about his ideals– which some people love, and most people hate.) There are a bunch of valid criticisms about the book– it might be a bit oversimplistic. The characters might be a bit predictable, simplistic, and a little humorless. Ayn Rand sets up strawmen to knock down in a really nice, orderly way.

But I believe Rand wasn’t claiming to describe reality as it is (which I think Honore de Balzac did a much better job with, with Lost Illusions). She was trying to put forth a vision, her personal ideal of how man should be, or might be. And I can respect that as an intellectual pursuit, as an exercise in hypothetical thinking. Such thinking and projections can be really useful thought experiments. That’s the lens that I’m choosing to read this book through. Rand is making a bunch of propositions, which may not necessarily correspond perfectly to reality (and now I’m thinking of the Ender’s Game series, which is similar– a bunch of characters who behave with almost supernatural efficiency. And can’t the same be said for Aaron Sorkin’s characters?)

That’s what fiction does, isn’t it? It shows us what is true by exaggerating things out of proportion, by using unusual circumstances, fringes, borders, etc etc. It doesn’t have to be immediately, directly true to be useful.

Anyway.

So the interesting thing for me about The Fountainhead is how its protagonist– Howard Roark– behaves. I’ve read a bunch of books by now, lots of different characters, lots of different ways of exploring different minds. But there’s something slightly different about Roark. It’s a sort of intense, relentless fixation on self-respect. He has his personal beliefs, his view of the world, his view of what is acceptable and what is not– and he lives by those principles as perfectly as he can. What’s interesting is how he navigates conflict with other people. He doesn’t enter some sort of difficult moral conflict as protagonists often do. He doesn’t debate internally. His decisions are practically pre-made. He walks into difficult situations with his decisions pre-made, and he’s calm and unfazed and this calm threatens and frustrates the people around him. His dramatic foil is his childhood friend who, while successful, is hooked on the opinions of others. He derives his validation from others.

Rand turns this into an extreme black and white affair. There are a few people who truly have self-respect, who are truly principled, who really care. And everybody else is shamefully deficient in some way. [1] You can see how this must be really exciting to brooding, overthinking young teenagers. And how it might seem outright wrong or dangerous to others. Blah blah.

I think it’s important to view it through the lens of “This is a thought experiment.” When we do thought experiments, we distort, twist, exaggerate, amplify and dramatize things for effect. In a sense, we all have a little bit of all of the characters inside all of us.

Anyway, again.

The point I want to get to is– what I think has been interesting, compelling and useful for me. And that is the fictional idealism of Roark’s intense self-respect. What will life be like if you strongly, clearly know exactly what you want, and don’t give a fuck about anything else but getting that? What is life like if you refuse to allow other people’s input to sully your thoughts and perspectives? What is life like if you refuse to compromise on anything that really mattered to you?

Of course, realistically, it’s not quite possible to do that unless you’re wired a little differently from everybody else. Or is it? We probably wouldn’t be able to turn into Howard Roarks just by reading about him, and I’m not sure if it’s realllly worth it even if it were possible.

But is there something I can learn from him? I think so. By embodying a sort of extreme, fierce, radical self-respect, by extension, he’s gotten me to think about what my personal equivalent of that would be like. I mean, I’ve read all of the Ender’s Game sequence, and I do appreciate Ender’s perspective and thoughtfulness and insight and maturity… but there’s something quite different. There’s something about Ender’s mind that is left a little unexplored, I think. Doing a proper comparison will take a lot more effort than a throwaway word vomit. It might be this– Ender is constantly trying to survive in his environment, and he’s trying to do right by others, within a context of a very large, looming existential threat. Roark on the other hand isn’t under nearly as much of an existential threat (though he might disagree). He has more of a “spiritual” problem– his context is closer to Lucien’s from Lost Illusions.

I guess the question I’ve been posing to myself at the back of my head is– what does self-respect look like, to me? What do I need to do to earn my own respect? Why have I not thought about this earlier?

I will answer those questions privately for the time being, probably.

_____

[1] There are a couple of antagonists who haven’t quite revealed all their cards yet, so they’re kind of outside the scope of this until I read further. I wonder what Toohey is really all about, in the end. And that Gail dude. We’ll see.

 

0434 – go somewhere new

I’m getting tired of writing about the thoughts on my mind the way I’ve been doing for the past 400 vomits or so. (Somewhere between 30% of the time to 70% of the time. I’m not sure, I haven’t exactly been tallying this carefully.)

Part of this is straight up boredom. I’m tired of reading the same old shit. And even now as I write this I’m recalling that I once wrote a vomit titled “sick and tired of being sick and tired” or something to that effect.

But I think the more important part is– I’m starting to recognize the thoughts of my mind as products of my past. They’re sort of… legacy issues. I’m still thinking old thoughts, in an old way, somehow. They’re suboptimal.

A part of the motivation of doing these vomits was the belief that I’d have a bunch of written thoughts that I can subsequently analyze and make sense of, and do therapy with myself. I think the first part of that goal has been achieved– I think I have a large enough body of work about my own thoughts that’s ripe for me to analyze. I just haven’t really done the analysis yet, which I am now committing to doing concurrently as I write 1 vomit a day.

While that’s going on, I think there’s also a sort of ‘dangerous’ situation where– the more I talk about my old thoughts, the more I keep them active and alive. When you truly quit smoking, for example, you shouldn’t be spending all your time talking about smoking. You should be pretty much indifferent to them if possible. They shouldn’t bother you, you shouldn’t need to care about them. Maybe I’m being overly idealistic here.

So… for the time being, my old thoughts are in semi-cold storage. I won’t indulge them by recreating them over and over again by writing about them over and over again. I might write some meta-analysis about the older vomits.

Well, I don’t know. As always, I never quite seem to be sure of what I can trust myself with, of what I can promise myself. This is something that needs to change.

I was quite productive at work today. I was making a deliberate effort to measure and manage my time throughout the day. It was interesting. I took longer than I thought I would’ve (to write a substantial blogpost). I suppose on hindsight that’s completely unsurprising. I chronically overestimate my own ability to do things that I haven’t done before.

Ugh, even now I feel like I’m just writing stuff I’ve said before. I know, I know, everything is a remix. I was just thinking earlier as I was in my kitchen about how I’m either going to answer the questions I’ve raised in past vomits but haven’t answered yet, or go all out different and maybe start writing short stories and fiction within this very word vomit project. I haven’t quite figured out what I want.

Deja vu– the last time I tried to figure out what I wanted while putting myself on the spot in the context of a vomit, I was stuck, too, but I ended up writing dialogue for the next few vomits after that. I think that was in the early 300s. What will I do this time? My subconscious will think about it. But yes, let’s make that a rule. I’ll go through my old questions, answer all those old questions, but beyond that I’m really going to try not to bother writing all these…

Uh, again halfway through a sentence I find myself thinking that doesn’t quite feel right. Groping and stumbling everywhere. We’ll find our way through.

I know it’s not in my place to write big grand theories of the world and so on. I’m actually not all that interested in Singapore’s general election 2016, while I was so crazy about 2011. Why? Am I for real when I say that? Will I flip flop about this once the election actually comes? I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to witness. I don’t think I’ll be writing blogposts the way I did back in 2011, unless there’s some issue where I feel like I have a unique and valuable perspective that I can share with minimal effort on my part, that would make a difference to people.

But even that’s really just entertainment and distraction rather than some sort of civic duty. Saying things like “my country needs me” is not very verifiable. I mean… sure, my country needs me… I don’t know, man. Everything is made up. Everything is imagined. Reality is that which remains when you stop believing in it. So what do I believe? I don’t know what to believe anymore. What do I care about? I don’t know what to care about anymore. The last time I felt myself thinking these thoughts, I was feeling really down, really in a funk,  almost depressed. This time I’m thinking these same thoughts but with a light, airy sort of indifference. There’s a space for me to navigate around all of this, and I can do whatever I want. BUT I’m limited by all these basic silly little appetites and bullshit. I’m limited by my constant craving for useless information.

Why is it that if something is true, or real, I have some sort of impulse to go and share it with somebody else? Why can’t I just embody whatever is true, and enjoy whatever is real and true, for myself, and show it through my work? I think I can. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’m just overexplaining myself because I like the sound of my own voice, maybe. Which I’m sure is something I’ve said before. And is always rather ironic to bring up in the context of a writing project. I’m not going to stop my writing project until it’s done, so at worst we’re going to have another 550,000 words of me talking about how much my talk is worthless.

Well, if that really turns out to be the case, I’m sure it’ll put me off worthless talk for the rest of my life. Whatever. I’ve committed to this and I’m seeing it through. There will be serendipitous good things coming out of this that I can’t anticipate yet. And even if not, fuck it, there are stupider things to commit to.

Ayy lmao.

 

0433 – evolving the 1000wordvomits project

I’m recognizing an increasing need, or feeling of need, to re-read my vomits and to start editing them properly. This feeling has always been there in some shape or form, but it’s getting stronger.

The original end-goal of the project was to complete 1000 vomits of 1000 words each, yes. That was the vaguest, simplest possible imagining of the goal of the project. But I knew in advance that the pursuit of such a project would have me encountering sub-goals that I had not and could not possibly anticipate. [1]

I think the biggest mistake about these vomits so far is a lack of proper bookkeeping. Of tagging and categorizing. I tried doing a little bit of it in the early stages, but it seemed premature at the time, so I avoided it. But I should have revisited it periodically. So that’s project management failure on my part. I have since learnt (mostly from colleagues, actually!) of the importance of periodical reviews. Things don’t seem different from day to day, but over weeks and months things can change quite dramatically, and it’s important to review them to make sure that you’re still aware of what’s going on, that you’re still in control.

So… what are the next steps for the 1000wordvomits project? I’m going to continue writing a post a day, because I feel like that’s the minimum commitment I can and should give to writing.

The next step is to add a read-old-vomits component, a catalogue-old-vomits component, a summarize-old-vomits component. And I can’t stop the project just to do those things, because then I’ll be stuck. I have to do them all at the same time.

Let’s go back over the origins of the project.

Initially, the goal was to have written a large volume.

Then I learned that it’s stressful and tedious and frustrating and annoying to try to write only in passionate bursts, so the goal was refined to include “write at least 1 vomit every single day.” [2] This made it easier for me to estimate when the project will be completed, and it reduced the unproductive self-flagellation I’d experience when I’d go days without having written.

So now I’m writing at least one vomit every day. With a single exception, I’ve done this for all of the last month. (And I’ve had several days where I’ve written more than 1 vomit a day, so the month of July 2015 has been the single most productive month for the entire word vomit project.)

Now. So far we’ve been talking about quantity of output. The original vague goal was to complete a quantity of writing. But buried in that goal was the assumption that quantity inspires quality. This vomit that I’m writing now is a manifestation of me validating that assumption. The quality does arise partially by itself– meaning, sheer volume of writing does inspire the subconscious to get better at writing. But if the goal is to become a better writer, I should do more than just quality. I should also make the “improve quality” bit deliberate and conscientious. I didn’t want to do THAT too early, because as I wrote in Letter To A Young Songwriter, there’s no point trying to be good when you don’t know what good is yet.

I still won’t pretend that I know what good is. But I know what not-good is, at least for the context of these vomits. I know that there will be some duds in the vomits that follow this one, but I would like there to be as few as possible. I would like to systematically eliminate not-good as much as possible. As my boss described, “pick the least-shitty option”.

And I’m now acutely aware that– if I keep going the way I’ve been going, I’ll be stuck in a bit of a cycle that doesn’t break a ceiling that I want to break. What is this ceiling? It’s when I keep repeating myself over and over again. I’ll naturally cross the threshold through sheer volume, sure, but what will take 2000 vomits might be condensed in 500 or less if I review what I’ve already done and isolate the good bits and the bad bits, and double down on the good bits. I have asked good questions in some of my earlier vomits that I haven’t answered yet. I should go back and answer those questions. I have made mistakes in earlier vomits that I will repeat, if I don’t become aware of them and teach myself to avoid them.

So again. I’m going to keep the word vomit project running by writing at least 1 vomit a day. The next thing I need to do is to add a component where I read, summarize and catalogue old vomits. Previously I was doing this 10 vomits at a time. I was thinking that this isn’t really all that useful an approach, but maybe I should just continue with that and complete that anyway. At 10 vomits a day, it would take me 40 days to catalogue/summarize all the vomits I’ve written so far– in a way that I still find a little suboptimal. But that’s fine, it’ll still be progress. And I might approach those summaries in a new way. Once THAT is done, or as I’m doing it, I’ll also start shaping the “sequences” or “buckets” of similar/related ideas. I’ll tag them.

Done.

_____

[1] If writing a novel was as easy as deciding to write a novel, then loads of people will have written novels. It doesn’t happen because there are all these intermediate things that have to be done, that are difficult, tedious, unpleasant.

When you start writing without a plan, you’re going to run into dead ends. Even when you DO have a plan, you’re going to run into dead ends, but then you’re slightly better equipped to back out and find another path to your goal. Or you might simply plan in advance to walk randomly and then back out of dead ends when you encounter them (that’s quite similar to the ‘plan’ for these vomits so far).

[2] Life lesson alert!

 

0432 – let go of your fixations

I’m not sure when or how exactly I was triggered to write about this, but it’s been obviously something that’s been on my mind for months and months now, maybe a year. Clarification: I’ve been fixated for over a decade. I’ve been progressively bothered about that fixation for a couple of years, and the past half a year or so feels like it’s leading up to some sort of climax. What I’m imagining is– either I can try to let it all go from where I’m standing (which feels like a rational, drama-free approach), or I can really lean into it and fixate on the fixation, go meta and go crazy until the whole thing sort of collapses under its own absurdity. I’ll be honest, I’ve always romanticized the latter idea. There’s a sense that you get some nice art out of it. Or at least terrible neurosis. Wasn’t that the deal for all the suicidal Russian novelists? I don’t know, I’m just being silly here.

I guess I was in the shower and I was thinking, man I’m tired. And I’ve been thinking that for a long time. And some people joke that adulthood is about always being tired. But I don’t buy that. I’ve seen people who don’t look it. And there are different kinds of tiredness, too. There’s the general exhaustion you get from pushing yourself, but that’s different from the chronic stress of playing constant catch up. And frankly that’s how I felt through most of school (god, really? in a post about fixations? lmfao).

I wish there was a simple an easy way to visually represent feelings and ideas. Words don’t cut it. That really means I’m going to have to learn to draw. Things don’t quite seem real until they are spatially visualized. I mean, and this is coming from a person who writes a ton, who loves reading and writing. I mean, when we’re trying to convey concepts. Describing a cylinder as “radius of x and height y” isn’t as compelling as when you see for yourself how it looks like when drawn.

What am I talking about? What is it that I want to draw? I just want to feel like I have a grasp of my life. To feel like everything is reasonably well represented. I keep feeling like a pile of messy filing cabinets. I should be able to get rid a lot of that stuff, I don’t want to be sentimental about those things anymore.

No, what do I want to draw?

This vomit and the last are a little disassociated I think because of sleep deprivation. The thoughts aren’t coherent, they’re sort of… scattered. Which might be interesting to read later.

What do I want to draw? Graphs? Models? Flowcharts? What? Why do I constantly feel like there’s something that needs revealing that hasn’t been revealed yet? What will be the manner in which it is revealed? Will it be solved when I complete the word vomit project? No, not after merely having written 1,000,000 words, I don’t think so. There will still be editing that needs to be done afterwards. I will still need to make sense of it all, to identify trends and themes. Should I wait until the end to do that? I think not. I think I will be making attempts along the way. If I write at least one word vomit every day, I could afford to set aside some time on the weekends to process them.

What am I trying to find? I’m trying to reduce the gap. There’s this messy, convoluted gap that my mind has to cross between my intentions and my actions. This gap isn’t just a short simple hop– it’s more a complex puzzle of sorts. Maybe. I think.

Uhuh, then what? How do we fix it?

Do I need drawings to remind myself what I care about? It feels like I need to remove steps. The whole thing is a little too byzantine. (I’ve been using that word a lot lately, but it’s used properly.)

Well… what is the gap? I should maybe go through the article by Scott Young that I was reading. It’s not that he’s got anything magical to say, it’s all the basic fundamental plumbing stuff that I was working on. But I need to take that stuff and make it more visceral. I need to take my statements of intent and make them intense. I need to make it such that it’s crazy if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do. I already know that this is true, but this knowledge isn’t sticky, it isn’t constantly at the front of my mind.

So it’s a kind of marketing challenge, a kind of storytelling challenge, a sort of design challenge. I already know all the problems, I already know all the solutions. Intellectually. In the brain. I need to translate that information in a way that my feet can understand it, and I need to transmit and communicate that information across my nervous system. Metaphorically speaking.

Well, how do I do that? Do I even know how to do that? I’m not sure. I’ve only properly done it with regards to these vomits, it seems. These vomits are the only thing that I’ve really managed to overwhelmingly persuade myself to persist with.

I was re-reading Tobi’s keynote recently and I was in total agreement with everything. And I was reading the Adulthood Is A Scary Horse post and I was in total agreement with that, too. But again, all of that is in the brain. Writing vomits is largely a brain activity (although it takes feet to get started, and to type the words as they come, but this is largely an automatic process for me.) If progress seems slow, it’s because I’m looking at the brain rather than examining the feet. (And examining the feet is a brain activity, so there’s a sort of funny elegance to the whole thing.)

Now I will leave for work, and when I get there I’m going to buy a cup of coffee, and drink that coffee while going over my plans for the day.

Oh, back to the original title. I find it annoying that I’m so fixated on my past. I can always revisit it if I want to, but the fixation is vexing. I need to let go. And I suppose in a way I have, just by being a little disassociative. I can always grab the next thread. Let’s go.

 

0431 – your priorities are what you do, not what you say you’ll do

My subconscious doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that I’ve done over 400 vomits. I write “242” instead of “422”, and yesterday “340” instead of “430”. It’s amusing.

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday, and I was discussing my general akrasia and (relative) unproductivity. And he said something that hit me particularly hard, in a good way.

He asked how I typically start my day, and how I manage my time, to which I admitted that I typically don’t really start on my top priority tasks until the later half of the workday. [1] He matter-of-factly noted, I paraphrase, “So the things that you say are a priority to you aren’t actually a priority?”

Which, if I resist any attempt to explain away, I realize must be true. I mean, it might be an oversimplification, there might be something in the way, blah blah blah, but ultimately reality doesn’t give a shit, and from reality’s point of view, if a person says something is important but nothing happens about it, it’s not important.

Uhh. I feel like I’ve walked over this ground many, many times before. With repetition, these ideas are closer to the forefront of my mind, or they’re more a part of my thinking than before (when they were truth-in-boxes). But if progress is still elusive (and to be fair, I have made a bunch of progress. I’m just constantly trying to be more effective, to do more.)

I guess the challenge here is to hold contradictory ideas in my mind. (I’m stealing this idea from Adulthood Is A Scary Horse.) What I’m doing right now is jumping between them, back and forth, without quite holding both in my head at the same time.

  1. If I say that something matters to me, and I’m not doing something about it, that means I’m blocked in some way, and I should identify that blockage and remove it. After all, if that something really matters to me, it’s worth doing, right?
  2. If I say that something matters to me, or I talk about doing something that matters to something beyond myself, and I’m not doing something about it, that means that for all practical purposes, the world will interpret it to mean “it doesn’t really matter to him, he’s just saying it”.

Brain in your head, feet in your shoes. If they’re not working in tandem, nothing makes sense and everything is crazy.

Uh, so what now?

It’s interesting. I wanted to go to bed early last night and wake up early. But at about 11pm, I felt a strange compulsion to pick up this 1000-part connect the dots puzzlebook that my wife has, and I sat down and starting connecting. I tried to be disciplined about it and connect 1-2-3-4 and so on, and I did that up to about 100. And then I started skipping around, which is a great way to make sure that you have to subsequently trouble yourself going over earlier spaces multiple times to make sure that you didn’t miss anything.

Once I started, it was like a challenge to myself to complete it in a single sitting. And I did, I completed it. I persisted. Was that something to be proud of? Uh. Again, it’s like being really good at your 2nd highest priority. It’s a sort of pyrhhic victory. I can acknowledge that I made progress on something, but if it’s not on my highest priority, I’m sort of wasting my time. I’m being suboptimal. And being optimal is a valid option here, so where I can I should pick that valid option.

Also, minor lesson learnt in a visceral way– if there’s an order to be followed to prevent double-work, follow that order. Unless I have a really, really good reason for screwing around, apart from “let’s screw around and see what happens”. [2]

Anyway, the point is… I went to bed later than intended. But I woke up at 7am when my alarm went off. In contrast, my alarm also went off yesterday when I had some time-sensitive work I wanted to, but I went right back to bed.

There’s a really important question in there that I need to figure out the answer to. Why is it that sometimes I can’t wake up even when I’m trying to will myself to wake up, in a very deliberate sense, and yet sometimes I can lightly think about waking up, and then react so ‘positively’ to the alarm? (My definition of “positive” is still a rather bleary-eyed, fumbling sort of thing. Unlike Bear Grylls, who apparently calls his alarm clock his “opportunity clock”.)

Anyway, I suppose for the time being I should just try to repeat what happened.

Also: Writing word vomits are important to me, so I write them everyday. Prioritizing my work is important to me too, and I’m going to do that every day too from now on. There are some next steps there to make sure I stick to it, I’m adding that to my to-do.

_____

[1] I tend to spend a lot of the start just flaffing around, doing less-important tasks. I have all sorts of explanations and justifications in my head– maybe I’m not warmed up yet, or maybe I work better in the evening… but I also know that none of these explanations are iron-clad. They’re all after-the-fact, made up. And the fact that I’m not as productive as I want to be has bothered me, even if nobody’s talking to me about it. I know this. I think about it all the time. (Which is unproductive… at least until I finally do something about it.)

Here I find myself thinking of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the places you’ll go!”. “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes,” he wrote. I find myself thinking… the brains-in-your-head part isn’t a problem. It’s the feet-in-your-shoes bit that usually get me. I don’t have that practical, bodily intelligence of ‘moving my feet’. Extraverted Thinking, in MBTI terms. I should probably read the whole thing and maybe do a vomit/review of it.

[2] UNLESS “screwing around” is a completely valid option– that is, I somehow happen to have a chunk of free time and I’m more interested in screwing around than completing something. But this is becoming less and less probable– I spent a lot of my life screwing around, and so I feel like I’ve learnt a lot of what there is to be learnt about screwing around. In contrast, I have a lot to learn about completing things. So I should more often than not prioritize completing things. This may change one day. I will know when it does.

 

0430 – needed changes and a perfect month

I’m writing this vomit by picking something from my to-do list. Somewhere– maybe a few vomits ago– I thought to myself that I need to sit down and think about the changes that need to happen, and write very specifically about that. I didn’t really feel it too strongly at the time.

But right now, I don’t really feel about writing about anything else, either. I don’t feel like writing about big picture things, I don’t feel like I have the right to, and I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say right now. [1]

So… what are the changes that need to happen?

I think the most important things are– I need to plan my days. I need to have daily reviews at the beginning and end of each day. I need to have a more deliberate routine after I wake up, and a more deliberate routine after I get to work, and in both cases I need to make sure that I’m prioritizing what’s important to me.

I’ve written about this many times… for these things to work I need to have some sort of stakes. I need to see very clearly how it’s going to make my life better. To get a bit meta– I don’t really feel like doing a word vomit right now. I’m tired. It’s late. I’m writing anyway because this project is important to me.

Ugh, something about that sentence bothers me. I know, I know, actions are all that count, good intentions aren’t very useful. Good intentions are wisps, imaginary, weightless. I have good intentions about writing 1,000,000 words, and I’m executing on that intention every single day. I also have good intentions about helping to grow my company at work, but somehow that’s something I’m not making as much of a difference to. I’m putting in the word every day, but not with the same sort of persistence, not with the same sort of intensity.

I don’t believe that it’s simply a matter of how badly I want it. I’m pretty sure I want to be successful at work every bit as much as I want to successfully complete my word vomit project. I think the disparity between the two really, really boils down to how I’m managing the respective projects. The 1000 word vomit project is beautifully designed– so simple, so elegant. 1000 words a day, that’s it. It’s irrefutable.

In contrast, what I need to do for work is far more nebulous. There are many more such tasks. What I need to do is to associate my work with something as discrete, as specific and irrefutable as writing a word vomit.

Here’s what I’m thinking. For a period of time I was using a spindle, both at work and at home, to keep track of tasks that I was doing. Everytime I did a task, I’d write it on a post-it pierce it on the spindle. But after a while I started to feel less strongly about the spindles. They were “diluted”, because I was piercing all sorts of simple things like “did the dishes”. A year’s worth of doing the dishes isn’t really an accomplishment worth celebrating. It’s not a stretch goal.

I definitely enjoyed the spindle while I was using it. So I think I should be able to re-create that habit. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to restart both the spindles– at home and at work. The goal is to start a streak of having daily reviews. I’ve been doing work reviews at the end of the day– this is too reactive. I should be more proactive. I should plan my tasks at the start of the day, using my stated priorities as a guide. If I just work on 3 things that are at the top of the list– whether they’re all sub-tasks of the highest priority thing, or it’s one sub-task per each of the top 3 things, then I’d have earned the right to pierce a task on a spindle. And I’ll attempt to have a streak of 100 post-its pierced on the spindle.

Am I missing something here? I’m not as excited about this as I ought to be. When I first conceived of the 1,000 word vomits project, I remember being insanely excited. It was so clear that it was going to be something magical to overcome. 100 work plans somehow doesn’t feel the same. It’s something that I should do, I know, but I have a long list of things that I should do. What’s something that I really, really, WANT to do? Something exciting? That I could tie together with my daily plans?

I need to remind myself why it’s important, what happens when it works, what happens when it doesn’t work.

And maybe I should just commit to making August a great month. When I’m done with this month, July would’ve been short of 1 day to have been a perfect streak of word vomits. I intend to have August have a perfect streak. Might as well have daily reviews to accompany it. The Perfect Month. That’s something that’s pretty exciting. That’s something I feel like I can get behind.

I might be wrong, I might change my mind. One thing I’ve been innoculated against in these vomits is making overly grand promises, because I don’t know what I can or cannot do. But I intend to try. A perfect streak in August it is, then. Well planned, well-rested. Let’s do it.

_____

[1] I was just tweeting about language and tech and media this morning, and I got that out of my system. But I don’t really want to sit down and write essays about it. Essays are for proper exploring… and I’m not in the mood for exploring ‘the stars’ when I haven’t explored the area in my immediate vicinity.

Also, “I don’t feel like I have the right to” and “I don’t have anything interesting to say right now” is a passing mood. It’s interesting to observe. It’s a function of how I’m feeling at a given time. And this isn’t my dominant state, obviously. It’s interesting to think about how I feel this way. I suppose it’s because it’s after feeling a little unproductive.

 

0429 – dissatisfaction with vomits

I wasn’t satisfied with the last vomit and I’d like to think about why that is the case.

I think it’s because I spent a lot of time trying to describe my starting conditions. I think I should attempt instead to summarize my starting conditions as succinctly as possible.

In the context of word vomits, it’s very tempting and easy to keep rambling on describing starting conditions. They’re already internalized, and I just need to talk about them. So I go on and on for as long as I can, and hope that something useful will come out of it. This is a valid strategy for approaching word vomits, but one that I’m getting a little bit tired of. So I’d like to think about what I’d prefer to do.

What happens after quickly summarizing starting conditions? Let’s take that last vomit. How would I summarize it? “I grew up thinking concepts like “integrity” were lame, and sort-of rebelled against them. It wasn’t very useful or effective towards any end. I’m starting to realize now that integrity is actually really useful, because it allows for efficiency. If you can trust a tool, you can focus on the task at hand. Not having integrity means not exactly being able to trust yourself.”

There we go. The above paragraph is the entire previous vomit, distilled.

Where would I have gone from there? I’d have asked myself, well, what’s interesting? What are the interesting questions that I should be asking?

How do I improve my own integrity? How do I get better at doing what I say I’ll do? How do I reduce the amount of time I waste running over the same old ground, over and over again?

Those are questions I don’t have immediate answers to [1], so addressing them is probably a good idea.

How do I get better at doing what I say I’ll do? There are a bunch of first steps.

– First, avoid saying that I’ll do anything that I can’t actually do. Make as few promises as possible until I get the hang of doing everything I say I’ll do.

– Make everything I say I’ll do, highly visible. Trello boards. Post it notes. In my notebook. (Here there’s a task to be made for thinking about how to do this better.)

– Peg an estimated time cost to everything that I say I’ll do.

– Write down why I’m doing something. Why does it matter to me? What is the desired outcome? Who or what does it help?

– Write down what I need to have before I can do it. What are the moving parts? What are the black boxes that need to beilluminated?

– Go through the list of things that I’ve already said I’ll do. If there’s anything that can be done in a couple of minutes, I should do it. If there’s anything that’s not really worth doing, I should get rid of it. Classic GTD, isn’t it?

– Daily reviews. How do I make sure I keep up with them? I should add a task to my daily rewire app that I’ve been using quite consistently. I have to buy the upgrade if I want to add more tasks that I’m already using. It’s only $6. I’ve been using it regularly. Done, buying it now. Done.

Ugh, this all really just feels like I’m running the same old ground over and over again, to be honest. Do I really need to write another vomit about this? Wasn’t there a meta-point I was trying to make about how I get caught up writing about starting conditions? Here I’m writing about the basic steps I need to take, the prescriptive stuff. I already know these things, so why am I writing about them again? Because I need a reminder? Fair enough, I guess, but there’s something inelegant and repetitive about this process. I’ve written before that if repetition is what is necessary, then that’s what I’ll do, but I’m starting to think that the repetition isn’t enough. I can’t just keep walking the same old ground.

I think what’s really happening here is this: I’m not supposed to be writing right now. I’m forcing myself. I’m distracting myself. There’s something else I should be doing. I should be working on, well, work. Or if I’m taking a break from work, then I should be doing something else rather than writing another vomit. I should be doing the bookkeeping of these vomits instead, if I’m determined to be doing some work here. I guess I’m writing this second vomit because I felt like I didn’t like the last vomit, and I wrote that one because I need to write a vomit every day, and because it was about something that was vaguely on my mind.

It probably would’ve made more sense to write vomits that I’ve listed for myself in my todo list. Oh well. I’m not in the mood to write another vomit after this, not right now. So I’ll just spend maybe 25 minutes doing a v1 of a sort of big picture sweep/overview.

Done for now.
_____

[1] I wonder, though, if I’ve addressed these questions before earlier in my word vomits? Lately I’m starting to realize that it’s getting likelier and likelier that whenever I find myself troubled by some thought, I’ve actually already thought about it before. I just haven’t internalized it fully. Thinking about it again from the start seems slightly wasteful. If I had a better tagging/searching system, if I had a smart system that could surface to me “you’re writing X, you’ve written about it before here”, that would be really awesome. But for the time being I’m going to have to be that system. Right now I make sure I write at least one word vomit every day. This is my second of the day. I should probably then spend some fixed amount of time going through my existing vomits and putting them into neat and tidy categories, so that I can find relevant writing on whatever it is I’m thinking about.

 

0428 – define integrity and embody it

integrity (n.)
c. 1400, “innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity,” from Old French integrité or directly from Latin integritatem (nominative integritas) “soundness, wholeness, blamelessness,” from Latin integer (adj.) “whole, complete,” figuratively, “untainted, upright,” literally “untouched,” from in- “not” (see in- (1)) + root of tangere “to touch” (see tangent (adj.)). The word was used earlier in English as an adjective meaning “whole, entire” (c. 1500).

Today I want to think about integrity and solitude, and what it means to be a man of one’s word. This is coming off of re-reading the “Leadership and Solitude” essay, and reading the first 20% of The Fountainhead.

When I think about Integrity, the first thing I think of is about “core values” in schools. I remember always being very amused about them, how it felt like a bunch of cliches that we were expected to read off of. It felt like a mutually agreed upon fiction that everyone was supposed to go through the motions of.

This had the slightly unintended, negative effect of putting me off the idea of thinking about core values for a long time. I think it’s because values are something that people should discover for themselves, within themselves. You can’t just subscribe to somebody else’s. You can take a bunch of ideas from elsewhere, read them, but you only internalize what makes sense to you, in your own language, on your own terms. At least, that’s what I believe. Values are caught, not taught. You can’t tell people how they should be– you inspire it through demonstration.

I’m looking back at my Junior College’s values now: “Commitment. Perserverance. Independent Learning. Innovation. Integrity. Teamwork. Social Responsibility.” I remember seeing them plastered on the walls of the school hall, and I remember inwardly laughing at how hollow all of them seemed. I was just revulsed in some way. It felt creepy, Orwellian.

Today I recognize that all of those values are good, useful, important things. But not because I encountered the words on a wall in school. Specifically I want to focus on Integrity, because it’s something I never cared very much for until recently.

I used to think of myself as a very lackadaisical, devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky sort of individual. I was almost proud of the fact that I was generally irresponsible and unreliable. To me, it meant that I didn’t belong to anybody (on hindsight: not even to myself). I was very appreciative of Kurt Cobain’s quote, “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” I thought there was an integrity about that that I could believe in. [1] Unfortunately Kurt killed himself at 27, so we can’t really ask him how that worked out for him. I wonder what he would’ve said about it if he lived till 50. After all, “I hope I die before I get old” Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend are in their 70s now.

I’ve like the use of the word “integrity” to talk about ships. Hull integrity. The integrity of the hull has been breached. I actually think that’s a great way of thinking about it when applying it to personal values. Integrity isn’t some mystical, hifalutin, god-like attribute. It’s really just about keeping your ship afloat. About keeping out BS. About being internally consistent, about not having leakages. You can’t reliably fire a cannon from a tiny, leaky vessel.

Anyway. Over the years I’ve lost good friends and missed all sorts of opportunities that I might not have even been aware of, because of my inability to be responsible, accountable. I’ve written about this multiple times already. When I write about it, I typically come up with some rah-rah ‘things are gonna change around here’ statements. But things haven’t changed nearly as much as I’d like them to. And maybe I need to frame the problem a little bit differently.

Here’s what I’m starting to realize. Life is exhausting without integrity. It’s so much simpler if I simply do what I say I’ll do. I don’t have to spend any time constructing excuses or explanations for why things don’t get done. I don’t have to face people with a queasiness in my stomach, I don’t have to stare at my feet and be embarrassed at how I’m failing to meet my responsibilities and obligations.

And perhaps more importantly– it allows for better conversations. The worst thing about having a conversation with an unreliable person is having to repeatedly ask them if they’re on track, if they remembered this, if they’ll do what they say they’re going to do. I’ve experienced this when dealing with others like myself, and I realize it must be all the more annoying for people who have to deal with me. For all sorts of reasons.

What do I want to get at with this vomit? That I don’t need to actually care about archaic, historic meanings. I don’t really need to dive into scholarship of ethics and Socrates and Plato and such (though I do know Seneca, Plutarch, etc have some pretty good things to say about this…)

Um… I guess this didn’t really need a vomit’s length to say. I just wanted to say that I think integrity is not just important (in whatever grandiose moral sense) but really useful. It’s like being systematic when you’re looking for a lost object– if you look very carefully through a room, starting with one corner, one drawer, etc, then you can systematically rule things out and reduce amount of area that you haven’t checked (rather than going on a random rampage around the house trying to find it.)

It’s kind of interesting to think about how this relates to sorting algorithms.

Uh. I guess this is one of those “filling out the numbers” vomits.

_____

[1] I recognize now that that’s an oversimplistic idea, at least when taken by itself. “Who I am” is a nebulous concept. You can be yourself and still be liked. Just because people hate you doesn’t mean you’re somehow doing something right. It’s a rah-rah statement that isn’t actually all that useful in figuring out what to do with your life.

 

0426 + 0427 – significance requires responsibility

Trouble sleeping, mind is refusing to power down.

Thinking about the last vomit, and how I didn’t adequately answer the question of “why do I have a habit of using hyperbole in my communication”. I said it was a vestigial remnant from my younger days, from operating in low-stakes, low-accountability environments. That is true. But why? Because it seemed to elicit more responses. But why did that matter? Because it felt good. But why? Because it gave me a feeling of significance, of relevance.

Intellectually, I recognize that this is illusory, but I suffer from dysrationalia. I do what isn’t rational, because I don’t take the time to think through my actions every step of theway. I’m a “problem cheap-validation-seeker” the way some people are problem gamblers.

Why do I want to feel significant? My first thought is- well, doesn’t everybody? Don’t we all want to be loved, appreciated, understood and so on?

Maybe. There might be exceptions. But even so- even if it’s true that everybody wants to feel significant, why does my particular want manifest itself the way it does? Some people are content with the significance they get being good parents, and they should be. Most people probably were, for most of human history. Am I different? If so, how exactly?

“Significant” is a vague term. Everybody is significant in some way to something. I’m significant to my wife and my family and my cats. That somehow does not feel like it’s enough to satisfy me. I’m significant to a close friend. That too does not feel like it’s enough to satisfy me. Am I significant to people I’m friends with on Facebook? I’d like to hope so, but realistically that’s a sort of weak significance… like having a somewhat nice TV show in your life. The West Wing was significant for me… but what does that even mean?

(This is frustrating.)

I think here it’s getting clear that there’s a ‘spectrum of significance’. The most intensely significant things in human history might be things like, discovering electromagnetism. I think it’s significant to have produced a TV show like The West Wing, maybe becaus I feel like it has a net effect on a lot of people. But the individual effect it has on a stray individual might not be all that great.

What exactly do I really want? I’m a cognitive miser. For all my talk about wanting to be a thinker, there are some things I don’t think very much about. Which is frustrating. Because I seem to prefer to work with simple solved puzzles rather than work on the pressing unsolved ones. Solved puzzles are easy, familiar, reassuring. Unsolved puzzles are difficult, challenging, unrewarding UNTIL progress is made. But it’s hard to anticipate when progress will come.

I’ve written about this before. I’m searching under streetlights here. I dropped my keys in the dark but I’m looking under the streetlight because it’s easier to see. Sigh. Okay.

So let’s walk into the dark with a lousy flashlight and see what we find.

Here’s a sentence I’d like to start with:

I desire a feeling of significance, and in the absence of anything of real substance, I settle for bullshit and illusions.

So the question is, how do I make sure that I only derive significance from working on things that have substance? [1]

Well, first I have to define what substance means. I am a cognitive miser, so my instinct is to default to the path of least resistance. [2] If I’m just thinking “I want to feel significant”, my impulse is to get involved with discussions on Facebook or reddit. This is suboptimal 99% of the time… or is it? If all I want is to feel significant then it’s totally optimal! If all I want is to get through the day then cigarettes are quite awesome, too! In both cases I feel a sense of guilt and frustration bevause clearly I’m looking for more than just getting through the days. I’ve gotten through thousands of mediocre days.

So. What then? What is substance? What’s actually significant? It feels almost laughably silly to try and answer this question but it’s far sillier that I’ve gone through so much of my life without being more explicit about this. [3]

Let’s give it a version 1.0 shot. Substance is… uh. Making a material difference to people’s lives. I should focus primarily on my own. Substance is fulfilling responsibilities. Doing what I said I’d do.

And so here I have to ask myself: what are my responsibilities? What are my obligations? (And here I enter the realm of things I don’t particularly want to make public right now- I’ll write those things privately. It’s surely better to fulfill obligations quietly than to proclaim them.)

I will concede though that I haven’t always been fulfilling my obligations and responsibilities to the best of my abilities. Why not? I say and believe that I want to be significant. Well, nobody is more significant than a person who other people depend on. And the more people can depend on you, and the more they trust you, the more opportunities they give you to do even more! To be even more significant!

Well a painful re-realization lies ahead.

Someone once said people miss opportunity when they encounter it because it shows up dressed as work. The corollary here is that significance shows up dressed as responsibility.

And I have always been terrified of responsibility. I have a really, really bad track record when it comes to responsibility.

So this is the showdown, isn’t it? What do I want more? To be truly, deeply significant or to play this elaborate, torturously teasing game of requesting significance and then running away from it when it shows up dressed as responsibility?

The truth is that there are real opportunities for significance all around me. I’ve just been too afraid to really engage them. So I run away. And I try to get people to like me in a superficial sense. And if they do that, then I can pretend that my deficiencies aren’t so bad. I’m not an utter trainwreck. Which is a depressingly low bar to set. It’s like being a seemingly-functional alcoholic, and saying “Hey, at least I don’t beat my kids,” to justify the alcholism.

What am I afraid of anyway? I fear being stifled and trapped. There’s this old joke or saying about how the prize for being good at digging is a bigger shovel. That sounds terrifying to me. I feel like… it takes me enough effort as it is to function at my current capacity.

Intellectually I know that I could be doing more… but something is stopping me. And that something isn’t physics- it’s psychological. I could do twice as much work, write twice as many vomits (this I have actually been doing lately, so yay) and still have time left over to work out and read books WHY AM I NOT DOING IT? I don’t mean to ask that in an angry violent way. It’s more of a deep puzzlement at this Gordian knot in my psyche.

Let’s start again.

I’m afraid of responsibility. Why? I worry I won’t be able to handle it. (I think.)

I’m currently playing a role where I perform some of my responsibilities to a tolerable degree.

I want to be significant.

But I’m afraid that if I get better at fulfilling more responsibilities for a while, eventually I’ll screw up and “regress to the mean” or something, and when that happens the disappointment will be greater, the cost/damage will be greater. [4] As I write this, I realize this is a worldview that doesn’t adequately internalize opportunity cost.

Let’s rewind a little. (We’re going to tunnel through this and resolve it.)

Bad track record with responsibility, sure. Let’s address that. There were many things I was unable to do when younger that I have since developed the ability to do as an adult. I was terrified of food preparation as a kid. I’ve cooked since.

So the question is, do I believe that I can grow into more than I am today? Because it feels like if I did believe it, this wouldn’t be a problem. Grow, do more, do better, lift heavier weights, become more responsible, become more significant. Simple.

The problem seems to be that I doubt my own ability to grow. This is really sad. When I was a child I did believe quite sincerely that the world was my oyster. I was going to make video games and websites and go to Oxford or Cambridge and get rich. Somewhere along the line I started failing at things and I developed a toxic, negative attitude towards my failures. And I wasn’t honest with myself about it. I pretended it wasn’t a problem. I pretended that I didn’t do well because I didn’t study.

But as I write these word vomits everyday I’m starting to realize that I failed probably not because “I am a failure who can’t do things”, but because of some really simple things I was missing in plain sight.

– I can write way more when I write a little bit everyday than when I try to write a ton at one go. The simple solution to writing more is to write a little bit at frequent intervals, rather than try to write a ton all at once.
– I struggled with improving my 2.4km time because I was overstriding terribly, and my breathing was all wrong, and I didn’t do interval training.
– I failed to get much stronger when lifting weights because of improper nutrition and rest.

My failures in these fronts aren’t evidence that I’M a failure, they’re merely opportunities to begin again more intelligently. And I will likely discover that I’ll fail again, because of other variables I hadn’t even considered. But that’s good! I’ll be getting closer!

I need to believe that I can learn and grow. That I can live life with a clear mind free from anxiety. It’s not enough to just say “I believe it”- that’s fleeting. I need to really embody it.

I want to be truly significant in ways that matter; that means I need to become stronger, fulfill my responsibilities and obligations above and beyond what people have come to expect from me. No- above and beyond what I have come to expect of myself. I am playing small with my own life, which is completely in contradiction with my stated desire to live large. No wonder I’m such an anxious mess. No wonder I have trouble sleeping and trouble waking up. No wonder I procrastinate. It’s (partially) because of this huge Gordian knot right in the middle of my brain. Saying one thing, believing another, hoping another, acting another, and distracting myself hoping it’ll all resolve itself, that one day I’ll wake up and it’ll all be clear.

I’m probably oversimplifying things right now as I write this. I’m feeling some sort of catharsis, right on schedule. This is something I have to be wary of. Because nothing has changed yet.

Significance comes from taking responsibility. I am afraid of taking responsibility because I do not fully believe that I can manage it. I’m worried that I’ll fuck up, and so I deal by not-dealing. Which is itself a sort of slow, chronic suicide.

I have to decide and take decisive action about what is important, what is not important, what needs to happen and so on. (What needs to happen? I’ll write that for myself separately.) I need to give myself a track record I can believe in.

Pause.

I feel like I must have skipped something, I must have left something out.

Let’s work backwards. Am I now going to be a hyper-responsible person who fulfills all his obligations and then some? I want to say yes, but is it true? Just because I say Significance Requires Responsibility?

It’s unlikely to be that simple. I should look for bugs and handwaving. Yes I want to be significant. But I’m also afraid of responsibility. Have I sufficiently allayed this fear? Do I no longer fear responsibility, because I said “Open Sesame”? It can’t be that simple. I’ve set off feel-good chemicals in my brain which make me agreeable, but that is itself illusory.

What does taking responsibility look like, right now? Well… I should go to bed. Suppose I do that. What happens when I wake? I should go through my to do list and identify which are the real obligations/responsibilities, and screw the rest. I shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes on that. I should isolate the tasks that will most greatly increase my real significance. And I should make a sizeable dent in those. I know that I’ve been avoiding them somewhat.

Okay. I’m done writing this for now. But I will not rest easy. I am certain there are weak spots and followup questions.

[1] My intuition tells me that trying to approach this from a “let’s weed out bullshit” pov is a losing game- I should instead have a clear, precise goal to achieve. The pursuit of achieving that goal should be the thing that gets me to weed out BS and illusions from my life.

[2] Nobody ends up atop a mountain by accident, or through wishful thinking, or through passion alone. Or even by thinking about it really long and hard, if the thinking doesn’t turn into action.

[3] It probably stems from my discomfort with accountability and clarity. But I also know- truth-in-box- that life without clarity and accountability is painful and miserable. Eventually the reality I’m hiding from punches me in the face. I get punched over and over but I keep returning to the vague-fog.

[4] That’s the cost of significance, Visa. And you should also think about opportunity cost. You don’t feel the pain in your gut for all the responsibilities you never took. It’s just a sort of ambient, wistful regret than you can commiserate with other regretful people about. Hell, people have spent their entire lives writing novels about that sort of regret. And you know they didn’t exactly die happy. If nothing else, you should die happy. C’mon.

 

0425 – replace hyperbole with precision

I’m learning that I have a habit of using hyperbole in my communication. I sometimes describe things as the “best things I’ve ever read”, for example. Which is rarely a true statement, or a useful one. It’s unhelpful, even damaging.

## Why does this habit exist?

I think this is a vestigial habit from Facebook and other minimal-stakes social interactions. Hyperbole demands (but does not command [1]) attention. It’s handwaving. It’s the equivalent of raising your voice because you have a weak (or non-existent) argument.

It was how I was operating in a low-stakes, low-accountability environment. I was judging my ‘performance’ based on the Likes and Shares I was getting.

There are two problems with that, both connected. The first is the problem of silent evidence, and the second is that not all Likes and Shares are created equal. Short term “wins” in one area can be simultaneously sabotaging longer-term, bigger wins elsewhere. The unthinking brain doesn’t differentiate. Thinking has to intervene if I want superior outcomes (which I will define as having a real impact on real things with stakes, outside of recreational outrage circles… may need more precision here. See and refine: What I Want).

I realized this when writing “sociopolitical commentary”. You can get a lot of responses and reactions by pandering to populist sentiment, or by pandering to anti-populist sentiment- in both cases you’re aligning yourself to some pre-existing group rather than thinking for yourself from first principles.[2]

I have since stopped writing commentary for now, because I was getting hooked on all the useless feedback, and I wasn’t really making the world a better place. In the backburner of my mind, I’m developing ideas for writing that would be useful. I’m imagining that sociopolitical commentary should help people recognize the difficult decisions and tradeoffs that need to be made, and help to focus people on the most important priorities and next steps. But that’s hard, and I don’t yet have the ability to work on those things while simultaneously juggling my work and my primary writing project. Yet.

## What must I do to change this habit?

It’s always easier to remove than to add. The first thing is to just avoid posting things mindlessly. I have successfully done this in some spheres of my life- I have less fruitless conversations with people I don’t really respect about things I don’t really care for. That much is (relatively) easy.

The harder next step is to have less fruitless conversations with people I DO respect about things I DO care about. And being more precise and rigorous and ruthless about who I respect, and what I care about. (This makes the problem less byzantine to solve.)

OK, even with fewer people and fewer topics, I’m still going to run into the same problem- hyperbole.

How do I address that?

The first thing that comes to my mind is to respect people’s time. I would personally rather read “Hey Visa, this article talks about how to effectively use X to do Y, which you said you were interested in” rather than “Hey Visa this is the best article on X ever”. [3]

The first is easier for me to slot into my to-do list, it’s easier for me to decide whether I should read it or not, and it gives me more context for what I should be looking out for.

The latter is a little costlier- it might be interesting to learn what you define as “best”, and there’s a chance that you might be right and the article might actually be useful. But the first approach is clearly superior, so much so that I hope I find myself cringing if I ever neglect it. [4]

## What is the challenge?

So my challenge to myself is: whenever sharing something ANYWHERE with ANYONE, I should assume that people are really busy working on really important things, and that if I’m going to interrupt them (even asynchronously- it’s still information in their feeds) I better have a really good reason, and articulate that well.

## Why am I doing this?

There are so many reasons to do this. It’ll wean me off the addiction to populist response, which is a losing game / has diminishing returns. It’ll make me a more reliable source of information to the high-value people who I want to surround myself with [5]. It’ll make my thinking more rigorous, which is practically an end in itself, as well as means to all sorts of ends that I can’t even conceive of right now.

_____

[1] Here I’m borrowing an idea from Elliot Hulse, who made a video talking about how you can either demand or command respect. (Related-ish link.) Demanding something doesn’t mean you’ll get it- in fact it often means you’ll get the opposite. Or maybe you’ll just people going through the motions (especially if you have some sort of power over them and they have no choice but to comply), but you don’t earn the deep respect that’s actually worth having. Commanding respect requires solid fundamentals that nobody can argue with. I would rather have the latter than the former. This requires hard work.

[2] I suppose this is part of the central challenge of running a media company, when you need $$ to stay afloat, and $$ often comes from advertising revenue and audience size. But I’m not running a media company, I’m just running my own brain. Though I suppose it’s slightly interesting to recognize how the impulse to be populist exists even in individuals pursuing personal interests, without any clear profit motive. Makes it even clearer that running a good media business must be goddamn hard. I don’t envy them.

[3] Here I’m reminded of an article by Xianhang Zhang about “the most useless forms of help“. People already have thick reading lists, if you’re going to add something to it, it better be good. I agreed with the article when I read it, so it’s interesting to see that I’m still guilty of perpetuating the mistake.

[4] Here I find myself thinking about my own approach to writing blogposts for work, and my advice for content marketers. Readers are tired, busy and overwhelmed, so you should present them immediately with the most relevant information- what they should do, why, how, and show them an example. Give them concrete numbers and talk about implications right in the headline. Don’t bury the lead. Initially this way of writing requires effort, but over time it becomes a new default way of seeing. Congratulations, you’ve leveled up as a communicator.

I don’t deliberately do these for my word vomits, but it is something I think about. I would like to be able to write word vomits that meet my own strict criteria for what determines an effective piece of writing. But this project is focused on volume of output. I’m optimizing for a different thing. Still, I bet the two will converge. When I can sit down and spit out a vomit that’s written with great communication principles, I will have leveled up again as a writer.

[5] I wrote in an earlier vomit that I find it a little sad that I’m not useful to the people I most respect and admire in the world– people working on really hard, really important problems. I would like to be useful to them. But there are a lot of intermediate steps between where I am now, and where I want to be. This is one of them.