How To Get Depressed Because Summer’s Over

Fall is my favourite season, but I do get depressed when the daylight hours shorten. While I don’t necessarily suffer from full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder (I don’t think!) I do get a little blue when I’m getting less exposure to the sun/nature/outdoors in general.

The colder weather means going outside is more of a pain in the ass. Snow and ice force me to use footwear which needs to get put on and taken off every time I indulge in some outside time. It doesn’t sound like much of a barrier – but those little inconveniences, for me, can be the difference between hours spent outside and zero time outside for days in a row. Most of the time, I just don’t do things unless it’s really fucking easy to start doing them. “Start” is the important word here, because the activity itself can be difficult. I don’t mind exercising, I maybe even like it. But if starting it is difficult, there’s little to no chance I’m going to do it. Any of it.

I used to have one of those suspension workout systems that you brace in a doorway and use the straps to do various exercises. It lived in its box, and that box lived somewhere in my closet. I never used it, and it wasn’t practical to keep in a doorway because every time I opened the door the thing would fall out and scare the shit out of me. So now I have a pull-up bar above the stairs leading to the basement (where our only washroom is). I drink lots of coffees and so I walk under the pull-up bar many times a day. I do maybe 8 pull ups a day, every other day, if that. But the difference between 8 and 0 isn’t 8. It’s fucking infinity. You can’t multiply anything by 0 to get 8. And that’s because 0 is the most worthless number in the world. People live and die by 0s. If you smoke more than 0 cigarettes, you’ll probably fucking die of lung cancer because once in a while you get drunk and smoke a pack of cigarettes and do irreversible damage to your already shitty lungs. You do that a few times a year, for your whole life, then you retire and smoke more out of sheer boredom and yep, you die of lung cancer. I don’t smoke but the above story certainly applies to me for drinking. There’s a blog post on here about me only drinking one beer or some bullshit, and I solemnly swear to you that that nonsense is over. I like to drink, and when the stars align for a night on the town, I drink like I mean it.

Zero to one kid is another infinite difference. If you have zero kids, you’re going to be pretty fucked when you get too old to take care of yourself (unless the future supplies us with free robots to change us when we shit ourselves). No amount of paid nurses will ever do as good a job of a genetically obligated successor at giving a fuck about your senile ass when dementia turns you into a wrinkled puppet for the hedonistic spirits to play inappropriate and very public sexual pranks with.

I got a bit lost there, let’s get back to talking about why fall makes me fucking miserable. I believe my daily happiness depends in large part on the inclusion of (in no particular order):

  1. Exercise
  2. Spending ANY amount of time outside, other than “none” (huge boost to happiness if I can absorb some sunlight into my skin and eyes)
  3. Experiencing the sensation (even the illusory sensation) of “progress” in something (anything) … (this is why I’m always cutting and stacking firewood)
    stacks of firewood in my backyard
  4. Socializing / spending time with other humans
  5. Not being hungover (this factor is definitely increasing with age, and impacts several days at a time) / getting quality sleep

The above checklist seems pretty attainable right? It should be easy to do ALL of those things EVERY DAY if it means damn near guaranteed happiness every day. But no. I get “busy” with some bullshit on the computer and before I know it I’m redlining stress hormones and haven’t taken a real breath since waking up. I’m tense. I’m irritable. The sun has just set, it’s 5pm, and I’m depressed. So I go to volleyball and get drunk after and don’t sleep well and that fucks me for the whole next day.

Anyway this post is probably less useful than it is satirical, and I hope I made you laugh. And please, don’t feel bad for me. This isn’t me complaining, it’s just me writing openly. Today I’m happy because I actually respected my checklist. I even got some sun on my face while taking a piss in the backyard (to avoid the pull-up bar) and I got to spend lots of one-on-one time with Isla (Lia’s away for a girl’s weekend). You can’t really get too depressed when an ass-naked 2-year-old is tearing circles around the dinner table, tiny fists full of peanuts, belting out wheels on the bus for the 5000th time.

 

Winning Your Daily Battle with a Little Self Torture

This article is about how hurting yourself a little bit can turn a shitty day around.

A bad day isn’t a day that contains pain. A bad day is a day that contains no feeling at all. A totally neutral day. Frequently I have days like that, where I don’t feel anything, and for some reason I feel like shit at the end of those days. Styrofoam shit.

When people talk about how working out elevates mood, I think it’s actually that working out is painful. And you only feel awesome once the pain is gone and the endorphins come. But it was the pain that got you there. Nobody ever felt awesome after a half-assed workout.

Lately I’ve been exposing myself to pain where possible because it gives me a chance to wage war against myself, mentally and physically, and to win or lose some self-respect. If I can string together enough days where I can, for example, shower with only cold water – I seem to gain power and momentum for the rest of the day. That shower couldn’t fuck with me, so what’s next?

If I can’t take the shower I’m pretty much retreating into my shell, weakened, and certainly not feeling very powerful. Pussy Ryan won. The Ryan I want to be is nowhere to be found that day.

By default, I don’t at all want to feel pain. Nobody is wired to seek pain, we’re all wired to go for comfort and pleasure. But I make myself feel it anyway when I can bring myself to. I do this because I know the voice in my head that discourages me from feeling pain is the same voice that discourages me from taking risks, manning up, going for broke, and doing the meaningful things in my life. It’s the voice telling me to run from fear instead of smashing into it head on.

The voice is my inner wimp complaining. The voice in my head coming up with completely rational reasons not to do the belly flop (Thanks Ty!). And  thanks Kyle, for leading the synchronized flopping with flawless form.

We have more respect for people who can push through pain, and less respect for wimps. Exposing ourselves to pain, even just a little, is a way to win some self-respect and the feeling of being a badass every single day. It’s a way to turn shit around if we woke up feeling like thumb-sucking infants fresh from shitting the crib, then crying about it.

The Key to Unlimited Energy

With a lofty title like that I’d better deliver! Here it is, short and sweet: passion = energy. Lia and I just came to this realization after coming out of a crazy busy week where I did the unusual: I got up with Isla my fair share of the time and didn’t need a nap partway through the day.

Today was extra odd for me – I only got 6 hours of sleep (I usually need way more than this, like an embarrassing amount, I’m talking 10 hours does wonders for me). No nap, not even time to think about a nap. We were out at the farmers market then hustling to prepare for camping, building fishing spears and going for a paddle on little lake, swimming and back home for more camping prep.

It was a massive day. All things I love to do. No lack of energy.

I’ve had small days, bleak, boring days where I’ve had to drag my ass just to make it to bed at the end of it. Whatever was on tap in my body chemistry for those small, shitty, boring days – it probably resembled the dregs of morning-after beer bottles strewn about after a college party. Cigarette butts and all. Flat and gag-worthy.

Today my brain was juicing rocket fuel. And now that I have made the connection between passion and my day-to-day energy levels, I’m going to be looking for more ways of getting into shit that I can become obsessed with.

I’ll still do all the other work that pays the bills of course. Just not only that stuff.

Retirement Progress Report 2

So things have changed quite a bit since we last looked at the Lowe family retirement strategy. They’ve simplified. Mainly, I realized that it made very little sense to have such a big “Rainy Day” fund ($20k) and not have that money invested and compounding. So now we have $5k ready for emergencies and the rest gets invested.

The last few months we’ve worked hard to spend less frivolously, and to invest more aggressively.

Here are the figures:

TFSA (self-directed TD Waterhouse WebBroker account): $15,194.46

Up $9,127.46 since last report.

This is our main investing account comprised of 3 low MER TD E-Series mutual funds (TDB900, TBD905, TDB902). We’re 1 month ahead of schedule for our goal of $20k invested for the year, averaging $3,042.49 invested every month.

This quarter we invested 42% of our net income. To help free up money for investing, we’ve also been selling thousands of dollars worth of shit we no longer use via Kijiji. Guitars, a motorcycle, electronics, old paintball guns, roller blades, it adds up!

Mortgage: $168,381.87 ($1,496.13 lower than last report)

We haven’t paid down our mortgage any quicker than we had been prior to the last report. Our current interest rate of 2.92% is below what is expected to be earned investing in indexed mutual funds (8%). If we renew in a couple years with a significantly higher interest rate (anything over 8%) it will make far more sense to pay down the mortgage more aggressively and stop purchasing mutual funds altogether.

That’s all for this report, see y’all in October!

 

How to Be Really Fucking Productive Whenever You Want

I feel like a big bag of shit today. Last night I drank right after sports and I think when that happens my body gets extra dehydrated. The water I need is replaced by beer and so I wake up with angry little alcohol molecules all throughout my system (and probably a reduced ability to excrete them via breathing/pissing due to my lowered overall body hydration).

But I’m still going to dominate work today, and here’s why:

I Have Magic Headphones

Yep. Magic fucking headphones. According to Olympic coach Todd Herman, creating a secret identity or alter ego can unlock peak performance in elite athletes and everyday Joes. Think back to being a kid, and pretending to be a superhero (or an animal, or whatever). Kids have this natural ability to step into another identity and behave how they imagine that other being would behave. It’s pretty awesome. But we stop make-believing when we grow up, and we think we get better at stuff by “taking it seriously”.

Apparently that’s not true.

It would seem that Todd has created some freakishly dominant athletes by encouraging them to go back to creating alter-egos. These athletes have ways of getting into character just like kids do. A name, such as Batman works. As soon as you become Batman, Batman is on the hook to deliver, not you. And we all know Batman fucking delivers! Ideally, there will be some token item associated with the change. Todd has a special set of “business glasses” that he puts on to become his superhero of business. He takes them off to be with his family, because who he is in business isn’t who he is at home. But when those glasses are on, he’s only the Todd that dominates whatever he’s working on.

Todd talks about a Tennis player who thought Wonder Woman was the epitome of badassery, so she decided she’d be Wonder Woman when she competed. She connected the identity of Wonder Woman with wearing an actual Wonder Woman bracelet.

wonder woman

So for me, it’s headphones. I have a set of those big studio headphones that completely engulf your head and blast epic sound right through your skull. When I put those on, smash a coffee and hit play on something like this, work happens really fucking hard.

I make sure I only have the headphones on when I’m working. I take them off if I stray into a YouTube session or Facebook tunnel. That way I’m physically signalling (and training myself) to respond to the headphones with only epic productivity.

That’s how I get into the zone for work. It’s different for every identity I have. For frisbee, I become the super-hero version of me by taking my shoes off. I play barefoot, and almost nobody else does in my city. So when those shoes come off, it’s time for me to play like a god damn animal. Funny thing is, when I play with shoes because it’s too cold for bare feet, I’m not quite the same. There was a game where this happened and a few points in I took my shoes off. What followed was my equivalent to Clark Kent taking off his shirt and revealing the Superman spandex beneath. Without shoes, I feel like a force of nature, and I play like one.

What are Your Alter Egos?

This is where you get to reflect on what alter-egos you step into, maybe without knowing it. How can you reinforce them with a physical item? Or an action, like taking your shoes off. If you don’t have an alter-ego, is there a super-human version of yourself you could create? What would that person wear? Try it and let me know how it goes!

For the full talk with Todd Herman and his take on becoming super-heroes, check out his episode on the Tony Robbins podcast.

 

Beating Isla’s Ex-Boyfriend to Death with a Sock Full of Gummy Bears

This is one of those posts that gets weird before it gets useful. By the end of it, I hope to share with you one of the most life-altering realizations/techniques which has made me a tangibly happier man.

To start, we need to talk about psychology for a hot second. Specifically, we’ll look at 2 innate mental reflexes that must be tweaked in order to make us permanently happier. The first reflex up for modification is our hedonic adaptation. The second is our ability to visualize the future.

To be clear, this post isn’t about big, laborious or dramatic shifts in thinking. There is very little effort required here. We don’t need to go off into the mountains and meditate on mushrooms in a cave in order to make these changes to our brains. We are not monks, this is not Nirvana. We are monkeys, and this is merely a bigger stick to shove into a juicier mound of termites. I want you to think of these 2 mental techniques as being more like simple realizations, doorways into a different (and much happier) way of thinking. Simple is good. Simple can be profound. So let’s grab us a stick and get some motherfucking termites!

Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonic Adaptation is one of the great human advantages. We have this shit wired right into our core programming. Hedonic Adaptation is what allowed our ancestors to adapt to the absolute shittiest living conditions, make nature our bitch, and ultimately take over the fucking planet using only fire and stabby objects.

Hedonic Adaptation, put simply, is our ability to get used to anything. It brings our happiness levels back up after something horrible happens to us, like death in the tribe or getting our genitals mutilated by barbed wire whilst attempting to escape over the fence at summer band camp. On the other hand, Hedonic Adaptation also automatically lowers our happiness back to our normal levels after something insanely awesome happens in our lives, like finding a legit lightsaber amongst the wreckage of a UFO crash site or inheriting a sizeable troupe of (highly obedient) samurai chimpanzees. If left alone, our Hedonic Adaptation will reliably return our happiness levels to normal no matter what happens in our lives.

So how can we fuck with our hardwired Hedonic Adaptation? To start, take a coat hanger and unbend it so it’s nice and straight. Then take that twisty part that’s like a cork-screw and, with great care, guide it up your left nostril until you feel some pain. Next, find a power outlet and…

Hedonic Override

If I want to consciously override my Hedonic Adaptation, I need to have a look at my desires/appetites. If I have a shoe fetish (which clearly I do), a big part of my fetish is fantasizing about new shoes. I get a major jolt of pleasure when I buy the latest Prada Stilettos, black, because they make my calves look sexy and I can wear them with anything. But the moment those beauties belong to me, they begin losing their appeal. Hedonic Adaptation is already eating away at how happy they make me. In no time, I’m swiping through celebrity Instagram accounts hunting for my next shoe fix.

This is the common pursuit of happiness we all grow up with. Everyone we know does this to some degree, some more egregiously than others. There is this treadmill approach to happiness through creating external jolts of pleasure, as illustrated by the highly scientific and technical chart below:

Happiness chart

You can see how the black line (a person’s happiness) is like an excited heartbeat, spiking when something good happens (like buying a brand new hot tub), then fading a little below the average happiness level as the person Hedonically Adapts, compounded by a healthy dose of buyer’s remorse upon reviewing his credit card statement. Once the hot tub no longer gives adequate pleasure, the person makes another indulgence in order to spike happiness levels again.

So apart from not ever buying hot tubs, how do we set up our happiness such that it resembles the chart below?

increasing happiness over time

Here we have a nice, gradual increase in average happiness over time, with a smoother rise and fall in our high and low levels. External events still affect us, of course, but our inherent happiness is far less reliant upon our ability to repeatedly indulge our various novel appetites.

The answer is drugs, so many drugs.

And a little golden nugget of awesomeness blatantly stolen from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy called “Negative Visualization”.

Negative Visualization

First let’s look at Positive Visualization, because that’s going to be much more familiar to us.

Positive Visualization gets shit done. We picture the job we want and we go out there and get it. We picture the person we want to marry and we don’t stop searching until we find her. We picture a big, greasy hamburger and we drive to McD’s and crush one in the parking lot with the A/C blasting into our sweaty, desperate faces.

Positive Visualization is one of the most powerful techniques humans are innately capable of. It gives us the power to create the future we’ve imagined. With our minds, we shape god damn reality as we see fit.

That all sounds awesome! So why bother with Negative Visualization? That sounds like it sucks! Why would I think about un-eating a hamburger? Why would I picture myself without a job? Why would I picture my wife leaving me for Ellen Degeneres? I imagine all of this because, however counterintuitive it might seem, picturing my situation as worse than it currently is makes me happier by making me realize what I already have. It shifts my desire away from things I don’t have, to things I do have. And while I’m visualizing not having these things, my built-in Hedonic Adaptation reflex starts adjusting to the shittier reality (if even just a little bit). Then when I come out of visualizing not having these things, I’m suddenly very grateful for having them!

Positive Visualization helps us get what we want by creating present dissatisfaction. Negative Visualization helps us want what we already have by thinking about being without it, creating present satisfaction.

OK! I Get it! Just Get to the Gummy Bears Already!

I have an almost-2-year-old daughter, Isla. Positive visualization with Isla includes seeing her, in my mind, on her first day of school, taking her to her first beach volleyball tourney, and beating her first ex-boyfriend to death with a sock full of gummy bears just so the next kid in line knows I’m not fucking around.

While these fantasies make me smile and look forward to the future, they preclude my full enjoyment of the present moment with my little lady. I believe happiness derived from the present moment always trumps happiness derived from looking forward to some future moment, or happiness derived from memories. If some kid breaks Isla’s heart, it’s way more enjoyable to actually beat said kid into unconsciousness with a sock full of gummy bears than it is to merely fantasize about it. Don’t worry – I wouldn’t actually beat a kid to death with a sock full of random gummies. I’d make sure to eat all the red ones first.

Negative visualization, by contrast, is much more morbid. Negative visualization with Isla is picturing that she’s mortal (which she is) and that one day I will hug her for the last time (which I will). Even just writing that chokes me up. But it also makes me more loving and appreciative of the sound of her little voice as, while I write this, she sings the Paw Patrol theme song:

“Da da do, da da do, da da da da da DA DOOO!”

Realizing that my time with Isla is finite motivates me to actively and immediately increase the quality of my time with her. The more often I’m able to remind myself of our limited time together, the better that time will be, and overall the happier we both will be.

Yes, thinking about the inevitability that both of us will die (and I fucking hope it’s me first) does invite a quick dose of heartache into my present moment, but the immediate payoff of being hyper-aware of my love for my little girl and the resulting (and overwhelming) joy of having the time with her that I do have, is well worth a quick look at the harsh reality of our inevitable separation.

I’m more a fan of a little preemptive sadness if it buys us a happier today. I’m less a fan of avoiding sad thoughts with the assumption that we’ll always have tomorrow.

 

 

 

Retirement Progress Report 1

nail figures

I’m currently stuffing my face with a bagel slathered in butter and dunked in baked butternut squash soup. I’m drinking cold homo milk fresh from the fridge. My legs are sore from having just played hours of ultimate frisbee. My mind is silent. It was in programming mode today building this javascript calculator and now it seems happy to be idle. Lia, Isla and I biked to Little Lake and fed the ducks, played, and sang the ABCs dozens of times. Today was damn near exactly what I’d like every day to be.

Thinking about that, I catch myself not appreciating the day for what it was. Recently I’ve caught onto Mustachianism and become infatuated with saving more aggressively for retirement (defined as the point I no longer have to work but for sure will keep working on certain things). This mindset is problematic in that it has me preoccupied thinking about the future more than ever before. This is good if it gets me to invest instead of wasting money on dumb things, it’s bad if it clouds my ability to see the moment I’m in. There’s a lingering fear that if I stop thinking about it, I’ll backslide into old habits and not change my behaviour at all.

Overall I’ve got it pretty good. I enjoy my work, mostly, and I’m already living how I’d like to be living. So why save for retirement at all? Why not just keep doing what I’m doing if it’s enjoyable?

The answer, for me, is about a core principle that I wrote as a note to myself late one night in Hawaii:

Always move toward greater freedom and happiness.

More net worth means more freedom. Debt is the opposite (unless it’s “asset” debt). The happiness part is in my head.

I think of saving for retirement as a very difficult challenge presenting a massive payoff. I played around with this compound interest calculator to figure out where my current rate of saving was going to land me in 14 years. I currently buy $200 of Mutual Funds every month. That puts me at $62,000 by the time I’m 45 years old. Not horrible but not retireable either. Further tinkering with the compound interest calculator indicates that Lia and I will need to sock closer to $20k annually if we’re to hit our retirement goals. It’s just doable on our current income, but we’ll have to be much more intentional about our spending than we’ve ever been before. Sushi once a month instead of once a week. Not buying a bunch of drinks at the bar on a random weeknight. Not buying expensive toys whenever I want.

The only question left is: Which do I value more? Being in a position to retire 20 years early or grabbing sushi/drinks/toys every time I get the urge? I really hope it’s the retirement option.

I’ve heard there’s a lot of power behind making goals public, and providing measurable evidence of one’s progress or lack thereof. And it’s probably true because I’m really second-guessing whether to proceed with this or not. In kicks the Neil Gaiman quote I really love:

The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.

Remembering that quote always makes me man up and take the risk.

So here it is, in black and white for everyone to see: our progress toward retirement. I’ll post an update quarterly, with actual figures. This holds me accountable to at least two other people, Kyle and Tyler, both of whom I know read these blog posts religiously.

And the numbers are…

Rainy Day Savings: $3,436

TFSA: $2,631 

Mortgage: $169,878

Our first priority is to save $20k in a savings account for “rainy day” situations/seriously slow times at Butter/etc. Once this $20k layer of fat is in place we’ll be able to invest in mutual funds with the confidence that we won’t need to sell them prematurely out of a sudden need for cash. For those of you interested in tracking our progress, “rainy day” money is what we’re currently trying to save up.

After that, you’ll be able to track the growth of our mutual fund holdings because they’ll be getting all spillover once the “rainy day” account hits $20k.

I’ll report back on this again in July!

A 3 Question Algorithm for Risk Taking

I’m listening to The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class and here’s an awesome formula for taking risks it presents:

When deciding whether or not to take a risk on something, consider these 3 questions:

  1. What’s the best thing that could happen?
  2. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  3. What’s most likely to happen?

If you can handle the worst outcome, and the most likely outcome brings you closer to fulfilling your goals: do it.

Otherwise, don’t.

Why Finishing Books is Usually Bad

I have mathematical evidence that finishing books is a bad idea most of the time. Unless you love every single book you read, you probably shouldn’t finish most of the books you start.

It’s easy to tell when you love a book – you can’t put it down and before you know it, it’s over. But the majority of books I’ve read were at least somewhat arduous to finish, and I’ve always felt like I was supposed to finish every book I start.

We can probably blame school for this, training us to persevere and suffer through material we couldn’t give half a fuck about. If a book was “decent” I’ve always stuck with it. What I’ve noticed though, is that merely “decent” books are actually worse for me than the truly “awful” books are. This is because I quit reading awful books right away, and tend to finish the decent ones – wasting a shitload of time I could have spent reading fucking amazing books.

We are no longer restricted by the god damn limits of the physical world and the piece of shit library card catalogue and our ability to manually and painstakingly search for fucking amazing books.

With the power of algorithms to match us up with massive databases of books available to us online, we should not be settling for anything less than total perfection every time we read.

I did the math to figure out what my own numbers looked like, and it appears as though there is an infinite stream of insanely awesome books on Audible for me to consume. I just need to stop wasting time on the “decent” ones.

Here’s how I figured out that my own infinite stream of perfect books actually exists:

I looked through all the books in my Audible library. Since 2010 I’ve listened to 118 books, and loved 25 of them. 25 “perfect matches” for me. So it appears that I love about 1 out of every 5 books I read. Out of Audible’s 180,000 title library, let’s say their algorithm finds that I’m only a good match for 1% of the total books available. That cuts the total down to 1800 books I’m initially matched with. Now, if I only love 1 out of every 5 of those books that still means there are 360 perfect matches for me on Audible right now!

At my current rate of listening to 17 books per year, it would take me 21 years to get through this new pile of 360 “perfect match” books. During this time, new “perfect” audiobooks will be recorded at a rate far greater than the rate I’m able to listen to them. With 43,000 new audiobooks added to Audible every year, and with me loving only 1 fifth of 1% of them, that’s still 86 new books per year added to my queue. I’d have to listen to 7 books per month, at 8 hours per book that’s 2 hours per day of listening. During the past 7 years I’ve averaged only 22 minutes per day. So I could listen 5x harder than I currently do, and still not get through all the perfect books available to me.

You can see where I’m headed with this. No more fucking around with less than perfect books.

My new policy: if a book sucks even a little bit I immediately return it (online) and start listening to another one. This process repeats until I find one I can’t put down.

How To Return An Amazon Audiobook

A reader, one of my 3 subscribers actually (Tyler Steeves) asked me how to return Audible Audiobooks, and I sensed a YouTube video opportunity.

Audible allows you to return a handful of books online before you’re locked out of doing future returns on your own, but that’s not a big deal because you can return an audiobook through the Audible chat system in roughly 3 minutes.

Life Change = Feeling Stupid and Incompetent

Last night I was working on a code problem and not getting anywhere with it. I had to write some code (an algorithm) to convert a sentence into “Spinal Case” like this:

“My name is Ryan Lowe” = “my-name-is-ryan-lowe”

The problem was there were several other conditions that my code was failing, like when the original sentence was “myNameIsRyanLowe” or “My nameIS-Ryan lowe”. The algorithm needed to figure it out no matter what format of original sentence was entered.

So between 9pm and 11pm I failed over and over to get it right – feeling profoundly stuck and frustrated. All the while my morale was dropping and thoughts like, “You’ll never get this, it’s too hard” crept closer and closer to establishing themselves permanently in my core belief system. This is the important part, because if that had happened I might have stopped learning code and just gone back to doing the code I already know and am comfortable with. And that would be have been bad.

The problem with change is this: it’s easy and comfortable not to change or to change in a negative direction, it’s hard as fuck and extremely uncomfortable (mentally and sometimes physically) to change in a positive direction.

I don’t know why this is but I’ve noticed it in myself and it’s a pain in the ass. Any time I embark on a serious mission of positive change (such as learning difficult code) the road of progress is fraught with signs that read “You’re just not suited for this” and “It’s more efficient and profitable to continue to perfect the code you’re already good at.”

These thoughts seem to be an automatic reaction to my immense psychological discomfort while trying to grasp new and abstract coding concepts. Concepts that I struggle to even somewhat understand, and that struggling makes me feel both stupid and incompetent. Feeling truly stupid and incompetent is so uncomfortable for me that I’ve already given up at learning 4 other coding languages prior to this attempt. Each failure has hardened the core belief that I’m just not all that good at abstract “back-end” code and I should stick to the stuff I’m good at (design and “front-end” code).

Yet here I am, back at the drawing board and trying for a 5th time to “get it”. This time I’ve made more progress than ever before, been more consistent in studying, and have come to truly grasp some of the concepts that have baffled me in the past.

So what’s different this time? A couple things have helped a lot. The first is knowing that learning something new hurts a lot, especially when I’m not picking it up with ease. Knowing that I will be in a constant struggle and want to quit helps me not quit because I’m prepared for those feelings in advance. They still suck, but at least I’m more aware of them and can be cautious of their ability to sway me towards giving up (again).

The second thing that has helped is being aware of the idea of my own personal “depletion” throughout a given day. Smart sciency people have figured out that our inner “wills” become depleted throughout the average day as the weight of life grinds us down and weakens our resolve.

Events like dealing with a difficult client or arguing with a family member do actually decrease our ability to be our “ideal selves” and increase the likelihood of our self-destructive behaviour.

This knowledge suggests we should do the hard things first, like work out in the morning. We are far less likely to have the resolve to work out at the end of the day after having dealt with all the other crap.

The good news is our depleted “will-power” levels reset every morning, after a good sleep. So if something feels impossible, I’ve learned to just leave it the fuck alone for the night and to give it another shot after I’ve slept. It has worked for me in the past, and it worked for me again for the algorithm problem. This morning, with a fresh tank of “I can fucking do this” in my head, I solved it in under 10 minutes.

And, for now, I feel neither stupid nor incompetent.