What are you optimizing your life for?
What makes you work on your body, mind and character? Why do you spend time to become a better human? In simple words, what motivates you?
Naturally, I am inclined to self-analysis and serious soul-searching. I always prone to ask myself “why” to even for petite questions. The Codex Vitae was born just after continuous digging of my beliefs and many why’s. Many questions answered there, though I am still in the process of writing down all the notes to share why I think something is true. That’s actually one of the reasons for this blog.
We have questions stated in the title: Why are you working on yourself? What are you optimizing your life for? I understand that it’s a sort of life-meaning question, which, as well-known, are hard to answer. I found that without knowing the answer, I can’t go on with all the staff I do — several times I lost ability to get up from the bed, not to mention ability to work. That is surely not psychopathology. Having such problems, I wanted to find the answer to the question.
Religions didn’t give the answer as well as money, people, family, possessions, travel, drugs and mood modulators. For long, I couldn’t find the answer to this silly question starting with why.
What are you optimizing your life for? What is the reason you fanatically work on yourself? Why do you suffer sleep deprivation to have a couple of hours for reading in the morning? Why do you endure the loss of pleasant bad habits, which color your grey routine days? Why are you working on yourself? Why?
Three worst reasons
I despise external things which are opted to answer these questions: control, motivation and approval.
Control means doing what you’re told. Control means following the way you’d been raised by parents. Control means knowing the right answer to why questions. Answer here would be centered around other people and richness. Because it is helping me achieve more. Because I can help people. Because I can earn more. Because I have a family and responsibilities. Control is a burden. People hide their true why’s under the control hood and fool themselves that’s truly their reason to live and work.
Motivation means selling your best self to a boss, partner or a group of people. Motivation takes responsibility from you and handles to someone else. Motivation states you can’t think and work if someone else doesn’t work to motivate you. Answers here would cede responsibility to others like in “Because I want my children get better life. Because I need to make the work right (because my boss expects this). Because I get high salary and have to work more. Because helping people is right (and I want to get to the heaven).” They seem totally fine except one problem — you are not in control. Your boss, partner, children, or god decide how to motivate you to get what they want. It’s not your deliberate decision and will to work on yourself. You are just working hard to meet their needs and expectations.
Approval means you are sold to the crowd. Approval states you agreed the crowd is here to judge your work. Approval means you value what the crowd thinks more than what you think about you. Answers here might be hard. Reasons to seek approval are hard. They might come from the childhood, when you didn’t get enough parents’ attention. Seeking approval means you want applause and glory. You might answer: “I do this because I like attention, I like when my work is valued and I want people to respect me as a leader.” Which means just one thing: you are sold to the crowd and don’t do anything for yourself.
Interest is the answer
So what’s left? Why are you optimizing your life for?
I think good answers should drive inwards, into our selves, into our minds and beliefs. External answers are fine, but they evaporate over time, leaving the deepest sadness I’ve ever seen. I am sure that all answers driven by control, motivation, and approval are fragile, because they are my answers. I’ve found them failed in my life.
Why are you working on yourself?
What are you optimizing your life for?
I’ve found the answer for myself — I do this, because I am interested.
I feel sort of dumb for saying that, because you’ve probably expected something more great, like revelation of John. But the truth is just that simple. I am interested.
Interesting is an emotion that evolved to help humans optimize in an environment where external indicators were hard to measure. I can work for a project year by year and get no feedback, I can work for free at NGO, I can wake up at 5am and learn German, I can practice meditation and read on trans-humanism, I can read works of philosophers and become a great team leader. And what for? Just because I am interested in all these.
Here is no particular reason, except interest, in doing anything. With the same quality I might say that I want to life to my 100s, because I am interested in what it is like to 100-year-old guy. This interest drives me to workout, eat healthy food and have proper health-care. Thus, as you can see, I improve myself only with me in mind, my interest and my desire to turn 100 and be active, not a zombie.
How do you know what to focus on then? You optimize for interesting.
New work proposition? New salary rise? Travel opportunities? Okay, is it interesting? Are you interested enough to outbid other advantages? If not, don’t do that. You have other motives, which don’t pass the interest filter.
So the emotion “interesting” is actually the most effective compass for deciding what to optimize for in an uncertain world. It has no direct benefit. But the direct influence on your life.