FOMO and FONK

I’ve seen so much attention in social media and blogs focused on the importance of ignoring FOMO- the “fear of missing out” on friends, events, or life in general. I get it. I’ve experienced it a lot. I’ve learned to cope with FOMO by focusing on my own circles, endeavors, and life with a clearer and tighter scope.

For me, however, it’s been a little different lately. While this summer has been one that forced me to miss out on some social life, I don’t necessarily feel impacted by FOMO. I’ve worked hard this summer in learning new skills related to software engineering, and trying to market those skills in the form of job applications and interviews for engineering positions. There has been a lot of studying, searching for positions, and writing cover letters and revising resumes. There’s also been a lot of well-deserved breaks and get-aways in order to recharge and hone a focus back on my target. For the most part, I’m proud of the progress I made.

Most of all though, there’s been a great deal of waiting. I’ve found it quite difficult to surrender to the feeling of being at the mercy of a hiring team or interview committee while I wait for their decisions. Sometimes, it’s almost a relief to hear a decision regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative one. How strange is that, to celebrate a rejection? I tell my partner that sometimes it’s not so much the fear of not landing the right position (or any one at all), as it is the fear of not knowing how it will work out. I guess instead of FOMO, it’s a FONK: a “fear of not knowing”.

FONK can suck. It can take away from precious moments in my life that should be more appreciated. Time with family, friends, or good-old-self-reflection can be diminished by FONK if I let it. It can eat away at my brain sometimes. I’ve learned to deal with FONK better than I did at the onset of this summer. It’s something that I’ve faced ever since leaving college. I guess you could call it a watered-down form of anxiety. I’ve never had a panic attack, but I do feel the gears of my mind constantly turning and wondering what will come in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Dealing with FONK is simpler than I make it out to be: the best antidote to FONK is simply being present and focused on what’s in front of us. And maybe it’s the same for FOMO (although I think quitting social media is helpful too). I forget to worry about the future, about decisions that are out of my control, when I bring things that I have control over to the forefront of my mind. There’s simply not enough capacity in our minds to distribute out when we fully commit ourselves to tasks in front of us. Leo Babauta has a great post on how to address a feeling of a lack of control, and suggests how to be present and why it’s a good practice. We can stress out over something, or appreciate the tasks in front of us and close out the unnecessary and distracting.

So as the summer winds down, I will strive to do just that. I will embrace what’s right in front of me, and commit to it with whole mind and heart. I will meditate, and see tasks through to completion. I’ll take breaks, sure, but be sure to find the “little miracles” and “mindfulness bells” that Leo writes about. It’ll be a good thing to carry into the fall and beyond.

Tom

Book review: “Deep Work” by Cal Newport

I had the opportunity to read a book recently, Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a Computer Science professor at Georgetown. He wrote a book that I picked up when I started my graduate program, called How to be a Straight-A Student. I’m not sure how much it applied to students in graduate school, but as I’m not doing much research,  I needed improved study and work habits. Deep Work was one of my attempts to examine on how I could work more effectively and quickly, and I think it’s more relevant to my learning goals.

Newport divided the book up into two sections, one defining what “deep work” is and why it’s important, and the other focusing on tactics that allow one to employ deep work into their routines. I certainly appreciated that it was a teacher writing the book, nonetheless a professor in my chosen discipline of computer science. He threw out lots of examples relevant to the tech world and programming.

His first arguments were laid out by outlining deep work and its place in our society. The book loosely defined it as work performed in a distraction-free environment where your mind is allowed to push its limits. Newport acknowledged that we’ve transitioned to a ‘knowledge economy’, where what you know translates into value. He threw out the example that browsing Facebook and Twitter are easily done by many people, making that skill low-value, whereas knowing how to write programs in a certain language is far more valuable. Further, the ability to quickly learn new valuable skills and produce on them increases one’s professional value. Newport introduces the deep work habits of people who have made enormous contributions to our society, including Carl Jung, Bill Gates, Don Knuth, and several journalists and professors. He also helped outline why deep work is becoming exceedingly rare in our increasingly networked and connected world, where interruptions to thought and attention are so easy. Finally, he made arguments on why performing deep work is meaningful to one’s self on multiple levels.

Newport then went on to give hints and suggestions on how to engage in deep work more frequently. He laid out several professionals and their approaches to deep work, whether it was extended seclusion, a daily rhythmic, ritual, or one that allows for spontaneity and flexibility. He offered methods that allow individuals to monitor their deep work and check their progress to see that things are actually getting done by citing a case study from Intel. He again brought up examples of notable people who were deep workers that were able to produce significant amounts, such as JK Rowling and Teddy Roosevelt. He makes a strong case to eliminate or drastically reduce social media use, and even offers a method by which to whittle them down by deciding on their necessity. He closed the second portion by listing ways that one can reduce “shallow work”, or logistical tasks that may seem menial and repetitive. Some I will definitely employ.

I was very inspired by this book and will be working to incorporate many of these steps into my daily routine. I know that I can’t go off into the woods for a month or so like Carl Jung, so I can’t isolate myself. I do know from Newport’s other book that I am best off working in the mornings. An even better work morning is produced when I limit my interaction with my smartphone and the internet, so I will be working on how to schedule time with both resources. I’ll need to come up with ways to monitor my work progress, comparing my hours put in to a task or subject versus the goals completed. In a previous job, I would take note of my start and end times and realized that while I was working around 42-46 hours a week, it often felt like 60. Quite the opposite came from reading this book. I read the 263 pages quickly and thoroughly in about 3 hours. Sadly, I am pretty proud of my completion of this book because it’s rare that I will see one through to completion. Granted, most of my reading is non-fiction and reference, so it may be a future goal to commit to reading more books in their entirety.

Deep work is a great practice for those who want to develop a sense of meaningful work, while also giving themselves completely to a task at hand. It’s a practice of presence, mindfulness, and focus that goes hand-in-hand with the theme of this blog, and it’s something I will work on employing as time goes on. Thanks for the great book, Cal.

Are you there, blog? It’s me, Tom.

Wow, it’s been over a year since I’ve posted on here.

Much has changed and developed.

My last post was “blog more, reddit less”. I definitely didn’t follow through on that. I wrote that at the turn of 2015. I still hop on reddit, almost every day. The outings are definitely more infrequent and shorter, though. I deleted my reddit browsing client from my phone and occasionally access the site throughout the day. It is probably part avoidance technique, but it’s also a way to stay informed and feed intellectual curiosity.

In the spirit of the “be. here. now.” theme of this blog, I started working on incorporating more of the “be” part of the theme into my life. When it becomes time to face negative, stressful thoughts and emotions, we often look to distance ourself from them. We look for distractions. I noticed that reddit was one and while I still use it as a distraction from thought, it’s helped that I have limited its use. I have turned my focus to be willing to face the content that comes into my head, be it positive or negative. Willingly facing emotions and thoughts head-on. Willing to accept the circumstance, but also the power to change it. A lot of these thoughts have come from a book- “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Hayes and Smith. I recommend it.

So what have I been doing the last year that’s taken up blogging time?

-Programming. I mentioned earlier in this blog that I had started to pick up programming in Java, and done more stuff at a community college in learning more abstract concepts like discrete math and systems programming. Today, I went to my first hack-a-thon (one on music and tech, of course). I like programming so much that I…

-Started a master’s program in computer science at DePaul University. I’m in the third of what should be 7 quarters. I have learned to work on programming projects within deadlines, something I had the luxury of not dealing with at the community college, where learning was much more self-paced. This quarter is focused on distributed systems / servers and learning common threads between programming languages.

-Working out / recovering / avoiding injury. I love running. I’ve written posts about it. But there’s something about my left leg, around my shin, that incessantly bothers me. Over the past year I’ve had an MRI, 2 rounds of physical therapy, and attempts at trying to avoid re-injury through new equipment, exercises, and stretches. I think it’s a perfect storm of over-training, weak hip muscles, and just plain aging. It bothers me from time to time still, but I nevertheless try to run once in a while. School makes it tough. Hopefully I’ll do at least one race this year.

-Traveling. 2015 brought me to California, Georgia, Nevada. I haven’t traveled much in a while, and haven’t taken very long trips (most have been 2 – 3 days), but it’s nice to get out of Chicago once in a while and out into the world beyond.

-Trying to be more ‘present’. I mentioned it above. It’s probably worth mentioning again because it’s something I will struggle with for some time. I’ve definitely become better at it, but it’s truly a habit to be formed in order to become second nature.

-Pet projects- made my own personal website. Very basic, but it has provided a motivation for learning more front-end development skills this summer. Started learning programming concepts away from what I’m directed to do in school, such as working on automating processes at my current job.

Those, I would say, are the biggest things. Work and school are by far more demanding than they’ve ever been. And I like it like that. So far.

Perhaps this blog will take a turn to expand beyond the “be. here. now.” theme. I’m not sure yet.

First, I’d have to come here and write more.

Blog more, reddit less.

It’s been a while since I’ve written.

Work and learning have taken higher priorities over online activity. However, over the next month I intend to write short, little blog entries. I have three prompts so far and will try to develop a few more. The first week may be slow since my academic calendar is wrapping up.

I have a habit I need to change. It will be a tough undertaking; I enjoy the habit. The habit is reddit, dubbed “The Front Page of the Internet”. Reddit is an incredible site, featuring communities of virtually any interest. A few of the sub-reddits I frequent include r/dataisbeautiful, r/chicago, r/learnprogramming, r/math, r/news, and of course, r/aww for some puppy therapy. It’s a place where I’ve found information, inspiration, encouragement, and much humor.

This reddit habit must change because it has created unnecessary needs. I frequent the site and consume the click bait daily. The content (for the most part) contains things that do not impact my life directly. It’s great to be informed, but my need to be informed is impacting the work that I do. It impedes your path to the goals I am trying to achieve.

It’s not an impossible thing. I just finished a “no-reddit-November” in place of attempting to grow an obnoxious beard. I still catch myself often when typing in the URL of the site.

We know that we do not create new habits; instead, we replace old ones with new ones. And so I will continue to consume, but it will be a purposeful consumption. A plethora of blogs exist out there that have relevant content that I would be better for reading and applying to my life, relationships, and work. And this blog presents myriad opportunities for me to reflect, share, and actively think about what I come across.

There is so much to learn about my industry, programming, purposeful living, and developing mindfulness. And it shouldn’t take a backseat to a desire to have distractions from reality.

Hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later.

The good kind of lazy.

The good kind of lazy.

I always note how I don’t write enough and it’s never been more true as it is now. Compared to past instances, however, I don’t feel as bad about it.

Over the past year I have been studying topics in computer science. It started with an introductory Java course, followed by data structures. Where it takes me is yet to be seen, but I enjoy the problem-solving and application of logic. I will be taking discrete mathematics in the fall, and to prepare for the course, I decided to take calculus this summer. 

I’ve never taken calculus and I had a lot of fear leading up to the course- math is not my forte and it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve taken ANY sort of math course. And this was a grueling schedule too- all of Calculus 1 in eight weeks.

It has definitely been a challenge and my body has suffered a bit as a result. Significantly less exercise, less sleep, less grocery shopping time which translated into more fast food and less of a food budget, and less “me” time.  For the sake of my body, I’m not sure if I’d repeat it again. But it’s been worth it- so far I’m pulling a decent grade in the course and feel more prepared for the fall.

We are preparing for our final two tests. At the end of this week’s last lecture, the professor handed out a pre-test worksheet that assessed our progress in the chapter. After receiving the paper I packed up my things to head home. Before I left, I hovered over the desk of another student to watch him work a problem. He is likely one of the best students in the class and I wanted to see how challenging the worksheet was for him as a gauge for the time I’d need to invest on studying this weekend.

He was stuck on the question. He explained to me his problem-solving approach, attempting to use two different methods that we’ve tried in class. One ended in a lengthy amount of work, and the other wasn’t very applicable. He wasn’t sure what to do and felt like he reached a dead end. He was ready to go ask the professor for help.

Shooting from the hip, I asked, “Why can’t you just try this?” My answer and approach was elementary, basic, and lazy. But it made sense. And it solved the problem. And it reminded me of a programming principle that is good to apply to our day-to-day living:

Step back, consider alternative routes, and keep things simple.

All too often when learning math in high school, teachers would tell me that I was “making things tough on myself”. They meant that I made problems too complex, long, and confusing. This time around, my new approach is paying off as I learn how to apply it to higher-level math and programming. And as I continue to move on in work, life, and relationships, I try to remember the same principle: don’t over-complicate issues, step away, and consider the path of least resistance. Play around with the issue; don’t reinvent the wheel.

Here’s to remembering that as this course wraps up.

 

One thing.

Right now, I am writing a blog entry.

I have my word processor window taking up the whole screen area on my computer so as not to notice any other windows, notifications, or other distractions. Ideally, the desk that the computer is sitting on would be bare. I prefer it that way. The desk is not clean because I am not cleaning right now. I am writing a blog entry. I am only focused on the one thing I should be doing right now, which is writing a blog entry. I am doing it because my calendar told me that tonight, I would write a blog entry.

Later on, there will be something else to focus on. Later on tonight, I will work on learning about data structures. After that, I will prepare myself for the work week. After that, I will talk to a friend, then exercise, and clean up my living space, before getting ready for bed. During each of those times, I will only worry about the one thing that I am doing right at that moment. At a previous moment, all I worried about was making a schedule for the week ahead. This morning, I planned out today’s schedule with more detail.

 

What is the most important thing? The thing you are doing right now. Do it well, immerse yourself into it, make it the only thing you are worrying about.

What is the most important time? Right now. The past is gone, the future is yet to come.

Who is the most important person? The person or people you are with right now. Do what you can to make them feel that their needs are eased by your presence.

 

Yes, this philosophy is not perfect. We need to think or plan ahead. But if you are thinking or planning ahead, make that all that you are doing at the moment. Plan the snot out of whatever you are planning. And when you have a plan, move on. You can come back to it later.

Yes, while I am focusing on my blog entry, thoughts have come into my head about my plan for the rest of the night. I stopped writing for a second to think about if what I’m writing aligns with things I have read, and I wondered if I should check and see if my dinner had cooled down enough to put away in my fridge. I thought for a few seconds about the music that I hear from a neighbor’s house.

I let the thoughts go. I will worry about them later.

Right now, I am writing a blog entry.

How much better is our work; our time investment; the relationships we maintain and build; when we only focus on doing what we are doing in the present?

I find it therapeutic both work and at home to ask myself: “what is it I am doing right now? Is it a conscious decision? Am I worrying about something else?” If the answer to any of those three is something resembling uncertainty or “no”, then I probably should move on to something else to with more of a conscious effort.

Right now, I will spell-check, edit, and post my blog entry. Then, I will go do something else.

One thing.

You’ll be OK -re-post from Zen Habits by Leo Babauta-

The following is an re-post from Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits (found here). We all (including me) sometimes go through mini-bouts of anxiety and thought-spirals. It is important we remember that they are temporary and that our minds tend to focus on bad outcomes that might not come true anyway. Please read on.

A link to the original article: You’ll Be OK.

——————–

You’ll Be OK

By Leo Babauta

You’re walking down the street, and you’re worried about being late for meeting someone.

You’re anxious about what they might think of you. You pass some people and worry a bit about what they think of you, without realizing you’re doing it.

You’re worried about some things at work, and all the things you have to do in your personal life (taxes, errands, bills). You have this feeling you should be doing more, doing something else. All the time.

You worry about how you look, about how you’re perceived, about how you’ll do, about whether you’ll fail, about how much you have to do, about what you don’t have, about what you’re missing out on, about how you compare to others.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We all worry about these things.

Here’s the thing: in all of these cases, you’ll be OK. Life will turn out just fine.

We’re always worried about what might go wrong, about the bad things people think about us, and so on. We’re focused on the bad outcomes only.

Those bad outcomes are just a few possibilities out of many, and they’re unlikely to come true.

And even if they do (let’s say someone thinks badly of you), the bad outcomes rarely ever mean anything disastrous for our lives.

Even if the bad things come true, you’ll be OK.

Picture the things you’ve worried about in the last few years: little things mostly. And in all of those cases, you turned out fine. Life didn’t collapse.

If you start to build confidence that you’ll be OK, you can let go of the worries (when you notice them). You can feel good, rather than being consumed by worry and anxiety all the time.

You walk down the street, relaxed, with a smile on your face.

——————–

P.S.- I have been terrible about sitting down and writing lately. Shame on me. It’s for good reason though- I’m investing time in things that at the moment are more important. It’s nice to see that the site is still getting traffic despite my lack of activity.

Tom