Reflections On Productivity

Laziness and procrastination often come in my way of having a productive day. Having spent years honing these two terrible habits, now I’ve become good at the things I don’t want to be good at. The worst thing is that when I am being lazy or procrastinating, I am well aware of what I should be doing and so, these habits just produce feelings of guilt and shame after having failed to do the right thing. The next day, those feelings of guilt may rule my action and make me stay on the proper path but then the day after, it is back again, fighting these habits, it seems to be an endless struggle if one agrees with Steven Pressfield and his thoughts on Resistance. Which I do and so, this understanding makes the feeling of guilt even worse, for I knowingly give into resistance.

However, there are good days, many of them and those good days are a product of two things. Scheduling the day and following my routine. I work best when I am less “free”. By that I mean, if I know exactly what I need to do at each hour of the day from waking to when I go to sleep, this includes resting, then, I am more likely to follow through with my schedule. In his book, Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins issues ten challenges to improve one’s own life through your own actions. One of the challenges is to start scheduling your entire day so you can realize how much time you really have, how much time you actually waste and how you can always find time to do the things you want to do. This has been incredibly helpful. Goggins suggests starting this process by taking small steps. This is true with most things. First, simply block out the time that is dedicated to priority items, such as work or school. Once that is scheduled in, one can see what time periods are “empty”. Pockets of time prior to or after the priority items. The second step is then to fill out these “empty” spots with things that you want to do. Goggins says to start simply by scheduling a 20-minute block of time dedicated to a specific want, where you are completely focused on that want for that period of time. Over time, that block can grow and change and each night, you schedule your next day in several blocks of time and one comes to an understanding of how much time they really have and how best to use it.

Scheduling has helped with my procrastination. If I was “free”, meaning I simply had a checklist of things I wanted to do today, I often found myself wasting the day and then trying to cram in my checklist in the evening when I’m tired and lazy. Such a combination often resulted in failure. However, by starting early in the morning and making use of my day, evenings can be more relaxing and I can be at ease, having done the things I wanted to do.

Laziness is still an issue. Which is why a routine is so important. Laziness can be countered by being almost in a robotic state, where one can dial in and focus on their daily routine and start to act without allowing the mind to interfere. Of course, this doesn’t work every day. Resistance wins every now and then but most of the days, I am able to overcome my impulse to do nothing and follow my routine.

Routine and schedule also have an additional benefit. Simply, you can see what you were supposed to do today. If you fail, you can see what you failed at and you can pinpoint the exact part of your routine or schedule where you got off the path. You can also remember the train of thought that made you get off. Reflecting on such things, you can do better next time, see the warning signs coming, know the moment of weakness is approaching and that resistance is fighting back. Here, by saying disciplined, tuning out the mind, and following your routine, you can win the day.

Reflections on Resolutions

With the coming of the new year, many people, myself included, make promises and goals which they hope to achieve in the near future. Goal setting exercises are not only useful but they are needed as well. At least for myself, I do better when I know what my target is. It’s hard to navigate through the day or week or month without a plan and a strict schedule. Without such things, I find that I have wasted the day.

Which is why for the next year, I’ve made resolutions as I have done previously. However, in the previous years, I have failed to stay true to my word because in those years, I had simply just made a list of things that I hoped I would be able to do but I did not make a detailed plan on how I meant to achieve my goals.

Furthermore, even the goals were vague. They were as simple as getting stronger or read more books or to write consistently. Such vague goals are hard to track and without consistent feedback of whether I am improving or if I’m plateauing and failing to keep going in the proper direction, I find myself giving up, giving into a list of excuses and ultimately being content with failure.

In order to counter such a possible future for myself, I need detailed goals and a plan to achieve them. Instead of simply saying “get stronger”, I have to list exactly how much weight I plan on lifting in a particular exercise by the end of the year. Instead of saying “read more books”, I need to make a list of 50 books or so that I plan on finishing next year. Instead of saying “write consistently”, I need to dial in either a number of words per day or number of pages per day and so on, applying more specific goals at whatever I wish to improve. Careers, relationships, hobbies, etc, all can be broken down into specific targets or marks that you wish to hit.

Detailed goals are the first step, the second step is the plan. With planning, one needs to answer how and visualize possible failures or obstacles. How do you plan on achieving this goal? Would you have to wake up earlier in the morning? Would you have to make better use of your lunch break? How should your works be split? Does it mean cutting back on distractions that take up your time? Would you need constant reminders to stay on track? What daily practices do you have to do? Weekly? What takes priority? Can you split your time efficiently or is it best to tackle each goal one at a time?

Answer each question may raise more questions but through this exercise, you get to narrow down how you need to act in order to get to where you wish to go.

The biggest obstacle when it comes to such an exercise is yourself. Your own habits and actions. In a way, your self sabotaging manners cause you to fail. At least, I have found this to be true for myself. Hence, why you must visualize. You have to see yourself doing the task that you have set for yourself and then see all the ways that you may prevent yourself from fulfilling the tasks. This may be as simple as understanding your desire to hit the snooze button and then scroll through social media before getting up in the morning, however, by the time you get up, you may have wasted the early start that you had planned in order to get one of your tasks done. Or, visualization may tackle more important issues, such as negative self-talk. Perhaps you have to see yourself attempting and failing a task and then know your negative self-talk will cause you to either not try again and give up on the task or try with a lousy effort, fail faster and then give up. Through visualizing you can at least know that certain obstacles will be there and so, you can plan for those obstacles rather than blindly running.

Resolutions, goals, promises are important, in many ways, this is how people find meaning in their lives, it gives people a sense of direction which is why that feeling of not achieving your goals hurts so much and feels so horrible because it really did mean something to you. Having specific goals and a plan of action can help, however, even such things are bulletproof. Failure is part of life and you may fail to keep up with all your resolutions, however, if you can improve even one aspect of your life through resolutions and goal setting, then its worth the effort.

Reflections: Need To Hold Oneself To A Higher Standard

Recently I have thought a lot about where I aim. What I mean by this is in order for me to become the individual I wish to be, I need to have some kind of target which I aim at otherwise I would be lost. Without a target, I would lack a sense of direction. So, having established a need of a target, the natural question arises is simply, what kind of target is this? What is my aim? Who do I wish to be?

The simple answer is, I wish to be great. To be all that I can be. My aim is high and not low for a low aim seems to be a waste of life’s opportunities and experience. A small aim seems petty, it seems concerned with petty pleasures and desires and with it, the accomplishment of small aims seems to lack a true feeling of fulfillment for I know that this accomplishment is cheapened by my lack of effort that is required.

This is an easy notion to understand because there is a clear difference in accomplishment when you finish something that you found difficult in comparison to finishing something that was easy.

Attempting to do something great is accompanied by a sense of fear or stress because there is a chance of failure. When you aim low that chance of failure lessens and with it, the fear and stress also go down. But when the aim is high, then not only is there the notion of failure but also of effort. Reason being, a high target cannot be reached through minimal effort. It requires the sacrifice of comfortable things and a comfortable attitude and this in itself is a deterrent to a higher aim.

However, if the aim is high and one is able to reach it and accomplish something that is truly difficult for that individual, the reward is equally as high. What I mean by reward is not necessarily material or external but rather it is the internal reward that I aim for. The knowledge that I can accomplish a difficult task. That may seem like a simple understanding but what comes with this accomplishment is a molding of one’s character that becomes more disciplined and seeks to work rather than shying away from such a thing. The reason being, higher aims require one to develop and change their character to meet that aim.

These aims then become a higher standard by which you live your life by. The standard which is kept simple and straightforward and easy to understand. This standard is one that involves sacrificing the pleasures of the present in order for the development of a good future. In order to stay firm on this path of sacrificing petty pleasures, one has to be disciplined and equally important, one has to control the thoughts that enter and leave their mind. For negative and pessimistic thoughts lower ones aim. Hence, the standard now involves discipline of action and thought and additionally, an optimistic view that one’s effort will result in a better future and a sense of trust that the sacrifices in the present are worth making. Another standard that is required is a constant attempt to seek the uncomfortable. The reason for this that by staying comfortable, you only change minimally, if you change at all. The comfortable approach is one that is aimed at the low. When you become uncomfortable and attempt something new and difficult, you challenge your mind, which will be coming up with a million different reasons as why you should abandon this cause and stay comfortable, and when you can overcome this, you are able to tame or at the very least, resist the mind, then you come to a realization that this things that you were avoiding, that made you uncomfortable, were not all that bad, this realization opens up the world to you and with it more experiences that result in a fulfiller experience of this finite life.

So, the way I see it is that if you keep your standards low, you will adapt to meet them. If you keep your standards high, you will adapt to meet them as well with effort. However, it is the internal growth that differentiates one adaptation from the other. The internal growth is what is accomplished when that target is high and the aim is constantly readjusted towards this higher target.

Reflections: On Human Nature

Recently I have been studying the First World War and along with this, I have also spent time reading about the atrocities committed in the Second World War, specifically the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust. These conscious human actions have made me think about good or evil and whether or not humans are good. I’ve come to lean away from believing that most humans are fundamentally good and neither do I think they are evil. Rather, they have the capacity to do both, which is in some ways a sad truth but in another, it is a gift because when you do meet a genuinely good human being, it means that person has molded and made themselves good.

We all can commit horrible evil and to do wonderful good. Believing this is unsettling as well because to me this means that a person foundation can be determined by others. It can be swayed to one side or other by how the group is feeling because many people never create their own good or evil, their own limits and restrictions, instead they borrow that from the group they belong too.

What I mean by this is that it was ordinary men, truck drivers, waiters, business owners who participated in the Holocaust. The Japanese soldiers in Nanjing were regular working civilians as well but they still committed those acts. They knowingly committed these acts.  These people were not born like this. I am sure they told jokes and laughed, shared food, acted selflessly towards one another, told each other about their loved ones and about their hopes and dreams and then they committed rape and mass murder and then, those who survived the war, went back to their civilian lives.

It’s almost like this moment of madness in the otherwise neutral way of life. This plain existence on a chart that is disrupted by a sudden uptick and then back to the horizontal line as if the madness that is in us is able to breathe life for a moment. But this moment of madness existed and has always existed in humans. Almost everyone would have been a Nazi and they would have done those acts and the same goes with Japan and Nanjing.

This is no excuse but rather something that is evident of humans. Humans are adaptive. At the end of the day, humans will do whatever it takes to survive and to keep going and if this means to allow the madness inside of them to come out and rage, then so be it and if it means to keep the madness caged and lead a civilian life, then it shall remain caged, for the most part. You see it, madness, peak its head out in civilian life as well but not as much because there are laws to stop that and there is a certain way of life that everyone has agreed upon to live that stops this madness from raging.

But at war, when there is disorder, when it is not reason that leads but rather your appetite, your emotions and feelings that lead you and control you, it is difficult to keep the madness caged and it comes out and when it is unfiltered, you see the evil in man and the evil that has always been in man be unleashed and the consequences of this evil are hard to comprehend. This is compounded when the leader of the group allows the madness to go and even encourages it. Perhaps this is why it is easier for most people to cage off the group and say that something was wrong with that group. Something was wrong with the Nazi’s or the Japanese men at Nanjing but I don’t think they were any different from most people on the planet.

The reason for this is that there is only a small minority of individuals who lead their lives based on their own principles and rules. Most people live life according to the principles and rules set by group so, when those rules change, the individual follows and lives by the new rules but if one sets his or her own rules or principles then the outside does not affect it and by doing so, that individual can be the one to not only say no to killing an innocent child but try to save that child and even give his or her own life to do so.

However, most people don’t have to come to terms with such a thing. Most people live quiet lives where there is no need for the madness that is inside of them and whatever little madness does leak out every so often, it is easy to cage again. Most people then believe themselves to be good or at least lean closer to good rather than evil. They put up these false thoughts that they could never commit horrible evil.

But how do you know this to be true? If you have never faced a circumstance that tests your goodness and presents evilness as a viable choice and a choice that is being made by those around you, how do you know how you will act?

I doubt very much that the ordinary German or Japanese citizen ever thought that in a year or two they would be killing innocent women and children. Yet they did.

So, I think of the good and evil question and I cannot say the human being is either. It is good when it needs to be and it is evil when it needs to be.

Such are we.

Reflections: On “It Never Is As Good As It Can Be Done”

Action involves a level of acceptance that what you are doing is not as good as it can be done. The act of action takes away from the ideal thing that was in your mind and leaves you with something that is an inferior form of that thing. This truth can be unsettling for you still know what it could have been and yet, you have to make peace with what it ended up being.

I struggle with this in my writing all the time. Those perfect sentences or scenes in my head can’t be replicated by the pen. With each word and each sentence, the ideal form of the story changes and by the end of it, the act is in some ways a failure. Failure to create the perfection that only seems to exist in the mind.

Yet, you have to keep acting. The writing still must be done. Next time, you hope to step closer to that ideal vision or the ideal form of the story and you fail again and the time after that take another step closer.

I feel like this is in many ways what my life has been about. Acting on the vision of perfection which becomes more imperfect with each action. However, the opposite of this is not ideal either. Inaction and just dreaming. That will lead you nowhere but where you are right now and I must move forward.

As Rudyard Kipling said in his poem If, “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim”, avoid these complacent acts and you may step closer to becoming a man.

So, there must be action. With that comes the acceptance of imperfection. With imperfection comes the knowledge that you can do better. With this knowledge comes the second act, an action that sets to improve on the previous attempt.

As Kurt Vonnegut puts it, “So it goes”.

Endless attempts to create the forms that don’t exist in this world. You reach into this other world where these forms exist in the hopes of pulling these forms to our world but all you get is torn piece of cloth or fading memory of the form at best and usually, it’s even less. Yet you have a simple understanding something greater exists and you have to make do with this and attempt to create your own perfection.

The quote “it never is as good as it can be done” is not a pessimistic one. It’s optimistic. It says you can get better, to do better, you have improvements to make and it’s a lifelong truth, a companion that stays with you and at the end of it, it gives meaning to life for it makes you live, create and take action.

Reflections: Nietzsche’s “God Is Dead”

Nietzsche first said this in Thus Spoke Zarathustrawhere the character, Zarathustra, descends from the mountains to impart his knowledge on the people that live in the town below. During his descends, he encounters an old man who lives by a faith-based understanding. After his talk with the man, Zarathustra says:

Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!

What does this statement mean?

In order to understand it, one has to first understand the context of the times Nietzsche wrote his book. At the time, scientific knowledge was blossoming. What was unknown was now beginning to be known. What was once attributed to beyond human understanding was being reeled back in and was known through the powers of man’s mind. Along with this, what was still unknown was not readily attached to some higher power but rather, it was starting to be accepted that what is still unknown could be or will be known sometime in the future. That the things that are not known by us are not beyond us but rather, we are capable of knowing them too.

Alongside this, also came the dethronement of man’s special position. The sun did not revolve around us. We revolved around it. Earth was just one of many planets, our galaxy one of many galaxies. Nothing special. Evolution showed us a map of how we came to be the dominant species. We were not chosen. It just how the chips fell.

So, we were not special then why would there be a special God to take care of us after death? If we are just another animal on this planet then why would we have a special God?

This meant that the human foundation upon which man had made his life was beginning to crack. Namely, a faith-based existence that is living for the future.

It is through this, the statement “God is dead” comes to be understood.

Now, what does this mean to me?

God is hope. God is fairness. God is a future. God is the answer to the suffering of life. God is a path.

People come to bear the trials and tribulations of their lives in the hopes that if they lived the proper life, they will then get neverending bliss.

Take this away, what is left?

The individual. You come to understand that there is no future. Only the present. In the book, Nietzsche through Zarathustra speaks a lot of the earth and how man needs to come back to earth and not be shepherded towards some future that does not exist. This means that we, as an individual, need to create his or her own meaning in life.

A meaning that allows for hope. A meaning that is worth the suffering. A meaning that shows you the path through the maze that is life.

There is a freedom in this statement. There is also anxiety because now you have to make a decision. Take responsibility. Cannot defer your life. Cannot lead yourself blindly. Open your eyes and see that life is what you make out of it. The meaning you give to it.

This is my understanding of this statement.

Reflections: Failure to Learn

Learning isn’t necessarily difficult. Any dog owner can attest to the fact that after a couple weeks of persistent training, the dog learns what to do and what not to do. Even lab rats have shown a great capacity to learn and adapt to the demands of new instruction. Then, why is it so difficult to learn as a human? We are conscious, thinking animals who understand what is good for us and what is bad for us and still, the choice is difficult. Other animals can be trained to understand but that instruction can still fail to improve us. Even a child can write a list of good things to do and bad things to avoid and by doing that, showcase a level of understanding that is above that of any other animal, however, as an adult, one cannot help but dip into the bad. Time and time again, the repetition of habits and actions that are controlled by short-term pleasure, by the id according to Freud, short-term pleasure who even the Stoics of ancient times thought to be a troublesome and should be avoided. All these hundreds of years later, it’s still the same fight. Throughout time warning bells against immediate gratification have gone out and even now, just observing the people around you, the people that may be leading lives that you wish not to have for yourself, more often than not, they are lead by that hedonistic need for pleasure in the now.

Knowing all of this, why do you still fail to learn?

A moments thought on your past will bring forth all the times you promised yourself that you will no longer be moved by pleasures demands and that you will stay disciplined towards the larger goal.

A week later or perhaps even a day later you are back promising yourself once more. The failure of will. The failure to change. The failure to learn. However, not a failure to understand for you know even as you commit the act which you have promised yourself not to do, you know even then that you should not be doing it. The guilt or shame that follows after the act is another sign that you understood well enough.

According to philosophers like Heidegger, this shame or guilt comes from the failure to be what you should be. That one has the freedom of choice and you choose the negative, the harmful, the choice that takes you away from the ideal you. When this happens, the action is followed by guilt or shame. A positive to take out of this is that fact that it is a choice. Meaning, you can choose the other option. At least that is the goal.

What to do about this failure? About this guilt?

The famous psychologist, Carl Rogers practiced a technique with the purpose to align the individual’s actual self with his or her ideal self. He believed that incongruency developed in the person when their own self-image was not close to that of their ideal self. In order to develop proper congruency then, the self-image and ideal self have to be similar.

So, a possible solution to the failure to learn issue could be a simple one. Take a piece of paper and write down what your ideal self is. What is the vision of the perfect you and the characteristics that individual has. Then, on the other side of the paper, be honest about yourself and write a list of characteristics that the present you has. Once that is done, keep the paper by your side as a daily reminder or even an hourly reminder if you need that. See what you can be and see what you are and know that ideal you is attainable so that when that bell rings, the call comes to give in, to seek out pleasure right now, you can see that the ideal you would not allow his or her will to break so easily. Even if you are able to delay that immediate gratification for a day that is a win. Most likely, if you are able to delay it for another hour even, that desire to give in will weaken. If you are able to delay it for a whole day then the next day, that gratification bell might not even go off and through this, you can build momentum towards bridging the gap between the ideal you and your current self-image.