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Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.
July 29th, 2022
What follows is not recommended. If you have gone through the difficult ordeal of installing a good habit in your life, do not bother with trying to A/B test that habit by giving it up on purpose to see if your life gets worse. Even if the habit isn’t having the positive effect through the mechanism we imagine, the placebo effect of the good habit is still (likely) a very real effect and it’s hard to imagine a good reason to get rid of a good thing for the sake of curiosity.
This warning comes from personal experience. Over the last year several good habits (including the daily creation of this blog) fell out of my life, and some of these departures from habitual good were deliberate. One such deliberate departure was from meditation.
The results and effects of A/B testing a fairly long lived habit of meditation were interesting, and very useful, but certainly not pleasant. For months it seemed as though the years of daily meditation had created a permanent change. And then slowly some regression crept in, and before long, an unwanted set of thoughts, feelings and mental tendencies that I had long ago said goodbye to appeared to again take up residence in my daily experience.
As with most good habits - reinstalling this one occurred in fits and starts, and this experience further informed the program that is being developed for the forthcoming meditation app from Tinkered Thinking called The Tinkered Mind.
Becoming a “beginner” once more did prove to be very useful. Long time meditators who now create and teach programs are so far removed from this demoralizing experience of trying to form a new habit, and having this experience fresh in mind while developing the meditation program for The Tinkered Mind will hopefully make it all the more effective and useful for people who want to successfully install that meditation habit.
Zooming out though, there was something else that seemed to occur when a few good habits fell by the wayside. It was as though work quality in general declined without the support of some daily non-negotiables. And the inverse seems to hold. After finally having a very productive day on another important project, the urge to pump out a few paragraphs for Tinkered Thinking suddenly falls like hammers on the keyboard.
The sneaky cultural concept that is lurking around all this is the idea of “work/life balance”.
In all likelihood it’s a sham concept that is used to rationalize and legitimize lazy motives and behaviors. My experience has been that fulfilling days are almost never “well-balanced”. If anything the best ones feel as though I’ve been running along the edge of a cliff. In fact it’s only by throwing ourselves out of balance that allows us to walk or run forward. We’re just so well practiced in the art of catching ourselves by taking the next step that we don’t think about walking or running as a constant stream of falling forward and recovering from imbalance. The fact is, walking and running is really an act of maintaining an imbalance.
This goes back to those good habits regretfully cast by the wayside. Each habit had momentum, and habits are like physical objects in this sense: it’s much easier to keep them going than it is to get them started. Living without a fully installed habit is a kind of homeostasis. It’s like standing still. Starting a new habit, requires throwing that homeostasis out of balance. With time and consistency, habits become easier to maintain, in the same way a long run becomes a kind of flow state. It feels as if there is a new kind of balance, a new homeostasis, but this one, takes you somewhere.
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