What do you do when the processes (read: habits, roughly) that you’ve set up in your life thus far do nothing but help you waste time?
Let’s back up a moment. One thing that I’ve found to be largely, anecdotally true (as far as those things go) is the idea that all humans, all of us, tend towards laziness. A lazy sort of entropy if you will. And the battle against wasting time is constant and never-ending. More so even now, when the mechanisms for wasting time are ever-present and so deliciously immediate. I mean, who doesn’t want that hit of dopamine, giving you the sense of pleasure and bliss. The trick is that, of course, that feeling is brief, fleeting, and addictive. So you go from one moment to the next (one YouTube video to the next, one reddit post to the next – you get the gist) looking for that sweet, sweet high. Coming down from a day-long YouTube or Netflix or whatever binge is rough – for me, I feel shame, disappointment, not a small amount of anger. Why the hell was I doing those useless things when I could be doing something, anything more productive? Because it’s easy, it’s available, it’s easy, it’s tempting, and did I mention that it’s so, so fucking easy?
The reasons for this are many, but it breaks down into roughly three things – context, consistency, and process. We all think that we make thoughtful, measured decisions. But in reality, the decisions that we make are largely influenced by underlying mental calculations that tend towards the path of least resistance. And the paths of least resistance are the ones that we have tread over and over and over again – the habits that we’ve developed.
Conceptually, this is what this looks like for me:
Context – Context can in part be defined by environment, but it’s more than just that. It’s the setting in the wholest of senses – to encompass your environment, your knowledge of your environment, your awareness of that knowledge. In my previous doctor life, in which I was largely unhappy, I spent a lot of my home life trying to forget my work life. I spent a lot of time trying not to think, because if I thought about things, my thoughts tended towards the dark, depressive kind, and then I would have to actually confront what I knew to be the truth of my life at that point – that I wasn’t doing what I wanted, that I wasn’t happy, and that I was too afraid to do anything about it. Sitting there in the quiet with myself became too difficult and too painful, so I didn’t. When I was at home, I kept myself hooked up to a constant dopamine drip in the form of mindless entertainment.
Consistency – Because this became my *practice* whenever I was at home, I tread and retread (retrod? That looks weird.) those mental pathways until it was a mindless thing, until it was automatic. Even while getting ready for the day, I would listen to podcasts or watch things on Netflix on my phone. When I got home, noise was always on in the background.
Process – I had everything set up so that this was as easy as possible. Walking in the door, our TV was very prominent and ready to stream the entire internet. My phone was never far from my side – it was frequently the last thing I looked at before I went to sleep and the first thing I looked at when I woke up. Process involves habit but it also involves the things that you have set up to facilitate all your habits, the ley lines of least resistance. The process is in the details, and the details are where you refine your habits so that they are mindless and automatic.
So now that I’m out of the field and I don’t have to spend half of my life (really, probably more) trying to forget the other half of my life, I’m kind of fucked. Because I’ve set up so many processes, ones that I’ve implemented with intense consistency, in the very context where I’m now trying to work and get my life together. So… fuck.
What does this mean? It mostly means that I have a mental struggle almost every moment of every day where I fight against the constant pull of immediate gratification. It means that I have to cleave to the opposite of mindlessness and automaticity; I have to embrace, with passion and intensity and desperation, mindfulness and deliberate, deliberate practice. And that is HARD, y’all. And it means that some days I fail and waste an afternoon on quick, sugary dopamine hits. And then I crash and feel shitty about myself. But it means that the next day, I steel myself and get ready to fight – claw, tooth, and nail – for this new life.