OK not everything. But a lot. Dishes have been a perennial problem for me. Wherever I have lived, whomever I have lived with, dishes have been an issue. Some of this was simply a matter of lacking tools for the job – no warm water, not enough dishcloths, etc. But, I had dish issues even when I had a dishwasher. Certainly living with other people compounds the matter, so I looked forward to when I could live alone, or just with my womanspouse, but even then, the dishes piled up.
And so, no matter how organized(-looking) I got on the outside, I always knew: “Khatzumoto, you’re not The Man; you done ain’t got nothin’, homeboy. You can’t even keep your dishes under control.” I knew….Oh, I knew.
In life, we are often terribly concerned with outcomes. We’re always trying to get somewhere…Sometimes that makes sense. And things like intermediate goals can be very useful. But often, if the goal is too far away, or the task is cyclical, perhaps it makes less sense to focus on where we’re going, and more sense to focus on how we’re getting there.
“Outcomeism” and “resultism” often lead to short-sightedness, stress and even ethical lapses. Result-orientedness is not a bad thing at all, many areas need more of it — Japan’s overworked adults need it injected intravenously right now — but many areas also need less of it. I submit to you that more often than not, our real concern should not be outcomes or goals or products but processes. (Bruce Schneier in the hizzouse).
In simple mathematical terms, instead of aiming for a single, grand, impressive number, a value, a point like 0, or 1, or 100, such as:
- Number of dishes in sink = 0
- Exam score = 100
- P(Japanese fluency) = 1
Perhaps we should aim instead to construct a trend…a habit…a series of thousands, perhaps millions, of tiny, unimpressive points.
Rather than try to get your sink empty, try to build a livable system that ensures a net reduction over time in the number of dishes in your sink. Such that the net difference in the number of dishes between two reasonably distant points in time, t[i] and t[j], is negative.
Rather than try to ace this one exam through a caffeine-aided, Herculean feat of short-term memory, try to find a process that allows you to not only ace any exam, with just a little work every day [SRS], but also ace life in terms of actually remembering the information you are paying so much money for (in terms of books or school fees or whatever).
Rather than try to become fluent in a language, try to build a process that increases over time the quantity of language X that you can comprehend and produce. Or, put another away, build a process that decreases your ignorance of language X over time (why the negative rewording? Because this turns an uphill “mountain-climbing” style process into a downhill “sleigh ride” one — and insofar as there is a real forward momentum/inertia involved in most of the processes that matter to us, the downhill/snowballing metaphor is actually more accurate than the mountain one…too/many/slashes).
The problem with our point-centric way of achieving goals and dreams and whatever-word-is-now-most-fashionable-for-“the prize”…is just that — it’s a “point”. It’s a single moment. Ipso facto, everything other than that point, every moment not spent at that point is a moment of failure. Every moment your sink is not empty, is a moment of filth and squalor. Anything that isn’t overtly and directly connected to acing the exam becomes a waste of time. Every second you are not fluent in Japanese, you are a n00b. Every day that isn’t your birthday sucks. Every day that isn’t your wedding day isn’t happy.
These are not happy feelings to be carrying around. This is a sucky way to live. Especially since the time outside the success point constitutes the majority of your life.
There is a better way. There is a way to ace without being anal, to succeed without suffering. Why not turn your masochistic uphill struggle into a playground slide? Just like at kindergarten! Steve Pavlina talked about it on his site, and Neil Fiore said it in the Now Habit: stop trying to finish tasks, focus on starting them instead…start enough times and the finishing will all take care of itself.
When everything is a function, then life turns from a struggle into a slide…In a sense, it is a more productive interpretation of “go with the flow“: first build the flow – decide on tiny actions that put your function going in the right direction – then go with it.
So did I solve the dishes problem? I’d like to think so. I simply wash n (right now, n = 5) number of dishes, then dry and put away m number of dishes (right now, m = n) every time I’m around the sink and have a couple of minutes free. With the task of dishes, I prefer going for a number rather than going for a time as in timeboxing, because, well…the number of dishes matters more to me than the time it takes to do them; I like the feeling of controlling the speed and I don’t have to be interrupted by the end of the timebox.
I feel kind of embarrassed literally sharing my dirty household secrets like this. Housework gets no respect. And here in the Japans, most men aren’t even involved in it*; especially men with womanspouses (mine’s a feminist, so…I’m…basically…whipped, I mean, domesticated, I mean, happily involved in a relationship of equals…there’ll be all this awkward laughter when she reads this…). But…it is a real life problem that mattered to me; it required a solution, and I think I’ve solved it. It’s been said that orderly surroundings both reflect and produce orderly thinking. I wanted order; I’ve wanted it for a long time. But I didn’t want to spend or feel like I was spending all my time maintaining it. In that sense, I am happy with this process, and I think it contains lessons that can be applied elsewhere.
Random Closing Aside
So, functions and lines rather than points. Did you ever notice how people, when they’re scolding you for not doing something, often go: “would it kill you to wash one dish!?”? Or how, when you’ve been neglecting a project or a language for a long time and it’s starting to die on you, that it’s usually not the case that you were doing too little work on the project, but that you were doing zero work on the project?
I have. So…the idea of “processes over results” is deeply connected with the idea of just doing something, just moving forward.
Overall, very simple stuff, but…it was earthshaking for me in terms of the improvement in quality of life. Hopefully it will be for you, too. And if you have any other dishwashing tips, send them to me!
*One wonderful exception is my college roommate, T-star. That boy can cook! But my other guy friends who are Japanese have basically never seen the inside of their family kitchens. It’s a good life; except for the 26-hour workday with unpaid overtime part. Take one for the team, Tanaka-kun!!