Have you read The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (né George Cockcroft)? It’s a novel about a psychiatrist who one day decides to let the roll of a die dictate his decisions.
In the beginning was Chance, and Chance was with God and Chance was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Chance and without him was not anything made that was made. In Chance was life and the life was the light of men.
The story of The Dice Man, being a work of fiction, rapidly descends into cult, murder, rape and generalised mayhem, but the premise — using chance to reduce decision fatigue and maybe jazz up your life a little — I’ve found compelling since I read the book back in April 2017.
The Dice Man’s playful premise is easily applied to our lives in two, non-murderous, ways:
1. Eliminate to do list decisions (and maybe procrastination)
- Write down six things you really need to get done today. Don’t worry about what order to do them in: they will all get done.
- Roll the die.
- Do the corresponding job.
- Repeat, either adding a new task to your options list or re-rolling if you get that number again. (If you roll seven sixes in a row, maybe check your die rolls true…)
Yesterday, I used the die to run through a bunch of stuff I’d been putting off for ages. It made productivity playful.
Intermediate: you can easily weight your tasks by assigning two or more faces of the die to a particularly important job. You can also roll two dice for a longer to do list or to take advantage of the different outcome probabilities.
Advanced: throw in an option that’s a bit rogue. Something you’ve been putting off for years; a dream or long-held fantasy. Or maybe the total opposite of what you ‘should’ be doing; something silly or way out of character.
2. Choose from a number of equally good options
Decision fatigue. Analysis paralysis. The Paradox of Choice.
Sometimes we have no idea what the best thing to do is. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we do. Maybe we’ll never know what’s best until we start.
BUT WE JUST CAN’T BRING OURSELVES TO START 😵.
We’re crying out for someone to tell us what to do. Understandably, friends and family are reluctant to take this job: no one is responsible for your life choices except you yourself. But if you’re really stuck, why not ask the die?
- Make a list of all your options. These are all things that you want to do, but you can’t do them all at once. Committing to one of them probably feels like you’re giving up on the rest. There is probably a lot of uncertainty around whether one or any of them could be a success. This might be why you haven’t made a start or seen any of them through to the end. You’re stuck.
- Let go of the idea that it matters at all which one you move forward with. Remember: these are all good options.
- Roll the die.
- Do that one thing and scrap the rest.
- Seriously: scrap them. They are gone. At least for now. For now, you are all-in on whatever the die told you.
- Okay, okay. There’s an exception to that rule: if the die’s choice has made you realise in the core of your being that you really need to do this other thing, then that’s fine. Do that other thing, but do it with total commitment, no half measures: you still scrap the rest. Sometimes we get clarity from facing the shocking reality of what we don’t want.
Yesterday, the last day of January, I rolled the die on my six good options.
Alea iacta est; the die is cast
For the past month (or possibly the past ten years), I’ve been feeling a strong obligation to dedicate a furious amount of energy into writing. This is my constant; this is my work; this is my being.
That’s all well and good, but there are a lot of ‘shoulds’ lurking in the shadows:
- I should be writing a book
- I should be promoting my work
- I should be writing journalism
- I should be earning more money
- I should be working harder
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve felt such shoulds heavy on my shoulders and the weight pinned me to the floor, paralysed by choice and uncertainty. Should energy doesn’t get things done, not unless there’s someone cracking the whip.
On the last day of January, after a month of doing things the same half-assed way as the past ten years, I decided in desperation to turn to the die.
‘Tell me, o die,’ I cried, ‘which writing project to throw my everything energy into?’
I put down six options for the six faces:
For snake eyes, I went radical:
- Quit writing for the whole of February
Then I rolled.
The die — strangely, as I knew it would — came up on that single spotted one.
And so, for the first time since 2010, I hereby shed any sense that I should be writing.
For many years, I have clung to the seductive mirage, the broken crutch that writing will bring me fame, fortune and happiness. It may yet bring those things, but not in the way that I have been approaching it. So, for now, I need a break. A total sabbatical.
Let’s not get dramatic: it’s only a month. Four newsletters’ worth. But I’m excited about the open water ahead of me. By letting go of my self-imposed obligation to publish, I create space for new lifeforms to emerge.
I already feel lighter.
I want to finish by saying a big thank you to you. It’s amazing that I get to write to you folks every week. An honour.
For those of you who have a paying subscription: a triple thank you. I don’t offer much to paying subscribers except my gratitude and an archive of hundreds of stories. But if you would like a physical book edition of all my stories from 2020 (😂), then hit reply and send me your address.
If you miss me and you believe in the God of Chance, then use my brand new Random Story page, which will surface one of the 920+ stories that are lurking in my back catalogue. Good luck!
I know you will understand my need for a creative pause — in fact, some of you have previously suggested I do this exact thing. Sorry for ignoring you.
The truth is that I don’t think I could have taken a decision like this, to step away from something I’ve been doing most of my adult life, without the crazy courage of the die.
I couldn’t have done it alone and I probably would’ve dug my heels in if anyone else had dared tell me to stop writing. But as soon as I saw that fateful digit I knew that it was exactly the right thing to do.
So let’s roll.
Full Terms of Disengagement
- ❎ I won’t work on this newsletter in February (I wrote most of today’s in January). That means skipping 9, 16, 23 February and 1 March.
- ❎ I won’t work on any of my own public writing projects or feel any obligation that I should.
- ☑ I can write my private diary (but I don’t have to). Journaling is an important processing tool and can be independent of the urge to publish and publicise.
- ☑ I can interview brilliant people, learn from them and elevate their ideas and achievements (but I won’t share anything publicly until March).
- ☑ I can take notes on books I’m reading and on sessions with my counsellor.
- ☑ I can take jobs that pay me to write because, frankly, that’s life.
Okay? Deal. 🤝