Rabbit Holes - How Not To Fall Into One

Some days back, my brain woke me up at 2 AM and out of nowhere, I started googling about 9/11 attacks with no previous context of it, whatsoever. After reading whatever I could on my phone in my bed, I slept in late and the next day, I googled the best books about 9/11. After finishing reading the book The Looming Tower(which is brilliant!), reading through every click of the 9/11 wiki page, watching insane amount of YouTube videos, boring everyone at my home by explaining all this overflowing information - one fine day, I woke up with completely erased context of it. I was free to pursue my life.

This is just one example and reading back through my journals, I find myself going through such phases often. I feel the need to slap the giddy past-me back to senses, back to reality. 

A rabbit hole. Infinitely nested Russian dolls. A black hole.

Down the rabbit hole
Down the rabbit hole

Getting to know new things is great, but not when it becomes an unhealthy obsession- that sidetracks your actual priorities. The worst rabbit holes are the ones that make you feel that you are on the right track, that this rabbit hole is a crucial part of your actual goal - like research. Rabbit holes are the nightmares of every procrastinator. It's not just the need to avoid the actual task, but also the addiction(dopamine rush from distractions) that keeps taking the procrastinators again and again through one or the other rabbit hole.

I always wondered how world class champions maintain their singlemindedness consistently over several years. Yes, they are obsessed with their actual task itself. But apparently environment plays a major factor in shaping many that way. Some of them have someone close in their family in the same field, who could inspire and guide them from very young age. Some excel at it at young age, that they are thrusted into an environment of competitive top performers - who all share the same passion and skills. 

More than the top class education, what top universities offer is a pool of like minded people - the collective context is always aligned with the actual goals. Call it peer pressure or rat race, but it's tough to break the context, when it's everywhere around you. It gets scary to slow down, to get side tracked when everyone else is moving fast. This is the reason why we have boarding schools and Kota factories(as much as I hate them), keeping the kids in the same mental context/state/flow. There's no other world/rabbit hole beyond it. This also reminds me about how suicide bombers are kept isolated in their own camp apart from the other training camps of terrorists, speaking to no one(from The Looming Tower).

One major problem with complete immersion is having a mental breakdown, one fine Monday morning. This is also quoted as one of the reasons to choose incremental learning over aggressive learning. But sometimes, we don't have the luxury of time, to learn incrementally. 

Environment is not the whole and sole reason for reaching your goals, but it could be a major factor to keep you in the context of your goals, to keep you away from the rabbit holes. But we don't always get to have such collective context or healthy competitiveness from peers to improve ourselves. When you are alone in your pursuit of goals and fall in to rabbit holes, they may seem like the actual goals. Your mind flips it's context. You don't know that you have side stepped often. Even if you realize that you are spiraling down into a rabbit hole, it's tough to pull off your obsessed mind from it.

Yesterday, I spent about four hours on Harshad Mehta and woke up to find my brain craving to read Scam. (It's not just me, Scam series is found to have increased the curiosity of the nation to get financially educated.) The only reason I paused for a minute is because, I realized just recently that my 9/11 research had been a rabbit hole and I immediately realized that this will be one if I start digging more.

This is a bigger problem that is spread across any procrastinator's life, be it avoidance or addiction. It will keep happening without you even realizing it. 

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

  • Identify and accept that you have a problem. Write down a list of all the rabbit holes you fell into. Analyze your own fallacies and the kind of traps you fall into. Identify the patterns.
  • Set up a system - What precautions can you take, when you are falling into a potential rabbit hole? Switch off all notifications. Block all distractions. Follow Pomodoro with short boxed up time to focus on goal.
  • Prime your environment to focus on your goals. Have different environment/spot for different activities(work/fun). 
  • Create a virtual bubble around you. Join online groups, participate in contests, keep yourself updated and in loop with your actual goals.
  • A vision board or at least a big visual cue can help in reminding you what the actual priority is.
  • Don't fall into research trap. Time box it. 80/20 Principle- Look at the big picture, identify the 20% that can contribute to 80% progress.
  • Take help from someone to remind you when you fall into a rabbit hole. You won't realize that you are fixating on something.
  • Get aggressive with your long pending goals and get incremental with the other things - make them just a short break from your routine.
To all the fellow procrastinators, may be, don't follow the white rabbit even if it gets "curiouser and curiouser".



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