I tried to teach myself to play the guitar. But I’m a horrible teacher — because I do not know how to play a guitar.
— Mitch Hedberg
I want to be my Optimal self. But I have no h*ckin’ idea how.
I’m not very good at teaching myself how to be Optimal, because I don’t know what Optimal Taylor Sarrafian looks like.
And I’m not very good at listening to myself, because I’m non-Optimal.
What a catch-22!
So I categorized myself under projects, because, well, I have some vague ideas on how to “improve” myself.
“Rascality, pure rascality.”
— Ferdinand Demara
Knowing why you’re going somewhere doesn’t guarantee the exact path to get there. A journey’s Why is a compass that helps you generate maps when the path is blocked.
Values don’t tell you where to go, but they point you in the right direction. Unfortunately, the compass I want is not the compass I actually have.
In theory, my values are compassion and honesty. In an Optimal world, I would ooze empathy and kindness and give myself completely to every stranger that strikes up a conversation. But I’m not Optimal. I’m often stubborn and manipulative and full of self-criticism.
But why honesty and compassion?
Honesty aligns your insides with your outsides. When you’re completely honest with yourself and others, you can avoid becoming trapped by your own fantasies and others’ misunderstandings. Total, unbridled sincerity glues you to The Way Things Work. And when you follow The Way Things Work, what can go wrong? Everything just happens.
And without honesty, all other values are useless — your life becomes a stew of excuses and falsehoods. When you abandon truth, what is there to guide you? All decisions are equally viable when everything is “correct”.
Compassion is useful. Life is easier when you’re nice to people. Interpersonal interactions are not isolated. Looking at the Iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma, establishing mutually-beneficial relationships can be optimal in the long-run. Trust permits preferred treatment and frictionless communications; better deals with no wasted time/effort! And because of network-effects, good reputations with one person transfer to others. When you’re kind to others, you’ll find strangers wanting to help you for no good reason.
And being compassionate to yourself is just as important! If anything, hating yourself is inefficient.
Compassion fills in the gaps of an honest lifestyle.
“Am I Fat?”
“You’re not fat, you’re just plain ugly.”
“No, I love your body just the way it is.”
“Yeah, I think we both can improve our bodies a little — let’s start going to the gym?”
In practice, my values are unclear. Looking at how I spend my money, I value housing, food, music, technology, and experiences. Looking at how I spend my time, I value laughter, learning, storytelling, and making things. Looking at how I treat others, I value smiles, openness, and disruption.
Ideal values are useful for System II thinking. When you’re caught in an ethical dilemma, it helps to compare your options against each of your values. But this is slow, conscious process. System I‘s values are habits. They can be only be changed at the level of practice.
So using my values as a compass, I’ll try to build a general map of how to navigate this wild, wild world.
But how do you create a map for a journey with a constantly-changing terrain‽
Systems are better than goals. But in order to create some better systems for myself, I need to have a general understanding of what I want to occupy my time.
“Become a rockstar” is not a goal — it’s a fantasy. Most goals are not achievable, because they’re things that can’t be done now. But “practice ukulele” is a system that may turn you into rockstar. And the best part is, if you enjoy the journey, there’s no possibility of reaching a wrong destination!
But it’s hard to juggle short-term and long-term behavior. What I want to do every minute usually doesn’t align with what I want to do over the span of the entire day.
So I decided to write relativistic goals over windows of time. Following a strict daily-routine may cripple my longer-term desire for lasting relationships. What if waking up at 5AM prevents me from interacting with people that I love?
Chunking my wants by time-windows gives me a framework for seeing how many things I’m doing right vs. how many things I’m doing wrong. What’s the point of making lots of money if I’m stressed? What’s the point of being in-the-moment if I’m focusing on some low-tier anime garbage?
An Ideal Minute
At each moment, my Optimal self would be completely engaged in whatever I’m doing.
Dancing all day.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
An Ideal Hour
By the hour, Optimal Tay would always do the Right Thing™ at the Right Time™.
First I would find the Right Thing™ to do. Efficiency doesn’t matter when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
And there are often a few Right Things™ to do, so I would prioritize by finding the Right Time™. What deserves my “now“?
Once I found the Right Thing™ for the moment, I would focus on it until completion. Distractions are costly.
At the one-hour level, it’s all about meta-cognition: “What’s the best use of my time?”
An Ideal Day
“Everyday” is a powerful force. When you do something everyday, you improve. When you do something everyday, it becomes effortless. When you do something everyday, you define who you’re becoming.
Specifically, I want to stick to my routine everyday. Generally, I want to:
Make a Gameplan
Make Dope Shit
Make Shit Dope
Garbage In · Garbage Forever
An Ideal Month
In an ideal month, my Optimal self would connect, learn, and create.
I’d love to meet interesting people. I’d love to laugh with friends until my face hurts. I’d love to make people feel special. I’d love to rekindle dying relationships. I’d love to send hand-written thank-you letters.
Changes in knowledge are visible at the month-scale. I’d love to see myself progress on a giant deck of flash-cards as the weeks go by. And also watch myself practice, practice, practice — to have a new recipe or song or sleight-of-hand mastered every few weeks.
And you can get so much done in a few weeks! If I really applied myself, how many essays could I complete? How many songs could I write? How much chaos could I create?
An Ideal Year
Of course we’re always evolving, but it’s hard to see dramatic changes in personality over the course of a month.
But at the end of an Optimal year, I would hope to see obvious improvement in myself. I would want to see myself a little kinder and happier than the year before.