Attitude and assessment

It seems likely that Jack Sparrow’s admonishment about attitude is an echo of Aurelius’s reminder to himself two thousand years earlier. This idea that the attitude and assessment is most important has really helped me relax. Things will never be done, and I create all of my problems. I’ve come to understand that concrete goals and clear progress are detrimental to my health. They’re necessary, yes, but detrimental. The more goals I set, the more clear progress I can measure, the worse off I become; Mentally and physically those things grind me down.

Since they’re necessary—without them, it seems I’d simply devolve to being a blob on a sofa—I must have something in my life which counters the damage so that I can continue setting some sane number of goals and measuring some concrete progress. One of those things is practicing my attitude and assessment. I set aside time for this each morning. It’s not meant to take long. 15 minutes is really long enough. I read through a prompt from a set that I’ve created for myself. I read through a selection from some key books. I write in my journal, usually copying a single new quote from my collection as the beginning of the journal entry. I write some thoughts. I write some observations from the previous day.

Unfortunately, just about every morning, my urge—affliction? addiction?—to measure and create goals creeps into my morning reflection. Why am I taking all this time? (I’m up to something like 4,000 hand-written pages of journals!) Am I getting benefit from all this reflection? What’s the optimum “dosage” of reflection which yields the most benefit? How do I even measure the benefit? Is that page—that one I just wrote, an instant before these questions pop into my mind—worth writing? If I read that page in a year, will it in any way help me? Is the entry for today long enough? Should it have more “here’s what I did yesterday,” type stuff, or less? Maybe I should be also making a small note on my mood, or how I feel physically? Maybe I should… Oh, crap.

Close the journal, and go on with today!

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Silent majority

The great biographer Robert Caro once said, “Power doesn’t always corrupt, but power always reveals.” Perhaps the same is true of the most powerful networks in human history.

Social media has not corrupted us, it’s merely revealed who we always were.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/social-media-isnt-the-problem

There’s a lot of good—writing, concepts, anecdote, data—in this article. But the thing that leapt out at me was something I’d already known, but seem to have forgotten… or, if not fully forgotten, I’d failed to connect it to other things in my model of the world: The idea of the silent majority.

About 90% of the people participating on social networks, are not even participating. They’re simply observing. It turns out that the other 10% are the people with extreme views; not “blow stuff up” extreme, but simply more towards the opposing ends of whatever spectrum of views you care to consider.

Two things to consider: First, boy howdy guilty as charged! I’m on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn— but the only content I post is related to my projects. I don’t engage with anything, reshare… or even, really, participate unless it’s related to a project. *face palm* Woa! I’m literally a member of the silent majority. Perhaps you are to? If 10 of you are reading, then 9 of you are just like me.

Second, because math! If you look at the stream we all like to say, “it’s endless!” Right. There must be thousands of posts, right? I’ll pause while you do math… right. If there are only thousands of posts for me to see, I’m clearly not seeing all the activity from the millions of people. Sure, some of that is the platform filtering, but I have the feeling that the numbers hold true: If everyone posted a lot we’d have thousands of times more stuff flying around.

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The school is a surgery

The school of a philosopher is a surgery. You should not depart from it in pleasure, but in pain, for you are not healthy when you come in, but one of you has a dislocated shoulder, another an abscess, another a fistula, another a headache. And am I to come up with pretty thoughts and reflections, so that each of you will go away praising me, but with the same dislocated shoulder, the same aching head, the same fistula, and the same abscess that you brought in?

~ Epictetus

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Who’s using whom

The problem is that our New Tools are winning the battle of attention. We’ve gotten to the point where the tools use us as much as we use them. This new reality means we need to re-examine our relationship with our New Tools.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/08/dont-let-technology-tools-use-you/

Also see, Jaron Lanier‘s comments about the Internet in general and social networks in particular. I consider myself fully innoculated against information overload and against my tools using me.

And yet, my mind wanders. I sit down to try to write out a blog post or three, and I find myself doing other things. The majority of my disruptions these days are simply ducking into my various projects and messaging platforms. The problem is that when I do, there’s always something to do. It’s not some inifite scroll that catches my eye, but rather a new message—from one of dozens of ongoing conversations—or something I spot which can be improved.

It’s not enough to simply do only productive things. No rather, I actually do far too many different productive things. A minute here replying to this person, two minutes there improving this little feature, 5 minutes writing a bug report, 10 minutes responding to a product vendor, … where was I? Right, trying to write this blog post.

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Last vestiges

It can be hard to say no. It means refusing someone, and often it means denying yourself instant gratification. The rewards of doing this are uncertain and less tangible. I call decisions like this “first-order negative, second-order positive.” Most people don’t take the time to think through the second-order effects of their choices. If they did, they’d realize that freedom comes from the ability to say no.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2018/04/break-the-chain/

I think the “slavery” [to things, to money, to “more”] metaphor is inappropriate, but philosophers from Epictetus and earlier have been using it, so it’s entrenched. “Freedom” is mentioned in the pull-quote, and the metaphor also appears in the article. None the less, it connects a few different ideas together and gives good guidance if you’re new to the ideas. (Or if you could use a wee refresher.)

For me, the last vestiges of the yearning—as Wu Hsin put it—is the yearning for experiences. I am quite often restless. I often joke: “I do not idle well.” In my series on parkour-travel I even mentioned the idea of, when spare time exists, move towards the next scheduled-thing, and kill time there. I believe this yearning springs from my bias to action. As a counter-practice, I like to pause—often seemingly randomly—to remind myself: If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

That phrase can get tossed around lightly, but there’s deep wisdom in it. Once I understand that this is in fact nice, right now, then when I realize that I wasn’t—just then, in the moment—feeling how nice it is… then the second part of the phrase has power: I don’t know what is. Put another way:

If I know what is nice, then this is.

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Getting control of mornings

Staring this month, I’m making another large change to how I’m structuring my mornings. For as long as I can remember I’ve woken up about 5:30. There’s variability, but it’s a rare morning if I’m not actually awake, vertical and puttering towards my desk by 6:00. Unfortunately, for what might be two years now, what I’ve been doing upon reaching my desk has been an every-morning battle between my intention, and what I had actually set myself up for.

My intention was: Do self-focusing, restorative things. Meditate, some movement [yoga, mobility, etc.], maybe a quiet podcast, then do my reflection reading, and write in my journal. Then “surface, ” which means waking up a computer and checking in on a variety of places—multiple email programs, web sites, etc., to get a pulse for what today looks like. Checking the calendar to verify appointments, calls, etc.. And then, at 6:30 exactly, Tracy and I would have a quick morning meeting to compare our days. We’d discuss the day’s activities, meals, chores, our respective meetings, etc.. Each morning I make up a very crude, quick listing of things for the day, in a very small notebook that I carry around. But what actually happened was that, because I use a program to track everything, and I need to look some stuff up to fill out my little notebook to start my day, I’d end up starting by just peeking into one or two things… and bam! It’s 6:30 meeting time. Dammit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I must begin the morning without any devices. (Pretty sure that’s safe to do without checking with my doctor, since it was fine for the first 25 years of my life, right?)

Have our evening meeting, figure out the basic layout of tomorrow, and jot my notes in my little notebook. In the morning, get up, gather my coffee, and start my day with the little notebook. No phone for podcasts, nor music… just me and my notebook. We shall see.

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Epochs of problems

Avoiding problems avoids the opportunity for growth. Most of the time, problems don’t go away, instead they grow.

~ Farnam Street from , https://fs.blog/2016/06/the-four-tools-of-discipline/

It seems to me that there are epochs of problems. In the early days of my journey, I made dumb mistakes. Slowly I learned through stubbed toes, hurt feelings, expensive mistakes and bridges burned that life is hard, yes. But it’s much harder if you’re stoopid. More time passed.

I resolved the internal issues that led to bad impulses and choices. I learned the Kastanza Lesson of opposite day; If every instinct you have is wrong and causes things to turn out badly, one should at least trying doing the opposite. In short, I intentionally crafted a moral compass. Effectively gone—unless I just jinxed it—are any problems which are my fault. I’m not talking about errors here; I drop things, make wrong turns and forget things, of course. More time passed

And I’m left wondering how I move beyond my current problem: The setting of unrealistic expectations for myself, and of setting expectations [of any sort] of other people. I’m reminded of my thoughts on Discovery, Reflection and Efficacy. Perhaps if some more time passes? That seems to have worked twice now.

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If I’m being honest

So the worst-case scenario is someone who’s both naturally bitter and extremely ambitious, and yet only moderately successful.

~ Paul Graham from, http://paulgraham.com/fn.html

Graham is one of that vanishingly-rare type of blogger: One who posts stellar ideas, very infrequently and is being heard. Follow that link, take a trip back to the 90s-blogs, and learn something about nerds.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if I’m a nerd or a geek… I mean, I don’t actually know the definitions of those nouns. Sure, I can go look—here’s a good definition-and-how-to-tell… but the words simply don’t stick in my head as standing for something. Worse, I can tick boxes on both columns of that how-to-tell page. On the other hand, this page has a nifty graph and I think I’m over on the nerd side.

On the other, other hand, looking for “nerd” versus “geek” here on my own blog, isn’t very helpful. Maybe… just maybe… I was a geek, but there’s a natural half-life to Geeknadium, after which a certain percentage of geeks spontaneously transform into Nerdomium?

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The rational soul

Characteristics of the rational soul: Self-perception, self-examination, and the power to make of itself whatever it wants. … It surveys the world and the empty space around it, and the way it’s put together. It delves into the endlessness of time to extend its grasp and comprehension of the periodic births and rebirths that the world goes through. It knows that those who came after us will see nothing different, that those who came before us saw no more than we do, and that anyone with forty years behind him and eyes in his head has seen both past and future—both alike.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Starting

The tendency to put off difficult tasks that we don’t want to face is almost universal.

And it turns out, the moment of starting a task is often so much harder than actually doing the task.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/starting-task/

Tom Petty’s lyrics not withstanding, I agree with Leo. Starting is definitely the hardest part. Unfortunately, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for me.

Take this blog post. It’s 9pm. I go to sleep at 9:30. (Why, is an entirely different story, see, Sleep.) I’ve a long drive tomorrow, and I’ve a few things left to stuff in my overnight bag. I’ve waited all day to do this small task. Writing these blog posts is straightforward; I have a well-oiled process for dropping into the right mindset and dipping into a fertile sea of cached ideas to find one to inspire. Invariably, a few minutes into the process, I’ve found an interesting thread to pull on. This is so much fun, I could—quite literally—do this all day. So why then do I wait until 9pm?

Because you see, it’s not just writing this blog post. I feel all the things on my to-do lists—both literal and in my head—are like writing this blog post: Straightforward, self-chosen, in line with my priorities and goals, inherently interesting, generally worth doing, immediately rewarding in most cases. And yet, the proverbial 9pm rolls around before I feel enough pressure to start.

The only thing I can think of is that some part of my mind just knows that the list will never be done. No matter how many times the “let’s get stuff done” part of my brain were to rise to the occasion, there’s some other part of my brain that will roll Sisyphus’s rock back to the bottom. Maybe this is all there is to it? Is the problem, not the “doer” side, but the “setter upper of things to do” side? Is the problem that I don’t know how to simply be?

Have I, perhaps, only learned instead how to be a human doing?

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