Life as a joyful optimisation model
Most of us think about optimisation as something machines and services are programmed to do.
When we hit a search button we expect it to display the links that are most relevant to our search terms, when we take public transportation we want it to be as fast as possible and has to get as close to our destination as possible … Factories are built to produce more in as little time as possible, while warehouses are designed to stock more items in as little physical space as possible.
Beyond the physical/mechanical or logical optimisations that we witness daily, I believe that we, as humans — a species that evolved and adapted though the millennia — are somehow hardwired to optimise our lives.
The same way that in some facets of our lives we tend to respond based on our instincts, I believe that we have a natural tendency to organise and optimise our lives.
Possibly the most subtle, but nonetheless obvious, optimisation we tend to do is when it comes relationships. We tend not to content ourselves with just acquaintances, we long for the feeling of acceptance of being part of a group, of always being in telepathic sync with our best friends … even having the concept of best friends — the exceptional folk that make us feel the coolest people in the world. And, of course, our family, the ones we go to when we seek for the comfort and the harmony of the nest, our safest place — even if we don't admit it.
Being an engineer and massive data geek, I was drawn into seeing my life as an optimisation model, i.e., maximising the output of a function based on its inputs.
Living your life with an emphasis on being productive and as efficient as possible — in a healthy, balanced and, specially, non-greedy way — can free you from the stress of superficial matters, and allow you to focus on what really matters to you, to experiment and discover new things about yourself and the world.
The same way we enjoy fast, reliable and high quality services when we go to the bank, the doctor's office or a restaurant, we can use simple techniques such that we can model our lives with a focus on us, the ones around us, and what truly makes us happy.
For instance, work is a massive part of our lives. Everyday we wake up, commute, spend the day at work and we go back home for a few hours of rest, so that we can do it all over again the next day. This apparently simple routine has a lot of inefficiencies that one can try to optimise. One of them is related to where we choose to live: a good way to start optimising our work life is to live as close to our workplace as possible. You don't necessarily have to live in the same block of you workplace but, adjusting your life such that your commute is as short as possible can give you an unimaginable peace of mind, and free time.
We just need to do the math! If our commute takes 1h +/- delays and wait times, that's 2h a day, which accounts for 10h a week and, 40h a month. Imagine having an extra 40h a month to do whatever you want to do!
Lately, my optimisation focus has been towards fighting inertia and welcoming back regular physical activity into my life. It took a while to understand what I enjoyed the most, and finally settled with going back to jogging. When I was around 10 or 12 years old, my dad went through a jogging phase that lasted a few years, and naturally, he dragged me along with him. To this day, my fondest childhood memories include climbing trees and "running" (more a mix of walking and running) the 5k every other year. So, it's no surprise that jogging has been intermittently part of my life.
However, this optimisation implied that I had to optimise another area: time management. I've always been a morning person but, somehow I tended to struggle to wake up early enough to run for a decent amount of time, and get ready to go to work.
A combination of not drinking too much coffee — or none altogether — eating healthier and in smaller portions, and going to bed early has proven to be the way to go, at least for me.
The process is starting slowly, by running twice week, letting my body — and specially my mind — to adjust to this new element in my routine. The initial fear was that I was tiring myself early in the morning and thus, there was a chance that I would be less productive throughout the day. My rational side knew that several scientific studies had proven that regular exercise boosts our mood and energy but, of course, my lazy brain just wanted to stay in bed for another 5 minutes!
When set ourselves to optimise something it's fundamental to have a clear goal, which we can easily put into words and, most importantly, quantify.
To me, the goal is getting to the point where running is completely integrated in my life, such that running everyday comes as naturally as walking and talking.
Quantifying this optimisation comes with paying attention to the impact of the activity itself: how I feel in the days that I go out for a run. Do I feel exhausted during the day? Does my body ache? Do I sleep better at night?
And also, paying attention to how I feel while I'm running: if I struggle to keep a consistent pace? Do I have trouble breathing or feel physical pain?
Being able to see my body adapting and evolving with a new habit is something that truly fascinates me, and motivates me to continue to invest myself into running. At the end of each day, I feel that I was able block some time for myself without disrupting my other daily activities and it has a positive ripple effect: I'm more focused, calm and energised.
The most amazing part of optimising one's life is that it's truly personalised — you're the one in control. We all have different tastes, interests, aspirations, goals and should create our optimisation model as it best suits our lives.
Thanks for reading!