November 3, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 41: A better morning routine, perfectionism, and continuous improvement

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

I.  A better morning routine: premeditation

"The idea of spending the first five minutes of each morning considering our tasks for the day and anticipating possible areas where we could let ourselves down or run into trouble might seem alien to us, or too much of an effort. But consider the common alternative. We are normally awoken abruptly by an alarm clock when we could do with an extra hour of sleep, and if we have allowed ourselves a brief time to lie in bed and adjust to the morning, we tend to resort to that most banal of pastimes: browsing our phones. We check social media or see what emails have come through. One connects us with the rabble; the other starts our day with problems to which we are obliged to find solutions. Perhaps we check the news and again without realising we emerge into our day smothered by demands from the outside world, which root themselves unpleasantly in our groggy, too-malleable consciousness. We have prepared our psychological state for the day by laying the groundwork for envy (we see that a friend has bought a new gadget we want but can’t afford) and by letting our barely sentient minds absorb the concerns of work communicated overnight to our inbox.

"Those first few moments of the day, when we are still suggestible enough to slip back into dreams unfinished, have been invaded by the outside world’s blaring cries for our weary attention. And our brains, still spongy and soaked in semi-sleep, have had nothing of the preparation needed to distance themselves from the onslaught. Already by the time our shower has brought us into the fully waking world, it is too late: we have begun our day at the mercy of the crowds.

"We could, instead, try the Stoic practice of premeditation. As we lie in bed and half doze, or even better, if we can allocate five undisturbed minutes to sit still as part of our morning regime, we might take the time to think ahead to the events we expect this day to bring. We know we are likely to meet certain types of people. As we consider them one by one, we note our emotional responses to their faces that flash up on our mental movie screen.

"A regular period of quiet solitude helps create a bedrock of self-sufficiency that accompanies us into the social hours ahead. As the addictive pleasures and miseries of electronic communication and phone-browsing offer themselves to us every minute of the day and night, we forget the benefits of time spent calmly with and within ourselves. If we are able to find time and space each day to redress the balance, and if we use it to remind ourselves that so much of our life has nothing to do with us, and that it is only with our thoughts and actions that we need to concern ourselves, we will soon find that our centre of gravity returns to its correct place." — From Happy by Derren Brown

As with many of the leading philosophical ideas of the time, contemporary science confirms the Stoics were on to something.

The electric patterns produced inside our brains are measured as brainwaves. Each day, we transition between four categories of brainwaves; delta, theta, alpha, and beta, ranging from least to most active. We fall into delta waves during sleep, which is the lowest frequency. Theta waves occur during daydreaming or when performing routine activities and are associated with learning, memory, and ideation. Alpha waves are the brain's resting state, which we experience during calm and peaceful periods. Transitioning between these states is part of the brain's natural wake-up cycle, after which the brain shifts to beta waves, our alert and attentive state. By browsing social media upon waking, our brains are jolted into beta waves, sending us into a high alert mode before we've even gotten out of bed.

While the Stoics knew nothing of brain waves, they understood the power of the morning routine. Premeditation is an exercise we can perform to allow our brains to naturally transition between brave waves while conducting a pre-assessment of our upcoming responsibilities. We might ask, if an event doesn't proceed as planned, how may it go wrong? By identifying these derailments, we can better prepare ourselves to deal with them instead of making the problems worse. This approach fortifies us against petty annoyances as we meet them with resolve, ready to adapt to the situation rather than complaining things aren't 'going right.'

II. The vice of perfectionism

"In the winter of 1931, Martha Graham was hopelessly bogged down in a dance series she had choreographed called Ceremonials, inspired by Mayan and Aztec cultures. A notorious perfectionist, she despaired of ever completing the dance. Worried, self-critical, consumed by guilt that she had wasted her Guggenheim Fellowship, Graham was convinced she could not meet the expectations of her rising reputation, much less the vision she had in her own head. 'The winter is lost,' she whimpered in self-pity. 'The whole winter’s work is lost. I’ve destroyed my year. This work is no good.' Even though her dancers loved it, even though they had committed body and soul to it, all she could see was what needed to be changed. All she could see were the ways it wasn’t perfect. And it trapped her in a kind of creative prison.

"It’s the tragic fate of greats across many different fields. Their success is built on their incredibly high standards—often higher than anyone, including the audience or the market, could demand—but this virtue is also a terrible vice, not just preventing them from enjoying what they have achieved, but making it increasingly impossible to ship the next thing. Because it’s never good enough. Because there’s always more they can do. Because it doesn’t measure up to what they did last time.

"As they say, another way to spell 'perfectionism' is p-a-r-a-l-y-s-i-s. An obsession with getting it perfect misses the forest for the trees, because ultimately the biggest miss of all is failing to get your shot off. What you don’t ship, what you’re too afraid or strict to release, to try, is, by definition, a failure. It doesn’t matter the cause, whether it was from procrastination or perfectionism, the result is the same. You didn’t do it." — From Discipline Is Destiny by Ryan Holiday (view my three takeaways)

Anne Wilson Schaef (1934-2020) described perfectionism as self-abuse of the highest order, yet this vice is often mistaken for a virtue.

High standards are a prerequisite for greatness, but as poet Danna Faulds put it, “perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.” People often conflate excellence with perfection, but the former leads to continuous improvement, while the latter results in crippling paralysis.

The self-loathing that results from failing to meet impossible standards becomes our misguided pursuit of shaming ourselves into becoming better, but as Lori Deschene writes:

“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.”

Quotes to Ponder

I. Epictetus on discipline.

“Two words should be taken to heart and obeyed when exerting ourselves for good and restraining ourselves from evil—words that will ensure a blameless and untroubled life: persist and resist."

II. Jacob A. Riis on continuous improvement.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

Share this with the right people!

If you've ever found anything here to be interesting or valuable- it would be a big help to get this to reach the right people and share it with someone that you think will appreciate it:

Thanks for joining our newsletter.
Oops! Something went wrong.

Latest newsletters

Hey, I'm Matthew 👋

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thanks for joining our newsletter.
Oops! Something went wrong.