Programmers have this thing they deal with a ton called algorithms. It's just a set of instructions to solve a problem. And to solve any problem there are trade offs. Some solutions take up lots of memory (RAM), others lots of computation (processor aka focus & energy).
Have you ever had a problem with so many variables your brain felt full and you just didn't want to deal it? Like, a nap felt imminent. Well that is your RAM getting full. So many possibilities or unanswered questions that it felt like no resolution existed. Hopelessness. It ain't great.
Have you ever had to focus so hard for so long you body felt tired, or you lost energy to do other things in your life? Well that's too much computation. You'll feel like you're not good enough, and that ain't great either.
Thing is a lot of the time you can solve the problem by simply reframing it. Think around the problem, and maybe you don't have to do a fancy algorithm at all. Maybe a simple algorithm becomes possible. To optimize time and safety, just always take right turns. (I actually do this a lot)
And now we get to my advice. My algorithm, if you will.
Think in vectors, and improve your life. Our, least, do the same with less effort.
What's a vector?
Well, it is not a point or position. A point is a very specific unmoving spot and I think we spend way too much time thinking in terms of points.
Our mental model for all of our goals and hopes and dreams is that whatever we want in life is some fixed, known thing "over there" and it's just waiting for us to arrive.
It's a GPS coordinate and all you have to do is find its very specific location, and listen to some expert give you directions to that location and bam, you're rich, or whatever.
If you never find it... well, either it was the wrong set of directions, or you simply didn't try hard enough, or aren't good enough. So we feel bad about ourselves, all our decisions seem to be much higher stakes, and we obsesses over more information, and more education, and more possibilities and.. and.. and... our RAM fills up and we desperately need a nap.. or we run out of energy to do anything... ever. This world view, requires a very complex algorithm, and it is overwhelming and statistically often fails us.
So, again, what's a vector? It's the idea of moving in a direction, at a speed. There's no position. You don't really know specifically where you are, though by looking around you can figure it out based on what you see around you. You don't specifically now exactly where your dreams are, but you kinda know which direction they are in.
Instead of google maps, you are in outer space. Suddenly, it makes much more sense why you can't get to your goals...
The earth is spinning and moving around the sun, the moon is also spinning and moving around us. Mars, which is a decent metaphor for your hopes and dreams, is sooooooo far away that if you try to get there it'll have moved.
Which is apt, because things are constantly changing and evolving. Stars are far enough away that the light (the research you've done about your goals) is outdated. Might as well be billions of years old. That's also apt. Any advice from someone about how to replicate their success is outdated both because the world has changed and because the timing is different. Not mention, they launched from a different location than you (their socio economic and historical context).
Okay, so now I'm adrift in space and completely lost.
How does this help me?
Yeah, good question.
Well, you've changed the mental model. If everything is undeterminable, then the pressure is off to determine things. Nothing left to do now but enjoy the ride, play the game. Look a little closer to your daily surroundings, and do some vector math.
That was a lot, right? Apologies, too much too soon. Lets start with the basics...
Ever play asteroids?
You're the spaceship, and you can apply some thrust in a direction (vector) and if you let up on the thrust the ship will drift in that direction for a while (momentum).
This is a useful metaphor for our efforts. If you spend a few years at a job, you have some momentum in your career. You can take a day off, or goof around a bit without getting canned. Notice that the spaceship changes direction a lot without adding thrust. That is what you are doing right now - looking around. Exploring new options. Maybe it's starting a coffee shop. Maybe it's finding a job with a 4 day workweek. Maybe it's just finding a new book to read.
If you've got momentum in your life, you can look around and plan a bit but...
Taking action is how you change course.
If you never take action (apply thrust) you'll never change your direction and head to your new desired goal.
This is the mathematics version of "you have to take a leap of faith". You have to put effort into changing your situation. All the research in the world doesn't move you toward your goal, even though it may feel like it.
Also, notice how when the ship applies force in the new direction, there's some carryover from the old direction. That's momentum at play again, and it's a good thing to take note of.
It reminds you that whatever you do, you'll need to glue together these new goals and your old and current circumstances. Also...
You know how you don't get instant results for life changing effort? Seems like there's about 9 months of constant effort before things really start to take off in a new direction. In the beginning of changing direction, it just can feel like nothing is happening. That's the momentum of your old life at play, and now that you know it's just physics, you can prepare yourself emotionally for it. It's not your fault, and it's not necessarily because of too little effort.
Also notice how sometimes the ship changes direction faster than others, but eventually the ship does get to changing direction solidly where it wants to go.
Small efforts compound
Even small amounts of effort over time will eventually add up. What a comforting thought.
Are we starting to feel a little better?
It's just a game. We're steering the ship, and hotting the thrusters every so often.
There are few forces at play, but they are rather predictable and don't require us to be so obsessive over "a plan". We can have faith that while we can't always apply huge amounts of effort, momentum is on our side, and small amounts of effort in the direction we want will compound over time.
That's a huge improvement of reading every Ferris post or trying to interpret whatever mystical hint Musk said on the platform formally known as Twitter.
What about those asteroids?
That's a steering algorithm problem, which is more simple than a path finding problem. You're going to need make one of those.
A good basic one is this: every so often, I look around and decide which asteroids are the biggest, and what direction looks most appealing, then put some energy there.
Specifically, at the end of the month, I say to myself - I want less of X and more of Y and here are some actions I can take to move away from X and towards more of Y. Big effort or little effort, over time, it adds up.
- A little less food and a little more exercise to move towards better health.
- A little less indoors and a little more nature to gain peace of mind.
- A little less problem solving and a little more gratitude to gain joy in your life.
- A little less media and a little more creation to move towards changing your stars.
- A little less buying and a little more selling to build financial independence.
And there's very little stress about it. I'm not a bad person for having asteroids in my life. I didn't fail by not reaching the secret location of my hopes and dreams. I also didn't have to spend a ton of energy taking on the decision making process.
Some months I even say, I don't have energy and the asteroids are not imminent. I'm taking a break. Next month I'll do the thing.
Much like adding statistical thinking to your life. It's fairly simple, but the more your brain thinks that way, the more you'll see it as a useful tool to use to operate in the world.
This metaphor works at many scales, and has become incredibly useful in my working life. I use ship steering as a metaphor with my product teams, both upstream and downstream in conversion. It's fun, and it's hugely helpful when combined with my wizards metaphor. I use it to help decide how to plan for a pivot, if now is the time to go full thrusters or coast a bit, even decide the costs of going in a direction or the likelihood of getting to "P1" by October.
We'll get more into that later, but, for now, I hope you find what you are looking for, and as always...