research

If I could turn back time…

In which daylight savings has ended, but the rest of time seems to be speeding up…

My girlfriend was up and about at 6:15 this morning, and I followed her into consciousness at around 6:30. It was not a time I had planned to be conscious, but I was, and it was one of those times when you wake up and there is just no reversing the process no matter how much you would like to.

Another 15 minutes later, at around 6:45, I managed to make it to the kitchen table, where I slumped in a stupor until I realised the coffee wasn’t going to brew itself. Half of it went into a sippy cup so my girlfriend could take it with her when she set off early for work, but even after my own morning coffee, the doldrums continued to tug me around (and not beyond) the confines of the house.

In a fairly typical example of productive procrastination (but also An Important Thing To Help Us Stay Alive, so maybe not?) I decided to make this week’s lunch muffins. While they baked, and then while they cooled, I felt like I should at least make a pretense of working, and stared sullenly at my translation document, changing nothing. Eventually, this made me feel shitty, and I decided to do a Why I Feel Shitty exercise on the back of a bit of paper.

This completed, I thought hard about the Motivation Fairy’s nonexistence, and chose action, hauling myself off to a nearby bakery for bread as a reward for leaving the Submarine (as I like to call our annoyingly long and narrow ‘apartment’).

I have since made it all the way in to the office, and to be perfectly brutally honest about the scale of my recent achievements, I am satisfied with this. I have made an effort and it has brought me in to my place of work, which is more than I managed over the Easter break. Though I suppose, to be fair, it was Easter break.

And I think it is now time for a planning session, since I now have only 2 hours before my meeting with my supervisor (eek). But first, I wanted to warm up my fingers, and here seemed as good a place as any to do it.

A note on the title of this post: I don’t actually want to turn back time. The government does that fine already, and it is profoundly annoying, as it messes with my already slightly peculiar temporal sense for at least a week each way. But as I reflected on how early I got up this morning, I was also given to thinking about the fact that it is already April. And sure, I have made some progress. I’m on the right track, in spite of my best efforts at self-sabotage (gotta call it what it is, regardless of how subconscious it may be). But my full draft deadline is seeming very, very close now. Perhaps I shall do some productive procrastination and research The Fear for another post. For now, I guess I truly better get to work.

Weakness.

Weakness?

I’m not sure, really.

It could be laziness. It could be another bout of depression. I suppose it could even be all of the above. I don’t seem to have the objectivity or perspective to identify it at the moment.

The word ‘doldrums‘ is probably a suitable term, actually: ‘a state of inactivity or stagnation’; ‘a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans’ (okay, maybe not so much that one); ‘a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits’.

I’m really feeling it today, but I have had this problem for a long time. It’s beset me sporadically for years. It’s a problem where I have trouble getting started. It’s coupled with perfectionism and performance anxiety and at the moment it’s really closely tied to my work (=research) stuff. And the reason it’s so hard to get started…? I don’t actually think it’s because of all of the available distractions the world and especially the internet has to offer, although I’m sure that they contribute to the cycle. I don’t know what the reason is at all, except a general reluctance.

And I know I am not alone in experiencing this. Not by any means. I have seen the same or a very similar lack of motivation in many people I know, including parent figures, which is awkward, because I guess it might partly be a learned behaviour as well.

Anyway, this is also a day, and it is only one day. I suppose, if we stay with the naval metaphor, if I am indeed in the doldrums, there’s nothing for it but to let the ‘calms and light baffling winds’ do their thing, and keep the anchor up and wait for a friendly tide.

Taking care of yourself

It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t finished the second half of my study tools review, so here’s a little interim post on self-care. More on study tools next week.

Yesterday was one of Those Days.

You know the ones. You make it to about three thirty in the afternoon, but then it happens: you flop, and become sad, tired, and unmotivated for no apparent reason.

In my experience, there usually is a reason for the fizzle-out, hiding somewhere in my subconscious. But other times the flops are genuinely random and inexplicable. You may not know which it is, though, and you may never find out.

Anyway, yesterday was one of Those Days.

I used to have Those Days more often than I do at the moment, because I’ve developed a technique for dealing with them. I’m not a mental health professional or a life coach or anything, but this is my personal, unprofessional recommendation:

When it happens, don’t sit there doing nothing. You’ll just feel guilty. You’ll feel guilty for feeling bad, you’ll feel guilty about not knowing why, and you’ll feel guilty about not working.

My advice is action.

Go somewhere else.

Go have coffee.

Go read a book.

Go home and do all the housework that’s been piling up, or have a shower, or have a wank—do whatever, as long as it isn’t sitting there marinating in frustration, fatigue, resentment and/or boredom.

Be nice to yourself. In spite of what you jokingly tell people, if you’re researching, you probably genuinely care about your research. Not all days are going to be productive, and if you’ve hit a wall, you’ve hit it.

Let’s stick with that metaphor for a minute:

It’s a wall. No matter what it’s made of, it’s real enough that it might as well be physically present, and no matter what it’s made of, if you just slammed into it, you’ve already proved to yourself that you won’t be able to move it with force.

Not right away.

So give yourself a little bit of time. When you’re nose to the wall, you’ve got no real perspective on it. Take a step back, and once you’ve regained your eyesight, you’ll be able to get a sense of the wall’s actual dimensions. 

Chances are you’ll find you can walk right around it.

If at first you don’t want to do something, try relating it to food

Let’s be honest.

We don’t always want to do what we’re supposed to.

For example, this blog post.

No sooner do I make the Great Decision to start a blog and set myself a goal of posting weekly than life happens, events unfold as they will, and I’m sitting here on a Sunday afternoon feeling surly because I just don’t want to. No subject: whatever it is, I don’t want to do it. At this particular moment, though, I don’t want to write a blog post.

On Thursday afternoon I wrote a post for this blog. But I didn’t like it, so I never uploaded it. Friday was busy, Saturday was lazy, and now, late on Sunday afternoon, I am so full of pudding that I was incapable of doing much more than sitting down in front of my laptop, so I heave myself into my desk chair, start her engine, and, first things first, check my email.

Up comes the little reminder that my weekly blog post is due.

Oh yeah.

That.

Crap.

Why bother?

What on earth can I talk about this week? Plenty has happened, but how to extract one strand of coherent thought from the milieu and convert it into text for a blog post?

I tried to talk about A Thing when I tried to write on Thursday, and I didn’t like that, so we’re not going back there again. No, I’m not ready to talk about Issues. I need to start slow. Go gently. It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m tired. This state of post-pudding consumption is no state to try and think about things in.

On the other hand, like I said last week, this blog is supposed to be a sort of study tool, and an important part of studying is self-discipline.

So I don’t want to, but I will.

See, the thing is, I’m not sure there is a trick to writing and research.

Self-discipline and consistency are crucial, but these are not tricks: they are skills. 

Self-control is learned, not innate.

I just ate about half a kilo of pudding, so I’m confident of this. The urge to indulge is strong within us. So is the urge to do things we like to do, and the urge to avoid things we don’t like to do. Some people, of course, like challenges. Such is the infinite variability of the human race. But I suspect most people would prefer to eat pudding.

It was a marmalade and chocolate croissant pudding, if you were wondering. I don’t want to focus too much on the pudding, but it seems as good a topic as any, and man is it making this post easier to write.

In a convoluted sort of way, I am working towards the sage and unoriginal observation that PUDDING IS GOD—no

Well, maybe

But also: we should be nice to ourselves. Encourage ourselves. Set goals and work towards them. When they are too big, break them down, or try looking at them in a different way.

Ah! There it is! The recurring theme. 2/2.

Perspective.

There I was, ten minutes ago, glaring at my ‘post a thing on your blog’ reminder and thinking I have nothing to say this week. Nothing. I won’t even try.

But then I started thinking about pudding, and here we are, a few hundred words later, and I’m done.

I can tick that one off this week’s to-do list.

See you next week, and let me know if you want to try the recipe.

Productive Procrastination

So, six months into my Big Scary Masters Project, I finally decide to stop tormenting myself and start writing about it.

I’ve already started writing the project itself, of course, but writing about it is something else entirely.

It’s almost more difficult.

I reached the conclusion that writing about something is harder than writing the something early last week, when I was scrambling through the chaos in my head, trying to pull out threads of thought in a coherent manner so as to belatedly submit them to my supervisory panel in PDF format, as a thesis proposal.

I had been torturing myself with that process for two whole months. Constantly questioning myself, getting caught up in the imperfections, wondering if what I was doing actually mattered, and whether I was even capable of doing it.

Which begs the question, why bother?

But as soon as that quivering mass of doubt that sits in the back of the collective mind of perfectionists started to shift and stir, it provoked a disturbance elsewhere. Further to the front, but mostly in the middle.

It was my knight in shining armour. A calm and a patient fellow, who rose up from his slumber in response to gentle summons from my closest friends and family members.

He mounted his horse, faced the murky mass in the back of my mind, and said, gently but firmly, “Don’t be an idiot.”

(He has since gained the material form of a small fluffy toy rabbit—a gift from a friend, who listened patiently while I had a panic attack an hour before submitting my proposal. He now sits on my desk, a sage and comforting reminder of the real world.)

It was a timely reminder that there’s nothing quite like asking yourself “Why am I doing this? Should I just give up?” to really bring it home.

I’m doing this because I want to, because I enjoy it, because I believe my project is worthwhile, and, yes, also because I have been fortunate enough to be granted a stipend by means of which to do it.

So I need to maintain perspective. I’m working on a reframe, because the big picture is where things get overwhelming, but it’s also where some of the most important changes can be made. Probably the most important change is my attitude.

Now, I didn’t know I had a knight in me. I’m a short man of an intellectual bent and not terribly much physical strength, so acts of heroism are not something I identify with.

And I guess it may seem a little extreme to describe putting things back in perspective as an act of heroism.

But the anxious perfectionists among you will probably recognise the domino effect: doubt overpowers the desire to succeed, the fear of inadequacy overwhelms logical thought, and the result is pulverisation as the monster wakes from its slumber and begins to move.

So finding my little knight prepared to meet it head on was a pleasant surprise.

Even more surprising was the fact that the monster looked at him, decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and went back to sleep.

I could move again.

As a record of my research process, this blog will no doubt become labyrinthine: a complex map of tunnels and catacombs as I attempt to carve my way through the unhewn rock of my project. Like as not, it will become cobwebby, and at times be frightening, desolate and poorly lit. But I hope that if I mark these passages clearly, I will be able to prevent myself from sabotaging my own venture. I will also publish it here, because I personally have learned as much from watching the mistakes of others as I have from making mistakes of my own, so I hope that I will be able to provide you with something of interest or assistance or at least productive procrastination.