Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Make Myself Miserable at My First Triathlon

How to Make Yourself Miserable
A number of years back--three mostly grown children ago in fact--I happened on a book that helped me laugh at all my little neurotic tics and phobias.  It was entitled How to Make Yourself Miserable:  A Vital Manual, written by Dan Greenburg with Marcia Jacobs.  This handy little guide included tongue-in-cheek instructions for extracting the most distress possible from several fairly garden-variety situations.

One that has remained in my head since reading it, probably because the description corresponds so closely to how my household, in all its various forms, has generally handled it, has to do with getting to the airport.  The reader is advised to leave just enough gas in the car to maybe make it to the airport, if all goes well.  Similarly, we should depart from home with just enough time to dash onto the plane as the door is being closed, and no margin for traffic snarls, accidents, or other contingencies.  You can see how this sets us up for a significant period of suffering, as we stress in traffic, watching the descending needle on the gas gauge, and knowing that if we stop for gas, we will definitely miss the flight.  Of course, if we don't stop, we may run out of gas and miss the flight.  And this was written pre-9-11.  Just think how much more agony can be mined from this situation today!

Of course, Greenburg's volume was really intended to show us all the ways in which we sabotage ourselves by behaving neurotically, adding to our stress levels.  Maybe it's my oppositional personality, or my Irish black humor, but I got more out of reading this laugh-out-loud handbook than out of many more direct and traditional self-help books.  So having kind of late in the game figured out that the triathlon I am preparing for is going to be, for me as for many others, largely a psychological challenge, I decided to try adapting Greenburg's approach to my own sports psychology.

Here are 8 ways to drive myself crazy at my first triathlon.

  1. Visualize myself drowning, or worse, panicking and embarrassing myself.
  2. Use this handy little mantra--I think I can't, I know I can't, why did I ever think I could?
  3. Follow Therese Borchard's (Beyond Blue) example, detailed in this very funny post, and freak out about getting a fish in my shorts.
  4. Compare myself to all the younger, fitter, faster athletes.
  5. Obsess about my heart rate.
  6. Keep torturing myself about whether to drop out of the race.  Use this technique in all three events, right up to the finish line.
  7. Visualize paramedics standing over me.
  8. Keep thinking "what if. . ."  "What if someone kicks me in the nose while swimming?"  "What if I crash into a tree on my bike?"  "What if a squirrel runs in front of me?"  

I'm sure there are some other strategies I can come up with to make my race the ordeal I clearly deserve.  But this is a start.

And seriously, if I can laugh at any or all of these ideas, that's a good thing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Path Obscured

One of my favorite Pema Chödrön books is Comfortable with Uncertainty.  Because I'm not.

Wikipedia, that great lowest common denominator resource, tells us this about Pema Chödrön. 

Pema Chödrön (formerly known as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) is an American woman who was ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 . . . and a teacher in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa. The goal of her work is . . .  to apply Buddhist teachings in everyday life.
A prolific author, she has conducted workshops, seminars, and meditation retreats in EuropeAustralia, and throughout North America. She is resident teacher of Gampo Abbey, a monastery in rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.
My meditation group, in Buddhist circles a sangha, was introduced to her writings by the minister who got us started and has since retired.  Part of our weekly meetings is devoted to group reading from a selected text, and we have spent a lot of time with Pema Chödrön, and with uncertainty.  But I guess I'm a slow study.

At present, my overly anxious mind is tantruming about a number of things whose outcomes I can't foresee.  I want to know, and know now, whether my blood pressure is going to come down; whether the SSRI discontinuation syndrome, triggered by my doctor's decision to switch me to another antidepressant, which required discontinuing the first medication, is going to be alleviated soon; whether I will be able to quell the panic I am beginning to feel about the possibility of panicking at the triathlon; and oh so many other things related to my overall stress level right now.  Of course, stressing about stress, and about uncertainty, are not helping any of this.  

But since I can't see around the corners just now, or very far ahead on the mist-shrouded path, I have decided to take the advice I gave a friend lately, a strategy that has worked for me in the past.  I am going to try to proceed from working decisions in moving forward.  For now, one working decision is to continue preparing for the triathlon.  Another is to do what I can not to invest in panic, and to be gentle with myself in accepting that this is one of my challenges right now.  I will act as if things will turn out okay, and as if I know what I'm doing.  I will just keep putting one foot in front of the other, as Therese Borchard (Beyond Blue) tells us to do.  I will keep training, keep practicing compassion for myself and others, and keep going.  Without attachment to certain destinations and results.

I will keep in front of me these words of 13th century Sufi poet Rumi:

Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another Closet, Another Coming Out

Turns out I'm an agist.  Who knew?  And who would have suspected?  Back in my twenties, I worked for several years with programs funded by the federal Older Americans Act.  On any given day, I was surrounded by men and women three times my age and older, some of them my co-workers.  I learned a lot from these friends and colleagues.  Or so I thought.  

For one thing, I learned to take the long view.  If it were not for the elders I knew, I might never have had the moxie to adopt my middle child as a single parent.  That was one of the acts in my life motivated by my desire to make a life short on regret.  A life I could look back on from my rocking chair, if I ever felt like sitting in one, and be relatively satisfied with.

I also learned to eschew unnecessary categories and scripts.  I was lucky enough to have several opportunities to meet Maggie Kuhn, pictured here, "convener," in her word, of the Gray Panthers
an organization which addressed age discrimination, pension rights, nursing home reform, and other issues affecting the elderly.  [Maggie Kuhn Profile]
and "one of the few radical social action groups from the Vietnam War era to survive." [Maggie Kuhn Biography]

In the words of others, she has been called a "social theorist of radical gerontology." 
When I encountered her, in groups large and small, she was an arresting presence, and, as my sons would say, a "kick-ass" role model.  She embraced "outrageous" words and behavior in pursuit of her cause.  It was from her that I discovered the chic of Goodwill shopping, the beauty that could be an old woman's, and the joy of a young companion.  She boasted a nineteen-year-old boyfriend in her seventies.  At my tender age at the time, I looked forward to an old age of "learning and sex until rigor mortis," in Kuhn's often-quoted vision.  

"One of the things I say in my speeches is there are three things I like about being old," said Kuhn. "I can speak my mind-and I do. I'm surprised with what I can get away with-that the audience doesn't boo and hiss! Second, that I've outlived much of my opposition; and third, I can reach out to the young. Many, many old people retire from their jobs and retire from life. They have no objective, no purpose. Every one of us needs to have a goal, a passionate purpose. … It's possible to have new roles and a new value system [in old age]. The five M's are what I talk about with old people: Taking on the role of the mentor; mediator; monitor of public bodies, watching city hall, the president and the statehouse; motivator; and mobilizer.  [1993 interview with Sandra Erlanger, published in Case Western Reserve University's magazine]

So my lineage is top-drawer when it comes to views on aging.  But something happened on my way to maturity.  I was brought up short by an editorial I happened to see in an old abandoned copy of AARP The Magazine purloined from my gym's locker room last week.  It's title was "Aging's Not Optional"--duh!  Something I've been experiencing as I push my late-50's hypertensive body through its paces of late.  As I read through the author's description of age as "the last acceptable bias in this country" I saw myself.  And I became aware that I had been engaging in "passing," a life-practice we are familiar with in the realm of race, where light-skinned African Americans have sometimes opted to present themselves as white, or to allow others to make that assumption.

I'm not passing everywhere, mind you.  In yoga class, in triathlon circles, in my social justice organization, I have been happy to announce my age--but it's been made easier by the look of astonishment on the faces of those I address these bulletins to.  I don't "look my age," or "act my age," whatever those things mean.  But since I am my age, then the way I look and act belongs to the spectrum of my age peers.  

One of the arenas in which I've "passed" is this one.  I have been careful in this blog not to make clear my exact age, believing, in true agist fashion, that I would be unnecessarily pigeon-holed by admitting my age, and abandoned by readers.  Mine, apparently, is that brand of agism that gives power to the chronological measure based on what I believe others believe, not what I myself believe to be its characteristics and limitations.  

So, by way of coming clean, if I make it through the forest of fears that are looming now between me and my first triathlon, the number inked on the back of my calf will be the big 6-0.  (Because that will be my age by December.)  And this is how 59 writes, and looks, and lives.

On her 80th birthday, [Maggie] Kuhn made a vow to do something outrageous at least once a week. In her late eighties she increased it to at least once a day. "You get people's attention that way. You get energized, you can make an impact, and it's just fun," she noted. [Erlanger interview]
Who knows?  Maybe I'll stop tearing up the AARP card they've been mailing to me regularly since I turned 50.  Now that would be outrageous! 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Recovering from "Speed Sickness"

This was a chapter I really needed to read today--"Jumping Off the Carousel" in Marshall J. Cook's Slow Down. . .and get More Done.  Unfortunately, I was so caught up in my current mini health crisis, brought on by, you guessed it, life on the carousel, that I barely had time to skim it.  However, in the interests of getting a blog done today, and of beginning to put into practice some of what I skimmed, I provide this short summary of salient points.  

Cook offers this list of suggestions for changing the frenzied way we spend our time.  

  • You can change just about anything about the way you live each day.
  • You must work at it.
  • You must commit yourself to the effort.
  • You must believe that you will be successful.
  • You must take total responsibility for the outcome.
  • You must do it your way.
  • You must spend the time.
He advises further that we identify our own particular version of this modern-day malady, listing 
. . . the symptoms you see in yourself.  When did each symptom on your list begin to develop?  Try to trace the symptom to its origin.  When did you notice the tension in your shoulders, the temper flare-ups, the feeling of frustration and futility at the end of each day?  Which factors in your life accompanied the onset of each symptom?  Did specific changes--new job, lack of money, problems in a relationship, new obligations--trigger the symptom? . . . . Such self-analysis is worth the effort--and yes, the time--it takes.  The more you canname and understand your situation, the more you'll benefit from our explorations in this book--and the more you'll be able to develop your own solutions as we consider possibilities for reclaiming your life.
Since today saw me grinding to a halt, I am acutely aware of some of my symptoms resulting from life in my own type of Type A lane.  My body and my psyche are demanding that I give myself a break.   Marshall Cook couldn't have come along at a better time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Done for the Week: It's Called Sequencing

I am kind of dragging today.  I think I've been underestimating how much the triathlon training is taking out of me, and not making the necessary concessions to this final, fairly intense phase of preparation.  I've been pretty much just shoe-horning the increasingly lengthy training sessions into my already busy schedule, and have left very little time to stop, much less to smell any roses--if there are still any, given that I've taken no time to garden this summer.

Here's the list of things I got done last week.

Done List--Week of July 19-25

  1.     Finished Week 10 of revised 14-week Sprint Triathlon training plan--4 weeks to go!
  2.     Continued assembling tri gear
  3.     Got bike fitted and tuned up, and had new seat installed
  4.     Finished Love and Summer, by William Trevor; 
  5.     Took my blood pressure daily
  6.     Attended Transitional Jobs Collaborative meeting
  7.     Spent two half-days training interim employee at nonprofit social justice organization
  8.     Worked on website for Transitional Jobs Collaborative
  9.     Continued my two part-time paying jobs
  10.     Attended gathering of my husband's extended family
  11.     Published 5 blog posts
  12.     Meditated 5 times
  13.     Wrote 7 Gratitude Journal entries
  14.     Wrote 6 Morning Pages
  15.     Continued cleaning campaign
  16.     Continued mini yoga practice 
  17.     Attended 3 yoga classes
  18.     Continued writing novel
  19.     Went out with my husband for Happy Hour; started reading aloud Elizabeth George's Deception on His Mind                                   
  20. Decided to reschedule family trip to Ireland
  21.     Called my Mom
Last week's focus goal was to continue writing, and making progress on my novel--once again, not something I found/made a lot of time for.  And given my energy level, and the demands of this last few weeks of triathlon training, I have decided to amend last week's plan to keep this is as my focus goal for the time being.  Instead, I will attempt to continue doing something each week to move this project forward, while recognizing that triathlon training is my de facto focus goal for this next four weeks.  In fact, it seems a bit disrespectful of this undertaking to imagine that I can achieve it without giving it much importance.  As the day of the race approaches, I am appreciating the magnitude of what I am trying to do, as a first-timer, and as someone who has not spent much time exercising in recent years.   

In red, fittingly, are last week's most important accomplishments--all triathlon-related.  

I intend to keep my eyes on the prize these next four weeks.  Not a trophy, or the medal all participants will "win," but the sense of accomplishment I have lusted after since watching my daughter cross the finish line at last year's race.  And the feeling of having reached down pretty deep within to find the courage/audacity and the perseverance and the faith to take this on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Acts of God and Such: Into Each Life. . .

This was my neighborhood yesterday evening, before the worst.  Local measurements of the "impact" range from 7.5 to 11 inches of rainfall in just two hours.  Really.

This morning, we are drying out, and bracing for more rain.  

Have I mentioned that my Mom and my sister and her family live in the New Orleans area?  Where they are keeping an eye this morning on Tropical Storm Bonnie.  Where Katrina is a fresh memory, and a massive oil spill still menaces sentient beings and their livelihoods.

Last night, we hosted a stranded teenaged friend, and a big-eyed five-year-old grandchild whose father couldn't get across town to collect him.  Water trickled through the basement, which has been home to our "master" bedroom since we made over our upstairs bedroom for my hurricane evacuee parents five years ago.  The flash flood "watch" (Did they mean the time we spent "watching" what sure looked to me like a flash flood?  First, while trying to make our ways home from various parts of the city in a rush-hour-turned-deluge, and later, after our staggered, and staggering arrivals, on TV, in between cable outages.), this flash flood watch extended way past my bedtime, so I chose to sleep in our first-floor study.  My husband insisted on joining his grandson in what we jokingly referred to as the "watery grave" suite downstairs.  Before retiring, we watched the city's mayor, police chief, commissioner of public health, and fire chief describe efforts to deal with the unfolding disaster, and beg people to stay off the streets.  Of course, that didn't help those who had been unable to get off the streets when the rushing water impeded their returns from work.   

And what about those residents who were warned against contaminated water in their basements, even as the tornado warnings bleated from their screens and radios, telling them to seek shelter in said basements?

At this point, we've survived "wave one" of what is expected to be a very wet weekend.  The forecast is for rain today, and more rain tomorrow.  Our damage so far is minor, compared to our neighbors down the hill.  This time around, our sump pump held.  (Actually, the last major flood that affected our neighborhood would have spared us too, except that our sump pump continued to function, all too well, after the clamp securing the "evacuation hose" came off.  Thus, the sump pump proceeded to pump water throughout the basement, to a height of about two feet in places.  Thus, my first introduction to FEMA--which some of my friends in New Orleans refer to as Fix Everything My Ass.)

Needless to say, yesterday's plans blew up before the day was over.  Plans for today are up in the air, contingent, reminding us to be humble in the face of nature and other "forces beyond our control."  I'm going to try to make up for the triathlon training I didn't get to do yesterday evening, when I couldn't get to my gym a few blocks and many, many gallons of water away.  If the gym, like our local high school, is bailing out, I'll try instead to make the also-interrupted trip to a distant suburb to pick up my new bicycle seat.  That too, depends on the state of the roads and the skies.  And it's hardly an emergency, since the bike shop where my newly tuned-up bike awaits pickup is located on a street a few blocks from here that was swallowing SUVs not twenty-four hours ago.  And I'm not overly anxious to venture out on my restored and upgraded conveyance in the promised downpours, anyway.

I can, and should, still meditate, and write, and clean.  And I will try to resist the state of torpor that can set in when work is so easily undone, and new and overwhelming tasks jump to the head of the list in these circumstances.  And to appreciate, as one of my yoga instructors likes to say at the end of class, "all that we have, and all that is yet to come."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lots of Stuff Gets Done if You Just Live Long Enough

I don't remember how I originally found my way to the site 43 Things.  But I was reminded of this fascinating resource recently in Timothy Pychyl's Don't Delay blog on Psychology Today.  (Readers should note also that Dr. Pychyl's new book, The Procrastinator's Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, is now available.  I plan to check it out as soon as I finish the several books I am presently in the middle of.)

Dr. Pychyl identifies 43 Things as an example of folksonomy, ". . .also known," according to Wikipedia, ". . . as collaborative taggingsocial classificationsocial indexing, and social tagging."  Interestingly, 
An empirical analysis of the complex dynamics of tagging systems. . . has shown that consensus around stable distributions and shared vocabularies does emerge, even in the absence of a central controlled vocabulary.
43 Things is a goal listing site--called "43 Things" because 

We think 43 is the right number of things for a busy person to try to do. Why not more? It’s too much. Why not less? You can do less, but it is still called 43 Things. 
The site maintains a list of the 100 most popular goals, resulting from lists submitted by its self-selecting participants.   Pychyl was interested, as was I, to learn that "stop procrastinating" was the second most popular goal, behind #1--"lose weight."

And, even though yesterday's post contained this pearl of wisdom reinforced by my triathlon training--"Avoid comparing your accomplishments with others"--I also couldn't resist measuring my life progress against the 100 "World's Most Popular Goals."  

To begin with, however, I have to quibble that there is some overlap between items on the list, as with, for example "Read more books" (#21) and "Read more" (#35).  Or "Get a tattoo" (#6), "Design my own tattoo" (#74), and "Create my own tattoo" (#93).  Or "Lose weight" (#1), "Lose 20 lbs." (#49), "Lose 10 lbs." (#54), and "Lose 30 lbs." (#63).  Or "Write a book" (#3) and "Write a novel" (#29).  You get the picture.  

A social scientist--one of my previous careers--would "code" the responses, and collapse the categories.  She would probably also group responses, distinguishing between  spiritual/personal development, material, physical/health, and so forth.  One possible grouping of goals would be those particularly relevant to procrastination/time management/organization--the subject matter of this blog.  These would include, of course "Stop procrastinating" (#2), as well as "Wake up when my alarm clock goes off" (#43), "Get organized" (#53), "Spend less time fooling around on the net and more time actually working" (#62), "Finish what I start" (#88), and "Stop wasting time" (#100).  

But it was especially smile-prompting, on this rainy morning, to see how many of the top 100 goals I have already accomplished.  Here's my list:

  1. lose weight 38720 people--did it; then gained it back; then lost it again
  2. stop procrastinating 28297 people--did it; still doing it
  3. write a book 27988 people--doing it
  4. Fall in love 25898 people--did it a few times
  5. be happy 23322 people--did it; need to do it again
  6. Get a tattoo 21521 people
  7. drink more water 19995 people--doing it
  8. get married 19991 people--did it--twice
  9. travel the world 19746 people--some of it
  10. go on a road trip with no predetermined destination 19684 people
  11. see the northern lights 18015 people
  12. Learn Spanish 16526 people--did it; need a refresher
  13. Save money 15493 people--did it; need to do more of it
  14. Kiss in the rain 15214 people--long ago; and the snow
  15. Take more pictures 14863 people--especially since I got a cell phone with a really good camera
  16. Make new friends 13486 people--constantly doing it
  17. Learn to play the guitar 13380 people--sort of
  18. Buy a House 13269 people--did it
  19. get a job 11678 people--did it lots
  20. get out of debt 11636 people--did it; got back in
  21. Read more books 11545 people--(I don't really think I should read more books)
  22. run a marathon 11492 people
  23. To live instead of exist 11484 people--by what standards?
  24. learn french 11412 people
  25. Skydive 10955 people
  26. exercise regularly 10938 people--doing it
  27. be more confident 10887 people--more or less
  28. eat healthier 10747 people--doing it (though Happy Hour interferes occasionally with this)
  29. write a novel 10244 people--doing it
  30. Learn Japanese 10207 people--learned a little
  31. get in shape 9835 people--doing it
  32. Quit Smoking 9107 people--did it
  33. Start my own business 9032 people--did it
  34. Learn to cook 8760 people--did it
  35. Read more 8287 people--(see #21)
  36. learn sign language 8126 people--learned a little
  37. have better posture 8109 people--did it
  38. travel 8054 people--did it
  39. Learn to play the piano 7936 people--did it
  40. Swim with dolphins 7819 people
  41. Learn to surf 7789 people
  42. identify 100 things that make me happy (besides money) 7783 people
  43. wake up when my alarm clock goes off 7661 people--doing it
  44. visit all 50 states 7548 people
  45. stop biting my nails 7402 people
  46. decide what the hell I would like to do with the rest of my life 7276 people--working on it
  47. Go skydiving 7220 people
  48. make a difference 7033 people
  49. Lose 20 pounds 6970 people--by having two babies
  50. learn to dance 6898 people--did it
  51. learn to drive 6630 people--did it
  52. graduate from college 6397 people--did it
  53. Get organized 6353 people
  54. Lose 10 pounds 6221 people--did it
  55. Be a better friend 6209 people--working on it
  56. Have a baby 6087 people--did it
  57. learn italian 6062 people
  58. Visit Japan 5784 people
  59. Become Financially Independent 5691 people--did it, more or less
  60. live passionately 5685 people--working on it
  61. create my own website 5674 people--did it
  62. Spend less time fooling around on the net and more time actually working 5624 people--working on it
  63. Lose 30 pounds 5398 people--did it, by having one of my babies
  64. exercise more 5391 people--doing it
  65. make more friends 5381 people--doing it
  66. get my driver's license 5359 people--did it
  67. be more social 5356 people--doing it
  68. Volunteer 5253 people--still doing it
  69. backpack through Europe 5139 people
  70. travel around the world 4891 people
  71. learn german 4849 people
  72. love myself 4809 people--working on it
  73. Worry less. 4769 people--working on it
  74. design my own tattoo 4738 people
  75. write a song 4691 people--did it
  76. learn to play guitar 4582 people--(see #17)
  77. learn how to drive stick-shift 4553 people--did it
  78. go on a cruise 4445 people
  79. meet new people 4322 people--still doing it
  80. go to college 4267 people--did it
  81. Practice Yoga 4260 people--still doing it
  82. Get more sleep 4251 people--working on it
  83. meditate daily 4169 people--doing it
  84. Stop caring what other people think of me 4158 people--working on it
  85. Never stop learning 4067 people--still doing it
  86. get a dog 4038 people--did it, three times
  87. sleep under the stars 4023 people--did it
  88. Finish what I start 4015 people--working on it
  89. Learn another language 3985 people--did it
  90. Send a message in a bottle 3953 people
  91. win the lottery 3931 people
  92. learn to sew 3872 people--did it
  93. create my own tattoo 3825 people
  94. figure out what i want to do with my life 3819 people--working on it
  95. design my own clothes 3818 people
  96. be a better person 3785 people--working on it
  97. grow my hair long 3776 people--did it
  98. watch Grey's Anatomy 3731 people--did it
  99. Go on a road trip 3730 people--did it, a few times
  100. stop wasting time 3724 people--still working on it

Apparently, I have been more productive, or at least more "popular," than I knew.  And just think. . . I could check off five more if I designed/created my own tattoo, after skydiving.