comment by [deleted] ·
2014-10-07T15:04:18.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Optimization as Hobby
This may belong more in the Rational Diary; however, as it is not an account of any physical efforts, but rather a train of thought, I’ll put it here.
As of late (over the last three months), I’ve been suffering from ennui and listlessness. Several objectives (begin an independent study habit on Spanish and economics, write a novel, contribute to the online efforts of a library or archive) have proved either unfeasible or have had no success. Some of my other objectives (establish a daily exercise habit, begin writing again, obtain a tutoring job) have been slow in coming to fruition. Difficulties happen and I’m not here to complain about them. Indeed, I’m quite happy with the successes I’ve had. In the past four months, I have obtained a director job at a library, started an exercise routine that is noticeably beneficial, increased my writing output, and learned the history of the American Civil War.
What’s important to me is that these failures have generated a listlessness that I do not like and that seems to specifically rise out of my desire to avoid such listlessness. Many of the objectives I listed are not terminal objectives; most of what I have attempted to do or start in these past few months have been instrumental towards other goals (mostly: obtain a better, more permanent job and leave home for a more engaging location). However, this focus on optimization, combined with the setbacks of several optimizing habits, has made the very idea of optimizing wearisome. When I begin to think or feel “I should try to improve myself,” whatever causes the thought, the result is a lingering angst of, “But I’m not a machine. My goal in life isn’t to optimize. Can’t I just be happy?”
Anytime I argue about making myself happy, I doubt my intentions. “Happy,” of a certain manner, could easily be obtained through vegetation in front of a screen or monitor, absorbing the works of others without applying the content of that work to my own life. Just receiving a constant input of satisfaction, outputting nothing. Indeed, a problem I face is that my family believes this is what I do now. Since many of the resources I use for job hunting or skill learning are online, I spend much of my free time in front of a screen. From without, it appears I am doing just that. Receiving constant satisfaction, producing nothing. This has led to my being accused of laziness, despite now having two jobs. A simple misunderstanding that I don’t take personally, but it can make the ennui worse as a general obstacle in my environment, providing one more factor that needs optimizing.
I know that my terminal values are not to simply absorb constant input because I do not find that existentially satisfying. It does not make me content imagining myself not learning or producing something new. However, with most of the low hanging fruit plucked, I’ve come to a point of conflict. Thoughts of further optimization disrupt happiness (especially because now a lot of my personal optimization has reached very effecting levels: for instance, despite the excess of conflict it causes in my family, I have been slowly discarding a large portion of the material goods I accumulated during childhood. Excess books, movies, and video games, with the intent to one day discard all video games. This conflicts with my family’s image of me and insults them as they spent money on those items for me when I was a child, making it seem as if I were throwing away a gift. But now I’m off topic as this is only tangentially related to the ennui). But I understand that “happiness” in this use is not terminal value. It’s momentary satisfaction. It’s that desire to say, “Let me take a second to breathe,” but secretly wanting to stretch that second out to a minute, to an hour, to a day.
So, I am trying to create a change in thought regarding optimization. So far, I think of optimization in terms of values. This is my terminal value, this is an instrumental value to reach such an end. It is an economical way of thinking that lets me way cost and benefit. This is useful thinking, but because I have begun to associate optimization with ennui and strife, it is no longer effective. Instead, I am now trying to think of optimization as a hobby.
First, I’ll admit this is a stop gap method against ennui, and probably (though I have nothing to prove it) less effective than thinking in a more economical way. Thinking of optimization as a hobby encourages not considering solid costs and benefits. It makes optimization a “can” rather than a “should” and I lose that pressing desire to really make something work that I have when I have sat down and determined if a way is the right way. But that’s just what I’m looking for. I’m creating associations between that pressing need and defeat, which I do not want. Such an association will cut the legs from under my efforts if I let it build.
Instead, I try to think of optimization as a hobby. This reminds me that it is something I engage in freely, that I have control over (so the successes and failures are mine alone), and is only a single aspect of my life. It disposes of that continuous thought that being “better” is everything, instrumental and terminal alike, which clouds my ability to think about what I want, why I want it, how I want it.
I apologize for this lengthy post that is more personal than intended for others. These have simply been my recent thoughts on optimization and my current manner of approaching the topic. Expressing them here prevents me from changing my mind later and then thinking, “I’ve always really thought like this.”
Replies from: RomeoStevens
↑ comment by RomeoStevens ·
2014-10-09T20:07:33.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I think this is actually a decent way to think about it. It assists in giving yourself permission to "turn off." and have mindless leisure when you need it, without worrying that your leisure time is being spent optimally preparing you to work again.