These aren’t the links you’re looking for, move along

It hit me that I have 10 days until my thesis is due, 57 days until commencement, and I still haven’t caught up on my sleep debt from the fall. “That’s life” (how do you say that in French?) I suppose.

Hi readers; I have a confession to make. I am really good at procrastinating. “How good?” you might ask. Well, I installed StumbleUpon for Google Chrome and Leechblock for Firefox; I completely removed Chrome because I figured out how to disable Chrome whenever I feel like, which it turns out is all the time. Example two? I’m writing a blog entry right now.

I also have two drafts in my folder with subject lines – “What I learned from sharing an apartment” and (title in quotes) “Owl City sounds like The Postal Service getting raped by a lollipop.” Both were written in 2010, so you know I haven’t been on top of my shit. Probably because in the past year and a half I’ve essentially devoted my life to the Band (I’ve been done since last fall, but then I had to catch up on my thesis).

This will be a short, but meandering post. But here’s a bit of a revelation I had. I’ve long since accepted that I’m never going to be the most successful or intelligent person in the room, at least not in the future I’ve planned for myself. The person I had in mind here is David Spergle, the chair of Princeton’s Astronomy department.

Spergle graduated from Princeton summa cum laude (so what? that could mean anything) and then got an astronomy Ph.D. from Harvard in two years. Holy fucking shit. This is the guy who insists that Princeton students get their Ph.D.’s in four years instead of the national mean of 6.5. Anyway, it turns out Spergle is interested in basically the same sort of stuff I am, and when I first found this stuff out, I figured, “Hey, I can’t compare myself to him. He’s got the perfect combination of resolve and natural intelligence, of course he’s going to be like that.”

But I started reading through the comments on my thesis yesterday, and boy there were a lot. For some reason it clicked as I read critical comments on every single page that regardless of what I’m capable of or what my resume says, I will be judged by a certain objective standard, no matter how I stack up against other people in my field. I have an IQ over 100, so I’m smarter than average, but my “astronomy IQ” is closer to 90; I have to work harder.

For too long I’ve accepted that I will never reach a certain level without trying to achieve my maximum; the fact that my maximum potential is lower than other people’s need not come into any future equations. I have to try my best, regardless of what everyone around me is accomplishing.

And with that, my procrastination ends. Maybe I’ll post something else before I graduate.

In Pursuit of Numbers

Over winter break, I received an invite code for Fitocracy.  I had applied for an invite several months before due to its appearances in xkcd and Penny Arcade, so I was pretty excited.

I initially thought that it would just be a fun tracking tool, but I didn’t anticipate its deep impact on my workout routine.  I had previously neglected leg and back exercises (besides running), but when I realized that squat and deadlift were worth a very high amount of points, I added them to my routine.  It’s funny how different conceptualizations of goals affect our motivations.  Instead of doing a haphazard workout with no goal besides general physical fitness, I now feel driven by a pursuit of points. The end result is me possibly in the best shape of my life.

I, of course, realize that points and the whole point system are fundamentally arbitrary, but somehow, it doesn’t alter my desire to amass more of them. Perhaps this is related to my shift away from video games, and I need another outlet for competition.

Are the best motivational methods derived from changing intermediate priorities?  In a previous blog post, Tom wrote about the Seinfeld system where you reduce the long-term problem of refining a skill set into a short-term one of marking Xs into a calendar.  I’ve actually been failing at this, and I need to get back on it (sorry, Tom).

After this experience with such an effective strategy, what is the next step?  I feel that the points (or whatever they may be) must be externally generated in order to have the same effect and sense of legitimacy.  How do I “gamify” other aspects of my life?

(By the way, my profile is cliTom and Duncan are on Fitocracy too.  Add us!)

Mettle

Dear readers,

Allow me to relate to you two major themes in my life right now:

1) I am visiting graduate schools so that I can pick a cool place to go;

2) I am working on a senior thesis, and not doing so great.

I’m definitely in an overall fortunate situation, and assuming I can finish enough of my thesis to pass Astro 99, will (probably!) graduate and get to go to grad school. I just came back from a visit to the University of Texas at Austin, and at dinner with one of the professors (the awesome C. Wheeler) the question came up:

“What does it take to be a successful grad student?”

After a few moments, Prof. Wheeler responded, “Mettle.”

“This implies not just hard work, but additionally, a certain resilience and spirit in the face of challenging situations.”

I like this a lot. In fact, I’ll do my best to apply it to my own life. We’ll see how things shape up in regards to this over the coming weeks, but I would definitely call my senior thesis a currently “challenging situation”.