Foggy Brain Followup: The Thrill of Logging

Last week’s experiment tracking my episodes of “brain fog”—those times when I found it difficult to focus on a designated task, or even think about starting any work at all—gave me a lot of insights into what worked/didn’t work, and I ended up having a busy, productive week. However, I know from experience that the first week doesn’t give me the whole picture. I like the excitement of a first week of experimentation, because I tend to prefer novelty over the dreariness of daily existence. That excitement gives me enough energy to push past my normal limits and focus on a single area of interest, and this can mask my ability to assess it objectively.

That said, I think I had a GREAT first week, and notable in that I was able to make progress on several projects WITHOUT feeling frustrated about them not being finished and off my plate. In other words: I felt a sense of accomplishment instead of the usual impatience that NOTHING IS DONE. This is the result, I think, of my recent shift to a kinder, more realistic model of how anything worthwhile actually gets done: it’s not instant, it’s often challenging, and the outcome is not clear for most of the way. Before, I had an adventure movie model of how it should get done.

The other major achievement of week one was learning to deal with frustrating challenges. There were three distinct ways that I reacted poorly:

  • Headache due to confusion: When trying to learn something new and not understanding it, the result was confusion + an actual headache. I would describe the sensation like my brain getting stuck in an endless loop of not finding answers to my questions, creating a situation where there was no satisfying resolution. The trigger was often bad technical documentation that overloaded by thought inputs with undefined concepts; without a model of understanding, my ability to remember and relate information is severely diminished.

  • Headache due to frustration: This is similar to the confusion headache, but is more of an emotional response to confusion. This is the headache that happens after I determine I’m in a situation that I can’t do anything. It’s more of an ambient weariness around the entire head, causing me to tune-out or become sleepy. Or, I get angry and impatient, feeling disgust and disdain for whatever powers conspired to put me in this terrible situation, which channels the energy into other action.

  • Foggy-headedness: This is not so much a headache as it is a mental dullness combined with the inability to initiate action. It’s a passive state of confusion and disinterest, brought about by the feeling that I “have” to do something that isn’t very exciting. Sometimes it is due to low energy or mental fatigue, and there is no driving desire to overcome it. For example, right now I’m feeling quite mentally fatigued because I have a meeting coming up related to (ugh) personal healthcare insurance, and I would like to take a nap, but I also want to share these thoughts on the blog. That desire to share overrides the tiredness. If the desire isn’t there, then the fogginess wins.

Last week, I came up with some ways of dealing with confusion and frustration, and I think I’ve reduced the amount of friction there just by adopting a better attitude about work-related learning. I don’t think it will be a problem moving forward. What remains, however, is the challenge of managing Fog Brain and building better tools for creative synthesis. Fog Brain is a low-energy state that prevents me from initiating projects by even taking a first step. Creative synthesis is the challenge of making anything that combines multiple pieces and concepts into a new work; this is one reason I’m so interested in achieving information nirvana.

Which brings me to this week, so far!

I know that stuff is getting done, which I can verify by looking at this week’s ETP pages in the mini-notebook. However, the foggy brain has returned. I think last week, it was the daily logging of my activities (in the blog, as raw notes, followed by the summary the following morning) that helped me keep centered. I was very active in trying to resolve the Fog Brain mystery as I pursued various activities: “Why do I have foggy brain? What does it mean, and what can I do about it?” This week, not being active in this mystery resolution, I am instead left only with my project milestone goals and external possibilities. I don’t find this as compelling. It’s just work that needs to get done.

Perhaps I do need the energy that comes from writing about my day as I solve mysteries about myself in the context of my daily business. Although I have tried not to think of my life in adventure terms lately because it created misleading expectations about how I should evaluate how I work, I still like the idea that there’s an adventure role to play. That role may be to continue to identify, document, and solve the personal mysteries of my existence, as I go about my business of becoming a creatively-independent maker of interesting tools. It may be my sleuthing activity that is the anchor of my identity, not what I make or how I want to make my living. That latter stuff is important, sure, but I think it may be the investigation that is really close to me. Perhaps investigation is my passion, particularly investigation of how things are made? Making things is just the way I make a living, then, in service of investigation. It’s kind of backwards, but it also makes a kind of sense!