A Day Without Defaults

post by katydee · 2014-10-20T08:07:10.790Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 11 comments

Author's note: this post was written on Sunday, Oct. 19th. Its sequel will be written on Sunday, Oct. 27th.

Last night, I went to bed content with a fun and eventful weekend gone by. This morning, I woke up, took a shower, did my morning exercises, and began eat breakfast before making the commute up to work.

At the breakfast table, though, I was surprised to learn that it was Sunday, not Monday. I had misremembered what day it was and in fact had an entire day ahead of me with nothing on the agenda. At first, this wasn't very interesting, but then I started thinking. What to do with an entirely free day, without any real routine?

I realized that I didn't particularly know what to do, so I decided that I would simply live a day without defaults. At each moment of the day, I would act only in accordance with my curiosity and genuine interest. If I noticed myself becoming bored, disinterested, or otherwise less than enthused about what was going on, I would stop doing it.

What I found was quite surprising. I spent much less time doing routine activities like reading the news and browsing discussion boards, and much more time doing things that I've "always wanted to get around to"-- meditation, trying out a new exercise routine, even just spending some time walking around outside and relaxing in the sun.

Further, this seemed to actually make me more productive. When I sat down to get some work done, it was because I was legitimately interested in finishing my work and curious as to whether I could use a new method I had thought up in order to solve it. I was able to resolve something that's been annoying me for a while in much less time than I thought it would take.

By the end of the day, I started thinking "is there any reason that I don't spend every day like this?" As far as I can tell, there isn't really. I do have a few work tasks that I consider relatively uninteresting, but there are multiple solutions to that problem that I suspect I can implement relatively easily.

My plan is to spend the next week doing the same thing that I did today and then report back. I'm excited to let you all know what I find!

11 comments

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comment by pjeby · 2014-10-23T03:19:14.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, there's one book -- "How To Do Everything and Be Happy" -- that gives this practice a name: "Boxing Day", arising from the author's experience of doing this on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas).

IIRC the author suggests having at least one a month, but on the other hand cautions against doing so many of them as to allow them to become routine.

He also offered three rules: 1) no pre-planning of what you'll do on the day, but 2) always schedule the day in advance, and 3) once scheduled, the day can be moved but not canceled entirely. (Otherwise, normal life pressures will gradually extinguish the practice.)

(I have not actually tried any of this myself as yet, however.)

comment by RomeoStevens · 2014-10-20T19:25:24.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most important step in moving towards this was sleep. When I woke up in a rush the day would just rush by in a blur of automatic motions. Waking up with a gentle alarm and having more time in the morning (due to going to sleep a bit earlier) seemed to allow the deliberative part of my brain to turn on fully.

Replies from: katydee
comment by katydee · 2014-10-20T22:18:02.778Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've experimented with different alarms. For some reason the one that seems to work best is very loud and harsh-- not because it wakes me up, but because my subconscious hates it and consistently wakes me up a few minutes before it goes off. I'm not sure what exactly causes this effect but I've found it extremely useful.

comment by Metus · 2014-10-20T11:49:18.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. Sadly as a student all my days tend to blend and it is more difficult to implement this project as there are a host of default habits active on any day.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-10-21T12:46:11.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's probably worth experimenting with whether no defaults can work on shorter time periods.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2014-10-21T15:53:13.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had positive experiences similar to this.

comment by singularitard · 2014-10-21T18:49:34.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the 10 minutes and multitude of brain cells I lost due to this post.

comment by Capla · 2014-10-20T20:46:52.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that you were only successful because you have trained your discipline under a routine. You didn't fall into the allure of some "shiny" activity that's tempting, but in retrospect fulfilling (like watching TV?), and keep doing it for hours (as most people probably do). You had the self-awareness to do what acctully mattered to you.

Am I misunderstanding?

Replies from: katydee
comment by katydee · 2014-10-20T22:28:30.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have some degree of discipline and a pretty good degree of self-awareness, but in the past-- even the recent past-- I've definitely found myself doing shiny but unfulfilling activities for extended periods. It's possible that I've gained a bunch of skill or willpower without noticing it and that this event caused me to shift into a mode that I didn't know how to access before, but this didn't feel like using discipline to me.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-12-30T00:44:11.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Its sequel will be written on Sunday, Oct. 27th.

My plan is to spend the next week doing the same thing that I did today and then report back. I'm excited to let you all know what I find!

I didn't find a sequel - how did it go? I've tried this sort of thing various times, and it's always great at first, but it's tough to maintain.

Replies from: katydee
comment by katydee · 2014-12-30T06:35:21.856Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It went very well - too well, in fact! Writing a LessWrong post did not feel alive to me, so I didn't do it.