Mental Modes

Just a quick post today to avoid falling too far behind while I'm traveling.

I'm in Austin, Texas right now, and it seems like a pretty chill place, but I haven't seen enough of it to write anything worthwhile. Instead, this is a more general bit of travel metacognition.

One neat thing about maturing is noticing how your own mind works. Or maybe other people are naturally in tune with their own mental states and it just took me a quarter of a century to get with the program. Either way, I've noticed that my psyche naturally falls into one of a discrete number of modes depending on circumstance.

Which mode I fall into is determined by my environment, but also my current mode; modes have some associated inertia, so switching requires either a significant environmental change, or a focused expenditure of mental effort.

All models are wrong, but I've found this one to be pretty useful. If I need to miss a few consecutive days of exercise for whatever reason, I enter Blob Mode and encounter more mental resistance to starting it back up again once I can. But armed with this vocabulary, I don't need to convince myself to run 10 miles, I just need to convince myself to run until I get knocked back into Activity Mode, which I know from past experience isn't that far at all. The reverse is also useful - it's easier to resist temptation to be a little lazy or indulgent when I know it doesn't just represent a one-time thing, but (potentially) a slide into Blob Mode.

Blob Mode is always undesirable, but which of Activity or Adventure mode is preferable comes down to specific circumstances. When there's no "right answer" and you need to think on your feet, Adventure is best, but it's also not sustainable for sustained concentration on one thread. I'm reminded of this now, while traveling for the first time in a fair while, because arriving in an unknown city is the Adventure Mode trigger par excellence and I'm kind of shocked by how drastic the mode shift can be. I would have made a great forward scout for a cavalry unit had I been born 200 years earlier.

Sometimes a situation can fall right between the Activity and Adventure modes without fully activating either. This happens when a task is rigid but ambiguous in specifics. You might remember this combination from... most of modern life! Yay!

One other thought that I might expand on later: I said Activity Mode is where I tend to live most of the time, but that's actually contingent on access to my ADHD medication. If I'm unmedicated my default mode becomes Adventure Mode, and it's Activity Mode that's the occasional welcome visitor. Adventure Mode is very useful in certain situations, e.g. travelling, sudden emergencies, but for ordinary day-to-day life it is a special kind of hell.