There are two sorts of algorithms within people: There are algorithms that people run. And then there are algorithms that run people.
I will tell you about the one that runs me.
[ Disclaimer: This is a metaphor / abstraction. What I describe is mostly based on observed patterns in my behavior and how it feels from the inside; I don't think I literally have some module in my brain running the algorithm I'm about to describe. ]
For most of my life up until this point, I had no idea my behaviors might have been following some greater, unseen pattern. This makes sense. I wasn't really making many life-determining decisions until after college. The pattern only noticeably emerged when I started making more choices about what to work on, where to live, what communities to be a part of, etc.
It only started to dawn on me about 3-4 years after graduating—after moving three times, trying a handful of different jobs, getting laid off, and navigating a wide variety of social situations.
Here's what the algorithm feels like:
From the inside, it feels like I'm making the best choice I have available given the circumstances. I fail to consider other possible frameworks for decision-making. I fail to deeply consider why other people, in that exact same circumstance, would make a different choice. My decision-making process feels totally natural and right to me—and it doesn't remotely disturb me that I might be stuck in a single modality. It doesn't even cross my mind.
I knew that other people were different from me. I witnessed most people NOT making the same decisions I was making. I wondered about that, but never dived into the mystery. I shunted it off as differences in personality or preferences. I called myself weird and got on with it.
I am me. Of course I'm going to make decisions like me, how I would make them.
But what does that actually mean?
The realization came at me all at once. When it hit, I reacted with shock.
"WHAT? That's what I am?!"
It explained a lot of things about my life and how I reacted in a bunch of situations. Why I've lived in six different cities across eight years (LA, NYC, Roanoke, Madison, Seattle, Berkeley). Why I keep changing careers. Why I'm drawn to polyamory. Why I tend to leave conversations in the middle of them. Why I'm not the best at anything or the most knowledgable person in any field. Why I tend to just get "good enough" and then stop improving.
My algorithm is best described as a particular exploration-exploitation strategy. I start climbing up the nearest hill (a sort-of gradient ascent). When I start to feel it getting "boring" or "too hard," I jump. The jumps can be seemingly large—joining new communities, picking a new career path, changing identities. And because they're triggered by an internal sense of stagnation or stuckness, they can seem sudden or arbitrary from the outside.
As an example, I spent a great amount of time and investment on my Magic: The Gathering (MTG) career. I started a blog, developed a Twitter persona, won a PTQ, traveled to many Pro Tours even though I wasn't qualified, and worked for StarCityGames. I made many invaluable friends through the community. In some sense, it fed my soul.
Yet I abandoned it all. In fact, I abandoned it twice.
Once was after my Pro Tour debut—my first and last. The level of competition there and the difficulty of an unfamiliar format led to a poor performance, despite my testing with one of the best teams. My algorithm translated this as, "This hill is getting too difficult to climb." I felt a noticeable drop in motivation. Since that point, I stopped really trying to get back on the Pro Tour. I felt it "wasn't for me."
I had a decent excuse, as my new job at StarCityGames would not allow me to travel enough to remain competitive. But I didn't even try to keep my edge sharp.
It was fun for me while I was steadily climbing the ranks within the NYC scene, but I hit a hard bump in the road, and it stopped me cold.
Then I got laid off from StarCityGames. I became static after that, not climbing any hills and not seeking new ones. I was a stuck point.
A particular call-to-action (a friend in need) led me to make my next major jump, my second abandonment of MTG. I moved to Seattle and applied to a coding bootcamp. Then I restarted my ascent.
This jump was sudden and surprising—even to me. I'd bought a round-trip ticket and figured I'd be back in Madison within a couple weeks. I'd left most of my stuff behind. I didn't tell people I was leaving. There were no good-byes.
As for the career switch, I didn't know anyone who'd done a coding bootcamp. I'd heard about them once from Justin Cohen, and after some online research, I decided to apply to the first one that came up on Google. Practically on a whim.
From this, you get a bit of the flavor of my algorithm. The jumps are abrupt and easily triggered. Not only that, they detach. There's a desire to start fresh, to clean the slate.
I am discouraged by failure. I get bored when things start feeling repetitive. I am excited by new opportunities. I climb status ladders relentlessly—but rarely ever reach the actual top of them. Starting things is fun; trying to finish them is drudgery.
Another interesting thing about this algorithm is that it doesn't just apply to major life decisions. It applies on smaller scales.
In particular, I find myself ready to leave group conversations in the middle and depart from them at a higher-than-average rate. The feeling on the inside is one of boredom.
However, all of my behaviors in these situations stem from the same root cause.
Ultimately, the source of these internal senses of "too hard" and "boring" is fear.