Striving to Strive

If you think about the rewards you receive in video-games, you notice how lame they are. A high score? A virtual trophy? Your character jumping up and down? A screen that says “The End”. Meh. All that dedication and effort for what amounts to nothing? And that’s true in this game as well, the actual physical prizes available here are kinda lame.

There’s nothing here, that once gotten, you’d feel “Wow, this is IT! I’m done! Nothing left to get!”. Once anything’s received, it’s a fleeting sensation of attainment followed by a new-normal in which it becomes an everyday object that sits mundanely as any other. Therefore, as in any game, experiences themselves are the only actual reward.

I’ve wasted countless hours in video-games attempting to achieve lame objectives – yet, I was perfectly entertained by the experience. The fun isn’t in attainment, that’s just another form of “Game Over”. The fun is in striving after something, anything, even if it’s a frivolous goal. Striving itself IS the goal here.

And I don’t mean “struggle” by the way. You really should find a level of striving that feels comfortable. It’s kinda dumb to stress and strain over a pointless objective when objectives themselves are valueless. Since they’re all of equal value (i.e. zero), pick something fun. And if you actually attain the object of your effort? Great, now pick another appealing objective and keep striving.

Trend Spotting

I’ve been attempting to analyze the trends of reward/punishment in relation to my behavior.

For example, I’ve clearly noticed a negative trend from overeating. It’s not every time, but overall it leads to unpleasant circumstances such as a tummy-ache or a complete lack of energy. But when I eat sensibly, not stuffing myself mindlessly, things proceed much better. I can clearly see a path I should take and one I should avoid.

Another trend deals with thinking about things I don’t like. If I allow unpleasant topics to remain in my thoughts, I typically feel bad. And once in awhile, those undesirable things even show up in my life. Whereas if I reject those unpleasant thoughts and focus on things I do like, my mood is better and my situation tends to improve. There seems to be an obvious pathway here too.

Another trend deals with how I treat people. If I’m careless and rude for example, good things don’t usually follow. Whereas when I present the best version of myself, I’m more satisfied with my interactions and things typically go much better. Again, there seems to be an undeniable path here.

The overall trend seems to deal with the application of mental discipline. If I’m lazy and let myself act like a disrespectful pessimistic slob, things don’t go well. Whereas when I stay aware of myself and keep to the role of a polite lighthearted guy that colors within the lines, things trend better.

Why are there preset guidelines that I must stay within? Perhaps the answer’s simple: it provides me with something to do. In games you move your character, making sure he stays on the correct pathway – that’s it. Life isn’t a movie: if you sit there, nothing happens – and if you stomp the accelerator without steering, you’ll likely crash.

As player of this game, I must remain awake and aware, with my hands on the wheel ready to make micro-adjustments as necessary to keep my character on the pleasant path. A path that’s discoverable through the reward/punishment mechanism. For instance: I have to actively monitor what he eats, what he thinks, and how he treats others.

Skinner Box

Is Earth a form of aversion therapy? In other words, am I punished for improper behavior? And if that’s the case, am I rewarded for good behavior?

Even from a purely physical perspective, you’d likely say that penalties exist for inappropriate actions. For example: if I eat too much, I get a tummy-ache. If I treat others poorly, I tend to suffer negative repercussions. If I allow my mind to wander, I find myself thinking thoughts I don’t prefer. If I consume dour and pessimistic media, I feel bad. In short, there seems to be a direct correlation between careless behavior and discomfort.

Is the opposite also true? Am I rewarded for considerate behavior? If I eat an appropriate amount of nutritious food, do I feel better? If I treat others well, do I benefit from similar treatment? If I guide my thoughts down pleasant paths, do I find myself delighted? If I watch a lighthearted movie, do I feel cheerful? In short, is there a direct correlation between thoughtful behavior and well-being?

In behavioral conditioning, the obviousness of the correlation between cause-and-effect is a key factor for learning. For example, if I fail to realize that a specific action results in a particular punishment, there’s no reason to stop an action. In other words, the amount of punishment won’t matter if I don’t know why I’m being punished. Yet, it would be heavy-handed or even harsh to reprimand for every infringement.

In teaching/coaching situations, obviousness is often sacrificed for gentleness. Instead of correcting every single misstep, a gentle teacher often allows some incorrectness to slide. This puts more responsibility onto the student, who must actively watch for trends in order to grasp the direction of the reward/punishment mechanism. The tradeoff is a greater feeling of agency and influence over one’s own life.

This would explain why actions in life aren’t always rewarded or punished appropriately. Life trades cold mechanical conditioning for a more organic feel. There’s no lever that reliably releases a pellet when pressed – outcomes follow trends instead. Also, intermittent reward is a more captivating circumstance and likely leads to longer, more involved engagement.

Honestly, I’ve been obstinately plowing through life, ignoring any signs pointing in the proper direction. I follow my own assumptions about what’s appropriate. As you might imagine, it hasn’t been an effective strategy. Am I to simply follow the path set forth by the aversion/reward mechanism? Hm, that almost sounds like cheating. Wait, actually that seems like a lot of work. Well, I’ll have to keep this is mind and be on the lookout for trends resulting from my behavior.

Plowing Ahead

In one sense, it doesn’t matter what’s causing unpleasant external conditions. I have to deal with them either way. Whether it’s random chance, mischievous imps, an existential escape from boredom, karmic repercussions, part of a dramatic narrative, a simulated challenge-generator that maximizes player engagement — it doesn’t matter, the obstacles are there. And complaining about their presence, is an ineffective strategy for dealing with them (my exhaustive multi-decade study has proven this to be true).

Since complaining doesn’t work, I have to try a different approach. But I will NOT be engaging with these obstacles directly, it’s just not my play-style. Any time I’ve tried the direct approach, I’ve just gotten frustrated by my lack of ability. Whereas I’ve always been intrigued by the Buddha’s approach: disregard obstacles. “Oh is something blocking my path? Hm, cool, well I’ll just chill here, no biggie.” Haha suck it obstacles! You hold no power over me!!

There’s still hurdles, but instead of jumping over them, I shift my perspective until there’s no longer a desire to jump them. This isn’t new to me, I’ve been trying to get this nonchalant approach to work for a long time. It hasn’t been effective enough to end my angst yet. Essentially, I’ve been attempting to dismantle the veil of illusion that makes the world seem “real”. But of course the world lures me back with a mix of pain and pleasure, physical aches and aspirational promises.

Ideally, there’s a balance I can achieve in which I’m in this fictional world AND able to enjoy the experience. By all my efforts thus far, it seems to be a VERY delicate balance though. Oftentimes I wonder if a balance is actually achievable, and the attempt feels futile. I keep trying since I’ve got nothing better to do. I don’t believe I can quit this game – if I dared, I think I’d be right back where I started. My only option is to plow ahead.

Plowing ahead for me means to keep adjusting my focus. Thoughts streaming through my mind require evaluation before they monopolize my attention – most should be disregarded and left unconsidered. It doesn’t matter why I encounter unpleasant experiences or even the content of those experiences – my role is to remain calm and unattached, tuning my focus to whatever’s more pleasant in the moment. Day after day, I chisel away on my quest for balance.

Character Analysis

I’m not good at playing pretend – I often take my role too seriously and add too many procedural details and attempt to establish elaborate and often dour backstories. Plus, overreaction comprised of frustration and histrionics is a hallmark of my characters. “WHAT!? This is preposterous! How dare you!”

I think in life, you have to commit to a role. It makes improvisation easier in the sense that a character has a typical response to a given situation. Whereas I often don’t know how to react, so I stand awkwardly attempting to evaluate the situation and analyze my feelings. But a pre-established character would simply respond in his usual way. “Wowza, that’s the beez kneez!”

I don’t think it’s a good idea to figure out a character by examining the external world and looking for clues. Characters are best defined by whatever evokes the most joy – so you have to look inwardly. I think the world we experience is a product of our imagination and subject to interpretation, therefore the world can appear as a paradise or a nightmare solely based on perspective.

When you commit to a character, I think circumstances change and form to accommodate it. So if you play an anxious character for example, upsetting scenes and stimuli will become the basis of your experiences. I’ve often played as an overly-sensitive anxious-guy but I don’t enjoy it and never feel committed to the role. And like I mentioned, not having a preset role leads to slowed interactions with life since every stimulus sparks a new analysis.

Therefore, I’m in the market for a new role. And unlike before, I’ll take a much more lighthearted approach. Instead of that solemn guy that disappears into every room he enters, often spouting pessimistic nonsense to himself, I’d rather be a cheerful optimistic fellow that people are glad to see. “Oh snap! Rich is here!? It’s about to get good!”. Instead of nervousness and doubt, calm and confidence should be my foundational feelings. Yeah let’s do that instead of all the nonsense I’ve been doing.

Bragging Rights

To me, it feels like I’m on a reality gameshow in which I’m thrown into an unreasonable situation and must persist to the end despite the constant challenges. But what’s the prize? It’s certainly not the process itself right? As I find this game difficult to appreciate. And like those gameshows, I feel like any structure I create will only get torn-down by the producers when I leave. Therefore, I don’t have a desire to invest my time into anything significant – I’m fine with a temporary structure that simply gets me through the day.

I stay close to my small structure. I do little projects to stave off boredom. I talk to myself, trying to find the motivation to make it one more day. I wrestle with whatever challenge comes up that day. I celebrate minor victories, lament the losses. And like all other contestants, for whatever reason, I feel like I have to see this through – quitting isn’t an option. If it was, I’d have quit many times by now. Where’s my radio!? “Hey guys!? Yeah I’m done. Get me outta here!”

To me, there’s nothing in-game that provides a sense of satisfaction. It’s like a bootcamp where you’re relentlessly drilled and pushed until you break – a torture-chamber making you scream “I can’t take anymore! Please stop!” But apparently I can take more, and I do, running up the obstacle course again and again – day after day. “Please, may I have another!” Sicko. I might just be a masochist, using pain as a means to feel alive.

I used to lift heavy weights as a hobby, I know what it’s like to consciously push myself to failure. Who’s to say I don’t do it unconsciously too? Is this some other-worldly training facility? But am I any stronger because of it? Is my spirit actually improving? Is my soul some buff dude flexing amongst his peers? Or am I merely a pitiful weakling in this world, barely scraping by?

Or perhaps I’ll be sitting at a bar with other-worldly pals one day, bragging about the time I spent on Earth. Their eyes looking on in astonishment as I retell the hardships I experienced as an Earthbound being. “Believe me boys, it was rough stuff, the kinda thing that puts you into a higher tier of toughness. Why the things I did and the things I saw would melt your socks off.” They’ll be buying my drinks for eons to come. “Another round for Rich! The toughest S.O.B. in here!”

Untamed Mess

Take yesterday for example, I’d characterize many of the events as mildly unpleasant. And that’s not my opinion, nor simply my interpretation, the circumstances were actually disagreeable. For example, my hotdog bun was burnt. Someone I know acted-up and I found it irritating. There was a bunch of junk-mail in the mailbox. My wife received a mere 50 cents from a sale on Etsy. I had zero energy in the evening and just laid on the bed. That’s just some of what happened.

Again, these things were just mildly unpleasant, no big deal. Although in total, they added up to a pretty “meh” day, an experience I won’t treasure. But my point is this: a bunch of unpleasant things happened throughout the day. Why? It was as if I was drawing them to me, instigating sources of minor irritation wherever I went. I couldn’t seem to escape it, the dour cloud followed me around relentlessly.

I admit that my mind was erratic and wandering. I noticed a couple times that it seemed agitated. Was that it? Was it like a wild animal that found its way into a house, subsequently tearing everything apart in an untamed frenzy!? Had I not kept the door open to a wandering mind, would the day have proceeded that much better?

The evidence is this: actual unpleasant things happened AND my mind was perturbed. Yet, the regularity and frequency of vexing events suggests that they weren’t the source of annoyance, but the RESULT of an untamed mind. It was as if my unruly mind emitted a turbulence that upset my surroundings. This implies that my state-of-mind greatly influences my experiences on Earth, and I would therefore benefit by keeping a tighter leash on my mind.

Delving Into Details

I’ve noticed that whenever I delve into the details of something, it doesn’t make sense, the specifics are silly, the overall concept is absurd. It’s exactly like analyzing the plot of a movie too closely: if you forgivingly accept the storyline, then things proceed smoothly – but whenever you analyze the details, plot-holes abound.

Not only does this demonstrate the fictional nature of this world, it illustrates that circumstances don’t arise from details. Larger concepts come first then details are developed second – and only when examined. Additionally, these details are not objectively true – they vary depending on who’s investigating them.

For example, if you see someone driving a car, you don’t think anything of it. Cool, maybe he’s going to the store. But if you start to analyze the concept of humans controlling complex contraptions comprised of substantial steel at speeds 10 times that of their normal pace, producing forces that far exceed their normal abilities, yet able to maintain their course with adequate reaction time, it gets weird. Especially when you saw that same person having difficulty pushing their simple little shopping cart through the store’s aisles moments earlier.

And that’s not the only example, it’s EVERYTHING. And the good news in all this, is this: details don’t matter. Imagine a supervisor briefly explaining a task to you, yet he leaves out all the critical details and you’re left wondering how to proceed. This is a common scenario simply because details are NOT critical. Humans aren’t typically taught step-by-step instructions, they’re provided with broad concepts, then kinda wing-it.

In other words, if you attempt to learn the details in order to do something, you’re doing it wrong. You do the thing and IGNORE the details. Humans could never reliably drive cars if this wasn’t the case. In fact, details are dangerous and they’re likely to lead to logical conclusions that shouldn’t be contemplated. Whereas if you stick to the surface, things are more malleable and make a lot more sense.

The devil really is in the details. Do not summon him forth through incessant investigating. You’ll create logical conclusions that’ll trap your mindset. Circumstances change much more readily when they’re not ensnared by technicalities. Never worry how something gets done, it just does! It’s a dreamworld after-all.

Frying Pan

I’ve swung so far: from surety in a brutal concrete reality to surety in a fictitious dreamworld. That’s a LOT of surety for someone that’s lost and confused. But when you’re drowning, you grab tightly to whatever’s near, whatever provides the most buoyancy amidst the turbulent waves that cause you to choke with panic.

You grip tightly until you’re eventually calmed by despair. I suppose hopelessness is the primary driver behind my religious conversion. There was no grand epiphany in which I was visited by angels, I simply couldn’t take the intensity of ever-present anxiety, and gave up. I quit caring. I stopped taking the game so seriously.

And nothing happened. I didn’t drown. It was as if I had been in shallow water the entire time. There was no danger. I was overreacting and only imagined myself drowning. Oops. It wasn’t my cunning and vigilance keeping me alive!? Oh well. Luckily, I’ve got it all figured out now! Nah, just kidding.

I know how to be pessimistic and overly serious, but I don’t quite understand how to play and have fun. I’ve simply gone from one confusing predicament into another. So now I have to spend my days dismissing my inherent negativity while attempting to add levity into everyday life. I have to find enjoyable activities and actively appreciate them.

Happiness isn’t easy, it’s a lotta work. But again, what would I know? I like precision and predictability and knowing how things function. Yet patterns and pathways seem to be purposefully derailed in this world. My inclinations don’t apply. Whatever direction I step doesn’t get me any closer to where I want to go. Nothing makes sense!

But if you’ve ever attempted to learn something new, that’s what it feels like. And over time, with practice, you get better. Living a good life isn’t something you inherently grasp, nor something you figure out in a day or even after a few years. You immerse yourself in the process and you stop trying to think your way through it; you let it happen.

Cyclical Stupidity

There is no doubt that mischievous moments are periodically introduced into my day – annoying little events that seem specifically engineered to trigger irritation. In addition, I can plainly observe the absurd nature of the society I live within. Therefore, all of this regularly occurring foolishness suggests a dreamlike reality. Otherwise, such a world would’ve collapsed long ago – something external MUST be maintaining it.

So the question becomes: am I personally manifesting these things or are they from an outside source? Am I the dreamer or a hapless victim? A long-held axiom of mine is: if it could be one or the other, it’s probably both. Therefore, I’m likely creating an experience based on my mindset and the world plays along, providing the scenes to make it so. For example, I’ve noticed differences in the types of mischief over the years. Why has it changed? Perhaps it’s because of my maturing mindset.

I only care about these philosophical questions because I’m dissatisfied. If things were great, I’d simply sit back and enjoy the show. But when I sense unpleasantness, I yell “CUT!! Stop the show! This is ridiculous! NO! I’m not doing this! Where’s the director!? Get him out here! Fire the writers! This is the most inane storyline I’ve ever had the displeasure of performing! I’ll be in my dressing room until it’s fixed!”

So then I sit there, alone and brooding. And I start wondering who’s crafting this nonesense. I wonder if I’m actually the writer. What if this is improv!? What if this is a dream I’m having, and I’m the one imagining all the dopey events taking place. I mean, if you analyze the shows I watch for instance, there’s always plenty of chaos and shenanigans going on. Based on my viewing history, you’d think I enjoy when crazy situations popup and everything goes wrong.

So then I walk out of my dressing room and apologize to the cast and crew for my temperamental behavior. Yes, I overreacted to a situation that I likely had a hand in creating. Sorry guys. Things calm down for awhile while I’m a bit more mindful of my attitude. I get comfortable, maybe even appreciative: “Heck, life isn’t so bad! Ha, it’s kinda fun when you get the hang of it.” And then the f**KING mischief begins again!!! “I QUIT!!” But the cycle continues, on and on it goes….