2019-10-03 Abstract Explanations

There’s a well-forgotten movie that came out approximately March 19th, 1979 called The China Syndrome. Near the end of the movie, the nuclear plant manager is supposed to communicate an important fact to the public that pivots the story’s plot. He’s stuck trying to convert more than a decade of esoteric nuclear experience into simple terms. The situation doesn’t end well for him.

finger to head in a gun symbol

I’ve come to believe that if you can’t explain something to a child, you don’t really understand it. Of course, that means that we tend to believe plenty of realities without really knowing them. In my case, I’m having trouble understanding what I did for a whole month.

What I did

Overwhelming things in this life can usually be sub-divided. In fact, most of the time they should! The very essence of 99% of productivity systems ends up being:

  1. Get all the stuff captured into something outside your brain(s)
  2. Get that stuff organized into a logical flow
  3. Chop up the stuff into bite-sized pieces
  4. Assign those pieces into the very near future (and to specific people if it’s a team)
  5. If any pieces are too big, chop them up again

To practice what I preach, I have done the following since the past post:

  1. Gathered about 5,600 items into an enormous To-Do list in Microsoft Excel that encapsulated:
    1. Files I’ve saved for various reasons (use dir/b/s>blah.txt in the Windows CLI to make it easy!)
    2. Hacker News articles I’ve saved and want to learn someday
    3. CS courses I should take to understand the industry
    4. Books I want to read someday
    5. Books I ought to read soon
    6. Ideas of projects I want to build and things I want to create
    7. Plans and estimated tasks in the future when I buy a house, invest, etc.
  2. Created reports to process that data into not-that-meaningful and barely actionable solutions
    1. Counting up each category
    2. Estimated costs of each project
    3. Estimated times of each task
    4. Totals for everything
    5. Groupings estimating deadlines and projections using the time data to estimate how likely I’d get those tasks done
  3. Realized in an epiphany that I was over-complicating a vastly simple situation
    1. My “pile of things to do” was commingled with my “pile of things I’d like to do sometime” and my “pile of things I’ll likely do, but not right now”.
    2. To get to the 2nd and 3rd piles, I have to get through the 1st one.
  4. Threw out all the calculated numbers except the counts and rebuilt everything into a motivation-based system:
    1. “Make” pile (739 items) that requires vested creative effort with the purpose of benefiting someone else
    2. “Learn-Make” pile (570 items) that’s making things just so I can learn
    3. “Learn-Consume” (593 items) that’s mostly reading and watching with the purpose of internalizing information
    4. “Learn-Consume(Non-Essential)” (1265 items) that I want to do to improve, but not crucial for career development
    5. “Recreation” (2930 items) consisting of gobs of fun stuff

What I’m doing

As it stands, I’m now vacillating between only three major projects as my fickleness dictates:

What’s happened to me

This past month has also had tremendous life changes:

  • One of my vehicles was broken into and looted clean
  • My wife is certified pregnant with our second child
  • My spouse and I have disavowed my biological family
  • I’ve experienced my first paid vacation and went camping

About 2 life events more than the average this month, it seems.

What I’ve learned

My thought life has also experienced a shift. I’ve been considering how to think slower after reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s remarkable how many ideas we plow through without considering their implications!

I’ve also been slowly reading through The Power of Habit with my spouse. It’s been revelating. Our habits form into a simple abstraction:

  1. Trigger that starts off the habit
  2. Method designed to gain the reward
  3. Reward that we perceive that we want

Most people try to reprogram themselves or others by attacking the trigger (e.g., safe spaces) or use a method that has no reward or a different reward (e.g., going cold turkey).

Further, in the same way that a computer is abstractions on top of abstractions, habit methods are technically habits themselves:

  1. Trigger
  2. Method encompassing:
    1. Trigger 1
    2. Method 1
    3. Reward 1 that leads to Trigger 2
    4. Method 2
    5. Reward 2 that leads to Trigger 3, etc.
  3. Reward

We tend to reprogram our methods to attain the rewards we want, but we rarely change what our rewards are. Addicts are notoriously bad at this, and will often cycle through multiple substances to achieve that same reward (freedom of pain, escape from problems, or a similar thing).

These rewards are referencing a core component of our existence as people. We need those rewards. Often, the habit pattern comes from us presuming that that method is the most reliable way to attain the thing we want.

The secret to wellness is to change the definitions of the reward. To use alcohol as an example, everyone loves being free of pain, but nobody likes the inevitable hangover the next day. If we consider other ways to gain that freedom from pain (AA advocates releasing it to God, for example) then we open up our possibilities dramatically to create new habits that we’ll actually stick to.

Anyway, I guess that’s it for this month! Subscribe to find out things as they happen here.