Exploring the hard reset

I’m no computer expert so I’m not exactly sure what causes them to periodically lock up and require a hard reset — holding the power button down for an uncomfortably long time and interrupting whatever runaway process or hopelessly locked instructions is causing a computer to be completely unresponsive. I’ve always imagined the computer being a little bit concerned but also grateful that I’ve come along to release it from whatever is ailing it. A chance to start over, get rid of the extra stuff that is causing the slow down, and re-engage with the world with clear memory, greater simplicity, and a newfound sense of optimism.

That’s kind of what I’ve been doing to myself for the past couple weeks.

For reasons old (my compulsion to always do more and better) and new (a worldwide pandemic that has thrown a wrench into every plan and routine) I’ve been feeling a bit like the computer that is sluggish and verging on unresponsive. Inching closer and closer to where the usual troubleshooting actions are no longer effective and instead needing someone to hold my power button down until the screen flashes black and the normal boot up sequence starts again. Too many processes running at the same time. Too many open loops competing for the same limited memory resulting in a user interface that feels like it’s being dragged through mud. Like trying to stream a video through dial-up — stuttery, pixelated, and generally an unpleasant mess to interact with.

Moving beyond the computer metaphor that I only understand enough of to barely muddle my way through, I recently realized that my 2020 theme of Simplicity/Intensity has been heavily weighted toward the Intensity end of that duality. Each month I’ve been taking a habit and trying to be deliberately intense about it. So far, though, I haven’t done much to explore the simplicity or spaciousness that I wanted to temper the intensity that tends to come more naturally and be more interesting to me.

So, even though I’m still in the midst of my first Month of Read, I’ve also been experimenting with scaling way back across many different aspects of my life. Scaling back the number and complexity of the tools to do my basic work. Scaling back the number of open loops I have running at any one time. Scaling back the expectations and the negative self-talk that push me toward greater achievement while simultaneously making me unhappy. Scaling back the number of places I appear online and the number of feeds that need tending. It has meant looking at everything around me and asking myself whether I could do without something, at least for a little bit, just to see what it’s like.

And although I’ve done a lot so far the process is still ongoing. Shedding the obvious dead weight results in new layers of things to consider. Things that weren’t obvious at first glance are brought into the light and analyzed for the first time. Old projects, old intentions, and old personal commitments that haven’t been re-examined or updated by the current version of myself. Old identities and expectations that no longer serve their intended purpose and instead are just consuming limited mental RAM.

The idea is not to move forward indefinitely as some kind of modern ascetic (I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m typing this on an iPad while living in an expensive apartment just outside of Washington DC prevents me from authentically claiming that path anyway). It’s more like a systematic dismantling of as much of the scaffolding I’ve intentionally and unintentionally built around myself over the last few years so I can better see the building — the person — underneath it all. When I was living in NYC there were certain construction sites that I only ever saw with scaffolding draped all over them. Scaffolding so dense and so seemingly permanent that it seemed to be an actual part of the building. And then, suddenly and dramatically and without warning, I would find myself walking the same path as always only to realize that somehow, improbably, a new building stood where before I usually saw the accoutrements of construction. Overnight the fundamental appearance of a building would change as the scaffolding was removed and the construction equipment moved away.

And there was almost always something beautiful standing there.

My personal construction project isn’t completed (and I don’t think I ever want it to be) but it’s time to take stock of what’s there before moving on to new projects. I’m hoping removing the detritus will give me a better appreciation of what’s already there and some new motivation to embark on the next phase of whatever it is I want to do.

This article was originally published on SamSpurlin.com. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll probably enjoy The Deliberate, my weekly newsletter about intentional living in a complex world. Sign up here.

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