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

dontfeelguilty Dont 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

betteratbeingownboss 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

Three Simple Things That Help Me Write More

writemore Three Simple Things That Help Me Write More
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King

It’s kind of funny how training is expected in sports, and technical professions, but with writing and creative endeavors people seem to think there is almost no barrier to becoming good. At least one you can’t overcome with tricks or “techniques”.

There’s no real substitute for practice.

But sometimes writing a lot can be hard. Very hard. Sure, it might not be that physically demanding, but there’s something about a blank screen, or page, that’s downright intimidating at times. (Also, mental energy is very real, and it’s easy to spend most of it before you even get started on the writing itself.)

A few months ago, I would frequently blame “writer’s block” and throw in the towel, excusing myself from meeting my daily word goals. These days, it’s becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence. And though I’m far from the most prolific writer out there, I learned a thing or two along the way.

In particular, there are three simple things I do that help me put words down on a screen every day.

Writing Down At Least 3 Ideas (For Articles/Blog Posts) Every Day

One of the most recurring, and painful, barriers between me and writing, has been the simple of excuse of “I don’t have anything to write about.” This can come up an awful lot when you’re gunning for daily writing goals of 1000 words and upwards!

But if you practice thinking of more than one idea every single day, not only are you unlikely to run out of writing ideas when you sit down to write, you actually get better at thinking of ideas over time. Continue reading