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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Done for the Week: The Revolution Ate My Agenda

We are living in amazing times, in Wisconsin, and in so many other places in this country and in the world.  Not much time for business as usual.   

This past week, I managed to squeeze the following in:

Done for the Week:  Feb. 21-27
  1. Continued off-season race training, still distracted by earth still shifting beneath my feet in Wisconsin; biked once, ran once (supplemented by lots of walking in demonstrations)
  2. Finished How to Calm Down:  Three Deep Breaths to Peace of Mind, by Fred L. Miller
  3. Gave significant volunteer support to transitioning nonprofit
  4. Worked my two part-time jobs
  5. Published 5 blog posts
  6. Wrote 2 Gratitude Journal entries
  7. Meditated 3 times
  8. Attended Issues Assembly
  9. Attended Social Justice Committee meeting at my church
  10. Celebrated quasi-anniversary with the man I married on Leap Day
  11. Had a lunch date with my husband
  12. Watched our 2 teams play 2 basketball games, with my son and my husband
  13. Attended 4 demonstrations, 1 locally, and 3 in Madison
  14. Attended one yoga class
  15. Spent way too much time online, following political uprising in my state, "working" Facebook, Twitter, and political sites, and updating my organization's website to reflect on-the-ground scheduling 
  16. Continued emailing with my brother
It seems to me that the most important thing that I "got done" this last week was to participate in democracy, in defense of social justice.  Sounds quite lofty, when in fact I was only one of tens of thousands in my state alone mobilized to resist some devastating proposals and powerful corporate interests.  But my actions represented a huge investment of my time and energy, and claimed a priority reflective of the magnitude of things at issue.  

As this struggle goes on, as it appears that it will for some time, the challenge will be to develop some kind of maintenance strategy, spelling ourselves and keeping our strength up for the long-term, tending to our lives and our common dreams.  That is a lesson I am ready to learn, one that I've needed for a long time. 

Last week's focus goal was "to meditate daily, no matter what."  For some reason, some Blogger glitch-of-the-day won't let me highlight item 7 above, but even without green highlighting, it is easy to see that I fell short of that goal.  Again, I learn that I have the most difficulty making time to meditate when it is the most important, and most needed.  

Someone close to me, who shall remain nameless, is currently in the midst of quitting smoking.  Living in the penumbra of this epic battle provides me the object lesson I need.  One day at a time, and give ourselves credit for progress, no matter how small.  So I'm concentrating on the fact that I meditated three times last week, not zero times--rather than three times, not seven, as planned.  My meditation cushion is (nearly) half occupied, not half empty.

Next week's focus goal will be to meditate daily, no matter what. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Can Procrastination Recovery Trigger an Identity Crisis?

Responding to a post I wrote earlier this week, my husband challenged my procrastinator status.  Since he alone among my far-flung readers has the birds'-eye view that comes with living with me, I am forced to consider his opinion.

These were his words:
are you sure you have a problem with procrastination? I don't see much evidence of it anymore.
My initial response was that his observation stemmed from a less nuanced understanding of procrastination than the one I have developed from living with this affliction for many years, and from my more recent study of it.

I admit that I'm hardly a layabout.  People have always told me that I have more energy than a half dozen whirling dervishes.  And I have managed to accomplish many things, though not always the things I think I care most about.  

But I am constantly doing battle with myself, and losing the fight to get and stay focused on my most cherished goals.  And, as I have written about previously in this blog, I wear the ultimate badge of procrastination, the designation of A.B.D. reserved to those who began but did not finish a Ph.D. program.  (See Dealing with the Undead, and Any Better Designations?)  Doesn't that alone make me a card-carrying procrastinator?

What would it mean if I were to relinquish my membership in this undesirable club?  Would I have to wear instead the colors of some other negative group?  Adult Suffering from A.D.D.?  Disorganized Person of Artistic Temperament?  Plain Old Flibbertigibbet?

It has been a long day, and a longer week.  I'm not going to resolve this now.  But it's something to think about. . .  tomorrow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This (Too) is What Democracy Looks Like

The revolution is seriously messing with my to do list. 

In the last six days, I have been to the capitol twice, and spent two late afternoons in our city's downtown, carrying signs and yelling with others who share my outrage at our Governor's far-reaching proposals supposedly aimed at dealing with a budget "crisis" that some have called "ginned up."  As the world watches, and momentum builds, many of us living at this epicenter of would-be Republican world-changing are experiencing our own "new normal."  It looks like this.

Wake to an alarm set an hour or two earlier than usual.  Dress in layers, to accommodate indoor and outdoor protest venues, in the alternating blizzard and thaw conditions of late February in Wisconsin.  Drink enough coffee to wake up, but not so much that nature will call inconveniently while you are manning the barricades.  Travel light.  In my case, this has meant turning my many-pocketed down coat into a Captain Kangaroo-style purse alternative.  Cell phone.  Driver's License (in case of arrest).  Credit card (in case of starvation).  Cough drops, to sooth the chanted-out throat.  A small book fits in one outside pocket.  I have not yet had time to read it.

To sign, or not to sign?  Using mittened hands to defend a placard from the wind and constant jostling can compromise circulation.  If you need a sign, and cannot afford (the time to make) one, a sign will be provided for you, courtesy of the many groups supplying ready-made slogans, or those who have abandoned theirs in order to enter the capitol, where signs on sticks are prohibited.  But if you do make your own, you want it to be worthy of the competition.  Sign witticism is a spinoff art form of these "days of (out)rage."

On some days, you determine that you can't be spared from your appointed rounds, and they start the revolution without you.  You might as well be there.  You steal whatever time you can manage to indulge your new obsession, scrounging scraps of news from Facebook, Twitter, political sites, email, TV video feeds, blogs and online magazines and newspapers.  You pass on what you learn, posting "scoops," "breaking news," useful information, and the occasional opinion or snarky remark.  Your eyes glaze over, and your head hurts.  You fall asleep watching the interminable assembly debates on amendments, substantive and otherwise, conjured by Democrats desperate to halt the process and to salvage what they can from the expected eventual outcome.

You wake with a tension headache, to add to your protest-related maladies--aching joints from uninterrupted standing, hoarseness, etc.  You cram your former life into the spaces between rallies, abbreviating workouts, grabbing meals on the run, turning a blind eye to the domestic disorder resulting from neglect.  You field Facebook messages like this one:  
Share! We'd like brief emails NOW from WI residents, especially
non-Madison residents, who've made the trek to the Capitol to protest
this bill. Submit your brief message tonight sharing what you'd like
Assembly Republicans to hear & know as they prepare to vote on this
...bill. Your message might be read outloud from the Assembly floor!See More
or this one:
If you've been in the Capitol this week...
...You Should be Heard!   Assembly Democrats have been fighting around the clock to defeat the Governor's budget "repair" bill. Since Gov. Walker & legislative Republicans have shut down the public's opportunity to be heard on this unpcredented bill, Rep....
or this one:
[friend's name] knows its really hard - but please, if you can, keep going to madison and get your friends or family or someone to go too! We need to replenish those intrepid protestors!!!
[all spelling/typing original to Facebook!]
You burn through hours signing online petitions, calling and emailing legislators, and making contributions to the "Fab 14"--whose paychecks are being withheld, whose homes are being dogged by state troopers, and whose personal and campaign resources must be dwindling as they enter week two of their enforced "vacation" in balmy northern Illinois (where one legislator today suggested they should be subject to Illinois state income tax while sojourning in the Land of Lincoln.  The state nicknamed after our illustrious 16th president who, as everyone surely knows by now, once leapt from the window of his 19th century Illinois statehouse to avoid a vote.)  You meet with church members to craft a statement against the proposed legislation.  You are assigned to draft a statement for your employing social justice organization.
Much is happening, in this new normal state, but not much is getting done.  Both sides are dug in, it would seem, for the long haul.  I imagine we'll get better at this as we go.
This weekend, my husband and I plan to celebrate our anniversary at a sleepover in the capitol.  New, certainly.  Normal?  Hardly. 

Procrastinating 101--Handicapping Ourselves

During the French Revolution, peasants expressed their resistance to the ruling order by wedging  shoes (in French, sabots) into the machinery.  Thus, sabotage, and saboteurs were born.  

In Chapter 4 of his book Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done, Dr. Joseph Ferrari brings up this history as background to his discussion of self-sabotage, self-handicapping, and self-regulation.  

Self-sabotage, he says, is behavior that creates an obstacle to successful performance, other than the ineptness or lack of ability we suspect ourselves of, thereby giving us something else to blame our possible poor performance on.  Procrastination is a form of self-sabotage.  Drug and alcohol abuse are others.  According to Ferrari, we engage in such behavior, not to "rage against the machine," but because we fear success and the greater expectations and burdens to which it can expose us.  

Ferrari doesn't talk about it, but my own experience leads me to speculate that at least some of us are also motivated by guilt to self-sabotage.  Failure can be equalizing for those not comfortable with their gifts, privilege, and good fortune, in the face of others' apparently lesser circumstances.  Or we might fear social isolation or romantic rejection if we become too successful, as some women appear to do.

Procrastination and other non optimal approaches also provide the excuses some of us come to rely on.  And somewhat circularly, we sometimes blame outside circumstances, or "the situation," for our procrastinating.  In his discussion of the penchant for excuse-making, Dr. Ferrari mentions the work of C.R. Snyder who, with Raymond Higgins and Rita Stucky, authored a book on the subject with this charming title:  Excuses:  Masquerades in Search of Grace(How could we not want to read a book so named?)

Ferrari goes on to discuss self-handicapping--the ways in which some of us hedge our bets, when we aren't sure of a project's success.

How does procrastination work as a self-handicapping strategy?  If we procrastinate, we don't start on a task until we have barely enough (or not enough) time to complete it.  We can then 1) claim we would have done a better job if only we'd had more time; or 2) shore up our self-esteem and others' opinions of our skill and effort if we happen to succeed anyway, despite the lack of an optimal, or even adequate amount of  time.

In an interesting study conducted by Dr. Ferrari, women procrastinators given a difficult problem to solve chose to work under conditions of distracting noise--a self-selected handicap.  Three other conditions were also manipulated in the research: 1)half the group received strongly positive feedback on their performance on a preceding task;  2) participants were told either that performance on the subsequent task was a significant indicator of their cognitive ability, or that it revealed nothing about this trait; and 3) participants were told either that results would be treated confidentially, or that they would be scored and publicized.  For some reason, Ferrari does not discuss how these three variables played out in the research. But he does conclude that procrastinators are more prone to employing self-handicapping tactics in addition to procrastination itself.

Ferrari uses the results of a study he did with Dr. Diane Tice, showing that men and women both chose to play video games or to engage in some other pleasant task before beginning on a "major task," as evidence of the use of procrastination to self-handicap.  It seems to me, though, that there are other possible interpretations of their choice.  Were these individuals perhaps relaxing before tackling a difficult project; using the chosen activity as a warm-up, that permitted some preliminary gearing up and background strategizing before initiating effort; or compensating themselves for the unpleasant aspects they expected to be part of the endeavor?  Kind of like having a last cigarette before quitting, or a bachelor party before marrying, or a pleasure trip before entering a convent?

Ferrari winds up the chapter with an exploration of self-regulation, a more encompassing and less strict sounding term than the older "self-control."  He relates the results of some work he did with Dr. Robert Emmons that 
found that procrastination is directly related to low self-control and even low self-reinforcement. . . .Interestingly, procrastinators claim that they cannot control their desires, and they tend not to reward themselves for the good things that happen to them.

One of the things, apparently, that we should be regulating is our ability to do the difficult and unpleasant things first, which "research shows," and Dale Carnegie asserted, is the key to success.  But 
procrastinators are unable to engage in strong self-control or to delay their gratification.  In other words, they experience a failure to self-regulate.
procrastinators are unable to maintain fast speed and be accurate.  Instead, they perform poorly, making lots of errors and finishing few tasks.
Is Ferrari saying that we differ in this from those who don't procrastinate?  He doesn't make this clear.  And for this procrastinator, anyway, the description doesn't apply.  I have a great degree of self-control, and sometimes delay gratification to the point of self-deprivation.  I can work much faster than most people I know, and am especially accurate.  I finish way too many tasks.  But my congenitally lousy sense of time and limits, and the difficulty I have in sorting and prioritizing the things I give my energy and attention to are what give me trouble.  I get a lot done, but I experience a lot of stress in doing so.  The combination of tackling too many things, and of periodically going on strike, are what comprise my particular brand of procrastination.

I have to say, too, that I sympathize with the artist Ferrari criticizes for her impulsive absorption in painting, which sometimes makes her late for her paid job.  He disparages, too, her lack of satisfaction with her work.  I know it's a stereotype, but for some of us, these qualities are part of an artistic temperament.  I can only imagine what Ferrari would have said of Van Gogh!

Ferrari speaks of self-regulation, like decisiveness in an earlier chapter, as a muscle that can be developed.  As a newbie triathlete, I'm all about muscle development.  But he loses me when he recommends multi-tasking, especially in light of what he had to say earlier in the chapter about self-sabotage and self-handicapping. 

I also take issue with what seems to me to be a linear, and overly narrow notion of  self-regulation.  How does this concept accommodate our multiple/conflicting identities, values, and goals?  For example, time spent on one area of one's life may be important in itself, though it "distracts" us from another significant aspiration.  When I was a graduate student, for example, I remember feeling torn between "my work," and my young daughter, and at a later date, my two young sons.  But time spent with my children was on-task, and properly "self-regulated" with respect to my goal of being a good parent.  Even fun can be a priority, especially as stress relief and health maintenance.  And as we are learning, self-care is vital for continued functioning, as well as for enjoying one's life.

Despite these problems, and although I have some quarrel with its organization and with what seems at times to be disjunction, I do like what Ferrari has to say at the end of this chapter:
Sometimes you need to both reach for the stars with your big dreams and also take a step-by-step, one-day-at-a-time approach.  If you tell yourself your dreams are impossible, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, predicting your defeat.  So keep the dream alive, in your macrocosmic bird's-eye perspective, but put your daily focus on achievable goals that will bring you closer to the main objective.
Good advice.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Procrastinating 101--Postponed Until Tomorrow

I have been up for 16-1/2 hours.  11-1/2 of those hours were spent travelling to Madison and back and participating in demonstrations there.  Another 3 were spent travelling to my church and back, hammering out a statement opposing our Governor's budget bill and planning a teach-in on the bill.  Another hour was spent catching up on news of the day.

No time and no energy are left to write my intended post today. 

Tomorrow, I will consider what Joseph Ferrari says about how we procrastinators are our own worst enemy.  Tonight, I feel that if this is so, Scott Walker and his cronies are giving our enemy selves a run for our money.  

Actually, they are easily expressing more enmity for my fellow citizens and me than we could possibly summon up against ourselves.  

As I will need my energy for the struggle ahead, I am going to bed now.  Tomorrow--that best friend of the procrastinator--is a good time to do today's other work.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Done for the Week: Getting Stuff Done Anyway

As I wrote last Friday, I was not particularly successful at keeping my wheels on the rails last week.  Again.  

A fair amount of stuff still got done, as this list details.

Done for the Week:  Feb. 14-20
  1. Continued off-season race training, distracted by earth shifting beneath my feet in Wisconsin; biked once
  2. Finished The Choir, by Joanna Trollope
  3. Stepped up volunteer support to transitioning nonprofit, due to death in colleague's family
  4. Attended viewing, funeral, graveside service, and repast
  5. Worked my two part-time jobs
  6. Published 5 blog posts
  7. Wrote 1 Gratitude Journal entry
  8. Meditated 2 times
  9. Attended transitional jobs meeting
  10. Celebrated middle child's Valentine's Day birthday--twice
  11. Went to the movies with my two sons
  12. Had a lunch date with my husband
  13. Watched Treme with my husband
  14. Watched our 2 teams play 2 basketball games, with my son and my husband
  15. Demonstrated locally, and in Madison, with my son and my husband respectively
  16. Attended two yoga classes
  17. Learned some more new html tricks
  18. Took my dog to the dog park, with my son and grandson
  19. Spent one of two scheduled sessions on "novelling"
  20. Spent way too much time online, following political uprising in my state, "working" Facebook, Twitter, and political sites, and updating my organization's website to reflect on-the-ground scheduling 
  21. Spent an hour beginning assault on our basement with my son
  22. Reconnected with my brother
As I look over the list above, the time I spent with family, in red, seems most important to me.  The birthday we celebrated reminded me of the impending emptying of the nest I've been watching over for 33+ years.  I work at remembering to enjoy the time I still have under the same roof or in the same zip code with all my children.    
Last week's focus goal was the same as the week before--to "ease into the coming week, and to resist getting drawn into the vortex of other people's agendas."  One protestor's sign I saw gave my state's Governor F's in Listening, Math, and Playing Well With Others; I have to say I deserve the same failing grade in keeping my nose to the grindstones I've assigned myself to tend.  The death of my colleague's brother derailed plans on two consecutive days, and an explosion of democracy took much of my energy and attention on the rest.  (See Stopping for Death, and Stopping for Stupidity.)  We're still trying to decide if we're a Midwestern Egypt here in Wisconsin, so I don't expect things to settle down soon.  I'm just going to try to go with the flow, or the seemingly unending snow, or whatever else is coming my way.  

Next week's focus goal will be to meditate daily, no matter what.  For the rest, I'll be trying to hang onto the strap through the present wild ride.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Best Laid Plans Meet History-Making Occurrences

My elephant is in revolt today.  

It has thrown off my rider, who sits dazed, in the dust, wondering what happened.  And the pachyderm has plunked itself down right beside her, refusing to budge.

If you read my earlier post on the work of the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, and specifically their book Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard--or if you found your way to their thoughts on your own--you may recognize the elephant and rider metaphor they borrowed from Jonathan Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis).  The elephant, you'll recall, represents our emotional self and the rider our rational side.  And these two have to have a workable arrangement if we are to move forward, or in any intended direction, for that matter.

Watching in a somewhat--okay, a completely--obsessive state the various dramas unfolding around me these past days, at the state, national and international levels, I am left wondering about the sense of following my little plans, or even my relatively grander ones.  Events, it seems, defeats, changes, and even accomplishments can come flying in from left field.  

I suppose I feel a little like I remember feeling many years ago after viewing a documentary in my then-husband's astronomy class.  The film took the viewer from the vastness of deep space, with its black holes, red dwarfs and quarks, to the microscopic worlds of cell life, and micro organisms.  The photography was breathtaking.  And at the end, I experienced something like a case of the psychological bends.  I felt simultaneously infinitesimal and insignificant, and planetary and profound.  It was dizzying.

And I wasn't sure if it mattered if I roused myself to leave the seat from which I had watched the hour-long spectacle.  Ever.  But I did.

I assume that my elephant and rider will eventually patch things up.  They usually do.  In the meantime, I'm in the wind, following the current.  This evening, I was blown to the streets, to yell myself hoarse about "what democracy looks like," while the literal wind whipped my face, and my sign about trampling on workers smacked me in the head more than once.

Tomorrow, I will be in Madison.  And after that?  It seems we are all subject to forces we can't foresee.

Later, for our plans.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stopping for Stupidity

The business of citizenship is taking more and more of my time these days.  

It seems there's a fresh battle forming on every front.   I live in the formerly great state of Wisconsin.  Here, we are at ground zero in the struggle to resist a radical right wing agenda that threatens to reshape our polity.  My state's Democratic senators are in hiding as I write this, attempting to delay a vote that seems almost certain to adopt the draconian measures proposed by our newly inaugurated Governor  in his effort to balance the budget.  Schools across the state are closed, as teachers join the throngs in protest.

Scott Walker's bill would strip public workers of nearly all collective bargaining rights, require their unions to be recertified every year, and allow workers to opt out of paying their union dues.  As a sop to a corporate campaign contributor, a section of wetlands would be made available for development.  Graduate assistants in our state's public universities would no longer  be eligible for in-state tuition, which would vitiate important research projects and cripple our world-class institutions of higher education.  On the heels of maneuvering to send back $800 million in federal funding for high-speed rail, and the thousands of jobs it would have created in our job-hungry state, it is rumored that the Governor is threatening to refuse Title I funding for low-income students in our public schools, on top of budget cuts of $500 per student in his proposed budget "repair" bill.  Every time I log onto my computer, I find the reactionary wildfire breaking out in a new sector. 

This morning, I spent time updating links on my organization's website to direct people regarding protest participation, and contacting their legislators; I contacted my own legislators; I attempted to call the Governor's office to register my opposition, but after spending a half hour listening to busy signals, and finally getting a ceaseless ringing that magically morphed into yet another busy signal (!), I gave up and sent an email.  Then, attending to a separate disaster, I called my U.S. Representative to register my concern about the public media funding threat, up for a vote today in Washington.

I will probably end up in our state capitol, along with tens of thousands of my fellow citizens, before the week is out.  And no, I don't have time for this.  But what else is more important right now?

Again, my business as usual must be set aside.  As my Governor attempts to let the world know that "Wisconsin is Open for Business," I am pulled away from mine.  And I am depressed about the future he and his confreres seem determined to force upon us.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stopping for Death

Today's post was delayed by life and death.  

I don't generally leave room in my cramped schedule for matters eternal.  So today, when I needed to attend a funeral for a good friend's family member, I squeezed the necessary services--indoor religious and snowy graveside--and the repast with the family in between meetings and other work obligations. 

The resultant rushing left me wondering, what kind of life leaves no time for death?  Isn't death, in fact, the most predictable occurrence of all?  Though, granted, it usually doesn't adhere to any timetable we can work around. 

The death of others is a good reminder of what matters, and of the need to use the life we have.  It should be the ultimate antidote to procrastination.  

The man we left behind at the cemetery today was younger than me, as is the case more and more as we ourselves age and escape with our lives--temporarily.  I didn't know him, but his passing brought me the gift of remembered mortality.  And left this poem of Emily Dickinson's playing through my mind.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Decisions, Decisions

Are you (gasp!) a decisional procrastinator?    

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating?  The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done, discusses "decisional procrastination" (DP in the trade, apparently,) in his third chapter.  It was not entirely clear to me whether he was saying that all procrastination involves indecision.  But implicitly, the procrastinator seems to be behaving indecisively when he or she puts off acting even after making a decision to, say, take on a project, or attempt a goal.

Ferrari tells us that difficulty with decisions may stem from the "diffuse identity" shared by most procrastinators.  This is a "style of identity," in which the individual avoids discovering her or his own weaknesses and strengths.  Such individuals "fail to commit themselves to any personal values and understanding of who they are."  (Are we procrastinators really that lame?) 

Ferrari goes on to explore the role of "information overload" and how it can compromise the "multithinking" required to self-regulate in order to perform a task.  To this reader, his treatment of this topic is a bit confusing, perhaps even confused.  He believes that many procrastinators would find the following scenario familiar:
You find yourself unable to decide which shirt to buy, which rug to order, which book to check out.  As a consequence, you buy three shirts, order two rugs, and check out several books from the library.  Then you fail to return the shirts, lose the receipt to the rugs, and pay overdue fines for the books.
I admit to defending myself from "TMI," and not only in the sense of embarrassingly personal disclosures by others.  But I believe it is more than financial limitations that prevent me from  purchasing multiple items because I can't make up my mind!  The library, of course, is another matter.  But then, can one really ever have too many books, if they are only temporary acquisitions?

Ferrari highlights research which finds that "decisives" gather more information about each possible alternative before choosing, while "indecisives" gather more information about the option they've already selected.  Ferrari believes indecisives "choose" (might we say "decide"?) to limit the amount of information they will deal with in making a determination, perhaps because they are easily distractible and wish to avoid being overwhelmed by information.  And he says that this is dysfunctional.

Indecisives appear to suffer decisional fatigue (which doesn't similary affect decisives) after making a certain number of decisions.  Ferrari speculates that indecisives have not built up their decision-making muscles, and prescribes more frequent decision-making.  

As to the genesis of indecisiveness, some studies show a link between being indecisive, and having had an indecisive mother and the ever-popular "cold and demanding" father.  You know, that ogre-father identified, it seems, in so many studies of negative psychological bents of one kind or another.  He erroneously--in my view--concludes that the existence of decisive individuals raised in the same house as their indecisive siblings "shows that procrastination is not genetic but learned."  But don't siblings differ significantly in their genetic makeup?  For example, cystic fibrosis, which is genetic in origin, will statistically affect one in four children of two parents who carry the genetic trait. 

But whether or not we may inherit a tendency to procrastinate because of indecisiveness, it seems reasonable to hope that the behavior itself can at least be modified.  Ferrari has this advice for those of us who would cure ourselves of the scourge of indecision:

  • Limit your options (to avoid "choice overload"; group options by shared characteristics)
  • Journal your thoughts (and challenge "irrational and unproductive" ones that keep you from acting)
  • Do the math (list pros and cons, and weigh them against each other)
  • Don't look back ("Move on, move forward.")
  • Take your time ("Take time to decide, don't take time to stall."  Aim to gather enough information to decide, not all the information.)
And for those of us who are becoming more grown up by the minute, Ferrari warns that
"...whatever helped you reach your goals in phase 1 [of adult life] might prevent you from attaining them in phase 2," when we must transition from the values and roles that brought us this far.  Indecision can rear its ugly head; it can "steal your right to choose."

I have not yet decided how valuable this book may be in my quest to understand how and why I procrastinate. . . 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Done for the Week: More Time on the Hamster Wheel

Another week.  Another few dollars.  And continuing fatigue and overcommitment.  It must be midwinter.

Here's what I slogged my way through last week. 

Done for the Week:  Feb. 7-13
  1. Continued off-season race training, still fighting a sinus infection and an intestinal bug; biked once
  2. Finished Buddha's Brain:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson
  3. Stepped up volunteer support to transitioning nonprofit, due to death in colleague's family
  4. Worked my two part-time jobs
  5. Published 5 blog posts
  6. Wrote 3 Gratitude Journal entries
  7. Meditated 3 times
  8. Attended candidates' forum on county's jobs emergency
  9. Watched our 2 teams play 2 basketball games
  10. Attended Issues Night
  11. Attended showing of 9500 Liberty and panel discussion on anti-immigrant legislation
  12. Attended two yoga classes
  13. Learned some new html tricks
  14. Babysat for my grandson; watched Babe (the Pig)
  15. Spent two scheduled sessions on "novelling"
  16. Took my dog to the dog park with my son and husband
  17. Had Happy Hour soup date with my husband
  18. Sent medical information to my sister, to help with my mom's care
Last week's focus goal was to "ease into the coming week, and to resist getting drawn into the vortex of other people's agendas."  This goal fell victim to the unexpected death of my colleague's brother, which led me to take up some significant slack in our organization's ongoing overload of work and crises.  What can I say?  If there is some other way to handle this kind of thing, I don't know what it is.  The best I can aim for, I suppose, is to trim my list of "subject to's," so that there are fewer goads to abandonment of my "best laid plans."  I will keep the same focus goal for the coming week, and try to breath before volunteering, or assenting to requests.
As I continue to try to endure, and not magnify, the stress of my life at this stage, I am helped by others' suggestions and outlooks.  This past week, I followed the recommendation of my yoga teacher, and read Rick Hanson's Buddha's Brain:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, item 2, in red, on the list above.  My rapid response assessment this morning--as I prepare to rush out the door to a family birthday breakfast, followed by a protest rally, office time and an afternoon of child care, a birthday dinner and movie, and a few other things I'm going to try to cram in--is that reading this book was the most important thing I did last week.  I will write more about it later, but obviously its subject pertains to my never-ending battle for . . .

And now, I'm off to try to put into practice some of what I learned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Songs From Inside the Chrysalis: My Playlist for Befriending Change

On the heels of yesterday's post about change fatigue, I'm ready to change my tune (sorry, pun intended).  Many of the things I've been reading lately about neuroplasticity argue against staying stuck in word-mode--my favorite hang-out.  Music is often mentioned as another avenue to brain change.  Of course, my music therapist friend could have told me long ago (but didn't, probably because she couldn't get a word in edgewise!) about music's positive effects on brain waves, breathing and heart rate, and state of mind, as well as its other potential health benefits

I am not sure, not having made a thorough study of this area, if we should be looking to genre, tempo, rhythm, intonation, form, or some other musical aspect as we seek to employ this art form instrumentally (eek!  another pun!).  I have seen reference to possible negative effects of music, so I suppose I am taking some chances here.  But I decided to throw caution to wherever it is that hesitance might be jettisoned, and choose some tunes to listen to.  The hope is that their sentiments might inspire and move, if not sooth, this halting changer.  

This approach is clearly not neuroscience, or a valid investigation of--well, anything.  The idea is merely to try an aural wash of change, to see what happens when I listen to a dose of change songs.

In addition to  focusing, in typical word-aholic fashion, on lyrics, I chose the following songs for personal listenability, applying my own general taste along with a sense of adventure.  Every one of them has the word "change," or one of its declensions, in the title.   Each is linked to iTunes, to allow readers to hear a brief sample, or to purchase the entire song.  Because iTunes and I apparently don't use the same sampling criteria, I have provided lyrics excerpts. 

1.  Changing Inside,  Mark Abis
These days I’m walking the road alone
Returning once again to my only real home
Waking up early, staying up late
Reading a book I borrowed from my friend the heavy weight
Finding a new way to begin
Living without but living within
My eyes are opening to what might appear
As waking up to the simple fact that I’m here

2.  I Am Changing, Jennifer Holliday
I am changing, seeing everything so clear now
I am changing, I'm gonna start right now, right here
I'm hoping to work it out, and I know that I can

3.  Forever Changing, The Owls
the time to finally begin
will go right when you appear

forever changing
you don't have to hurry
forever changing
you don't have to worry

4.  Dream About Changing, Sally Seltmann
I close my eyes and dream about changing. 

I'm sailing a ship on a lake that never runs dry.
Something exciting because I'm a little I'm a little bit shy.

Girl comes running with a book in her hand
I open to the first page it says 'yes you can

5.  Changing All Those Changes, Buddy Holly
I should have reconsidered all those things I said I'd do
so now I'm changing all those changes
that I made when I left you

6.  Changing Horses, Dan Fogelberg

Looking farther than you'll ever hope to see
Takes you places you don't know
Search for someone you can't ever hope to be
And still you go
Oh, still you go

7.  Better Change, Fogelberg again

You better change before the sun goes down
You better leave before you are the last in town
You better raise your fortresses or tear them down
Tear them down...tear them down

8.  Ever Changing Times, Aretha Franklin
And me, ever changing time
Everything is going so much faster
It seems like I'm
Watching my life, and everything I do
Wonder if the dreams that I believed in
Can still come true

9.  Changing, Four Bitchin' Babes,
People I used to be
don't even say hello to me
I'd like to introduce my selves to each other
But they keep. . .

10.  Changing Opinions, Philip Glass
Maybe it's the hum
Of changing opinion
Or a foreign language
In prayer
Maybe it's the mantra
Of the walls and wiring
Deep breathing
In soft air
11.  Change, Tracy Chapman
How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?
Makes you turn around,
Makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change?
Makes you change?
I welcome reader's suggestions for pieces to include in future playlists.  There are more change songs out there than I could wade through in a lifetime.  Apparently, more than a few of us are dealing with the metamorphosis thing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When the Bloom is Off the Self-Improvement Rose

I think I may be suffering from change fatigue. 

I have seen numerous mentions of some critical period after which it supposedly becomes easier to maintain a new behavior--when change is consolidated--(ranging from 90 days to one year).  I wonder if the length of time might be partly a function of how much change is being attempted. 

During the last year, I have intentionally changed what feels like a plethora of things about the way I operate in the world.  I have established a practice of blogging five days a week; initiated and continued physical training that prepared me to compete in 5Ks and a sprint triathlon; begun attending yoga classes regularly; returned to a regular practice of writing Morning Pages; kept a gratitude journal; established and generally adhered to a schedule for writing a novel, making significant progress; become more intentional about spending recreational time with my husband; made regular meditation a routine; and begun to be more strategic about my social justice work.  In short, a fairly wholesale reform.

But very few of these activities and behaviors feel well established.  I still have to work against the temptation to backslide, but I'm no longer getting the hit off the whole project that I did in the beginning.  It's starting to feel like slogging.

I'm missing the novelty, that little kick that makes change, among the most dreaded of human experiences, also fun.  What do we do when the excitement and energy that accompany behavior change in the initial phase wears off, before the change has been incorporated?   When the new behavior, still needing effort and energy to learn, loses its shinyness and becomes more drudgery than diverting?

How do we navigate this stage of change?

Surely some wise person has written about this, some social or neuro scientist has studied it.

And there's my little buzz for today--a new area to delve into, a new niche expertise to acquire.   I research, therefore I am.  Time to fire up my library card, activate my search engines.  More later, when I'm (superficially) smarter. . . .

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reporting for Time Boot Camp

It's 8 a.m.  Do you know where your time is?

Seriously.  We humans made the whole thing up (Ever see a Weimaraner with a wrist watch? One not tricked out by William Wegman?), yet at least some of us can't seem to keep track of the darned stuff.  

I've been thinking about this since coming across Jason Fitzpatrick's recent LifeHacker article entitled How to Hone the Accuracy of Your Internal Clock and Better Understand Your Time.  (I was intrigued to note the url for this piece, which in my experience betrays an earlier working title.  In this case, Mr. Fitzpatrick apparently entertained the idea of calling his post "Become a Time Ninja to Stave Off Procrastination and Increase Productivity.")

Fitzpatrick summarizes an approach recommended in Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It NOW by psychologists Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen--a classic I have not yet found time to study.  He highlights their "concrete exercises to improve and insights into our time management shortcomings."

Just why are some of us plagued by such difficulties?  Fitzpatrick, channeling Burka and Yuen, itemizes these possible contributors to our "diminish[ed] ability to accurately judge the passage of time":
  • an overambitious nature
  • lack of practice
  • chronic stress
  • age
  • dopamine levels
  • outright wishful thinking

In my own case, as I sit here trying to push out this blog post, so I can: 
  • jump in the shower
  • throw on enough clean and not too hideous clothing to survive the single digit temperatures and weather a few hours in the office and several more in the company of a three-year-old, and 
  • pick up the coworker I promised a ride to at the new pushed-back time just over a half-hour from now, 
I see that all of the above are probably at work.

Thus, I am heartened to learn that there is a fix for my time swirl, a proactive strategy Fitzpatrick refers to as "time-boot camp [sic]."

I won't cannibalize Fitzpatrick's synopsis here, but direct similarly challenged readers to read it for themselves. 

I'm going to start with the first step.
[s]tart measuring how long things actually take. If, for example, you have it set in your mind that your commute takes 20 minutes but in reality it takes 35 with the morning traffic, then you'll need to adjust your morning routine accordingly. The same thing with your morning shower; if your quick 10-minute shower is actually a groggy 25-minute wake-up session, you'll know where those precious extra 15 minutes vanish too every morning. 
I predict that I'm going to find that everything takes much longer than I believe it will take, and than I leave time for.

I now have 20 minutes for the three things I itemized above.   Could there be a slight problem with that?