A Morning of Self-Consciousness…

Here’s a quick diary-esque blog post. Experimenting with the style.

When I wake up at 10:15 AM, as I did today, the first thing that pops into my head is whether or not I am a “morning person” and whether, by waking up late, I had missed out on hours that might have been enhanced by a more naturally alert cognitive state.

The fact that this is my initial thought leads me to wonder what it means that productivity-maximizing drives the day’s first neuron-firing on a blue beautiful day. Why can’t I just wake up, breathe, eat breakfast, and be passive? Which then leads me to wonder why I must take every thought to the meta level (ie, question the validity of the thought after thinking the thought) and whether one day it will be possible possible to somehow squash the little voice in my head that does play-by-play commentary on each thought as it develops. Like right now the voice is asking whether the prior couple sentences and this entire mini-exercise in raw stream-of-consciousness blogging are just amateurishly self-indulgent. Whether people might laugh at the perhaps implied assertion that the little voice who does play-by-play is unique or noteworthy. Might find it sweetly naive that I seem to see this internal peanut gallery commentator as on or off whereas wiser ones know the trick is controlling the volume and timing of self-consciousness? Fine, so how do you control the volume and timing? How do you really control what and when thoughts enter and leave your mind? (If only the mind could be partitioned into compartments like the Titanic was…) One more level up: on the premise that informs the last few sentences: the importance of what “others” think about you / me / our ideas. Don’t we all struggle to achieve the optimal point on the I’m-independent-screw-what-others-think versus I-am-a-slave-to-your-opinion spectrum? I laugh at those who claim to be wholly intrinsically motivated and who claim to lie unmoved in the face of external judgments / perceptions.

So it’s 10:15 AM and I have not yet figured out whether I’m a morning person. A gap in self-knowledge. A calamity of epic proportions! The diminishing returns of hyper self-awareness. Neuroticism? OCD-ish? The pleasures and perils of playing host to an in-the-head performance whose actors will perform, audience or not. (I.e., Boredom = impossible, regardless of external environment.)

I take a shower because I need to and because that’s where “living in the moment” seems to come pretty easily. Why else do so many good ideas pop to mind when standing under hot water?

And in the shower I am naked and alone.

17 comments on “A Morning of Self-Consciousness…
  • Ben: If there’s something wrong with you, then I’m in trouble too. Because half the time I wake up with my personal computer gray matter working–multi-tasking over a number of issues.

    On occasion, it will fatigue me. Usually it’s when I’ve had too much caffeine. I’ve learned, however, when I need the rest, to tie up the loose threads before I go to bed, cut back on the caffeine, watch my food and exercising, and turn off my x-rated fantasies. It’s like putting a hall monitor on my gray matter. And–it works.

    But more often than not, with my schedule and personal objectives, I wake up just like you. I’ve settled the morning/nite person issue by going with the flow. It looks like I’m a morning person. I think the neurosis business is a waste of time.

    My history was that that process cut out when we had three babies. With them off into their adult world, I’m back at the same old morning multi-task, creativity. It’s fun!

  • This is charming!

    Yeah, the committee can get to be a big problem. When I try to define “serenity” for myself, it’s a day, hour, or (usually) few moments when the committee shuts up or has only helpful, enlightening, encouraging things to say.

    Oh, and the naked part should have been in the lede. Just sayin’.

  • Those three words of Richard Alpert’s, “be here now” are a good mnemonic device to keep you focused on what matters. All the rest is noise.

    It’s true that being in the shower and not alone has a way of keeping you in the moment, too.;-)

  • Doubtful that by waking up a few hours later, you’ve missed out on hours that “might have been enhanced by a more naturally alert cognitive state.”

    You’re probably waking up a few hours later, because you’re staying up a few hours later than you would have if you intended to wake up a few hours earlier. In other words, whatever hours you would have gained by waking up earlier might have been lost in the need to get to sleep earlier. If you find yourself more cognitively alert at night, rather than in the morning, than those extra hours at night are more productive anyway.

  • We usually learn more from searching for the answer to a question rather than just having the answer. Sure, you might not have figured out whether you were a morning person or not, but I don’t know if you ever would have so eloquently connected being a morning person to controlling the volume and timing of self-conciousness to living in the moment while showering if you never thought of it like this in the first place. Your flow of thoughts were very coherent and yielded a successful diary-esque blog post run-through. Ben, you can characterize this post as either hyper-self-awareness and amateurishly self-indulgent, or just philosophy =]

  • By the way, I noticed you bookmarked Jonah Lehrer’s blog post on ironic thoughts. I thought he had an interesting take on it, but I sort of disagree with what he concluded. Here is my take if you are interested:

    I don’t think it entirely has to do with our brains checking up on whether we are making progress not thinking about white bears, but simply that we are giving our brains a hypocritical command. We are commanding our brains not to think, which is obviously impossibe–that’s like commanding your body not to live. I think the solution to telling your brain not to think about white bears is not telling it to NOT think about white bears, since telling it not to think is asking it something it is incapable of, but rather telling it TO think about something else, like chocolate or something. That way we are able to ignore the white bears because we never asked our brains to think about them (or think about not thinking about them, or think about them and then diminish that thought). That’s how I go to sleep at night; when I think about falling asleep, all the thoughts of the day come rushing to my head. Rather, I focus on thinking about one thing, such as the blackness in front me when my eyes are shut, and so can fall asleep easily.

  • Ditto what Charlie said.

    The meta-me will drive you mad. Solution: travel alone to some place that has terrible infrastructure, is mildly unsafe, and has an enormous desert. I was a hundred kilometers into the Saraha (overnight spent at Ksar Ghilane), when I noticed the self-conscious stream had been off for several days. Life improved radically after that.

  • Being in the moment, without the commentary, can take a lot of practice. I like Eckhart Tolle on this, despite not being a fan of new age baloney. Listening to his monotonous voice on an audio tape practically teaches meditational skills on its own. One does have to switch one’s internal sceptical analysis app. off, of course- and that’s the whole point.

    Not everyone realises this stuff can be dealt with, or that it can be lethal. We tend to focus on whether the “self-talk” is positive or negative, and whether it’s our voice or internalised commentary from influential others, rather then how to get it to shut the hell up already. But inner peace is a good thing.

  • I just finished your book, Ben. It was a very stimulating read. it was not just motivational, but practical in discussing the real decisions that faced an entrepreneur.

    I have been following your blogs for awhile, and have been inspired by the intellectual rigor you pursue the topics around our lives. Your today’s post was refreshing, to see that even after all this time on the blog, you are still putting yourself out there to experiment.

    I read that you have tried meditation. Do you use it as a break from this endless cycles of meta-analysis?

  • Ben, you’re definitely not crazy. Well maybe a little, but that’s a good thing.

    You’re experiencing the effects of somebody removed from the Matrix. Remember, there’s no spoon.

    Oh, and check out ZenHabits.net.

  • Ben,

    This is one of my favorite posts! Its honest, simple and I bet most of your readership relates to it.

    In an era of ROI-everything, that voice is hard to drown out. Even when you do, you’re only muffling it for a little bit until it creeps right back.

    The root of the voice lies simply in how each of us looks at things. No longer do we assume that mathematicians see the world in numbers, or musicians constantly hear chords in the wind. Our brains are too dynamic and multi-dimensional to stream only one thing at a time. Now that modern thinking has made us aware (and accountable) for all this variety, we have to prioritize. Whereas before, work and culture allowed the freedom to focus which came at the price of one or two-dimensional thinking, now we focus on freedom of thought which also comes with a price tag of the need to prioritize. Hence the voice in our head constantly asking us the value of time spent.

    Is there a solution? Does there need to be one? It depends on the person. When exploring high-level, abstract, and macro ideas I love to let my mind flow and not worry too much about what matters more. When focusing on a single project though, it helps to have that internal reminder that I need to get back on task and not twitter/blog/wake up late/what have you.

    One things for sure. Posting this certainly had the benefit of sharing a very personal experience with your readers, but blaming yourself or getting anxious about the little voice won’t do any good. Its the same as worrying about junk food you know you’re going to eat. Just enjoy it!

  • Great.. Now, when I think about something before bed, by telling myself TO think about it, I’ll climb aboard what ever train is on that track of thought. And the first stop will be this post. Then I’ll think about my productivity and then “why am I xxxx”… Which is a circular track, and then I look up the track and a clock goes by bringing me back to the first station.

    I shouldn’t have read this post.

    But why is the saying, “To know you is to love you.” not applicable to the self?

  • you tryin to write like david foster wallace or dave eggers? dont, they are/were weirdos. you’re better than that

  • great stuff.
    have you ever tried writing in another language? I find when I write in spanish, a language I am less confident in, I’m able to get to the point of what I want to say and not bullshit with style and prose. Try it…

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