It’s New Year’s.
So freaking what? It’s just another day. We all need to calm down a little. Even me telling you to calm down is probably just fueling the excitement, isn’t it?
Are you going to make a resolution? Good luck with that. I doubt you’ll even remember it by early March.
Screw resolutions. I’m going to show you how to actually get things done.
And while we’re ranting: I hate my writing. I hate this whole website. I even hate people who hate my writing because they remind me of all the hate I already have. If this site were a piece of paper, I’d have burned it long ago. Fortunately, the blog medium has largely prevented these perfectionistic tendencies coming out and destroying whatever little good some of you may gain from reading this.
The reason I hate this mother is because it almost never comes out the way I’m thinking of it. There are these beautiful and rather tingly constructions in my mind and they come out so…bland. So tingleless.
In “The Fork, The Choice and You“, I was trying to write something that it might perhaps be better to draw. So I went ahead and drew it.
Behold! The following paths of achievement (or lack thereof): the pothead, the planner and the player.
The Pothead Model
“Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…whoa…yeah”.
Problems: Single, discrete point — a fantasy, a dream — which is a good start, but no path, no granularity, no action, no nothing.
Big Dream, but nothing gets done. Not a single, bleeping thing. Potheads are also known as pipe dreamers.
The Planner Model
Problems: Has goal (point) and path (line), but the path lacks granularity and elasticity. It is conceptually beautiful and perfectly smooth, but unworkable except under perfect (i.e. rarely fulfilled) conditions. The planner’s inability to stay on the line is frequently a cause of stress, pain and ultimately failure.
There is a harsh, rigid, continuous plan. Every deviation from this plan leads to harder sanctions and self-flagellation. In most cases, the sheer physical and emotional plan causes the planner to quit altogether. Planners are also known as perfectionists.
At this time of year, society at large offers us the path of the planner. And those of us who take it tend to suffer so much that we fall off the graph. I submit to you that we should reject this model.
The Player Model
- The player has fun because it’s all a game.
- Unlike the planner, who has this perfect, smooth, continous line she’s trying to force herself onto, the player deals in tiny, discrete, individual points (AKA choices/forks). The player’s path is digital. Over time, she causes the points to form a trend, but there is no actual line.
- At every point, she makes a choice that is both fun and takes her closer to the goal.
- There are thousands of these points.
- The player has a goal but the focus is on the immediate next action.
- The player does not allow the goal to overwhelm her with its vertical or horizontal distance.
- The player does not allow “imperfections” and deviations to perturb her. She accepts deviations, and then corrects or even exploits them.
- The player may often actively seek new, advantageous deviations through playful experiments. She’s in it for the ride.
To repeat the text in the diagram (just in case):
- There is a simple, overarching guideline but no plan too precious to be adjusted or scrapped.
- No limits on modus operandi whatsoever (except to exclude the boring, the ineffective and the generally crap).
- Every moment is new — discrete, digital.
- Every moment is a rest.
- Every day is New Year’s.
- Every t is 0.
- Deviation is accepted, corrected and exploited.
- Beneficial deviation is even actively sought out through experimentation = play.
- Like a small child, the question at each point is “OK, what do we play next?!”.
- There are no “shoulds”, there are no “should haves”. Players are also known as gamers.
Beyond immediate necessity, the player forgets about both the past and the future. There is no burden of regret, no crushingly grand aspirations (there are grand aspirations, she just doesn’t let them get in the way). The real question is: Right here, right now, what do we do next? What do we play next? 1
Japanesewise the key is this: there are gaps. Gaps in your immersion. Gaps in your implementation. Gaps in…I dunno…your teeth? You may make mistakes, you may fall off the horse. Fine. Big deal. What matters is what you do next. Every moment is New Year’s. Every moment is a chance to reset. Every moment, pretend the entire world has just been recreated and redrawn from scratch.
It is a game. If you’re not having fun, it’s because you’re doing it wrong. Which is not to say that there’s only one right way — there isn’t. But if you’re bored, then the way you’re doing it clearly has problems. Make it fun. You will know when you’re having fun. Don’t, don’t, do not be anal retentive and start asking what “fun” is. You know what it is. And if you don’t, then you’re gone in a way far beyond my ability to help you . I officially refuse to define fun.
When you touch something hot, you feel pain: this is your body trying to save your hand from being hurt. Boredom is intellectual pain. Boredom is your body’s way of telling you to change the situation. Ignore it to your own detriment. If you try to just fight through the boredom, your brain is just going to puke it all up anyhow. Your brain is trying to help you out by telling you: “Hey!…Nothing’s getting remembered or learned right now”.
Be A Player: Poke Dots Into Reality. There Is No Line
As you read this website, I do not want you to follow my advice. I do not want you to take my advice. I want you to use my advice. You cannot be me, nor would you want to. You can be much better than that. Much better. You will be faced with situations that I never faced; you may have preferences that I do not. Follow my trend — I think I offer a good one — but pick your own points: there is no line.
[Case in point: my least favorite type of question is "how many kanji/sentences should I do per day"? As many as you pleasantly and consistently can. Stop asking to be commanded (ironically enough, if you were to stop asking to be commanded because of that last sentence, you would in fact be obeying a command...but anyhoo). Do what you want. Try a few "points" and see which ones work for you.]
The planner’s path is goal-focussed. Contemporary personal development literature is awash in goalism. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s not working. When’s the last time a goal got someone to stop smoking? You can goal it up up the wazoo and nothing will change. The goal part is trivial. You can make up a goal half-asleep. I think we already set goals naturally — whenever we want something, that’s a goal. And don’t give me this “a goal is a dream with a deadline” crap, because if it’s a cool enough goal, there’s probably no way you’re going to know enough about the domain to set a real final deadline, so now you’ll just be scaring yourself with images of death (deadline).
Timeframes, yes; timeboxing, yes; deadlines, no. What you really need is (1) a new identity which can produce (2) simple guidelines (I’d say one guideline is enough, three is the max — you have to be able to recall them instantly) for point-by-point behavior, “rules of engagement” if you will — the simple AJATT algorithm in “The Fork, The Choice and You” is a good example.
On the player’s path, each of those points/forks/choices is a chance to change the future — to alter reality itself in a small way. Be a player. I’m not saying “abandon all thought of goals” — never let ideology get in the way of something truly useful — but I am saying let it go; leave well enough alone; it’s not helping like you think it is. Stop massaging these great big “mission statements”; that crap is nothing but empty prose. Stop getting aroused, confused and intimidated by all these “goalistic rituals” that are taking over our society and start poking tiny, pin-sized holes into reality. No one fails for lack of a goal, only for a lack of dots. Dot, dot, dot, dot…………………………
Playing The Meta-Game of AJATT
A lot of what we call personal development was and is actually made for corporate and military training. Stephen Covey? David Allen? Those boys are just manual writers for corporate soldiers, especially ones at or aiming for the “colonel” level. And maybe stuff like that works in large armies and corporations, who struggle just to communicate intentions and keep everyone singing from the same songsheet. But individuals and tiny groups aren’t like that.
We don’t have the sheer man-hours to waste writing impressive plans that are just going to be thrown out anyhow. But we can be nimble. We can be ad hoc. We can be point-by-point. We may appear to have less and be less, but we end up using it far better and thus accomplishing more and becoming more. We — individuals and tiny groups — can fail more because failure is cheaper for us; we can correct and exploit any situation — failure or otherwise — almost instantly.
Have you ever seen those big, round magnifying mirrors that chicks use to do their make-up? You know, the kind that show all your skin’s pores and tiny blemishes and make you depressed to be alive — even if you’re a guy who thought he was decent-looking? I finally understand why women use foundation — it’s the only thing that makes looking at yourself in one of those things bearable. Anyway, a large organization is like one of those. A large organization is like a huge magnifying device. And since a large organization magnifies everything, it also magnifies screw-ups.
A large org can make 10 million good things, but if it makes a mistake, it now has 10 million c-r-a-p things! Result? Large orgs (schools, companies, etc.) are defensive — they don’t try to be good, and they definitely don’t try to have fun, they just try to not-screw-up, not-make-misakes, follow-the-manual. This means that a large org has to suppress both success and failure for its own safety and indeed for the safety of the world at large. We couldn’t well afford to have elephants tripping up all over the place. When 10 million Firestone tires blow up, we have a freaking problem. And a giggly little: “Whoops! Haha – I meant to do that!“, will not cut it.
All of which explains why big companies keep buying up little ones — the little ones are able to think and twist and spin and pivot and maneuver and act and react and fail and deviate and correct and exploit far better and far faster. A big company is just happy to be alive and walking straight. A big company has to kill its creativity, because creativity is all these messy points and a big company wants — needs — a perfect, straight line. When working at full scale, a big company cannot safely and continuously invent and refine cool processes, it can only execute them. Even the great Sony purchases more of its technology than meets the consumer eye, despite having 100,000 incredibly smart employees and dedicated R&D labs.
And that, my war-oriented friends, also explains why a regular army can essentially never win against guerilla tactics. The flexibility and speed of adaptation does not even compare. Guerilla tactics are why America has a President and not a Queen, why Mao came to rule China, why Vietnam is a single country, why I can live wherever I want in Kenya, why even Alexander the Great and Napoleon got royally pwned (in Afghanistan and Russia, respectively) and why an AJATTeer can absolutely d-e-s-t-r-o-y someone who depended on Japanese classes. Because even if the raw AJATT process weren’t better, the meta-process — make it fun, iterate lots, fail lots and tweak to win — is virtually indestructible.
This is also why school sucks for learning, because it kills your maneuverability in order to get you to follow someone else’s plan that’s easier to grade. Schools couldn’t give a pygmy shrew’s buttocks whether you learn or not; they’re just happy to be alive and walking straight. Schools just want you to look good, sit still and shut up so they can push you down the conveyor belt and yell out “next!”. They may not be intentionally callous, but they certainly end up being about as warm as Ann Coulter on a December evening in Minnesota (Minne-freaking-sota winters…oh my gosh…MOMMY, WHY DOES IT HURT MY LUNGS WHEN I BREATHE? And why do shrill, somewhat racist, slightly anti-Semitic women…turn me on? It’s like: “if you wanna get with me, Khatzumoto, you have to alter my fundamental beliefs about humanity! *Diagonal* *Finger* *Snap*!”). Good for the school. Not good for you.
So don’t treat AJATT like school and try to mold yourself to fit The PlanTM, because even AJATT will suck if you do it like that. Mold the plan to fit you as you go along. I didn’t make this so you could be a cog in the machine, I made it so that you would own the machine, use the machine, customize the machine. You don’t need a license, just open the box and fiddle with it. [I think we'll see an explosion of learning and invention when more concrete and abstract "boxes" like this -- creation, discovery and execution processes -- are open for us to see. In that sense, and that sense alone, people's questions about AJATT minutiae are legitimate, if not necessarily important.]
You know, I’m always amused that people are impressed that I learned Japanese without classes. I say, I want to meet the guy who did get fluent because of classes; that shiitake mushroom would impress me!!! If that guy writes a book or blook, listen to HIM! It never surprises me any more that people like Edison, the Wright Brothers and young William Kamkwamba had little or no formal education: it would surprise me if they did.
Anyway, that’s it. That’s the basic idea. Kinda. Sorta. It still doesn’t read the way it actually looks in my mind, but hopefully this all makes things a little clearer. I don’t know if what I’m saying applies that widely. But it applied for self-directed learning/acquisition/becoming Japanese. If you have any questions or insights, feel free to share them with the whole gang.
- By the way, this idea of using time rather than being used by it is one suggested by Eckhart Tolle in his “The Power of Now”. Don’t be deterred by all the shady, New Agey, quasi-religious hype; between the covers is actually one of the best books about focus and concentration ever written. ↩