Running as a pair is hard.

Running as a pair is hard.

We’ve decided that we’re going to tackle a series of half marathons together. I’ve decided that together means that we should probably follow the same general training plan, and do as many of the training runs together as we can, so that we can run the actual race together instead of separately. There may be a different time where we push ourselves independently to see how fast we can go, but that’s not this year.

But it’s easy to get out of sync. During the week it’s hard to meet up for runs because of work – there’s more running options near my workplace, but my workplace isn’t that easy to get to from hers. One person gets sick, or maybe has a small injury – does the other keep training, or pause?

When we do train together I think that we push each other well – it’s easy for me to fall into a long slow pace that’s less than I should do when I’m on my own, and she likes to take breaks so that the whole run is a series of intervals. Trying to merge these styles has (I think) led to productive training.

A Meandering Exploration of Personal Goals

What are my personal goals?

From a very broad perspective, my goal is to live a good life. A life that, in retrospect or review, will have seemed worth living.

Exploration of a good life

I set out to write out the principles I’ve tried to follow, but so far I can only think of one: never regret a decision. There’s an important piece of this, which is to remember that there are many decisions that I make, including my attitude towards decisions that others have made or circumstances that I come upon – in a sense, owning the fact that I am the decider of my life.

It seems a bit weird to define this in terms of a negation – to not regret something. Maybe another way is to say, be happy with my decisions – but happiness brings another quality that I’m not sure I agree with. Let’s explore the possible emotions or attitudes I might want to hold towards the decisions I make in my life.

Happiness – this word has a brightness to it, a glow or a anticipation of future happy events. I don’t think it’s quite the appropriate term.

Contentment – this word feels too passive.

At peace – to be at peace with one’s decisions. This seems close. Being at peace with something suggests the opposite, which is to be in conflict with it, and I would agree that my attitude is not one of conflict, but instead a conflict resolved or prevented.

Peace – let’s go with it. It suggests a calm. And being at peace with decisions also provides a useful tension or contrast – it’s not about being at peace, which, although pleasant, also suggests a stillness, or an adjacent apathy or passiveness. But deciding is an active verb, is something that requires effort.

At Peace with Decisions – Abstract Exploration

Let’s accept for the moment that we have agency. (Causality, the mind-body problem, and a number of other things object to this viewpoint, so it’s a large premise to accept. If you’re likely to reject it, perhaps you can accept a form of parallel agency, where we feel like we have agency and that’s all that matters, regardless of our effect on the external world (if there is an external world, you solipsist).) If we have agency, that means we are able to make decisions. For myself, I appear to have an internal mental life in addition to the one that others can observe – perhaps the side effects of my mental life are visible to others, but no direct observation. In addition, this mental life appears to respond to my direction – I can decide to think about certain things, or not dwell on them, as the case may be, with some degree of mental effort. This means that outside of manipulation and suggestion, I have direct control over at least part of my own mental thoughts.

If we have this kind of internal mental agency, the ability to exert our will over what we want to think about or how we want to think, then it follows that we actually make decisions constantly – about how we will mentally tackle or engage with whatever external inputs we’re receiving, the “things that are happening to us.” So even if you are in a position where you have no external agency, it is likely that you still have internal agency and therefore are able to make decisions.

Digression – it’s a daunting prospect that there are people or conditions where you no longer even have mental agency. This seems somewhat likely given the existence of psychological conditions like PTSD, or depression, or psych/physical conditions like dementia. It’s my fervent hope that even with one of these conditions, mental agency of a sort persists, but for now I will proceed while acknowledging that I am currently privileged to not have to contend with such obstacles.

What does it mean to be at peace with a decision? This is likely a personal question for each mental agent. For someone who has little regard for consequence, being at peace with a decision could mean very little – they don’t care about consequences, so the decision, how the decision was made, and the impact of the decision will not affect their ability to be at peace with it.

I think that the opposite extreme is to care a great deal about the consequences of a decision – for this kind of person, in order to be at peace with a decision, the eventual outcome must be known, and the state of being ‘at peace’ is contingent on external factors and may change over time.

For myself, I like to think I’m somewhere in between. To be at peace, I want to know that I would not have done differently, given the chance to re-make that decision at the time. Importantly, this position is not contingent on outcomes, because outcomes are always unknown at the time of the decision. Put a different way, in order to be at peace with a decision I must believe that I made the best possible decision I could have at the time.

What does a ‘best possible’ decision look like? For me, ‘best’ applies along a few axes. First is a moral component – I separately believe that I should do no active harm to anyone. A decision that I make to do so would easily fail this test. A decision that chooses between harming different groups is either a false choice, or one where I will likely apply my own moral standards to others as a rudimentary metric to evaluate who may be least deserving of harm. Additionally, the best possible decision has a degree of thoroughness. Did I collect sufficient data on which to base the decision? The key word here is sufficient, which involves an additional decision – I must decide what sufficient means in each case. That decision (like the decisions based upon is) is rooted in experience: in previous decisions similar to this one, how much data did I have? Was it sufficient? Was it excessive, allowing for a lower standard of sufficiency this time around? Does this decision look a lot like the previous ones, so there is an acceptable risk to under-examination if we collect less information? (You’ll notice each of these questions requires an additional decision – decisions all the way down, baby.)

So if I’ve satisfied the moral component and the thoroughness component, I can be at peace with a decision. And if I’m at peace with a decision, I can accept the outcomes – because what would I have have done differently, at that time?

Examples

What has this looked like in practice? I can think of a few examples where someone has asked me if I regretted a decision and I could comfortably say “no,” and I think it was due to this principle, or something like it. The obvious examples are when a I make a change that substantially affects my subsequent day-to-day life, but ideally there are examples every day, and even in my decisions about the attitudes I will have towards things happening to me, or minor events.

One such instance was when I decided to suspend my pursuit of a degree at Stanford, and instead move across the country to live with someone who mattered to me. This was a long and involved decision, and one where I collected a lot of data, but once I had collected the data and the decision was made, I have thought to have decided any other way, even if there were rough spots here and there.

Another is deciding to volunteer for managing the Stanford Band

Another is electing to take a management position (or the one after that, where all I’m doing is managing!)

Exceptions that prove the rule

Even if I can come up with examples that seem to go along with this idea, it’s perhaps more important to identify some cases where I was not happy with the decision I had made. These are the cases where, upon reflection, I did not make the best possible decision I could have at the time. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy for cases like this to go unexamined.

One component to identifying these cases is probably taking the time to reflect on consequences of decisions, whether those outcomes are positive or negative (or neutral). It would be paralyzing to analyze the outcome of every decision I’ve made, but I do try to take stock now and again and get a sense of how I’m doing.

In the case of a positive outcome, my goal is to analyze whether I was sufficiently prepared to make the decision I did, or if instead I was fortunate enough to achieve or receive a favorable outcome without doing my research. Those who invest in equities on public stock markets may be familiar with this type of analysis. The goal is to identify whether or not subsequent decision-making needs to be more thorough, or if I am making the best possible decision in a given category and therefore should be at peace with those decisions.

Analyzing negative outcomes is very similar. There have been and will be negative outcomes in my life; the only question I’m trying to answer in the analysis is whether or not I was sufficiently prepared that I can be at peace with the decisions I made. If so, then I can be at peace with the outcomes as well, at least from my own perspective. This doesn’t prevent me from being hurt by harm done to me by others, but in this case I can still be at peace with myself.

Conclusion, for now

I think I’ve written enough on the subject for the short term, but in the longer run I will probably try my best to analyze situations like these from time to time. Admittedly, this was a mostly abstract exploration of what my personal goal is, which has a normative moral component and is best described as being at peace with the decisions I make.

Note from Hawaii

“Hot Raspberries”: raspberries soaked in sugar and vodka, cooked in a pan to cook off most of the vodka, served hot over sweet french toast. Can probably be served over toast, pancakes, or Belgian waffles.

Protea Cafe, Waikiki

Made it!

Well, somehow, less than a month from my last post where I was having trouble getting myself motivated, here I am waiting for the CalTrain on my first day of work. I received my bachelor’s degree two days ago, finished Mass Effect 2 yesterday on my day off and now I’m diving in headfirst.

There’s no real way to know, but I have the suspicion that if I ever look back for a turning point, a marker of some sort, this might be one – for the foreseeable future, excepting any work with the Stanford Band, my primary focus will be either working on software, or taking Computer Science classes. That’s kinda neat.

From Thinking to Doing

How does one effectively transition from thinking to doing? I feel like it’s very easy to come up with myriad examples of things where I want to do something, not just think about it. It may not even be very hard. It ranges from diet and exercise to programming projects, art, writing, finances, self-improvement.

One thing that highlights this perceived lack of doing is age. Especially with YouTube and the Internet making it easy to find individuals who have accomplished quite a bit who are no older than yourself.

I also think that college has made it easy to become a passive consumer of ephemera, without any real motivation to create or do something myself – it’s satisfying, if only temporarily, to scour the internet, do a lot of reading, but never write anything down or comment anywhere.

I’m trying to think about how to shift that in a subtle way – I’ve started following links to people’s personal websites that show the awesome things they’ve accomplished, designed, or painted.  I don’t think I have the creative talent for any of that, but I do think I have something I want to create, so hopefully I’ll start to do that more often.  I’d love to be able to point to something that I’ve done, ideally before I’m 30 (or 25, even!).

For people who spend more time doing than thinking, I have a feeling they just think that the thinkers (or consumers) just need to ‘start doing’ – stop sitting around and whining (or moping, which is even more passive), and get ‘er dun!  I’m not sure it’s that easy, but I’m also not sure what the roadblocks are.  Is it like a chemical reaction, where you’re content at a stable state of lower effort, and it takes a big effort to move you up to the next stable spot?

I’m hoping that my internship this summer will help kick me into a mode of accomplishing things – also, shifting into just Computer Science classes for my Master’s program this coming fall will hopefully help remove my apathy towards reading-type schoolwork (because I won’t have any/much).

My CS advisor asked a very insightful question, about whether I want to build a system which will support others who want to change the world, or if there’s something that I want to change.  I had been operating under the assumption that in order to accomplish the latter, you have to be well versed in the former.  It turns out, that there are other people in the world besides myself, and I can put together a team instead of being competent vertically across all aspects.  So I’ve started to rethink on which I want to be.  Maybe by the time I finish my Master’s, I’ll have done enough thinking and can transition to doing on that part as well.

I would promise to myself to write here more frequently, but I’m afraid that time will show that to be a false promise.  So I’ll state it as a hope instead: I hope to set aside the time to write out my thoughts, here, more often, even if they aren’t entirely well formed.  Quantity is not in and of itself useful, but repetition can make it easier when it comes time to produce quality.

Academic Pivot

I’ve been admitted into a Master’s program for Computer Science. This is a pretty significant departure from my philosophy major, so I look forward to expanding my academic horizons and hopefully learning what I need to take on some awesome web projects down the road.

More media incoming

I’ve been ruminating on a couple of post topics, which hopefully I’ll get around to soon. In the meantime, I recently obtained an iPhone 4 (thanks Yanessa!), so I’m taking more photos and video – you can check out my streams on the rights sidebar. I’m working on adding the lightbox functionality to the video so you can see it full-size without needing to go to the youtube site. You can also click the Latest Video header to go to my YouTube channel.

Productivity

So a while back, I followed a guest post on Lifehacker from Ramit Sethi about personal finance, and specifically how to automate your finances and identify what you actually want to spend on.

I’ve started to think about ways recently to try and automate my task management in a similar way. For some reason I feel like a lack of organization is keeping me from actually getting things done.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if what’s actually going on is I’m claiming I need to get more organized as avoidance behavior, and what I actually need to do is just sit down and knock things out. I do think some of the decision paralysis is warrented though, because recently I’ve felt so unorganized that I’m nowhere near confident that I’ve covered everything I need to be paying attention to.

I’m considering trying to read up on GTD or the four-hour work-week, although I’m not sure either contain things that I would actually be interested in or capable of maintaining. I’m also finding that remember the milk might actually be not well suited to my purposes… Maybe there’s a better solution for me. The problem is that I probably can’t afford to spend the time searching for a solution while I need to get work done.

Maybe after Dollie Day.

Right…

A place to jot notes…

So, I should probably start using this blog again.

Doing some philosophy reading on free will (specifically, hard incompatibilism) and realized what one of my knee-jerk problems is with many of these discussions – there is an assumption that everyone knows what we are talking about when we refer to selves.

Something I’ll explore further, hopefully soonish.

Beyond that, I’ll hopefully also start updating http://bylasley.com with things that Yanessa is up to.