I used to be very driven. I’m talking “wake up at 4 AM, go run with my dog, take a cold shower, study for two hours, go work, meditate, cook, go to MMA practice, read a book before bed” driven. I was very ready to, you know, get after it. As you might notice from the title, this is no longer true. Why?
The first and obvious explanation is that I’m getting older. I have no way of confirming or denying this - it really could be the case that it’s some mashup of biological processes that works independently of whatever my subjective experience of life is. But I’m 29, which doesn’t seem old at all, so what are the other reasons?
The first reason I can think of is that normal, everyday life is actually difficult. This may be an entirely personal phenomenon, but I find that I semi-consciously categorize my life into two areas: “takes energy” and “doesn’t take energy”. Things that take energy are the big important things, like studying for some important professional certification or completing a big project or whatever. And things that don’t take energy include all the backend admin work: the cooking, the cleaning, the handling of people, the coordinating, the who’s gonna take the dog for a walk, the did you remember that we have a family lunch this weekend, and more.
You don’t have to be particularly attentive to realize that the “doesn’t take energy” category is completely bogus. It’s a scam, one that I’ve willingly enrolled myself into. My general theory for why I’ve done this to myself is the implicit attitude that if you do things “right”, things from this other category shouldn’t take time or energy. Like, these are the basics, right, and the basics shouldn’t be hard. I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense when I look into it, which is why it’s a total scam. Things that don’t take energy, take energy.
There’s something more that’s sorta related. Sometimes, you do a thing that “takes energy” and that’s it, you’ve done it, done. But projects usually require maintenance after you do the project itself, so now you have to, again, do the backend admin work. If you study something, you have to apply it or at least go through some flash cards because otherwise, you’re losing it. If you train some skill, same thing. If you get promoted, you have a harder baseline job. If you buy a house, congratulations on your second job!
Then there’s also the fact that just a basic, regular day isn’t always equally draining. If you have some issue at work, you might be tempted to wave it off as a minor hindrance, a minor annoyance, not something worth your energy and attention as you come back home. Because, hey, it’s just this silly little thing, I shouldn’t be bothered at all. But you can’t talk yourself out of a problem you didn’t talk yourself into in the first place. So you come home, and sure enough, you have your regular set of things that you’re supposed to do now but which don’t take energy, but in addition, you’ve actually, in reality, had a very, very, very difficult day (and you’re pretending you didn’t because you feel it shouldn’t have affected you that much).
So that’s one type of explanation. The other one is disillusionment, or, at least, a change of mindset. I can see a change in the type of YouTube video that I can stomach these days. I used to watch those “How I Keep Productive, Work on 15000 Side Hustles, Run 3 Marathons a Day, and Earn 3 Million Dollars A Month” videos and then I stopped. I just can’t anymore. And in particular, I can no longer watch stuff that takes inspiration out of fiction. I used to have a small theory that went something like this: you are very affected by the circle of people around you, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference if the people are fictional or real.
But these days, when I see someone use Goku or Naruto or some other anime character to prove a point, I’m outta there. I may even press dislike. “You see, Goku trained at 10x the Earth’s gravity to get himself ready for the confrontation. Inspired by that, I try to push my own boundaries every day.” I just can’t take it anymore. I mean, it’s probably because that was my thing for a couple of years in my early 20s, so I have a too strong reaction right now, but I really think that drawing inspiration from fictional characters is highly, highly overrated.
This is a weird intro to my main point, but I’m talking about a general sense of disillusionment, or, to be more precise, quitting a sprint mindset. Getting inspired by something is very treacherous because you might institute some new rules for yourself, announce to the world the upcoming changes, and then follow through, burning a lot of willpower in the hope that you’re constructing a habit. Sometimes it works. Getting into that “get after it” mode, doing a spiritual-energetic-mental sprint, psyching yourself up for that promise of success, embracing the grind, however sigma it may be, it’s pretty bad for long-term results. I mean, maybe someone can pull it off, but I can’t. After hundreds of such offensives, I don’t trust them anymore.
I’ve sorta went the opposite route, and it’s a weird mixture of individual components that works for me. I don’t think I can write an exhaustive list, but I’ll name a couple of things: coasting in neutral, introducing a Sabbath, saying no to people close to me, following curiosity, writing things down… There’s probably more. If this is interesting, I can write about individual things, but it’s just stuff I’ve stolen from smart people.
Anyway, life is now less intense, but more long-term. It’s not a sprint, not even a marathon, it’s more like a hike. I am no longer driven, in the sense of biting down hard and getting after it all day every day. I rest more, I take walks, I sometimes skip training sessions, and I respect the energy-draining aspects of mundane stuff. I don’t ask myself for superhuman performance anymore because it’s a short-sighted ask. And I think I get an equal amount done. Most of all, I don’t beat myself up anymore for not performing up to some arbitrarily high standard. Life is forgiving, and it’s wise to give yourself the spare energy so that you can actually sprint when life isn’t forgiving.