30 May 2017

Intractable Problems

Getting into the state of mental flow leads to enjoyment for me.  Whether it's playing a lively game of Monopoly with my kids, or playing/coaching an engaging soccer match, or developing the next feature for FamilySearch -- all of the above activities are more enjoyable when I spend a lot of time in the state of mental flow.

There's a book about this, and I still would like to read it at some point.  But today's post is not primarily about flow.

There are times when I know that a state of mental flow is possible, and desirable, but I can't seem to enter that state.  Maybe I'm meaning to write in my journal but the thing I want to write about is an unresolved problem of some importance to me, and I go into immediate problem solving instead of writing about it.  Maybe I'm trying to get going on a project outside but I'm exhausted from not getting enough sleep the night before.  Maybe I'm attempting to learn something new at work and there is too much new all at once.

Today I realized that when I have problems entering the state of mental flow, it's because I'm stuck trying to solve intractable problems.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_complexity_theory

Here are a few "intractable" problems I've faced recently:

  • Which task would be most helpful for me to work on first this morning?
  • What is important to deal with after a trip, and what can be dropped?
  • Who can I get to help set up flags on Memorial Day?
  • How can I get uninterrupted time to spend with my wife?
  • What can I do to increase the likelihood of my son wanting to work with me outside?
The truth is the above problems are only "intractable" when attempted in a certain mental state that treats these decision problems as personal tasks.

Hint: It takes social skill & action to answer all of the above questions effectively.  And while the social skill can be learned, if you approach the above problems by thinking that they are personal tasks to be completed, they will by definition be intractable.

A useful word is "stall".  Some definitions, glosses, examples:

So when you feel yourself get into a stall, think what intractable problem you are trying to solve.  And if it's a problem that needs social skills to solve, reach out for help.  Figure out what skills you need to develop and improve your abilities.

03 May 2017

HELP: Happy, Evolving, Learning, Productive - Journaling template

Sometimes I go to write in my journal after lots has happened, and I find myself at a loss.  Too much has happened, I don't know what's important to record, it's all a jumble.  So I end up staring out the window and attempting a half-baked job of mentally processing things.

Here is a set of headings in an attempt to provide a skeleton for my journaling:
  • H: Happenings
  • E: Evolutions / Progress
  • L: Learnings
  • P: Plans
Or described more fully:
  • H: just neutral reporting on what random stuff has been going on
  • E: progress reports on things that have moved forward in some significant way in the last while
  • L: what you've recently learned that sticks out to you
  • P: what's coming up that has your attention
In an attempt at finding a mnemonic for HELP, I came up with the following:
  • H: Happy
  • E: Evolving
  • L: Learning
  • P: Productive
And here are some more detailed descriptions of the emotional states in the mnemonic:
  • H: just starting to write can keep you happier than not, see this post
  • E: highlighting progress, however small, turns into a sense of gratitude for me
  • L: seeing that I'm still learning is encouraging to me
  • P: putting rough plans on paper has a reassuring effect, and helps me move forward
Those adjectives have enough affinity to the headings that it might help me to remember them, and enough positive energy to help them to stick in my mind.