There’s so much joy in being an utter newbie, being thrown into a real life situation where you’re required to learn and adapt as fast as you can.
Over and over again, I’ve found myself in these situations and I’ve begun to think that I do this to myself on purpose. Because I love that feeling of being a blank slate being written over.
You learn so many bad habits if you work in a single field for too long. You stop challenging yourself because our brains were wired to keep us lazy.
In the past, when everything humans ate had to be hunted or gathered, staying efficient was a good thing. But today, when all we have to do to eat is pick up a phone, laziness is not always efficiency.
I love going from zero to competent, and then if I’m still interested, to expert. And then going further.
In the past few months, working at the bar has been that for me. I’ve gone from being able to carry one glass per hand to carrying a tray full of glasses, comfortably, balancing it on my palm like I’m supposed to.
I’ve gone from having to look up recipes every time I make a drink to being able to make five different cocktails at one go without referring to anything. I’m still slow, but I can feel my brain stretching in a way that I’ve become familiar with now.
I see how much more I have to learn and I feel elated.
I cannot remember the last time I was happy. I have felt excited, satisfied, motivated, and more over the years but I don’t remember what being happy feels like.
I’ve come to accept that I’m not a happy person, but recently I came across and article that says humans weren’t designed to be happy. So perhaps my inherent unhappiness is not as much of a flaw as I thought.
In the article, Rafael Euba who is a consultant and senior lecturer in Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London writes that humans are “designed primarily to survive and reproduce”.
“A state of contentment is discouraged by nature because it would lower our guard against possible threats to our survival,” he continues.
Apparently, “happiness is a human construct”. Our emotions aren’t as simple or as one-dimensional as that.
Euba writes, “Our emotions are mixed and impure, messy, tangled and at times contradictory, like everything else in our lives.”
I have no single word that can describe what I feel when I stroke my dog as he sleeps, curled up in his bed. No single word to explain how I feel when my mom talks about how I need to eat better.
Euba also writes: “Research has shown that positive and negative emotions and affects can coexist in the brain relatively independently of each other.”
Perhaps unhappiness and other negative emotions has its place in our survival.
Lately, I’ve been trying out a new work hack. It’s not so much a productivity hack, as it is a lifestyle one.
For several months, I had been scheduling all my work and because I’m me and enjoy my work, I tend to pack many things into one day.
What I’ve been trying out lately instead of setting hours, is setting a minimum target. I can do more or less, and I can do it anytime I want. As long as I finish those things, my work day is done.
I get myself to fill in the blank on the statement: Today, all I need to do is…
I’m more laid back, less in that go-go-go mood since I’m no longer restricted by time. At the same time, I am motivated by the thought of “if I get this done, I can do other things”, which means I get things done faster (most of the time).
It also gives me more opportunities to laze, to do nothing but think, which has resulted in more ideas. It helps me be in the moment during non-working times, especially when I’m spending time with the people I love.
It allows me to identify inefficiencies in my work, to pinpoint which parts of my workload aren’t as ideal as I would like them to be. By being more aware, I can improve on my processes or eliminate work I would rather not do.
Perhaps this has been a productivity hack as well.
“I’ve been burned enough times by FOMO-based and ego-based decision-making to know that I’ll always regret choosing to some something for the wrong reason,” Samin Nosrat says in her response to Tim Ferriss’ question on what she’s become better at saying no to.
Although I’m only in the first 50 pages of Tribe of Mentors, it’s already been enlightening (and therapeutic).
There are days when I struggle with decision-making. Do I go for the big money? Or focus on values and a potentially bigger payout in the future. Or is there a way to “have it all”?
Think all, I tell myself. But sometimes the cards don’t fall that way and you play your hand the best you can, in a way you can be proud of.
And it’s true that if I make a decision for the wrong reason, I do end up regretting it, even if I gain value out of it (I always do, but there’s no joy.)
The adverse is true as well. I’ve made some decisions that resulted in unhappy endings, that led to what felt like horrible circumstances. But I dealt with the fallout and looking back, I have no regrets about my part in the matter.
I once read a fantasy novel series in which one of the characters says that hesitation is worse than making a decision either way. Make your decision as best as you can, then deal with the results.
The words come to me in the early morning, when my body is halfway between sleep and awake. Some days, those words slip away.
Some days, I manage to rouse myself, reach for my phone and quickly record some of it before falling asleep again.
These little bits of inspiration that slip through make my work day that much easier.
When it comes to writing, sometimes starting is the hardest part. But when you’ve started, when you’re ready for flow, it becomes easy to finish.
Perhaps the muse is tricky. Or perhaps it doesn’t understand what good timing is — these little starts happen in places and moments where it can be difficult to start work or take action right away.
When I’m half asleep, when I’m in the shower, when I’m driving.
I’ve learned that when inspiration hits, taking action is the only option. If you ignore the muse too often, it stops speaking.
So here’s what I do. I keep a notebook (or at least paper) on me all the time. I take it out as soon as I can to write down the ideas, as much as I can, without editing.
If I’m unable to write — like when I’m driving — I recite whatever’s in my head into my phone.
At some point, I will probably hang up a waterproof notebook and pen in the bathroom. For now, I hold the thought as hard as I can in my head until I get out of the shower.
One of the great benefits of keeping a daily blog – where besides posting things I’m learning, I also post stuff I’m working on – is that it’s one way to get help.
After writing about my difficulties with database design, a friend who read my post reached out and asked why I hadn’t asked for help.
Help wasn’t even something I’d attempted to seek out because in my mind, this was just a personal database. For my own use only, as a way to keep everything organised.
“You can still ask for help,” he said. So I sent over the database structure I had in mind – already overly complicated but to me, not comprehensive enough.
After asking me a few questions, he suggested that I structure everything in a way that was much, much simpler but still allowed me to achieve the same result.
And then said, “Add me to your repo when you’ve set it up.”
When I started writing this blog, my main goals were to practice getting my thoughts out in writing, documenting my learnings and experimenting with different writing styles. I didn’t even expect to have readers. (I don’t follow best practices and don’t even have analytics set up.)
But resolving to keep writing this has been one of my best decisions this year. I’m thankful for each and every one of my readers.
I’m especially thankful for those who reach out and start conversations, you know who you are.
In the spirit of paying it forward, if you’re reading and would like to start your own blog, feel free to contact me to get tips or info on how to set it up and keep it going.
I started using index cards earlier this year for cocktail recipes after years of reading Ryan Holiday’s articles and emails about how he uses index cards.
In one of his latest articles about index cards, he again, reiterates how this old-school tool is able to rival its digital competitors.
But whether old-school or digital, my brain seems to find ways to make me work hard to retrieve old information. It even makes me work hard to get new information from mind to paper.
I have notebooks that contain half-finished sentences that seem to be leading to something important. I’ve learned to accept these holes. I’ve grown accustomed to letting those old thoughts go and creating new ones.
But a part of me wonders if I could prevent this sort of thing from happening by deepening my focus.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always easily distracted. There have been times when I’m so focused that I forget to eat, sleep or get out of my seat.
But what I want to do is make this focus more balanced. I want a less obsessive version of it available at my beck and call for everyday tasks.
According to The Art of Manliness, the mind is a muscleand if you want to increase your strength of attention, you have to exercise it.