Good morning. It’s 0650hrs. I went to bed at 0000 last night. I did my best to calm my mind, to be in a state of fitful rest. My alarm went off at 0600. I tried to be as clear-headed as I possibly could. My standard routine in such a scenario is to set two alarms- my next alarm I believe is at 0715, and I did set it. What typically happens is that I wake up in a state of mild anxiety and confusion and I go back to sleep. It’s the easiest thing to do in that circumstance. This has been a recurring thing for a long time, since way back when I used to not-do my homework at night. I’d try to wake up early to do it, but I’d typically be too sleepy, and then I’d try to postpone and delay it until finally it was too late, my mum would wake me up and I’d go to school anxious and afraid because I hadn’t done my homework. This was a vicious cycle that perpetuated itself for years, and could be subroutine in my mind that’s had incredible amounts of practice and reinforcement.
2 days ago I met my boss for a 1-1 session. It’s a really cool practice that I think every organization should adopt. All our 1-1 sessions feel incredibly productive. The act of meeting up to “re-sync” is therapeutic for me. It helps me realign my goals, my context and my perspective. At my last 1-1 I felt a greater sense of purpose, relevance and responsibility (with respect to my work) than I had before. I felt a sort of work-related gratitude, and gratitude I find is a practice that always compels you to do work that is important, not just urgent.
The narrative gets messy, though. That night I went home to a bit of a messy situation, and had to deal with more than I could handle. I was overwhelmed and frustrated and frustrated. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I went to bed that night at almost 0300, and the sleep was of poor quality. I went to work sleep-deprived, and the quality of my work suffered. I didn’t have the clarity of mind I needed to focus on what I knew I had to do, and so I procrastinated to an uncomfortable, irresponsible degree. I still met some of my minor minimum-goals-per-day, but I felt like I was doing it in a very reactive, non-deliberate way.
After that I went to watch Man of Steel with the wife (beautiful movie), and on the way home I found myself thinking- wow, I’m really bad at managing my own time. I’m really bad at managing my own energy. These are things that I’m going to have to figure out, things that 20 years down the line might either make me proud or disappointed on hindsight. Sure, on one level it’s important to accept yourself without resentment or frustration, but being kind to yourself works both ways- you have to be kind both backwards and forwards, and I haven’t been very kind looking forward. To use an old heuristic, I haven’t been very kind to Tomorrow-Visa, and that’s not very fair to him, because he’ll probably be kind to me (I can reasonably infer, from how yesterday’s Tomorrow-Visa treats the past Visa.)
Not only did I barely get any quality work done, my commutes were unproductive. (I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to spend my morning and evening commutes to and from work doing word vomits, but the past two days were exceptions- the first because I was figuring out what to do with my 1-1, the next 3 commutes because I was tired, overwhelmed, not in a conducive state of mind.
“Not in a conducive state of mind” is an understandable reason in a given circumstance, but it is my personal responsibility to create that conducive state of mind as much as possible. I have to manage myself and my time in a way that yields my best work. There’s this negative vicious cycle of procrastination and anxiety that emerges when you have a lousy state of mind because you didn’t manage your health, time and emotions properly, and then you can’t do much work, and then your unproductivity further justifies and prolongs the ineffectual, reactive and un-aware state of mind. I become a passive participant in my own life, subject to the forces of both the internal (anxiety, hubris and lizard-brain thoughts) and the external (distractions designed to steal your unsuspecting and unmanaged attention). It’s a little pathetic.
So there’s a need for a reset from time to time, and a better fundamental system over the long run. Feels like I’m talking about broader society or something, but all I can talk about is the complex (but not complicated) system that is my own mind. So the reset was good sleep, and the better fundamental system would be borne out of attentiveness, mindfulness, presence. I am awake and lucid and I am writing. I reminded myself before I slept that I have the best opportunity of my life to do powerful, meaningful work and I’ve been squandering it (by my standards) on frivolous distractions because a part of me is afraid, a part of me wants to justify and validate my own limiting beliefs, because like Seth says, we don’t want to be responsible for massive failures (being responsible for “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study” is more comforting and easy in the short run than “I didn’t do well because I tried my best and still suck.” But in the long run it’s a source of anxiety because it’s simply NOT TRUE.)
There are no profound insights here, I’m just trying to build this newer and more optimal mental subroutine of awareness. I need to remind myself to be grateful to my circumstances, and of the nefariousness of the lizard brain that’s afraid to do real, meaningful and responsible work. And I need to do justice to my future-self, and to the people who that future-self would be able to help if I play my cards right.
I’m not saying anything new here, and again there’s a constant need for repetition. It’s the mental equivalent of practicing a musical passage over and over again until you get it right, until you feel it in your bones and you internalize it and you don’t need to be conscious of it. I built a fitness routine (momentarily disrupted because of my Remedial Training, but I love it and I’m getting right back into it once my RT ends) where I do a little workout when I wake up, and when I get home from work- I tie it to my showers, and it’s something I had to do without having to make the decision over and over again. Decide once, decide deliberately, then trust yourself and execute.
The path of procrastination and anxiety and irresponsibility is built on a foundation that’s unable to trust oneself. It’s almost a rational hedge against deliberate failure. You hope for random value from random pursuits because that seems likelier than the “certain” failure sure to ensue when you know
Nobody taught me how to be responsible. Being punished for being irresponsible never taught me very much, except that maybe I’m an irresponsible person who deserves to disappoint people, to be punished, mocked, embarrassed. But there are people in my life who ARE responsible (Lerp, Ling, Xavier, Brandon, Jade, Dinesh), and I’m hell-fucking-bent on learning from their example. There is no middle-ground or alternative here. This isn’t some magical thing I have to discover in a vaccuum. This is something that, on my good days, I can clearly see and understand. It works. It’s not that complicated. It’s a simple thing that needs to be practiced to the point where I can execute it on my bad days, just as I could exercise even when tired- because it’s so internalized, so natural.
The only good habits I developed were- a love of reading, a love of writing, a habit of resolving conflicts where possible, a habit of calming down quickly in rough/angry situations… I’m sure I can channel this towards being generally responsible. 10 years from now I want to be a goddam responsible person, more so than I want to be “smart” or “witty” or “funny”.
I cannot make projections. But I can commit to today. I’m going to spend some time in my mind reinforcing these emotions, this subroutine. In a few minutes I’m going to wake up the wife and we’re going to the bank to run some errands. And then I’m going to go to work, and I’m going to do some real kickass quality work, because people are counting on me to deliver, and I am person who is responsible.