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The Tinkered Mind
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August 3rd, 2020
We all know looks can be deceiving, but we still fail to realize the deception. How many things do we engage with because they look good or seem good but which will inevitably turn out to backfire? Probably all of us have something we do habitually that falls into this pit of facepalm. Despite having experienced the lack of pay off and injury to resolve, we’re still fooled from the outset.
The opposite is also true and we are just as fooled: we fail to realize just how much pay off there will be and we fail to follow through because that payoff isn’t immediately evident. Like going to the gym, or meditating. These things have virtually no payoff in the first days, weeks, even months. Like many good things, the results take a long time to emerge.
Real value is rarely readily apparent.
But it’s almost always apparent in what we know. We know what’s good for us, but we don’t intuit this knowledge in a way that changes our behaviour in a fundamental or even reliable way. Normal curiosity doesn’t have anything tangible to grab hold of in order to move forward. There’s no real feedback to spice our natural interest.
What it requires is a curiosity that’s hooked into a purely conceptual game. A curiosity that is divorced from if not purposely exiled from our sensory experience. In that intellectual realm, curiosity has no choice but to wait to see the results of experiments carried out over a long period of time, be it months for meditation and exercise or years for investing, or decades for other skills and abilities to fully mature..
But where do we plug the incentive to get the body to carry out these actions: to go to the gym, to sit on the cushion, to ignore the moment-to-moment stock price, to endure the drudgery of confusion before a detail of a skill we are yet to possess?
If this had a straightforward answer, we’d all be billionaires with six-packs, and perhaps that’s the most important part of the mistake. Each failure to realize or follow through requires its own strategy, each is its own puzzle to solve. We begin to make faster progress when we find ways for different strategies to interlock, overlap and become additive in combinatorial ways.
One example is to realize that invisible payoffs return at different time scales. A real example is meditation combined with exercise. Meditation, despite some studies that a selection of people do experience a reduction in stress quite quickly, doesn’t really start having substantial impacts on the brain that can be seen via changes in brain structure until about 3-4 months into the process. That’s a long time to wait in order to start feeling better, hence the ubiquity of anti-depressives. Exercise seems similar, unless you’re already in fairly good shape, an individual isn’t going to actually see results for quite a while. Both of these are bummers, however, exercise has the short term pay off of altering brain chemistry in mood elevating ways - but these don’t last.
If both exercise and meditation are combined and the practices initiated at once, the invisible short term pay off of exercise can fill in the role that meditation will play in the long term. Of course, this is just one way that strategies across practices can interlock in virtuous ways. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in creative problem solving, and who knows what sort of web can be stitched between our efforts, not just for pay off, but to help us stick to each.