Zerø Wind Jamie Wong

The Pit, the Cabin, and the Dance Floor

Okay, Jamie, you’re in the pit again. It’s far from your first stay here, but let’s not get too comfortable. There’s a distinct lack of roses here to stop and smell. Mostly just thorns.

I know it’s not easy. Your body is lead. Your mind is in a slow, murky swirl. Your emotional energy level is at about a 3%.

Let’s go through your move list and take stock.

Move #277: Reach out to a close friend to talk? Sounds promising in net energy, but looks like the activation energy is more like a 10% if you have to be the one to reach out. Rough. Looks like we’ve got to go way down the activation energy list here to gain some ground.

Move #86: Clean your room maybe? Ah, closer, but that sounds more like a 5% kind of task. There’s just so much stuff to clean up. Seems like a lot of work.

Move #435: Read social media? Only requires 1% activation energy! Great! Start reading, I’ll check back in 30.

Hey, Jami — Oh… I see. You’re still in bed, just… just staring at the ceiling. Cooooool.

Let’s get your energy reading. 2%?! You went down a percent? Huh. Guess I didn’t look at the net energy prediction for that social media binge too carefully. Not great.

I’m not even sure what moves exist down here. Obviously the social media move is still there, but that didn’t go so well, so let’s explore some other options.

Let’s see, let’s see. Damn, most of the standard options are just totally out of range right now. Move #451: Read a book, needs 20% activation. Move #555: Go to the gym, needs 15%.

How ab — oh good you’re listening to music now. Wait. Wait, what music is this. Oh.

Move #393: Listen to music that reminds you of your exes. Requirement: 1%. Well, I guess that’s a marginal improvement from staring at the ceiling.

It’s… it’s working? I wouldn’t say you look happy exactly, but the meter says 5%!

Holy shit folks, he’s left the bed! 👏

Dang you’ve got your combo rolling now. #86: Clean your room. Done. Yield: +2%. #222: Shower. Done. +1%. #16: Water your plant. +1%. Boom. You’ve got some momentum. Meter reads 9%.

Your general vibe reads melancholy but I can see a dim life-is-worth-living glint in your eyes if I look past the dark circles.

After you make your morning smoothie and rewatch an episode of Fullmetal Alchemist (Brotherhood, of course), you’re at a cool 11% energy. I think I even saw you smile briefly. Time for you to plan ahead a little. Let’s revisit #277: Reach out to a friend to talk.

You can do it Jamie, just pick some people and fire off a couple of messages. “You free for dinner tonight?” That’s it. These are people that’ve known you for years. Nothing to fear here.

Ahhh you’re back in bed, huh? Glued to Reddit. 7% and… falling. Friends all already have dinner plans and you kicked yourself for not making plans earlier? Yeah, we’ve seen this play-by-play before.

Come on dude, let’s go get some sunlight and some groceries. Maybe try #44: Listen to some comedy. I think Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra is on Spotify now.

Okay, okay, now we’re talking! A little bit of laughter, a little bit of Vitamin D glow, and ingredients for a healthy lunch. Let’s get it! This 15% energy reading seems like a great foundation for things to come. You’re a little fragile still, but your options are opening up.

Alright, I’m going to drop that narrative device before it gets too old. The above, second-person narrative fell out of a framework that congealed in my mind today.

In almost all situations, I want to gain emotional energy and spread that to everyone around me. Every action I take has some effect on my energy level. But the effect is also going to depend on what energy level I’m at right now. And some actions are just not reasonably available to me at certain energy levels.

While thinking about specific percentages has a certain charm, spending a lot of time trying to dial in whether something has an expected value of +4% or +6% isn’t really the point of the framework to me. So let’s talk about three ranges of energy I find myself in: the pit, the cozy cabin, and the dance floor.

Area descriptions

The entire story opening this post takes place in the “Everything is Terrible” pit. When I’m in this state, it’s a struggle to do anything. When I’m this low energy, there is zero creative juice flowing. Focus is stolen by mind fog and rumination. Staying in bed feels both inescapable and shameful.

So when I’m in this state, what I need is not something challenging. I need easy wins. I need reminders that I am, in fact, a reasonably competent human capable of enjoyment and basic task completion. For me, this means consuming familiar media like The Anthropocene Reviewed, Key & Peele, and Ali Wong, or just doing really basic maintenance tasks around my apartment like doing laundry.

Transition graph

Once I pull myself out of the pit, I’ve hopefully entered the “Life is Pretty Good” cozy cabin. All things considered, this place is nice. I’ve got some hot chocolate spiked with some Bailey’s in my mug, the fire is crackling, some jazzy Christmas music is playing. This chair is SO. SOFT. I could spend a good long time here without getting sick of it.

From the cozy cabin, whole categories of actions that felt insurmountably challenging start to seem pretty straightforward. I might schedule dinners with friends for the rest of the week, or head to the gym, or take a dance class. And those actions will typically prolong my cabin stay.

But hopefully those actions will also start to unblock a further set of actions: the risky ones that pave the path to the dance floor. If the cabin is the place where I feel at peace, the dance floor is the place where I feel alive.

Almost by definition, the actions leading to the “I AM THE SHIT” dance floor have to be risky. When I’m on this metaphorical dance floor, I’m in a state of supreme confidence that only comes from overcoming some sort of fear.

And by definition of “risk”, sometimes the gamble won’t pay off. I ask someone out and get ghosted. I go to a house party and don’t connect. I take the challenging dance class and totally blank when it’s my turn to perform. When this happens, if I’m lucky, I just get bounced to the cabin. If it goes particularly poorly, I might find myself back in the pit.

I like this model because it acknowledges that the things I need when I’m low energy are very different from what I need when I’m high energy. From the pit, I frequently feel frustrated that the higher energy activities feel out of reach, and I’m hoping that reminding myself of this model will be calming.

By thinking about this model explicitly, I was forced me to write down what I think I need in each of these places. I’m hoping that next time I’m in the pit, I can look at this and use it to help me crawl out a little bit faster.

This is where I’d normally try to put some pithy quotation or closing thought tying the whole thing together, but I’ve got three other posts that are in 90%-completion hell, and I kind of need an easy win today. So I’ll just leave you with a question: what does your pit → cabin → dance floor transition plan look like? Send me a picture, I wanna see!

Thanks to Owen Wang for helping pull me out of the pit tonight and for coaching me how to better season my rice & beans over the phone. I wouldn’t have had the emotional or caloric energy to write this without you.

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Zerø Wind Jamie Wong
Previously Feel those feels January 11, 2019
Up next Tools for Sanity in Isolation April 14, 2020