5 min read

That Escalated Quickly

That Escalated Quickly
All credit to Dreamworks pictures I assume. Another one of those movies that I've never actually seen

I like to think that I'm the sort of person that can do the same thing over and over again, day in, day out without it crushing my soul.

It can be very zen, almost freeing in a way. No need to think, just do. Sweet, comforting, repetition.

But if I do the same thing at the same level I get bored.

I want to escalate.

That Really Got Out Of Hand Fast

Habit is one of the core pillars of my personality. Setting up a pattern and then having the discipline to follow through with it on a regular basis makes me happy and brings me comfort.

A classic example of this is my desire to not be fat any more.

My approach was not really goal oriented. Instead, I established healthy habits, like preparing meals ahead of time, or exercising every morning or eating at specific times of the day and then focused on executing those habits consistently.

But I learned quickly that when it came to the exercise, whatever it might be, I couldn't just do the same thing all the time. I needed to lift heavier weights, or run faster, or something that indicated that I was doing better and improving.

It's the same with video games.

I don't like doing the same sort of thing over and over again with no change. I want to push myself and to chase difficult content that requires skill and mastery in order to succeed. Games that mostly encourage that sort of approach (like Dark Souls) feel a hell of a lot better than games that encourage grinding for statistical improvements (like Diablo).

I'm honestly not entirely sure where this drive to escalate comes from.

Do I seek a challenge? I'm not sure this is the case, because it's very focused on incremental improvement in a thing that I'm already doing over time. I don't generally go out and set my sights on some sort of big challenge with the intent to conquer it.

Is it a desire to be better and to be seen as being better? Maybe, I definitely do seek approval from those around me (in that I want to be seen as highly competent), but when I'm escalating things I don't generally talk about them to others.

Is it a sense of accomplishment? This one seems the most likely to me. I need to know that I'm not stagnating, that I'm getting better and that the time that I'm spending on doing this thing over and over again is not a waste.

Of course, I don't need to understand the motivation in order to benefit from the behaviour.

60% Of The Time It Works Every Time

The upside of escalating all the time is obvious: improvement.

I'm always getting a little bit better at whatever I'm doing, which usually leads to better results.

In the case of physical fitness, I can do things that I would never have been able to do years ago. Go hiking on a steep mountain track and enjoy the view from above, or look at myself in the mirror and not immediately throw up in my mouth. Good stuff like that.

For video games I get to see and experience more things, experience more of the content available to me.

It's surprisingly hard to write a section about the benefits of improvement, because it feels like it's such an innate part of me. I want to be better and it's hard to me to put a comprehensive case together about why.

It certainly does make me happier though.

Well, mostly.

I'm A Glass Case Of Emotion

There are a number of downsides to always escalating. Always trying to beat some sort of previous record.

The first is exhaustion. Always pushing yourself harder can lead to a negative feedback loop where you get tired, notice that you're not improving as a result, push harder, get more tired, etc, etc. It's not fun physically or emotionally.

The second is procrastination. I know that when I choose to do something I'm going to inevitably escalate it, which is tiring, so I drag my feet in doing the thing in the first place. Interestingly enough, this overlaps a little bit with my feelings on obligation, so procrastination is something that I struggle with a lot.

But it's not just the fatigue caused by escalation that causes procrastination. It's also that I know I won't be happy with the thing until I've improved beyond my initial level of fumbling around in the dark. I don't get satisfaction from merely doing something, I want to do it well and that requires a time investment that sometimes I just can't make.

It means that I miss out on experiencing new things as a result, which is a shame. I'm trying to learn how to be happy with sucking at something and maybe never getting any better, but it's hard for me.

The last downside is just a general increase in stress. If I'm never happy just doing something at the same level, I'm always stressing about trying to do it at a higher level. I can't just do the thing and be happy that I've done the thing.

Thinking about it, this might be one of the reasons why I escalate in the first place. I don't give myself credit for doing the thing from a baseline of not doing the thing. I'm always comparing myself against the last time I did the thing. If I run 5km in the morning, I don't pat myself on the back for running that far, I look to see if I did it faster than last time and if I didn't, I feel sad.

Not recognising victories takes the positive feedback loop out of a lot of things. Like the point about procrastination, I'm trying to get better at it, to recognise my achievements, but it's difficult. I have an underlying fear that if I do that, I'll stop trying.

And I don't want to stop trying because I know how that feels.

You Stay Classy Now

I don't know if I'm trying to make a specific point in this blog post. I think I'm just trying to explore a part of myself by writing about it.

I've also presented the illusion that I'm always escalating everything that I do, which is definitely not true.

I only really escalate a subset of the things that I'm doing. The things that I'm focusing on. Not everything.

Take this blog for example, I have no desire to escalate beyond a single post a week. Nor to escalate posting longer pieces of content.

I'm not entirely sure why. I just don't really want to try any harder and I seem to be okay with that, which is weird.

If you're going to take anything away from this post it should probably be that escalating things all the time isn't the best way to go about it.

Think carefully about where you want to put your effort. Apply escalation consciously and use it to drive change in high value areas. Hold yourself to high standards, but be happy with your improvements and victories.

Know when it's okay to not escalate and enjoy what you have and what you're doing.

And if you figure out how to do that, could you come back here and fix me?