Advice to Myself

July 24, 2021


1) Perceive time as slowly as possible

I've noticed that in the happiest/most productive times of my life, time goes very slowly. Conversely, when I am directionless, scrolling, or living moment-to-moment, time flies instantaneously. I look up and another day is gone, then a week… then a month. Soon, I am stressing out the night before a deadline, or forgetting appointments. This is no way to live. 

When I started being mindful of time, something important happened: It went slower. I felt more in control. A work session would become an hour., not a half day.

Note: this is not Peter Drucker-esque advice about time management, it is purely psychological. No need for time audits and tight schedules, these strategies have actually made things worse for me.  Here are some strategies that are working:

2) Consider larger blocks of time. 

Another remedy to “living moment to moment” is thinking ahead. I’m not necessarily talking about planning, though. Remember the notion of “salient timeframe”, which is the average amount of time between your actions and the target of those actions. For example, when you are packing for a trip in 2 weeks , the salient time frame is two weeks. This number changes task to task. The salient time frame of making a microwave dinner is minutes. You may average the timeframe for all your tasks, arriving at your overall salient timeframe. 

This is not supposed to be a concrete, optimizable metric. It is a mental model that allows you to continually think farther ahead. The bigger the timeframe, the more grounded you are. You feel more in control. What is the salient timeframe for riding a bull? 

3) Get outside right after you get up.

This is hard to remember right after waking up, but it is an incredibly powerful tool for controlling your day. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by light, so if you can get a bright burst within an hour of waking, you will be sure to stay in a regular cycle. After doing this for a few days, I found I was naturally getting up at the same time everyday - a time of my choosing. Now that you're going back to NM, this will be way easier. The room you will stay in opens directly outside, which means you can wield this tool with precision. See if you can wake up at exactly 6:00 everyday by being mindful of your light environment and when you get to bed.

5) Procrastination is stupid.

You tend to make mountains out of molehills, especially on tasks with unknown difficulty. The key is to think in longer timescales, as discussed. If you are thinking 2 weeks ahead, the upfront cost of starting feels smaller. Additionally, the deadline feels much more salient when considering further into the future.

6) Schoolwork is really easy. 

My research advisor told me that he expects a 3.8 or greater from his assistants. The reason is because, in reality, school work is not that hard. So if you can't manage to do that well, how can he expect anything extra? If you stay on top of your work, learn the important things first, read everything they say, do all the practice problems,  etc., an A is not a stretch for the avg. student.

7) Exercise

Watch the baseline. Whenever I stop exercising, I forget how I felt when I was exercising, and vice versa. The same thing happens with diet. If you eat healthy for a little bit, you completely forget what it felt like to eat poorly. This is why it's better to compare yourself with the past you, so you can remember that the "baseline" for subjective well-being is constantly moving. Most sinister, it moves so slowly  you seldom notice.

8) Don't worry about diet

If I exercise, I generally want to eat better anyway. It is easy to get food anxiety when you eat poorly, but in reality you will be fine if you eat crappily.

9) Shut off your mind occasionally.

I found when I sit down to work, a 5 minute meditation session helps a lot. The goal is to reach the coveted flow-state, where you feel completely absorbed in the work of choice. This, I argue, is the same as the notion of "destroying the self" from meditation practice. A quick session helps you get over the hump by shutting down your executive mind. The best strategy to skirt distraction is to remove the guy who gets distracted!


I might publish part 2, knowing that only, like, 5 people read this. Hope you find it helpful, regardless. -A