I can’t concentrate.
Irrational fears and desires are pushing at some primordial nerve. At any given time i want to:
- to sleep
- to play computer games
- to watch movies
- to listen to music
But I also want/need to:
- complete chores
- spend time with my wife and children
How can i get rid of the noise and focus on the right thing at the right time? I have 2 suggestions today.
1 – Understand your personality type. I took a personality questionnaire the other day from understandmyself.com – it delved into my responses to certain questions, assessing me under 5 big personality traits:
- Agreeableness: Compassion and Politeness
- Conscientiousness: Industriousness and Orderliness
- Extraversion: Enthusiasm and Assertiveness
- Neuroticism: Withdrawal and Volatility
- Openness to Experience: Openness and Intellect
I have extreme elements which make up my personality (as does anyone) and this makes me want certain things, find some things easier than others and generally behave in certain ways. Of note in my assessment – I am non-assertive, withdrawn, extremely open and agreeable by nature – so I have plenty to work on and my fears and desires stem in some way from my innate nature.
2 – Understand our culture of gratification and pleasure at the expense of long term benefits. The lazy, primal part of our brain is being taken advantage of by the tech in our lives. Structure your life around managing this desire (ie. downtime from the tech), and the signal can more easily be heard among the noise.
When you are trying to make a contribution, there is not shortcut – particularly if you are not part of an ‘old boys network’ automatically getting your foot into the door – instead you have to start with becoming skilled. This takes practice and effort. Nothing more, nothing less.
Take the wildlife artist who can show a progression from school day sketches to celebrated conservation art: see link
Or the ESG researcher who has worked their way up to be in charge of a whole department: see link
The question then becomes not “who do you know” but “what can you do”. That is far more fair on all involved.
Drinking is good if you can stop after a couple.
Listening to podcasts is good if you have set a time and a place for regularly listening to them.
Technology is good if you use it, rather than it using you.
Exercise is good if you have had enough sleep and food to carry you through.
Relationships are good if you can look after yourself.
The internet is good if you create as well as consume.
As an experiment, try and find the habits in your daily life that are driven by pleasure – you know the ones i mean – those things you do when you’re a little bit bored which give you that nice little buzz and dopamine hit.
It is difficult. It forces you to reflect on your actions and life, and it eventually forces you to recognise that pleasurable things are not the most fulfilling things, precisely because they are temporary and external. In this way, pleasure is different to happiness.
Pleasure is a momentary feeling that comes from something external — a good meal, a message notification, making love and so on. Pleasurable experiences can give us momentary feelings of satisfaction, but this feeling does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences. Try and locate the pleasurable (not happy, remember) activity in your life and try to stop doing it for a whole day – I’m almost certain you’ll find it hard to do.
But pleasure is not wrong in and of itself – so why stop? Because we need to know how we feel without the constant pleasure seeking. Are we doing all these things because we are sad without them? And if we are in fact sad about something, shouldn’t we find a more permanent solution?
The trouble comes when we ascribe the pleasurable activities in our lives more value and power than we should. A drug addict gives heroine priority over everything else – she sees it as the source of her happiness and of her power in life. Similarly a bulimic ascribes power to food and the control thereof. In actual fact, drugs and throwing up give us but a temporary pleasure – not a true satisfaction. They are not the answer to any sadness that is felt.
Once we see the things we are deriving pleasure from, a useful next step is to reflect on how we feel when we do not have access to these things – are we happy or sad without them? If we are happy without them, then there is no real problem. Carry on living.
If we are sad without them, and furthermore if we rely on the activity more than we should – then something needs to change for the sadness to lift.
A common refrain on many of humanity’s problems is that there are simply too many people. Flora and Fauna will never be prioritized over humans, and with an ever growing pool of humans the pressure on the environment will lead to widespread catastrophe.
In many respects of course this is true and obvious. Forests are shrinking and animal species are going extinct. However, Humans don’t just extract from a fixed set of resources. We can also create new resources through invention. Check this awesome article for more info.
I think the future of wildlife is not so doomed but also not so wild. Unfortunately more like a zoo than a Serengeti, I think we are headed for a strong culture of managing land, technology and investment for flora and fauna to flourish.
Like it or not, We as a species are not going to stop taking over wild lands, but we are also not going to stop innovating.
I am learning how to swim again. I used to swim in teams at school until the age of 13, and then I just stopped. Last year I entered a triathlon and felt like I was nearly drowning on the swim leg so I resorted to breaststroke. Not exactly “captain speedy”. I decided to enlist some help.
My point is that I have to believe I can improve through practice and learning. It was so tempting after that triathlon to say I was just “not a swimmer” and that those who swim fast have the right genes for it. However, from that point of view, it’s a short step to copping out of anything and also to something altogether more sinister such as racism and eugenics.
Ability is inherent, but not so important. Skills are learned, and largely dependent on culture and attitude. I will be a better swimmer if I train.
It struck me yesterday that I have not committed to this blog fully.
Those of you who have followed the blog for a while will know that I get spurts of energy to post on all sorts of topics, and then I have dormant periods. This is despite my very best intentions to blog each and every day consistently. I have struggled to take ownership of the blog and one of the biggest reasons for that is that I have no structure around my blogging other than a vague desire to blog.
So now I present a manifesto – a statement of purpose and of themes for the blog. I hope you like it and I hope it helps me to blog more often.
If you look at the tagline on the blog’s home page (under the monkey) you will see I have changed it. This blog will have three major themes running in the back of my head like three cylinders driving the engine to unify my work; Masterpieces, Effectiveness, and Truth. Here’s a rundown of why:
- Masterpieces: Because this is where the magic happens and this is what ignites an idea in our head. To strive to create a masterpiece, to recognise a masterpiece and to understand exactly what a masterpiece entails can only lead to better art.
- Effectiveness: Because these days there is an overflow of information, distraction and negativity which can stifle the very best artistic intentions. Hacking our way through these difficulties to become effective is one of the big challenges of our information age.
- Truth: Because this has seemingly become market related much like a stock price. If one story is more popular than another, then it can claim truth despite despite the facts. Defining, recognizing and appreciating truth is vital to me.