One of the things you can do, if you want to, as a human being, is read books about how to be a better human being.
My mix of ego and fatalism, mild-bipolar, and generalized cynicism has kept me from doing the self help thing. Only when I hit rock bottom am I really willing to consider that maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Which on the face of it, is stunningly obvious.
So there are the hero biographies, and the self-help books about Very Successful People, that tell you what they’re doing, that you obviously aren’t. And theres a ton of overlap, consensus, in these books. I guess you’ve all read a few of them? If not, go do that. You really should, even if you ignore them. Self help. Go.
I’ll wait here. Okay. So you read a few? Good.
The last one I read was Deep Work, by Cal Newport, a guy who is amazingly better than I am in pretty much every way, except I’m more self-deprecating. Cal is an amazing guy. While mostly venerating the successful, (he’s fond of nobel prize winners and billionaires) he politely suggests that the entire world of software connectivity productivity open office constant interruption culture is bug fuck crazy and successful people learn how to shut it off and back away from distraction to actually think.
Every writer who has had even a whisper of success has a little frozen banana stand where they sell you the secret to their awesome, rich and fulfilling creative lives. That you need, because you’re a little worm who can’t finish his novel. Or short story. Or even start to write one. Or do whatever it is, you really want to do, something you thought about before the world tapped you on the shoulder and whispered in your ear, “money, dude. health insurance. Living indoors.”
I’ll summarize ten thousand of these things in a single bullet point.
- Success is made of habits. Willpower makes habits. Habits make success. (Willpower doesn’t make success directly; nobody has enough of it. Especially not you. Worm.)
At the Freedom blog, the people who make my blocking software, because yeah, now I’m a person who uses blocking software, they had an essay recently saying that the 21 days to a new habit thing is way too short; habits are harder to make than that. The blog also said, you can probably only work on one thing at a time.
So after the election, I noticed something, in my circle of mostly progressive type friends. All of us started to quickly lose our minds, as we shared article after article. We began to tell each other, ‘avoid the red meat, the little bit of news with a lot of attitude sites, that just make us crazy, let’s stick to actual news.’
The problem was, the actual news was… just as bad.
All of us had constructed this virtual news feed, where we chucked the stuff that we felt we all needed to know. The hard stuff. That started to make us super depressed. People pleaded for kittens and photos of tasty lunches and sunsets.
Then people started just posting stuff about things to DO. Because maybe doing things would help. So people did the things. They opposed people… who are all being confirmed. They went to protests. We all were calling our reps. Maybe this was all a good thing, part of a political awakening which stands a chance of heading off a fascist coup. Who knows.
But the countercurrents were there, too. Some more bullets.
- Art is important. That Winston Churchill quote. Art is radical. Even if it isn’t political. Woody Guthries’s guitar sticker that read, ‘this machine kills fascists.’
- Art is sort of self indulgent, now, though, don’t you think? Shouldn’t we die in the protests?
- Self care is important. If you are dead or insane from grief, you’re less effective. So take care of yourself. Detach some. Enjoy life and family. Smell some roses.
- Rich privileged white people who aren’t targeted are full of shit for talking about self-care. Fuck them. Work harder. Worms.
During all this, I promised myself a few things. Which led to the blocking software.
- Stop generating free op-ed for a few hundred strangers to enrich Mark Zuckerberg.
- Re-learn how to focus for long periods of time again. As a goddamn eight year old I could play with fucking legos for five or six hours straight, with the occasional glass of Tang or Hawaiian Punch. Dear God. I need the attention span I had when I was eight.
- Do more politically. By actually doing something more effective and important than the free op-ed. Such a low bar!
- Keep becoming a writer who has a real audience that buys my stuff, instead of a dude ranting on a street corner that people who wait for the bus watch because he’s there.
Social media, the party that never ends, was the low hanging fruit, the biggest target. I took aim. I fired. My gun was a 14 hour block… then a 23 hour block. On all devices, using the industrial strength VPN style blocking of Freedom software.
I’m three weeks in. Status report:
- Attention span so far isn’t improving. I’m less productive, so far, as I am ‘self caring’ a lot and accomplishing little goal oriented activity.
- I’m less unhappy, by external reports.
- I can see now, when I peek my head into the social media party, that everyone in there is basically going nuts. The people that aren’t look weird. Like, why the hell aren’t they going crazy?
The news still gets to me; sometimes hours late. I read the NYT a bit, but there’s no passion to it, when you can’t share it with your 1000 people. I’m trying to remember how I used to play with legos for hours on end.
Well. The Freedom blog said, ‘one thing at a time, and it takes a long time.’
So. Social media, the habit? It’s breaking. I missed my one hour window yesterday. I was busy. true, I was watching TV with my teenage son, not like I was curing cancer, but still.
I have to think this is progress.
My family donated a fair amount of money to the causes we believe in, and I get emails daily on how the world is going to hell, which I skim. I’ll call my reps, now and then. I’ll send money. I’ll go to the protests. But I can’t live in that state of sadness and outrage 24/7, or I’ll die. And they’ll win.
Yeah. I’m a privileged asshole.
I’m gonna have to live with that too.