I don’t have to, I get to

This lesson could very easily be taken from from a summer of drum corps, made to sound like 149 of my closest friends and I overcame some unspeakable horrors and learned many great lessons. It would be reasonable to do so–I could pander to the band kids who think their activity of choice isn’t recognized and maybe get a few shares on tumbler. But I won’t. However, feel free to read it that way–it’s still applicable.

Interestingly enough, this came from my second swim lesson.

As catchy as the title might be if it came from my first swim lesson–“I don’t Have to, I Get to: A Lesson from My First Swim Lesson”–I don’t think I had enough of a clue what was going on to think about what I was doing any more than simply copying movements and trying to string them together.

But for the second lesson, I hadn’t made time to get some goggles. That means I got to work on kicking just about the whole time.

*Disclaimer incase I make this sound really bad: I did a few laps on a kick board and I thought it was hard because I’m out of shape. This is more about a habit of mind than me being out of shape, promise.*

Different mindsets are useful for different purposes. Sometimes thinking “I have to” is the right choice. I think it has a very “getting things done” air about it. You put your head down, you do the work, it has to get done.

You can change one word. Have becomes get. I get to. To me, this sounds more like an opportunity. The great thing about opportunity is that you can take it and make it great. When you get to do something, it’s yours. In the context of the swim lesson, I thought about it more. I noticed how different parts of my body felt when doing different things and I compared that feeling to what coach was telling me to do. I asked a bunch of stupid questions to help me understand. And for that, I got better.

If we dichotomize the two–have to is negative, get to is positive–we find ourselves sitting in a lesson about how positive thinking can positively impact your life.

Anecdotally, many claims have been made that affirmations (positive thinking) improves your life. An example is the author of the comic Dillbert, Scott Adams. He claims to have told himself every day while looking in a mirror that he would become a successful comic writer. And to ease my skepticism and near radical empiricism there’s a study by Barbara Fredericton, which is well-explained here.

I’ve skipped most of the benefits of positive thinking because they’re well explained elsewhere in more depth and more eloquently stated than I could have done.

The real lesson is that thinking positively is hard.

If you’re blessed with rampant optimism, google “do affirmations work?” For everyone else, try telling yourself that you will earn ten million dollars next year. My immediate internal response is something like “Yeah right…” and I expect yours is similar.

Let’s reframe that example goal of 10 million dollars.

“I have to earn ten million dollars next year.”

“I get to earn ten million dollars next year.”

In my mind, I have to takes less effort up front and more later. I don’t have to worry about it right now because I have all year. But when the year is in progress, I feel pressured by the deadline. I have to find a way to make it work. It sucks. It’s just a negative experience.

However, I get to takes more effort up front and less later. How I’m thinking of it, this wording requires me to actively find something that I want to do and will get financial gain from.

Getting to do something sounds more pleasant than having to do something.

What do you get to do tomorrow?

Busy: A Fault of Clarity

I’m a fan of simplicity.

When I have too many choices I tend to internally freak out and make a worse choice than I would have with less options–if I even make one.

If we compare two stores, say a grocery store and an Apple store, they feel very different. I find the grocery store to be overwhelming–there’s so much stuff! While it might initially feel nice to have options, any attempt to look at many things in the store becomes a slog. I end up buying more than I intended to, I buy different things than what I wanted, I come in with a clear plan and walk out much later having done only some of what I wanted to do and many things that were irrelevant.

Then we walk into an Apple store. It’s simple. It’s so simple. It’s almost comical how many people crowd into that place to try to play with so few samples. That part has more to do with the specific product, but it’s almost impossible to go in and NOT do what you intended. Sure the employees might try to up-sell you, but you’re still there to buy the one product.

Now here’s the cheesy metaphor: is your life a supermarket or an apple store?

Most likely, it’s somewhere in between. And just as likely, it fluctuates between the two. When put under hard deadlines, our lives tend to become the apple store. With the big immediate goal looming over us, we know exactly what to do. However, with a little more free time, it’s less clear. And yet, in times when it’s less clear, the big goal is still there–its just less immediate and looming over us.

Then why is it that thing become clearer under tight deadlines?

In my opinion, we simply give things too much importance.

In my room at school I use thumbtacks to attach quotes that I’ve printed out on the walls. When I mention it, it feels pretty cliche. I like to think it’s not because I don’t hang up “You can do it!” type of quotes. I hang up the things I read or hear that make me think “Damn…” (in a good way).

The quote I’ve had on my wall for about two months that’s related to this comes from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

Want to take a guess as to why I didn’t finish this post for last week and am writing it at 4:40pm on the day I told my self I’d publish it? If you said that I gave other things undue importance–you’re right.

For me, this usually takes the form of things that I think I “should” do. You know, “I should go for a run. I should clean my room. I should email that person back.” Yet somehow most of them never get done. As I briefly mentioned last post, they sit there and create mental clutter.

Mental clutter that might seem justified because many things feel important. And many of those things are important–just maybe not to you at this specific time. Making this concession seems to be a fault that most of us have. Most of us don’t even consider it a fault or realize that it happens at all! We just feel like there’s so much to do.

I don’t know where this quote came from but it describes this very well:
“The world priority came into the english language at about 1500 B.C. and it stayed singular for the next 400 years.”

The fault of clarity is that there’s not ten or twelve important things to do. There’s one. Maybe two. The rest aren’t as important as you or I think they are. The rest are a product of what everyone has pushed upon themselves and each other. I think we’re afraid of what happens when we have to do hard focused work on one thing. But that’s a discussion for another time.

There’s a lot to be said about how to whittle down that huge list of “priorities” to the one or two real priorities, but I think the best advice is simple:

Just stop and think about it.

Busy: A Lack of Commitment

Yesterday a great author shared this quote on Facebook:
“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
This reminded me of one of my favorite essays, Lazy: A Manifesto.
In the opening lines, Tim Kreider says this:
“It is pretty obviously a boast disguised as a complaint. The stock response to this is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have’ or ‘better than the opposite.'”
This thinking permeates our culture. It seems as though most people  feel the need to be busy all day every day. Due to this need, everything we do can contribute to the feeling.
And that’s exactly what it is: a feeling. It’s a mental clutter that increases the time input of things and blows up their importance.
Some of the time, business takes the form of perfectionism, which is a form of procrastination.  The desire to make something just right takes up more time than than having it done. A professor of mine recently told me “good is the new great.” Where I’ve seen this is in doing problem sets for classes. I would routinely finish my weekly thermo problem sets hours before some of the people I was working with simply because I called the work done. I don’t know for sure what they would do for hours, but while I was there they would debate various ways to solve the problem, talk themselves in circles and generally not accomplish much. They wanted the best way to solve the problem and to “deeply understand” it. Sure the solution I worked on with someone else had some pushy assumptions and brute forced the answer a little, but from that we gained a better working knowledge than the people who insisted on perfecting their understanding of the theory.
The busy part of that example is that they don’t sleep very much and the mental clutter builds up. As the next week’s problems come around, it keeps building.
I believe that the above example simply lacked commitment. The commitment to sit down and do the work.
In the same essay, Kreider says “They’re busy because they’re addicted to business and dread what they have to face in its absence.” What fills in the absence of business is committing to doing the difficult work.
This brings up another question: why do we feel busy even when we’re relaxing or not working? That brings us back to the mental clutter. When we don’t do the work, no matter how small it is, its perceived importance grows. And eventually, its possible to become too busy not doing something to actually do it. I noticed this today when I realized that I had been putting off cleaning my room for a few days. I felt that I was too busy to do it earlier. Looking back, the only important thing I was doing was avoiding doing it.
I felt busy because I couldn’t commit to just doing the work. I suspect that this is true for many others as well.