What are your primary drivers?

Summary: Just say NO to unnecessary maintenance, conspicuous consumption and other secondhander behavior, and…double up on your primary drivers.


Why is your why your why?

Simon Sinek advocates finding your “why,” your purpose. Other philosophers confidently assert that if you have a strong enough reason for achieving a goal, figuring out how to do it is easy.

Cal Newport can tell you how to be the most productive through deep work, while James Clear can teach you all about the power of habits.

I’ve myself repeated endlessly that aiming low, to make sure you get started at all, is key to getting things done.


The question remains, however, exactly what it is you should get done.


I like to think about primarily three categories of activities:

  • Pure maintenance
  • Primary enablers
  • Primary drivers

Pure maintenance refers to securing life and limb, basically putting a roof over your head and food in your belly. It includes cleaning, washing, doing the dishes, buying clothes and groceries, visiting the bank or the post office and so on. Some people spend a lot of time here. Quite a few do it in order to show off a shiny facade to their friends and neighbors.

Avoid getting caught up in a Red Queen chase of constantly upgrading your maintenance activities

Good enough, practical and comfortable,” is my way of taking care of the basics. This is emphatically not a prioritized area for me There’s no reason to buy a bigger house, renovate a kitchen you never use, or buy a new car every five years, unless you spend more time cursing over stuff that doesnt work than you would over the cost of buying new items.

Primary enablers are activities that pull your life forward, creating more opportunities for sustained happiness and meaning (by the way, check out this wonderful talk about happiness vs. meaning).

Writing a book might not be your idea of great fun, but it could put you in a position in the future where you get to hold lectures – and that might be one of your primary drivers. Sometimes you need to feel you’ve made an effort, overcome a challenge etc. to be able to relax and enjoy your primary drivers fully.

Some enablers entail climbing the socioeconomic ladder. They are tools for ensuring sustainable happiness. A certain education or career, or a house in the right place, might give you access to networks that otherwise would be closed off. Interesting, creative and intelligent people use a variety of cues to identify each other. Get the tools for their utility: means not ends.

Everything, however, is about the primary drivers themselves. This is what you live for, this is the source of your true happiness (or meaning, if you prefer that word). What do you like or love doing, feeling, experiencing that you don’t need to show off to others in order to enjoy it?

An influencer takes photos of their food as a tool to get more followers and make more money. Taking photos of their food is their way of putting food on the table, so to speak. You, however, get exactly nowhere by trying to impress people with how good your food looks or how interesting you can make your life seem, by in effect making your eating experience worse.

Posting pictures of food or cultural landmarks like the Eiffel tower, however, isn’t really sharing or caring. It’s bragging, possibly making people feel bad about their own lives, thus making both your and theirs experience worse than if you hadn’t wasted time taking and posting the perfect picture

That ordinary people seek approval for their choice of food, at the cost of letting it go cold or stale, is bordeline tragic. If you like quality restaurant food, buy it and eat it for its intrinsic utility, not to get meaningless likes from strangers.

If you’re only doing it for the likes, and claim likes are one of your primary drivers, you have some soul searching to do. Impressing others is a tool or an enabler if it’s your job; and otherwise a worrisome symptom of emptiness and being hacked by society and clever programmers.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a good book because you want others to feel what you felt when reading it, and to be able to discuss the contents. Sharing is caring, and egotistical in the most profound sense of the word. Posting pictures of food or cultural landmarks like the Eiffel tower, however, isn’t really sharing or caring. It’s bragging, possibly making people feel bad about their own lives, thus making both your and theirs experience worse than if you hadn’t wasted time taking and posting the perfect picture.


Identify what you do and why. Identify tiers of activities, e.g., the three I’ve detailed above, and think hard about how you in practice prioritize between them.

My guess is you’re spending way too much time on maintenance, or empty hedonistic activities (doing what you feel like in the short term, with no regard to what you actually want to do, and want to be able to do).

Scrolling through your newsflow on social media might feel good and make time fly, but actually creating something will feel so much better afterward, and put you in a better position for even more qualitative activities going forward.

Most important of all is finding your primary sources of happiness, the things that make you enjoy yourself, without feeling you encumber your potential for further happiness.

Don’t be that person who claims to dream about painting, creating, building, fishing, relaxing, reading, exercising, climbing mountains, writing, just hanging with friends, travelling etc.; but in practice mostly waste your time at the office, then dutifully go drinking after work beer while checking twitter and texting other friends or arguing with strangers on the Internet.

Stop wasting your time without even knowing you do it. Divide and conquer; categorize and consciously prioritize your activities. Just say NO to unnecessary maintenance, conspicuous consumption and other secondhander behavior, and…

…double up on your primary drivers.

Feelings are ultimately all you have. Your feelings guide you toward your values, and away from losing them. However, you can choose between short term hedonistic lust fulfillment, and achieving a deeper long term sustainable happiness and desire.

The latter is what meaning is, the sum of your feelings. You can only feel what you feel, you value what you value.

You can, of course, (erreneously) choose to go against your feelings, and live a miserable life, but why on Earth would you?

Why substitute your own happiness and values, just to put on a show for others? Unless it’s just whoring out in the short term (can be a positive, despite how it sounds) for a grander purpose, your own long term happiness.

That I can understand. That is tantamount to not have that last drink, in order to feel better tomorrow, or not be gluttonous today, in order to enjoy your healthy body tomorrow: doing what you want, not what you feel like or think others will “like”



  1. «Feelings are ultimately all you have» Never thought about it like that before, very good post.

  2. Four: Time-wasting that serves no purpose beyond momentary “relaxation”, like television, porn, facebook, alcohol, etc. Some amount of relaxation is necessary for most people to avoid a nervous breakdown, but most people get far too much of it because it’s addictive by design.

    Five: Approval seeking. This is most obvious in a lot of things teenagers do, but it’s common enough in adults. We work to impress people who shouldn’t matter to us – strangers, neighbors, perceived authority figures, dead parents. Sometimes what people think are enabling activities fall into this category, like getting a law degree because Daddy did or losing weight to make men slobber.

    I think these two categories, plus maintenance, are what consumes most peoples lives.

    Some activities cross multiple categories. Fixing a leak may be necessary maintenance if you can’t afford a plumber, but the knowledge you acquire is useful regardless (unless you don’t mind being robbed by plumbers all your life). For me, learning is also a primary driver; knowing things is better than not knowing them.

  3. Good post, though claiming after work with friends is bad is kind of wrong. I say that one goes to ”hanging out with friends”, as you mention, is a good thing. Also pictures of landmarks isnt always a bad thing either. Typically a great photo from a great photograph of a landmark or place often is not about ”bragging” but about to inspire people.

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