Finding Meaning in Life and Habits

11 Feb 2018

A few weeks back I listened to a podcast from Indiehackers from Spenser Skates from Amplitude:

We talk about making a billion dollars here in Silicon Valley, you know what real impact is? Saving a billion lives. That story really stuck with me and resonated with me, and you know, he got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, but not many people understand the impact he has to hundreds of millions of people, but even more, our trajectory as the human race, and it’s like, woah, if I can have a tiny fraction of the impact that someone like that has had on the world, that would be incredible. It > was like, hey sign me up, I’ll dedicate the rest of my life, no question, and I will be totally confident in that, and that’s really important because I think a lot of folks go through life and they end up realizing what they want is very different from what they’re doing, so being able to find something where you can say, hey let me dedicate my life to this without having any doubts about that, or any regrets about what you do is super important and a good way to find long term success. When > I look at what we’re doing here at Amplitude, we’re nowhere near on the scale of an impact of someone like Norman Borlaug, but I think about my talents and what I’m good at, and it’s like what do I know how to do? Well I know how to build and sell software, so let me do the most good as we can through that.

I don’t expect myself to save millions of lives, but I like the idea that Spenser Skates mentions. Ultimately, what it boils down to is thinking about your talents and what you’re good at, and what you know how to do.

I thought about this quite deeply. What am I good at, and what can I do to follow Boyscout rule, and leave this world a little better than it was before?

My answer was not too far fetched from Spenser’s. For me, I’m not quite sure what I’m good at, but given my engineering background, things that I can do to make our world a better place is to work on building things that make people’s lives a little easier, and a little better than it was before. Hopefully I can have a lot of fun doing it.

That’s why recently I’ve trying to up my game, and spend a lot of time learning new things outside work and attempt to build cool things. So far, the progress has been rather slow. Despite my somewhat decent educational background, I haven’t spend too much time outside my class or work working on building interesting things. But I’m trying to change that for the past couple of months. It hasn’t been easy. To do things that you don’t normally do is challenging.

It’s really hard to change habits that have literally been engraved into your brain. Imagine that you planted a tree twenty years ago. And now you’re trying to uproot the damn thing. It’s not easy. The way I think about this is that every action that you do, it reinforces that certain habit. It’s extremely difficult to quit, whatever it is. It’s so weird. One thing leads to another… and you think, how the heck did I get here?!!!

I’ve been reading a book called The Power of Habit and it really resonated with me. The premise of the book is that our brain autowired to do actions in a certain way, and it follows this format: cue, action, reward. Essentially, the cue is a trigger that sets the everything in motion, action(s) are things that you do, and reward is the pleasure that you get.

For me, when I come back from work, I have dinner, then sit on my computer, and usually just browed reddit and watched a lot of YouTube videos. Then go to sleep. A common tragedy for many. In this power of habit framework, I don’t know, the cue would perhaps be sitting on the computer, and the rewards are the constant dopamine hits when you see an interesting post or a YouTube video. It’s maddening how automatic some of these actions are.

Whatever it is, you have to break out of the habit…. The thing that kind of worked for me was to delay having dinner until later, and configuring my computer to boot into linux and automatically opening up 3 command lines right when I boot in =D. Whatever it is, you have to change something. You can’t expect your willpower to override the thousands and thousands of times you’ve reinforced that loop pattern. Do something to break out of it!

That said, I don’t know where I read it, but someone somewhere did a study on people who had better self-control and willpower than others. The study found out that it wasn’t that the people who had better willpower literally had better willpower, but it was more of their ability to control themselves to avoid situations where their willpower would be compromised.

For example, if you’re more likely to be in a troublesome situation if you hang around with troubling friends, so these strong-willed people would avoid those situations in the first place! I think it’s a mix of thinking ahead with knowing enough about yourself to evaluate situations where you know you wouldn’t be able to handle certain pressures.

Anyhow, cheers to bad habit breaking, and finding purpose in mine. Mine: building things to make the world a little better.