29 October 2018

I was talking to someone who used to work in finance in New York. They told me they left to write fiction. I thought it’s their dream to be a writer. Then they also told me they don’t enjoy writing that much, with all the editing and revising. Yet, they feel a strong compulsion to write, to discover the characters.

I thought I know what they were talking about. Years ago, I had became a compulsive math solver. At the sight of an interesting math problem I’m was a bull that sees the red cape and has to charge. I still am. Few weeks ago I saw a thumbnail of a Youtube video which described a problem, with the caption “You should be able solve this”. I charged.

I have other compulsions too. I like to write, and to code. Both are similar to math. When it has been too long without one or the other. I get restless.

I cook compulsively. Over the last year I’ve gradually been perfecting a whole wheat seeded sourdough.

And exercising. I am now addicted to it. I lift weights, train Brazilian Jui Jitstu, bike long distances and occasionally try surfing.

These are all excellent compulsions. I call them compulsions as they are stronger than a mere habit.

But there is a dark side. I have disruptive compulsions. Wasting a lot of time on the internet. A lot. And procrastinating. Clicking on another youtube video, I become passenger in my body, which is running on autopilot. It feels restraining, as I realize I it is doing something I don’t want to be doing, and yet I do not stop it. I can’t. I’m caught in the whitewater of a mighty breaker.

These days most of my time is spend on my compulsions.

I believe that to live a happy and rewarding life, I need to develop the positive habits, and enhance my appreciation and productivity. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get myself to develop beneficial habits, with moderate success. Developing habits is hard. It takes mountainfuls of energy and effort. Listening to motivational podcasts. Struggling and fighting with myself.

But developing compulsions is easier. All I need is to get hooked… just get hooked and give in to it. With time, it becomes a habit too, but it is stronger. Getting hooked is like catching a wave. It takes initial effort to get into it, then it becomes really exciting, as the wave picks up. For a little while nothing else exists. And then, it’s all about keeping the balance and going with it.
Not that know much about surfing.

A rogue wave of compulsion would pick me up and point me towards the rocks, where it might smash me. When I find myself on it, try to remember and look for any other waves that I could catch. They don’t have to be the best waves. They just have to take me away from the rocks, so I have a chance to catch an even better ones, to take me where I want to go, and bring me closer to the people I love.

One short post per week, discussing actionable mental models. Join a community of readers, who receive these posts over email.