Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.Ralph Waldo Emerson. I saw it first in Rick Remender’s phenomenal end to Agent Venom (Issue #22)
Author: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I’ve long been interested in Active vs Passive hobbies, why one is better than the others, and so on. Here’s a nice reddit post that captures a similar mindset around gaming. So reading Flow gave a lot of clarity to these ideas.
Any programmer who’s been ‘in the zone’ and loses sense of time knows the feeling of ‘Flow’ and that is the subject of this book — Deep hobbies that improve one’s self.
The author categorizes activities with good ‘flow’ if they meet these criteria:
- A challenging activity that requires skills
- Requires concentration
- Has clear goals and immediate feedback
- Removes awareness of everyday frustrations
- Exercises control over ones own actions
- Concern for self disappears
- Sense of time altered
Here are some sections from the book that caught my attention:
“The wisdom of the mystics, of the Sufi, of the great yogis, or of the Zen masters might have been excellent in their own time — and might still be the best, if we lived in those times and in those cultures. But when transplanted to contemporary California those systems lose quite a bit of their original power. They contain elements that are specific to their original contexts, and when these accidental components are not distinguished from what is essential, the path to freedom gets overgrown by brambles of meaningless mumbo-jumbo. Ritual form wins over substance, and the seeker is back where he started.”
“Pleasure is an important component of the quality of life, but by itself it does not bring happiness. Sleep, rest, food, and sex provide restorative homeostatic experiences that return consciousness to order after the needs of the body intrude and cause psychic entropy to occur. But they do not produce psychological growth. They do not add complexity to the self. Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness.”
“In today’s world we have come to neglect the habit of writing because so many other media of communication have taken its place. Telephones and tape recorders, computers and fax machines are more efficient in conveying news. If the only point of writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.”
The middle quote is a satisfactory answer to my question on what differentiates mindless passive hobbies from effort-intensive active ones: the latter create better versions of ourselves.
I used to feel that a wiki-like structure was a better way to organize my thoughts. Articles like this influenced my thinking back then. Carefully gardened and cross-referenced wiki-style pages seemed like a better organizational structure than chronological blog posts that wouldn’t be relevant a few months or years later.
So for a year, I used a nice static site powered by mkdocs. Pages were maintained in git and written in markdown. Github actions would push the updated site on every commit. And the site itself was hosted in NearlyFreeSpeech and cost almost nothing. The site is still present here. But now I’m back to good old hosted wordpress and back to writing chronological blog posts rather than carefully grown pages. Here’s why.
The first reason is pure nostalgia. This blog has posts going back to 2006. Very few things I’ve done in my life go back 14 years and are maintained in the same place.
The second is the nudge given by this lovely little article on why one should maintain a blog. The critical realization was that it’s okay to not be original. That unoriginal writing can still be useful to the right audience (if one hasn’t heard the idea before), and to the writer (to help them compose their thoughts better).
Finally, I always take notes and obsess over improving the way I do so. The latest book I’m reading in that area is “How to take smart notes” by Sonke Ahrens. That and a few other improvements I’ve made in the last few months have helped me understand that hoarding links is a fairly useless obsession. A better way to absorb information is to write it in your own words and compile it into a coherent narrative. I’ve restructured my notes to follow this approach and it has helped me organize things a lot better. The last few book reviews I’ve posted were also due to a better note taking approach while reading.
Here’s a quote I’ll end with that essentially summarizes why I’m writing again, from the same book:
“.. writing is not only for proclaiming opinions, but the main tool to achieve insight worth sharing.”Sonke Ahrens, “How to take smart notes”