The 60-40 Problem

I think a lot about a dynamic I've dubbed the "60-40 problem". Roughly speaking: if, on average, 40% of me wants to do something and 60% of me doesn't, I will almost never do it. Naively I would have expected the "how much I want to do X" distribution to be very similar to the "how often I do X" distribution, but in practice that isn't the case at all.

This dynamic turns out to be responsible for most things I want to change about my life, and also many of the things I like!

Why does this even happen?

It's worth understanding why this is true. And it's actually pretty simple! If I only partly want to do something, but mostly don't, then I won't do it. If that is always the case -- that is, I always have an inkling that I want to do something but it's never enough to overcome the activation energy threshold for that activity -- then it will just never happen.

Naturally, my level of interest and excitement for a given activity fluctuates over time. Here I'm speaking in averages. It's also interesting to realize that many of my occasional hobbies (chess, guitar, art, running, and many others) are the results of this natural fluctuation: for the most part I'm under 50% wanting to do them at any given time, so I almost never do. Then occasionally my interest floats up for a few days, weeks, or months and they suddenly become regular fixtures in my life. And then, of course, I regress to the mean.

Other thoughts

There's a lot to be said about the self-sustaining nature of interest: doing something more frequently tends to increase my perceived enjoyment of it, which leads to doing it more. Maybe that'll be the subject of another post.

It's also worth adding that this is a massive oversimplification. At any given time my choices are not "do activity X or don't," but rather "pick one of the myriad of options before you." But the 60-40 framework has proven useful to help me understand why some things seem to just not happen as often as I would expect them to, and why I surprise myself by doing some other things far more frequently than I would think.