This post is only distantly related to the actual techniques that comprise the body of Architect of Thought. I decided to write it (and the next one) because I thought it might help someone who would be reading this newsletter, and also because I hope there’s no harm in doing so.
Epistemic status: highly uncertain. I’ve seen a lot of self-reporting on the approach I will describe here but there is neither conclusive research nor consensus on the topic.
When you fail to do something you have decided to do, it’s frustrating. It often turns into a vicious circle of procrastination that yields ever greater doses of dissatisfaction: the more you grit and strain to get things done, the stronger your discontent becomes. There’s nothing productive about this attitude per se, but it hurts twice because of all the energy you spend on that self-loathing. Creating a place of comfort and security helps immensely to preserve that energy and focus it on something useful.
There are various methods to facilitate the transition from learned coercion and self-criticism to a more relaxed way of life, and most of them are rooted in the idea that it is much easier to do great things from the position of strength. You will be able to do more good if you feel good, if you have rested, if you have cared about yourself.
We humans sometimes lie to ourselves. When we do a thing, we often forget to define the word need. We work on projects we’d rather skip, read books we’d better give out, and pursue careers we’d love to avoid — often because we want to reach the next step’s reward. But, in a world that’s as multidimensional as ours, there are (more often than not) other ways to achieve those farther goals. Almost always we can pivot our projects, read other books, and create our own career paths.
In my understanding, choosing the activities that meet your needs — not only factual but psychological ones as well — makes you free from many burdens. That’s what I’d call the global, or strategic non-coercion. This is when you plan your life in a way that allows you to avoid overcoming the obstacles you won’t like to overcome. Then, there comes the local, or tactical non-coercion for which the natural name will be…
Being playful around your day-to-day tasks is not always easy (personally, I haven’t yet mastered this for all my tasks) but is always rewarding. Let me get metaphorical here: if you can find tiny threads of joy in a problem you face, then solving it may become a dance. Silly or solemn, that dance will be more fun than just working on the problem while getting through boredom or anxiety.
This approach takes a good deal of attentiveness. Golden threads of joy are present in almost all problems but seeing them is not always easy. From my personal experience, I would suggest drawing analogies between things you have to do and what inspires you. For instance, in the great fantasy novel Mother of Learning, the protagonist faces the problem of learning how to control his mana with tedious mana shaping exercises. When I was refining my basic math skills, I solved tens of problems every day, and the felt connection to a character I like invigorated me.
There are ways to link what’s seemingly boring to something that excites you. Most of these connections are not universal, which means that what works for one of us won’t necessarily work for everybody. But there is a more general technique that can use to target either an activity of your choice or yourself. Its name is loving-kindness, or…
I probably use this word in a pretty parochial way. Those who are familiar with the Pāli Canon may squint at my understanding of it. But it’s been rather helpful so far for me, so I will share it nonetheless. I see metta as an umbrella term for all kinds of love, bar its sexual aspect probably. It’s usually translated as “benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, or goodwill” which is pretty much self-descriptive: we can feel this light non-attached affection for some parts of the world and with practice, we can transfer that feeling to other objects, concepts, or people.
The trick with applying it to productivity consists of two independent parts: you can focus metta on the problems you don’t really like, and you can focus it on yourself if you generally tend to be overly critical of your behavior.
The way I do it is very simple: in the first stage that lasts for 5-10 minutes, I focus on anything that makes the metta feeling arise naturally. When it’s stable and strong, I redirect it to the problem in question or myself. That second stage lasts for about the same time as the first one. I don’t think it’s mandatory to do it every day even. Hence, a simple 15-minute exercise may help you change your attitude towards something.
To avoid showcasing only my personal experience, I’ll say that I’ve read reports from many people (more than 20 without specifically looking for them) who stated that, by using similar metta-based techniques, they have achieved similar results.
I urge you to look for better explanations of metta on YouTube or elsewhere as there are surely aspects of it that I omit or construe very differently than was intended. My goal here is to share the knowledge of it and present metta as a potential solution to the productivity issues.
If you are interested in what you’ve just read, I’d love you to:
subscribe to this newsletter,
join our Discord server,
and share it with your friends!
Disclaimer: all content in this newsletter and any associated platforms is for informational purposes only. It shouldn’t be construed as a call to action, medical, or psychological advice.
If you want to support Architect of Thought, feel free to do it on Patreon.