Conor Haining

Thinking about Lightbulbs

I’m often in awe at the people who I see who from the outside just seem to be capable everything. I’m talking about people who complete a limitless number of activities: they write blog posts, socialise with friends, work out multiple times a week, run business, have side projects, many other things, and still manage to work full time jobs.

I appreciate I’m not seeing the full picture of these people, but I do wonder how they fit it all in. I’m personally guilty of overcommitting myself and burning myself in small ways. The metaphor I’ve been using to rein myself is by picturing myself as a 9V battery, and experiments from my high school physics classes.

The battery represents me; the summation of all the possible time and energy I have available to do anything and everything. This is a fixed value over time, and it does not change. Second, there are a set of lightbulbs. The lightbulbs represent all the commitments, obligations, tasks, and activities you do in your live. Everything from your full time job, to cooking healthy meals, to watching a new Netflix series, or attending a night class.

Now, if I remember my physics well. In a series circuit, the voltage across a component is the total voltage of the power source divided by the number of components. That’s to say; in a circuit with fewer lightbulbs, each built will glow brighter, and in circuits with many lightbulbs, they will glow dimmer.

Now it’s not a perfect metaphor, in real life, each of this light bulbs are individually dimmable. Nor is their brightness constant with time as we want and need to be flexible in our lives. For instance there may be a week where I find myself spending a lot of time cooking, but because it’s all in batch, the following week (or even weeks) I am not doing so much. I believe this is precisely the strength in this metaphor. Being able to review my lightbulbs and say “well, this one has been brighter than usual but that one has been totally off” and then redirecting some energy away to the off bulb if that’s what I want.

It’s worth pointing out that lightbulbs are also attached to the things you don’t necessarily want to do such as doom scrolling Twitter or cleaning my flat. Similarly I think this metaphor can be used to keep down negative lightbulbs such as doom scrolling by making an effort to keep other ones brighter. Personally I’ve replaced scrolling Twitter and Reddit by playing Factorio.

I am also using it as a way to not feel guilty about what I am not doing right now. It helps me recognise that while I may not have read much of a book this week, I’ve been able to get to the gym a bit more. I’ve still to figure out how to structure it, but I believe more periodically reviewing what lightbulbs shine at what brightness can help me course correct for my larger goals.

I’ve long thought about this metaphor but it’s only recently that I’m going to try and harness it to keep myself accountable. I’ve never believed in new year resolutions but this year I’m thinking about lightbulbs.