Decisions and Habits

I’m building new habits to meet new goals.

My friend Rob sent me a link to Dan Luu’s post about writing and said, “dunno if you still have an interest in blogging, but I’m like 40% through [] and it’s really good (like most of Dan’s stuff)”

What struck me was Rob’s implicit, not-quite-accurate, but nonetheless incisive instinct that I had intentionally set aside blogging. At this point my most recent post was posted over 6 months ago. I intentionally do not have a schedule for blog posts, but what Rob said got me thinking…

🔗 A Hard Year

It’s been a pretty difficult year for me. I won’t go into the details here; if you want the play-by-play, ask me and I’ll tell you, but probably not in writing, at least not for a few years. Abstractly I will say that the hardest thing for me for the past year has been allowing myself to indulge in a kind of negative thinking where I would vilify people for the decisions they were making.

This not only meant I couldn’t have productive conversations or learn from these people, but more importantly it meant that my attitude was such that almost anything I did felt pointless. This inevitably came through when I’d be interacting with other people, poisoning anything I’d touch. On top of that, it absolutely killed my motivation.

I have ADHD but it’s pretty well managed from living with it productively for decades. But ADHD often means pushing hard to do basic tasks that are boring. When it felt like those basic tasks were also worthless it meant that I was basically paralyzed and ineffective at nearly everything.

At one point I had a stunning moment of clarity. I realized I was choosing to foster these feelings of resentment, these grudges. I don’t want to close my eyes and assume other people are perfectly trustworthy, but there is a useful middle ground between total distrust and absolute trust. I want to point out that this moment started with a conversation where I saw my own bizarre perspective, and then seeing evidence of my perspective being wrong, and then a lot of reflection. It took a total of 3 weeks to fully untangle my thinking.

Since becoming more lucid to my own situation many things have improved. Obviously my attitude and my productivity have gotten better. My outlook on the future has improved as well. But I’m not at my destination yet.

🔗 Bad Habits

Like basically all people, I am a creature of habit. Since COVID-19 really hit us (Friday the 13th in March of 2020 for me) I’ve accumulated plenty of habits and neglected many others. I remember that first Monday after lockdown started; I couldn’t bring myself to exercise. What was the harm in letting things slide a little bit while in the midst of a global pandemic?

Many of the productive habits I’d cultivated over years (writing, thoughtful time management, exercise, joyful side projects) fell to the wayside. Some part of this was natural, though counterproductive, coping with a hard situation. But another part of it was a willful rebellion, a self-spite that came from a place of anger, grudges, and bitter vitriol against other people.

I think that was the worst of it: getting into a habit of seeing other people as antagonists. Your perspective in life is basically a mental habit. Getting back into the habit of seeing the best in other people, and seeing them for who they are (actual human beings who are valuable and worth knowing, interacting with, etc) rather than the 2-D caricature that my selfish mind wants to turn them into is work, but it’s worth doing.

Part of how I couch this to myself is that seeing people as who they really are is a productivity play; it’s a means to getting back to the effective self that I want to be. But really, it’s far more important to value people correctly than it is to get stuff done. If the side effect is productivity or happiness that’s great, but honestly my productivity will be long forgotten in some tens of years anyway.

🔗 Productive Habits

Here are some habits I’ve had that have been especially productive:

These all produce real output. The tricky fact is, every time I build a productive habit, I eventually end up with a startling realization that while I am producing something, that something may have little or no value, or be unaligned with my ultimate goals.

In this manner habits are a kind of double edged sword. Often habits can be effective or productive, and they can definitely be bad, but it’s rare that they can be universally good. For everything there’s a season, and sometimes you need to make good habits, and sometimes you need to get rid of those habits and re-evaluate.

🔗 Decisions

In the past I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better to make decisions before each action. Habits disable your brain and that means making progress on something that may not be worth doing. The problem is, I don’t have the willpower to make decisions before each action.

If I want to do something, my best bet is to make a plan and then execute on that plan, as a habit, for weeks, months, or years on end.

There was a time when my implicit goal was to make a name for myself in Open Source; in my own small way I would say that was successful. I have since become disenchanted with much of the Open Source ecosystem, culture, and motivations. That’s fine! I have made an explicit decision not to invest in Open Source as a matter of course and instead to spend my time on other things.

Given all of the above, I want to consider habits that I need to stop, habits that are working for me, goals I want to pick up, and habits that will help with those goals. I’m not going to publish all of that here. I do want to publicly say that I have two main goals:

  1. Publish and market at least two products for sale on Gumroad
  2. Spend a chunk of time each week iterating on those products or other, future products.

I admit that this is a strange turn for this discussion to take, but ultimately I want to be more principled about what habits I build, and that means considering my destination (or really a couple way-points on the path) first.

If you’re interested in any of the above, I have a product published on Gumroad already, but it’s still much more barebones than I’d rather.

Posted Mon, Dec 20, 2021

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