Low Frequency, High Amplitude

For my final installment expanding on D7's Somewhat Cryptic Advice for Better Living, I'm going to talk about priorities and focus.

Low Frequency, High Amplitude

My musician friends will probably assume "Low frequency, high amplitude" is an ode to bass guitar. While the bass is one of my favorite instruments, like my other somewhat-cryptic advice, the saying is metaphorical and isn't really about music. Unless you want it to be.

In a previous post, I espoused the idea that in life, almost everything in which you control the amount has an perfect amount and that amount is worthy of due consideration. I also wrote about having a sense of ownership and genuine care for the outcomes of the things that you do.

These are statements about the importance of quality. I believe that when you do these things, you end up with experiences and outcomes that are meaningful, long lasting, and deeply satisfying.

One obvious problem is with these tenets is that applying them to everything you might need or desire would be very difficult if for no other reason than time. Commitment and thoughtful consideration is a huge obligation in time! How does one do these things in a world that is so full of possible activities, responsibilities, vocations, avocations, and distractions?

Low frequency, high amplitude – that's how. Low frequency, high amplitude is really a strategy that enables you to practice perfect tempo and owning it without burn-out.

If you're going to commit to quality, then you must also commit to managing quantity. I maintain that it's more satisfying to do fewer things really well than it is to do a whole bunch of things in a half-assed way.

In photography, there's an approach called "spray and pray" where photographers take huge numbers of photos in the hopes that a few of them are actually good. Digital photography encourages this approach because taking 10 photos costs no more in physical resources than taking one. Sometimes spray-and-pray is the best approach to photographing an event because the action is so fast and unpredictable. For example, if you're shooting a basketball game, firing off a stream of photos increases the odds that you capture that split-second, perfect moment in time in a slam dunk. But that's not always the case, and more importantly there's a steep price to this approach that may not be obvious: One, to take a lot of photos of a single event, you have to work extremely fast and that's not conducive to getting an ideally exposed, nicely framed, storyteller of a picture. Lots of professional photographers have discovered that slowing down and considering their shots before they click the shutter improves their success rates and they get better photos. In fact, one of the reasons photographers still like working with film is because the expense and effort involved forces them to do exactly that. Another downside to spray-and-pray is that you have more photos to sift through and edit to get to the keepers. Spray-and-pray essentially defers thoughtful consideration and commitment to the editing process. In some cases that may be a good thing to do, but you are also piling up a ton of work for that editing process. It's especially problematic if you shoot a lot and it will have a negative impact on your time and energy to shoot more.

Another analogy: The US military phased out fully automatic rifles in favor of guns that do limited bursts of 2 or 3 bullets. A fully automatic weapon is the spray-and-pray of infantry combat. (Actually, I imagine the term "spray and pray" originated from the military, not photography.) Studying the Vietnam war, the military figured out that fully automatic weapons wasted enormous amounts of ammunition and resulted in poor combat performance of troops.

I'm not always the best practitioner, but I advocate choosing carefully what you do, and how often you do it, in order to give yourself the time necessary to do those chosen things at a high level of quality. Limit your number of responsibilities, possessions, hobbies, etc. to the ones that are really important to you so that you have the time to do them well. Also consider limiting the number of times you do your chosen activities so that they can be higher quality. Dining out for one good meal, to me, is more satisfying than ten trips to McDonald's. As a blog writer, I usually enjoy writing a small number of meaningful and well-executed posts, than writing a bunch of vacuous and poorly-considered ones. That's one reason I prefer blogging to tweeting.

Outside of work and family, I have three main pursuits: music, photography, and lately, fishing. Three is the limit for me, and one might argue that it's two too many. I end up managing it by changing focus between them from time to time. Currently, I'm very focused on fishing so music and photography have been back-burnered. I'm just not doing much playing and shooting right now. I know I'll return to them because I always do, and when that happens I'll back-burner the fishing. In fact, I'm hot and heavy on it now but the real goal is to get to a level of competence with fishing that I can just do it and not spend so much time learning about it anymore. I'm sure a person could spend a lifetime learning about fishing, but I don't want it to be a life-long learning pursuit in the same way that music and photography are for me. I just want to reach a level of reasonable competence and then be a happy amateur practitioner. But I'm still building up to that level of competence, so for now I'm spending most of my disposable time fishing or studying up on fishing.

I just bought a kayak, which runs the danger of spreading my time even thinner, but I'm deliberately limiting my interest in kayaking to that required to fish only. I don't want to become a kayaking expert, I just want to acquire enough knowledge and skill to fish effectively (and safely) from a little plastic boat. In other words, I'm intentionally moderating the quality of my kayaking. It may turn out that I'm still spreading my time too thin. But I'm continually thinking about how to manage my life to keep the quality level high on the things I really care about.

So there you have it. Three now-not-so-cryptic pieces of advice for better living. I hope you get something out of it.