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tl;dr: if you pay attention to your day you can find what you
So if you start something you have an idea of what you’re trying to do.
But often times that’s the easy part. What if you have no idea what you want to do in the first place and not sure where to start? Ever finished a show on Netflix and had that existential crisis of “well that’s over. What do I watch now?” where you start about what you want to do next, but then spirals into a look at what you should be doing next in life? You tell yourself you know exactly what you need to do, if only you knew what you wanted to do – but have no idea where to start. So instead you save yourself the stress and torment and re-watch a few episodes of The Office. This pretty much used to be my evenings in a nutshell.
Being overwhelmed by decisions, or even the fear of being overwhelmed, may often push you to ephemeral comforts which are fleeting and wholly unproductive. So how do you decide what to do? As we’ve already seen, feeling good is a powerful motivator so look for things that you feel good about and enjoy. To find out what things might help you feel this way, you’ll need to think about yourself and your day a bit, which is good news since we’re all a bit narcissistic and love to think about the one thing we’re the best in the world at thinking about: ourselves.
What did you do today?
Well; I woke up, used my foam roller, drank some juice, took a shower, biked to work, worked, biked home, napped, watched Netflix, wrote most of this post, met up with friends after dinner, then came home and slept. Pretty much everything on that list is something I enjoyed, felt good about, and I was excited to do, and felt good about doing. But that’s today.
In the past I would barely do half of that, and would feel guilty while watching TV when I had a vague desire to do something productive but didn’t know what. What changed this was based on thinking about what I was already doing for guidance.
Look at your routine
Even if you don’t plan it – we all have routines
Do you have a routine when you get home? Take a second and think of what that entailed. If you watch a specific show or type of show, take note. And above all – be honest to yourself. Especially if you’re ashamed to call it your routine.
To understand yourself you’ll need to be honest and not judge yourself. You may have an ideal routine, which is good, but you need to know where you’re starting from, else you’re making a decision with only part of the information. It helps incredibly to know both sides of the argument so you can differentiate what you want to do from what you’re actually doing. You may think you do an hour of exercise, but in reality it‘s a lot more Netflix. If you just lie down and feel the need to detox from the world, think about that. No regularity and you just do the first thing that comes to mind every time? Think about that.
STOP. Take a deep breath. Breathe out. Now keep reading.
This shouldn’t be a stressful exercise but more of a nudge to think about things when you can. Stopping to break your thought flow can help you start the next step of analyzing.
Analyze your routine
Key Questions to ask yourself:
- What show do you default to when you’re bored?
- Why do you enjoy your type of show?
- How does that play into the rest of your day?
- What parts of your day do you enjoy?
- Why you do you you enjoy them?
- What do you tend towards doing and thinking about?
- How do you order your time when you’re free?
- Why do you order your time like that?
- Why do you enjoy X (The Office, running, eating) thing for relaxing?
What you’re looking for is 1. what you really do and 2. why. Why do you enjoy what you enjoy, and can you find other things that give you that same feeling, motivation, and satisfaction?
I thought about why I watch hours of gaming videos on Youtube, and realized I enjoy a narrative, comedy, and learning about things I can imagine doing myself. Those traits were the basis of how I ended up kicking off this year as a Creator, and have explored multiple mediums to see what I enjoy, and can do well. I enjoy the hell out of it, and am still continuing with it to this day (case in point – this blog).
Positive catharsis – what do you like to do and what do you enjoy?
The key is to find what you enjoy doing and try to think why. Enjoy cooking shows? Maybe it’s because you enjoy the food, or the competition, or the ultimate resolution each episode which coincides with tasty-looking food. Enjoy talking to people on the phone? Maybe it’s because you enjoy being socially in-the-know or the center of a group? Maybe it’s because you need it to have mental relief by sharing your problems and enlisting your friend as a social support.
I can’t tell you what you like or why – only you can figure that out. It’s not easy, and you may not get it right at first, but starting and sticking with the process can push you to learn more about yourself and help you find what you really enjoy and why.
Leverage your laziness: Auto-Optimization
‘Lazy You’ and ‘Productive You’ are just two of the states that make you who you are. Even when you’re trying to figure out how to get out of doing things and relax you still use the same preferences, habits, and mental structures to think and decide. If you ignore any of them, then you’re only working with a part of the data and will never be able to really learn how to motivate or focus yourself.
When you are looking at your routines and habits, you have to be cognizant of all of them – good and bad. That’s how you figure out what’s going on under the hood and how you can leverage and control it. I believe we all try to optimize for certain experiences and feelings in our life (e.g. feeling dominant, feeling in control, feeling socially productive etc.) that drive both our conscious actions and unconscious habits. We auto-optimize for what we’re trying to work towards, so understanding and identifying what you’re working towards is the first step in hacking those habits (i.e. persistent laziness for me).
I’m not saying that what you’re meant to do in life is just watch reruns of Friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from knowing that you enjoy it and find yourself drawn to it even when not thinking.
Now you have the basis of how to look at yourself and think about what you enjoy. We still have a long way to go, but hopefully the process itself of figuring this out will be enjoyable enough to repeat and continue it over time.
And now we get to talk about experiences.