Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Restlessness a Cornerstone Trait

On a regular basis, whether in starting or going through a self-improvement venture, it always strikes me as to how my mindset changes during and after the process, making it astoundingly clear what great powers are so quickly in reach, yet put off for days, months, years, or an entire lifetime, just because a brief struggle, sometimes that of mere minutes. Highlighting these differences works to motivate me well in thinking how petty my resistance is, in that so rapidly I could be on the highway to my optimal self instead of trudging around in the ditch as I am now.

Last time, for instance, I mentioned that establishing certain fundamental skills can sometimes literally take only a few minutes. When my ability to focus was a wreck it took an aggravating effort to sit down and concentrate for a scant twenty minutes, and the end of the effort actually left me with a headache and exhaustion. It was disheartening. However, upon sleeping I awoke to find myself with new powers: I could concentrate much more easily and for far longer, and if I allowed myself to hit the wall again the new powers I woke up with would be further increased.

What's so interesting about this is that countless people are likely giving up on cultivating the fundamental cognitive skill of concentration, going an entire lifetime without a strong sense of it, which can damage them everywhere from their intelligence to their financial well-being. (If you can't remove your focus on internet surfing, you can't focus on making and saving money.) Yet, what does it take to get the ball rolling, to make a huge leap in progress and make the process tons easier? A sincere attempt of about twenty to thirty minutes, and it's that twenty to thirty minutes that many people evade for a lifetime.

In other words, any suffering we have to go through to improve ourselves is ultimately short-lived, and evidence of this can be seen in many spots, such as how a brutal twenty minute workout can vastly improve your health in such a brief time frame. That intense discomfort, however, frightens us, pushes us off track, tempts us to procrastination . . . and it's all so silly since the discomfort is so short-lived.

The new thing making me feel stronger in the face of self-improvement is the great emotional picture painted of masters in Robert Greene's book Mastery, which I just finished. (And am totally blown away by. It may be one of the best books I've ever read in my life.) Reading the brief biographical details reminded me of my period of life when I first dropped out of college to become an autodidact, and the peculiar mindset I managed to establish.

Improving myself to develop scholarly and studious habits were agonizing during those first few weeks. As mentioned above, simple things such as concentrating were exceedingly difficult, and it disheartened me that while I had the lofty goal of studying literally all day, I couldn't exercise my mind for more than twenty minutes at start. Though, of course, as explained, challenging myself led to quick improvements that put me on a course of rapid progress.

The most interesting thing that resulted of this after a few weeks is that eventually my emotions started shifting in a vast ways. While my mind utterly bucked at first at being commanded to study grammar, I eventually developed a craving for my studies, felt bored and pained by my previous distractions, and my brain literally felt like an empty stomach that needed to be fed. My thinking habits drastically changed where, more and more, I had to intensify my mental and intellectual habits to be satisfied, and even little things such as watching my favorite television shows became intense intellectual engagements. If I talked to people who couldn't dig deeply into a particular topic, instead being scatterbrained and frequently shifting, I would literally get a headache and experience dizziness, and would have to shut them out to deeply contemplate what they would refuse to talk about for more than a few seconds.

In summary, after agonizing to make myself do things I judged good for myself, I eventually wanted to do those things, and in a way that was almost impulsive. The desire to read, think, and write was powerful. My mind had to be powerfully churning away at something for me to be content and comfortable, otherwise I would literally experience physical pain. What I once had to push myself to do then became something I simply had to do as if I were possessed by demons, helpful demons casting a siren call towards heaven.

Such momentum is a milestone in one's self-advancement. Once hit, it actually becomes very difficult to engage in vice; the once-temptation turns into resistance. As a health example, it was one nearly impossible for me to eat a full bar of my favorite dark chocolate: I had so strongly habituated the health habit of eating only half and saving the rest that it actually took an effort for me to eat the whole thing at once. I was just so naturally inclined, after practicing and practicing, to do the healthy thing. When this milestone is hit in other or all facets of one's life it's like one's speed towards success is massively accelerated, for the need for discipline practically becomes irrelevant as all your natural desires push you towards the right habits, and it becomes emotionally hard and even painful to dare taste vice.

Accordingly, in addition to how quickly we can begin gelling certain habits as concentration, we ought to use the visual of being magnetically attracted to our new routines, habits, and practices as a motivator to keep in perspective that all the emotional resistance and unhelpful temptations we experience now will soon fall away, and in the new mindset it will actually be very hard to remember the old self we had, where we may have been tempted to habits of idleness and the like. So soon can be made that virtue is all we want.

I thoroughly appreciate Greene's book for reminding me what a powerfully helpful mindset I had established back then. While I'm gradually climbing back up to that, unfortunately I lost that “god mode” because I became immersed in some personal problems with other people at the time, which took years to resolve and from which I'm still recovering.

The additional thing this points out to me is that I was likely overcomplicating things when I laid out such practices as Deliberate Thinking. The notion is general is good on paper, but the practice itself is so astonishingly difficult it's hard not to give up, for it runs against the grain of one's natural thinking habits – in a certain state – so powerfully. The better alternative is to do things such as study, read good books, and lead an intellectually directed life that involves frequent use of concentration, and the natural tendency to Deliberately Think will just come as a consequence. Without forcing yourself to, you'll eventually just want to think all the time, and things such as looking up cat memes on the internet will feel horrifically boring. The grammar book/math article/science journal calls your name.

The requirement of developing this extravagantly helpful restlessness -- this being possessed by demons prodding you, in every strain of your emotions, to be continually immersed in goals – is to concentrate and frequently work on your goals. The more of your daily routine consumed by goal-directed and focused action the better, and entire days – literally entire days – spent in intensely attentive action is ideal. Resistance will be strong at first, but then weaker, and weaker still, and then less than a memory: Then you'll come, in just a matter of weeks, out a brand-new person, with this emotional impetus to continuously and always be immersed in constructive action.

Thus, I shall not give up. I once again will restore restlessness into my character. With that as a cornerstone trait you cannot fail.

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