Falling off the airboat

Why is productivity so hard?

Action! (click)

Look. Just go to bed at a reasonable time, wake up naturally, pray or meditate, eat a healthy breakfast, get a vigorous workout, then move through your day engaging appointments you made with yourself, lifting the big rocks first, in order to check off next action after next action in a steady, calm, and focused way. Include a relaxing lunch break; conclude with dinner and an hour with the next important and edifying book on your list. Just do it.


It's so simple. Why is it so hard?

It must be hard because I have character, but it's low character. I have a disorder and a disability. I haven't cracked the code. I'm an imposter. I'm not smart enough, I'm not working hard enough. Science says, I need a neuro-hack.

Hmmmmm. Neuro-hacks. Let's check the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a leading and well funded organization devoted to studying the brain.

From the Allen Institute's own website:

If you ask Christof Koch, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, how close we are to understanding our own brains, he scoffs.

“We don’t even understand the brain of a worm,” Koch said.

Folks, truth is, we can't even neurohack a worm.

Hope is not lost though. We don't understand how it works, but we can observe worms' learning. Nematodes, for example, can be observed avoiding foods that made them sick in the past. And, even for nematodes, learning is hard. They have to slime a fine line between getting sick enough to create whatever distress feels like to a nematode, but not die.

We don't know this from doing an fMRI scan of their brains while they luncheon. Researchers watch them closely.

Thesis: for better and worse, humans can learn a lot. Antithesis: you can't do what you can't do. Synthesis: clever use of tools extends our capability. Antithesis: Even with tools, there are things you can't do.

Conclusion. You can't fly. Tools will get you in the air. You still can't fly too close to the sun. But keep working on it.

Why is this so hard?

Our brain isn't a tool. It isn't a collection of tools. There are no neuro-hacks. There is no mind control. What neuroscience can help us with is understanding this: our mind is a state of being, and that little bit of consciousness we have is, at best, on for a ride.

Any analogy falls short, but I'll risk the scoff of Dr. Koch to offer one. The analogy begins with a clue our chemistry offers us. The salinity of our blood is 9 parts per thousand. What we perceive as fresh water is about .35. The salinity of the ocean is roughly 35 parts per thousand. This makes our brain, biochemically, a salt marsh -- that indefinitely bounded, incredibly lively, state of being between land and ocean.

If you imagine your mind as the Everglades, you'll imagine an indefinitely bounded, incredibly lively, vast beyond your ability to fully know, impossible to control state of being. What's more, while the Everglades is distinctive in that it's not New York City or the Sahara, dust from the Sahara seeds the hurricanes that feed it, and New York City and it's reservoirs receive water sucked up into the upper atmosphere by those storms and dropped along their outbound paths.

And, analogous to the maybe nine distinctive, yet discontinuous and indefinitely bounded habitats that exist within that state of being we call the Everglades, our minds have a collection of ever dynamic, yet distinctive and useful habitats.

Why is it so hard?

We don't control any of it. What we can do is adapt. The way researchers watched those nematodes, we can watch our minds at work. It's that amazing ability to observe our own behavior and think about how we are thinking about it. Metacognition is our airboat. It's a highly adaptive tool our consciousness can use to explore our mind's state of being. We learn to move across our mind's landscape and to accept what it offers.

Carol Dweck has observed people who tell her, "It must be hard because I have character, but it's low character. I have a disorder and a disability. I haven't cracked the code. I'm an imposter. I'm not smart enough, I'm not working hard enough," often stalled. People who tell her, "It's hard, and I need to find a way to adapt," tended to keep moving forward.

Speaking of adapting, in my explorations of the Everglades, I got to wonder how the airboat was invented. Alexander Graham Bell! Maybe you knew! I am more in awe.

Keep working on it. Don't fly too close to the sun.

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