Fantasy As Control

Fantasy has a connotation of something pleasurable or desirable. But to the perfectionist, control is pleasurable and desirable. The perfectionist has externalized their ego — they have identified with their possessions, their talents, their failures and successes, the attention and approval of the hive — and thus seeks control in the external world in order to preserve self-worth. The perfectionist, in attempting to control the external world, is attempting to protect his sense of self, his ego. The perfectionist perceives it as “out there”, exposed, defenseless.

Rumination is a core tool in the perfectionist’s kit. Rumination is a distorted form of fantasy. A fantasy for those who want control over the external world. Fantasies where we can alter the past or manipulate the trajectories of present circumstances (in other to words, “the future”). Rumination always seems to take two forms: rehearsing the future, and replaying and reworking the past. The story we tell ourselves is that somehow we can analyze the past actions, and then plan perfect future actions. Only it seems we never actually seem to do this. We over-identify so deeply with the outcome that when actually in the present moment, we freeze up.

As the Stoic philosophers point out, we can only control our actions and our responses. Not circumstances, nor outcomes/consequences. Perfectionists seem to be avoiding the only situation where they actually have control: the present moment.

The fool attempts to control consequences; the wise man seeks to control his actions.

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The Inertial Mind

One insight I’ve had lately regarding meditation sits (and other habits in general) is how often I’m not so motivated to sit, but once I do I find myself quickly getting into the mood, and then I do not want to stop. This then repeats for the next activity I am resistant to begin, and the cycle repeats. I then began to notice this in pretty much all aspects of my life: exercise, art, writing. The activity didn’t seem to matter, it was the shift to a new one that was the crux of the resistance.

It made me realize that the mind is an inertia machine — it prefers to keep doing whatever it is it is currently doing. Helpful or detrimental, it doesn’t seem to care or recognize the difference. The mind just prefers to keep doing what it is doing right now. The insight here is to just commit to getting started, and putting 5 minutes/reps/sentences/notes/brushstrokes/etc into action.

Perfectionist/procrastination advice of “just get started” comes to mind here, as does the idea of tiny habits and mini habits.

You don’t need much time to shift the mind over to the next thing it will get attached to, but the shift is where the struggle happens. It’s as if we have this impetuous child within, as if we do not evolve our personas but rather accumulate upon an ancient core that cannot be matured, evolved, ignored or reasoned with. We just need to understand how it functions, and find ways to work with it. The real key here is that it will never “go away”. We will never “get past” these struggles. Once we learn to accept and work constructively with these ground rules in mind, the easier it is to get past them.

It’s easy to think to yourself “I am lazy” and explain these behaviors away. But I don’t think there is any “I am” in these behaviors. I think these are artifacts of the structure of mind/brain/body. Once we realize these are impersonal, external to the self, and permanent, functional “hard wired” aspects of Mind, we can stop identifying with them and start looking for solutions to work around them. Work with them. Use them, instead of fighting them.

These struggles to sit in meditation, to exercise, to create — they are not signs of personal flaws, weaknesses or limitations. They are signs that the system is working normally. A bicycle only maintains balance when in motion; this is not a flaw, but an unavoidable and intrinsic aspect of the design. There is only one solution: start pedaling.

How Bigfoot Helped Me Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism & Resistance

Bigfoot Patrol merchandise

Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” is a psychological Rosetta Stone for the unmotivated artist. It reveals to you why, how — and most importantly — that you are not alone in the struggle. Far from it. In fact, “your” struggle is so common, the first insight you get from the book is that you can stop identifying with that struggle immediately because it isn’t unique to you in the slightest.

Pressfield personifies this struggle with the monolithic, capitalized name: Resistance. “The War of Art” offers deeply useful tools for battling Resistance (your key insight is that the battle will never go away, so better to be good at stepping up to the challenge each day than to expect an eventual truce or victory over Resistance). But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to follow Resistance back to it’s lair. And I ended up encountering Bigfoot on this quest.

Bigfoot Patrol merchandise

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Premortem

The “Premortem” seems to be eerily similar to the unnamed idea I put forth in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Self-Improvement Tip (aka ‘Servant of My Future Self’):

Pretending that a success or failure has already occurred—and looking back and inventing the details of why it happened—seems almost absurdly simple. Yet renowned scholars including Kahneman, Klein, and Karl Weick supply compelling logic and evidence that this approach generates better decisions, predictions, and plans. Their work suggests several reasons why.

— Bob Sutton, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less via Shane Parrish

Nice to have my ideas validated by a Nobel prize winner!

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Self-Improvement Tip

I recently finished reading the excellent book The Willpower Instinct, and the author brings up the concept that we perceive our future self as a stranger. This makes it tough to stick to self-improvement plans, because typically the work needs to be done now, but the beneficiary of that effort is this mysterious future self that our brains somehow do not identify with. I’ve been toying with some ideas for mental games to work around this.

The first one I titled “Servant of Your Future Self”, where the trick was to imagine yourself actually doing tasks that “future you” put you up to. Or to imagine how you would need to reverse engineer a desired goal, and then do those things. But the whole idea of being a servant just seems like it would all make the effort feel like drudgery.

Then it hit me: Bill and Ted already figured it out. I wish I could find the clip from the movie, but since I can’t I’ll have to describe it: Bill and Ted are in the police station, and they need Bill’s dad’s keys. The come up with the ingenious idea to remember to — in the future — go back in time before this present moment and leave the keys for themselves behind the potted plant right next to them. Bingo, they look behind the potted plant and there are the keys.

So the mental game to play is this: present-time you is in the process of doing the “leave the keys for yourself later” task that Bill and Ted did. Present-time you is actually a time-travelling version of yourself from your own future, back here to set your life straight so that intended outcome in the future can actually happen.

How Much “Me” Is Actually There?

Here’s the mistake we make when we listen to the voice of self-loathing: We misperceive a force that is universal and impersonal and instead see it as individual and personal. That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance. Those thoughts are not our thoughts. They are Resistance.

via Steven Pressfield, “Resistance and Self-Loathing

As usual, Pressfield’s insight strikes me. He may be talking about the artist’s struggle, but it resonates further out than that. One of the most powerful mind weapons again depression is the knowledge I gained from “The Mindful Way Through Depression”  that every depressed person has the exact same self-deprecating thoughts. This tells us that they are not true. They have nothing to do with you as an individual. It seems like a simple concept, but the more you start to understand it, it becomes profoundly powerful: these thoughts have nothing to do with me at all.

Recently, I read Susan Cain’s “Quiet” — an superbly great book on what it means to be an introvert. Having devoured articles and blog posts for a few years now since learning of this incredibly useful information that I am an introvert, I was surprised to be blown away by most of the stories and science Cain revealed in “Quiet”. Not only was I silently agreeing at just about everything as the book progressed, I often found myself having mini-eureka moments (“…so that’s why I’ve always done that!”). Honestly, it got me choked up at certain points, recalling things back to my childhood which left me bewildered. The puzzle pieces finally had the box lid to reference! Again I found powerful information: these behaviors, thoughts, and preferences have nothing to do with you at all.

So this was great: some troubling aspects of my inner world were finally finding some solace. But that opened a new can of worms, one I wasn’t really expecting: if none of these things are “me”, then where exactly is “me”?

Continue reading “How Much “Me” Is Actually There?”

An Artist Is A Process

I have suffered for some time under the illusion that “being an artist” was a goal. A thing. An identity. It’s not. An artist is a byproduct of the process of creating art.

There is no such thing as “being an artist”. You can be “someone who creates art”, but an artist is really a verb. It’s a pattern. To paraphrase Alan Watts, it’s like this whirlpool in a river — not made of this water or that water, but rather of the pattern of energy. The water only flows through that energy pattern which is the actual whirlpool. Thus, an artist too is this whirlpool, this pattern of energy, and art flows through it.

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15-Minute Stoicism (or, How To Outsmart That Jerk In The Future & Improve Your Life)

Establishing new healthy habits — or breaking existing bad habits — is more difficult than you think because your brain seems to actually think of your future self as another person. Ignoring your obviously low levels of empathy for the moment, it seems to your mind as if some jerk in the future is the one who gets all the benefits for the good stuff you do in the present. Not much of an enticement to make all those sacrifices, eh?

I’ve been thinking about how the philosphy of Stoicism — which I’ve recently became a hug he fan of —might help one out in these situations. Briefly, Stoic techniques include the concept of mastering your experience of pleasure. Often this is erroneously taken to mean that Stoics deny themselves pleasure, but what it actually means to be Stoic is to be in control of the pleasures you experience, as opposed to being controlled by pleasurable experiences.

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