I aimed for the impossible, not because I chose, but because I did not know any other way.
I constantly worried about my performance. I wanted foolproof plans that worked, but people always spoiled the plans by not doing what they are supposed to do. But I continued to try my best to continue. Seeing this, other people said that I was “stubborn” – obsessed with my thinking and plans.
I was upset with my critics, especially those who say I was stubborn. They only seemed intent to stop me and demolish my creations without offering me any positive alternatives. Their futile efforts only made me more determined to double my efforts and prove them all wrong.
Today, I would say that their criticism does have a point. However, the way they presented their criticism was unsuitable for me. Hence, I made it a point to avoid their mistakes. When I encounter someone who thinks like the past me, I make it a point to explain not only what is impossible, but how it might be possible. I also pointed out the weak and negative aspects of ideas together with how to focus on and emphasise the positive aspects.
If someone told me about the concepts below when I was a child, I might have avoided much trouble and frustration:
- Clarify my intentions before starting
- Build my creations on what already works
- Understand the idea of personal selfishness among all people
- Do what works rather than what is ideal
These are the basic concepts to making things happen in the physical world. Amazingly, people never taught me that in an obvious way. They merely implied these and expected me to fill in the blanks.
I improved my plans with these 4 steps:
1) Clarify my intentions before starting
“What do you want to achieve?” This is important, yet difficult to answer. Many people are under the delusion that they want something when they desire another. To clarify, I might ask: “If God were to grant you a wish, what would like most?” Knowing my intentions means that my plans and ideas will not conflict with my true desires.
2) Base my creations on what already works
This is the #1 teaching I found out the hard way. It took me so long because it ran counter to what I read about creativity and thinking out of the box. A plan built on proven parts is much easier to accomplish and gain approval from other people. People without experience may make the mistake of building a system with mostly unproven parts, making failure very likely. Even nature must keep creativity (e.g. genetic mutations) in check.
3) Understand the idea of personal selfishness among all people
This was hard for me to accept. When I was a child, my mother kept telling me that people are selfish and I was equally vigorous in denying this because it does not make sense to me. Around 2007, I suddenly realised that I behaved selfishly too. For instance, I shopped to buy things for personal reasons, not because I wished to help supermarkets stay in business. I visited websites because they have funny jokes or interesting information, not because I wanted to generate more revenue for web hosting companies.
An inner revolution resulted. So what if I was a unique autistic with an intriguing story? People will only support me if they find my work useful or helpful in their personal lives. Making my work relevant became a key principle in my life.
4) Do what works rather than what is ideal
I wanted the world to conform to my ideals. I wanted the world to know that I can do something better than everyone else. I wanted to follow the instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, many things in life do not work this way. Imperfection, delays and mistakes are so common that people have to compromise on building something good enough, fast enough and nice enough rather than something perfect. It takes tremendous courage and wisdom to focus on the practical rather than the ideal.
Executive Dysfunction Difficulties
Few are aware that autism is more than just a social disability. To get the sense of disorganisation inside the autistic mind, read the unedited writing of many autistics. They tend to be lengthy, repetitive, without a logical flow and focus.
Professionals call this “executive dysfunction”. As a result, some aspects of autism therapy focus on helping autistics set goals, plan, control their impulses and develop flexibility thinking for the unexpected.
Estimation: Many autistics have problems estimating the time, effort and commitment needed to perform tasks. They may develop “False Confidence” – the tendency to grossly overestimate their talents or abilities to complete tasks together with the insistence that they have no problems delivering these estimates. Wise autistics factor in Murphy’s Law, let other people handle what they cannot handle and consult those with relevant experience.
Priority: Autistics are often not able to develop a sense of importance. Everything is equally important. Non-autistics have an instinct for priority and will automatically zoom in to what is important (to them). Learning logical rules for scheduling is a very poor substitute for instinct. I believe that a major factor lies with the difficulty distinguishing likely from unlikely futures.
Big Picture / Coherence: Autistics tend to see too many patterns and details, causing them to overload other people with details. Unable to see the big picture of human systems, they tend to focus on certain pet topics or details while excluding the important themes. This will wreak havoc in their career if they take on a management role.
Slow or Rash Decisions: Without instincts to guide them, decision making becomes a long and drawn-out process of limited logical analysis. Some autistics become impatient and decide to short-cut decision-making. However, such decisions often turn out to be rash (and disastrous).
Exclusive Planning: Autistics find it difficult to include other people who have different objectives and personalities in their plans. No matter how much they fortify their projects with contingency plans, unpredictable behaviour by people inevitable sinks it (like the Titanic).
Absolute Thinking: When confronted with a frustrating change of plans or some other personal emergency, some autistics feel an urge to give up and walk away. They may feel that their success is either all or nothing – if they could not accomplish a perfect outcome then it is a total failure. They find it hard to accept the concept of “just good enough”.
Over-Planning: Some autistics become overly dependent on planning, spending more time planning than doing work. [This is not a Dilbert joke.] It is wiser to work with a simple and quick to use system than a complicated one because human beings cannot function like computers.
Surrendered Decision Making: Many autistics, even those with low support needs, surrender much decision making because they could not commit the mental resources for it. Otherwise, they may find situations too confused so they simply follow what other people say. As a result, they may be manipulated by emotionally disturbed people or exploited by those with hidden agendas.
Advice for Autistics
Plan within Abilities: Do not make any unproven claims about your abilities (i.e. claims not backed up by experience). You may find yourself unable to deliver on them, creating a bad impression on those who believed in you. Work your way slowly to greatness by asking to do simple things that are just slightly above your existing achievements. Be humble and patient enough to accept that it takes time to achieve great things.
Plan with Experience: Whatever you do, remember to learn from personal experience or the experiences of others. There are many unexpected obstacles that you will not know until you try. It is wiser to prepare for them.
Simplify Plans: Throw out all the planning systems you have learnt. Stick with a simple checklist and calendar. As a guideline, make sure that for every minute you plan, you are doing actual work for 10 minutes.
Plan Short-Term, Intend Long-Term: Since most of your plans are not going to work, focus on how to achieve short-term goals. Instead of planning details, visualize and describe outcomes for the long term:
- Choose a worthy ambition you love to do
- Explore the commitment and realistic effort you must make to get there
- Set a deadline to achieve your ambition
- Set simple goals with deadlines to move you towards your ambition
- Trust that you will eventually find your way there
Mind your own business: Focus on doing your job well. Avoid doing other people’s job or commenting on how they should do things. Only after you have acquired more experience and demonstrated your diligence and skills should you consider sharing your opinion.
Let other people plan: Be humble enough to accept your limitations and let other people help plan for you. Choose someone who can work with you and listen to them. You can focus on more meaningful things this way.
Promise & Commit: Make promises carefully and sparingly, then make sure you deliver on them. If you could not deliver on your promises, people will not trust your ability to deliver. As a result, they will not grant you opportunities to develop your skills or do something more important and meaningful.
Do It: Many autistics are “Eternal Students” who study extensively but never apply their knowledge in practical life. They are reluctant to commit to anything because they feel that they are not prepared enough. If you are one of them, take heed! Start doing something simple to experience the thrill and joy of putting your ideas into practice.