published on in an advent of extreme ownership

An Advent of Extreme Ownership - Escaping Modern Malarkey

The modern world is full of empty delectations and pointless babbling. This is something that’s become very clear to me lately. Every time I try to do something, every time I’m blessed with focus, I’ll find a way to distract myself. Worse yet, the things I manage to distract myself with are so uninteresting and brainless I become disgusted with myself for continuing to pay attention them. I often feel that I am but an onlooker appalled by the behavior he sees a monkey performing at the zoo.

I’ve therefore come to the conclusion that consuming is the most terrible thing a person can do. As Terence McKenna said, “You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”

As a counterbalance, I think there is something divine about producing - actually doing something. That means going beyond imagination, and bringing your visions into reality. This is a psychedelic truth that is also congruent with the Jocko Willink like mindset of rolling up your sleeves, getting down to business, and doing what needs to be done. I think a revolt against mindless, uneducated consumerism is something we can all rally around (presuming “we” are not the manufacturers of false culture). The question then, is how to actually stop.

For me, this addiction to consumption is an especially hard one to break, mainly because living in the modern world leaves me exposed to the triggers of consumption constantly. Nearly every piece of news, comedy, and media that is pushed into the cultural sphere is so lewdly attractive that it’s hard to stop the next click of my mouse or tap on my screen.

Oftentimes, I’ll be humming along on a productive path, and then I’ll have to watch a YouTube video or read a blog post to fix my problem (usually development related). Upon figuring out the solution (though not implementing it!), I’ll feel that I’ve solved something, and that feeling of satisfaction leads me to click on whatever recommended post or video is suggested next.

Now - to go off on a tangent:

This feeling of “problem satiation” is very dangerous - feeling that I’ve accomplished something when I haven’t is a terrible curse. This lack of proper calibration - not knowing what constitutes having implemented a solution vs. understanding it - leaves me in a spot where I never know if I’ve actually accomplished something or not. I’ve thought a lot now about how to figure out this puzzle, how to establish boundaries around what constitutes achievement and what doesn’t. However, another problem crops up when I try to do this; any framework I think up has to be perfect, and it has to have a clear path to implementation, or I won’t follow it. Perhaps frameworks are the wrong solution altogether.

Another solution I’ve thought up is to simply pursue the flow state - to chase after it. This is an incredibly satisfying way of being productive, because it can be dosed almost like a drug. When following this model, the gorgeous clarity of the flow state gradually takes up more and more of my life as I continue to seek it. I have entered this state a few times, and have had long periods - even weeks! - where my life seemed to be flowing most smoothly. But this model has problems too.

While this model is perhaps the best I’ve found so far, its strength is also its weakness. Not every activity is conducive to the flow state. In fact, much of my work consists of non-flow-state-able activities. Accounting, or fixing bugs in code, or editing the formatting on a badly designed word document – these things are all very tricky to become absorbed in, at least for me. I find myself, when these situations arise, caught in a trap. I can either try to push on with the task, which then becomes the most dreadfully terrible thing ever (on account of my ADD, quite likely), or I can do something else. If I choose to do something else, I have three choices:

  1. Leave the terrible task and start one where I can enter the flow state (like writing), or
  2. Get up and do something physically productive (going for a run, organizing the apartment)
  3. Open a new browser tab and click the first video that pops up on YouTube - “The Horrifying Story of Child-Eating Crabs in Kiribati”, or something like that.

When faced with these choices, my willpower already eroded by whatever menial task I’m performing, I’ll usually choose the path of least resistance, and that is to mindlessly consume.

To summarize:

  • I’ve tried developing frameworks to stay productive and avoid mindless consumption. These frameworks usually don’t work because I spend more time thinking out how to develop the framework than I do implementing it. If I do manage to get to the point of implementation, I will cripple myself by spending more time trying to be accountable to the framework than doing actual work.
  • As an alternative to frameworks, I’ve tried to simply do those things which put me into a flow state. Pursuing the flow state fails, however - not because I can’t find the flow state, but because many of the necessary tasks that my work consists of break my flow state due to their menial and seemingly pointless nature.

The point of this experiment - my Advent of Extreme Ownership - is to make progress. What can I do that will stop me from running into the aforementioned problems? I will suggest a two-pronged approach, as follows:

Part 1: Conviction:

Previous psychedelic experiences I have had have temporarily given me motivation to produce and not to consume. In the week after a trip, I usually feel that I’m steeled against the base pleasures and distractions of the world because I am imbued with a deep conviction of my importance to the world. I believe, therefore, that conviction is a big part of not succumbing to distraction. The question then arises of how to foster this conviction, and how to preserve it. While I would love to expound on my views on this topic here, that topic of pontification is probably best reserved for another time.

Part 2: Insulation:

In this context, when I speak of insulation, I mean maintaining physical (or pseudo-physical) separation from the braindead trash society so loves to feed us. Insulation is a tricky thing to achieve. Every city is plastered with billboards and screens full of adverts and modern media, and much of modern media is a heap of badly disguised triggers to consume and succumb to empty pleasure. Every time I step out of my door, I’m confronted with the modern world. It’s a much harder thing to escape than a particular city or place, and it’s hard to disentangle myself from, especially given that much of my livelihood depends quite directly on modernity.

Perhaps this examination calls for a closer look at what is actually sick about modern society, or what pieces of society contain the most toxic elements. Off the top of my head, the biggest culprits are politics (especially anything beyond the local level), manufactured media (talk shows, pop music, artificial drama), and social media. While it’s a crude start, cutting out as much as possible of the aforementioned shit-brainedness would at least be a step forward. I’ll try it and report back.

All the best to all of you.

— Hugo