developing the means to turn my thoughts around
- 1,487 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I learned some things about myself and my workflow this past November. To start with, I learned that I very rarely manage to fulfill all my goals for a given day. Doesn't matter whether it's a kind and even coddling low-bar list, or a ludicrously over-ambitious goal that is sure to end in failure and self-loathing. Be it ever so reasonable, I'm not going to get through it. Some imp of the perverse, an attack of inexplicable fatigue, or just the usual cocktail of anxiety and avoidance, will waylay me between the start of a checklist and its finish. I'll try! I'll try really hard! And I'll tell myself, "Hey, self, if you're any good at all, you'll do this." And then I don't, so I come away feeling like I am in fact no good at all.
But I will try. The fear of feeling like I'm a no-good horrible lazy-ass hopeless case will provide enough motivation at the beginning to get me moving, and then I'll keep going on that momentum for a bit before the self-loathing kicks in, and I accept that I suck, and I shut down.
OK, it's not always as dire as that. Some days things are a lot more positive! The excitement about getting all this stuff done will kick me off, and the happy feeling of accomplishment over the first tasks will keep me going... and then exhaustion will kick in, or the sudden realization that I am TOTALLY OUT OF TIME, and I'll come to a halt while two or three items remain undone.
Either way, I'll generally get about two-thirds of the way through my agenda for the day.
So here's the epiphany: Over-ambitious goals don't have to end in failure and self-loathing. If I make myself a list that's about 130% as long as a list of reasonable length, I can trick myself into getting the reasonable portion done. And if I set my mind right at the beginning of the day, I can forgive myself the undone portion of the list as having been intended as bonus items anyway.
Brains are weird! If explicitly tell myself "These last few items are just lagniappe," I'd expect to completely fail to take those items seriously at all. I'd expect to ignore them, treat the rest of the list like the "real" list, and then only get about two thirds of the way through that. And yet I do find myself trying really hard to get to those bonus items. In video games, I have a completist mind set; this may be the brain-glitch I'm taking advantage of. Still, that being the case, I'd expect to experience a lot more crushing disappointment in myself when I don't complete the list. But somehow the message from that morning lingers: "If you get to these, awesome, but no big deal if not."
It all feels very contradictory. It's certainly not a strategy I deliberately set out to try. I more or less stumbled into it during the latter half of November, when I got really determined to finish and upload all those overdue Friday Fictionettes. I missed some days' revision and submission sessions, but dang I wrote some flash fiction on hyperdrive! And I felt good about it.
Speaking of which: The Friday Fictionette for November 15 just went up yesterday. It's called "The Story Master" (ebook, audio, blame the southern accent on a conversation we had over dinner Tuesday night) and it's based on a recurring family bullying incident, only replace "older cousins and sadistic uncle" with "horrible, sadistic ghost." Also, replace "Stephen King novels" with "graphic tales of violence and abuse, some possibly perpetrated by the ghost when he was alive." The graphic tales are only alluded to, not spelled out on the page, so I don't think any content warnings are called for here. The only one getting triggered here is me; for the rest of the afternoon, my brain kept reliving and futilely reinventing all the greatest and most toxic hits of that era. An overactive imagination can be a terrible thing, y'all. Anyway, I hope to release the November 22 Fictionette by the end of the weekend.
Back to the daily grind. The lesson I've taken away from all this is,
- When setting my day's agenda, consciously distinguish between "must do" and "nice to have".
- Put the "must do" components first, the "nice to haves" later.
- When I complete a task, take a moment to just bask in the happy of it before going on to the next.
- When ending for the day, consciously congratulate myself on how much I got done. Remember and relive the post-task happy. Refuse to scold myself over incomplete items.
As alluded to above, my brain is very good at reliving past trauma. It will do it on autopilot and it will do it on infinite loop. But it seems like I ought to be able to put that facility to use in positive ways.
When I was in college, I worked my first regular "real job" at the dorm cafeteria. The length of the shift looming ahead of me seemed terribly daunting. To encourage the hours to pass more quickly, I'd imagine listening to an album I knew and loved. I'd get it started by visualizing an audio cassette tape player's capstans turning while the first song "played." After that, the whole album would run through in my head, one song after the other, and it would almost be like really listening to it on the stereo. It wasn't quite on the level of true auditory hallucinations, but it was the next best thing.
So if my brain can do that, then it can certainly go and sit inside another good memory of my choosing. So that's what I'm going to practice, going forward.