This one’s about staying the course, knowing how to recognise progress from how it feels, and the dangers of internalising other people’s narratives of what your life should be.
In Letter 32 Seneca wants us to stay the course, rather than endlessly making fresh starts and chasing fads. As he puts it,
‘We break up life into little bits and fritter it away’
That can cheat us of doing the Deep Work we need to make progress, rather than endlessly skimming the surface and thrashing about like a hyperactive child in a paddling pool.
But we’re not so sure things are always that simple, especially when it comes to creativity and self-development. Sometimes we don’t need a laser-like focus on just one thing, to the exclusion of all others. Sometimes we just need to be able to put those ‘little bits’ in the right order so they start making sense rather than disrupting our flow.
Focus is as much a matter of timing as gritting your teeth and going all-out. Think about it this way, in the words of the legendary jazz musician:
‘I don’t need time – what I need is a deadline’
– Duke Ellington
So this episode we take a different tack to Seneca. Let’s not be remorselessly focused, but able to live in a diffuse way that allows the subconscious and creative mind the space they need. Then, when the time comes to knuckle down, you can coalesce and get things done in the shortest time possible.
But we’re not advocating one-stop-shop solutions here. Very few things that are wrong about how we feel can be fixed with one change, whatever your CrossFit-obsessed friends may tell you.
What matters isn’t the ‘solution’, in any case: what matters is what questions you’re asking and how you feel about a particular solution. That’s a tricky distinction, but it’s a crucial one, which we unpack in a few practical and powerful steps.
Progress sounds good, but imagining change can be one of the hardest things we do. Part of the problem lies in a deep philosophical issue that we all face: Not being able to properly imagine or recall a different state than the one we’re in. We forget what it felt like to be pain free, or not depressed, or what a psychedelic state actually feels like when we’re not in it. That’s why we’re always oddly surprised when winter comes round again and it really does get dark at 4pm (at least in Britain – urgh).
Don’t worry, though – we’ve got lots of ideas on how to overcome these challenges and make change and progress that feels tangible, meaningful, and positive. Plus there’s time to ban ‘being happy’ as an idea, and to hear about Dre’s rather intense plans for electing an heir to his legacy…
- Yoga vs. crystal meth
- Bruce Lee’s regrets
- Does happiness compound over time?
- Parents who want ‘the best’ for you
- Captain America on LSD
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- The author Jon was forgetting is Robert Anton Wilson, author of Prometheus Rising