– growing up is hard
Why do I want to write that growing up is hard? To feel better about the difficulty I have been facing. Also, I feel like nobody’s really written very well about it… but actually that’s a function of what I’ve been reading so far. David Foster Wallace covers it pretty And I’d like to feel good by getting people to nod their heads and agree with me
– aaron swartz / ray dalio
“What Have I Written So Far?”
Off the top of my head, what have I written so far? What do I remember writing? I remember writing complaints about social reality– complaints about education systems, complaints about the Government’s supposed incompetence, complaints about how other people do things wrong. Complaints about how I do things wrong, how I’m inefficient, ineffective, lazy, silly, narrow-minded.
I think I’ve made attempts at writing about my own motivations and interests. About how I want to be anxiety-free, confident, happy. About how I want to feel powerful, comfortable, confident, aggressive, able to navigate reality with strength and fortitude. About how I want to be clear-headed. How I want to make good decisions, be able to help and provide for others, and generally be a grounded, effective person.
Sometimes it seems like I act at odds with my stated motivations. When I’m not feeling to good, I find myself questioning these motivations altogether, which can be really painful. But when I feel good, it’s very clear to me that these motivations are accurate.
Why am I at odds with these motivations, then? I think it’s because these motivations are fragile and they go into hiding when I’m exposed to certain conditions. When I’m tired. When I’m busy with work. When I’m scared, overwhelmed. It has been a hope of mine that if I keep writing down these things, over and over again, eventually I will internalise them altogether and not have to worry about them. I don’t yet know for sure if this will pay off– I know that I’m making progress, but I can’t be sure if the progress is from the writing, or just a general thing that happens no matter what. Or to be more precise, I can’t be absolutely certain that my writing accelerates my self-development, my mindfulness, my effectiveness. But I think it does, because it seems like I do better when I’ve been writing, and I do worse when I haven’t been writing. Lately I took a week off writing, and it felt good, but I’ve started to feel edgy– and when I’m edgy it’s a sign that I should probably start writing.
What do I write, what should I write, apart from revisiting my motivations and interests? I should also write observations about reality, to help me navigate it better (and so that I can analyse my observations subsequently, because they’re guaranteed to be inaccurate to a degree I do not realise.) So we have compulsions, and observations. (Observations are well written by Paul Graham, Venkatesh Rao.)
The next thing– and I think this one is particularly important– is how-to’s. I encountered this idea on Matt Might’s blog– that sometimes we learn how to do things that we weren’t previously able to do, and we might not remember them– perhaps because they’re so fresh in our minds, and the fresh doesn’t always persist. It can be quite perishable. I know this to be true, because I’ve often written about having the same problems over and over again, despite loosely having a sense that I DO know the solutions to these problems. So why, if I know the solutions to my problems, don’t I solve them? Clearly, simply having the knowledge is not enough. Knowledge is just one part of the puzzle, and perhaps the easiest part, and the part that people fixate on the most. (Here I’m reminded of the quote– I think by Calvin Coolidge, or maybe Woodrow Wilson– I think Calvin– about how persistence is the most important thing, not talent or #POSITIVE_ATTRIBUTE.
Going to the gym
Let me think through an example– going to the gym. I know intellectually that it’s better to be fit than to be unfit, it’s better to exercise than to not. I know intellectually how to go for a run, and how to go to the gym and pick things up and put them down. But these things don’t happen as much as I know they ought to. Why?
My instinct is to say, “because it’s hard”. And that might be true, but it’s not quite helpful. Yes, it’s a hard thing that needs doing. Why do I not do the hard thing that needs doing? First of all there’s an impulse to avoid hard things, to avoid pain and discomfort. But the constant surrender to this impulse leads to a life that’s far more painful and uncomfortable. So hard things need to be done, at least in part to minimise discomfort.
Suppose that part is taken care of– I recognise that I need to do hard things. I decide, okay, I need to do the hard thing. More often than not, this decision isn’t a REAL decision. Real decisions involve action and follow-through and results. I can’t say “I decided to go to the gym but I didn’t do it.” If you decided to go, you went. Otherwise you didn’t decide. Or you might even say, you decided not to go. Or you decided not to decide, knowing that indecision leads to a ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ approach that is incapable of doing hard things. You don’t accidentally end up on top of the mountain, and you don’t accidentally end up in the gym lifting a heavy ass weight.
But I haven’t yet said the things I want to say about what stops me from going to the gym. There are all sorts of trivial little things outside of my head that affect the decision. Let me walk through every single step. First, I have to make the decision to go when I have time. I have to do this either before or after work, or on weekends (when it’s crowded). I was averse to going to the gym when it’s crowded because then I’d have to share weights with other people, and prior to my last session I was uncomfortable with the idea of sharing weights. It meant having to talk to people, and I always assume that people are silently judging me and offended by my presence. I’d like to workout when I have the weights to myself.
Suppose I do have a time where the gym isn’t crowded. This is still going to take over an hour of me walking to the gym (and in the past I wasn’t sure of the walking directions to the gym, so I didn’t go. This sounds ridiculously trivial on hindsight, but again, this is the sort of thing that actually stops me from doing what I say I want to do, so I have to list it out.)
So I figured out the walking to the gym part. I can now walk to the gym without thinking about it. Great.
Before the walking happens though, there are a bunch of questions. I need to wear socks and shoes, and I need to have a towel. I don’t like wearing socks and shoes after a hot and sweaty workout– this made me averse to hitting the gym. I did ultimately go when I had gotten utterly disgusted with myself for not going, for allowing this to-do to dominate me. But I realise that if I want to go to the gym, I should wear slippers and bring my shoes and socks in a bag. I’m realising that it’s also good to have soap and shampoo– it makes the post workout a lot more rewarding, or at least feel less like punishment or an ordeal. I’m doing something good for myself, it ought to feel like it.
With the gym, there’s some complexity to do with the registration. They no longer seem to accept cash payments– or if they do (I tried), they make a big fuss about it and insist that you download the app or do some stupid thing I don’t understand. It’s messy. Ultimately I got the app, and then I had to figure out the login bits, and the password (and I can’t seem to figure out how to change the password, so I have the app’s password saved as a message on my phone. And at least now I know I can reset it as long as my phone number remains the same. Ugh.) And there’s a pin number involved too, after the password. All that just to hit the bloody gym.
Then there’s the actual workout, which actually goes quite well by my standards. Then I go back. And I have to be concerned about dietary stuff, because I can’t hit the gym and not eat. I have to eat a lot, and I’m lousy with food. The least resistance solution is milk and peanut butter. I used to only drink chocolate milk, which I’d eventually get tired of, but now I drink white milk too, so I can switch it up a bit, back and forth.
So there are all these intermediate steps between me thinking “okay, I should go to the gym”, and me actually going to the gym. There’s a lot of “working”, or “mid-steps”, and one of the biggest limiting things about my life is that I have an aversion or lack of experience with doing middle-step things. So I need to do more middle-step things. Especially at work, where I often have things to do that don’t have super-clear steps. Mind you, it’s not that the steps are outright vague or wrong. They’re just not super-accessible. And the problem with me is that I tend to conflate “semi-accessible” with “super-accessible”. But trying to do work when everything you need is semi-accessible is a heck of a struggle, and it’s not something that happens accidentally. Again, it’s like climbing a mountain or going to the gym. It doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a certain activation energy, a burst of activity in which a series of things are done. And this series of things ought to be formalised in a checklist of some sort, because otherwise it simply doesn’t get done.
So. What are the How-Tos that I need to write for myself? Here: Howto