Designing my life so that path of least resistance leads to accomplishing my goals.

Introduction: I’ve been reading this really interesting book on happiness and it’s got me thinking about design decisions and making my life easier. I’ve spent a long time and a lot of energy in the past running my head into walls trying to accomplish goals despite feeling terrible while doing it, and have done a lot of damage to myself in the process. Since then, I’ve worked hard to see myself in a different light, deconstruct my goals to figure out what I actually want (as opposed to what I think will get me what I want), and rebuild my life in a way that actually works.

Part of this was the realisation that I don’t function when I’m unhappy. People talk about “doing things you don’t want to do”, and I just … don’t. I have a lot of experience shoving myself at a problem and being absolutely stuck fast because I don’t actually want to be working on it. But when I want something, I am willing to go to all kinds of lengths to do it.

NB that “wanting to do something” does not mean “finding it pleasant”. The aforementioned book on happiness describes this distinction really well, but the idea at its most basic is that for something to be enjoyable, it has to generate either pleasure or purpose, but not necessarily both. I find this idea super fascinating and can go into more detail if anyone wants me to – let me know.

Content: So the idea that I’m playing with right now is: how can I design my life so that achieving the things I care most about (almost) always lies upon the path of least resistance – that is to say, I want to set up my thought patterns and circumstances such that if I will automatically end up doing things that I care about and living a life that feels valuable, without having to put in a lot of emotional and mental energy into changing directions all the time. Looked at through the lens of akrasia,* I’m trying to make it so that what I want at any given moment in the short term will lead into to my long terms goals. I don’t want to use up willpower when I don’t have to.

*The link leads to a blog post run by (and advertising) a service called Beeminder, but this isn’t actually a plug for that service. My feeling on Beeminder lie somewhere in the realms of “mixed” and/or “neutral”. So why link to them instead of wikipedia? They’re the ones who introduced me to the term “akrasia”, which has been very useful to have, so I figured I’d give credit where credit is due.

In order to redesign anything, the first step is to look at the current situation: what’s working, what’s not working, what do I want to happen? I’ve been making a mental inventory of places where my stated desires don’t line up well with my moment-to-moment actions, and thinking about how I can bring those things into better alignment.

Example: I love my family, and value them a lot. My childhood was not exactly idyllic, but even with all the fucked-up that it included, one thing I’ve never questioned is that they love me and want the best for me. My siblings and I have amazing relationships, but my relationship with my parents and extended family has been a little rockier. For this example, my mother is an amazing woman, and I want to want to spend a lot of time with her, but sometimes I don’t actually want to spend time with her in the moment. So I’ve been thinking about where that disconnect is taking place.

My intention/goal is to have a close relationship with my mum, where we talk frequently (maybe a few times a week) and both feel positive about our interactions and our relationship. Some times I’ll think of calling her and decide against it, and the emotion that usually

Our best interactions involve talking about ideas and sharing information and theories, especially about psychology and human behaviour. Our worst interactions usually involve us talking directly past each other about interpersonal stuff, or not being properly aware of each other’s needs and hurting each other in an attempt to get our own needs met.

So my goal is to increase positive interactions and decrease negative interactions. I could wait and say more and never post this, but my friend said to post it even though it’s terrible and even played me a motivation video, so I AM JUST DOING IT. I’m so sorry, friends.

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