Saturday, January 19, 2008

Aligning with Constructivism

OMG this is a long post.

So I've figured out a couple of things I can do right now in my current life to be more aligned with the life of my vision.
  • I can change my attitude
  • I can change my thoughts
  • I can shuffle my schedule and get out of this rut
First, the attitude. More happy. Years ago, life felt magical. In my head, I was already a rock star. I was physically in this world, but mentally, I had my rock star life overlaid like a sheet of vellum. I felt like anything was possible. (I'm still wondering what happened to change that, and if it was sudden as in one event or just a gradual dissipation.) The key here is the "magical" feeling. Making dinner to suit me, for example, used to bring great pleasure, because I'd create offbeat dishes or stirfries or curries—stuff my Mother would never cook (let alone eat)—and I would be puttering around in my kitchen humming to myself before sitting down and enjoying my meal with great satisfaction.

Last night, out of hunger and food boredom, I fell back onto one of my rut foods—nachos. Except I make them with blue chips, and I add soy "burger" crumbles and a green & red pepper and onion veggie blend on top. It's pretty good. It's nothing special, but it's a good fall-back meal. I had a moment. It was like a time-shift. I completely forgot the events of the past couple of years and was focused on sprinkling the cheese and I almost smiled to myself thinking about my nachos, almost hummed merrily—

—and I stopped myself from feeling good.

In the next heartbeat, I froze, because I realized that I'd just semi-subconsciously stopped myself from allowing a POSITIVE feeling to rise to the surface.

I prevented myself from feeling good.

Isn't that awful?

That lead to spending a good bit of time analyzing the reasons why I didn't think I should allow myself to feel good over something as mundane as making nachos. Sparing the details. Let's just say I realized I need an attitude adjustment, and that I have to consciously focus on allowing those happy feelings that WANT to come up to do so unrestrained.

Next, the thoughts. Most of us automatically think negatively without really trying—we're conditioned that way. Everywhere you turn, on TV, in the news, there are sensationalized stories of war, economic crisis, rising gas prices, accidents, diseases, and so on, and we are constantly barraged with a message of how difficult life is. There are good messages to be found, but because they seem to originate from the religious channels and include words such as "God" and "faith", a lot of people opt not to listen to them, which is fine. I'm just trying to point out the irony.

I'm just as challenged as the rest of us when it comes to what I allow to pass through my grey matter. I am every bit as susceptible to the barrage. What I'm doing is being more conscious of what's trying to get in, as well as what's trying to get out. I'm choosing the positive thoughts. It takes practice and I slip up sometimes, but I'm trying. It's a habitual thought process, and habits take time to change.

Lastly, the schedule. When I was a kid, my parents handled everything, giving me ample free time to play and pursue my own interests. Then one day they decided I needed more responsibility (which is fine). But suddenly, the things I wanted to do became tainted. They became unnecessary. They were things that you do later, after the "important" things are finished.

I would sit down to get engrossed in a really interesting book, and my Mother would say, "why don't you do something constructive for awhile rather than sit around reading all day?" Practicing guitar for a half hour to be prepared for my weekly lesson was acceptable and encouraged, but sitting there noodling for hours on end was non-productive and I should really be doing "something else". The dichotomy here is that my Mother railed on about doing the important things first, but sent a mixed message that you need to stop and have a little fun, too.

OK, which is it?

Well, I learned. I learned to do the important things first, and once they are finished, THEN I can sit down and design that sock, play with music software, dye some yarn, play with my horses... once everything else is done.

Twenty years later and I am STILL waiting for the day when the Important Things are Done and I can be free to focus on MY stuff. Someday, I'll learn to program Flash. Someday, I'll finish my album. Someday... when all the other stuff is done. When the house is clean. Or I get my masters (which I'm not sure I want). Or I move to a different house. Or...

The bottom line is, I get to the end of the day and there is still stuff. So I don't feel like I'm "allowed" to turn my attention to something that isn't "constructive" or "productive" or "important". I have a tendency towards obsessive workaholism balanced with a rebellion of doing nothing (with all the accompanying resentment) and have been known to work well past the reasonable endpoint (say 12 hours to touch up paint) even though I know I'm pushing it and I'm just going to wake up angry with myself the next day.

Mother told me part one: "Finish the important things first". But she forgot to tell me part two: Exactly when, pray tell, will I know that all the important things are finished?

At what point can I honestly and rightfully say, NOW it's OK to do my thing?

Maybe she didn't know, either. Reflecting back on her life, I think she needed the answer, too.

So here's what I've decided. My time, my LIFE, is like my job. I have so many hours in which to do stuff. I'm accountable to myself for how I use this time. I've allotted 7 hours for sleep/rest (which is about what I need), and 2 hours for eating/personal care (or extra sleep), leaving 15 hours that are up to me to fill.

I've decided to break up that 15 hours into 3-hour spans. I've decided that I am absolutely prohibited from focusing on the Mass Organization Project (ie "the Important Thing") for more than six hours in one day, and that if the tasks for the day are of a more physically-demanding nature, then I am limited to three hours total. I'm starting out on an 18-hour-per-week ration at first (3 hours per day).

I establish a list of tasks to be completed within that time span (realistically), set a start and end time, and then I go. When the time is up, I must stop working and go on to do MY stuff. If the task I'm on at the end will only take 15 minutes or less to complete and be done, I can allow it, but I must make up for it by shortening the work time the following day. So if I worked 3 hours and 15 minutes today, I work 2 hours and 45 minutes tomorrow (physical labor).

I can also move hours around if I know I'm going to be doing something that requires more time such as painting a room, or if I want to take a day off from it completely I just add time to another day. Basically, I have 18 total hours per week in which I am "allowed" to do Important Things and I can shift them around as desired as long as I stay within the 18-hour limit. The 18-hour limit will increase to 36 hours once I've been successful for three weeks (21 days to a new habit).

In addition, it's a six-day week. Sundays are verboten. NO WORK ON SUNDAY. On Sunday, I focus purely on FUN. It's not a religious thing, it's a throwback to how I lived in LA when I was going to VIT: five days of focus on music studies. Friday nights out on the town. Saturday, run errands, do laundry, grocery, etc. Saturday night, out on the town. Sunday: go to the 3 for 3 movie theatre and sit through three movies in a row for three bucks (complete downtime). Later on, I replaced this with spending Sunday afternoon at the Bodhi Tree bookstore or at Venice Beach or something equally fun. I was much more balanced then.

True, it doesn't seem like I'll be devoting a large portion of my day to this enormous task when I should be working like mad to get it done. It might seem like I'm taking an awful lot of free time, but that's precisely the point. I need to do something drastic like this in order to break my unhealthy workaholic tendency and rebuild it to a normal level of Important Things Work balanced against Fun/Me-time. I have to swing the pendulum the opposite way.

By prohibiting myself from going past six hours on easy stuff (sorting papers, yarn, clothes, basic light household chores) or three hours on heavy stuff (loading up all those tubs, OMG, from the living room and taking them to the storage unit, installing toilets, etc), I'm using reverse psychology to motivate me to work. I'm not ALLOWED to work. Hmm. Suddenly, it's more appealing. Plus, there's a time limit. Having that stopping point relieves me of the guilt I feel that it's not all done yet.

How is it going so far? Today was the first day. I'm amazed. I got my entire list done. It would have been three hours, but I made a couple of mistakes. But that's OK, because it made me aware of some of my pitfalls—things I wasn't conscious of doing that have made it take longer for me to do stuff in the past. (It took 4.5 hours and yes, I'm shortening tomorrow's time.)

For example, I had some kitchen cleanup duties in there. All I had to do was take out the recycling and trash, put the dishes in the dishwasher, wash the dirty pots and pans (by hand because they stay nicer that way), wipe off the counters and stove, and put away a couple of pizza pans. Well, I got all that done in about 15 minutes (faster than I anticipated). Then I made a mistake. Instead of stopping when I completed the tasks on my list, I added/created a new duty that wasn't necessary at the time but "while I was there"... I saw greasy grimy gunk on the range hood that was attracting fuzz, so I decided to clean IT, too, as well as the backsplash. That cost me a full half hour!

While doing a quick-sort of the tubs in the living room to make sure it was all stuff to be stored, I came across an issue of Time from 1978. OK, why? Why did Mom save it? Nothing was marked. I should have just laughed and pitched it, right? Wrong. I sat down and paged through it. It was fascinating. There were cigarette ads, booze ads, and a beautiful full-color four-page ad for the 1979 Pinto. Yep. You guessed it. Not only did I save it for its historic magnificence, but I lost a good 20 minutes of work time poring over that thing. I got thoroughly distracted by something that I didn't need to be focusing on at the time.

I also got hungry and stopped to eat a cookie. And I forgot to factor in catbox duty.

However... I made SERIOUS progress in the living room, and I am now down about six bins' worth of crap. All because rather than looking at it as "*sigh* yuck, I have to spend all day sorting this crap in the living room it's so overwhelming I can't take it", I set a time limit and by golly—I did it! The best thing is that rather than feeling like I'd failed to "finish" yet again, I felt immensely accomplished. I felt like it was absolutely OK to stop when I did. It's liberating, I'll tell ya, liberating!

I'm almost—dare I say it—excited about tomorrow's work period. It's like a game: how much can I accomplish in three hours? The reward being that once the three hours is up, I'm free to do ANYTHING I want to.

That's the next challenge. Teaching myself that it's OK to do something for me. I'll probably have to set up a time-limit/time-frame for that as well. Such as, I have three hours for work, then three hours for music, or three hours to spin, or sew, or read, or play games—but it HAS to be something other than being on the computer (unless it's to compose music), Second Life, watching TV—other than what I usually fall into by default. I have to make a conscious choice to do something completely "non-constructive". (Mother's definition of "constructive" meant that it had a purpose toward the important things; she got mad once when I suggested that since I was sewing, I was constructing a garment, therefore I was doing something constructive. I love you, Mom. In spite of it all.)

Now I'm going to get off this computer (after I finish catching up on blogs) and hit the hay.

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