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Alkan's Journal


Alkan
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I'm Alex. I've had quite the damaging relationship with games and the internet. Both of them provide some sort of escape for me, as well as recovery from working too hard.

I'm working to change these habits now. Since this will be my first entry, I want to start out by lining out goals:

I'm quite interested in artificial intelligence. I would like to start a company some years, after developing the relevant skill-set (requiring hours of time not going to video games and pointless internet activities), or do fundamental research in that area. I also enjoy art and music. I am working on composing, drawing and performing. That's the long term vision.

I enjoy games, art and music around a sort of central theme - exploring and creating worlds. I've used cycling to replace games with that, as well as looking at artwork, understanding art and making my own. I also create music for a similar effect - one of my favorite things about my brain is that certain types of music transport me to unusual places in my imagination, to quite an intense degree. 

Anyways, over the next week, I want to cut out all pointless activities involving the internet and basically cut usage down to the bare minimum for survival. I need to retrain my brain to not have constant stimulation. I've noticed that when I do this, if I do something like read a book, I can actually get goosebumps. If I'm overstimulated, that effect doesn't happen from reading.

So, the list of goals is:

-Train on the bike 4-6 times a week.

-50 push ups every other day, +50 each successive week. Add an abdominal routine (planning on racing on the bike)

-Eat healthily every day

-Read something useful every day (30-120 minutes)

-Follow a routine fairly strictly (no staying up late, wake up early, journal, make breakfast/coffee quickly, then go study/practice whatever I'm working on, literally every day, save special occasions)

-Generally staying productive and in movement throughout the day, as well as strategically resting with replacement activities for games (and preferably something useful).

-Not making a big deal out of missing goals so that I don't end up in a funk, or have an all-or-nothing mentality

Edited by Alkan
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Hey Alex! AWesome to see your journal up here. Are you using a schedule or daily agenda yet? That will help a lot if you put these different goals/activities into your calendar so you know when you are going to do them. For example, when are you going to train on the bike? Having a specific time makes a difference. To eat healthy, you need to avoid having unhealthy food in the house (can't eat it if it's not around) and to ensure you don't go buy fast food, you want to be consistent in buying groceries (so having a specific time every week where you buy groceries is recommended.) That sort of thing.

What books are you going to read? If you have an order it's easier to do it. Something that gets people stuck is when they make a goal of "reading something useful every day" and then they either a) don't pick a specific time to do it, so they keep pushing it off, or b) they don't know what they will read, so when it comes time to actually read, you don't know what to read and end up browsing reddit instead. So outline a list of books you want to work through and then start with the first one. I'd recommend The Power of Habit and then The Slight Edge. :)

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I'll check those out. I've already been in a process of self-improvement, so I do use a weekly planner in the form of the Calendar app on my mac. For eating healthy, I've been vegan now for nearly three years, but there's still plenty of junk. The trick is to be satiated.

I actually feel overwhelmed by the amount of things that there are to read, and I actually rather enjoy the process when the book is worthwhile. 30 as a minimum on some days isn't even possible because of how busy I can become with school.

As for books, I've been highly focused on social skills, and generally understanding psychology. So, I don't only read self-improvement books - I go for depth, and try to pick them apart. It's actually a bit of a addiction in and of itself, but it's a useful one. Knowing what's going on socially gives me a stronger feeling of confidence.

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Today's entry:

I've been severely underestimating the power of waking up early, no matter what. I want this daily routine to take precedence over the others: it is the one that will allow a greater number of things to fall into place. I woke up early today after a late shift at work, and yet, I'm still energized by the cortisol and sense of having a large chunk of time to work on things that I need to, as well as being mentally refreshed.

I also need to pay attention to how good it feels so that it becomes a reward cycle, and thus a habit. I mean every day. No sleeping in. Going to bed early is the way to get extra sleep. Out of bed by 6, every day, is to be the norm. I don't need absolutely 8 hours of sleep every night, and by not getting up early I shoot myself in the foot anyways because it never gets my body into a solid sleep cycle anyways.

I'm far too ambitious to worry about not getting a couple hours of sleep here and there, and to worry about dealing with feeling slightly uncomfortable in getting out of bed in the morning. I just need to motivate myself out of bed with things like coffee if it's particularly difficult, as well as the feeling of being energized. No matter how poor my sleep was the previous night, I still have a great amount of energy if I force myself up early. It's just how I operate.

So, main focus here is to become a habitual early riser. Sleeping in is a dangerous temptation, one that has the potential to wipe out an entire day of productivity.

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In getting good sleep, I need to eat correctly and not put bad things into my body. I am cutting out alcohol, most of my caffeine intake, bringing in a lot more fresh fruits, vegetables, etc.

There was a point in time when I ate an extremely healthy diet - I essentially did it based on getting proper nutrients, paying attention to the diets of people who live in regions with extreme longevity, as well as paying attention to how inflamed I feel (there is this odd feeling I get when I eat something that just doesn't sit right). Anyways, it involves a lot of raw vegetables, but also things like quinoa, corn, sweet potatoes, etc.

It might sound disgusting to some, but I just drank a smoothie of spinach, a banana, berries, almond milk with some raw garlic thrown in. Coriander was also added to flavor it. It sounds bad on paper, but in practice it is like drinking the smell of a garden. When I drank it, a wave of relief came over me, since I was hungover today and have been eating generally unhealthy things.

I also just meditated, and plan to do that each day to build up the willpower. 

Thoughts for the day:

You can control yourself by controlling your thoughts. You can save willpower by being efficient in what you choose to think about. Don't fight temptation - distract yourself from it. Focus on the rewards that come from doing the work, especially the instantaneous feeling of productivity. There is a positive feeling associated with feeling productive, and the more you imagine that feeling, the more you will crave productivity. At least, that's how it goes with me.

Edited by Alkan
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I don't drink alcohol and it's fantastic. The sober life is for me. The greener the smoothie the more I like it. Getting good sleep, eating healthier and meditating, all foundational habits that will make a positive difference in your life over time.

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Unfortunately I work at a place where knowing about alcohol is not a requirement per se, but its a strong pressure. Likewise, I might be moving on from that job and finding something else.

New plan of action: since I am in college, hate part time jobs, and have a lot of work to do on myself, I am going to make my own YouTube channel, where I do a unique take on self-actualization. I was inspired by FightMediocrity, and I am confident in my ability to work hard at it as a project and learn what I need to over time to set it up. It'll be my 2016 project, though I'll be starting it when finals are over, building up the necessary skills.

Today:

I meditated again, and I am already finding cleaning up my place going from irritating task to soothing activity. I made a stir fry of tofu and vegetables. It's amazing what happens when you have even modestly increased willpower.

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I had a trigger for distraction and unproductive behaviors today. Instead, I meditated and took a nap. Then returned to work.

I created a flowchart of the addiction cycle, but how you also break out of it. It also caused me to draw the conclusion that the difference between productive people and unproductive people isn't actually that big - people who are less productive face greater rates of failure, which destroys the reward cycle for effort and puts them on track for a reward cycle for addictive behaviors. Being able to cope with failure after working hard, and being able to recognize and prevent complacency from setting in are the keys to permanent change.

Edit: I've sort of noticed in my flowchart that the key to breaking out of the addiction cycle (painful stimuli->need for escape->use addiction to escape->create more damage->painful stimuli), is how much grit you have. How tough you are, how emotionally resilient you are. All of those learned things.

Edited by Alkan
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How you view failure will really make a difference in how you deal with it.  Failure after working hard is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  It means that you took on something challenging and gave it your all.  It's a noble thing and a stepping stone to greatness.  If you succeed in everything you do, it probably means that you're not really challenging yourself or growing.  Failing at something does not mean you are a failure at all.  If you want to learn how to view failure in a way that will help you achieve your dreams, read "Mindset" by Carol Dweck.  She explains it better than I ever could.

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Absolutely.

Have you seen this TED talk on Grit? If not, you'll love it.

I was actually referring to it. ;)

How you view failure will really make a difference in how you deal with it.  Failure after working hard is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  It means that you took on something challenging and gave it your all.  It's a noble thing and a stepping stone to greatness.  If you succeed in everything you do, it probably means that you're not really challenging yourself or growing.  Failing at something does not mean you are a failure at all.  If you want to learn how to view failure in a way that will help you achieve your dreams, read "Mindset" by Carol Dweck.  She explains it better than I ever could.

Its more difficult when the failure is born of internal issues of willpower, thanks to gaming. This place helps me validate that it's essentially the same, internal or external failures. Both are experience that help you learn, and not just learn, but learn intuitively.

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Today's notes: living in the moment, information intake

It has a lot to do with focus, in this specific case, letting go of control, essentially. I'm studying right now and the urge to distract myself seems to be stemming from the fact that I have limited time, and that I can't just let go and let myself not be in control of the time and do the best with it that I can.

Information intake is like flow across a membrane. It takes time. Learning takes time and the rate at which you can learn/take in information and process it is limited. Imagine a pump pushing water through a thick filter. It takes a lot of force to very mildly increase the rate of flow across the filter. Taking in information is the same - you can try really hard but you're going to suffer from diminishing returns. You'll get more information in by spending more time on taking in that information. This visual is for procrastinators, like me. If you accept that your rate of learning is capped, and that you need large amounts of time to take in information adequately, you'll be more aware of the damage you're doing while procrastinating. It's an intuitive counter-effect to feeling like you have time - you need to use that time, or damage will be done!

This morning so far:

I've vastly improved my ability to focus, though it took a week to set in. I'm more focused than I've been in years. I'm taking natural breaks for perhaps 2 minutes every 15 minutes of focused effort, sort of like a natural pomodoro technique without needing to use a timer or the like. It's all thanks to the improvement in sleep, routine and cutting out distractions. Stimulating distractions make whatever I need to focus on far less interesting because they keep constantly pushing up against my awareness when I'm taking part in them. It's strongly worth noting just how damaging these distractions actually are to life, and why, if I ever resumed gaming, I would lose my attention span because I'd be constantly jonesing for a distraction. That damage would be done. I feel like my measurable IQ has jumped 20 points because of this barrier between my brain and the world being lifted.

Edited by Alkan
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The semester ended. Instead of rewarding myself with internet time, I decided to ride my bike and start cleaning up the mess in my apartment from studying. I also am challenging myself to meditate for 15-30 minutes per day for 30 days, and train myself to do it without a guide (it actually seems to work better for me without one because I can stop thinking in words and kind of just plug into a non-lingual state of mind and skip directly to the stuff that gets me into a pretty deep state of meditation).

I'm essentially cutting out activities that are overstimulating and cause addiction. What I'm finding is that my reward triggers seem to stimulate more easily as a state of existing on a daily basis when I am taking care of myself and NOT overstimulating myself.

I never want to go back. I'm overwhelmingly happy. I forgot about this part the last time I cut out my distractions. Except I didn't account for complacency last time and I didn't view it as permanent.

I feel amazing right now, like anything is possible.

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Hey Alkan, I just caught up with your journal. It's great to read how focused you are. Also +1 to waking up early and unguided meditation. Keep going!

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Hey Alkan, great journal. Just caught up on it and it's thought-provoking. I have succumbed to a lot of internet distraction lately and my mind feels more scattered than I would like. I crave deep focus but my mind wants to check facebook again.

I think I'm going to commit to cutting out a lot of these things like you have, and add more meditation time into my day.

I think I might try setting aside 30mins-1hr a day where I allow myself to do my social media/internet rounds, but the rest of the day keep it off limits. If I want something else to do, it needs to be productive.

Edited by kortheo
typo
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The semester ended. Instead of rewarding myself with internet time, I decided to ride my bike and start cleaning up the mess in my apartment from studying. I also am challenging myself to meditate for 15-30 minutes per day for 30 days, and train myself to do it without a guide (it actually seems to work better for me without one because I can stop thinking in words and kind of just plug into a non-lingual state of mind and skip directly to the stuff that gets me into a pretty deep state of meditation).

I'm essentially cutting out activities that are overstimulating and cause addiction. What I'm finding is that my reward triggers seem to stimulate more easily as a state of existing on a daily basis when I am taking care of myself and NOT overstimulating myself.

I never want to go back. I'm overwhelmingly happy. I forgot about this part the last time I cut out my distractions. Except I didn't account for complacency last time and I didn't view it as permanent.

I feel amazing right now, like anything is possible.

YES! Love everything about your post. Lots of gold in it. Thank you for sharing. Proud of you man. :)

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Hey Alkan, great journal. Just caught up on it and it's thought-provoking. I have succumbed to a lot of internet distraction lately and my mind feels more scattered than I would like. I crave deep focus but my mind wants to check facebook again.

I think I'm going to commit to cutting out a lot of these things like you have, and add more meditation time into my day.

I think I might try setting aside 30mins-1hr a day where I allow myself to do my social media/internet rounds, but the rest of the day keep it off limits. If I want something else to do, it needs to be productive.

Thank you! Since there are still things I use the internet for, I am going to make a list of things that count as acceptable and basically shove everything aside.

Facebook scrolling just is not acceptable. Basically, this forum is acceptable, anything that I can definitively say helps me build a youtube channel is acceptable and anything that helps me learn (i.e. reading books, watching useful videos).

No more mindlessness. Not even for 10 minutes. No more watching random videos. Just enough.

Another thought: focus on the rewards of not using, the feeling of relief of not succumbing to the urge, feeling the time waster distraction vanishing.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm thinking about thinking. Modulating your thoughts is a really good way to stay in control. I'm trying to think about how to pay attention to some thoughts and ignore other thoughts. For instance, at first glance, enjoying science fiction might not seem so beneficial.

Except that I have a deep fascination with and love of technology that is fueled by that fantasy - that fascination drives me to work harder towards my goals, to find it more interesting picking it apart and making something with it.

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Meditation is largely going well. My ability to stay focused on it varies by the day. It is having a gradual impact on my ability to focus. I am now starting to think of new ways to continually put my brain in a state of challenge.

I'm working on developing a routine that creates a state of constant mental challenge, and likewise, enhancement of mental capabilities. So, in that light, one of my new projects is going to be developing stimuli that challenge me to challenge my brain. In that process, with mindfulness meditation, I'm getting a greater sense of what it actually feels like to think hard - I'm getting better at accessing that state of being mentally challenged, as well as enjoying that state.

I remember noticing that I had particularly strong faculties after a particularly demanding semester. I am going to challenge myself like that every day.

More notes:

Use the parts of the brain appropriate for a specific task when learning. I.e. train your intuition for social skills instead of just analytically trying to do everything. Train your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when training self-control.

There are no studies done on training oneself creatively over the course of years to improve fluid/general intelligence, but intelligence is related to the connectedness of the brain, especially between distant regions in the brain.

Edited by Alkan
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Consistency is irreplaceable.

Goals for 2016:

  1. Get into research
  2. 4.0 GPA
  3. Have my YouTube Channel with at least one video on it by summer, and develop a clear vision for it.
  4. Low bodyfat percentage and high power on the bike
  5. Improve social life (vague, I know, but with everything else I have going on, that's why it's at this place on the list - it still ties into a lot of the things on the list, however, with school and cycling)

Aggressive, for sure, but doable, I believe. That is why I have titled this entry "Consistency is irreplaceable." So, in making the connection strong, I am going to list out exactly what I have to do every day, or as close to every day as I possibly can (relapse is often caused by unattainable perfectionism) to get to those goals.

So, to accomplish goal 1, I'm going to have to go around contacting professors, every day, digging around the research going on at my university, and preparing myself socially for that, researching what they do so that I don't just come in like any other guy "oh, I'll do this here."

2. I have to do homework/studying every day for a good 3-6 hours, some days, 10. So, I'll list out how much I am going to have to do. To maintain attention, focus and efficiency, I'll need to meditate. I also need to consistently go to office hours, so I'll be making each professor's once a week.

3. I am going to put a minimum of 45 minutes a day of researching, practicing the tools, etc. and for this channel to work. Probably will be pretty close to a maximum 7 hours a week on this activity with everything else.

4. I am going to have to bike consistently and eat healthily. I have very little time, so while I am still on break, I need to learn 10-12 very quick, healthy recipes. And, since I will have little time, I'm going to have to focus on short distance efforts, and maybe do one long ride on the weekends (only 40 required for the "long" ride, 60+ would be ideal). My bike training is a difficult thing to plan, but I can list out what I am doing here. I'll do two sets of intervals during the week, one time trial, and one long ride. That should give me about 6 hours. Commuting to campus will also be training.

5. Meet with one new person every two weeks. Sounds like not much, but there's a huge amount already going on.

More thoughts for the day: planning and journaling are motivating, making the tasks clearer and more enjoyable. Building these habits over time is not something that I can go without.

Edited by Alkan
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