As part of my self-improvement project I’ve given myself the task of writing something more meaningful than just status updates on my blog. I thought I’d start off my midsummer’s resolution by writing a bit about the joys of chaos.
For the past weeks I’ve been reading a book called The LifeLong Activist and, despite its title, only a little bit of it is directed specifically towards activism. Most of the methodology and advice talked about in the book is about general rules that you can apply to your life in order to achieve your goals. It’s a bit like Getting Things Done, except that the GTD method approaches things from a classical perspective and the Lifelong Activist is a bit more romantic. For more info on classic versus romantic I highly recommend the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“.
The activist book talks a lot about defining your life’s goals, creating a plan of action, budgeting time for it and scheduling tasks to help you achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve. In fact, the book talks about total scheduling, every hour of every day, even your sleep time is planned. Being the chaos lover that I am, I absolutely abhorred that idea, and the person I was discussing this with had a hard time trying to make me accept this method. In fact, I still haven’t quite come around to his methodological way of thinking, although I will admit that planning your time, even putting all the time you have in a spreadsheet, can have a lot of positive effects on your life.
The reason, of course, is that you are then able to freely deviate from that schedule in any way you like! Life’s no fun if everything goes according to plan, and I’m certainly not going to let my schedule tell me when I’m supposed to have my mandatory happy time.
However, consider the opposite. No schedule, no plans. Pure freedom to do whatever you want with your time. Pure chaos? Perhaps, perhaps not. But if you have no schedule then you have nothing to offset yourself against. If chaos is the opposite of order, then if there is no order there can be no chaos.
I’ve got a practical example of this that I can never seem to forget, which is the late night breaks we used to have in Japan. At around midnight or later on a working day we would take a walk towards the nearest convenience store to get some food or a drink, and then leisurely walk back, discussing the finer points of life. At first people thought “NO, THIS IS MADNESS, I WILL NOT GO TO A CONVENIENCE STORE AT NIGHT” (or something with less caps but to a similar effect), but eventually it became the accepted way to spend the occasional evening. And that’s when it got boring.
So we sought out more extremes. Instead of going to a convenience store, going to the riverside, or a ramen shop to enjoy a fabulous midnight ramen. This happened quite regularly in fact, and on some day-of-the-week we would go conbini, an another day we’d have ramen. And suddenly the random activity becomes a scheduled activity. Poof! the fun’s gone.
I, and perhaps other people as well, can find a certain intrinsic value in pure randomness, or pure chaos. The more unlikely an event is to happen, the higher its value. I remember a particular incident while traveling in Europe with a friend on an all-Europe train pass that allowed us to board all trains, including night trains, anywhere in Europe. Our plan was to visit Germany, then go south towards Switzerland. Instead we decided to take a night train to Denmark and jumped across the border to Sweden from there. The next day we were back on schedule (..) to Switzerland. We had no reason to think that Denmark would be any more interesting than Switzerland. If we did, we probably would have planned to go there in advance. Instead it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing, and as a result we’ve got a lot better memories of Denmark than of Switzerland.
Again, this appreciation of Denmark could not have happened had it not been for the schedule. If there was no schedule to deviate from then everything would have equal value, as everything would already be part of the ‘chaos’ plan. Instead, making a schedule and allowing ourselves to deviate from it is what created the fun.
I know a lot of people who stick very rigidly to their carefully designed schedules, but I don’t know a lot of people who truly appreciate the art of deviating from a schedule on purpose. It’s something I highly recommend anyone to try on their next trip. But don’t make a habit out of it, because if it becomes a habit then it becomes schedule-able. You want to have order that allows for a bit of chaos every once in a while.