Yesterday Makes Today Easier

Every Sunday I create and print off a checklist table for the week. It includes things like work I need to do, habits I’m developing, exercise routines, and nutrition goals. At this point, there are twenty-eight things I want to check off… and man it feels so good to make that check mark, particularly the final one of the day.

I’ve found this method of planning to be incredibly valuable for me, particularly as someone who works from home. Many times throughout my day I feel a little unfocused or distracted and having a list like this gives me something concrete to do. I can look down and see that I haven’t meditated, eaten enough nuts and seeds, gone Pokehunting, or written a blog post, this gives me options for things to get done.

When I look at this piece of paper and see that I’ve gone on a morning run for the last five days straight it makes me want to keep up that pattern. It is added motivation. I don’t want my laziness to be what breaks the daily trend of positive behavior, it is added motivation. Usually, it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t work it starts a trend of negative behavior, taking one day off turns into two and then a week, and it is increasingly difficult to get back into my routine.

In fact, that is exactly what today’s meditation in “The Daily Stoic” was about, but it focused on eliminating bad habits as opposed to starting new ones. From Epictetus’ Discourses:

If you don’t wish to be a hot-head, don’t feed your habit. Try as a first step to remain calm and count the days you haven’t been angry. I used to be angry every day, now every other day, then every third or fourth… if you make it as far as 30 days, thank God! For habit is first weakened and then obliterated. When you can say ‘I didn’t lose my temper today , or the next day, or for three or four months, but kept my cool under provocation,’ you will know you are in better health.

A psychologist friend of mine had a similar insight on a Facebook post I recently shared, but she brought some scientific insight. When we think about something repeatedly our brain wraps myelin around that connection, strengthening it and making it a more commonly used connection. Procrastinating today means tomorrow you’re more likely to procrastinate. Being jealous or angry today means that you’re more likely to feel those emotions tomorrow. Our mind loves efficiency, and by practicing habits (good and bad) those pathways increasingly become stronger and more efficient and, eventually, become the default path we take. Luckily, we have the ability to be aware of this and create new, healthier paths.

A Defense of Imperfection

I’m not a perfectionist, much to the chagrin of my partner (and possibly my boss). I’m able to be a perfectionist when necessary (especially when I’m getting paid), but it doesn’t come naturally and I will usually fight it tooth and nail. I don’t know why I’m this way, maybe genetics or maybe it is years of “schooling” that has encouraged me to just do the minimum necessary, but the reason isn’t important. I am solidly a “good enough” type of person, and I think that’s a good thing for two reasons.

You can’t pursue perfection and innovation at the same time.

Perfection is defined by someone else, usually someone who is invested in the status quo. The perfect way to garden or build a car or design a home is based on the patterns established in the past. Perfection is a conservative pursuit, it is the belief that the old way is best and we should just fall in line. That way lies stagnation.

It is the people who decide to ignore the rules that push advancement. It is those who are too lazy or bored or stubborn to read directions and do things the “perfect” way that are acting entrepreneurially. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. If Ford was seeking the perfect way to provide transportation during his time he would have become a horse trainer. Evolution occurs when imperfections enter the system and prove to be beneficial.

Perfection is inefficient.

Even if I must tread the same, boring, status quo path to make something “perfect”, it is still probably a waste of my time. We should aim for “good enough” because that will allow us to spend our time and resources on other things. When I was in college I could spend two hours to get a 90% on a paper, or I could spend ten hours to get a 100%. At some point, the payoff isn’t worth the price (knowing what I know now I probably wouldn’t have even pursued a 90%).

“Good enough” lets you move on to bigger things. It lets you spend you diversify your time and skill set instead of wasting it on perfection. Someday we may have eternity to perfect skills and papers and curry recipes, but we don’t yet. Time is finite and it is better to have 100 skills and a dozen recipes and write a thousand papers that get the job done than miss out on those opportunities trying to perfect one. Variety is one of life’s pleasures, it is a shame to abandon that for some unattainable goal. We should do enough to accomplish our goals, and then move on.

Welcome to the new website!

Hello, everyone!

With so many new projects and things happening in my life I decided to set up a new website to put everything into a central location. This is still a work in progress but soon I’ll have information about my upcoming book and I’ll start blogging again. I’ve also got some side-projects that I’m excited about. If you want to receive an email when I have updates on my book or side projects just fill out the form to the right.

Until then, feel free to reach out if you have any thoughts on the aesthetics of the page so far.

I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life and I’m thrilled to share it with the world.

– Peter
pjneiger@gmail.com