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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Kim

Plan with Me - Constrained Optimization

Updated: May 11, 2022

My father, an economist, loves to remind me about constrained optimization. His semantics may resonate more with a niche population. But the idea behind it isn’t: do your best given your circumstances.

Needless to say, our current circumstances are… less than optimal.

We all want a light at the end of the tunnel. Answers. Some sense of logic and reason in a time of chaos. To cope, many of us may seek any sense of control. We may be conscious that this tendency exists, but it’s harder to recognize when we’re stuck in this mindset.

Part of what kept me trapped in my struggles with mental health was believing I had more control over more things than I really do. I could somehow protect myself from failure by isolating or restricting what I ate. I could safeguard my loved ones from accidental harm by excessively washing my hands. These are just a couple of thoughts and behaviors I have struggled with and are peaking as the perceived lack of control skyrockets.

To quote basically any of my psychology teachers and professors, stress is not inherently bad. It pushes us to recognize problems and rectify them. However, there comes a point where stress and anxiety cause far more harm than it can good. It swallows us whole and leaves us unable to do anything proactive. Then it becomes a self-feeding cycle that reinforces itself and makes it that much harder to break with each iteration.

I found myself swinging hard past that point. My visceral reaction was to resort to the behaviors that gave me comfort. Was it fleeting? Yes. Would it lead to higher anxiety long-term? Yes.

But would it lead to an optimal result given my current constraints? No.

This morning, I cracked open my planner and decided to make a weekly layout. It’s the end of the week, but that doesn’t matter. An artistic outlet that I have regularly used to organize my thoughts gave me that, but also a sense of normalcy.

Does it provide me the ideal situation? No. But does it allow me to approach an optimal state of mind so that I can focus on my health, academics, and aspirations? Yes. Frankly, that’s all I can do: what anyone can do.

The quote I chose is a bit cliche: “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.” I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and neither does anyone else. All we can do is ask ourselves “what can I do today?” and go from there.


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