Trying to Bridge The Disconnect Between Small, Day-to-day Choices, And Their Consequences (AKA: Avoiding Future Toothaches)

Two days ago, on Tuesday, a problematic wisdom tooth that I should have removed several years ago, started aching. In the beginning it was not too bad, but then it slowly escalated to the point where I felt pain not only from the tooth itself, but emanating from the surrounding area of my face, until I could somehow feel a bad headache on top of it all.

Thankfully, Wednesday was quite a convenient day for having the tooth removed, and getting dental work done in Thailand is rather affordable, so it’s not too big of a deal. (Actually, the discomfort of two teeth suddenly not being there anymore seems to have motivated me to stay busy, which has led to me actually writing quite a bit more than I did last week.)

But there is also an(other) upside to all of this. Something I realized Tuesday night, is that this toothache, is a great metaphor for something incredibly common. An inability, or unwillingness, to fully comprehend the long-term repercussions of your daily actions, until you encounter a ‘rude awakening’.

Like when you’re aware your poor spending habits might very well land you in trouble should you lose your job, and when it finally happens, you have to deal with not only finding a new job, but doing so on a very strict deadline, living on a very strict budget.

Or when you’re aware you’ve been slowly putting on weight ever since you couldn’t quite bounce back after an awesome cheat day, and you don’t REALLY notice until the bathroom weight tells you you’ve gained 20+ pounds.

Or when you’ve had ample opportunities for years to remove two lower wisdom teeth that are slowly disintegrating the lovely structure of your teeth in your lower jaw, and you decide to just assume that something bad won’t happen, until you get a terrible toothache on a Tuesday in the third week of trying to re-implement self-growth efforts after finding yourself in your first long term full-time job. (Or maybe that only applies to me?)

Analyze Your Behavior And ‘Predict’ Their Outcomes

And not just the awesome habits you’ve managed to build up over the last years.

For example, ever since I started working, I have “harmlessly” been surfing imgur, a website that is as much about as ‘instant reward’ as any website can be. It’s a website that basically shows you random funny or interesting pictures and all you have to do is click next to see a new one.

Which is a little funny, because on one hand, I’ve been trying to reclaim my attention space. To improve my ability to focus for longer periods of time by focusing on things like meditation, working to the same combination of white noise every time to help make it a trigger. But now I realize I’ve probably been undoing most of the positive effects, by surfing imgur.

The wisdom tooth thing is also rooted(no pun intended) in a long-lasting habit to put seemingly insignificant things off until the last minute. This habit means that sometimes, I get in trouble for no real reason. Things just get put off and then when I notice it’s too late to avoid a problem.

Realize You Are Constantly Creating The Reality Of Your Future Self

Just as an example, if you have a goal of writing 30,000 words per month, you would have to write an average of 1000 words per day to meet that goal. But if you wrote 0 words one day because you ‘didn’t quite feel like it’, your daily average would have to jump up to 1034. If you miss another day, 1071,  and if you keep missing days or failing to meet the required daily average, the required daily average will skyrocket until it all becomes an unreachable goal. (This is probably one of the reasons why consistency is so valuable.) On the other hand, you could do a great job today, and knock the required daily average effort down by a bit. Giving your future self a bit of leeway to miss the daily quota when it’s completely unavoidable.

But sometimes, using this kind of argument on myself doesn’t seem to be very effective. In the past I’ve been great at running philosophical/semantic laps around an issue until I suddenly realize I’ve procrastinated for a good amount of time. But perhaps recognizing this as an excuse to procrastinate will help me choose to avoid getting stuck arguing circles in the future? At the very least it seems like a good first step in the right direction.

Have you ever had a bad wake up call caused by this disconnect? If so, what did you do to deal with it?

I Have A ‘Day Job’ And I Like It

Long time no see. It’s been a very long time since the last time I wrote anything on this blog, and quite a long time since I’ve written anything in general.(When I first wrote this, it was still true, but since, I’ve restarted my daily writing habits, and started doing some freelance writing again.) If you’re seeing this in your inbox, you’ve probably forgotten about me and my little blog. Which is okay. Just to summarize I’m that guy that used to write a blog about things I struggle with and what I’m doing to overcome them. About my dreams and how I’m working towards them. About my failures and trying (but sometimes failing) to learn from them. Anyway, I’m back, with at least one more post, so if you want to read it, feel free to do so.

One of the main reasons for my ‘hiatus’, is that a couple of months ago, I decided to find a ‘day job’. Specifically, I decided to try to find a job as an English teacher in Chiang Mai in Thailand, where I’d started to, almost by accident, lay down some roots. (I like this city a lot. But also, I realized last year, that fast paced travelling wasn’t right for me, or my wallet, at the time.)

I decided to take a TEFL(teaching English as a foreign language) course in September, and by the middle of October, I had gotten offered a position at a private school very close to where I live.

Good things:

  • I’m no longer stressed about money.
  • I no longer feel as much guilt about not having a job (worrying my parents, etc.)
  • Very strong external motivation to actually do the work. (I will have to stand in front of the kids anyway, so it’s better to prepare properly.)
  • Very strong external motivation to wake up early.
  • Very strong external motivation to socialize on a daily basis.
  • Quite strong external motivation to meditate. (During assembly every morning there is a period set aside for the kids to meditate.)
  • I like working with kids (to my great surprise).

Downsides:

  • The work hours are inflexible, and make up most of the hours when the day is still bright. Which affects my ability to do stuff and go places on weekdays, although I don’t always take advantage of that freedom when I have it, it is a nice freedom to have.
  • The commute(although I’m lucky considering it’s just about 10-15 minutes) usually involves a LOT of scary traffic and is quite stressful.
  • I’m often quite tired after work. (Which often means I don’t get a lot done, or seek out new experiences. I’m currently working on slowly changing my diet, and adding in some light exercise to get a bigger energy pool, which will hopefully give me the necessary energy to restart my writing efforts.)

Things I’ve Learned:

I’ve learned, like many others before me, how easy it is to let your efforts for a better self, a better life, slip once you’re struggling from ‘within the confines of a 9-5 existence.

That I don’t necessarily have to write for a living to be content. The fact that I’m not writing for a living doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Rather than feeling like I quit or gave up, I am discovering that what is most important to me is doing work that aligns with my personal values. A job that allows me to try to make a small difference, rather than just writing being the be-all end-all. Although I have started taking some small steps towards a future where it’s possible for my work to include both.

I am quite good at compartmentalizing, which is weird because when there are no reminders of the other parts of my life, they can stay ‘semi-forgotten’ until something finally does remind me. Instead of missing home, I barely remember to think about home, and the same goes for my family, and most of my friends… not because I don’t care, it just doesn’t seem to come up, somehow.

I have also come appreciate why one reader, who emailed me looking for guidance, seemed completely uninterested in anything I had to say after I told him I wasn’t working a full time job at the same time as ‘pursuing my dreams’.

I’ve learned that I like challenging myself. I long held onto the idea that I was very effort and challenge averse. And while I sometimes let some bad habits lead me astray, like when I get caught unaware by the treacherous anti-muse known as procrastinata, I am able to enjoy putting in more work than the bare minimum when I feel like there is a development going on.

I’ve re-learned that partying really isn’t my cup of tea. I make enough questionable decisions in a day without the assistance of alcohol thank you very much! If I’m in exactly the right kind of, light-hearted mood, then dancing can be fun without being wasted, but that takes the right crowd(of friends) + other factors that I’m not 100% clear on. Going to a club in the wrong mood with a less than ideal crowd just kind of feels like torture. Going out drinking also just feels too expensive for what it is. At least now my tolerance has probably dropped so if because of some emergency, medical or non-medical in nature, I should need to be shitfaced, that would be easier to achieve than it used to be in the past.

But I’ve also discovered, that it’s possible to become a little better, for your life to become a little better, through work and the interactions you have there.

What My Days Are Like:

I teach 4 classes of mostly good 6-7 year-olds English. Because of their age and level, most of the time my job is to teach them vocabulary, and more importantly, how to correctly pronounce the words, and maybe to understand an accompanying sentence or two. While this sounds droll and monotonous, the challenge of engaging as many of the kids as possible, not for the sake of their grades, but to teach some kids something, and hopefully inspire them to learn some more English in their free time. Something that could play open doors for them in the future. (Since it’s a private school, the majority of the students are probably not that ill off anyway, but there are some from families of moderate or quite minimal means that send their kids here as well.)

Most days I finish work and I feel good. Other days I might feel like I’ve dropped the ball, if my lessons weren’t engaging enough.

I’m still not exactly sure where I’m going, or what I want to do ‘for the rest of my life’ but I’m finding it a little bit easier to enjoy my days. And that means a lot to me. Maybe learning to let go of the dream first and just focus on doing now is what will end up getting me there.

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.