Friday, April 8, 2011


Source: American Splendor

Friday, April 1, 2011

Takin it off here, boss. Wipin it off here, boss. Drinkin it up here, boss!

Do you ever notice yourself making decisions based on the outcome of essentially random events? For example, "I will only stop for coffee if the light turns green in the next five seconds," or "If it's heads, then I'll do some housework," or even "If the stock market's up, then it's a good day."

I think this might be happening as a result of being used to or even wanting an authority figure to make decisions for us. In the absence of such a figure, rather than allowing or forcing ourselves to make every decision that needs to be made, we invent authorities to make decisions for us.

Imagine a case where you've quit your job to write a novel. You are your own boss and get to decide what to do and when. Imagine also that you have writers' block. Now you are in a situation where you have sole control over your own actions and productivity, yet your decision-making feels ineffective. I believe the tendency will be toward making more and more "rules" to steer your actions -- an imaginary boss to fill the authority void -- until you fully replace the freedom of working for yourself with a level of control and restriction that you're used to in a job.

Not all such rules are "bad". For example, "I will write between 10am and noon even if I have nothing to write" can help force yourself to deal with procrastination. It can help inspire ideas that only come by doing, and not just by thinking.

Meanwhile, other rules like "I will only stop for a snack if the last digit on the clock is a zero" is an irrational and arbitrary rule that has no connection between the deciding factor and the outcome. Such rules are used to avoid judging for ourselves whether we deserve something or not. It is also used to try to avoid guilt: I didn't decide to eat this cookie; the clock did.

The key measure of whether a given rule is good, is simply whether the expected outcome of the rule is the desired outcome. All other rules should be abandoned, and replaced with a conscious acceptance of yourself as your own boss.

(Turn and face the strange)

Evolutionarily speaking, 'change' is both a good thing and a bad thing. Change is the very essence of evolutionary refinement. Change is also what kills dinosaurs. The difference is the rate at which change happens. Evolution involves adapting to a changing environment, and the process of adapting involves the changing of a species. As long as the latter can keep up with the former, everything's copacetic.

It is no surprise then that we have evolved both a fear and psychological need for change. Too much is chaos, and too little is stagnation. Any process of improvement by definition involves change, so change should only be avoided when things are perfect. But even then, the human mind does not enjoy constancy. The brain works on differences. Stare long enough at an unmoving point and a scene will begin to disappear. Remain motionless and you'll begin to stop feeling what you're touching. Spend a few months in a fixed routine and you'll have very little memory of that time passing.

So we should be constantly (or perhaps only often?) seeking change. One pro tip is to be more aware of what can be changed. Form a habit of checking yourself: Contemplate what you are doing in any random moment; notice the details, and ask yourself why they are that way. Then consider what can be changed (and why that might be an improvement). Then -- don't forget this step! -- it.

As for the big changes: Rather than fearing and avoiding them, find ways to stretch them out into a slow, gradual, and manageable process. Acclimate yourself to everything. A new job or new location, even if you win the lottery: only fools rush in.