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Fixations

· 6 min read
Theodore

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of fixations. I find something cool, new, and shiny, and I pursue it with relentless focus. But then take a break or find something new. When I return, my interest is gone, and I can't find it anymore.

Problems

When I find a new hobby or topic that I like, I imagine what it would like to be to spend all of my free time pursuing it. I wonder what I could learn and how big I could become. My dreams become big and glorious. My commitment goes from 0% to 100% very quickly. I go to the library and check out all the books I can find on the hobby or topic1, I make a map of the landscape, and I create a plan for how I'll explore it all.

There's been many books that I've read very intensely for the first two-thirds of it, then had to take a break to rest or attend other responsibilities. When I return to the book, I've found that I've lost the context, and I can't bring myself to completing it anymore. This loss of interest isn't due to any fault of the book. It doesn't give me the sense of wonder and novelty that new books do because I've read much of it already. My commitment falls from 100% to 0% as quickly as it went up.

My tendency to fixate on new things while forgetting about old things reduces my ability to realize big dreams or complete big projects. I have many big dreams that I've failed to achieve because I haven't focused enough, not because I'm incapable:

  • Learn to play all ten books in the Suzuki Cello School instructional series.
  • Write tutorials on how to build cool things with Python and TypeScript.
  • Write a book on the philosophy of play and ethics in the metaverse.
  • Play in a professional golf tournament (as an amateur).
  • Become a security engineer.

Angela Duckworth might say that I lack the grit, the passion and perseverance, to follow through on my goals. But I think maybe I'm very curious, and I easily dream big, even when it isn't practical for me to dream so big. My curiosity leads me to explore and try new things. My ambition leads me to think about what it's like for me to do them well. I think it's important to try new things and to try many things before committing to something, but it's very difficult for me to not commit prematurely.

I experience similar feelings of fixation and obsession with people. something similar with new people in my life. When I meet someone new or cool, someone who I think I enjoy my time with, I want to learn more about them and hopefully become friends or more. When I go to a grocery store, I wonder what they would look at and they would buy. When I see a restaurant, I think about what they would order and how they would behave, and how we would enjoy it.

This imagination and fantasy consumes a lot of energy and mental space. I do it even if I know they don't like me back or want to be friends with me. I don't say anything because surely that's annoying, but I daydream about our previous interactions and ponder their positive qualities. I idealize them and forget to see the bigger picture and other possibilities. Then, out of chance or courage, I find someone new, I fixate on them, and the cycle continues.

There might be many reasons for my fixations. Perhaps I feel a psychological need to fixate on something or someone to give me hope for the future. Even if I know that it is a false hope, I feel more psychologically safe than if I have nothing to fixate on. Without a fixation, I often feel no hope.

Solutions

It's difficult for me to suggest to myself how to move forward with the knowledge of my habit to fixate on new things. But we can try. I think the techniques boil down to taking care of yourself and learning to be self-aware, patient, and diligent.

First, develop the self-awareness to recognize that you are fixating on something new. When you can recognize a new fixation, be patient with yourself and the world. You don't need to make any quick decisions. Be diligent in your research and check everything before moving forward. Talk to everyone who has a stake in what you do and to anyone who couldn't care less. Accept that you change as you follow a goal, so focus on the next step rather than the glorious dream in the end.

When choosing a book to read, look at it first. For a nonfiction book, look at the table of contents, skim the introduction, and flip through the rest of it. Figure out what it's about and whether you it's worth your time to read. If you get through at least one-third of the book, then commit to yourself to finish it. Finishing books builds coherent knowledge and builds confidence.

When you find something that gives you hope, meaning, and curiosity, such as going down a slope or spending time with an amazing person, think about what it's like to feel in that moment and hold onto that feeling. You don't need that same circumstance or person to have that feeling again, but you can use that feeling to guide yourself and others back towards it. Promote the feeling in others because finding it in them and reignites it in yourself.

When you pursue a journey alone, it becomes much more treacherous and daunting, so pursue them with other people. It's much easier to withstand breaks and difficulties when you work with other people or share your progress with them. If you choose a goal for your own fame or fortune, then perhaps it's for the best that you are letting go of it. If you choose a goal that furthers the material and spiritual well-being of others, then work with them as you pursue it, and you'll find that it's much easier to see its benefits come to fruition.


  1. This is a trick I call "clearing the shelf".