It's funny, this natural inclination we have for things to be easy. Everyone wants to work really hard, not for its own sake, but only so that they can stop working hard and go live on a beach. They're willing to suffer through the ordeal of dating to find that perfect soulmate so that they can coast for the rest of their lives. I used to think like this, too, but over time have developed a new way of looking at things. Now I want to do hard things only so that I can do even harder things later. I don't want it easy.
At least once a day I marvel at how I got to be alive. I look at the dashboard of my motorcycle and the stripes lining the road, and I think, "how totally insane is it that I get to see these things right now, that I get to be on a motorcycle and operate it and live in a place where someone has striped the road for my safety?" Seriously, tiny little things like that are huge. It is ridiculous that I'm alive and that life is as incredible as it is. I mean, we could all be amoebas. There's more of them than there are of us.
So I think about how amazing it is to be alive, and I think, why does everyone want to skim that experience? We're all so capable, born with the ability to dig deep within ourselves and use everything we've been given. We can understand things no other creatures can understand. We can build things no other creatures can build, and can positively change the course of our entire race. That's an awesome amount of responsibility and potential. How can I choose to leave that on the table?
Would I have more seratonin in my brain if I made things easy on myself? Probably. I have a lot up there now, but if I kicked back and lived off my book sales forever on a beach in Thailand, I bet my brain would be loaded with those happiness chemicals, even more than it is now. Does that matter, though? Is more happy brain chemicals really the best that society can get from me? Man, I hope not.
I'm always trying to do hard things. I literally think to myself, "is my life too easy right now? How can I make it harder?" I don't mean that I'm going to go out and carry bricks around just to make things difficult. I mean that I'm always going to think, okay, I've made it to this level of productivity/discipline/understanding/ability-- what's the next level and what work do I have to put in to get there.
I talk a lot about cues that I have in my brain. One cue I have is whenever I think, "Eh, that would be a good idea, but I don't really know how to do it,", I prioritize learning how to do that thing. The most recent example was when I was trying to speed up SETT. I was reading some stuff about optimization and realized that the best thing I could do would be to implement a front end cache, an in-memory cache, and switch to a new webserver. I had no idea how to do either of the caches, so I spent a bunch of time researching and reading, and made it happen. It was hard, but I rose to the challenge.
Even with things as basic as productivity, I think the same way. The other day I thought, "You know, I'm really doing a great job with my new productivity system. I write a blog post every day, do a Chinese lesson every day, and program every day. Good job, Tynan." My immediate next thought was, "Okay, so you've reached this level. What's next and how do you get there?" I decided that it would be to focus more on overall strategy and keep a daily journal/log so that I could look back at my thoughts, so I immediately implemented both. Once those become easy, I'll move to something next.
I'll be dead some day. So will you. When that happens, the seratonin in our brains will dissapear and be irrelevant, but our achievements and impact on the world will last, at least in a small way. The people who have the habit of stepping up and doing the hard things available to them will be the ones who have tho honor of leaving the world a better place than when they got there. I'm hoping to be one of those people, and hoping you will be, too.
Vegas next week!
Thanks again to everyone who took the SETT survey. I'll be posting insights from it soon.
Feeling lost for the last two years of my life. I think NY Times calls it a Quarter Life Crisis or something. I been a subscriber and even brought your dating book a long time ago when it came out. I been subscribed to Tynan's email newsletter for the longest time and even brought a Sony VAIO Z as my computer. Today, checking my email, this post really hit a chord with me.
I realize what was missing in my life was that I wasn't challenging myself anymore. I realize I been telling stories about my crazy half a year abroad in India for the last two years and been 'settling' and not challenging myself ever since. I signed in here and starting going through your blog posts again and tonight I decided to do something difficult. Pick up programming again (since a 101 classes at the beginning of college for fun) and see if I can use it as a medium of expression like your blog is for you. Thanks for getting me off my ass.
Tynan, I am very impressed with SETT and see alot of potential in it. Reddit = a lot of time wasted for me because it is so addictive to find new stuff on the web, perhaps if this takes off we can find other bloggers like you just as its so easy to find interesting websites on Reddit. Maybe you can have SubSETTs and stuff too!
I've personally found it incredibly important to always be challenged, though when the challenge goes away, it's sometimes hard to identify that that's what's missing. Would love to hear about your programming progress in the community side.
You nailed SETT in that last paragraph. Right now I'm just focusing on fundamentals, because no one will switch if they're not right, but I do intend to turn it into a high quality content discovery engine. Funny, too.... just yesterday I was toying with the idea of subsetts and how best to implement them.
Raising you was the hardest thing I ever did!! Well worth the results............
Nice post. You're right — It's all about leveling up your character, once you've hit the level cap it's time to move on to a new game ;)
And, that is one of the things that make us different from other animals; instead of just chasing meaningless neurotransmitters to satisfy our ego's emotional desires, we can transcend it
You should try carrying bricks around. It's a lot of fun. Sign up for the Goruck Challenge, carry 6-8 bricks in your backpack (along with water), and spend 13 hours running, hiking, doing pushups and bear crawls, carrying teammates and logs. It's hard, and fun. Maybe one of the next hard things you do?
Haha... always a contrarian. I'm going to start working out again, soon.... maybe that means that I will do Goruck, although it really sounds absolutely miserable to me.
This post is inspiring. Thanks for sharing these insights into how you think, Tynan. It pushes me to see and TRY things and improve myself.
Enjoy the Summit!
This reminds me of the Joseph Campell quote - "The cave you fear to enter contains the treasure you seek."
On the one hand I do the same as you describe, as soon as something gets easy it's time to move on or to make it more difficult. My problem though is that it also gets in the way of taking a rest and doing nothing. Any good tips on that?
Great post. Everything ends, we will all die. Our achievements and memories may live on for awhile, but even that fades with time. Fortunately the work we do now can add to the anonymous whole of human society; improving in tiny increments.
Right on! Are you taking the RV to Vegas or flying out? I'm debating whether to drive to Vegas and through California or go to Oregon and drive south.
Just flying... so cheap from SF. Where are you now?
I've been staying in Boulder for the last few weeks. I had a friend's apartment to myself until today, but I found a free gym, shower, and sauna room so I'm tempted to stay/come back. Beautiful place here. Otherwise, debating Vegas or Oregon but Vegas weather seems way too hot to be staying in a RV right now.
One day last week I drank too much tea too late in the day. Instead of going to bed at my normal 1:30-2am time, I went to bed after 3am. The next morning I woke up around eleven, feeling a bit slothful for sleeping in. Usually I make some nice green tea in the morning, but I skipped it that day, half because I had overdosed on tea the day before, and half because it was almost the afternoon. I sat down at my computer, but instead of doing my daily planning, I started researching Persian rugs.
By one in the afternoon I was still sitting at my computer in my skivvies, having done nothing more substantial than gain a comprehensive amateur understanding of what to look for in a Persian rug, and maybe answering a handful of medium-priority emails.
The day was off to a bad start. Not a horrific start, like the kind where you lose your arm in a grain combine, but the kind where you've gotten such a slow start that the day begins to feel like a waste.
I opened up Google Calendar to plan my day, but then closed it. What's the point, I thought, when I've already wasted so much time? There was no chance it was going to be an excellent day, so my brain was trying to steer me towards just writing the day off and refocusing on the next one.
Our lives are full of reruns. While every individual day may have its own unique set of events and experiences, most of what we see and do is something we have already seen and done. I often look back on a month and can only recall a handful of times when my brain was stimulated by a new challenge, environment or activity. The rest of the days seem to run together like some monotonous pattern that I habitually follow. I think I finally understand why this situation bothers me (and probably many others) so much.The mouse that runs the same maze over and over eventually gets good at the task. Its brain activity then plummets, because the task has become an easy routine instead of a stimulating experience. The brain senses a cue (being put in the maze and smelling cheese), it reruns the routine (running the maze along a remembered path) in order to reach the reward stimulation (cheese) at the end. The Power of a Habit explains that this is the process by which habits are cemented into our brains. This is very useful for making us more efficient, and it frees up brain power for other tasks. By doing so, however, the brain essentially cuts out the best parts in the name of efficiency.I see a parallel between being stimulated by the exploration of the new and the feeling of being alive.Routine is to exploring as living is to being alive. It sounds pretty obvious. I know that my brain chemistry in not exactly typical, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one who only feels good when my brain is forced to rev to the redline.Armed with this new insight, the pieces started to come together for me. The existential migration group, with which I now identify, has two identifying characteristics: the urge to become foreigners in a foreign land and a strong preference for the new and unusual. Both can be explained by a very high need for stimulation. Imagine ripping yourself from the comfortable routines of your homeland and transplanting your life into a foreign environment. You gain immediate stimulation from new and unusual (to you) locations, culture, people, food, etc. Also, you lose all of the cues that were the basis on which you built your habits. Suddenly, your brain is both free to make new choices and forced to make choices non-stop, because there are no rails to follow anymore.Here at home, I feel like we try to medicate this state of low stimulation (boredom) with entertainment. TV, movies, games, internet junk, and shopping each provide a brief fix, but the euphoria never lasts because this is only a simulation of "living". I have gone through major addictions to all of these at one point or another, because they were like junk food for my brain. One idea that stemmed from this newfound understanding of my needs was my "one new experience every day" challenge, which I guess I'll write about next time.The last point returns us to the rerun analogy. It occurred to me that if I live a rerun of a day that I have already lived, then I have essentially shortened my life by one day. I wasn't truly alive during that time, and I will never remember anything that happened then. Obviously, this happens quite a bit more than once a year. I think the whole idea of taking a vacation stems from this problem. Perhaps we vacation to exotic locales in order to get away from the reruns of our everyday lives and collect a couple of weeks of interesting experiences to satiate us for the rest of the year.