Personal Development

You’re Either Make the World Closer to Your Ideal, or You’re Not

There are two things about categorical statements: all of them are wrong, but some of them are useful. And so at one level, I think this piece’s title is clearly wrong: some actions don’t quite make the world better or not, they just kind of happen.

But that being said, it’s clarifying to realize that fundamentally this is a choice that every action you make can be categorized into: either it makes the world more like you’d like, or it doesn’t. Either you’re having a positive transforming impact, or you’re not.

One of the complicating factors on this simple dichotomy is that we all want the world be different in some very big and some very small ways. For example, I’d like to know that I was definitely not having an negative impact on the global environment. I’d also like to be able to get to a conference across the country next weekend without having to rely on only my own muscles (and perhaps a bicycle) to get there. What do I do?

Another great example is that I’d like to look like a Greek god. 5% body fat, big (but not obscenely large) muscles. “Ripped.” But I also like the taste of pies, chocolates, and other unhealthy things. And I don’t particularly like to perform all the exercises (in either their specific motions, or the quantity) required. Plus, as much as I’ve learned to like the flavor of vegetables, I couldn’t stay happy for long on those alone.

So what gets in the way of making this a simple and concise hueristic by which you change your actions and thus simply transform the world is that there are these different time horizons where our desires for world transformation operate. Maybe I’d like to lose 10 pounds, but dislike the feeling of hunger. Maybe I’d like to gain 10 pounds, but just can’t fathom how people eat that much food.

This balancing of all the different horizons of our desires is an art, and a constant dance. Like balancing a stick above your hand, it requires continuous adjustment. Sometimes you’re in a place where your short term desires and your long term ones align. Sometimes you’ve got to put your short-term ones on hold to pursue the long ones, sometimes the opposite. It’ll never feel perfect and natural, but the balancing of it is what living is.

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Personal Development

Improving Self-Control with Control Points

I’ve lost almost 100 pounds in the last few years. Doing that has taught me a thing or two about self-control. One technique that I find really helpful with self-control is worth mentioning, I think of it as adding “control points.”

One of the surest ways that you can get fat it to leave abundant tasty and unhealthy calories where you’ll have easy access to them throughout your day. I can think of nothing worse for someone trying to lose weight than sitting down with an open bottle of soda, torn open package of candy, and stack of cookies at your desk while you work. The lack of barriers between you and a bad dietary decision almost guarantees you’ll make one. Continue reading

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Life

Focusing on the Right Decisions

I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. One thing I’ve only recently realized I’ve learned is this: the truly consequential decisions our lives are exactly the ones we spend the least time worrying about.

There are decisions we spend days and weeks obsessively pondering. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Which school should I attend? The answer to these questions do matter. To insist that they make no difference in your life would be foolhardy. But they matter a lot less than we think they do.

The day-to-day reality of your life is not sexy, but it’s where you really live. And decisions like who you share a home with and where you spend your days being able to pay for that home have influence. But their impact on your life can  pale in comparison to the vast number of unthinking decisions you make on a daily basis.

This is easiest to see in dieting and weight loss. Almost no big decision you make in your life really affects your weight. There are probably outliers who make a resolution that they will gain 80 pounds, or intentionally opt-in to a less-active life for the purposes of gaining weight. But for most people, most of the time, their weight is decided by the 100,000 minor decisions they make about food over the course of a year. Compare:

  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! I’ll have two, thanks.”
  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! That sounds good, but I don’t think I should have more than half of one. Want to take half?”

If you regularly choose one or the other side of that kind of dichotomy over the course of your life, you’ll wake up healthy or having gained 50 pounds. But you’ll probably never have said to yourself, “You know I think my life would be better if I weighed 50 pounds more than I do.”

These cumulative choices are everywhere. It’s no single choice, but rather 1,000 minor one in the course of holding a job that decides whether your boss secretly wishes to fire you or eagerly wants you to be promoted to be able to get even more opportunity to work with you. Your relationship with your husband is determined more by the way you choose to deal with him leaving the cap off the toothpaste, his dirty dishes in the sink, etc than by what he was like when you first met him.

There are important choice-points in life. But balanced on a scale, the slow drip into your life from the thousands of thoughtless or minor decisions you make vastly outweighs the large volume of the big choices. If you fail to bring your attention to all the small decisions in your life, you’ll suddenly wake up with a life you never chose. Life really is just a sequence of small decisions; a life can be shaped without realizing.

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Life

Personal Annual Report: In 2013 I was 27

I had an idea about half-way through last year that doing an annual review was a pretty good idea. I also had the idea that it would be nice to anchor it to my birthday which is at the end of January. Dates are mostly meaningless, but that one would be memorable to me and unconventional.

I think the best structure for me to do this regularly and keep the reviews a reasonable length and in-line with my mission for the site is pretty simple: I’ll decide three themes for the year, and throw as much as I think relevant and interesting into them. The themes will probably change with time as my interests and the parts of my life in need of reform change. This 27th-year wrap-up is the first I’m writing, but I don’t think it’ll be my last.

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Life

Moving Beyond the Psychology of Defeat

When I think back about how I’ve changed and who I used to be, a word that comes to mind is “defeated”. I lived most of my life as a lazy, overweight, and unmotivated student. There’s a lot of weighted meaning in that characterization, but all of those words are related in my mind to being defeated.

When you’re defeated, every bad event is a disaster. And it’s a sign of something far bigger: your failure, your oppression, or your fate. Pessimism, realism, defeatism, the loser mindset — all just variations on the theme of “well I can’t change it anyway.”

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