Artwork by the incredible Ascending Storm
Read Time: 13 Minutes
It comes down to ego, love, and fear.
I have a massive ego and massive goals. I believe I can offer the collective something helpful before entropy takes me.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
I’m afraid of the hell that awaits me at the end of my life, If I couldn’t honestly say, “I tried my best”. I don’t want to feel like I left unfulfilled potential.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
-Hunter S. Thompson
So I track. I track my behavior because I’m willing to accept the foundational truth at the bottom of depth psychology, evolutionary psychology, and our own insane patterns; we do not understand ourselves.
“Man is an enigma to himself.”
This post is going to cover a practical and pragmatic technique for those who want to understand themselves. Our goal is going to be to cultivate the Meta-Habit; Awareness.
“We make the unconscious conscious by examining our patterns.”
Understanding We Don’t Understand
We can very quickly fall into scientific and mystic rabbit holes when talking about how much we don’t understand ourselves. However, the frame of this post is pragmatic, so we are going to focus on observable behavior. The argument of this post is essentially, the most straightforward way to begin understanding yourself is to record your daily behaviors, observe what your behaviors confess about who you are, and adjusting accordingly.
As we’ll cover, you think you know who you are, what goals you aim for, and what your daily strategies for achieving them are.
And we’re wrong, delusional, and afraid of the truth. Once we begin tracking our behavior, our daily habits will confess who we really are, and what goals we really pursue.
You may protest that you are much more than your actions, but people don’t care who you think you are, they care how you act.
“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
And how we act daily brings us into the realm of habits. Behavioral scientists estimate that somewhere between 50-80% of our waking lives are unconscious behavioral sequences; aka habits. Who we are is the culmination of our habits. And it is the nature of habits that they are incognito to our consciousness.
Therefore, we begin the cleaning of our glasses of perception by tracking our behavior.
Your Conscious Story, Goals, and Habits (Myths, Gods, and Religions)
To maximize the effect of tracking your behavior, it’s worth taking the time to identify what you think your current and conscious goals and habits are. I get a little weird in this section, but this is the way I think about it.
A useful map for understanding existence is that it’s a journey. The Taoist called it “The Way.” Our journey has three distinct features
- Your Story (The kind of story, and the style of narration)
- Your Goal (The central aim that gives your existence meaning)
- Your Habits (The path you take to achieve your goal)
I’ma get grandiose for a moment and say, I think these are universal components of errbody’s experience. I believe a critical function of religions are that they provided a style of story, a goal (the promised afterlife), and a set of daily habits the devotee could aim for that would ensure the goal.
Whether or not you consciously realize it, you are telling yourself a story about existence, you have goals, and you have daily habits. Most people are unaware of their story, have multiple conflicting goals, and their daily habits don’t align with either.
The magic in tracking our behavior is that it will begin aligning our story, goals, and habits. So before we get into how to track, let us try uncovering our current story.
Your Story (Myth)
You’re a greater artist than you realize. Your life is a narrative structure you’ve created which you exist within. Through it you understand what words like galaxy, supernova, epiphany, bliss, and orgasm mean. You also understand heartbreak, grief, suffering, and agony.
One of the most powerful predictors to life satisfaction is determined by the style of story you tell yourself. Scientists code this story-telling element of our mind as our “Explanatory Style,” and the two rough styles as “Optimistic and Pessimistic.”
Deeper then our style, is the type of story we tell. This is our myth.
To get a quick sense of the type of myth you’re telling yourself, get pen and paper. Write down the 2-3 movies that have most captured your attention over the course of your life. Take 5 minutes to write how you’d describe each of these stories to an intelligent, curious 10 year old.
If you took the time to write this out, the stories you picked, and the way you articulated them, give you a good foundational sense of the type of story that has you.
(My three movies were the Lion King as a child, The Matrix as a teenager, and V for Vendetta as an idealistic college student. Conclusion: Heavy, delusional, savior complex I struggle managing lol.)
Are you telling yourself a tragedy or a comedy? Are you the hero or the villain? Are you rescuing, or being rescued? People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people, and your story not only has you, but is you.
Your Goal (God)
Every story has a goal built into it. The goal is the driving motivational force behind the protagonist (you). Evolution has programmed into our primal brain some basic goals; Flee, Fear, Fight, and Fuck. But we also have consciousness, and that creative linguistic whirlwind is creating a story that possesses you.
To figure out your goal is simple enough. Just ask yourself’ “What is my highest life goal?”
Okay, I’m being facetious. It is incredibly difficult to uncover what your foundational life goal is. If you don’t have an answer, you are either unconsciously possessed by your story (and this can be dangerous and is the state most of us function within), or you’re possessed by another’s story (and this is a tragedy.)
It is a technical neurobiological fact, your perception of progress towards goals give your experience positive valence. To say another way, feeling like you’re making progress towards your goals is what gives life its positive meaning. I think, in a very functional way, our goals are our gods.
If you have conflicting goals, your progress detection mechanism, and therefore your feelings of positive emotions, are out of whack.
Nothing quite as starkly as tracking your behavior will show you what goals unconsciously possess you.
Your Daily Habits (Religion)
Who you are, and who you will become, comes down to your daily habits.
I believe your highest goal and your daily habits are your God and your Religion. Your highest goal gives your life meaning and direction. It informs you how to spend your finite existence.
Your daily habits are the systems of behaviors you believe, as confessed by your actions, will manifest your highest goal.
We each worship a god, (or gods), and if you don’t know yours, becoming aware of your daily habits will reveal them to you.
Most people live in pandemonium. Because they unconsciously worship multiple, conflicting gods, they live scattered lives, haphazardly aiming at multiple, often conflicting, goals. The most successful and fulfilled people don’t live like this. They know what their highest goal is, they use it to inform their daily habits, and they unflinchingly examine themselves to see if they are living in accord with their highest goal.
If you believe you know the god you worship, track your behavior to see if you’re a hypocrite. If you don’t know which gods you worship, track your behavior to see who you are sacrificing your finite time to.
How I track
There are dozens of effective ways to track your behavior, but here is how I do it.
The default tab I always have open is Google Calendar.
As I move through my day, I update what activity I had just finished doing.
At the end of the week, I set an hour or two aside, and review which gods I worshiped.
- I recommend keeping it simple at first. Make it a habit of recording before trying to be hyper-specific.
- Don’t wait until the end of the day to fill your behaviors in. I tried this. It turned into a frustrating guessing game.
- There are many different ways to track your behavior. Pick whichever one you do reliably, consistently, and specifically.
There is a fascinating psychological phenomenon called “self-monitoring reactivity.” Basically, whenever people start monitoring some aspect of their behavior, without them trying, they start to improve that behavior.
People wanting to smoke less, who start tracking how much they smoke, smoke less (without trying.) People wanting to lose weight, who begin tracking themselves, lose weight (without trying.) People wanting to write more, who track how long they write, write more (without trying.)
The effects sizes are small, but they are statistically significant. When you start becoming aware of the gods that possess you, you begin banishing those whom you don’t wish to serve. It is as if, some deep part of us knows what we want to become, and if we take just one step towards it, it crosses the universe to meet us.
Be brave enough to look at your hypocritical, lazy, and childish mass of habits. Your awareness is the Meta-God.
Once you start tracking your behavior your confusion and delusion will be laid bare before you. Before I started tracking myself, I was one of those obnoxious assholes who self-righteously said “I don’t watch television, bruh.” Once I looked at a week’s worth of data, I saw I was averaging 3-4 hours a night on Netflix (House of Cards, bruh.) Not only was I a fucking hypocrite, but I was unnerved by how fucking oblivious I was to a good chunk of my day.
The little goblin in your head that justifies your wasteful patterns is a persuasive force. Banish his ass with the Meta-God of awareness.
Evolution by natural and sexual selection has molded into us primal motivational drives that we’ve mythologized as gods. We become aware of the primal motivational drives by examining our goals and habits.
Metaprogramming is one of many names for the process of cultivating awareness of our unconscious patterns, and changing them to improve ourselves. We can become conscious of the story, goals, and habits that make up who we are, by examining our patterns. We make our patterns conscious by tracking our behaviors, and this is why I track my behaviors.
Make a Prediction and Run an Experiment
If this post has piqued your interest, write down how you think you spend your time. Then track your behavior for a week and let me know what the result was. (Open up google calendar right now and make an event a week from now that you’ll respond to this post.)
Also, if you know someone who shares my massive ego and massive goals, who you think would end up lying when they say “I tried my best,” spare them that hell and send them this post.