Intuitively, we all understand the butterfly effect. We’ve all seen Rube Goldberg’s infamous cartoons where one simple action leads to another in a sequence until an observable outcome is reached.
We understand that one action leads to another, in our lives and in the world.
We also understand that if we let things occur in our lives without watching them, we become complacent in our lives and it gets boring.
In my experience, when I didn’t watch the sequence of actions in my life as closely, it was easy for me to fall into easy and comfortable cycles. Cycles that didn’t encourage growth at all.
But life is much more interesting if we hop on every opportunity to grow and make decisions that make us different. We can build complexity this way, and become fuller people.
How to Know You’re in a Cycle
By “cycle,” I mean that you’ve turned on autopilot in your life. It’s comfortable and easy to be in this state, and can even feel like the “right” way to live life since there’s so much less inner turmoil.
But inner turmoil is a beast to be tamed over a long time. And there’s no rush, so let’s methodically get to it!
In my experience, the most common cycle I experience is that of a “funk,” which I’ll arbitrarily describe as an off day or two when I’m convinced my goals don’t matter and so I’m not motivated to work toward them. I look toward easy leisure—Netflix, YouTube, and now Tik Tok.
By “setting a good precedent for yourself,” I mean making decisions that your future self will remember you positively for.
By exerting effort to shut off our auto-pilot, we are redirecting the sequence of our actions to ones outside the cycle. Of course, none of this is technical—it’s just language to describe the way I feel about my own experiences.
Remember, the goal should never be to change the way you feel or way you think. So how can we interrupt the cycle, set a good precedent for ourselves, and steer our course of action in the right direction?
First, realize that the only way out of these cycles is by action—thought follows thought, but action does not have to automatically follow action.
Internally say to yourself: “Don’t lift your right hand.”
Now do it anyway.
Your thoughts had the intention of making you keep your right hand down. When we’re stuck in a cycle, we’d listen to the internal voice because it’s easy—laziness decreases calorie consumption and mental strain.
But my instruction to raise your hand anyway, and your (hopefully!) doing it means that with a little bit of focus, action doesn’t necessarily follow prior action.
If we follow the same logic, it should be just as simple, when we’re feeling melancholy and lethargic, to get up and get to work anyway. And it is just as simple. It’s just a lot harder, in effect.
I started by talking about the butterfly effect—how when we feel less in control of our lives, one action follows another. Then I discussed how “funks” are a common experience that displays this phenomenon.
And so, to get back to the point of this post, it’s crucial that we make conscious decisions that we suspect will help us grow. And the ability to maneuver your actions when you don’t feel like it is something we can practice every day.
When we have to make a decision with no obvious answer, we hope that the right choice will present itself in a gift-box with a bow.
But it won’t. We’ll have to make the wrong decision sometimes, but that’s better than regret. Making the wrong choice can make us feel stupid, but regret makes us believe we’re incapable of making decisions at all—much scarier. And when we’re on auto-pilot, regret is the automatic choice.
So when you make a decision—make the one you’ll probably regret least.
The day in which I’m writing this post, I was in a “funk.” I spent a lot of time on Netflix, not doing much. At 8 PM, I wanted to decide whether to write a post. I didn’t know if I should take the whole day to relax or get to work.
And I still don’t know. All I know is that I made the choice that threw me off my cycle. The choice that I won’t regret in the future, and the one I’d be proud if the future version of myself made. I’m working my way out of the funk while also being productive. That’s a win-win!
Something I neglected to mention: the more you make a certain decision, the easier it becomes. So next time I’m in a rut and I want to get out, it’ll be just a bit easier than this time. That’s why it’s so important that we make choices we’d be comfortable with our future selves making; because every day we get to decide by our actions who that future self is going to be.
Today, I decided I want my future self to be able to take control of his feelings and get to work regardless of his thoughts. I won’t be that person tomorrow or the next day, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m also kinda cool with who I am now.
I’m just now one decision closer.