Experience

I've gotten reasonably 'good' at life. I've somehow managed to keep a job for quite some time, earn some money and even bought an apartment. The rate at which I'm learning and doing new things has declined a lot in the recent years, mainly because I find myself able to have a complete life with just the things I have already. So I focused on optimizing that which I already know, getting better and better at a limited set of things, making my life more and more efficient. Sometimes even without noticing it, I can't help but try to make things more efficient. I've become more rational, more logical, and ultimately incredibly more boring.

Efficiency, no matter how highly I hold it in regard, is without a shadow of a doubt the wrong metric to optimize your life for. You could have the most 'perfect', optimized, efficient lifestyle, but all you would get is a minuscule measure of satisfaction at your own efficiency, and nothing more. Life is made up of experiences. New experiences. Imperfect experiences. Sometimes uncomfortable experiences. But still: experiences.

Efficiency is a trap. It's a micro-optimization that lets you feel happy about your life without seeing the big picture. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can't have a happy life while being efficient, but it's very easy to succumb to efficiency and focus all your attention on it. (At least for me it is.)

New experiences are important, but the more you do something, even if you do it in a different way in a different place, eventually your brain will find a pattern. And once it finds a pattern it will start ranking the activity lower in terms of interest. The eight cycling trip in Japan will not be as exciting as the first one. The thirtieth cycling trip in insert-random-country-here will also not be as exciting as the first-ever cycling trip. This is a fact of life and the way our brains work. Eventually, everything gets boring. (Un)fortunately for us the world is chock full of exciting things to do, and we don't have nearly enough time to do all the things we want in the span of a normal human life.

New experiences aren't free, of course. A lot of us are not yet in a position where we can choose to experience any new thing at any new time. Personally, I need my day job to fund my new experiences, and that is not an ideal situation. But it's a hell of a lot better than it could have been, and I'm really grateful for that. At the same though, I am getting older, and I am starting to feel constrained. I'm training up for a new cycling trip at the moment and I can feel it getting harder to get into shape, comparing myself to the me of only a few years ago.

As I get older it seems that the intensity with which I like things, increases, but the spread of the things that I like, decreases. As I experience more and more things my mental model of how everything connects together becomes more and more populated. I see patterns that I never used to see before. In the same way that I grew out of childhood cartoons I find myself growing out of Hollywood movies. The tropes are all so well-known to me now that I can't help but analyze a movie as I watch it, which to me often diminishes the value of the movie, especially if it's badly done (which most are). There's still some brilliant movies out there that I love watching, and I've watching a few incredible new movies recently as well, but being exposed to so many movies and so many tropes throughout the years has greatly reduced the selection of movies I would enjoy watching.

This reduction of available material for enjoyment feels constricting. It's not just movies either; other hobbies are suffering the same fate: gaming, cycling, driving. Rather than settling for a broad spectrum of average quality experiences I end up focusing on a narrow range of higher-quality experiences. That quality is inevitably harder to find. It's the same kind of thing when I think about programming. I could learn yet another programming language or yet another database system, but what's the point really, if all it's going to do is power something that could easily run on any similar technology that I already know? There's still interesting challenges left, obviously, but rather than being excited about learning 10 random programming languages, I am now excited about learning 1 or 2 functional programming languages. The scope narrows, inevitably.

But that narrowing of the scope is in itself a consequence of trying to be more efficient. I'm trying to optimize my life into focusing on the things that I already know I like, skipping entirely the act of finding new things that I already know are not worth my time (with an increasing accuracy as I get older). Although it seems that to me this is the most rational thing to do, in this case I don't think it's the right thing to do. There is something to be said for coming out of your comfort zone every once in a while, trying something new, even if you've already decided beforehand that you probably won't like it. If you just keep doing the things that you know you like you'll end up in a self-confirmation loop, only becoming more and more who you already are, but you'll never be anything new. Sometimes the overall quality of your life will only increase if your local and immediate quality of life decreases. It's important to recognize that. Otherwise you'll get stuck.


I haven't blogged much lately, partly because I've 'optimized it away' out of my life. I intend to expose myself to a greater variety of experiences in the future. I think it's the best way for me to grow. It's something I should blog about - blogging has always been a great way for me to organize my thoughts and have an inner dialogue with myself. The fact that I've blogged less and less over the years is a testament to how optimized and efficient my life has become - there just wasn't anything new and exciting to blog about because I've been focusing only on existing things in my life. It's not something that'll change overnight, but the observation about my own life as I have written it in this post is something that has crystallized very clearly in my mind and will stay with me in the future.

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts