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Living an Iterative Life

I was out with a friend last night and she told me about her border-hopping childhood. She moved from country to country with her family from a very young age.

She told me that although it was tough to leave her friends behind, it was also liberating because when she arrived in a new location she could be anybody.

If she was a geek before, she could be a popular girl.

If she was super-social before, she could become a bookworm.

If she was picked-on before, she could become a bully.

She had free-reign to experiment with herself and her life as she saw fit (as much as someone that young can, at least).

No matter how into personal development you are, no matter how many books you’ve read on the subject and seminars you’ve been to, it’s difficult to change your life in any real way when you’re surrounded by the relationships and artifacts of your past.

Your habits keep you walking a straight path: the path you were on when you started them.

Your friends and family — well-meaning as they might be — will subconsciously keep you from changing in any major way or with any frequency because it’s human nature to want to categorize and compartmentalize. Your changes will make them uncomfortable once they feel they’ve got you all figured out. They’ll worry over what your changes represent.

Your home and the food you eat and the people you see and the route you take to work or the library or the post office and the journal you write in and the background image on your computer’s desktop and the phrases you say and the movies theaters you frequent and everything about your life is set up to keep things steady and linear, moving you forward quickly toward a destiny of sorts. A destiny that is tough to change.

A subtle and constant status quo can be a very comfortable prison.

But it’s possible to instigate change in your life, and iterative thinking helps.

Iterative thinking works like this: instead of viewing time as one long continuum, you see it as a series of segments. Each segment is modular and changeable, and happiness or sadness or frustration in one doesn’t mean the same will be true in another. A new segment means a completely new lifestyle. A new opportunity to try again with different tactics, along with the knowledge you accumulated the last time around.

This is how I see my life, and it’s been a huge advantage personally and professionally.

My iterations were once quite long in duration. When I was very young, for instance, it took me over a decade to dramatically change anything about myself. From birth to age 14 or so, I was pretty much the same ol’ Colin.

Then they got a little closer together. From high school to college I made a great big change, which was instigated by my move away from my home town for school. In those few years I made as much of a change to my lifestyle as I had in the previous 14.

When I moved to LA, my iterations shifted into overdrive.

The first year I was there (working for someone else) was one segment, and running my own studio was another. From that point on the changes became mine to control because I took responsibility for my personal well-being and financial stability. I chose to upend both to see what would happen.

The benefits were immediate. Now I move all the time and there is very little in my life that is structured, habitual, or expected.

I’ve positioned myself to benefit from new iterations much more frequently, and in doing so I’ve been able to set up a lifestyle that I’m thrilled to live and have become a person that I’m thrilled to be.

I’m increasingly more philosophically, intellectually, recreationally, and physically fulfilled, and I credit this to the fact that I’m able to try out so many different lifestyles in a short amount of time.

Think of it in terms of biological evolution. Nature gets great results and can accomplish really amazing things because it goes through millions of generations to see what works and what should be filtered out.

The more iterations you can go through, the more likely it is that you’ll find an ideal lifestyle that makes getting up every morning a pleasure, not a task.

If you’re stuck and don’t know how to make a positive change, opt for a new location, job, relationship status, whatever. Anything you can do to shake things up is the right move, because it will allow you to move on to that next segment.

Iterations are only as useful as they are dynamic, and being yourself can lose its luster if you know exactly what to expect and there’s no end in sight.

Shake your life up and surprise yourself with what you know.

Update: February 2, 2017

It strikes me now that this reads as if there’s no value to stability and consistency, which wasn’t what I intended to say.

Rather than those periods of stability and consistency are valuable, but when you shake things up, you’re providing yourself with the excuse to change what needs change, to upgrade what needs upgrading, and perhaps bring about a whole swathe of new habits and relationships and everything else to your life.

I hear from a lot of people who are struggling because they find themselves in a moment of time that just seems to go on forever. They don’t know where they’re headed, they don’t know how they got where they are. They want to be excited and inspired again, but don’t know how. These are teenagers, twenty- and thirty-sometimes, and even folks in their sixties. It’s a universal thing, when we go long enough without some kind of evolution-inspiring catalyst.

And the idea I wanted to make is that we can be that catalyst. We can spark the reaction that will allow everything to shift, so that we have new things to learn, to habits to try out, new people to meet, and so on. If we choose to, that is. Because there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of your last shift, whenever that might have happened.