The Astounding Power Of Doing Some Things Right Some Of The Time

I’m not perfect. Far from it. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d qualify as average in many areas(though I’m starting suspect that this isn’t really a bad thing). But to achieve something you want to in your life, it turns out that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be making all the right decisions, all of the time. Or even spend your time right when you do decide to spend it towards your goal.

Sometimes, all it takes for change to happen is to do some things right, some of the time, and keep at it for a long time.

Even after I decided to change, I spent a lot of time worrying about how difficult it would be, or whether or not it would be possible at all for “someone like me”. But some of the time, I did some things right. Things added up, and I’ve been able to change both myself and the reality I find myself in, in big ways.

As far as freelancing goes, basically a couple of thrown-together pitches along with my on-and-off daily writing practice got me to a level where I will likely not have to scramble for work unless unfortunate events leave me suddenly strapped for cash.

I mean, I should have probably realized this a long time ago, when I almost off-handedly lost 70 pounds over the course of a year, while according to my parents all I was doing was “lying in bed, magically shedding the weight”. When in reality, it was the collective results of many different small things that I did right, compounded over the entire year. I chose to ate more protein and fiber. I opted to walk where I would usually take the bus or hitch a ride. I stopped drinking soda/eating sweets/chips outside of weekends.

All these small things came together and left my physical body completely different. It would make sense if you could replicate this with similar results when it comes to things like self-perception and mindset.

But let’s get back to the present.In some ways it feels like I haven’t changed at all, but as a whole I am now a far shot away from the workophobic, borderline suicidal, not-exactly-proud-of-living-at-home-with-parents-at-22 kind of guy that I was almost a year ago. Not only have a lot of the actual cells that make up my physical body changed, but perhaps more importantly, my own perception of myself has changed significantly. On the work side of things, while I might not have a “job”, I am now able to sustain myself completely from freelance income, something that was achieved in coordination with significantly improving my spending habits, and of course.. moving far, far away from Norway. (Maybe something like hell on earth for anyone who wants to start freelancing from scratch… unless it’s somehow related to the oil sector.)

You don’t have to get everything right before you start. And you don’t even have to spend all your time doing it… hell, you don’t even have to believe in yourself. But if you make a choice to commit to it some of the time, for a long time, you will be surprised how far it can take you.

Unintentional Bad Influences And Bad Habits That Should Be Left Behind

During a recent stay in Laos, spent mostly coped up in my air conditioned hotel room, I skyped and caught up with an old friend. As a result of that conversation, I started playing an MMORPG again, initially with the intentions of just playing socially, when he was online, as a way of hanging out across continents.

The funny thing is, I was already aware of what was likely going to happen. I was apprehensive because I worried that I would get sucked into that world again, and play almost non-stop for a few weeks, letting cloud my vision about what I should actually be concerned with at the moment. Bad habits are truly hard to kick.

Now, two weeks later, while I definitely managed to function at a higher level than a few years ago, I have to admit that I probably made the wrong decision.

While he might have been a bad influence at the time, it’s not like he has any ill will towards me. Bad influences are not always intentionally bad. My friend is a University student, and is in the middle of a summer break, and from the way I usually explain my working habits, he probably assumed that I was basically in the same position as him, or similar enough that no harm would be done.

Even though theoretically I often find myself with free time, given what I do, I spend a lot of it reading, seemingly aimlessly, and thinking, with a bit more purpose. From this “free time” is more often than not, where my ideas for writing come from, and spending a lot of it on a game has turned out to be more than just a time sink. It’s been an idea sink as well.

It also makes every ”real life” obligation seem that much more tedious. And over the course of a few weeks, it’s definitely taken a toll on my patience, and general demeanor. While I’m by no means happy mr. sunshine normally, I’ve noticed more sudden outbursts, a lower threshold to become annoyed, and even angry.

I don’t think online gaming is an abject evil, but I do think it’s far too easy to spend far too much time on it. Unless your goal is to make a career out of it (as is proving more and more possible, you don’t even have to be a pro gamer anymore as long as you can be entertaining) it is arguably, largely a waste of time. People will mention how FPS games improve their reflexes, their impromptu decision making skills, and their team coordination, but imagine what kind of skills you could develop if you spent even 50% of the time actually learning something. I know I would be speaking an additional language fluently by now. Or I might be miles ahead of where I am now when it comes to writing.

I think that there’s a time and place for gaming excessively, and that is while you’re still in school, with your life supported by someone else. When you’re out in the world, “trying to make it”, or just trying to make ends meet, it’s hard to make room for gaming without suffering in other departments. Of course if I had a more normal job, perhaps I would be all too happy to game my free time away, to escape from the boredom.

But at this moment, I’m all too aware that my free time has too many possibilities for me to spend a huge chunk of it on a computer game. After all, it was spending just a small chunk of that time right that has enabled me to get to this point.

The one useful thing I noticed about having a seemingly useless interest or passion, is that you can use it to circumvent Parkinson’s law. If you set a specific goal for any given day, you have an incentive to finish it quickly, leaving time for said interest or passion. So now if I become passionate about something with, say, health benefits instead, like martial arts, then I would be truly on the right path.

But thankfully, just as bad influences can be unintentional, good influences can be too. I woke up to an email about some writings I had submitted for review, and the news that one of my articles from last week having been published, so instead of defaulting to starting my day with the game, again, I’m starting my day with work. And to turn the tide, I will make sure that this is how I start my day, every day.

At the end of the day, I’m not with the camp that claims your best choice is to completely cut ties with old friends who could possibly be bad influences forever(unless they are intentionally being bad influences, or your health/well-being is at risk through their influence). I think that the goal is to become so rooted in your best self that you are impervious to such influences, and instead become a good influence on those friends. Although I concede that there’s exceptions, and that during a period of time when you’re struggling hard to get better, when your rebound risk is high, you’re probably better off avoiding people who might tip you over the wrong edge.

If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder. That if your gut tells you that doing something is a bad idea, even if your friend is encouraging you, just stick with your gut.

Don’t Make Time For Feeling Guilty

You feel a slight sting in your abdomen. “Why did I do that?” You think, annoyed with yourself. You understand the reasons why perfectly, and yet, it’s often easier to tie it into a negative narrative.. “Ugh I always do this kind of stuff.” Or “Why do I always fail?”

Sound familiar? Well it’s not entirely your fault.

We’ve been taught that assuming the blame yourself is an act of integrity. That it’s just the right thing to do. And if you steal your best friend’s kinder egg, you SHOULD accept the blame, and repent!  And when you’re only failing yourself, playing the blame game can have similar consequences. Unfortunately, the road between accepting the blame, and going too far, is a little bit on the short side for many of us.

Introspection is a tool you can use to gain insights into your strengths, weaknesses, interests, passions, and much more. It can guide your growth, and help you circumvent failure. But many of us go about it the wrong way. Instead of reviewing our thoughts and actions calmly, with a level head, it’s easy to get overtaken by guilt, and reinforce a preexisting negative narrative. This guilt then becomes a hurdle towards progress. One that grows exponentially with the time you spend feeding it.

If you make time for guilt, you will not only lose the time you put into feeling guilty, but it will spill into the rest of your time to. Less, if any, motivation. Less, if any, energy. You might even feel physically heavier!  Not to mention, obsessing over the guilt can lead to shame, self-doubt, self-pity, or even rekindled the flames of self-hatred.

It’s a slippery slope.

To side-step the guilt, remove yourself from the equation completely during introspection. Look back at your thoughts and actions as though they were the thoughts and actions of a third-person.

You know how you’re some kind of freak genius at giving awesome advice to other people? Well it’s time you turned around and used that skill on yourself. Analyze the situation with the honesty and unbiased clarity of a third person, and combine it with your own depths of knowledge of yourself. (There will always be some bias, of course, but the important part is to lay the blame once, and then move on to WHY this all happened, in a very pragmatical sense.)

(Be careful that you don’t resort to using excuses to alleviate the guilt, this can easily turn into a horrible, horrible habit.)

Even if you master the art of unjudgemental introspection the first time around, more likely than not, you will feel guilty again. But don’t berate yourself for feeling guilty. Instead recognize that feeling guilt is natural, accept your momentary emotional response, and move on. (Stolen principle from Stoicism. It’s not about controlling emotions, as they will always be there, to some extent. It’s about controlling the response to such emotions. Guilt on it’s own is not so bad. It’s the actions, and often the lack thereof, that comes after the initial pang of guilt that are the true villain.)

The last, and perhaps more important step, is to make it a principle to relatively quickly hypothesize a solution(where possible) and start fixing(move on if there is none). While even systematically reviewing possible reasons why you failed yourself can be a way to escape the guilt, it’s all-to-easy to get stuck at this stage. Which is, for all intents and purposes, not that much better than dwelling in self-pity.

This is not an instant fix. It can be a tiresome uphill battle. I know I still have to catch myself, and adjust my perspective at least half the times I mess up.

But even quickly overcoming the guilt and moving on half the time is more than worth the effort.

Most of the time, you feel guilt for a reason. Let that initial feeling of guilt be the compass that guides your actions in the right direction.

Make less time for feeling guilty, and more time for things that matter.

Original picture by Danesh J.

Becoming Better At Being Your Own Boss

One of the most challenging aspects of freelancing, or starting a business venture on your own, is that you have to effectively fill two roles, the role of a boss, and the role of a worker.

If you’ve ever tried going out on your own, you know that it can be hard to strike a good balance between the two.

It can be particularly easy to be stuck in the “creative boss” mode, the “visionary” mode, if you will. Idea evaluation time will leak over into your worker time, and all of a sudden no work is getting done at all. Then when you finally get to working, it can be easy to tunnel-vision and end up going too far down a path that is doomed to fail.

Successfully navigating this tightrope-walk can tremendously increase your productivity.

Here are some of my own, and some borrowed, ideas on how you can become better at being your own boss:

Delegate Effectively To Your Worker Self

As simultaneously the boss and the worker, you have to find a way to delegate work to yourself in a way that it gets done effectively.

One way to do this, is monitoring how energetic you feel throughout the day for a week(or longer), and delegate the most draining work to the periods where you have the most energy. Another option is to experiment with the schedule itself.

I found that even though I’m not a morning person by any means, starting with focused work relatively early in the morning motivates me to put in a significantly larger amount of work than if I start later in the day. (Although the feeling of a head-start of waking up early can help, it’s really been about working about an hour after I wake up.) Continue reading