Ah, you there, my Type-A friend. I'm glad you came today. Come in. What would you like? We've got coffees, teas, or clear still water perhaps? No juices at the moment, I'm afraid, I'm not having carbohydrates and it'd be fiddling with the devil to buy juice and then attempt not to drink it. The coffee is good, though, yes?
One moment. I'd like to light the fireplace. Maybe it's technically Spring, but this "Spring" in West Germany is chilly and cold and damp and grey, right down into the bones. But pardon me, I'm near veering into complaint, which is the exact opposite of the place I want to go. I'd much rather pull up by the warm fire's glow with non-carbohydrate beverage-of-choice and muse a little about philosophy and psychology with you -- and maybe it'll even be productive for us?
Ah, the warmth is nice.
So, brass tacks, shall we?
Wait. Before we get into it, I'd like to ask -- did you notice the bookshelf when you came in?
Well of course, now you're noticing it. But before, you didn't, right? And yet, you like reading and books… isn't that odd?
Do remember that, please, we'll come back to it in a moment. I didn't notice the bookshelf myself until earlier late this afternoon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
What I wanted to talk about was the neurosis.
No sense in being shy about it, I figured I'd just spit out.
You know how you get neurotic sometimes, like things aren't happening fast enough, things aren't going right enough, your damn body won't do what your mind wants it to do?
Sometimes even one part of your damn mind won't do what the real part of your mind wants it to do?
And there's that throbbing anxiety, the one you want to rush away from, and yet rushing away into distraction causes greater demons to haunt the shadows?
The ones that come out right when you're going to go to sleep at night?
If you escape into the distraction from the torments of anxiety, then once exhaustion sets in, you feel the guilt and shame all come on in one big rush, another day wasted, another set of objectives left incomplete, another betrayal of your higher ideals to… what? To nothing, to nothing of any consequence? And it's a bitter feeling right as you're falling asleep, falling into exhaustion, and you vow "TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT" … and yet… the next morning the pattern recurs?
Whoa. Jeez, sorry, I'm being kind of heavy here. Let's step back a few paces, eh?
How's that coffee? You're not drinking it. I understand, y'know, but that's pretty good coffee you're letting get cold there. Want me to make another cup, a hot one? No?
Okay, sorry I'm beating around the bush here. This stuff is heavy for me too.
Let's back up a little. Can I ask you...
Why do you want to do all the stuff you want to do?
I'll wait for a moment.
I'm going to fix myself another coffee.
Take your time, think it through.
No, don't tell me. Hold on. You sure you don't want another coffee, by the way? Yours must be cold by now.
Okay, so --
Why do you want to do all the stuff you want to do?
You've got some of your answer. I've got some of mine. There's probably some similarities in there, and probably some differences.
And importantly, there's also probably parts we can't put into words or thought.
You know, there's just a feeling -- it's not a verbal sort of thing, it's like a stirring inside of you. It can't even be thought correctly. At least, for me that's how it is sometimes.
But let's stick with the common ground, and let's stick with the verbal part of things. Y'know, because we can actually verbalize about that.
I spent a lot of time thinking about ethics -- you know, how to live? -- and I came close, I think, to a near-universal formulation. It's one of those "sounds so simple" type things, but it took a lot of time, and I haven't heard it anywhere else, and maybe there's some deeper insight in the simplicity.
Can I share it with you?
Okay. I think when people consciously do things, the reason they do them is to try to make the world more into the kind of world they want to live in.
I've mentioned that to a few people, and sometimes I get a reply of, "Well, what about the person who only thinks about making money for himself alone, eating delicious food, and having sensory experiences?"
And I'd say, remember the "consciously do things" part, because a lot of people are on autopilot and just running patterns they learned, and not thinking too much about things.
But beyond that, the person that just wants to make money and get pleasure, it still holds. Because, you know, your world starts with you. Even if your goals are the loftiest and consist of pure nobility of spirit, you've still got to do basic sustenance of your body, which usually means securing some basic resources and food.
And then, securing your experience. Your experience is how you experience the world, you're part of the world, it perfectly makes sense to start by getting how you're doing in order before moving on to grand things. The parts of your experience that are important to you -- maybe feelings of friendship, camaraderie, happiness, and learning and experiencing wisdom are important to you and I, but are those really so different from eating pleasurable food?
I digress. When you think about why you consciously do things, and when I think about why I consciously do things, I reckon it's to try to make the world more into the kind of world we want to live in.
You get your own affairs in order first, for whatever that means to you -- food, resources, learning, fun, friends, environment -- and then you move on to taking care of any spouse and children you have, your parents, your close friends, your workmates if you like the people there, and so on…
…and then if everyone is doing well enough that you care intensely critically for on a local level, you move on to inventing, reforming, improving the world, making things beautiful, and so on.
So why the anxiety? Why the neurosis? And for god's sake, why are your dreams haunted after a bad day procrastinating?
And this is what I've been musing on, and thinking about the kind of person I am, and the kind of person you are.
The Type-A person… or whatever you want to call it… y'know, we want to regiment and control things.
I mean, that's our default mode of interacting with the world, right?
Someone who is more laid back, maybe their sink gets clogged, and they say, "Oh well, the sink is clogged." Then they fix it, or they don't, but they're not super bothered.
Whereas… we fly into action. And dismantle the sink and repair it, or get someone on it, or at least feel very bad about the sink being clogged.
But, umm… do you see what I mean?
Let me try that again.
The more laid back sort of person gets laid off from a job. Doesn't like it, so he gets his materials together and applies for 3 new jobs and then… he just waits.
It might not be comfortable. But it's not a huge deal.
And if he doesn't get any of those jobs? "Oh well, I guess that didn't work out." And sooner or later, he tries again.
But you, if you were out of employment and wanted to be employed, and really thought you should get one of those jobs, you're going to call, followup, get on their case about it… and if you don't get the job at first, persist and make them explain why, and try to argue them out of it.
Or… failing that, you'll at least feel really bad about it and beat yourself up over it, right?
See where I'm going with that?
One common trope in movies is for the villain to "kick the dog." The villain is going along, something goes wrong and they're having a bad day or something, and so they boot a poor puppy. Or something like that -- they're rude and nasty to someone, they start a fight or strike their boyfriend or girlfriend… in the mafia movies, maybe they beat up or shoot a random waiter or server they don't like.
Why is that? Well, it shows the villain's unabashed nastiness to an unrelated third party. So we dislike the villain. But it also shows something else -- the villain fails to be in control in some area, and so goes and tries to exert control somewhere else.
And it's always always Type A people who are villains in movies, isn't it? People that are trying to control and regiment the world?
If it's a little disconcerting to you, I understand. It's not all so bad, actually. I'm just making a point. Do you want another coffee, by the way?
Ok, fuck it, I'm making you another coffee. Don't argue with me.
Basically, I think this is one part of the puzzle… it starts coming together for me.
Everyone's consciously trying to make the world into the one you want to live in… for some, the scale is just themselves and their loved ones; for others, it's innovating for the whole world.
And then the Type A person -- or whatever you want to call it -- is trying to get there by controlling and regimenting things.
And… when control fails and things go poorly -- and this seems to happen at least somewhat often in life! -- then the person wants to react aggressively to reassert control. Sometimes violently.
And… maybe even be violent and nasty to themselves?
In a weird way, isn't feeling really bad and punishing yourself a way to assert some measure of control over the world?
…good coffee, huh?
Alright, alright! Sorry. I joke around when things get tense.
I don't think that's the entire puzzle, by the way. Four pieces of it, yes. But there's a few more before it makes sense.
You know how I asked you about the bookshelf? Did you notice the bookshelf before I pointed it out?
And you hadn't.
Well, that happened to me earlier today. But I'm in much worse shape than you on that score -- I've been staying here for two weeks, and I just looked at the bookshelf and the books here for the first time today. And I love books.
So, why didn't I notice the books? Or, for that matter, the nice and interesting candles on the kitchen table or the great view from the back porch?
See, I can't speak for you here, but here's how it is for me -- oftentimes I'm not noticing all the good things going on. I'm thinking about deadlines I've got, projects I could do, sales I could make or fail to make, recruiting people for the charity, and oh-god-this-guy-said-yes-and-sent-times-he-can-talk-but-I-don't-know-if-I-can-fit-it-in-my-schedule-and-jeez.
Moreover, I've got amazing books, audio, and video on my computer that I don't think about, I have some amazing people in my life, but often I'm not thinking of them, I'm blessed to have some really interesting things going on, and instead thinking of the areas I'm falling short.
Really, no matter how bad you've got it in a Western country, you've got it pretty good. Okay, it's raining, and a proposal for a project I was asked to bid on should have been in two days ago. Okay, a guy I was collaborating on something with couldn't make two meetings, and that screwed up my schedule, I wasn't able to fill it in with anything else, and I wasted a couple days surfing the net.
So what? But I kick the dog. Well, actually, I kick myself.
You ever catch yourself doing any of those?
So that's a fifth piece of the puzzle, not appreciating things enough. And I think this final sixth piece of the puzzle brings it all together.
Why don't you appreciate things enough? Why do you try to regiment things so much? Why does it feel so catastrophic when things go off-track?
And I think the answer is that… maybe, just maybe… we're playing for the wrong stakes.
I've heard some people that do immensely good things in the world remark on how they try to remember that eventually the Sun is going to burn out, and life on Earth is going to end, and things won't have mattered too much.
That's a weird random thought to have, and I've heard it from people who do quite a lot… and I've heard it far too often to be coincidental.
With that attitude, it's fait accompli that none of this matters, and therefore the stakes are low. Their career, the jobs they're bidding on, the work they want to do, the creativity they want to express, the people they want to date, the trajectory of their life unfolding… all of it, under that burnt-out planet view, all of that is just a game.
And they do a lot of stuff.
You know, the majority of "Type A" people I know -- or whatever you want to call them -- they're wound up, they're anxious, they beat themselves up if things aren't going perfect, they don't appreciate things enough, and their dreams haunt them after bad days… but I don't think it has to be that way. No, I know it doesn't have to be that way.
It's the self-importance that really does you in.
It's thinking the stakes are high, that things are crucial, that mistakes aren't acceptable, and a totalitarian focus on immediately and perfectly producing infinite amounts of the desired result which must commence henceforth and be sustained indefinitely. Forever.
Sounds kind of stupid when it's put like that, huh?
I won't tell you to "relax" -- a silly patronizing thing to say-- but I will say I'm going to start tomorrow by reading a book, and then I'm going to go play around in my projects.
You want another coffee?
The villains try to control the world and make everyone worse so they can succeed, but they ultimately fail in the end. The hero may attempt to control the villain, but ultimately realizes that they have to change themselves to become a better person in the world in order to succeed. This is why I think the movie Groundhog Day is brilliant. The worst day of his life, where he commits suicide, and the best day of his life, where he gets the girl, are the exact same day. The only thing that changes is himself.
This topic also reminds me of Zig Ziglar talking about a million dollar race horse. If you owned a million dollar race horse, would you deprive it of sleep? Would you feed it junk? Would you talk down to it? Probably not, but this is what most people do to themselves.
Something different, that strikes me as related...
Carlos Castaneda, writing of things he was taught, said (paraphrased):
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those that care about people and those that don't. A man who cares about people can't really help you, because he is thinking and worrying constantly about the effect his help will have on you and whether it's a good idea. A man who doesn't care about people can give you the shirt off his back, and often will. He doesn't care about you or the shirt, so he can just do it.
Great post. I found this book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy really helpful regarding "not appreciating things" and "worrying about stuff you can not control".
Amazing post Seb! I read it before going to bed last night, and as a result put a book next to my alarm and read this morning :)
Anyone else a Type A here, too? I stumbled upon the Type A behavior when I googled my symptoms of stress and need for control, and found about it. I really realized that I was maybe 70-80% still a Type A, as I already tried to improve some aspects of myself (stress, intensity) without knowing the exact name. Reading about it helped too.
If you or a loved one has Type A behavior, you or they should read this amazing book on the subject:
It made a huge impact in my life. A positive one.
Girlfriend loved the changes ;) ;)
Oh! One last thing. If you are unsure about what this type A thing is, check it out in 20 seconds:
This is curious... I didn't know 'type-A' referred to some sort of official type of category of people. I thought it was just a way of saying "high achievers", "self-actualizated persons" etc. I'll check the book you recommended, thanks.
This is the best post I have read since Million Dollar Question.
Many problems of humanity can root to these "Type A" people needing to control how they want the world to be. An aspiring model, coder, insert any occupation here needs to control that destiny. Considering how much we put into what you can be and do anything you want to be there is a ton of pressure to live up to the way we want the world to be and what we actually want to be in that world.
"we're playing for the wrong stakes."
A portion of people in first world countries where basic necessities are taken for granted are immensely miserable. The pressure to have their productivity and "the way the world should be" dictate their happiness ruins their mood. If I don't have x then I can never be happy. If I don't have y then I have failed. If x and y are factors relating to luck like exposure then happiness becomes more elusive. Happier societies place happiness on the effort you put into doing the things you want so your happiness is fully controllable.
Excellent turnaround. It doesn't have to be that way. And that reminds me to: "Most of the time, it is not the things that happen to us that are bad, it is our reaction to those things that make us feel bad."
You new here? 28,000 came by yesterday and today to read “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 per day.”
28,000. God that's a big number. What a headtrip.
So, the regulars here know what's going, but if you're new... then cool, welcome. Here, let's fix you a strong coffee and I'll show you around.
An Unapologetically Pro-Victory Place to Hang
I think the majority of the world is basically hostile to ambition and wealth and achievement.
Are you familiar with this? This is fruit leather. It usually comes in a rectangular shape, a few millimeters thick and it tastes like fruit. It's made from some blend of pureed, cooked, cooled, thinned, mixed fruits. It tastes almost like a Fruit Roll Up, is probably healthier for you, but it's symbolic for a lot more than that.
Fruit leather is something that appears healthy but doesn't even register on the healthiness scale when you talk about eating apples, grapes, and pears. Watermelon and bananas would crush fruit leather in a no-hold-barred fruit battle. So why then do people buy it?
When people buy fruit leather they think they are eating healthy. But they aren't and it's not about fruit leather or health. It's about buying an idea - I know, I bought it! But I'm going to stop buying it and stop buying the ideas. Fruit leather isn't healthy, bananas are. New Ikea couches won't make me feel better, spending time with people on the couch will.
I'm going to stop buying ideas that say I need things, that say I need to read certain books, or act a certain way. I'm going to stop buying the idea that the world sucks. I'm going to stop buying the idea that fast foods are good foods. I'm going to stop buying the idea that blogs don't have high quality content. I'm going to stop buying the idea that everyone is always right. I'm going to stop buying the idea that outsourcing is bad. I'm going to stop buying the idea that kids can't do things. I'm going to stop buying the idea more is better.
What ideas are you buying?