Productivity vs. Chaos

Productive use of one’s time is perhaps the primary goal of adult life in our society, yet we find it more difficult than ever to define what productivity actually is. 

Often we act under the assumption that productivity is simply whatever makes us feel productive, though that sort of circular logic fails in that its efficacy is not measured by way of an external result.

It seems to me the simplest, most helpful definition is:

Activities can be regarded as productive in so far that they bring about the desired result.

So is productivity than our true North, the thing by which our lives should be organized?

The answer to that question is contingent on your own trust of the human mind’s ability to determine what is actually worth pursuing.

If the desired results are destructive, can the activities that led to them be considered productive?

Alas, it seems we’ve fallen into a semantic game. The truth of the matter is, your own awareness is all that you can know to exist, and the only thing by which all else is measured. If you cannot trust your rational mind, you trust nothing at all.

Results are generated by right behaviors, and right behaviors are determined by analysis of previous results, which in turn are the data by which we can design systems to achieve desired results.

Easier said than done, though we may still take comfort that paths to success can be defined so simply.

Systems thinking may be our best defense against the chaotic world around us, and the disordered states of mind that arise as our ego scrambles to protect itself.

 

 

The Victim Mentality

What utility is there in identifying as a victim?

Perhaps it could help you be rid of guilt at having suffered at the hands of something truly beyond your control.

Or it could help you cultivate resentment at the thing which victimized you, in order to better focus your efforts on resistance.

But at what cost?

To be a victim is to be defeated and without agency, and occasionally, that truly is the state you’re in.

If someone threatens you with violence and demands your money, for the duration of that interaction, you are a victim.

But two weeks later, when the gun and the criminal are nowhere near you, are you still a victim?

You are if you choose to be.

All your problems can be blamed on the attacker, every financial woe, every insecurity, it can all be that guy’s fault. If not for the mugger, you would have had the money to do so and so, and then something great would have happened, and then you wouldn’t be in such a sorry state.

Is that narrative true?

If you believe it.

But perhaps you were walking somewhere when you obviously shouldn’t have been, and the entire situation could have been avoided if you had possessed better situational awareness.

That’s a difficult narrative to digest. Condemning. Unsympathetic.

But if that is the story, the power lies in your hands. Not the attackers.

Because the truth is, we identify as victims because it allows us to narrow our own influence in an attempt to shirk responsibility for the chaotic world around us.

Victims exchange power and responsibility for the illusion of safety and innocence in the wake of their missteps.

Is that an appealing trade?

Life on Autopilot

Every organism aims at achieving maximum results with minimum energy expenditure.

Humans alone are presented with a conscious choice regarding how much energy they use in a day. Any individual can decide to spend many hours a day in vigorous exercise of the mind or body, or else in sloth and complacency with external forces. Few choose the former, but the ones who do often spend several years in a state of discomfort before achieving an exponential growth in available resources.

Many have marveled at the achievements of such “non-conformists” and attributed their success to a cultivated defiance of what is often called “autopilot” as if the high achieving outliers in our society live in a state of constant resistance to the overwhelming social pressures all around them.

What an exhausting existence that would be.

Rather, our capacity for “autopilot” is as useful to the art of living as it is to landing an aircraft. Every commercial airliner today still uses highly trained human pilots because rigid, structured systems of control are best used in tangent with a highly responsive, creative element. Such it is with our unconscious patterns of behavior, which we in large part control through the decisions of our conscious minds.

The key is not in discarding unconscious patterns altogether, but rather in selecting those patterns after conscious, disciplined consideration of your own goals and predilections.

 

 

The Persistence of Memory

Memories are weak materials in the process by which we construct our personalities.

If you wanted to construct a castle to withstand seige, would you use bricks of ice?

Would you build on shifting ground?

Better to let the ice melt and use the water for idle entertainent.

Memory would be a fine material indeed if we could trust ourselves to derive reasonable, self affirming meaning from the past. Unfortunatley, the process of evolution has rendered us excellent recollectors of the terrible, and it is usually by fear and pain that the past holds precenence in our minds.

We must be careful not to become hoarders of the past.

And just like those who hoard physical objects, the process of accumulation begins innocently enough. We keep happy memories as if they were trophies and diplomas hung up on the wall, there for us to glance at when the chaos becomes unbearable and say “Yes. Thats me!” Other memories we keep because we believe they might be useful. That there might be meaning and experience left to gain from them.  Like old newspapers, they sit inside us unread, outdated, and collecting dust.

I read a story once about a hoarder who became trapped in her house, the stacks of newspaper having grown so high and so plentiful.

Theres a reason newspapers are sold for profit one day, and used to pack meat the next.

Their utility is in relevancy and timeliness.

But we cherish the old memories anyway, either addicted to our own victimhood and in need of reaffirmation of that identity, or else hoping for the sad, strange high that nostalgia gives.

In strange contradiction to our tendency to best remember particularly sharp instances of pain or fear, in remembering periods that make up a category of many consecutive memories, we look back fondly on what in the moment was misery.

High School is a common nostalgia trap. Our minds somehow trick us into believing the structure and order enforced by the institution were somehow the bedrock of a kind of constrained freedom more rewarding than anything we experience in adulthood.

All of this stands in perverse contrast to the rather self evident principle by which all good lives are organized:

That the future be an improvement on the present through our actions in the now.

Of course, to create a better future, you will say we must reflect upon our mistakes in the past.

Yes.

But once you’ve read the newspaper, for gods sake throw it away.

 

The Good News

The good news is this isn’t some random mass of atoms, arranged by chance, without moral or logical consideration.

The other good news is that the previous statement is substantiated by scientific research.

The Universe, and more specifically at the level pertaining to Earth, Biology, is constrained by principles that become apparent at any non-quantum level of analysis. We look at fossils and wonder why every skeleton, from the smallest mouse to the largest whale looks so strangely similar.

We look at neurons, rivers, veins, and insect architecture, seeing the same patterns again and again.

That’s all well and good. But how does it help us in our daily lives?

The human mind is as much part of the Universe as a river and as the billions of neurons that are its collective components. Thus it too behaves according to metaphysical principles, though due to our pesky friend free will, we have some choice in the matter. The principles are not obvious, though we submit to them no matter our personal attitudes. But the human mind has the privilege of being able to fool itself. We trick ourselves into perceived positions of power, depression, anxiety, and frustration. Rarely in this day and age do we simply trust our biology and act without considerations for the ego and our cherished self-conceptions.

When lacking any sense of destiny or purpose, it’s best to trust in your ancestors. Each and every one of us come from a long line of competent, reproductively successful humans,  and before that, organisms of all kinds. Do you really think that was some sort of a coincidence or a mistake? By any measure, we are the best designed, most complex, best-equipped organisms on the planet. What good does it do us to wallow inside our heads, imagining potential futures, past failures, and present insecurities? What good would it do a termite? A chimpanzee? None at all. The termite builds, the chimpanzee gathers, the human innovates. Of course, this doe

None at all. The termite builds, the chimpanzee gathers, the human innovates. Of course, this doe

The termite builds, the chimpanzee gathers, the human innovates. All the tools are already inside your head. How much time have you wasted looking for them? How many days have been spent in idle regret or fantasy? And how many of those days are rationalized as “intellectual endeavors”?

We are animals. Animals with a brain so large and complex it can never hope to comprehend itself. So stop trying, and act.

 

Self Acceptance vs. Self Improvement

How can one balance self acceptance with self improvement?

Our egos tell us that without focusing on our faults and shortcomings, improvements to our character can never be made.

But that depressing conclusion is only valid when we forget an incredibly important distinction:

 

We wield direct control only over our behavior, not over our thought process. Trying to stamp out every unwanted thought is as hopeless as fighting Hydra; as soon as one head is cut off, another appears. It’s a hopeless, frustrating, self-defeating battle.

Attempting to fight off an emotion as it arises is akin to time travel, because to truly prevent an emotion, you would have to eliminate the pre-existing mental conditions that allowed the emotion to arise. But we aren’t time travelers. Our awareness exists only in the present moment. When the emotion is there, its there. Every moment we spend wrestling with it only strengthens and lengthens its life span.

But as rational adults, we have a responsibility, a right, and a moral imperative to control our own behavior. A thought or a feeling that impels us to hurt someone need not be acted out. We’ve all felt that before, and by some method prevented ourselves from enacting the emotion. It is this capacity to regulate what internal conditions are expressed in the external world that “self improvement” helps us to cultivate. Through that ability to control our own actions, we create conditions that help us to experience favorable emotions and healthy thought patterns.

This combination of behavioral regulation with the improvement of external conditions acts upon the principle of compounding interest. As one gets better, the other in turns improves by a greater degree, and so on until incredible, almost unthinkable things are achieved.

Accept what your mind is at the present moment. No fight against yourself can ever end in victory. Only by right action can external conditions improve, an only by observance of external conditions can right actions be defined.

As for the internal…

Observe the good thoughts and the bad. Watch what frightens you as well as what gives you hope.

What is the difference between them?

Where do they go once you’ve already thought them?

And if you’re the one observing, who do those thoughts belong to?

Ownership is Illusion

Ownership is a game we play.

And like any other game, a glance outside of the game board breaks the illusion’s grasp on us. Consciousness of our own deaths reveal ownership as what is is; the fleeting and largely arbitrary positions of objects in the world we have conceptualized.

When looked at any scale besides that of a projected human lifetime (funny how we always project our own so far out!) the idea of possession, and the necessary ego identification it requires, is ridiculous.

The mansion is to the millionaire what the electron is to the atom.

It will not be held long. Soon it will vanish, on to another position. And even stranger; at a closer level of analysis, can the mansion be said to exist? Can the electron?

But to reject all objets and live as a hermit is far too easy a way out. That is merely trading one identity for another. More than likely, the hermits lack of objects will be clung to and identified with to the same degree as the mansion.

So what then? What do we have to do?

To live our lives with awareness that ownership is only a game. The objects around us have nothing to do with who we are. Here today, gone tomorrow. To lend out even an ounce of your soul in identification with an object is to cheapen your being, and devalue your life.

For what will you be when the possessions go away?

What will your possessions be once you’re gone?

Atoms sitting in empty rooms, I suppose. Not even there when no one’s looking.

And as for you; who knows?

But you will not be here, on this plane, in any condition to own things.

Not that you ever were.

Ownership is an illusion. A game.

Feel free to play. Enjoy without expecting victory. Because death waits at the end to collect all points, all trophies. Everything turns to dust.

But you can smile, if you knew all along that they were dust to begin with.