Montag, 8. Oktober 2018

MENTAL STRONGHOLD: Why you need protection from yourself

Video game designers face a very strange problem that you may not have expected: how to ensure that the player does not deprive himself of the fun in the game. Wait, that is a thing? I asked myself when I first read that. But then I reflected on my own playing habits when I was a kid. I saw that I had in fact robbed myself the fun in playing by farming countless hours experience points, skipping the cutscenes and using cheats. I did not experience the fun that the game creators intended me to have. That‘s what Sid Meier means when he speaks of "protecting the player from himself."

"You are your biggest enemy." I bet you have encountered this quote at least one time on the internet. But what does it mean?
In my eyes the quote wants us to treat ourselves as enemy’s, thus mistrusting, fighting ourselves and protecting us from ourselves. You may know that life isn’t a video game. There are no designer’s no ensure that we have fun or success. We are the players and we must ensure ourselves that we have the fun that is out there.

Imagine John. Everyone lives close of a John. John has great aspirations. He wants to live as a writer, live on the beach of Mexico and earn effortless money. Yet he does nothing to achieve his goals. Between mindless watching Netflix and eating Cheetos he finds the time to feel miserably about his life.

Do you remember all the times when you were at work and had all this formidable business ideas, that you would put into action when you would have to time to escape 9-5 hell? Now, how is your business going? The chances are very likely that you never even tackled the work needed to be done, or when you did, that you lost "motivation" after the first couple of hours. Instead you switched back to your old routine of excuses and of hedonism, watching Netflix while eating Cheetos.

In fact, it is very difficult for us humans to live in comfort. Deep rooted in our brains lies our own laziness, once in primal times useful to ensure that we rest after a hunt, nowadays that rest before a hunt that will never happen. When faced with free time, I experienced a mix between laziness and procrastination. On one hand I want to know how this series will end, on the other hand I know that for the important things that I want to do, there is tomorrow. The result of this mindset is common knowledge. But what can we do about it? How can we protect ourselves from our own incompetence?

Let’s see how the video game designers handle the problem: they build in mechanism that force the user to play the game as it was intended to be played. For example, if a developer wants the player to take more risks, he rewards him by giving him more experience points when he kills a monster at close range. What is helpful in this case is not the reward in my opinion. In my own experience, promising myself a reward after I complete work just makes me reward myself a bit earlier. That is why I do not encourage you to reward yourself for good behavior, but to punish yourself for bad behavior. The fear of punishment will let you to accomplish great things. Yet the punishment must not lie in your own hand. Let other’s punish you for your own behavior. In his book "Drop Dead Healthy", writer AJ Jacobs gave his wife 1000 dollars that she would donate to the KKK if he didn’t accomplish his health goals. In a similar way  you should organize your other projects, that require some sort of willpower. For those of you who want to quit porn there  is a site where at the end of the month your entire browser chronic will be send to a person that you know. I know that these measures seem very hard, and in fact you may think right now "I am not like these losers, I can trust myself that I will work at my projects." But guess what, that is what your biggest enemy would say to deceive you. Take harsh measures to accomplish great things in the future. The fear of losing money or in the porn case of looking like a fool in front of a person that you care is bigger than the hope of any reward that may wait for you at the end of the tunnel.

Other protective measures against yourself are software like coldturkey or coldturkeywriter. Coldturkey blocks distraction websites from your computer and it is (nearly) impossible to access them during the time that you blocked for. Coldturkeywriter is another useful piece of software from the same developer. It blocks your entire computer and gives you only a writing interface. After a certain amount of words or period you can access your computer and continue with watching Netflix. In fact, I am using coldturkeywriter right now to write this post. I do not trust myself enough to simply write in Microsoft world.

A universal fear of human beings is to lose status. Being degraded is a very bad feeling. Protecting yourself means at the same time laying traps for you to trip in, when you engage in useless behavior. Jordan Peterson describes in his book "12 rules: An antidote to chaos" the experience that many doctors have had with kidney transplants, that shortly after being told to take the medicaments at all cost, simply stop after several days. His solution is genius: Imagine that you were responsible to give the pills to your dog. Would you stop giving him his pills after a several days? Hopefully not, because you feel responsible for him. Your solution is to “treat yourself like a person you are responsible caring for.” I don’t want to give away his ideas, but I recommend to check out his book and read at least the second chapter.
The power of habits
When was the last time that you had set yourself ambitious objectives and were disappointed with the poor result? Your goals have been turned upside down by forces too strong for you, which you could have calculated in advance. Imagine that you want to work out regularly in the gym. I experienced that the ambitious training regimens of professional bodybuilders are in fact not suitable to be the starting ground of a gym beginner. Instead focus on making a habit. Habits can protect your future self from today. So, start by going once a week to the gym. It may not sound like much, but this was exactly how I started. Engage an experienced gym goer or a personal trainer to hold you accountable. I went to every training session, because I didn’t want to disappoint my trainer. After some weeks I felt my chest going bigger, my shoulders becoming more square and my legs to outgrow my pants. After all, training once a week is better than sitting all week long on the couch. Once you formed the habit, don’t forget to add a day to accelerate your development. Repeat this until you have reached a reasonable training time for every week and you have successful given your future self the body that he always desired.

Be grateful
The voice in your head makes you want a new car, new smartphone, an expensive wedding, more holidays, more income. Wanting something means in turn that you don’t have it now. This way thinks lead directly to unhappiness. Instead focus on what you do possess. When the voice inside of you raises, express your gratitude for the small things. I love to appreciate a good meal. I eat it slowly in small bites. Likewise I am grateful for every bit of free time that I have to spend with my family. This way of thinking will make you a happier person.
Don’t think
The ultimate advice that I have for self-protection is stop thinking. It is at the same time the most difficult advice that I have, because it is impossible to stop thinking all together. This would eliminate the countless self-analyzation that we do on an everyday basis that leads to sabotaging our great plans. In my eyes, a human who could simply stop thinking at any moment that he wants had a straightforward way to success. If I ever get this power I will let you know, but what worked for me till today is the resistance-rule.  In Steven Press field’s book “The War of Art” he describes that every great artist has to fight against the resistance that separates him of creating his masterpieces. This is advice that could also be applicated to everyday life: the right path to follow is most often the path that has the most resistance. Following the path of least resistance leads to a life full of procrastination. Instead every time you encounter a flinch or excuses before you are about to do something, count to three and start. Don’t think, start. This is incredibly difficult, but a good way to get things done. When I am about to start a videogame, even when I know that I must finish this very important paper, I pause for a second, count to three and start working on the paper.

I hope that I provided you with the needed defensive mechanisms to protect yourself from yourself. I am by no means a master or a guru, I am struggling like you with my inner voice and my lazy tendencies. My advice are only the ways that I use to liberate myself from the bonds of my mind and achieving true greatness.

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