Tiny Habits

We often think of habits as things to be perceived at the macro level, across long stretches of time. Rarely do we perceive the minuscule actions and thoughts that work in tandem to create what we perceive as a habit.

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“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Take something as simple as coming home and immediately positioning ourselves in front of a screen for a comforting dose of entertainment.

The action of sitting and switching on the screen is only the last in a long chain of small decisions and allowances that have been made according to previously established and unquestioned patterns.

Perhaps one has a habit of mulling over all future responsibilities on the commute home, whilst listening to radio advertisements that remind the mind of a particular snack’s deliciousness.  This results in a pattern of stress that makes a run to the fridge the only natural action upon arriving at home, and the pleasure of entertainment the only way to drown out an overwhelming stream of disorganized worry.

These tiny actions and thought patterns can be easily observed in the early morning: our minds tend to default to a familiar set of mental images and emotions upon waking. These prime the next set, and those the next, and so on and so forth.

The term ‘autopilot’ is often used, but it fails to convey that autopilot systems are the result of thousands of tiny adjustments, decisions, and calculations that result in a predictable pattern of behavior.

This is why meditation is so powerful. By observing our thoughts for a mere hour, we can see the wellspring from which all of our mistakes, failures, and disappointments come. We can see the reason why day after day, year after year, things remain the same, and problems come and go like so many lights on the highway, each just like the last, stretching out behind us and into the horizon.

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.

 

 

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.