Being ourselves and not our goals

In both of these, bolded emphasis is mine:

“Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on… So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything… The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all… We do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors…but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal… Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.”

Hunter S. Thompson, (source)

The key to mitigating these losses of identity is to redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.

“I’m an athlete” becomes “I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge.”

“I’m a great soldier” transforms into “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.

“I’m the CEO” translates to “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.

When chosen effectively, an identity can be flexible rather than brittle. Like water flowing around an obstacle, your identity works with the changing circumstances rather than against them.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Had the strange experience of thinking that Hunter S. Thompson and James Clear might have had a lot to talk about.

Or, at the very least, they’d agree on the idea that it’s not about goals or titles, but about knowing what you’re about.

I made time to meditate

Image of a line graph of time spent meditating from the Timeless meditation app showing an irregular set of peaks and valleys declining over the last six months.

I’ve gotten off track with my meditation practice.

I haven’t felt able to make consistent space for it.

But there was a good reminder for me today of why it’s important to make try.

I was listening to a guided meditation from the Plum Village app—A recording of Thich Nhat Hanh explaining some basic breathing exercises.

He said that taking the time to sit and breathe is a way to enjoy being alive. To enjoy having a body. To smile.

I roll my eyes a little at the Western/productivityist mindset about meditation as a tool for focus and self-improvement, even as I acknowledge that mindset was part of my journey toward mindfulness practice.

This was a necessary lesson about making space for peace for its own sake.

Not to make it easier to answer emails or get more things done or spend more focused time writing and generating new content. Not to strive toward peace like it’s some goal that needs to be checked off your to-do list.

Peace doesn’t have to be something you need to struggle to find.

It can come when you stop struggling.

It’s always on the threshold, waiting on your invitation to enter.

Zero time, but non-zero effort

A Zero Time Habit is a new term I’ve been noodling on. In a nut, a Zero Time Habit is a lifestyle practice that takes ZERO time to do and, in return, it gives you back more time / energy.

Shawn Blanc, “Zero Time Habits”

This concept resonates with me. A lot of the time when I think about building habits or doing things better/more in line with my goals and values, I think about how I need to carve out more time for them.

But what if that’s not always the case?

Perfect example from the original post:

Going to bed on time — this gives you back time and energy in the mornings and throughout your day.

I’ve been struggling with this one recently. I’ll explain through a current Taylor Swift TikTok meme: I have this thing—it’s depression.

If I can get myself into bed at a reasonable hour, I can get up feeling more capable. I can focus with less effort. I can do more things without needing to figure out other strategies or using tactics.

But the thing about this is that it may be a zero time habit, but it’s not zero effort. It requires stopping the habits and cycles that lead to staying up late.

That’s the trick part. That’s where the effort comes in.

Context switching and parenting

Every day when both kids are home from school, I have two small humans competing for my attention.

One has homework questions they need help with, occasional anxieties to be confronted and calmed, and a desire to know what the plan is for the rest of the night. The other needs a snack (but doesn’t know what kind), wants to watch something (but doesn’t know what), and either wants to pretend to be a Star Wars character or ask me 50,000 rapid fire questions about Star Wars.

And I started thinking about how, exactly, I wind up so tired right before dinner every weekday. Which lead me to remembering about partial attention and context switching.

In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything.  We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.  We’re talking on the phone and driving.  We’re writing an email and participating in a conference call.  We’re carrying on a conversation at dinner and texting under the table on the Blackberry or iPhone.

Continuous partial attention also describes a state in which attention is on a priority or primary task, while, at the same time, scanning for other people, activities, or opportunities, and replacing the primary task with something that seems, in this next moment, more important.  When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel.  Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.

Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert.  We are demanding multiple cognitively complex actions from ourselves.  We are reaching to keep a top priority in focus, while, at the same time, scanning the periphery to see if we are missing other opportunities.  If we are, our very fickle attention shifts focus.  What’s ringing? Who is it?  How many emails? What’s on my list?  What time is it in Bangalore?

In this state of always-on crisis, our adrenalized “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in.  This is great when we’re being chased by tigers. How many of those 500 emails a day is a TIGER?  How many are flies? Is everything an emergency?

Linda Stone, Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention

Something that came up again and again when I was researching my book on this topic, is that switching your attention — even if only for a minute or two — can significantly impede your cognitive function for a long time to follow.

More bluntly: context switches gunk up your brain.

Cal Newport, Deep Habits: The Danger of Pseudo-Depth

I want to be there for my kids, and actively engaged with them in the moment. But they also both want 100% of my attention at the same time right after school.

It’s a concentrated burst of continuous partial attention that may not last long, but definitely triggers that fight or flight response in me. I usually need a few minutes at some point to clear the brain fog.

But maybe by putting a name to it and looking more closely at how it’s happening, I can start to navigate better solutions.

Not Dark Yet (Not even a little bit)

With getting back into albums, today I sat down with the new expanded release of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind.

I listened to this album a lot in high school. It came out around the time I got my first guitars, so I was downloading chords and tabs to play along with it.

At the time, I thought of it as an album about an older artist grappling with mortality. Dylan was only in his mid-50s when he made this album. He’s still recording and performing 25+ years later, so I’m going to chalk that mindset up to a teenage misunderstanding of what old means.

Listening to it now, I remember most of the lyrics. It still invites slipping into the grooves of the songs like gliding along a rain-slicked stretch of highway in the middle of the night, miles from city lights.

Lyrically it feels like the space between moments:

  • I’m sick of love / That’ I’m in the thick of it / This kind of love / I’m so sick of it
  • It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
  • I could offer you a warm embrace / to make you feel my love
  • I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
  • Last night I danced with a stranger / But she just reminded me you were the one / You left me standing in the doorway cryin’

Liminal spaces. Ghosts of feelings haunting the narrator. Discomfort with the pace of life.

Now it feels less like a conclusion and more of a transition. An uncomfortable middle ground where things aren’t like they used to be and haven’t become something else yet.

And maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’ll have another opinion in 20-some more years.