Monday 1 April 2013

All-or-nothing thinking

Recently my Internet contact +Keith J Davies announced he was going to try the A-Z challenge in April; it was the first time I'd heard of it, and I commented that at my usual rate of posting it would be the end of the decade before I could write 26 posts. Actually, at 13 posts since April 15, 2011, not including this one, it would be April 2015, but I wasn't in a geekish enough mood to calculate before I commented.

I thought about it overnight and decided to try. I could have chosen just to make this announcement (calling the post "A-Z Challenge" or "April" perhaps) but then I realized I could talk about why I don't blog much. It's not so much that I have nothing to say as that I'm hampered by all-or-nothing thinking.

Wikipedia says the term means the same as "Splitting" -- thinking in terms of absolutes, everything being black-and-white without any grey; it's related to the logical fallacy of the false dilemma. With me it's a little more subtle. I've got three university degrees, which gave me a lot of exposure to multiple viewpoints. I've done a moderate amount of software development, which is full of tradeoffs between competing alternatives. A couple of times I've mediated in disputes, helping people find common ground.  I taught university-level Computing Science for 16 years and for pedagogical reasons got used to looking for some kernel of "right" in a student's "wrong" answer. Intellectually I'm more inclined to look for commonalities between two viewpoints than to pick one or the other. Indeed, I've occasionally been subject to "analysis paralysis" -- having a hard time making choices between the multiple alternatives I've seen.

I've come to realize it's not an intellectual problem; it's an emotional one. It's hard to get started with something if I can't see a way to finish it. It's hard to start cleaning up clutter, for example, when the task looks bigger than I can cope with in a few days: the only alternatives are "finish quickly" or "don't start." It seems pointless to write the next blog if I can't see how to keep it up for weeks on end: "write lots" or "write nothing." It's hard to post a draft blog if it isn't "perfect."

Well, in the months since my last blog posts, I joined Google+ and started following several gamer contacts; it was my first direct exposure to any sort of modern social medium. I found lots of things worth reading, but lots of things I wanted to skip. I came to realize many people don't expect all your posts to be top-of-the-line, as long as you post something a little bit interesting once in a while.

I also realized a blog titled "Geekitude" doesn't always have to be about some clearly geekish topic; it just has to be about what one particular geek things about things.

That's why I'm starting this April challenge. I can see the end of the month approaching. I can see what to write for some of the letters. And, for today at least, I can manage to tell myself the posts don't have to be perfect.


  1. It's hard to get started with something if I can't see a way to finish it.

    Curiously, I have the opposite -- once I see how something can be finished, I tend to lose interest and need some kind of impetus in to encourage me to finish. Once I see a solution, the problem no longer attracts me.

    Sometimes that's the usual (money), sometimes it's accolade from my peers, sometimes it's just something that must be done... but I often need something to get me over that last hump.

  2. I didn't actually realise you were doing these or I would have been reading as we went along... well, better late than never I guess!

    1. Not much to catch up on. Rereading this article reminds me that I told myself that, if I got too stuck, I'd skip a few letters.