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I woke up to a familiar sight. Outside the vehicle I had slept in was Brian, on the phone, trying to get us help with our latest predicament. And, just as last time with being stuck in mud, our unfailingly benevolent neighbors came to our rescue.
"I don't let anyone besides my dad work on my motor. He could have you going in forty five minutes."
I didn't believe him for two reasons. First, it seemed absolutely impossible that we could be in possession of a functioning boat. Him fixing our motor would violate this apparent law of the universe. Second, I have an inappropriate hubris that prohibits me from fathoming that experts could possibly fix something that I was unable to fix.
Our motor wasn't working in forty five minutes, it was working in about fifteen. Perfectly. And the gear oil was checked, the shaft was lubricated, and a new choke lever was fashioned out of a screw.
As I write this, I am hunched over my laptop, which is held at an awkward angle because of the steering wheel in front of me. Carpal tunnel syndrome is imminent. Out of the window to my left, if it wasn't so foggy and dark, I'd be able to see our island. This island trip has not gone according to plan.
I had the not-so-genius-in-retrospect idea of driving through the night to Nova Scotia. I argued that we could each drive three hours or so, sleep six, and we'd arrive in the morning ready to tackle the day. That's not how things turned out, though.
From Boston, I drove us to the Canadian border. Exhausted, I turned the reins over to Ben. Ben continued my proud tradition of maintaining around 100mph (great roads, no cops), which came to an abrupt end a couple hours into his shift when he hit the biggest pothole I've ever seen. At 100mph. The tire popped and was completely shredded by the time we came to a stop in the shoulder.
Our rental vehicle, a faux-luxury Buick Verona, which we had been upgraded to, does have a spare, but it's a tiny one that can only go 50mph. That sounds like a bad thing, and is indeed bad in many cases, but there turned out to be a silver lining. Brian took over the driving, set the cruise control to 50mph, and eventually fell asleep at the wheel. I woke up as our car was cruise-control guided into the median ditch.
I'm sitting in the Kansas City terminal, waiting for my next flight. The barbecue restaurant there serves shockingly large portions, which, combined with waking up early today, has me feeling sleepy.
I should work, I think. My eyes are half closed, though, and I can't imagine thinking through tough problems like the one waiting for me on Sett. I think about writing a blog post, but my past few days have been weak, so I want to be awake and do a good one. I think about doing some basic todo list stuff, but I'm already losing concentration after the first google search.
Okay, but if I'm not going to work, what am I going to do? The answer turns out to be downloading an episode of Restaurant Stakeout. I'm not proud to write that sentence.
I think I've seen about two episodes of that show. The first I saw at my aunt and uncle's house. Not knowing anything about the restaurant business, I found it really fascinating. Then I was on some red-eye flight and I saw an episode on the in-filght entertainment system.
I'm on a late flight back from Vegas, I didn't get enough sleep, and I'm exhausted. I hadn't done my German tape for the day yet, so I put my headphones in, propped my head against the window, closed my eyes, and did it. I'm sure my neighbor, if she could hear my stilted German mumbles, thought I was crazy.
I finished the tape and the captain announced that we were forty minutes from our destination. Factoring in the time it takes to do the final descent, where I won't be allowed to use my computer, that gives me about fifteen minutes of time to make use of.
My first inclination, tired as I am, is to waste the time. Close my eyes and take a lttle nap, read a book on my phone, listen to some music, or just flip through screens on my phone aimlessly. Fifteen minutes seems way too short for me to write a blog post.
But then I think about how tired I'm going to be if I get home and still have to write the post. Begrudgingly, I whip out the laptop. May as well outline the post or get the intro down or something. Now I've got more of a post written than I thought I'd get done in fifteen minutes.
Thanks to my friend Brian, I recently had the opportunity to try out Valve's new work on virtual reality. Only a couple hundred or so people have had the chance to try it so far, and most of them are people within the video game industry. I went in thinking that it would be a fun diversion, and left thinking that it will fundamentally change the world.
I've tried a lot of virtual reality devices over the years. When an ill-fated virtual reality arcade opened up in Austin, Texas, my friends and I hoarded coupons for a free game from the newspaper and played for hours. On a school trip to Houston I bought a Nintendo Virtual Boy, which I absolutely loved. And then, when getting a demo of Matterport's room-scanning software, I got to try an Oculus Rift.
All of those experiences were really great, but what Valve has managed to do is to make virtual reality so real that my brain records it as something I did or experienced, rather than something I saw. That's a huge shift, and having experienced it, I predict that it will change everything.
The Valve demo is about half an hour long. You go into a weird room that may have been a storage closet in a previous life, and put on a big prototype looking headset. The guy who operates the demo cycles you through about a dozen different demos.
You know that feeling when you're having a great day, but you forget exactly why it's so great? There's that feeling that something really good happened earlier, and its glow is being carried forward, even though you maybe don't have the original positive event in the front of your mind. I had that feeling today as I parked my motorcycle, ready to get started on work.
As I do when I have that feeling, I mentally rewound the clock to try to remember why I was in an extra-good mood. I figured it out-- I had fixed the tail light of my motorcycle. At first I felt foolish for being so happy about my tail light being fixed. It wasn't even fully broken, it's just that the brake light stayed on all the time. The brake light is behind me, so I never even see this light, making the direct effect on my life roughly zero.
I thought about this for a few minutes, and I realized that there was a good reason to feel happy about the motorcycle light. It wasn't that the light was fixed that was making me happy, it was removing that tiny little pebble of responsibility from my shoe. Almost every day I would think about fixing my brake light, wouldn't get to it, and would remember to remember it the next day.
That's the trap of these low priority tasks that sometimes don't even make it to our todo lists due to their triviality. They take up mental space, they make us feel like we're behind a little bit, but they never feel important enough to prioritize. How can I honestly say that my brake light is more important than working on Sett?
There's a concept called hedonic adaptation, which says that we quickly adjust to any increased level of comfort or luxury and cease to appreciate it. Anything good that happens to us becomes our new normal, and we look higher up the ladder, not realizing that we'll quickly adjust to those rungs as well.
The trick, then, is to suppress your hedonic adaptation, while still climbing up that ladder. If you can manage to do that, you can fully appreciate everything you already have, and future accomplishments, acquisitions, etc., will also be fully appreciated.
I don't know if it's fully possible to suppress hedonic adaptation. There's some evidence that zen monks who meditate all the time can do it to a large degree. Even if we're not going to spend all day meditating and will never fully get rid of it, though, we can easily move in that direction.
One strategy I use is to occasionally ask myself, "What's amazing in my life?" For one reason or another, this tends to happen when I'm en route somewhere, either on the subway, walking, or on my motorcycle.
One of my overarching goals in how I present myself is to be consistent. Although the relationships I have with my family, friends, acquaintances, and random people on the internet is always going to be different, I try to be the same person with all of those groups. I think authenticity is important, and this consistency is a sign of authenticity.
Try as I might, though, people who read my stuff online and then meet me in person are consistently surprised that I'm actually a happy guy who jokes around a lot and is more human than robot. I see why people expect me to be different, though. My writing tends to be serious and I'm always talking about habits or rules or working hard.
Although all of this rigidity is a big part of my life, it's also just the foundation. From the rigid parts of my life I'm able to get a tremendous amount of work done, keep myself healthy, and move towards my goals. But there's also a lot that it can't do. Rigidity doesn't build relationships or spark creativity, two important parts of life.
I think you learn a lot about someone when you see what he does when there's nothing he has to do. And I think by changing what you do when you have nothing to do, you can change what sort of person you are. I design my life to have as few as possible externally-dictated things that I absolutely have to do, and I create systems to fill that void. Every day I have sixteen hours ahead of me, and no one to tell me what to do in that time except myself.
I know that I'm more self centered than I should be. It's something I work on, not by instructing myself to be less self centered, which is too foggy a command to actually obey, but through specifically defined efforts. One of the more useful ones I've come up with is to stop and think about what experience the other person wants to have.
Maybe for everyone besides me this is an obvious social skill that happens automatically. I've found for me, though, that usually I'm just on autopilot when interacting with others. If anything I think about the experience that I want to have.
Let's say I'm arguing with a friend about something trivial, maybe the best method to book a plane ticket. He has his way, I have mine. If I'm on autopilot, my goal is probably to win the argument. Sounds petty, but I think it's true for a lot of us. If we're in an argument, we try to win. If I think about the experience my friend wants to have, though, that description probably doesn't include losing an argument to me. In fact, it probably doesn't include having an argument at all.
So why is he engaging in an argument that he doesn't want to have? Maybe he figured out a cool trick for booking flights and wants to share it with me, but my pride is preventing me from listening. Maybe he sees me as an authority on travel and wants me to respect his own abilities in that area. Maybe other topics I've been bringing up have been boring and he'd rather be an active participant in an argument than a passive listener of something boring.
I don't notice that I have a million rules for myself until someone hears about one, asks if I have others, and the conversation lasts for hours. I know that even with all of the discipline I've built over the years, I'm still susceptible to making impulsive decisions in the moment, so I make rules for myself. In my brain those rules have special status as being immutable and important.
To give you some examples of rules I have: I'm not allowed to break my diet while in San Francisco, unless I'm in a social situation (and then I must eat as close as possible); I no longer book trips unless I'm going with friends or visiting friends; I wasn't allowed to watch movies in theaters in 2013; I don't allow myself to spend any time dating until 2015.
Today I thought it might be interesting to walk through an example and discuss how it was created and how you can make your own.
One of the least productive states of mind to be in is the one where you're racking your brain to make a decision that is not important or should have already been made. Besides wasting time, this practice depletes your will power, which is one of your most valuable resources and could be spent pushing towards your goals. The main reason I have a million rules is to trick myself into rarely or never going into that state.