Vipassana and working memory


Some humans lose their train of action more frequently after age 50.

Things start out well enough:

  1. You have a goal.
  2. You take the action steps in imagination, speech, or action to reach your goal.
  3. Then something happens—you fall off the wagon.

So much of our lives are action steps towards our goals. Most of our actions are not ends in themselves, but bricks laid towards an end that is far away.

The things we want in life will not fall in our laps as readymades, but must be created out of many steps. Goals are not found units, but complex constructions, but products that are constructed through many different actions. Our goals are not realized as units, but as sandwiches—built from many layers of action. And the order and separation of layers are essential to the being of the object.

Because our goods are actually temporal sandwiches of procedural steps, being able to function as the foreman over your own labors (the layers of the temporal sandwich) is crucial to successful goal completion.

Happiness requires that we not give up on our long, multistep projects. But we do give up because we tend to lose our train of action.

My adventures in Vipassana have revealed a horrifying secret. The tendency to get derailed is not due to a weakness in working memory, but to our susceptibility to being derailed by reaction to feeling. When we break from our task list, we do so because some feeling arises that is stronger than the upset we impose as punishment for breaking our commitment.

There are five feelings involved in any implementation procedure:

Phenomenology of implementation failure

  1. The pleasure-feeling from fulfilling the duty of action
  2. The pleasure-feeling from completing an item on our list
  3. The pain-feeling of effort
  4. The pain-feeling of failing to complete an item (i.e., of getting derailed)
  5. And the pain-feeling that derails your right action, killing the current step or aborting the next step.

The solution to this common derailment is to practice Vipassana on feeling #5.

Getting Things Done Tech

When implementing your goals, feelings of pain will arise. The normal response is to believe the pain and react by terminating your actions. The WIN response is to practice Vipassana on that sucker as soon as it arises. Your projects get derailed not because of reasons, but because you either kill the current step or abort the next one. Remember that the most important step in your implementation plan is always the next step. Vipassana is the only solution to letting feelings fuck you over.