Day 9: Magical thinking

Let's talk about magical thinking.

I've started using "magical thinking" as short-hand for lazy thinking. I have been using the phrase to denote the times when my mind tricks me into glossing over details as "unimportant" or "obvious". The way I convince myself a certain result will happen from a given action, without investigating the connection between the action and the result. Thinking everything will be just fine if I don't attend to the details.

Magical thinking is about lack of attention. About assuming rather than attending. (I think "ATTEND" may be my big word of the year--April is when we're supposed to pick those, right?) And now that I pay attention to those details, I am beginning to see where life slips through the cracks unnoticed. What used to sound like a strong effort, a reasonable attempt, now seems deluded and ineffective. So I'm on a mission to find it in my life and get rid of it.

It's totally possible this entry will make me sound dumb as a brick, but here we go anyhow:

Example: I've recently done a lot of research into how much money I need to live my life (which was a HUGE process of examining this way of thinking). Eventually I learned I need to make more money, so I thought to myself, I will work more.

I started sitting at my desk more. I got up earlier and stayed at my desk longer. I felt like I was working really hard, but nothing happened. I felt frustrated. Why is there no relationship between my income and how much I work?

So I went back to the beginning. I need to make more money. This is a solid starting point: I know what the details are. I know where all those dollars will go every month.

There are two levers: I can work more hours or I can raise my rates.

Then we can start to look at working more hours, as part of the overall picture. I'm gonna get a little Bill Clinton on you and go even further down the example rabbit hole:

What is "more"? How many hours do I work right now? I sat down and reviewed my billable hours over the last six months to get an average number. Now I know how much I have to work to work "more".

What is "work"? It seems self-evident. Sitting at my desk FEELS like work but is not actually work. Only work is work.

Work, in order of money-making importance:

  1. Active billable work on a client project
  2. Active pursuit of paying work
  3. Development of business assets that will help me get paying work (my own education included here)
  4. Business management (billing, reviewing)

Not work, in no order, because it doesn't matter:

  1. Getting to Inbox Zero
  2. Filing papers
  3. Cleaning my desk
  4. Playing 2048
  5. Listening to work-related podcasts

Those things are important, but they do not make more money, so I need to spend the least amount of time possible on them. Reading blog entries about my future hiring strategy? NOT working. It only counts as work if I'm actively hiring, like, right now. Not next month. Right now.

Even creating these lists, I started to feel that now-familar magical thinking creep in. Is developing business assets a higher priority than business management? I asked myself. And my mind whispered: It's fine, don't worry about it. It's just a blog post. Shut up, mind! It does matter. If I can clearly point at a list of priorities, I know where to focus. Knowing what I'm doing is surprisingly difficult to keep tabs on. Once I've made that list, I must resist the temptation to ignore it, to lose it and then generate a new one. I've done the work of figuring out this problem. Honor that. Keep it close and make decisions from a stable place.

Actually! Visualization has come to my rescue. When producing a show, I've always visualized the show from top-to-bottom. Where will my props be? Where will my costumes be? Where do I exit the stage? If I can't perfectly imagine what's in the wing on stage left, it usually means that I haven't really figured out how the props will get there. Now I visualize how these kinds of changes are going to unfold on a day-by-day basis. If I'm going to work an extra three hours a week, what day of the week will I be working late? What is going to get pushed aside--sleep? Other work?

Another example: I'm going to get rich! But how am I going to do that? Part of my plan involves stuffing actual metal coins in an actual glass jar and then occasionally depositing them in my savings account, no joke. So I have to develop a mechanism whereby I acquire metal coins, then transport them to the jar. Eventually I need a plan for taking a glass jar to my bank, which is actually kind of relevant because my savings account only has one branch, and that branch is in New Jersey.

Sounds dumb af, but this is where plans go awry. Because we assume we know how a thing will work.

It takes a lot of effort to stare at and actually see the thing that I am attempting to hand-wave away from myself. The mind is a very tricky creature and knows all the best ways to fool you. It's like Obi Wan Kenobi up in there.

Anyway, that's what I mean when I am eliminating magical thinking. Let's get rid of lazy assessment, wishful thinking, and shaky foundations. I've just been inattentive, feeling that I am above the details. No one is above the details.

p.s. I just googled magical thinking and it's not what I'm talking about. But that will have to wait for a different day.


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