0606 – schedule and prioritize me-time (then everything else)

How much me-time do you get a day or week?

I created a task that said, “I need to schedule my “inner child” time early in the morning and get it out of the way so that I can move on and focus on work.”

I think this is something that is fundamental and important. And it’s something that I don’t seriously discuss with myself enough. I should create a tag for it in my Things.

My belief here is that there’s some fundamental amount of me-time that I need whether I admit it or not. I need to know with certainty that I’m going to have time “for myself” – for entertainment, for learning, for exploring, for playing. When I don’t plan this out properly, I subconsciously find myself squeezing it into every little thing that I do. Earlier today I wanted to measure how long it would take me to fill in a KPI sheet. It took me 43 minutes. I think I could’ve done it in under 10 minutes if I focused and did nothing else – and that would’ve given me 30 minutes of actual playtime if I wanted it. But I didn’t set aside 30 minutes for play, and so instead I spent 40 minutes on a 10 minute task. And did I really have much fun doing whatever I did in between (had a conversation with someone on Facebook, amongst other things)? Not really.

The lesson there is that time should be spent focused on doing one thing at a time. I’ve written about this over and over, thought about it, reflected on it, but actually doing it… is something I’ve been slow to do. Why? What’s stopping me? I guess it’s that I’m bad at simulating how good it’ll feel to complete a task right now. I keep flitting to try and squeeze in some goodfeel from the dark playground. But really I should just visualize and simulate in my mind how good it’ll feel to finish something. In fact, I could expand this into a full word vomit and it’ll feel really good to publish it.

Shall we do it? It’ll take a couple of minutes. Yes, let’s, while the iron is hot.

Is there a “point” to me-time? No, me-time is the default state of play, exploration, having fun. There are good things that emerge from it, but obsessing about those things misses the point – the point is to enjoy the moment in itself. And here I find myself thinking that I’ve thought and written about this before – it will be interesting to revisit it, to compare. Yeah, dark brotherhood stuff. I mean, dark playground. Lmao dark brotherhood.

One way of approaching this is to want to have as much high-quality me-time as possible. A part of it requires raw quantity. I think 2 hours of me-time in the morning is something that I can easily afford if I set my mind to it, if I schedule for it. If and when I become a parent, or somebody with even more responsibility than I have right now, it’ll get even harder.

What’s the reason why I’m not getting more me-time?

Well, I have outstanding obligations. And so it feels like I need to be working on those obligations “whenever I have the chance”. But what does that actually mean, whenever I have the chance? What is negotiable, what is not? Should I be spending my every waking moment on all my obligations? I think a big part of my underlying anxiety is the sense that obligations are always falling onto my plate at a faster rate than I can deal with them. And so my life is a piling up of obligations, and when I die, my final thoughts will be, “oops, I guess I couldn’t do everything, sorry guys”. And people will have no choice but to forgive me, or if they don’t want to then fuck them, they’ll have to live with it anyway.

So – if the situation on my deathbed is such that I’m going to have to let go of a bunch of obligations, what about right now? What’s the current system? Well, at any given point in time I have some number of obligations. I have some limited capacity to meet some amount of these obligations. I would like to continually increase my capacity to meet obligations, but in the interim I’m going to have to give up on some in order to work on others, or otherwise flit from one obligation to the next and screw up at all of them (this is undesirable – and it’s also a frustratingly, amusingly common outcome for me).
So then – the important thing is to prioritize and work backwards from the most important thing. Stephen Covey already covered this stuff, and so did Randy Pausch, and so does everyone – the Eisenhower Matrix, the Urgent-Important matrix, whatever you want to call it. Pick the most important thing and do it. Ask yourself “what’s the most important thing” at every step of the way. I already know this intellectually, I’ve circled around it over and over again, why have I been slow to implement it, to internalize it? What am I missing? Clearly I need to be practicing this as though I’m practicing playing the guitar or something else. Or my posture. Why don’t I have great posture? Well – I think my posture is getting better. But is it getting better in the most effective, fastest possible rate that it could be? Probably not. Almost definitely not.

(Is that itself a thing that’s worth striving for? Maybe. I’m not sure. I think it should at least be experimented with, because once you have experience with accelerating something, even for trivial reasons, you can then use your experience to accelerate something else that really matters to you.)

As I’m writing this I’m getting the sense that the important thing is really just reviewing what I’ve done, over and over, doing performance reviews and examining them more closely. Watching the practice tapes and so on.

 

0605 – watch good documentaries and think

I’ve watched a couple of documentaries lately and I want to reflect on them for a bit.

The first was Masters of Doubt, which was about the PR folks who work for corporations (such as big tobacco) to generally obstruct progress when it comes to the public’s understanding of adverse health effects, climate change, and so on. It’s an exploration of the tactics and strategies they use to slow things down, muddy things up.

The second was Thirteen, which walks us through the history of black America – from slavery to segregation and Jim Crow all the way to the troubling Amerian pandemic of mass incarceration. You really get a sense of the suffering that black people have endured ever since being brought to America as slaves, how they were beaten and abused and attacked and arrested and jailed and criminalized, and how the State, maybe even without overt racist intentions, has encouraged and enabled that over the decades. A mythology of black criminality. And how the fear of black men has been almost engineered and inculcated in people systematically. It’s quite mindblowing that a people can undergo so much suffering – and I find myself wondering now about colonialism in India, and in Singapore, and what the effects of those were on people, and what it means to live in the shadow of that. I say shadow because I think these things can be incredibly subtle, and it can require a tremendous amount of finesse to discern.

And yeah, I’ve seen first hand how some people are quick and eager to declare themselves as victims – and it’s messy, it’s problematic, I don’t want to be prescriptive about it. I think each person needs to confront their own circumstances, their own personal demons, survey the landscape themselves, read up their own history, and figure out for themselves who they want to be. We don’t start equal, and we don’t end equal, and the schools we go to tell us a sanitized story (and don’t get me started on schools themselves, lmao) about our histories.

So it’s really up to us to educate ourselves. The second part of this is… after watching a documentary and hoping to look for some enlightened discussions about it, I get on reddit and I see people who miss the point, who talk about black-on-black crime, who complain that they can’t bear the documentary because there’s a ‘hippie white guy’ who says that it’s ‘all white people’s fault’. Why do people have to oversimplify things like that?

But that’s one of the points I wanted to bring up. While watching the part about the mythos of the black man as a rapist, I found myself thinking about what Amy Schumer wrote about Odell Beckham Jr, and how privileged she was to be able to be so careless about something like that. (And yet, of course, women have their own share of struggles too, their own history of being subjugated, treated like property… so yeah, it’s complicated.)

I fee like there’s some fundamental, underlying thing that i’m trying to make sense of here about what it means to be a human living on this planet in the post 2010s. [1] But what exactly? I guess it’s something along the lines of – we are products of our history, and yet we’re a very myopic people. We don’t look very far into the past unless we’re forced to out of necessity, or because we happen to be curious about it. And I suppose we’re maladapted in that sense – our ancestors didn’t really have to care about history, they simply had to survive in the present moment. We still need to survive in the present moment, but that’s somehow simultaneously easier and more difficult. It’s easier to stay alive, but it’s harder not to feel terrible the whole time you’re alive – despite the creature comforts, sanitation, healthcare, etc. Or maybe I’m just naive and ignorant and we really do live in the best time ever to be alive.

But I doubt it’s so straightforward. My gut tells me that there are definitely things that we have “lost” – not in a linear sense; I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that past civilizations were necessarily better. In fact it may be that there are flaws and weaknesses intrinsic to modern civilization itself – loneliness, boredom, a lack of sense of community, communion and so on. Watching Human Planet, I found myself thinking that there seemed to be a joy in the hunt for food that we don’t quite get when we’re pulling things off of shelves in the supermarket. Yet surely they’d trade places with us? [2]

Recently I saw some of my old statuses thanks to Facebook’s On This Day feature, and I was amused by the sort of thing I used to think about. “Is an idea a thing?” or “What is an idea?” – a part of me thinks that I no longer have time for such ‘frivolous’ or ‘idealistic’ thoughts, and that I have to be more concerned with pragmatic, day-to-day concerns now. A part of me mourns that tradeoff. But is it really a tradeoff? Maybe that was a necessary process for me to go through, and I’ve gone through it now, gotten what I needed to get out of it, and I’ve now moved on to a new thing. It’s still fun to talk to young people about these things, to ask them questions and help them along, and to watch them learn and grow. But I don’t personally need to spend a lot of time on that because I’m done with that, at least as far as I can tell. It’s on to the next thing for me. Which is good. Which is what makes life interesting and worth living.

[1] Interesting that it feels like I can’t just say post-2000s – there seems to be a difference between the first and second decades of the 3rd millenium. It seems probable that there will continue to be more differences between each coming decade.

[2] Look at me, second-guessing myself with every sentence. But that’s fine, that’s just how I process things. It’s a sign that I’m thinking about something a little new and a little unfamiliar. I’ll be able to tidy up my thinking later on once I’ve gotten through with it.

 

0604 – what are you afraid of?

On a day-to-day level I’m afraid of getting caught and scolded for doing bad things, or for not doing the things that I promised I would do. Rationally, this fear should translate into me doing the things. But in practice, this isn’t the case. I have a sort of deer-in-headlights problem, where subconsciously I deal with this fear by handwaving and rationalising and talking and doing anything apart from doing the thing. Even last minute panic doesn’t always give me the mind-focusing clarity that some others say it does.

I saw a comic once: “procrastination: browsing imgur stressfully”. It’s a funny thing that people can relate to, and it’s funny because it doesn’t make sense logically. If you’re stressed because of your deadlines, you should stop whatever you’re doing and work on whatever the deadline is. I find myself grasping at some primitive ideas – the passive, prey-creature’s response to danger is to freeze, hide, play dead and hope that the predator goes away. The transition from prey to predator is a difficult one for me. It’s actually remarkably hard to find people who have made the transition and then lived to speak about it. Most often, it seems, that if and when people do make the transition, they then start acting as if they were ‘predatory’ all along. And it makes sense – why talk about your former weakness, when you can talk instead about your current strength? It’ll be interesting to see, when I eventually transcend my present configuration, if I bother to reach back and lift other people up from my situation. It might be suboptimal, my new circumstances will probably change my mind and have me pushing forward towards something new. I don’t know, I don’t want to overthink it, we’ll see.

Let’s go back to the start. So I have this deep challenge of focusing on rewiring my brain at a very fundamental level, from prey to predator. How do you do that?

My hypothesis is – you start by eating smaller fish. That’s how it works in video games, right? The boss wrecks you, you lick your wounds and start beating up little baddies, get stronger, get more powerful, and eventually you become stronger than the boss and wreck him. It’s possible that all of this is in your mind, that you were stronger than the boss to begin with but you had limiting beliefs holding you down. But so be it.

Sometimes limiting beliefs can be sort of legitimate – if you’ve never achieved something before, it makes sense to avoid trying, because you have a history of failure and trying again is just going to lead to more pain. So you need to take another route. You need to attain intermediate states.

What’s the closest intermediate states that’s achievable? There’s always something that’s just slightly out of reach that’s actually achievable. That’s what I need to do. I’ve known this for a long time, written about it several times, the hard thing is keeping it at the forefront of my mind 24/7. Reiteration and repetition helps. Weekly reviews help. I also need to do daily reviews. And it looks like meditation is a part of the answer, exercise is a part of the answer, sleep is a part of the answer, diet is a part of the answer. I hesitate with all 4 of those things.

Meditation because it feels a little silly, and I’m irrationally afraid of looking silly, even if it’s just to myself. But I’ve tried it and I know it helps. And there’s a lot of literature about how it helps. I also know that diet definitely affects my state of mind. Sleep definite, DEFINITELY affects my state of mind. If I want to progress and summon the demon-god in everyday life and eventually slay the saboteur-prison-guard, I will have to meditate, sleep, exercise, eat well. The eggs everyday help. The salmon helps. The beef helps. Deep breathing helps. Cigarettes are a tool of the prison-guard. Fast food is a tool of the prison-guard.

Flipping the identity bit is one of the hardest things to flip. It’s the highest order bit, and theoretically it could be flipped through sheer force of will, but it seems that a bunch of other bits need to be flipped at the same time. Think back to the MVP pyramid… there’s identity, beliefs, habits, rituals, routines, behavior, thoughts, relationships, environment. They all work together in tandem. If I want to change any one of those things, it helps to change all the others.

Identity: Who do I really think I am? I’m a scared little boy who’s afraid of getting caught. Who worries he’ll never be able to fulfill all his obligations. Who’s a deer in headlights. Who needs to just get by. Who smokes cigarettes sometimes.

Beliefs: I do believe that things will take a turn for the better for me. And I certainly have made progress, and am making progress. But it does also feel like there’s something inhibiting this progress. And I think the biggest blocker there is – I still haven’t fully embraced that I, the person in the present moment, am responsible for getting me out of my current configuration into a superior one. When I was younger I used to think that some day a better version of me would take care of business. I am that better version of me. To get EVEN better, I’m going to have to work on me. I can’t continue to play the waiting game. I’ve waited long enough, the bad days have passed, the bad environments have been left behind. It’s just me, my home, my office, my commute, my colleagues, my social life (whether it exists or not, depending on MY actions), my personal projects (whether I define them or not, take action or not – it’s all UP TO ME. Present me, 2016 me, not 2020 me or some other hopefully better future me.)

Habits. I have several that I need to crush. I sleep late. There are a bunch of reasons why I do that, but the main lever I need to press in order to change that is that sleeping early is necessary to give me the clarity of mind I need in order to shape my life for the better. To ship the things I want to ship. I can and still will ship all the blogposts that I want to ship. I will cook again tonight. I will work out tonight. I will sleep early, and wake early tomorrow. And I will progressively reduce the amount of time I spend on stupid shit.

 

0603 – the trouble is you think you have time

I had a long, difficult and illuminating conversation with the wife today when we went for a walk and talked about our future – what it would be like to have children, what sacrifices or tradeoffs or changes we would have to make, and it became very clear very fast that we would both have to grow a lot as individuals before we can begin to enact the life that we want. And yeah, I know that to some degree life never goes according to plan, but that isn’t an excuse for playing your hand poorly. You need to play your hand as well as you possibly can, with the cards that you’re dealt, and try to systematically improve your lot as much as you can (the poker analogy breaks down a little – but that’s because life is more complex than poker, duh).

Anyway. So I started writing this because I wanted to remind myself of something moving forward. The clear thing is that I need to work a lot harder and a lot smarter. I need to be clearer about what my priorities are and I need to work towards achieving future states that I haven’t even begun to consider yet. I keep holding on to this fantasy of “being a writer”, but what does that really mean in concrete terms? Am I going to be able to make a living with it? What’s the path to that look like? I wrote a couple of vomits about it, but what are the concrete next steps that I need to be taking, and why haven’t I already taken them?

The answer is pretty straightforward – I’m nervous, scared, and I keep telling myself that I have time to figure it out.

That may have been true at some point in the past, but I don’t think it’s true anymore. I’ve been coincidentally reading Joseph Campbell at the moment and I’ve been planting ideas in my head about thresholds and trials – I have to say goodbye to Visa-26 and make way for Visa-27, who needs to be 10x better along several metrics that matter. Visa-27 needs to spend much less time on frivolous bullshit that doesn’t have a direct impact on his goals. Visa-27 needs to redefine his goals in more concrete, measurable terms so that he can measure the progress that he’s making. These include more painful goals like financial goals and writing career goals, with clear markers, and this means giving up on a lot of bullshit that I’ve allowed into my life. It means spending much less time on Reddit and Facebook. It means I need to measure my daily effectiveness much more closely. It means I need to take many more breaks in a day in order to reevaluate how I’m doing. It means I need to give myself more pep talks, realign myself, visualize my peak state more viscerally and embody it like a fucking boss. I need to do all of that. I am capable of doing all of that. I believe it. It’s time for me to grow up completely, to tear away all of the shackles and all of the bullshit that’s been holding me back. I’m in control here. I’m not going to let anything or anybody get me down or control me, and especially not the bullshit saboteur-bum in my head that’s been annoying me all my life. We’re done with that boyhood bullshit, it’s time to be a man.

I don’t have a lot of time. I’m already running a deficit. That doesn’t mean I’m going to panic and be a moron about it. I need to be responsible. I need to take care of myself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so I need to take strategic breaks to regroup and re-center. I need to reach out to older, stronger men for advice and counsel. I need to make it clear to myself and have it reflected outwards that I’m playing a new game now. I’m being a new person.

I’m not going to compare myself with other people. It doesn’t matter that I’m a little younger, it doesn’t matter that I married young, it doesn’t matter that I could theoretically fuck around for another year or three. I’m done with all of that. I don’t want to have stupid conversations anymore. I don’t want to waffle around like a little boy anymore. I am the one who fires the Patronus – I am the hero I have been waiting for. This moment is the moment that my past self was hoping to eventually have – of enlightenment, of awakening. This is it, baby boy, that’s all there is. Reality, waiting for you, hiding in plain sight.

I’m going to spend more time with my wife – we’re going to take a walk together every day and have more conversations about our future and what we’re going to do. We’re going to be clearer about our plans. We’re going to figure our shit out in much more detail than we ever have so far. It doesn’t matter if we got into this without being super clear – we knew when we started that we would figure it out along the way. Well, we’re along the way. This is it, right here, right now. This is when we choose to be reborn, to start over, to break free.

Part of this is sheer force of will and determination, a hardening through facing up to circumstances. But the bulk of it will require more than just that. It will require discipline and focus and recalibration, or optimization. I cannot lose my fire like I have in the past before. All of the past attempts were leading up to this one – and maybe this one is also leading up to the next one – but this time we don’t get to be less woke. This time we don’t get to go back to sleep. It’s showtime. It’s go time. We have to shake up all our neurons, our entire brain, and realize that this is what we stand for. This is where we make our stand. We’re going in. We don’t have anymore time to waste.

 

0602 – let go of your stress

I was chatting with my wife when she asked, “So what do you get stressed about?”

It’s a great question and it’s something I think I should reflect very hard on.

Of the top of my head, here are things that I get stressed about:

  1. Failing to meet work obligations – shipping blogposts late, not meeting my targets and so on. I feel like I failed as an adult, and as a team member – this part especially hurts because I feel like in my present configuration in life, I should be more grateful for the opportunity I have.
  2. Failing to meet National Service obligations – first because of the penalties and inconvenience, and second because of what that says to me about me as a person.
  3. Screwing up social obligations – being late for something, not doing a thing that I promised that I would do, having someone wait on me for something.
  4. Failing to meet “self” obligations – when I’ve gone too long without writing, without reading, without publishing, shipping, without working out.

In all of these cases, basically I get stressed when I owe people things (including myself), and when I haven’t delivered. I suppose I get stressed because I begin to suspect that I’m not all that great, that I’m weak and flawed and incapable, that I’m lousy, pathetic, incompetent, it gets worse as it goes on.

That’s probably a little melodramatic, and the drama is probably counter-productive to solving the problem. As I think about it now, it’s clear that some of the stress is inherited learned behavior – from being yelled at by teachers and parents for being a fuckup at school. For a period of time I thought that stuff didn’t faze me, but over the years I’ve learned that they have. I still occasionally have a bad dream that’s school related – that I didn’t do my homework or something like that – screwed up an exam, whatever. So that’s some shit that I have to deal with. It’s some sort of mild PTSD, maybe.

I think – even after all my ranting and anger and whatnot, I still haven’t fully gotten over my childhood. I mean, I’m blessed and lucky to be born in Singapore – there are kids in Syria etc right now who’ve seen their family and friends literally shredded to pieces by bombs and they’ll have to live with that until they die. So my problems ain’t all that bad. But they’re mine, and I have to live with them, face them, address them, transcend them if I want to do more, do better.

What will getting over mean, what will it look like? How must I accept it? I think I’ve never fully accepted it. I think I’m still angry, still frustrated, still upset somewhere deep down. I’ve had moments of acceptance – they were great, but they were fleeting. I need to dig deeper, be real with myself, and well and truly let that shit go. That doesn’t mean forgetting about it; I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted to. But it means deeply forgiving, loving, accepting in some way that I still haven’t quite cracked.

Then what?

Then it’s about unlearning the impulses that I have developed and accumulated and inherited. I instinctively know that unlearning these will require meditation, thoughtfulness, attentiveness – things that I have experimented with a little here and there, but I’m going to have to dive deeper. I’m going to have to make it a serious priority and treat it with some respect and reverence. First I have to believe that it’s possible – and I do. Next I have to be whole-hearted about making it happen.

I do think it’s good that I care about meeting my obligations. A man should fulfill his obligations. But it doesn’t make sense to get stressed and angry at upset with oneself at failing. One should calmly acknowledge what has happened, and gently rise to correct the situation. To make amends. The anger achieve nothing. The shame achieves nothing. They’re just feelings, they’re just background noise. Thunder and fury inherited from people who didn’t know better, from a tradition that didn’t know better.

I think part of the pattern – part of the ‘game’ – is this sort of self-validation circle. “Look, I’m angry and upset and ashamed, this is evidence that I care!” – but if you really cared, Visa, you’d have taken more steps towards fixing the situation. Perhaps you have taken as many as you possibly could’ve. So be it. Either way, it remains true that any energy expended being angry, stressed, upset or ashamed is energy that is NOT spent addressing the issues.

It’s obvious that we’re not going to be able to change ourselves completely overnight just by deciding that we’ve changed – old habits die hard and return and are persistent. But we can try and strike a deal – let’s try to not to sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff) for the remainder of the year. If I’ve failed or made a mistake,

I know better. I will do better.

What’s curious is – it seems like the guilt and shame and whatnot aren’t just a sort of unwanted, unintended, negative consequence – they seem to be the currency that’s in play. I mean – subconsciously, below the layers that I’m normally able to address, it seems like I’m using the guilt and shame as a way of proving to myself that I care. I care, therefore I feel stressed when things go bad. The stress is PROOF that I care! You can’t accuse me of not caring enough, I wouldn’t be stressed otherwise!

But that’s silly. That’s pointless self-flagellation that achieves nothing. That’s unnecessary heat, sound, fury. If something goes wrong, I should fix it. Any energy spent in anger or frustration is energy that’s NOT spent fixing the problem. So clearly there’s this sort of dysfunctional system going on here. If I want to continue to grow as a person, I’m going to have to untangle this mess and rearrange it in a way that makes sense.

So let’s try this, subconscious. For the remainder of the year, let’s not get stressed about anything. If we mess something up, if we fail at it, so be it. Let’s smile. Let’s not sweat the small stuff, and let’s recognize that it’s all small stuff. I’m going to die, everyone I love is going to die, the universe itself is going to die. Everything is just this grand cosmic game, and the stress and fear and anxiety is a way of holding on. It’s a form of attachment.

Breathe out. Let go.

PS: Looking above – yes, there are serious consequences to me screwing up on #2 – I would have to face severe penalties and so on. But the point isn’t to take action so that it doesn’t happen! I’m going to bed now, tomorrow I’m going to wake up early and I’m going to run. There’s nothing to be stressed about if I take action accordingly, in advance.