January 1, 2019

What better time to start writing again?

I liked the idea of writing this daily blog but the pressure of finding something more interesting for the next day tripped up my consistency. Let's try something else. Let's try something casual. Just a bit of pause and words about my day - what I learned, experienced, or dreamed up. A quick summary.

Danielle and I left our friend Jess' house after spending our New Years' there with more dogs than Internet. (Jess has six.) We drove back from upstate New York through most of the day. From time to time, I would steal away from the car-ride conversation to read an article or dive into this stupid mobile puzzle game I'm addicted to playing. But I was inspired by a passage Mark Manson highlighted from The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Gregory Lukianoff in his latest end-of-the-year post:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

How to handle unfinished business

What is a day if not a list of things to get done?

And it's even easier to continue adding to the list. But naturally there are only so many hours in the day and some of them are best spent sleeping, preparing for that brand new day.

Author David Allen says the problem with all this juggling in the present is "the future never shows up." The present is everything, so we need to harness it. And every few months or so I ironically remember David Allen already figured this all out in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Allen created a system to keep the mind clear and attentive to the present while, ahem, getting things done.

Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.

Write things down. It's as idiot-simple as that.

Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.

It turns out the human mind likes to close those loops, whether or not we're consciously aware of them. Will Schoder tackles this phenomenon in the video This psychological effect controls your life... The Zeigarnik Effect is the human desire to close the loop on an unfinished task and the subconscious drain we experience when we don't. It's the reason we're drawn to cliff-hangers, clickbait, and everything else David Allen tried to warn us about.

And in the end, Schoder makes an interesting point that this might be the very reason we are who we are at all:

If a desire for cognitive closure is one of our greatest motivators than it may be mystery itself that holds the greatest power over the human mind. A mystery by definition is something that defies explanation. And without an explanation there is no closure. Is the Zeigarnik Effect propelling us to answer life’s big questions? I don’t know, but if there is an open loop like “Why are we on this rock hurtling through darkness,” you can be damn sure we’ll try to close it.