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.

1 comment:

Jennifer and Neil Devine said...

Also remember that writing a novel is work, it's not something that flows freely (for most people) without putting in any effort... so if you want to write a novel you should have the expectation that some work is going to be involved!