Plain English with Derek Thompson - The Dark Side of Being Obsessed With Productivity

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Today’s episode is about happiness productivity and our fascinating relationship to the Future.


So one thing that I’ve tried to do in this show from time to time in between episodes about the housing market and obesity injections is to have conversations however messy and fumbling and incomplete about this sense that too many people are not as happy as we should be.


I’ll always consider myself above all a writer about the external world.

The material world about progress in that external material world.

But the fact is these episodes about our internal World, our minds and thoughts and feelings are some of the most rewarding shows to record here.


We’ve talked to John height about the mysteries of skyrocketing American anxiety, especially among teenagers.

We’ve talked to Ethan cross about the science of self-talk.

The voice in our heads Wyatt, Can be kind of an asshole.

Today, I want to talk about our obsession with productivity.


This idea that we ought to get as much done now so that we’re well set up for the future and I should begin here with a bit of a confession.

If productivity is a cult, I have been a standing member for many years.

I am obsessed with productivity hacks.


I am a sucker for studies and stories about professional success.

You’re like, Derek, you can’t possibly click on those insipid, Harvard Business review.

A few studies that are like, you know, one thing that separates successful business people from unsuccessful business people and guess what I can I do, click on them, I’m always disappointed but I click and for a while, I didn’t quite know why.


And then I was struck.

I mean really really struck by this book.

Four thousand weeks by Oliver Berkman.

Many of us are obsessed with productivity, Berkman says because flatly, we don’t want to die.


We want to be infinite and we know we’re not, the average life is 4000 weeks long.

That’s why it’s the title of the book life is going to end, no matter how productive you are.

So what is it all for?


Oliver’s book, got my head whirring on a lot of different issues and perhaps none, more than my obsession and our society’s Collective obsession with the future.

Think about how much of your life is spent living in the future.

In your mind attending to Future concerns angsting over future anxieties obsessing with tomorrow and it’s not just your self-talk or your anxieties or that are.


So so future-oriented it’s our entire attitude toward education, corporate development, professional success life like the least.

Controversial values in American society are the importance of grit, the hope for Progress, the dream of social Mobility.


I mean all of these ideas celebrate future Orientation and of course, progress in the material world depends on making the future better, but but those who cannot stop planning for the future are doomed to labor for a life.


They will never fully live.

That is berkman’s thesis in a nutshell and obsession with making the best use of our time is, ironically a bad use of our time.

In this episode, we talk about the future happiness goals Buddhism.


Good self-help versus bad self help and how to reconcile our minds, ability to time travel into the past and future with our need, in some fundamental way to be here.

Now, I’m Derek Thompson.


This is plain English.


Oliver Berkman, welcome to the podcast.

Thanks very much for inviting me.

So first, tell me tell us a little bit about your career because from my vantage point it’s sometimes almost seems like you were a professional.

Self-help writer who decided to write a kind of anti self-help book.


So just take us through a sort of, you know, capsule sized version of that history.

What have you done with your life?

Sure, I’ll have a go.

I think that makes it sound a little bit more.

Like, I sort of broke with everything that had gone before more dramatically than I that I probably did.


But I’m I’m a journalist by training.

So I worked primarily at the guardian for many years and one of the things that I did there in amongst some news reporting and foreign correspondent stuff was to write this weekly column which yeah was the subject matter was called?


This column will change your life.

I spent a long time explaining too many people that this was Intended as a joke.

But anyway, it was sort of a involved sort of touring the world’s of self-help personal development, the science of Happiness, all of that stuff that was really only kicking off, you know, really only beginning properly, then it was there was some it sort of that that field sort of grew around me while I was while I was writing about it.


And you know, I definitely went into that partly with a sort of satirical aim.

I’m there was in that sort of context writing in the guardian, there was definitely a sort of call for it to be sort of have a certain kind of critical distance or or a humor to it, but I do know.


I I went on a kind of interesting journey in some ways.

It was a journey of getting more sincere about that whole field and more sort of engage with it.

But then kind of seeing the limitations figuring out a bit more.


What I was up to You psychologically, speaking in being, so enamored of it, but also wanting to knock it in public.

So, you know, getting sort of more deeply into those questions.

Seen the limitations of self-help.

And then, yeah, I think this, this book four thousand weeks is really what.


I, it’s an account of where I got to and thinking about time after spending so many years, trying out, so many kind of time management productivity techniques finding that none of them.

Brought the perfect, Paradise, Utopia of peace of mind that I’d been seeking eventually.


If you do that enough times, you begin to wonder whether you’re asking the wrong question.

Rather than that you just haven’t found the perfect system yet.

I really loved this book.

I thought it was absolutely Sensational at combining two of my real interest.


The way that we work on the one hand and our relationship with time on the other.

And I don’t know how deep we’re going to get into like the science of time.

It might not even be like that important to grasp some of the basics from your book.

But I’ve just always been fascinated by this idea that our relationship to happiness is so often a Ship to time that you think about some of the things that bring the least amount of happiness?


It can be regret.

It can be anxiety.

Well, I think those is very time-based.

Regret is about the past anxiety, is about the future, and both of them require or entail.

Our mind time, traveling to a place that we are not because we can never be physically in the past or in the future.


We have to be plunged experientially into the present at least our bodies, but our minds are constantly trying To time travel on us.

And I think that’s so many concepts of lack of satisfaction, or anxiety or unhappiness come from this interplay of happiness and time.


Did you see things just at a big picture level before we dive in?

Do you see things in a similar way?

That a lot of our relationship to happiness unhappiness is fundamentally about a relationship to time.

Yeah, I absolutely think it is.

I mean you know one of the things I wanted to do in writing a book that was purportedly about time management was really make the case that nothing isn’t time management.


If you if you sort of think about it expansively enough and yeah I just you know this what I’m about to say is not something that hasn’t been nobody said before but it’s like we’re in this as humans were in the situation where we are, we are completely Limited materially.


To the moment in which we find ourselves anything, we’re going to ever do in our lives that is worth doing is going to be right now.

And yet we have this conscious capacity to think temporally about our past where we’ve come from where we’re going.

And if we’re really going to get need to get too much into Heidegger here particularly but we find ourselves in this state of ours.


Heidegger name drophead.

What it is?

Four minutes 45 seconds into the podcast.

Good Lord.

Let’s leave and we find ourselves in the situation of knowing on some level that we are that.


Our time is limited that it’s going to run out not knowing when it’s going to run out having the yet, having the capacity to relate to time as if it were some resource that we had and could make the most of and could save or use.


Well, your waist and yet at the same time, that’s not really the Sure of our situation with respect to time because you can’t actually do anything other than be in this one moment.

So I think a lot of our, you talk about regret and that’s really good example.


I think a lot about sort of anxiety, maybe.

Because that’s been my particular, you know, Screw Up in in life but it’s, I think about like it’s the desire in some ways to get a kind of reassurance from the future.

Or about the future of your life that you can never ever actually have because you’re just here and we’re always just here and like bridging that girl for squaring that Circle or whatever is you can.


I think you can see that as what, you know, the whole of multiple spiritual Traditions are trying to do, and all kinds of self-help approaches as well, for those who are last briefly Martin.

Heidegger is a 20th century philosopher, who wrote a lot about the nature of being, and the nature of I’m he briefly became a Nazi which is why he is not only famous but Infamous, and he may make a return later in this show, but I’m making no promises.


I guess I’d like to me, it doesn’t really matter whether you become a Nazi briefly, a long-term like that was a, he’s still announcing and it’s a and it’s he’s an incredibly bad writer and I’m sorry.

Incredibly impenetrable writer, I’m sure many people would say it’s before writing and also was a member of the Nazi party.


So like this is so many good reasons not to Focus on his wisdom when it comes to time.

And yet, he said various things that don’t seem to have really been said in the western tradition by anyone else, Heidegger is fascinating and maybe I’ll have you back on some weekend podcast.


I don’t need a lot of people to listen to resist.

Have got the entire history of Martin Heidegger you Cecily the that.

I just randomly made me think of the concept of earworms like in music the concept of earworms that you get a song stuck in your head and you keep replaying it.

Replaying it replaying it and there’s a science to earworms that says is a good way to get the ear worm out of your Head is to finish the song and I don’t have never made this connection before but the way you described anxiety seemed so similar that.


It’s our dissatisfaction and being able to answer questions about our future that makes anxiety so sticky.

So you end up replaying that anxiety as if on a loop because the song by definition of our anxiety cannot be finished.

There is no satisfaction in worrying about the future because the future will never actually arrived and answer the questions that we have about it in the moment, right?


Will I get in this college?

Will you don’t know?

At that moment, right?

Will this person marry me?

Will I make enough money next year?

Those questions will only be answered in the future to come and so you earworm about it in the present because you’re dissatisfied.

I really love that that analogy and of course you know those things there will be a later version of the of the present when when you do know the answer to those things but then they’ll just be the next moment to worry about.


So it’s actually like it’s a demand that the that you are you reach some kind of closure or completion About precisely a time that that you’ll that you never will.

And so, yeah, it’s just this sort of constant, constant, looping, in the hope that this time, you’ll sort of your sort of, get your, get your arms around it and you never will.





This obsessive, looping will satisfyingly answer my future questions.

And I want to, I want to talk to you specifically about.

I mean, this is so fun.

We’ve already mentioned future Heidegger.

I want to talk to you about productivity and my ship with productivity because I think there are profound points that you make about this big.


I would say American virtue.

People can probably tell by the sound of your voice that, you know, America is it big Global Western virtue of productivity and our relationship with it.

So let me begin with a confession.

I consider myself a workaholic.

I don’t know, anybody who knows me, well, who would disagree with that self-diagnosis?


I wrote an article a few years ago about an idea that I called work is mmm.

Which is this idea that Ironically, in an age of declining?

Religiosity, a lot of Americans have made work.

Their kind of religion, they turn to work and career to offer the kind of things that people have historically, sought from organized, Faith, belonging and community, and self-actualization, and meaning.


And to, that end, I have always been fascinated by productivity hacks.

I have thought so much about how to get the most work, done that I can and you make An absolutely fascinating compelling argument that there is a toxin lurking in the modern idea of productivity.


There’s a problem with the very idea of trying to use your time.

Well, can you tell us what it is?

I’ll do my best.

Yes, I think we are probably cut from the same cloth when it comes to this attitude towards work and towards trying to fit more in.


You can come at this from a number of angles.

I think the one way of Of thinking about it is just that we find ourselves.

Finite, we find ourselves with limited time not only in a lifespan but obviously in the day we’re sort of confronted by a whole lot of different essentially infinite supplies of ways in which we could use that time.


And it’s, you know, it’s common to talk about like the the ones that feel really unpleasant like the endless onslaught of email or demands from.

Boss or something.

But it also applies to Ambitions that you have for your work life Ambitions that you have for your life places you want to visit all the rest of it.


This is kind of endless supply and there’s something in us that wants to achieve peace of mind, over or and control over all that by becoming so productive.

So efficient that we can handle everything that’s coming to us.


Make time for all the things that feel as if they matter sort of never have to, Become submerged by email overwhelmed, because we’re, because we’re working at a Tempo that suits that the input, and if those supplies really are, you know, effectively infinite.


And if we are finite, then that’s never going to work, right?

It’s never going to have.

You’re never going to.

That’s never going to cash out in sort of.


Now, I’ve arrived here.

I’ve booked of managed to make myself capable of managed to increase my capacity to the point where Get my arms around all that.


So instead, what’s going to happen is you’re going to get a lot.

Busier obviously, if you get much faster answering email you’ll answer a lot more email.

You’ll get a lot more emails well because you sort of generate it by replying to people’s emails, things like that the sort of future time when when this productivity finally reaches, this fantasy future time, when all these productivity reaches this, this Utopia of being in control on top of things, being the master of your time is always obviously going to remain.


Main in the future and be pushed ever further into the future.

Now reminds me the Raider Alan Watts has this wonderful observation about our talent for placing the most important moments of Our Lives.

Always in the future.

He says you go to kindergarten for high school and then you go to high school for college and then you go to college to find a job.


And then you get that entry level job to get the next job and up, and up, and up the point of life is always about the next job.

The next Ingo.

It’s always Jam tomorrow and this is such a strange way to think about time.

You’ve called it.

The, when I finally X school of thought, right?


Like when I finally get into college, when I finally get a girlfriend, when I finally have a kid, then everything will be okay.

But reaching that threshold only unlocks the next necessary achievement.

Well, I mean I don’t know if I don’t know if the source you mentioned Jam tomorrow and I didn’t if John Maynard Keynes is the original source of that phrase.


But he uses it in this very, very famous speech.

And I say that you’ll be well, aware of where he also has this kind of this line that I’ve created a bunch of times about how about this mindset, this very idea of of putting off the Moment of Truth, the moment of real value into the future.


And he talks about how the purpose of man almost got This off by her purpose of man is always trying to secure for his actions as spurious immortality by pushing his interest in them further into the future.

He does not love his cat but only his cats kittens nor even in truth the kittens but only the kittens kittens and so on Forward Forever to the end of Captain.


And I think what I love about that quote and it gets at what you’re you’re talking about here is that it really it really brings to the surface.

This idea that like it’s an attempt to evade death, right?

It’s the side.


That’s its or an attempt to evade the, the the temporal finitude that is the consequence of the fact that we die.


So it’s this, it’s this idea that if you’re always, if you’re always working for something in the future, as though, you have to, do you sort of cheat yourself of ever in ever, sort of reaping the value in the present, you do get to feel that what you’re a part of is a time line that stretches off and never has to come to an end and I think this is much easier for people to believe in when they’re sort of 20, and then it gets gradually harder as you get older.


And maybe one definition of, a midlife crisis, is the point where it’s really hard to carry on.

Convincing yourself that the time line stretches off forever.

And yeah.

So I think that that that’s the fundamental problem.

If everything is focused on that sort of spurious immortality eventually the timeline runs out and at no point, have you totally fully been For the for the things you could have been here for.


Ya is interesting because I am when I’m working utterly obsessed with questions of productivity.

How do I get as much done today?

Still be in a good place tomorrow.

How do I get as much done tomorrow when I was so I’m going to good place on Wednesday.

I’m entirely future-oriented in a way that your work has persuaded.


Me is like somewhat sick like this, this idea that I am consistently pushing my happiness to someday that I am not where I have an entirely opposite experience and I wonder if you feel the same way is what I’m on vacation.

I never take photos.

I’ve just never really been like a photo person but it’s always interesting when like I’m at a museum or I’m at some beautiful Vista and everyone around me will have their phones out trying to capture like the perfect image of whatever it is the Mona Lisa the Rosetta Stone.


Something at the British museum some incredible place in Patagonia.

You watch these tourists and like they are experiencing not.

Not the thing they are on vacation for but rather trying to optimize their experience of that vacation when they’ve come home and are able to share it with people at home and I wanted like, grab them and be like, you know, you worked so hard to be on this vacation now and now that you’re on the vacation, you’re just thinking about, how do I get the best?


The most possible value from this experience to harvest it in a later experience?

Like does that ever drive you, like kind of crazy that sort of that sort of tourist phenomenon.

Yeah, it’s interesting.

I sort of I’m with you on that although I think I have fallen into it myself as well that that desire to sort of capture to capture things.


We live now and own incredibly beautiful part of the of the north of England and my camera roll on my phone is full of just basically the same image of a kind of attract leading off into the distance because apparently one day, one of these photos is going to capture the the the vividness and the essence of it, I will.


I say, I think I’ve got a lot better at this and I don’t really invest very much hoping that.

So I take a bunch of photos, put the phone away, and then get on with being in the, in the environment.

But it’s very seductive, right?

That idea that any experience that is enjoyable can be somehow taken from its context and sort of stored away for for future enjoyment.


It’s interesting that you have that different reaction in the two different.

Says it’s like something about the boundaries around a vacation permit, you to go into that.

I think it’s also worth saying maybe I’m argue against myself here but I don’t think that there can I don’t want to say that the pleasure and the joy of working towards goals that are in the future is kind of completely illegitimate or something.


I think it’s like it’s definitely a part of anything.

Anyone who does anything?

That’s got a sort of craft aspect to it.

You like, you are getting better, you are creating The things that that will be only ready later.

I’m not.

I’ve got a whole rant in the book against the idea that you can just like be here now and not have any kind of instrumental goals with time.


Yeah, I want to bring this part of the conversation to a point to say that, you know, one way to summarize what I have taken from your work is that so often people like me are constantly preparing for a Sure we’ll never inhabit because when we get to the point that we wanted to get to we’re just worried about some next mountain to climb and so we have to find some way to pull satisfaction fulfillment into the present.



At the same time, I want to be very clear about like how do we do this?

Like, I’m very motivated by this concept that people are constantly prepping for a future.

They’ll never fully inhabit, but it’s like if you flip that idea on its head, you might be able to say, you know, isn’t it true that most Atkins don’t save enough.


Isn’t it true that many people aren’t conscientious enough that they are too focused on immediate gratification and not willing to work on the habits or goals that are most fulfilling in the long run.


So how do you reconcile those two things that on the one hand?

There’s all these problems with being too future-oriented, but at the same time, there’s also a problem with this culture of instant gratification, as well.


I think I might, my sort of immediate response to that is that?


I think part of the reason for the appeal of instant gratification is the sort of joylessness of the of the fully instrumentalized life, especially if you’re in a position in the socio-economic structure, where like you’ve lost faith in the idea that that kind of grinding is going to lead to a sort of wonderful outcome obviously the Dream does a lot of work in trying to persuade everybody that that can that can happen everybody.


But you feel like staying on top of everything, getting through all your work saving for the future.

It feels like really, really difficult and so instant, more immediate gratification feel pleasurable.

When you see that actually a certain version of that, is not just really difficult, but impossible, that there will always be too much to do, but you are never going to achieve a total security.


Against what the future can bring and all these things.

When you see that it’s impossible.

Non-negotiable e instead of just really, really difficult.

Then it actually kind of Comes as a Liberation, it’s a weight off your shoulders right?

It frees you up in the moment to do important substantial difference making things, including saving money and all the rest of it because you’re no longer, it’s no longer part of a quest that on some level.


You sort of think is is impossible, but you but for now you’re going to just like, really, really push yourself to try to do it.

What are they made me?

Think of is that I remember the best piece of career advice that I ever got was from a writer.

The fellows who said don’t take a job because it’s a job.


You want to tell someone that you do take a job because it’s a job you want to actually do.

And I think of this sometimes it’s like the Wednesday, 2:00 p.m. test.

So you’re trying to figure out like what’s a job that I really, really want to get it.

Maybe it’s this job.

It’s really high status has this amazing business card.


It says, you know, CMO of XYZ, it sounds really impressive, but I say, okay, what’s that job?

Like what’s that job?

Going to be like on a Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.


Like that’s a, that’s a time-based test of whether you’re going to enjoy like, being in that job.

And I think so often, when we think about the future, we actually aren’t thinking about like ourselves in the future.


We think about the future, as if it’s like some gate that we pass and say, when I pass that gate, I’ll be happy when I have a better business card.

I’ll be happy when I have, you know, you know, a bigger house.

Then I’ll be happy when I have another kid, then I’ll be happy like, when X, that’s where happiness.



And then it’s happiness Ever After.

But the experience of like being in that world that we’re hoping for is almost never what we wish for because you don’t actually imagine ourselves in it.

We just imagine checking a box.

And so this is where I think like this concept of like, you know, future thinking like gets us in trouble.


So often is because we aren’t actually thinking about like what is going to be like to live in this future that we’re preparing ourselves does that register with you?

Yeah, totally.

And I think this goes to this idea that, I mean, I associate it with Zen Buddhism a lot, but I think it crops up in a lot of different Traditions that the, a big part of our sort of suffering and anxiety and being who we are.


Comes from this notion that there ought to be a solution to like The Human Condition.

And we’re going to find some way never now because it’s not actually possible.

So it’s got to be postponed into the future, but we’re going to find some way, I’ll sort of Being the problem of being alive and actually.


Yeah, I’m convinced at least intellectually and on a good day in the way, I live that that that, that that’s the only real problem, right?

The the idea that there ought to be some sort of final way of relating to time that that gets rid of any of these of any of these issues.


So there’s a quote that I use the epigraph to the book from Jocko Beck.

The the American Zen Buddhist who said that what makes it unbearable is?

You’re mistaken belief that it can be cured and I’ve written before as well about this story that Sam Harris tells actually in one of his talks about catching himself sort of being in the middle of sort of complaining to a friend about all the problems.


He was encountering in his professional life, at that moment, and being interrupted by her and her saying something like hold on a second.

Are you still under the illusion that you’re going to get to some point in your life when you don’t have problems anymore and realizing like?

Yes, that’s the, that’s the idea, this idea that like it again, it’s this notion.


I think that we’re going to sort of win the struggle with time, we’re going to sort of Vanquish it and and from then on it’s all going to be plain sailing.

And obviously, we’re not going to obviously time is going to win time, is going to win that battle in the end.

So it’s this notion that we can somehow get out.


And on top of our lives and then direct the whole thing like an air traffic controller or something.

That’s what causes the problems, that’s what causes the real sort of deep suffering with respect to time.

I feel like someone might listen to your perspective on the future and on our need to give up a certain obsession with future-oriented thinking and say it sounds like this guy doesn’t believe in goals.


Do you believe in goals?

I think I do believe in goals but this is definitely like the point of all of the moat the place in all of this stuff that is the most sort of is very fertile area for me some thinking, right about at the moment.

But it’s It is really interesting because I don’t think upon reflection and consideration that will.


Firstly, I don’t think we have the option as evolved Human animals to to not have certain kinds of goals, the obvious ones.

And then I also don’t think ultimately that, that fulfillment is to be found in trying to like, surrender all the other ones, right?


And to sort of live in a kind of a In a completely, goalless way, I think it.

I think that it has to be about the nature of the way in which our goal is held and the nature of how you relate to a goal.

And clearly it’s very obvious to see how you can turn the goals into precisely everything.


We’ve been talking about these kind of things where they are stakes in the ground that your happiness is not going to, you’re not going to be able to be happy until you get them in.

I can also relax into your life until you till you get to those things.

And that’s big problem, but I don’t see why that needs to apply to every way of thinking about a goal, a goal as a sort of a goal, as a sort of organizing principle for making decisions about what you do in.


The moment seems to me to be completely like that’s what how I try to relate to girls now.

It’s like I try to have them but I try to understand that they are ways of articulating, my actions.

Now instead of the things that are going to buy which all those actions are going to be given, there are going to be given their value.


James Clear has a very similar way of thinking about this.

The writer James Clear.

He believes a goals are overrated and that habits are underrated, obviously, his, the name of his great book is called Atomic habits, but he makes it through the machine point.

That goals are useful for two reasons.


They’re useful for clarity and they’re useful for filtering.

What is important to my life now?

And it having a goal for the future, mix your life.

Like a lot worse in the moment.

It probably isn’t a very good goal, right?

If it’s not cashing out in prison, like it’s sort of like, the in present well-being.


It might not be a very good goal.

He has a other great point.

I think is pretty.

It’s really worthwhile that when you think about success and let’s assume for the moment that we consider some kind of professional success important.

Even though I think a lot of conceptualizations professional success are built around an idea that if Successful, then all these things that is will go away.


And in fact, success just introduces a lot of anxieties but he says, everyone at the Olympics has the same goal everyone at the Olympics wants to win a gold medal.

So what’s the difference is the difference, their goal?

No, they all like the goal is standardized across all participants.


The only difference has to be, you know, underlying capability, you know, maybe genetics or environment and the behaviors that led to the outcome and the name for the Let’s that outcome are probably the habits of the athletes.

So there’s no way in which having a better goal, seems to make someone a better Olympic Athlete, rather having better habits, seems to make people better Olympic athletes, and I think is another useful way.


Like, even if you bring that down to the micro level of one’s own life, you know, whatever you want to lose weight, you want like, you know, a specific kind of body.



Like lots of people share that goal of like wanting whatever you want to call it.

The perfect body, the difference in.


Come has to be a difference in habits which is daily and sort of present focused rather than a different difference in goals, which are by definition future Focus.

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant.

I think it’s a great framing.

It also I think it’s a related but not not exactly.


The same thing.

I’ve been sort of toying with expressing it this way recently that possibly what makes a goal a good goal.

Is that in some sense?

You can you can be it now, right?

You can sort of instantiate the endpoint in your actions now not in the fullest form, but you know that, that if if what you want to be in your life is a poet screenwriter, whatever it is like those are things that you can.


Instantiate now in your day today for 10 minutes for an hour whatever it’s a question I try to ask myself about things that I think I’m progressing towards.

Which that am I am?

I somehow embodying.

This at least in some way in the present moment one last thought that I had for you is you know even as I’ve been more enthralled to the productivity cult, I’ve been very interested in this idea of flow is a famous concept from the psychologist.




She sent me high, that there’s certain activities that seem to make us happier in the present, like playing games with friends, playing participating in sports, being engrossed.


In a piece of art, that’s just absorbing our attention having sex, you know, hanging out with wonderful friends because flow seems to be in part about time.

There’s something about flow that seems to make the concept of time.

Pierre melt away.


Do you have thoughts about whether trying to organize our lives around or finding more moments of flow?

Is, is a good way to think about life?

Yeah, I’m really interested in this because to me, it sort of speaks to well in my book, I in one chapter, I sort of try and an extremely speculative way to ask what what it would have felt like with respect to time to be like a medieval peasant.


Went in early medieval England without the four clocks, before public objective agreements on on time.

And I sort of try to suggest that that sense of being off the clock that we associate with Kind of Wonderful experiences would in some sense of been present all the way through a life that was lived without these objective ideas of time.


It wouldn’t have been like you and then time and you have a relationship to it and it’s usually an adversarial relationship, and you can sort of hear the clock tick.

As you go about your activities or trying to line them up against the schedule or something.

Now at this point you always need to point out that like life for medieval peasants was absolutely terrible on almost every Dimension but I think that this this specific kind of problem.


Time problems, there’s lots of reasons to believe, wouldn’t have been a kind of part of that experience.

So that in some sense, such a pre-industrial person might have been in flow all the time in some sense because it is.


That it is that idea of no longer, having the mental idea of this of this identification from time where you’re there and you’re trying to fit things into this to this thing.

And I think it probably is in some sense, more true to our real situation to be in that kind of state.


I think when it comes to designing a life around opportunities to flow for flow.

You’ve obviously got to be really careful because any attempt to kind of overly manage and control your time.

The opposite of flow, even what?

You’re even if what you’re trying to do, is control your time for the purposes of flow.


So you get to that sort of very familiar situation where, you know, you’ve set aside two hours to have a completely awesome experience.

Well, almost nothing.


There’s always no better way to guarantee that you won’t have that awesome experience because you’re still the primary mindset, there is the one of like I will use my time resource in this specific way, rather than that one.


So I think what that has to come down Into least it’s the most success either had of it with it.

In my life is is yet you’ve got to work on creating an environment that has the opportunities for flow, right?

If playing the piano playing the keyboard as it does for me can bring that.


Well I got to have a keyboard in the house where I’m living and it’s got to be working.

Deciding that a 5:30 every day I’m going to play piano for so that and get into flow.

That’s that’s much less likely to work.

It makes me think that we need a word for this kind of mentality.


Like we have words for the concept of, like, generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety.

But we need a concept for a different kind of anxiety, like, optimizing anxiety.

The idea that we need to quantifiably optimize every part of our existence, and it makes us worried that each particular experience that we’re having is not particularly or is not perfect.


Yeah, this seems to arrive at the Crux of what you’re talking about that if we believe the optimized life is possible, we’re almost certainly going to give ourselves this newfangled 21st century anxiety disorder by larding ourselves with.

It’s impossible expectation.

We have to find some way to shed this mentality and pick up something else that allows us to be present in the moment without constantly measuring each experience against some make-believe parallel, time experience, that might have been more optimal.


Yeah, absolutely.

And I think it yeah it’s like I think the underlying psychological urge here the which is the desire to not have to die to not have to feel what it means to be a finite human that’s kind of Timeless and goes back to you know origins of humanity.


I’m sure but then you get the industrial era and you get this this idea of time as a resource.

So now that becomes something you can try to use to achieve this kind of this kind of security with respect to Finitude and you can’t, but you still try and so it leads to a whole new range of problems.


And now we find ourselves at this sort of extreme end of technologies.

That really make it feel like we’re very nearly that, right?

I mean, when when, when so many things are instantaneous, when so many other things like cooking food in, microwaves is not instantaneous, but insanely quick compared to previous generations.


It really becomes easier and easier to invest in that fantasy that that you’re just around the corner from it.

This makes me think and I’m trying out this this metaphor, but let me let me know if this is just utterly fails like I I would like to thank that anxiety.


Can be good and that regret can be good.

I mean, how else you supposed to learn from your mistakes if you don’t regret them.

But we have to find some way to let go of these feelings to come back to our experience of the present and not get lost in them.


And the image that comes to mind is like a bow and arrow.

And, you know, when the, when the bow is like, fully taught with the arrow inside of it, right?

That’s what it’s like to be stressed, that’s what it’s like to feel regret.

That’s what it’s like to feel anxiety.

But how does the arrow?


Fly it flies when you release the bow?

And I feel like so much of the synthesis they’re trying to arrive at how can you be somewhat productive and not obsessed with productivity?

How can you think about the past?

But not be lost.

It’d come to this ability to just let go.


And I wish there was some way like in our Civics classes High School classes, you know, whatever Harvard College courses on how to be happy.

I wish that to me, I wish they were like more of an emphasis on like, how to let go of feelings.


Not be afraid of feelings, not be afraid of negativity.

But to like, find that capacity to let go of the right hand, so that we can actually make use of those negative feelings, those painful feelings the same way that an arrow intention in the bow is only made useful when you let go of it.


Yeah, I think it’s a great great metaphor.

I think you should, you should you should pursue that, I think.

And I think it really speaks to that idea, that letting go is not as you sometimes encounter in sort of personal development.

Well, decided that letting go of negative emotions means once you no longer cling to them, they’ll all vanish and you won’t be, you won’t be afflicted by them.


I think, I think that’s not the case.

I think the point about all these anxieties and the sort of poignancy of the fact that loss is built into a life that were always having to choose things over other things.

I regret is kind of inevitable, I think, for anyone who sort of living consciously and and, and making choices in that in that.


At conscious way, it’s not that you’re not afflicted by these feelings, it’s that you’re not totally dictated to and tormented by them.

There’s this very famous quote, from Carl Jung.

He said that all Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.


Meaning that like, it’s not that we’re going to get rid of our anxiety it.

So we can be in the kind of avoidant mindset where we’re trying to continue to convince ourselves.

That this isn’t how it is, and that this isn’t it, and Then there’s the mindset where you can fall into that and be more fully where you are and see the truth about being a human with a with limited time.


It’s not, it’s not like it’s not going to be, it’s not like it’s going to be free of anxiety or free of disappointment or regret is actually going to have all these things in a really intense way.

But you’re going to be free Freer to live in that situation than if you’re constantly trying to avoid those experiences.


And yes, also this is maybe where the metaphor of the burn area comes back to, in some sense.

Harness them right to in some sense, sort of see that they’re all part of life and they can be fuel for creativity and for more opportunities for joy and all the rest of that Oliver broken.


Thank you very, very much.

Thank you.

It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you for listening.

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