The Qualified Self

Mark MacKay
Dec 16, 2014 · 3 min read

A year ago I felt burned out and decided I needed to take a break from client work. I’d work for myself doing the kind of projects I enjoyed. I’ve always been self motivated and and I had enough in my bank account to finance a sabbatical equivalent.

Soon I stumbled into a profound depression. The difference between my high and my low was so intense I felt a desperate need to climb out of this shit. I know most people simply learn to deal with it, but I tried everything under the book to feel better: exercise, keep yourself and your house clean, be social, meditate, be grateful, practice virtue, keep a diary and such.

To keep my goals on track I started with something akin to todo-lists, I passed through various iterations, this is an early version:

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Top graph is daily weight, bottom graph are virtues practiced each day.

Pretty soon the binary format proved limiting. Some days you exercise briefly, others you want to cut yourself some slack. I discovered many tasks could not be completed in a binary fashion, there was a qualitative feel to it. I also noticed my mood affected my capacity to complete my daily goals just as much as completing them improved it.

I stumbled across Benjamin Franklin’s diary and was surprised to see that he beat me to this solution by more than 300 years. I was relieved to be in good company.

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Franklin’s 13 virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, clean, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humily

I noticed many things of myself during this period. The most important aspect is that I cannot control myself, if I set myself to “not smoke today” I will rebel against myself and do it. But I can exercise and forget about smoking in the next six hours.

I have periods when I’m just plain lazy. I look at the chart and I think “I don’t care” and I enjoy the evening however I want. I don’t fret about it unless it’s been several days in a row. If I don’t pay attention to my log soon my schedule goes bonkers and I am in danger of being sucked into the vortex of darkness. I have learned how to avoid it.

This is the latest incarnation of my daily log:

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Each day is a 4 × 4 grid. I started out with this idea:

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It worked great for depression, but once you phase out of depression some practices become completely transparent and no longer take any willpower to complete. You don’t need reminders to pick up after yourself or to brush your teeth, for example.

You drop these and start adding areas of growth. You might want to learn to play an instrument, or get along better with your children, pursue an artistic endeavor, work on a sideproject, whatever crosses your mind.

I will eventually turn this into an app, but I share this because it was crucial tool in my recovery and it’s very easy to implement with pen and paper. Just take it easy on yourself.

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