Thought experiment

We should apply the same ruthlessness to our own habits. In fact, we are studying philosophy precisely to break ourselves of rote behavior. Find what you do out of rote memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do what you do—do it for the right reasons.

~ Ryan Holiday, p24 The Daily Stoic

I sometimes imagine that the things I can choose to do can be placed on an aspirational spectrum. It’s not a linear, ordered list, but rather a thought experiment to do the pair-ordering; for any two things I could do right now, which is higher on the aspirational spectrum?

I could go even farther than just the pair-wise comparing and imagine all the things in my life might be orderable as…

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Fortunately—not a typo—the incessant work of ordering things to pick what to do next is exhausting. It forces me to notice that when I zoom out, I could imagine I’m doing things in the “j” through “q” range…

a b c d e f g h i ( j k l m n o p q ) r s t u v w x y z

I can make things better simply by making some space in my life. If I just drop that “j”-thing entirely I can be comfortable in knowing I’m improving, without having to actively micro-worry about everything all day. Dropping that “j”-thing leaves me with…

a b c d e f g h i j ( k l m n o p q ) r s t u v w x y z

Whereas before my average was between “m” and “n”, just by eliminating something from the lower side, my average moves up. Clearly I can improve my life appreciably by occassionally thinking about all the things I’m doing, and identifying a lower-end thing to drop.

Yes, of course things aren’t really this simple. But it took me a long time to learn the lesson that removing something can produce marked improvement. Some would say that removing is the very definition of how to approach perfection.