0514 – don’t build taj mahals

I’m re-reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. [1] I’m at the bit where he’s talking about Zheng He’s naval expeditions and the Taj Mahal, and how large scale projects that are commissioned as such can succeed, but are often isolated successes. Everything can change in an instant if it isn’t a part of a broader system. One monarch changes his mind, one ruler dies, and everything falls apart. Because it wasn’t externalized into the reality around him. (UPDATE: See also Pixar post on McKinsey about Disney)

Which gets me to thinking– when we’re thinking about “systems vs goals”– even if we aren’t clear about which perspective is more effective at achieving a desired outcome, it’s quite clear that systems are better at achieving a series of desired outcomes. So if you’re interested in sustained success, however you define that, you’re going to want to prioritize systems over goals.

Do not depend on individual geniuses. Do not depend on strokes of luck or insight. Do not depend on moments of inspiration. They will benefit you if and when they come, but if you’re serious about something sustainable, you have to depend on something more robust. On a broader ecosystem. On a culture. On habits, routines, structures, interactions, flows.

I’ve already known this, but it’s nice to revisit it and reflect on it. Don’t build Taj Mahals. [2]

“The Harvard economic historian David Landes concludes that China failed to ‘generate a continous, self-sustaining process of scientific and technological advance.’ Its achievements ended up being episodic and ephemeral. This was the tragedy of Asia: even when there was knowledge, there was no learning.”

I don’t feel qualified to talk about civilizations and nation-states and grand entities, I can only speak for myself. And I’m thinking that I want to make sure that I don’t fall into the trap of being “episodic and ephemeral”. I want to be someone who embodies learning, not just knowledge. I’ve been talking about that a lot over the years, one way or another. What does that really mean? What does it look like? How do I know if I’m actually doing it?

A thought I had was– I waste a lot of time second-guessing myself. That when I was younger, second-guessing and next-order-guessing was my core competency. I wasn’t doing very much. I wasn’t a person of action, I was a person of guesses and questions.

So over the past couple of years, I’ve become responsible for more things. I’ve been forced to take more action, so I can’t spend nearly as much time second-guessing. It’s becoming increasingly clear (if it wasn’t already) that a lot of my second-guessing exists as a sort of busyness, to keep me occupied and to avoid taking action. [3]

I guess so now I’m trying to experience my life with less second-guessing, day by day. [4] So how do we do that? How do we reduce the amount of time and energy wasted second-guessing everything?

It begins with a clear sense of fundamental values and principles. And it’s interesting to me that I’ve never been able to pin down a few things that I value most. I always pass it off saying that I value everything, that I can’t be reduced into a few lines. And of course that’s true for everybody too. And yet, how do I make my decisions? Based on how I’m feeling at a given moment? That’s a valid system of making decisions, and I suppose I have quite a bit of experience doing that. I want to experience what my life is like when I use a different system of making decisions, based on fundamental principles. [5]

So… I should define my priorities. Which I’d like to think that I’ve done before, but it’s never quite good enough and I got to do it better. Which I might not actually do in the context of word vomits, because that feels like… I don’t know, it feels like something that might be better done in absolute private until I’m absolutely sure it’s something worth sharing. Strange how that works. I suppose it’s because I might want to think some passing thoughts that may not be palatable or accurate or representative or anything like that.

Anyway, I’ve run out of steam for this one so this one is done.

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[1] It might be a little over-simplistic, but it seems that one of the best ways to entrench yourself as a thought leader is to coin a term that other people go on to use. A great slogan, a great phrase. “Imagined communities”. “End of history”. “The world is flat”. “Outliers”. “Blink”. “Freakonomics”. Of course, you can’t just make up a term, you have to back it up with a coherent argument that people agree with. “Make America Great Again”.

[2] The next line that came to my mind was “Grow Sillicon Valleys”. So cheesy though. I’m reminded of a blogpost by a French startup accelerator about how tech ecosystems are (simplistically) a combination of 3 groups that are normally quite suspicious of each other– hustle, rebellion and know-how.

[3] I’m reminded of some interesting argument I read somewhere once about how procrastination is a way of avoiding doing things, because most things shouldn’t actually be done– the idea that most interventionism is bad, most attempts at doing things are probably bad ideas, and we generally get by better if we just avoid things. I think this is semi-true to a degree, and it’s probably true to the degree of which we are utterly ignorant of what’s going on. If you have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re playing with fire, it’s probably a better idea not to play at all. But the solution isn’t to avoid playing for the rest of your life– it’s to get informed. Of course, “getting informed” is itself a whole endless can of worms.

[4] I’m very aware of all the pitfalls of not reflecting, not thinking, not analyzing and so on… I spent many years stuffing my identity with all of those thoughts and ideas.

[5] Of course, again, if performed sloppily, this becomes an excuse to avoid thinking, to shirk responsibility, etc. Very aware.

 

0513 – reviewing 2015

The year is coming to a close, and with it there’s a general atmosphere of slowing down, breathing out. I find myself wanting to tie up loose ends, to do a little revision of my experiences. The idea, I suppose, is to get some clarity and closure about what’s happened. To learn from what went well, from what didn’t go do well, and to begin the next year more strongly.

The biggest highlight of my year I think was the decision to convert my home’s master bedroom into a gym, with a squat cage, barbell, weights, a bench and floor mats. I bought them about 8 weeks ago, and I’ve improved my squats (around 40-50kg to 80kg yesterday) and bench press (40kg to 65kg) significantly. [1] This fundamental increase in physical strength has been a powerful learning experience for me. Even “learning” isn’t quite the right word. It’s know just about knowing how to do something. It’s about being able to believe in new possibilities. I think that was my real limiting factor. I now need to channel the lessons from that experience to the rest of my life, especially my work.

Another good experience has been deciding to open up my company blog to freelance writers. It gives me some ownership over the work of others, which is a nice privilege and responsibility that forces me to clarify my own principles.

I’ve also finally developed a GTD system that works for me- a mix of workflowy and trello. It’s really just a list of lists and a system of moving post-its from left to right (done), but it works well and I’m happy to have it.

I’ve met a couple of friends for coffee or dinner here and there, and it’s almost always been a good experience. My regret is that I feel like I haven’t done it enough. If I died at the end of the year, that would probably be my biggest regret- that I didn’t take more time to spend with friends.

I suppose my reasoning there is- I spent a lot of my teenage days just lounging and loafing with a bunch of people who were also just lounging and loafing with me (at least while I was with them- perhaps they were doing other things when I wasn’t around). And it was fun for a while but eventually became a huge waste of time. And I suppose I’ve been trying to live in a deliberately opposite manner- immersing myself in work, and refusing to loaf with my friends.

But once I write it down it’s clearly over-simplistic. My effectiveness at work is not purely a function of how much time I spend on it. There are diminishing returns past a certain point. I can be more effective at work by being decisive and focused. It’s almost like I’m just punishing myself by spending as much time on work tasks as possible, while getting just a passable amount of work done. And then I don’t have much real time for myself left over, and I feel like that’s my “punishment” or penance or something. My silly brain seems to think that I’ll be somehow rewarded or acknowledged for “making sacrifices”. But it’s not actually a real sacrifice. A better way exists. I can have the best of both worlds, I just need to be better to myself. The rules of the game are different from the silly rules of school and family. Work done is the measure, not time spent. And if I make myself a priority and carve out time for myself to have stress-free, guilt-free fun, then I can return to work with happiness and joy rather than a foreboding sense of obligation and duty, only tolerated because it’s better than being a worthless bum.

Also, it’s not like any of my friends are particularly interested in loafing any more, at least the way we used to. Times have changed. Our lives have changed. We’ve grown older. We have responsibilities now. A night out (or in) with friends is no longer about naughty escapism (and it wasn’t always that, anyway). Now it’s about sharing precious warmth and love, which we could all probably use a little more of. We can better trust ourselves now to be sensible, to know when to call it a night, to get back into the grind. We don’t have to keep beating ourselves up for the sins of our ignorant youth.

So the next steps there are to schedule more regular meet ups next year with the people I love. More dates with the wife.

Did I do a decent amount of writing? My experience is colored by the last few weeks, wherein I haven’t written a lot. But I I do know that July this year was when I was most disciplined about my writing habit. So that’s good, I should try to do that more next year. The first vomit I published this year was 0206, and this one is 0513– and it’s not even the last. So I’ve done over 300 word vomits this year. My first vomit published in 2014 was 0119, and the last was 0205, so I published less than 100 last year. That’s a 3x increase. I don’t expect to do over 400 next year– it would be great if I could average 1 per day. (I sometimes have bursts of writing over weekends and rest days where I write 10+ vomits all at once. It’s great.)

What else do I care about? Is music a priority? It would be nice to learn some new songs, but it doesn’t feel like a crazy priority. I think a much bigger priority is to make sure that I do frequent self-reviews– to review how my days and weeks go, and to see how I can do better week after week after week. I’m 25.5 years old now, I can’t afford to go into 26 with a lackadaisical attitude. Let’s not waste time.
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[1] I haven’t been doing a lot of deadlifts yet, or much of anything else. This will change.

 

0512 – be a player, not a spectator

Let me try and summarize what I’ve been rambling about in the past few vomits.

A quote I’ve been ruminating on is “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.” I’m still not clear about whether I’m a winner or a loser. [1] I think for the most part, for the most of my life, I’ve been a loser who’s gotten particularly GOOD at playing the “let’s talk about winners” game.

How do winners win? There are probably a few different ways, but there are two on my mind right now:

1. Think for themselves from first principles
2. Study other winners

The problem with number 2 is, when you set out to study winners, you’re going to find yourself surrounded by losers who are also very interested in discussing winners. But they’re not actually interested in winning themselves. They’re never going to get into the arena. They’re just enjoying the show from the stands.

As I write this, I realize the “simple” solution to the conundrum: ACTION. The difference between winners and losers isn’t actually where or how they get their information [2], what what they do with it. It’s action that makes the difference. The scary thing about defining yourself as a “student of winners” is that you might actually be a loser and not realize it. You’re a loser until you start winning. And if you haven’t won anything yet (again, however you choose to define what winning is), then you’re a non-player. Non-starter. Inconsequential. Irrelevant.

So if you want to become a winner, you have to get on stage. Get into the arena. Take action. Over and over again.

So yeah, maybe “winners” and “losers” are loaded terms. Maybe it’s better to frame it as “players” and “spectators”. Players focus on winning. Spectators focus on players. So the question is, are you a player or a spectator? That becomes a lot simpler– if you’re playing, you’re a player. If you’re not playing, you’re a spectator– no matter how much theory or wisdom or knowledge you might think you have accumulated. If you don’t have skin in the game, you’re not a player. The moment you stop playing, you’re a spectator.

It can’t be that simple, can it? There must be more. And yes, I think there is. Once you’ve learned to play a particular game well, you can fall into a certain comfortable pattern where you just push that button over and over again. You’re still “playing” but you’re just going through the motions. It gets unsatisfying, even frustrating. You actually have room for growth but you’re stagnating. You thought you’d reward yourself with some rest, and take it easy. And sure, rest is important for recovery. But rest too much or take it easy for too long and you start slipping into becoming a ‘spectator’ again. You’re going through the motions, so you’re not actively playing. You’re just running on autopilot.

The analogy breaks down a little, because it’s not like there’s 1 clean division between players and spectators. It’s an infinitely recursive game, where each level of players can either focus on getting to the next level, or coast along and spectate the higher level players (or whatever random nonsense is going on in the world that they aren’t directly involved in).

To revisit the ideas about “feel good about doing more good stuff instead of feeling bad about what bad stuff you’re doing”– some spectating is inevitable. We’re all a part of the greatest show in the known universe, and we’re simultaneously observers and participants. We can’t help but notice what’s going on around us, and we can’t help but think some thoughts about them. The point isn’t to never think anything, but to not get attached to those thoughts. To not pick teams and develop BS theories about what’s going to work and what’s not going to work and so on.

The only team you truly pick is your own. And you dig deep and deconstruct everything and figure out all the cause-and-effect relationships. It’s far more satisfying to take your own team to the next league than to sit around discussing the moves of teams far beyond your league, who face challenges that you can’t even conceive of.

So the question to ask myself is this– am I a competitor or a spectator when it comes to my own life? Am I satisfied at the current level that I’m competing at? If I’m not, what should I be doing to improve my own game? As long as I’m unsatisfied with my current performance, I should have a clear plan of ACTION for what I’m going to be doing to fix that. I think the old me used to just try to avoid facing that question altogether, because it made me sad and uncomfortable and upset to realize that I wasn’t the man I pretended to be, that I wished I was. I can now bench press more than that man actually weighed, so fuck that. I’m growing up. I’m doing more.

Lol at me getting psyched up in my own word vomits.

More calmly, though, the point is that I have to face my problems head on. And that it’s my actions that define me, not my theories about myself or others. Any time I find myself theorizing excessively, thinking very hard and long about something subjective, a simple and easy way out is– can I do more? Can I do better? Is there a heavy ass weight I can lift? Is there a blogpost I can ship? Is there some plumbing I could do? And I’ve found this to work even with household stuff– cleaning out the grout in my kitchen and replacing my lamp’s power switch and cleaning out my CPU all made me feel great.

ACT. COMPETE. ARE YOU SATISFIED? DO YOU LIKE WHO YOU ARE? WHERE YOU ARE?

Impress yourself. Earn your own respect.

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[1] I know it’s oversimplistic. I don’t want to get too far into de-simplifying it in this vomit. Let’s define winners as people who achieve and/or make progress towards their stated goals, and losers as people who don’t. There’s all sorts of additional complexity involving how you change your goals over time, etc

[2] Although over time winners almost definitely are better at picking out good information. Also I’m reminded of a quote by Plutarch or some old wise guy about how if you truly learn the art of listening, you’ll be able to learn even from fools.

 

0511 – prioritize strength

The more time I spend online, the more I read news articles and forums and reddit, the more I look at what’s going on on Facebook and Twitter, and even with group chats with friends, the more I’m convinced that most things are just entertainment. [1] Time-pass. I wanted to say mindless entertainment, but that can be a little misleading because this entertainment can be really engaging. You can end up using up a very substantial amount of your limited cognitive resources just thinking about and discussing some issue that you’re not actually directly involved in, that you’re not going to make a direct impact in.

I used to be very involved in peripheral discussions, and I still sometimes get involved, so I’m very aware of the justifications involved. A seductive idea is that everything is connected and that we’re always involved whether we like it of not, and that it’s bad to be aloof, it’s bad to be distant and uninvolved when there’s so much pain and suffering and injustice in the world. No drop of water feels personally responsible for the flood. But we have a “moral responsibility” to get our hands dirty, to get involved.

This was an easy decision to make when I was in college or when I was a conscript- I didn’t care for what I was doing, I was checked out. So everything else was endlessly fascinating and deserved my full attention. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve gotten more responsibilities, bills to pay, a job I actually like. And these are all things that demand my time and energy, which is limited. So I have to think more carefully about how I want to allocate resources.

I don’t actually need to compromise on my fundamental principles and values. Or rather, my principles were vague to a degree I did not realize until I was forced to make them precise. This project is part of my way of developing more clarity about my own priorities. If I had infinite time and energy I would sit down with every single human being and talk to them for decades. But I don’t have unlimited resources. So I’m forced to prioritize.

So then. Thought experiment. If I can only talk to one person, who should I talk to? That’s obvious, me. I am the most important, significant, influential person in my life. Visa is the biggest player in the game of Visa’s life, which is interconnected with other people’s.

(I paused writing here because I got to work.)

So. While the previous statement is “obvious”, are my actions consistent with my belief? It doesn’t feel like it. So that’s a no. I do believe that I am the most consequential person in my life, but I do not behave as if that were true. My actions are not consistent with what I think my priorities should be. If I were true, then I would be talking to myself first thing in the morning and last thing at night, every single day.

The fact that I publish these vomits in a public space implies that I care about what other people think. Which is fine. It’s possible to care about multiple things at once. The question is what do I care about MOST? It appears I’ve never really been able to properly give a good answer to that. Every single time I’ve talked about it in the past, or tried to approach it, even by myself in private, I find it difficult to come to a good honest answer that I can truly get behind.

I think I can now say that the answer is personal strength. I’ve experienced about 5 weeks worth of strength training (in the physical fitness sense) and I find myself feeling stronger in a very fundamental way that I had never considered before. When you lift a heavier weight than you were ever able to lift in your life, and you do it with just a little bit of concentrated effort, you begin to wonder what else you can destroy with a little bit of concentrated effort.

Now I’ve known this intellectually for a long time. I’ve been writing about it for a long time. But it somehow required me to lift a heavy ass weight over my head and feel it in my muscles and bones before I found myself beginning to “truly believe” that this is true for me.

Caution-check: Is this really true? Is this new? Is this different? Haven’t I said or done this before? Surely I’ve experienced getting stronger in some way before. I find myself thinking about learning a particular song on the guitar and how that makes me feel more powerful. Learning to play Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film) made me realize that I can develop my musicality to places that I had previously thought were unnavigable. But then I still haven’t gotten around to properly playing Nat King Cole’s L O V E. It’s achievable, I know it’s within my reach, but I haven’t sat down to practice it. So I should make it a priority. I should print it out and play it in my spare time. Because once I’m able to play it, I know that I’m able to play a whole bunch of other things, too. And I deeply enjoy it. I deeply enjoy being able to do things that I wasn’t able to do before. And I think that is my highest priority in life. To grow stronger, more powerful. Because that is pleasurable in itself, and that gives me more resources and leverage to do everything I want to do.
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[1] Etymology time! The word entertain is made up of ‘enter-‘, as in entrepreneur, enterprise, which seems to mean ‘to undertake’, ‘within’, and ‘-tain’, which means ‘to hold’, as you see with contain, maintain, sustain. It gets interesting to think about why we like to be entertained. We want to be held, to be transfixed, to be captivated. There’s a sense of fixedness. Is it a big leap to suggest that we’re somehow afraid of change? Of flux, of darkness, wetness? That if we weren’t held in place by something, we’d fall into the unknown, or fall apart, and that’s scary or uncomfortable in some way.

 

0510 – get rid of information feeds that don’t serve you

(This wasn’t a very good vomit. Circling around too many things without drilling into any one thing deep enough. So be it, we’ll do better next time.)

Another day, another commute, more routine, more faceless strangers.

Today’s thoughts are about the difference between action and stagnation. When I walk through a crowd, look through my social media feeds, look through the messages in my phone, I have to wonder… what does everyone else around me want out of their lives? How does it fit with or against what I want out of mine? I want more than this, and I don’t mean in a narrow material sense. I want to be big and bold and expressive… how many other people want that? [1] [2]

I think I’m definitely due for an information diet reset. These things seem to work in cycles. I slowed down when approaching 400 and 500 word vomits, but it now feels like it’s time to power through, power forward. When I feel like I need a break during the work day, I can meditate or play guitar. I do not need any more information than I already have.

I recently unfollowed everybody on Twitter. I still have friends on Facebook, I think they’re reasonably well curated but I also think that Facebook feeds are BS most of the time. What I really want is to build relationships with people that I can count on in emergencies– people you can call at 3am and ask for help. I’ve asked a few people casually, how do you deepen acquaintances, how do you develop stronger relationships with people you like? And the answer is invariably, “you gotta let it happen naturally”, “it takes time”, etc– which I think are rather weasely answers. I suppose my original hypothesis was that it takes shared experience. You need to go through difficulty together. So the best way to build deep friendships will be to find people who are working on difficult things, and help them. And yeah there’s a bit of a luck element to it– I’ve built a couple of relationships with people just by helping them in times of need, despite not technically being close enough to them for them to think I’d help them. I think I’ve been somewhat consistent about this.

Feels weird to talk about it openly, because I suppose there’s always something seemingly Machiavellian about strategizing one’s relationships. But we all know we all gotta do it if we want to do more in life. If we want to achieve great things, we’re going to have to prioritize. And that applies to relationships too. Some people are more deserving of our time and energy than others. There may be some people that we should cut out of our lives altogether. There are almost definitely some good people that we ought to spend more time with. And there are always people who aren’t in our circles or on our radars who we might be great friends with, in every sense, if we only knew each other and had the opportunity to connect.

This vomit was originally supposed to be about information diets in general, not necessarily people and relationships (although it’s quite understandable that that happened, because we’re social creatures and we’re mostly wired to care about people and relationships more than ideas and concepts and so on).

What should my closing thought be? I think a thought I’ve been having is– it’s not necessary to over-optimize the elimination of bad stuff, that can be an endless, infinite game that ends up distracting from the point of the whole thing. The point of having a healthy information diet is to be able to think better and make better decisions, to be happier and healthier and experience a better life across all variables. [3] So it’s important to focus on the main objective, and not let the process supercede it. Right? That felt a little abstract-silly. The point is to have a good life, and not spend one’s life neurotically obsessing about how to have a good life.

So rather than feel bad about all the bad stuff, we should feel good about the good stuff, and seek to feel good more by doing more of the good stuff. That’s a little oversimplistic but I think sometimes oversimplistic is good.

(Pause.) This has been a rather fragmented vomit. Many of them are. Whenever I’m lost, I should always just think about what message I want to send to my future self when he’s reading this later on. I want to say… you already know what you should and shouldn’t be paying attention to. You already know what’s good for you and what’s bad for you, what will get you closer to what you want and what will hinder you from getting there. You also know that it’s ultimately all a game so you don’t need to get too caught up in it, remember to take breaks. March steadily towards something a little more optimal, while you learn to enjoy the march.

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[1] I’ve second-guessed this several times over the years but it has persisted through even some rough times so I’m slowly becoming more certain that this is true. There’s always a chance that it might not be true, but I think it’s worth finding out by enacting it. But I think it’s really quite clear that I am somewhat different in some way. Maybe I’ll find out 10 years from now that I was deeply ignorant and naive about this, but then so be it.

[2] I need to be careful to avoid falling into a trap of comparing myself against other people for the sake of feeling good about myself somehow, or for the sake of playing that game. The comparison is meant to be fleeting and momentary- just to identify who I might want to spend more time with, and who I ought to spend less time with. It’s not about being better or worse, it’s about assembling a hunting party that’s worth being a part of.

[3] I’m wondering now if it makes sense to try and specify and prioritize some variables over others. It probably does. That’s food for thought for another vomit.

 

0509 – putting my gains first

Been a few days since I published a vomit, but it’s something I don’t feel bad about anymore. Once this happens a few more times, I won’t even feel a need to bring it up- I’ll just go straight into it. [1]

The best thing that’s been happening for me recently is that I’ve been working out regularly with my home gym for over a month. And I don’t just look or feel fitter- I’ve made concrete, measurable progress on my lifts. In the first week, I was squatting and benching 55kg and struggling. In the past week, I benched 62.5kg and squatted 75kg. It’s very definitive evidence that I have more raw physical power than I did 2 months ago, and it feels really, really good. My skinny legs are slightly more muscular. I’m looking forward to gaining more strength and putting on more muscle mass.

And to over-generalize a little too soon, it makes me feel like I can do all sorts of other things. I want to develop a more nuanced, higher-resolution understanding of electricity, computers, transistors, the Internet, WordPress, PHP, MySQL and so on. And I want to get better at managing my own time, breaking things down into little steps and just getting a lot more things done. [2]

So how did this happen? A few possible hypotheses, all probably connected. The first is that having access to a gym in my house reduced the ‘activation energy’ required, so much so that it allowed me to change my behavior dramatically. [3] The second is that spending that much money on a home gym forced me to be more serious. And the third is that it’s just a function of time, and it was sort of inevitable. I think that’s roughly the order in which I’m taking them seriously. If I want to do something, I need to make it easier to do.

So what’s next? I want to keep working out. To continue getting stronger I’m going to also have to eat and sleep better. To do both of those things I need to work more effectively, because work stress kills my appetite and keeps me awake. Another way to improve both of those things is to meditate more. Meditation calms me down and makes me less stressed [4], which gives me better appetite and sleep.

So… I’ve tried this before and failed, but I gotta keep trying (and maybe make slight adjustments each time) until I get it. To “improve” my own behavior, I first need to know my desired end state. I now know that my desired end state is to become physically much stronger, because that gives me confidence and power in all sorts of other ways, too. So, for a few months at least, I should test the idea that everything I should do should be in the service of me getting stronger. So if I’m feeling lazy at work, I should remind myself that if stuff’s not getting done, I can’t afford to work at night, because that would mean that I’m not getting the optimal rest and diet I need in order to grow.

I last tried approaching this from a word vomits perspective, but it somehow didn’t stick I think because I know that I can write whenever I like, so I can still put off writing for a few hours or a few days and rush it all at once. The body doesn’t work like that. The body requires sacrifice, and I am deciding to make the sacrifices needed to experience the gains, on all fronts.

Which brings me to another important thought, or hypothesis.

(Stopped writing here, and forgot what the hypothesis was, but now I think I remember.)

The hypothesis is– I would get better results (overall happiness, quality and quantity of desired outcomes in general) if I set “get physically stronger” as my primary goal than if I set something else like say, “get more effective at work” (which has been useful, but seems to be plateauing). Why? The idea is that the body is the most immediate and unavoidable system in my life. If I don’t eat enough, I can’t get stronger. If I don’t sleep enough, I can’t get stronger. If I don’t lift heavy weights, I can’t get stronger.

The goal of getting stronger forces me to make sure that those things are all taken care of. At my last bench, I attempted 65kg for the first time, and failed twice before I got it on the 3rd try. I realize that if I had slept better, if I had rested more, I’d probably have had less difficulty with it. So I need to take care of myself in order to get stronger.

This is also the case if I want to get more effective at work, but the latter has more variables that allow me to BS myself. Of course, it’s prudent to eliminate BS in all spheres as much as possible, and to develop a taste for eliminating BS, and I’d like to think (but cannot yet confirm) that I’ve taken a few steps in this direction. Anyway, anything else at this point is pontification. The point is that I think that it makes sense to see fitness as the #1 priority. We’ll see if it plays out well. I think it will. Though I’m not too sure if we’ll learn anything. We’ll see.

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[1] I’ve been reading my earlier vomits- I’m at around 120 right now. It’s interesting to witness how much “explaining” I do. “Explaining ” isn’t a good enough word for what I’m trying to talk about. I spend a lot of time doing preamble. Like I need to prequalify everything. The more I write, the less necessary this seems. It feels like progress.

[2] My main plan here is to commit to 4 hour schedules of deep work. I think if I can do 4 hours of good work a day, I’m pretty much “accounted for”. My problem is fuckarounditis, which I detailed in an earlier vomit. I need to approach work like I approach vomits and workouts. Done in intense bursts, not little scraps throughout the entire day.

[3] I’ve had an interesting experience with this with regards to my guitars. When I put my amp and guitars in my living room, next to my sofa, I found myself noodling away on a regular basis- almost every day. When my wife moved the guitars to our study to tidy some things up, I found myself almost not playing at all. I’d sometimes pick up my acoustic, but I almost never picked up the electric- the effort required to carry it over to the amp and plug it in simply seemed like too much. It’s not even like I considered it and then decided against it- when it becomes harder to do, I don’t even consider it. That’s a really powerful thing to think about.

I’ve thought about this in relation to grocery shopping and other errands- a tiny bit of uncertainty or complexity can make a task completely unpalatable. It’s kind of creepy. The inverse might also apply- if you reduce uncertainty and complexity as much as possible, things should be much easier to do. (I should come up with a phrase for this.) That’s what gamification is primarily about, I think. And that’s why we should document our processes. I feel a little guilty that I haven’t done more of this. But guilt isn’t productive. I’m creating a todo task to document my processes, starting with a list of processes I can think of.

[4] Stress also tends to give me these annoying knots in my shoulders. A few days ago, I was feeling stressed about work. I did the work. (This was a triumph.) Then I hit the gym. Most of the tightness in my shoulders just went away- and I got me a new bench press PR. The next time I’m stressed at home, I think I’m not even going to wait till I finish the work; I’m going to hit the gym right away. The flood of endorphins, etc makes me more productive.

 

0508 – writing publicly again

I published my last word vomit on Nov 21, and it was something a little different– dialogue practice. I haven’t published a vomit since then but I feel pretty good because I’ve been writing for myself, in different ways. I realize that if I want to write fiction, I’m going to have to start by writing the building blocks of fiction. I’m going to have to start describing people, describing scenes, describing events. And so the trick to doing that well will be to start by sketching each of those things individually. To describe 1,000 people, 1,000 scenes, 1,000 events. I’m not sure if I’m going to be publishing those things as word vomits. I’m doing them in the privacy of my Evernote, and so far I feel pretty good about it.

Beyond that, I also want to expand on my public-facing writing. I was getting tired of all this endless introspective navel-gazing going on over here. I’ve been feeling that it’s time to return “to the public eye”. I already almost-always maintain some sort of contact– through reddit comments, hacker news comments and so on, and I use those things to practice my writing skills. But that’s not quite what I want. I know that I don’t want to spend my time responding to people unless I’m confident that it’s worth my time. I think it’s worth my time practicing my fiction skills, I think it’s worth my time doing some psychoanalysis to continue to work on my personal issues and resolve them. Beyond that, I also want to do some public-facing writing.

The first thing I’m doing that comes quite naturally is– I’m going to publish one Facebook status update a day, where I just write about something that I find interesting. It’s shorter than a word vomit– the one I just posted was 400 words. But it’s more challenging, because I’m forced to edit, to make it succinct, to make it punchy, to make sure it works and that it communicates effectively. With these vomits, I have the luxury of reading them months and years later and choosing to extract out whatever value I see fit. With FB statuses, they’re representations of who I am to the people I care about (I deleted everybody off Facebook a few months ago and have been slowly, occasionally adding people that I think are worth my time), and if I want to make progress on the social front (having more quality relationships with higher quality people), then I’m going to have to make sure that my writings are of a certain standard. And that standard is always going to be rising. I like the restriction of only doing 1 a day– I used to be on Facebook all day every day, posting constantly. I think people appreciate it more if you post just one or two good things a day, tops.

Beyond that, I want to restart visakanv.com/marketing/. (Have I mentioned this recently? Maybe a while ago.) I’ve had a couple of recent events that have convinced me that I have the “right” to write about marketing. It looks silly to see that on the page. Specifically– I wrote a post on a subreddit that was stickied by the mods as an exemplary post (when in reality I don’t actually agree with everything about the community… so that was really interesting to experience), and I went to a marketing event organized by a famous/popular company and witnessed for myself first hand the “state of affairs” of sorts. And both of those things made me feel (not just intellectualize) that I’m truly capable of making valid contributions to the broader community.

It’s interesting. It feels like I’ve sort of come full circle. When I started out, I felt like I was preaching to the masses from my personal pulpit. I was maybe at the 45 or 50% watermark, preaching down at the unwashed masses beneath me instead of focusing on trying to climb and rise above my station. [1] Now I feel like I’ve risen a little– I don’t want to try to make an estimate (I like how Tobi from Shopify said ‘I hope I’m always at the first 5% of my journey’ or something like that). Rather, I’d like to frame it as this– I’ve spent 500,000 words thinking and talking to myself, going over my own perspectives and ideas, reflecting, blah blah blah. I’ve also spent 3 years as a marketer, writing hundreds of blogposts and interacting with thousands of people.

Eh, I’m getting a little sloppy. The point is! I feel like I’m ready to revisit my initial plans that were valid but premature. I want to start writing “for the public” again, or “in public”, and collect new feedback on what my public-facing writing is like, can be like. I’m quite excited about this. I’m going to pace myself by writing one status a day, and publish 1 medium post + 1 /marketing/ post per week at least. That’s the plan. It doesn’t need to be perfect but let’s just see how it goes, and reflect on it regularly.

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[1] I realize as I write this that I’m being a little too harsh on my younger self there. I was quite preachy, yes, but I think I was also quite commit to improving and getting better. I just didn’t know precisely what betterment was going to look like, or how I was going to do it. But I believed that I was in some sense just as capable as people who were more successful than me, and I wanted to try to be at least as successful, on my own terms. I was wrong about a bunch of things, but it’s not like I was COMPLETELY blindsided by those things. And the more time passes, the more I revise and internalize the initial failings as necessary, good, inevitable. After all, how can you make progress if you’re not making mistakes? And if you’re going to progress without mistakes, why haven’t you done it already?