Reflections on Aphorisms #94

I didn’t have a super-productive day today, but part of that’s just down to sleep (again), going to see Toy Story 4 (which I will probably do an in-depth analysis of), and also just not feeling my best (in large part due to lack of sleep).

I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Aphorism 132

The head cannot long play the part of the heart. (Maxim 108)

François de La Rochefoucauld


One of the things that people overlook in this modern age is that we’re built and wired to function a certain way. We try to force ourselves into a particular mode of being.

I’ve recently talked about the issues that surround the idea that one can live a rational life.

One of them is that the value that can be derived from things is not clear by logic.

Let’s take for example the art of taking a vacation.

No matter who you ask, you will get a different response to the proper process.

I like to go in basically unknown. I’ll look at maps and try to see if there’s any particular risk associated with my choice of lodging or route, but I don’t bother with a planned-out itinerary or anything like that. I’ll choose a thing or two I want to do each day, and if I can get them done, that’s great. If not, I’ll do whatever I feel like.

My father is the polar opposite of this, and I can recall countless trips with him that involved enough activity to make the return to daily life a welcome break from the vacation. He has vacations that run on timetables.

Lest I make him sound too unbearable, he’s grown a lot more conscious of others’ needs in the past few years, so this is more of a childhood reflection than something that is a current issue I’m just griping about on the internet.

Part of the reason that I don’t plan my trips other than just picking potential destinations and not even being particularly faithful to them is that it makes it a lot easier to follow my emotion, rather than my reason. I’ve had great experiences in lowly places.

The philosopher/investor Nicholas Nassim Taleb once wrote that he went out to an expensive and fancy dinner that he hated, then went and got cheap pizza, and he could never figure out why the pizza didn’t cost as much as the expensive dinner.

I’m the same way. I’m just as happy with a couple dollars worth of pizza as I am with the best experiences, and part of the reason for this is that I don’t let reason get in the way of planning my life.

Sure, there might be restaurants in San Francisco that I’ve never gone to that would have been within my reach, but Jenny’s Burgers by Golden Gate Park offer a nice half-pound burger that doesn’t break the bank and leaves me happily sedated with satiation.

Part of the problem with reason replacing emotion is that reason looks outside the self. My first epiphany of this was when I decided to become a teacher instead of a pharmacist. Both professions are worthy of respect, but one of them didn’t hold the same value to me. I knew that no matter how much I helped people as a pharmacist, I wouldn’t have a personal connection with the vast majority of them, and I wouldn’t get to see them grow.

Of course, I’m also unlikely to be getting a sports car any time soon, but I’m satisfied with my old early-2000s Honda Civic (even if the airbags are in a perpetual state of product recall). It’s a coupe, which is sexy in its own way even if it’s not a fancy car, and it drives really well.

Putting reason into things can reveal all the issues with them that we put up with.

However, our reason is not solid, and we very quickly wind up compounding its errors. Our emotion is just as flawed, but we’re intuitively aware of this. They work together, not separately. With both emotion and reason, we can balance our observations, thoughts, and responses. With just one or the other, they quickly wind up astray.

I read one of Jonathan Haidt’s books in which he mentioned that people who have damage to the part of the brain that produces emotion have a hard time making decisions and wind up making really bad decisions.

Even if logical thought remains intact, the driving force that orients us to our goals is always going to be emotion. A vacation that turns into a forced march doesn’t feel like a vacation (in fact, it’s turned into a common trope of stories centered on youth in America), and a life that turns into calculated mathematics doesn’t feel like life.


Balance my emotions with my reason.

Remember why I do things.

When planning, think about what the result will feel like.

Reflections on Aphorisms #38

Today I’ve had some more work to do, and I’ve also been trying to get through some writing backlogs. As usual, I sort of go in scattered motions toward everything simultaneously, so I’ve been polishing off a freelance project, getting back into work on my own games, and starting a master’s program simultaneously.

I’ve also been listening to An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Amazon affiliate link), and there was a quote in it that matched up to an article in the Harvard Business Review I also read recently. I’m falling into a bit of a rut on the productivity stuff, and I should get back to exploring my horizons now that I’m moving more concretely in the right direction, but I’ve found it to be really valuable.

Aphorism 61

Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.

Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth


This probably doesn’t need a whole lot of interpretation, but it relates to my personal struggles with productivity quite a bit.

I am a worrier. I will lose sleep over social interactions that other people probably weren’t even paying attention to, how I signed my name in a guest book, if I should have gone to bed earlier, and various other sundry things.

I’ve also got a strong neurotic tendency. Things bothered me a lot when I was younger. Sometimes they still do (I have somewhat idiosyncratic things that bother me that I know aren’t logical), but I overcame most of it by simply adopting the counter-point and choosing to let go. If something bothered me, I would either deal with it or decide that it didn’t matter and actually orient myself around that (as opposed to suppressing my emotion and burying it). The result was that I became very decisive and active in many ways.

You can’t do the same thing with worrying. There’s something very valuable to be said about living in the moment, and wiser people than me have talked about the virtues of emotional detachment, but I don’t think that it’s a good idea for most people, especially because worrying does play a role in our lives (even if it’s something that extends well beyond its right purpose in most cases).

Rather, the solution is active consideration, what Hadfield calls “anticipating problems” and which bears resemblance to the Stoic methodology that I’ve been talking about recently.

The secret is that worry can’t be a passive state. If you let yourself slip into anxiety, as I am often prone to doing in my own life, you move yourself away from what you should do. I have a really hard time asking people for assistance that isn’t strictly their responsibility (I’m a master at being needy, though; I’m just not willing to impose), and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that I’m thrilled when people ask me for help but I don’t let that logically percolate through. If being asked for help thrills me, it will probably thrill others, or at least let them know they are respected, and I can always ask in a way that does not invoke commitment on their part.

Moving on, however, there’s another step here which falls into the notion of self-actuation. Solutions are important, not just problems. I’ve heard it said that drowning people are focused more on the fact that they are drowning than on the ways to recover gracefully, which is why they tend to drown without help in even seemingly unlikely conditions and can be dangerous to others who are trying to help them. Only having one close call myself, I don’t recall this from personal experience: I didn’t consider myself to be in any risk, though apparently my swimming was showing signs of issues; it’s likely I was in over my head metaphorically but not yet literally.

However, the key here is that if you focus on the problem, it’s difficult to take the action that leads to the solution. As a teacher I got to see examples of this all the time in practice, both in myself and in those around me.

As for myself, I often had issues with classroom behavior my first year teaching. The class was a notoriously rough one (and I had less support than would be nice because my position had changed mid-year), and I was definitely in the drowning person’s shoes more often than not. My focus was on whatever the greatest incident of the day was (and there was an incident, small or large, every day), rather than the steps that could be taken to prevent those incidents.

Even by the next year, I had realized that a reactive response didn’t work. I learned what other teachers did that worked, tailored it to my needs, and changed my style. It worked well enough. I still had a couple kids who were considered “problem students” and didn’t live up to my standards, but I’d hear horror stories from other teachers about those students in their class doing things that they never even thought of doing in my classroom. Finding solutions, rather than focusing on problems, worked. I was able to be respectful toward the students and approach them rather than their behaviors, and to an extent that their adolescent brains were capable of following the classroom structure they were respectful back and approached my class as a holistic experience rather than just viewing it as a confrontation with me as an overbearing authority figure.

Basically, the distinction between worrying and productive anticipation is how you frame it:

Worrying looks like “It sucks that my life isn’t going the way I want it to.”

Being productive in anticipating looks like “My life would suck less if I wrote for two hours a day.”

It’s not an obvious distinction, but if you combine the latter with actual steps toward action you get a potentially great result.


Blame myself for my failures, then forgive myself and improve.

If I can’t find a solution to something, find a solution to something else and quit wasting my time on the first problem.

Don’t slow down when things are unclear; quickly decide whether to change direction or stay the course.