How to keep an ideator happy
This was originally written as my contribution to the “system for happiness” brainstorming session.
Constant pursuit of goals and desires (dopamine)
Always, always (always!) without exceptions have well-defined desires and goals that fit into 3 categories:
- Short term – things to look forward to today, tomorrow, this week
- Mid-term – things to look forward to within the next 3 weeks
- Long-term – things that are not within reach yet, possibly due to timing or work/effort that needs to be put in before the goal becomes attainable
Every category should have several goals defined at any given time. The short-term category is for goals that you come up with on the spot and go execute on a whim or schedule for later that day (go see a friend, research a new idea, watch a movie, stuff that makes you happy, and is easily within the reach. The more the goal is in the future, the bigger it is. Long-term goals are more likely your desires. They might be stuff like building a home, starting a family, creating a billion-dollar company.
When you go to bed at night, let the last 30 minutes of your brainpower be reserved for your goals. Think about strategies to achieve them, think about new goals worthy of your time. How will you start working on them? When you wake up in the morning, stay in bed for a while (if you can) and keep planning out your goals – let goals be the first thing your fresh mind works on.
After a while, your brain gets rewired to focus on progress. With a full schedule of things to look forward to there is literally no time for worries, fear, negative feelings of any kind. Those, when they creep in, are seen as distractions that must be dealt with swiftly so that you can get back to your plans. Whenever you have some brainpower to spare, your mind will default to planning out and setting goals.
Don’t confuse your goals with desires. Desires are like GPS coordinates. Goals are the concrete steps that need to be taken on the way to the final destination.
Define your desires, arrange them by importance, and set your goals so that each brings you closer to the most desired final outcomes.
You don’t have to execute on every idea that you get. You don’t have time to work on everything that your imagination can come up with. Donate your ideas to people who would appreciate them and keep working on those that are most important to you.
Chasing dopamine is addictive. A cool new idea is always more exciting/rewarding than working on something that was cool when you started but has since turned into serious work. A constant pursuit of dopamine through ideas can result in a ton of half-finished projects which never get completed. The faster you can come up with cool new ideas and jump between them, the more your brain adapts (gets desensitized) to the constant supply of the resulting dopamine, and the more you will need to keep the supply up.
Any serious project turns into hard work as soon as the novelty wears off. By focusing only on projects that bring pleasure at the present moment you sabotage your upside potential and feed into the dopamine addiction.
In contrast, doing things you don’t enjoy sensitizes your brain to any small quantities of dopamine it can get, to help you cope with the hardship. Thereafter you find more pleasure in little things.
So set your priorities, and plow through hard work on the way to reaching your goals. Structure your path so that the goals are realistic and attainable. That way you will get bursts of dopamine each step of the way.
Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. Now go get them.