My Checklist for Bad Days

September 29, 2008

I’ve written a checklist for bad days because I often misattribute bad feelings to complex things when it is often something quite basic that is amiss. So when I run into trouble that I can’t get rid of or seems to return to me, I go through this checklist. And yes, I’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. My list is just a personal diagnostic. I begin in the order of the most primal.

  1. Love myself. NO! It’s not what you’re thinking. Without self love, even the most mundane can be problematic.
  2. Drink water. It’s better than caffeine.
  3. Eat food. If you want to feel more energetic and not suffer dramatic lows in your day, eat breakfast. I was not a fan of breakfast, but it’s as good as they say.
  4. Pee and poo. Maybe even whiz and crap.
  5. Sleep. Before I finished a round of psychotherapy for depression that saw my eventual ascendancy, I had the most erratic sleep hours. But during the course of going to therapy, and quite organically, I started to adopt an ever more regular sleep schedule.
  6. Shower. I think showering has more to give than just cleanliness. It probably plays a great role in mental health because it’s a source of exclusively private time.
  7. Go outside.
  8. Exercise. I don’t mean rabid gymage. Just walking is good enough. Something to give you the sense you’ve covered territory.
  9. See people.
  10. Talk at length.
  11. Learn something in depth. My health can probably be tied to my book reading.
  12. Improve myself.
  13. Help others improve themselves.

I go through these and discover things like, “Oh! I’m not feeling sad because of an argument with a loved one. It’s because I didn’t poop.” So figuring out the more ambiguous origins of problems can be very relieving. Didn’t think I could sneak a pun in there, did you?

What do people have on their own personal checklists? I’ve left out finding the love of my life and it’s more visceral counterpart, sex. Believe me: I’m working on it.

I was recently thinking about criticism after I read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In one of the early chapters, the author posits that criticism is essentially useless. It does not effect change. This got me thinking as to why we criticize.

Criticism is a social dominance issue. By pointing out error I establish myself as superiorly informed and motivated. My rightness is established and someone’s incorrectness is compared to my rightness. So criticism is an issue of status. Through criticism, I lay you lower than myself. This behavior is also useful for creating cohesion in a team, by criticizing opposition, you can bond your own group tightly.

On the other hand, authentic praise points out someone’s superior virtue, but can result in two paths for the praiser. The praiser can use authentic praise to raise a person up, and lower themselves. This form of praise is no different from criticism. The alternative, is to reveal the praiser as skilled in observation and a facilitating the good in others. Thus, both are raised up.

The act of praise sets a person up as an inspiration to themselves. You cast a positive image of them, which gives them something to move to. Criticism casts something to head away from. Generally, the carrot ahead is better than the stick behind.

I also read recently how status is a more powerful motivator than money. I came to the same conclusion when I was trying to figure out how to structure incentive in teams. I kept coming back to the conclusion that if you are going to make gross simplifications about motivation, all incentives could be abstracted to status. Money, sex, possessions, and influence are conduits for status. Accentuate authentic praise and you’ll improve everyone’s sensation of status. Considering that in groups of monkeys status can be a major factor in health, than you’ll probably be on a very nice path.

Case #472

What to do when something someone says causes you to doubt what you are doing.


You finish a webpage and ask a family member for feedback. They respond with a torrent of confusion and criticism. You spent hours on this and it made you feel awful that they are hanging onto easily fixed details. They don’t see the beauty of what you’ve done, and you start to doubt that beauty exists.


  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Remember that everyone around you is an idiot. No one gets your vision because you’re better than everyone else.
  3. Then after your ego has rubbed the wound for a bit, remember that your critic said that for a reason. Go and figure that reason out. Do some opportunity cost analysis to see if it’s worth fixing or if their criticism should be treated as anomalous.
  4. Then go and seek more criticism by being brave with the publicity of your ideas. Develop a large ego-callous until you don’t need steps 1 and 2.

Note: This is not actually from a real book. Although maybe if I can think up enough of these it might actually become one.

I often get paralyzed by thought. I find it very easy and acceptable to just think instead of acting, even when it becomes very important that I act. This even results in near-perpetual loops sometimes, as I go over covered ground, trying to find minutia I had skipped over. Needless, to say, this is really bad.

I did not understand the origins of this behavior well enough until I started going to talk therapy for depression. Here I realized a little bit about the different modes of thought I used, and misused. Talk therapy was very useful in regard to reacquainting myself with my own personal history/story. And through this self-viewing mechanism, understanding more about how I build my personal story and how I’d like to continue to do so in the future. The first thing I learned was about my two modes of thought, the synthetic and analytic (Mind you, these did not come from my therapists, but from a systems mode of understanding, applied to my own experience).

I have one mode of thought which is highly analytic, where I go about breaking things into sub-systems, trying to understand a model through its components. This is an inherently specialist activity because as I break the system into subsystems I am able to treat each subsystem as the new exclusive domain and pursue new subdivisioning.

The other mode is very synthetic, where I discard rules and inhibitions to put things together in new and interesting ways. This is the domain of creativity. Though I find synthesis more rewarding than analysis, I do if far less than I would like. I suppose one sensible explanation for this may be that breaking things down is a resource-cheap activity.

Progress is made through a balance between the two activities. However, I find that often I fall into an exclusively analytic mode when I’m trying to achieve something. This leads to paralysis because of two things.

The first problem is I try and take everything into account while making the task happen. Unless it is a virtual task that operates under high constraint, I will not be able to do the task while thinking analytically. This is probably why video games are so rewarding. I can maintain an analytic mindset while achieving a task.

The second problem is there are synergetic effects that occur while doing something. These are effects that are unpredictable from an analysis of parts. A line in isolation will never tell you that three of them form a triangle. An atom in isolation never tells you there is an attractive force between masses. Analysis breaks things into isolated systems and fails to reveal certain characteristics that are revealed through synthesis.

No amount of self-analysis is going to tell me how I’m going to interact with people, do in business, or create an artifact. What an analysis does do is optimize a story. By breaking things apart you can manipulate them in ways you could not as parts of a whole. From this point, you can reconfigure a personal story in such a way that the lens this story creates alters the way you look at things and therefore how you act. But you must always resynthesize and not bulk in perpetual analysis. Otherwise you get stuck with a stagnant system where nothing is discovered, only rediscovered.

Pivotal Moment Stories

June 19, 2007

Doesn’t it seem like you can have two stories in your life? There is the story you had before your success, which has its own rhythm and set of characters. And there is the story you have after the success.

I was thinking of heavily celebrated entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, JP Morgan, and Disney, who were normal people before they succeeded in business, and suddenly became mythologized super beings.

I think an alternative story needs to get heard more often, at least this new story is more inspirational to myself:

There was this guy who had a vision of doing things a different way. He was actually pretty poor at transmitting his vision, largely because the conceptual components necessary to transmit the vision easily would not come into full existence until the vision had been realized. Most of his friends encouraged, but did not believe in him. His parents always believed in him, but even they did not understand him very well.

Eventually the protagonist changes the world when everyone catches on to his good idea. The story is still the success story, but it is heavy enough on the unpleasant reality of being viewed as slightly insane and going in the wrong direction.

Success seems to me a lot like surfing, where wave after wave appears to come and you have to paddle every time, even when the wave does not materialize. If you look out at the ocean, and you see people doing this, but you only look for five minutes, you may just think the people are crazy because the purpose of their paddling is not obvious.

I think the worse part of it is that in creating ideas to drive companies there is not even the advantage of seeing a swell. It is more like you are paddling in the middle of entirely calm water. Of course, the people who are successful are paddling all the time, moving from place to place, claiming a big wave is coming.

This is why it is good to surround yourself with people who have a similarly distorted view of reality. It makes it easier to keep going. You all believe the wave is coming.

In my last article about encephalotechne I wrote about the encapsulation of emotional states into command-verb forms. This is the idea that we can form words for commanding personal change. So as you can tell a person to hit a ball, you can tell them to feel happy.

Practicing encephalotechne has been very useful to me. This last week and a half I’ve felt a remarkable difference in my mood, composure, and work. I’m not sure it will work for everyone, but here are some of the words I’ve created, and some others that I’ve put more of my time into thinking about.

Invented words:

  • Confidate: Become confident
  • Brite: Write in your blog (Just invented, I might make a new one because this one already has a definition)
  • Dermaclear: Clear up acne (This is my most far fetched, and yet creates a local relaxing effect that I think increases circulation)

Recovered words:

  • Hope
  • Enjoy
  • Discern
  • Tranquilize (I’ve used this to alleviate pain)
  • Calm

The word discern is of particular note because of the multitude of reactions it has created in me. One time I told myself to discern, I was overwhelmed with feelings of happiness. Another time, I became very tranquil. Another time, it made it very easy to turn in some applications I had been avoiding.

Confidate is one of the earliest words I developed and most important in affecting my overall mood. I walk taller and get myself into situations I would have hesitated to the point of withdrawal. I talk to women more readily.

The new word I’ve been thinking about, but have yet to create, is about, “becoming the person you wish to be.” This might be encapsulated in the word “develop,” though develop is too impersonal. Impersonate! That’s some of the word, but I want it also to mean having certain material possessions and accomplishments. Perhaps that word is for another post.

Often times, when I try to motivate myself to do something, I use definitions to invigorate myself. For instance, if I’m supposed to write a blog post, I tell myself that, “I write a blog post every day. This is what I do.” Or if I’m supposed to work on software, I say, “I write this software.” These reinforcements of personal title rarely move me toward activity.

After thinking about the actual words I was using, I have started using verb commands. This is remarkable in it’s ability to motivate. And it makes sense when you think about how a person motivates another. When you tell someone to do something, you don’t tell them, “You are the person that stacks the books,” you say, “Stack the books.”

The new motivating words I use are things like, “Write the software,” and “Post on the blog.” The ‘I’ drops away because it would indicate the action as a description of ‘I’. And as the issuer of the command I don’t need to add a redundant definitive ‘I’.

But what about creating emotion? For example, how do you command yourself to be confident? There are no verb commands for confidence (to my knowledge), so I invented one, ‘Confidate’. I also have an anti-depressant verb for moments of malaise, the forgotten, ‘hope’.

So far these internal verbal commands are great at sparking action and emotion. Maybe I’m deceiving myself, but I’ll accept it under the test of pragmatism.