Creatures of habit
What do you do when you feel unhappy about your station in life?
When you feel like things just aren’t lining up the way you thought they would?
For me, sometimes I write.
The stuff I write is awkward. It’s personal, self-centered. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to share over beers with friends. But it needs to get _out of my head _all the same.
This practice has two benefits. One, you instantly feel better. Two, your words become breadcrumbs. Sign posts. They remind you where you’ve been before, and sometimes even why.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling burnt out, listless, lonely.
I’d felt a similar way about a year ago, to the day. Depressive deja-vu.
How did I know that? Because I’d written about it, in a private journal entry. I’d stumbled onto my own breadcrumb.
I quickly found the file, a google doc.
It was shocking, and upsetting to read. I wrote about every insecurity I had, missed opportunities, some trivial, some significant. It’s a rousing pep talk by a guy with major self-loathing, and social anxiety. A lot of moaning and complaining for someone who doesn’t have any actual problems in their life. To be honest, it’s embarrassing.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” - Alain de Botton
I’ve changed in many ways, since that day. But some environmental things and habits have not. These are the patterns I look for.
Humans like routines. We have our addictions, “the elements of our true nature…that enslave you”.
Writer Way Spurr-Chen sums this idea up neatly: “I believe that we all have a psychological center - an emotional default from which we live our lives. It is the version of our selves that we settle on most often, and who we generally conceptualize ourselves as.”
He continues, “your center is not necessarily the best or most optimal “place” for you so much as it is the most comfortable one. Your center might involve drinking, watching Netflix, and ordering in more than you should, but it’s familiar and you know exactly how to operate in this space.”
In both occasions, I was comfortable, since I was reading, writing and coding, rather than playing a musical instrument in front of audience (something that would be painful and unusual for me).
But I was also alone, without friends or family, and deeply locked into an old, familiar experience. I was stuck in my head. And that’s a problem.
Moving from the problem space to the solution space, I can think of a few ideas to avoid returning to my center like an anxious homing pigeon.
I need to ask, what feels unfamiliar to me?
The following activities, behaviors and experiences fit the bill. They are draining - since they are uncomfortable, but also weirdly energizing.
Busyness. When I’m busy my brain is put to use. When I’m busy I feel like my actions speed up to match my thoughts.
Aggression. Well, not aggression but I can’t think of the right word. Whenever I have to go on the offensive, be assertive, compete, show off, outsmart etc.
Risk & Adrenaline. I’ve written previously about my aversion to risk and how I like to ‘play dead’ financially. Risk can come from spending money, taking a trip, saying yes to something unknown. What Taleb would call skin in the game.
In many ways, these traits complete a picture of my shadow self (very Type-A).
The more time I spend in situations with intense conflict, risk, competition and action, and less time indulging in my own creative expression (yes I know Im writing a blog post..), the healthier.