I wanted to share an important lesson that I've been learning slowly throughout my life.
It's also completely relevant to the way my (and I'm sure many others with ADHD) brain works. It may come as a shock, but I'm a thinker. I think and I think. I get excited about ideas and I think about them some more.
Thinking is awesome and it's been the driving force behind my personality, my career, and my ability to connect with the world.
I'm also a doer. My philosophy, similar to that of the Edison's of the world, is that if I can fail 100x before the common person fails the first time, I've learned a lot more about doing it wrong and have, with a higher evidence than the contrary, gotten myself that much closer to doing it right.
This started early for me. Very early, actually. When I was about 8 years old, I fell in love with computers. Unlike most kids, however, I didn't fall in love with computers because of computer games. I fell in love with how they tick, what makes them work? How do you instruct them to do amazing things? I fell in love with programming and originally learned to program by decompiling (breaking apart) the machine code from other programs and reading how they worked. If you've ever been lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be able to do this, you'd know that a decompiled program is often displayed in a very cryptic format where variable names are in hexadecimal (unreadable naming) and control statements have been highly optimized by the operating system to run more efficiently than a human is capable of doing in a reasonable amount of time writing code (unreadable structure).
It was a challenge for me- something that gave my 8-year-old mind a purpose and a hard problem to solve. I wanted to learn what my favorite programs were doing so that I could mimic them. I was young and at the time I didn't even know what I was going to do with the knowledge I was obtaining, I just did it strictly for thrill, a sense of purpose, and something to keep me from boredom.
My family often made comments about my love for computers. My Grandfather often made it known that they weren't a lifestyle (and at that time, in the early 90's, they weren't). My father would often dismiss the skills I was gaining and just tell me to focus on school, of which my grades stunk.
The purpose of this story is that I was very young and I was a dreamer, though being a doer, I would keep my dreams in my head, somewhere, but would continue my journey into "doing" only because I loved it, it was a thrill, and gave me a wonderful feeling to problem solve while learning how this stuff worked.
At that age, we are so free. At any moment we could switch our attention to something we love and just aim hard and enjoy it. At 8 years old we can change our hobbies and our whole outlook on the world like we change our underwear. The reality is that the only direction of time we have to consider when we are that age is the `future` because we have not really experienced enough `past` in which to cloud our minds. This makes living in the moment, as well as skill-seeking, and thrill-seeking, much more productive.
As an obvious sequel to this 8-year old carefree, excited, restless, obsessive, ADHD, and hyperfocused soul is the adult that now has a past of memories to attach to the shortening vision of the future along with a present that's becoming trodden with uninspiring and mundane tasks.
As adults, we get stuck in what, as mathematicians in optimization theory call, local maxima. Think of your capabilities as being a multi-modal distribution (one with various different sized peaks and valleys that resemble a landscape of mountain ranges where the peaks themselves resemble our potential in different mindsets). Now imagine rather than being able to scale the top of the mountain ranges outside, the mountain ranges are hollow-out inside, like caverns, and you are climbing the insides of them. Only through an underground network of dark narrow tunnels do you never get to see the full landscape. Thus, you only get to see what is right in front of you, visible from the direct surroundings. You find your way through feeling around you and moving through tunnels and climbing new mountains.
As adults, we often get stuck in the smaller sized mountain ranges and only think far enough ahead to look around us and see that "well, it looks like I'm at the top" and we limit ourselves because the only view we adopt is from what we can see and touch right in front of us- from a reality that seems real and seems like it's the only way things CAN be.
In order to look around the full landscape, we might need to climb down and go back through another tunnel to see if it's possible there's a higher mountain somewhere else, possibly far away. "But wait, I'm at a peak right now. Wouldn't climbing down mean I'm going backward (making less progress)?" Well if you could see that mountain a couple yards away that's 100x taller than the current one, you wouldn't feel you were going backward. Especially since you've already gained the skill and potential of climing the current peak.
The perception of diminishing progress by painstakingly climbing back down the huge mountain upon which you have just scaled comes into play only because you are thinking about past experiences and allowing them to dictate your future decisions. The 8-year-old wouldn't be as likely to do so. Instead, they'd be more likely to see an adventure and continue on a journey hoping the next mountain they find might be larger than the first. Less is more and in order to find the biggest mountain in the entire landscape, we need to start with less and think about what it's going to take to get to our next goal, even if it means climbing back down just to go back up. When we finally find the largest mountain; that which represents our maximum possible potential; we will be living proof that less is more; and that sometimes by taking away we are adding. It's often the case that we don't even get to the beginning and yet we still hope to achieve the end. This is not possible because every end needs a beginning. How can we start at the end? We also need to find the beginning in order to start at it (which means continuing to search for higher peaks).
That is, when we become adults, we feel we can only accomplish so much and we allow our past to dictate our vision & narrative of our future. Some of this is done by us and some of it is done by what society has done to us. Many of us who have careers had to choose a career that would bring us money. When I was 8 years old, I knew what I loved and only what I loved right there and then, in each moment. As a 30-something, I'm finding that I love so much more than what I have given myself in my career, the place where I go for 8-10 hours a day in order to put food on the table for my family.
It's not that I don't still love computers, but rather that my sense of purpose and excitement is beginning to fade in leu of other passions. I'm finding purpose in so many other things- like empowering and inspiring people to feel they are bettering themselves, inspiring the world with visions of what CAN be (including the why's AND how's), and most of all, finding new skills that I feel maximize my growth potential rather than working until retirement as a cog under someone else's watch.
Less is more. Why? Well, because it's so easy as dreamers and thinkers to overthink and over-dream that we forget our next steps. It's wonderful to think about the future of the world, but reality can only be manipulated by taking actions and those actions can only be taken by taking the first steps. Rome wasn't built in a day and many empires have collapsed many times over, often achieving small successes along the way, before any large leaps in mankind were accomplished.
This very principle, less is more, has been one theme throughout my entire life and I'm now getting to the point where I'm teaching it to my kids and others.
I did horrible in high school. Frankly, I had all but given up. Why did I do so badly? I certainly wasn't sitting on my ass. I was absolutely ADDICTED to producing/writing music. In fact, that's all I did, ever. I spent all my time in my "studio" (my room). I spent 6 years in high school because I hyperfocused on my passions. But the music never went anywhere. Why do you suppose? Because I spent so much time thinking about how my future was going to be that I removed myself from the present and built up a rigid and, quite frankly, daunting set of expectations for myself.
The lesson? Visions are nice and they are useful, but as Einstein theorized, time and space are coupled. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot jump to the end without passing time and to do so would defy our laws of physics.
Contrary to the laws presented by Einstein, which create a gap between the equations in classical physics and quantum mechanisms, is an alternate theory by a pragmatist, physicist, and philosopher Ernst Mach, who didn't believe in Newton's laws of inertia being driven by absolute time and space. Mach concluded that the only time that exists is relative time and the only time we can ever experience fully is the present instant. Once the present instant occurs it's a memory and the future cannot be predicted. What's ineresting is that these competing views can both still be interpreted to validate the point that less is more.
A lot of teachings tell us to stay in the present. It's one of the core teacings behind Zen Buddhism and the more modernized teachings of Mindfulness. It's spoken about in The 4 agreements, which puts a modern spin on ancient teachings of the Toltec in Mexico. We even have a figure of speech that states "there's no time like the present". In fact, there's no time BUT the present.
Without the ability to predict the future, speculation and rigid visions limit our perceptions of the presence. When we spend so much time envisioning what could be, we are ignoring what is. Do you want to feel joy? Stop thinking so hard and take the first step to enlighten yourself to feel such a way. Do you want to learn a new skill to be successful at a specific craft? Just do it- take the first step, one foot in front of the other, then take the next step. Don't get so far ahead of yourself that you create an impossible vision of your future, because you will only be able to influence it, not predict it. That influence will also come, only by staying in the present.
I'm in no way implying that having long-term goals is a bad thing. They give us our sense of long-term purpose that make it worthwhile to begin our journey towards achieving them. But the goals should not be such a clearly defined picture in our heads that they become daunting to reach or that we feel let down when we reach them but they didn't seem to match the pictures we were imagining in our heads. Less is more- the less detail we attach to our visions, the more focused we become in the present towards actually accomplishing them.
I was recently having a discussion with my best friend about this. I received an email last night from my graduate school chair that all of my credits from my Master's degree at Johns Hopkins are approved to be transferred into my PhD program at the University of Maryland. This means I may have 1-2 more courses left to take and I can move on to candidacy and focus on the thing that made me want to join this program in the first place; my research!
So while I'm explaining this to my best friend, he cuts in to let me know that he's excited for me and thinks he might be getting a PhD around the same time as me. He went on to tell me about how he's going to be doing the Master's program in theology and then he's going to stay a couple more years and get his PhD and he's got it all planned out.
Now, I love my best friend. He's like my brother. And I'd love to see him complete his PhD. The reality of this scenario, however, is that we're in our mid-30's and he has been to 3 different colleges since our early 20's and has dropped out of the bachelor's program in all 3. Two of them in entirely different fields. He did recently accomplish his associate's degree and decided he wanted to pursue his bachelors. For that, I am very, very happy and I hope he does accomplish it!
Of course, this being the reality; and knowing my best friend as well as I do, I wanted to put forth the idea, similar to what my father used to tell me, that at this present moment, less is more. Of course, PhD as a long term goal is always a wonderful idea. Master's degree as a less long-term goal is also a wonderful idea.
But putting long-term goals in front of immediate tasks; and causing us to lose focus on the present, causes time to run in a different direction than is ever physically possible. That is, in order for us to get to the long-term, we NEED to complete the short term. If we only ever spend our time thinking about the long-term and never do the short term, time will always be skipping the present. Imagine a number line such that there's a single point at the present time and this point is moving, over time, to a higher number on the number line. Think of it like one of those animated images you'd have seen on a website in the 90's or early 2000's.
When we spend all of our time focusing on the future- on long-term goals, on what COULD be, on what we WANT to be doing, rather than actually focusing on the tasks that need to be completed in order to accomplish those goals, we create a gap in the number line in the same spot that the point resides in each time instant. The gap is literally created because the goals are only thoughts and while we are dreaming of the thoughts, we are being distracted from focusing on now.
Less = more because when we spend MORE time in the present and LESS time dreaming of an unpredictable future, we achieve more in the future and give ourselves more power to shape it. Without living in the present, we have absolutely no control over shaping it. That is, our thoughts just remain thoughts, our rigid goals & visions continue to deceive us, and we never truly get to live.