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Video games can offer a substitute purpose, one which is easily achieved (relative to a rewarding career or academic success) and therefore offers a more certain guarantee of a feeling of achievement. I struggle with this myself when I'm taking a class I'm not really interested in; my addictive behavior re video games always gets worse and I have to carefully control it. The same could be said of purposelessly surfing the internet: it's goal-directed action that can give you a sense of achievement without the substance. As such, both behaviors are more a symptom than a problem in themselves, and should be recognized as such.

And to add to my previous post... I think these sort of activities give your mind an opportunity to relax and work to get an answer to some inner question or conflict.

Also, I don't think they are bad as such. They are not always an escape from reality - they can be a very useful servant to pursue a productive life, allowing you to relax and just shoot something :) (well shooting stuff is not really for me, but for the sake of the example... this is good enough).

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Well, as a practical solution, I would suggest that you decide to pursue specific intellectual projects which are heavy on the reasoning side. It would help if you had a mentor who can direct you roughly in the correct direction. I think you need a big project, where you have to learn various methods of analysis and integrate them in order to reach that project-goal. That is, take something big, which can be reasonably broken down into a number of related small problems.

I think this is a great advice. If you (Mr. Cloogshicer) find it is satisfying for you to think, try a couple of different fields, until you find what is right for you. Once you do, a big project that can be broken down to parts sounds really good to me.

Try finding something you need to take an active part in, something that gives you a sense of real self-expression.

Use your emotions to find what works for you. Look for things that give you:

1. enjoyment as you work on them

2. pride when you succeed in them

3. A feeling of wanting more of the same thing

4. A feeling that this activity is personal - that it matches *you* and your specific abilities.

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Do you guys think that you can be a master at more than one thing?

Say for instance do you think that it is possible for you to be a master at playing the piano but also get all A's in business courses at school? Or be a star athlete(set records) but also be the Valedictorian of your class? Are you awesome(not just good) at more than one thing? Can you name anybody who is the best at more than one area?

I'm kind of reminded of the "The Jack Of Trades But Master Of None" saying.

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Do you guys think that you can be a master at more than one thing?

Say for instance do you think that it is possible for you to be a master at playing the piano but also get all A's in business courses at school? Or be a star athlete(set records) but also be the Valedictorian of your class? Are you awesome(not just good) at more than one thing? Can you name anybody who is the best at more than one area?

I'm kind of reminded of the "The Jack Of Trades But Master Of None" saying.

I don't think that getting all A's (or being Valedictorian) means you're a master yet, but it is possible to become one, after say you're done with being an athlete. But as far as becoming a master at two things simoultaneously, I don't know if it has ever been done. (I can't imagine why someone would want that. Ther rational thing is to pick one thing, master it, and then pick another thing, rather than at the least double the time before you master anything, by doing two things at once.)

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This is interesting because I share your same apathy for life. I feel like no matter how hard I try I'll still be living at the mercy of the James Taggarts of the world. I just want for a brief moment not to be the only voice of reason where I am. I work with people that just don't get reality (that in some cases openly say that it doesn't exist at all), its all so depressing like there are no good moral people. Where I work the best of us are punished for our achievements and beaten down with insane policies that make it appear that the morons in charge are the heroes. I guess thats what I should expect from a not-for-profit.

I guess I'm just sick of this world and the people in it.

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This is interesting because I share your same apathy for life. I feel like no matter how hard I try I'll still be living at the mercy of the James Taggarts of the world. I just want for a brief moment not to be the only voice of reason where I am. I work with people that just don't get reality (that in some cases openly say that it doesn't exist at all), its all so depressing like there are no good moral people. Where I work the best of us are punished for our achievements and beaten down with insane policies that make it appear that the morons in charge are the heroes. I guess thats what I should expect from a not-for-profit.

I guess I'm just sick of this world and the people in it.

I think you have a problem that goes deeper than that. Who people are should not matter as much to your ability to be happy as it seems to be for you. It can only become a major source of depression if there is already some negative starting point in you.

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The following is the introductory portion of Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation". It appeared in The Objectivist in April 1966 and the Voice of Reason.

In the years 1951 to 1954, a group of scientists at McGill University conducted a series of experiments that attracted a great deal of attention, led to many further inquiries and became famous under the general title of "sensory deprivation."

The experiments consisted of observing the behavior of a man in conditions of isolation which eliminated or significantly reduced the sensations of sight, hearing and touch. The subject was placed in a small, semi-sound-proofed cubicle, he wore translucent goggles which admitted only a diffuse light, he wore heavy gloves and cardboard cuffs over his hands, and he lay in bed for two to three days, with a minimum of motion.

The results varied from subject to subject, but certain general observations could be made: the subjects found it exceedingly difficult or impossible to concentrate, to maintain a systematic process of thought; they lost their sense of time, they felt disoriented, dissociated from reality, unable to tell the difference between sleeping and waking; many subjects experienced hallucinations. Most of them spoke of feeling as if they were losing control of their consciousness. These effects disappeared shortly after the termination of the experiments.

The scientists pursuing these inquiries state emphatically that no theoretical conclusions can yet be drawn from these and other, similar experiments, because they involve too many variables, as well as undefined differences in the psychological character of the subjects, which led to significant differences in their reactions. But certain general indications can be observed: the experiments seem to indicate that man's consciousness requires constant activity, a constant stream of changing sensory stimuli, and that monotony or insufficient stimulation impairs its efficiency.

Even though man ignores and, to a large extent, shuts out the messages of his senses, when he is concentrating on some specific intellectual task—his senses are his contact with reality, that contact is not stagnant, but is maintained by a constant active process, and when that process is slowed down artificially to subnormal levels, his mind slows down as well.

Man's consciousness is his least known and most abused vital organ. Most people believe that consciousness as such is some sort of indeterminate faculty which has no nature, no specific identity and, therefore, no requirements, no needs, no rules for being properly or improperly used. The simplest example of this belief is people's willingness to lie or cheat, to fake reality on the premise that "I'm the only one who'll know" or "It's only in my mind"—without any concern for what this does to one's mind, <tobj_50> what complex, untraceable, disastrous impairments it produces, what crippling damage may result.

The loss of control over one's consciousness is the most terrifying of human experiences: a consciousness that doubts its own efficacy is in a monstrously intolerable state. Yet men abuse, subvert and starve their consciousness in a manner they would not dream of applying to their hair, toenails or stomachs. They know that these things have a specific identity and specific requirements, and, if one wishes to preserve them, one must comb one's hair, trim one's toenails and refrain from swallowing rat poison. But one's mind? Aw, it needs nothing and can swallow anything. Or so most people believe. And they go on believing it while they toss in agony on a psychologist's couch, screaming that their mind keeps them in a state of chronic terror for no reason whatever.

One valuable aspect of the sensory-deprivation experiments is that they call attention to and dramatize a fact which neither laymen nor psychologists are willing fully to accept: the fact that man's consciousness possesses a specific nature with specific cognitive needs, that it is not infinitely malleable and cannot be twisted, like a piece of putty, to fit any private evasions or any public "conditioning."

If sensory deprivation has such serious consequences, what are the consequences of "conceptual deprivation"? This is a question untouched by psychologists, so far, since the majority of today's psychologists do not recognize the significance of the fact that man's consciousness requires a conceptual mode of functioning—that thinking is the process of cognition appropriate to man. The ravages of "conceptual deprivation" can be observed all around us. Two interacting aspects of this issue must be distinguished: the primary cause is individual, but the contributory cause is social.

The choice to think or not is volitional. If an individual's choice is predominantly negative, the result is his self-arrested mental development, a self-made cognitive malnutrition, a stagnant, eroded, impoverished, anxiety-ridden inner life. A social environment can neither force a man to think nor prevent him from thinking. But a social environment can offer incentives or impediments; it can make the exercise of one's rational faculty easier or harder; it can encourage thinking and penalize evasion or vice versa. Today, our social environment is ruled by evasion—by entrenched, institutionalized evasion—while reason is an outcast and almost an outlaw.

The brashly aggressive irrationality and anti-rationality of today's culture leaves an individual in an intellectual desert. He is deprived of conceptual stimulation and communication; he is unable to understand people or to be understood. He is locked in the equivalent of an experimental cubicle—only that cubicle is the size of a continent—where he is given the sensory stimulation of screeching, screaming, twisting, jostling throngs, but is cut off from ideas: the sounds are unintelligible, the motions incomprehensible, the pressures unpredictable. In such conditions, only the <tobj_51> toughest intellectual giants will preserve the unimpaired efficiency of their mind, at the price of an excruciating effort. The rest will give up—usually, in college—and will collapse into hysterical panic (the "activists") or into sluggish lethargy (the consensus-followers); and some will suffer from conceptual hallucinations (the existentialists).

The subject of "conceptual deprivation" is too vast to cover in one lecture and can merely be indicated. What I want to discuss today is one particular aspect of it: the question of value-deprivation.

A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. Values are the motivating power of man's actions and a necessity of his survival, psychologically as well as physically.

Man's values control his subconscious emotional mechanism that functions like a computer adding up his desires, his experiences, his fulfillments and frustrations—like a sensitive guardian watching and constantly assessing his relationship to reality. The key question which this computer is programmed to answer, is: What is possible to me?

There is a certain similarity between the issue of sensory perception and the issue of values. Discussing "The Cognitive Consequences of Early Sensory Deprivation," Dr. Jerome S. Bruner writes: "One may suggest that one of the prime sources of anxiety is a state in which one's conception or perception of the environment with which one must deal does not 'fit' or predict that environment in a manner that makes action possible." (Sensory Deprivation, a symposium at Harvard Medical School, edited by Philip Solomon, M.D., et al., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.) If severe and prolonged enough, the absence of a normal, active flow of sensory stimuli may disintegrate the complex organization and the interdependent functions of man's consciousness.

Man's emotional mechanism works as the barometer of the efficacy or impotence of his actions. If severe and prolonged enough, the absence of a normal, active flow of value-experiences may disintegrate and paralyze man's consciousness—by telling him that no action is possible.

The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure. In his essay on "The Psychology of Pleasure," Nathaniel Branden writes: "Pleasure, for man, is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need. Pleasure (in the widest sense of the term) is a metaphysical concomitant of life, the reward and consequence of successful action—just as pain is the insignia of failure, destruction, death .... The state of enjoyment gives [man] a direct experience of his own efficacy, of his competence to deal with the facts of reality, to achieve his values, to live .... As pleasure emotionally entails a sense of efficacy, so pain emotionally entails a sense of impotence. In letting man experience, in his own person, the sense that life is a value and that he is a value, pleasure serves as the emotional fuel of man's existence." (THE OBJECTIVIST NEWSLETTER, February 1964. )

Where—in today's culture—can a man find any values or any meaningful pleasure?

I wonder if part of the source of teenage angst is that teenagers gain all of the adult capacities to work and value, but aren't expected or permitted to do anything personally important such as working for their living or maintaining their own household. All of the natural drama of life has been removed on their behalf to create an extended childhood.

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Later on in the article -

A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man's emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel - until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion.
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Well, consider what you are doing to your subconscious. You are training it to hate goals. By telling yourself you should pursue a goal despite how you feel, and then doing just that time and again, you program your emotions to do the following: Every time some goal is suggested, you would feel resentment. Because what does a goal mean to your subconscious? something that involves suffering, self-repression. The opposite of enjoyment. This is why kids can come to hate learning or reading because of attending school that forces them to learn things (or in methods) that they hate, that bore them. After a while their subconscious forms automatic association between learning and suffering.

I don't think I understand fully. What exactly in my behaviour would make trying to achieve a goal involve suffering? When I go climbing, there ARE moments which I can enjoy, and those are the reason I still do it. It's just that with most activities, it's very rare that I have those moments. And I can't really think of anything where it isn't like that.

Well, as a practical solution, I would suggest that you decide to pursue specific intellectual projects which are heavy on the reasoning side. It would help if you had a mentor who can direct you roughly in the correct direction. I think you need a big project, where you have to learn various methods of analysis and integrate them in order to reach that project-goal. That is, take something big, which can be reasonably broken down into a number of related small problems.

I also believe that this is a good advice. Especially the highlighted (and crucial) part is something I've always left out when trying to define goals. However, it still doesn't work. Maybe I'm just not taking the right approach, but it always leads to something like this: "What could I create/find out that's useful/which I would want/which anyone else would want/which I would want to know?" and I can't find an answer to any of those questions. When I try doing it the other way round, it's the same: "What am I good at/do I like doing? Ok, I like programming. But I can't just get a compiler and mess around. So I'll code something I'll like - but what?" And I'm back at the first question.

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I can relate to alot to the problem you've described here. Going through school messed me up pretty bad many years ago, and now that i've started studying again i'm sometimes facing the same problems. I think you have gotten some really good advice here, some of which i'm going to think through very carefully myself. I don't have much to add to it, except one little thing:

You need to stop your self-destructive habits right away. Even though this is a symptom of your problem it is only making matters worse for you. Think about what you are doing to your own psychology when you treat yourself badly day in and day out. Do you think this will make it easier to help you find that positive drive to move forward and feel happy again? I think it's more likely to pull you deeper down.

I suggest you start with getting some sound sleeping habits. Make sure you get up early in the morning, and make sure you always plenty of time to get ready for the day and have a nice breakfast. Make it a point to always have good start on your day. It doesnt take alot, just take time to enjoy the early morning with a nice breakfast, read the paper and listen to some good music. Then finish with getting cleaned, groomed and dressed - even if you don't plan on going anywhere.

Treat yourself to the good things in life. Maybe you could buy yourself some new clothes and top it off with a nice cologne, just to enjoy the feeling of looking your best and always have a fresh scent. Make sure to eat well and ejoy the taste of food, and a little now and then you can go out to nice resturaunts and café's just for the sake of enjoying yourself. If you feel bored you can go out for a walk or sit down in a café with a good book. You may also want to consider exercising on a regular basis.

Personally I have developed small rituals I like to perform. Every morning I got a set of clean clothes ready, I always take the time to atleast enjoy a good cup of coffee before I leave the house, and before I leave I make sure every little detail is set(down to fixing my nails and what fragrance suits my clothes and/or mood). If I have work to do when I get home I try to make sure my workspace is clean and orderly. I find that all of these little things make me more focused and disciplined, and besides it's alot more difficult to come up with poor excuses not to do something(like "oh, the house is so messy - I better clean things up first" or "i'm just going to take long hot shower before I get started").

Once you enjoy the little things in life and once you develop some good routines I think you will find that the bigger, more important, things come more easily. However, this will not solve the problem - just make it easier. Also, do not apply it as a way of buying or faking a false sense of self-esteem, just recognize the importance of taking care of yourself in order to do good in life.

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I don't think I understand fully. What exactly in my behaviour would make trying to achieve a goal involve suffering? When I go climbing, there ARE moments which I can enjoy, and those are the reason I still do it. It's just that with most activities, it's very rare that I have those moments. And I can't really think of anything where it isn't like that.

But from what I understand from you, you do those things anyway. It's great if you feel like climbing, and then you go and do it. It's not good, if you don't feel like doing something, and force yourself to do it anway and then most of the time you don't even enjoy it. While I don't know enough about you to conclude this is what you do most of the time, the advice still stands, and if it's applicable or not to you is up to you.

My point was to train yourself to act from enjoyment and positive motivation, not from fear, guilt and duty.

I also believe that this is a good advice. Especially the highlighted (and crucial) part is something I've always left out when trying to define goals. However, it still doesn't work. Maybe I'm just not taking the right approach, but it always leads to something like this: "What could I create/find out that's useful/which I would want/which anyone else would want/which I would want to know?" and I can't find an answer to any of those questions. When I try doing it the other way round, it's the same: "What am I good at/do I like doing? Ok, I like programming. But I can't just get a compiler and mess around. So I'll code something I'll like - but what?" And I'm back at the first question.

You can make a list of things you have done and enjoyed and made you proud. The first step is to find out what you like doing (not what others will like to buy or want).

Once you have a list of past accomplishments, try to find what you like about them. For instance, try to explain to yourself what you like about programming.

And just analyze to discover what is the right thing for you as a long term goal. Look at concrete cases and go from there.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Video games can offer a substitute purpose, one which is easily achieved (relative to a rewarding career or academic success) and therefore offers a more certain guarantee of a feeling of achievement. I struggle with this myself when I'm taking a class I'm not really interested in; my addictive behavior re video games always gets worse and I have to carefully control it. The same could be said of purposelessly surfing the internet: it's goal-directed action that can give you a sense of achievement without the substance. As such, both behaviors are more a symptom than a problem in themselves, and should be recognized as such.

I've had personal experience relapsing into habitual video game playing during spells of boredom in my life as well. Usually about halfway through the semester after the grind of midterms. There is achievement in many things, but you have to consider why you desire this achievement. If your goal is to "have a good time" then by all means continue to pursue the hobby, but if after rationally considering your values you find that other things are more important to you the video game hobby will likely fall to the way side.

Edit: I would also like to add that DaveOdden's advice is excellent and I wish I had read the advice about 5 years ago.

Edited by dhthomps
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What is it?

What is it, that keeps me from cleaning my room? What is it, that keeps me from studying for university and makes me do nothing at all instead?

[...]

What is it?

What are you majoring in, and what do you want to do with your degree?

I can tell you that I'm a college student and I've been struggling with the same things you have (my room's a mess, haven't been waking up on time for classes, etc). I only recently (as in yesterday) decided I needed to get my act together, and it was only after I realized that I don't want to major in Literary Studies, but I want to get an Arts & Performance degree and write for TV and Film.

Make sure you feel that you have a purpose for being there at school, and it'll become easier.

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Hey,

now that the new semester has begun, and physics has started, along with a few tests, I have a lot of work to do and feel much better now. My room's still a mess and I still haven't finished Atlas Shrugged, but I'm OK with that for now, because now I'm actually doing something. I have also reduced videogaming to a minimum and I'm standing up much earlier.

I don't know exactly why I can do that now. I did not conciously define any long-term goals. I think it's simply because for the start I seem to like physics.

However I've thought a lot about the problem itself and I think that by asking for my 'IT', I'm asking for the cause(s) and nature of 'evasion'. It's a concept of objectivism I do not understand fully. Why do people evade? Simply because there is a lack of purpose? Or maybe also because sometimes they're afraid of failure? Why is there a lack of purpose? Why are they afraid of failure? In Atlas Shrugged, Rand seems not to even ask these questions - until the point of the book where I am, she simply puts them in the 'evil-evader-box' but doesn't ask for causes.

Also: When does someone start to evade? Isn't any unproductive form of enjoyment evasion? Watching TV is always an escape from reality, to a certain extent, but when does it become evasion? And there's so much more - food, video games, alcohol, drugs in general, every form of procrastination, even sex - everything can be used or done in an unproductive way, only to evade certain thoughts and escape reality - is all of that 'evil' in the objectivist's point of view? A possible answer could be, "yes, it is evil, if you do it the way you said." But then again, how could one say exactly when the point of evasion is reached? Then again, a possible answer could be "you have to decide that individually, if you do something, and feel or know that you're doing it because of evasion, stop doing it." But that opens up other problems: first of all it's not a rational answer - it applies to feelings. Also, how could objectivists possibly judge other people and say they're evil, when they evade, if evasion is only defined by yourself, by your own feelings?

If there is another topic that answers some of my questions, I'd be glad if you could provide the link, and of course I'm always happy for answers.

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I registered in order to share here.

I am in the same boat as Mr.Cloogshicer, and Alfa, or at least in the same body of water.

I went through Highschool getting ok (85-98 range) marks by doing as little as possible. I say that this resulted in a poor work ethic, but that isn't necessarily true. If given a project, I would often receive a mark of 100 (or, in some cases, 105)% because I enjoy projects; they give me a chance to create something as opposed to doing drone work.

As another support, I joined the army, which takes at least a little bit of work.

However, I still feel the same way about things I do currently. I am currently in an Engineering program and I am working about the same amount as I did in highschool (relative to the difficulty, anyways).

I have found that it is not the work that is the problem, it is the content. For instance, if I stay the course marks-wise, I will receive an A+ in physics which interests me, yet I currently hope to get a B in chemistry, which I despise.

That being said, I am still counterproductive in the rest of my courses, including physics. I avoid work, I procrastinate, and in the end feel a self loathing for it. This is a terrible thing to do. I always try to jump-start my motivation again by pursuing something other than my homework, like reading books on the topics I wish to study, or by working towards some life goal (ie: being as fit as Bruce Lee, and playing like Hendrix).

These activities however, can only last so long before my homework catches up with me, and steals away my enjoyment.

The problem lies in the fact that I am not working directly on what I value in school. I am working towards it yes, and my courses are necessary to achieve what I want, but they are not what I want, and thus seem more like a bother than a necessity. Without direct achievement of some value of mine, I feel apathetic. I dont care about my current studies because they don't deal with what I love directly. The getaways of exercise, and playing guitar with my friends are short bursts that keep me from losing my mind. They are things that I want to spend more time on, because they are something I value.

In short, for Mr.C, I believe that the root of your apathy is the same as mine. You say now that you enjoy physics, and it helps you out of the slump. Surround yourself, in your spare time, with all that you value, as I do playing guitar, reading about robotics and neuroscience (The eventual field in which I wish to study), or simply relaxing and playing Halo with my friends. If you don't yet know your purpose (you are in early university, almost no one knows) find small things that you like, and build them together.

Edit: also I would like to thank Grames and Ifat for posting those excerpts, they were absolutely terrific.

Sorry for the length.

Edited by 3ngineer
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There is something about school itself that makes it unpleasant but I don't think that is discussed in Objectivist circles. I think the key might be to learn to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. To enjoy each step of the process that gets you to the goal. I have no idea how to do this myself, but it does seem to make sense. It was something I was able to do in my early years.

Edited by Jill
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  • 5 months later...

Now, half a year after opening this topic and a lot of experiences richer, I'll give you an update on my current situation.

I think I have finally found out what 'it' is. It was, as some of you suggested, a missing purpose or let's say, goals that weren't defined clear enough. I've struggeled a lot lately because in whatever way I tried to define my goals - I never quite started to actually work on them. There was a time when I was very depressed about all that: I thought I wasn't capable of action. I had no trust in anything anymore: neither myself nor anyone or anything else. Once I put myself in a quite dangerous situation, I was ill and did something which I shouldn't have done. It worsened my condition. I did it because I had told myself that I wasn't really ill and that 'being ill' was just a lame excuse for staying in bed and being lazy.

I'm now starting to gain confidence once more. I have realized that I can interprete my feelings quite well and that I'm pretty good at recognizing my false rationalizations.

Back to what 'it' is: I have realized that when defining goals, until now I have always left an extremely important element out of consideration: time! When I have tried to define goals, I always thought about how to achieve them and what effort it would take to reach that goal. Then I already went on thinking about whether it would pay off, without conciously taking into consideration how long it would take to achieve the goal. I'm sure I did think about a rough time estimate unconciously though. I think that unconscious estimate was a pretty good one too - and that unconscious knowledge about how long it would take me to achieve that goal actually prevented me from reaching it - because I didn't want to wait that long!

I have now found out that taking time conciously into consideration changes everything: the mere though of an achievement with a pretty good estimate is much much nicer. I even noticed that I am ready and willing to double my effort if the time until results of my work can be seen decreases. I have never been lazy and my goals were never the wrong ones: I'm just very impatient! Now that I know that, it's only a technical thing about how to specify a time estimate for certain achievements. So the purpose of this thread is fulfilled, which is why i wrote this reply.

Thanks again for your replies and sorry for my English, I think it got a bit rusty since I'm out of school. :-)

Edited by Mr. Cloogshicer
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