It is rather amusing how proudly people weave phrases such as ‘optimize your potential’, ‘live your life efficiently’, ‘time is money’ into their conversation without a moment of reflecting that this is a language of machines and applying this thinking carte blanc to humans is going to kick up some serious undesirable side effects.
For one, machines are predictable. They can be highly complicated but there is a monotonous predictability to them. For example, a car does not wake up in the morning and decides that it is going to annoy you by refusing to turn on just because you were nasty to her the other day.
Barring some, most machines are predictable: complicated but largely predictable.
Humans, on the other hand, are not that predictable. They are complex and work through highly interdependent system of dynamical interactions (e.g. relationships, sleep, mood, health, etc.). For a quick primer on the difference between humans and machines in terms of unpredictability, try asking the same question few times in a single day to your significant other.
In order for us to survive and thrive through treacherous terrain of jungles (modern life), nature has gifted us with inbuilt fail-safe mechanism to prevent excessive wear and tear. These fail safe mechanisms are sleep, food, rest, relationships, community and social capital.
When we mindlessly apply optimization principles of mechanical world to humans, sleep, relationships, rest, and social capital are the first causalities. How many times have you found missing sleep or have foregone tending to your relationships in the name of work, efficiency and productivity?
By following machine-inspired optimization principles, no doubt we can be very efficient in terms of productivity, however, we also start to eat away at things which preserve our sanity. For example, loss of sleep has massive short-term and long term consequences. Overemphasis on financial capital leads to loss of social capital and instigates people to behave in an asocial or even anti-social manner.
Furthermore, a life build upon optimization, efficiency and productivity troika (without considering the role of intangibles in it) is often vulnerable to unpredicted failures (e.g. suicides, mental breakdowns, school shootings, sudden health issues, etc.). It may not be too much of a stretch to think of unprecedented rise of mental health problems, depression, suicides, loneliness, and other life style-related problems in our society as side effects of our desire to over-optimize living (a recent report by Civic Action pegged 1 in every 2 workers in Toronto and its surrounding area to be suffering from mental health issues). Regardless of how we rationalize it, it has staggering personal, financial and social cost.
Nature has taken billions of years to build us with appropriate check and balances and it is rather naïve of us (or smarty-pant) to think that we can get ahead of it just because we can put together complicated machines.
The optimal ways to good living is about focusing adequately on the following:
- Meaningful relationships
- Sleep/intentional rest
- Community engagement
- Meaningful work
- Self-awareness (non-narcissistic type)
- Creative autonomy
- Altruistic goals
And understanding the limitation of the following:
- Mechanical productivity
- Mindless pursuit of self-interest
Once we start to sift through the sound-bytes of current wisdom, we come to realize that time-tested ways of living well are as old as our ancestors. It is the same old stuff: family, friends, adequate resources, community connections, meaningful work, etc.
Rest all is largely a noise created by commercially-inclined humanoids dressed in fine Italian suits, silk and finery.
Our next Mindfulness course in Hamilton starts from May 13, 2016. A half Day Mindfulness workshop in Mississauga is on May 15, 2016. More info is here: http://www.ParmjitSingh.com.