Flexible Lessons

I never published it, but I wrote a post a while back about how watching TV was my canary in the coalmine. If I wanted to watch TV, that was a surefire sign that I wasn’t fully engaged in my work, and that I needed to take a look at what was causing that.

I’ve gone way overboard with my remodel of my bathroom in Las Vegas. The floor tiles were these horrible vinyl tiles that were peeling up and weren’t even in a grid. If I have to redo the floor, I may as well get black marble tiles. And if I’m going to put tiles down, I may as well put in in-floor heating.

I haven’t taken a shower in my own home in many months. The corner shower had a broken door and I wanted a tub, so I ripped it out and put in a tub. But then I had to redo the walls to make them waterproof. And wouldn’t it be cool if one wall was teak wood instead of just tile?

And that’s where my Tuesday went. I grouted the two tile walls, sawed boards, and began to attach them to the wall.

My neighbors go to sleep early, so I always stop construction at seven pm. I sat down to work, but was so exhausted that I couldn’t even do the most basic mental tasks. I picked up my book and started reading, but I couldn’t focus on that. So I lay down on my couch and watched House of Cards.

That’s when I realized just how amazing my normal “job” is. Programming is hard in some ways, but it’s physically very easy. A couple days prior I worked for seventeen hours straight and felt energized and ready for more work. Even now I’m writing a blog post while sitting around in my yukata-turned-robe, drinking tea.

But the day I did manual labor, I was exhausted.

I have to remind myself frequently how easy I have it, because it’s easy to hedonically adapt. I work all day doing stuff that’s so interesting to me that it feels like recreation, and then I go to sleep energized. What would it feel like to do physical labor every day? How much TV would I watch then?

So maybe sometimes me watching TV means that I need to think about my work and figure out what it will take to re-engage with it. It means that for other people, too. But sometimes it just means that I’m physically exhausted and don’t have the capacity to do anything else. I suspect it means that for other people, too.

The experience was a good reminder to me that it’s valuable to analyze behavior to find patterns and make adjustments. But it’s important to remember that those findings may not extend beyond yourself, and maybe not even to yourself all the time. In other words, think of these patterns as guidelines, not absolutes.


Photo is the current state of the bathroom. You can see the progress by looking at the title photo of this post.

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