Adrenaline and Action

I’ve been thinking adrenaline and focus, after reading a comment by CricketB in which she describes how she gets things moving with her kids. It had never occurred to me that perhaps that there was a lack of adrenaline in my daily routine. I ticked through the relevant data:

  • The recent project experience (pressure and stress and excitement) ended up being very productive, so there’s one point in favor of adrenaline.
  • Usually I strive for peace and quiet. The entire life-balance thread is an attempt to formalize some of those elements; my assumption that with better balance, my productivity tubes will unclench and glorious things will happen. This may be mistaken. Result: feeling of well being. Non-Result: big hairy projects remain unshaven.
  • I have bursts of enthusiasm with people, and it is in the context of this excitement that things tend to move forward. Could this be…ADRENALINE?

After a visit to Wikipedia, I learned that “adrenaline” is actually called epinephrine, and it does all kinds of interesting things that enhance our ability to survive dangerous physical situations. I hate the idea of tinkering with my body chemistry through drugs, so I am not thinking about ingestion or injection of any substance…I don’t even like taking aspirin! However, there might be a way of generating “adrenaline” (whatever that means) that could be added to my anti-procrastination toolkit.


I’m reminded of that old saying, “Smile! You’ll feel better!” that is backed up by research in neuroscience; apparently, the physical act of smiling by itself has a positive effect on your emotional state. I keep forgetting how closely tied the body is to the mind. Perhaps physical and mental exercises that raise my stress levels in a challenging way will lead to a similar effect on productivity. I’ve heard of other people using games and deferred rewards to accomplish the same thing; in this case, I want to feel the raw energy.

Starting Conditions

I tend toward calmness and reflection. I enjoy sitting out in the sun and idly thinking about whatever happens to be in front of me. Ordinarily this sounds like it would be relaxing, but it has a big downside: when I have a great idea, the initial burst of excitement at its novelty lasts only as long as it takes for me to outline the major elements that need to be done. Then I lose interest and file it away as a “would be nice” thing to do. The result: I’m generally happy, but not accomplishing anything that I think would make me more happy.

To generate “adrenaline”, I’m really talking about generating “attention”. The mind, wandering by itself on a sunny day, is easily convinced to flit to another thought. The body, however, could force the issue by actually doing something. The mind, however, is responsible for telling the body to move in the first place, but it’s too busy thinking of fun things or being distracted. The three measures I use to deal with this are:

  1. remove or flee the distractions
  2. be near someone who is being more focused than me
  3. be responsible for the well-being of someone other than me

I have associated a detached professional demeanor as appropriate when doing work, something I probably absorbed from other focused people I’ve worked with. This is a calm demeanor, designed to quell fires and panic. However, it probably isn’t necessary when I’m working by myself. I need to generate some excitement and fire!

The Experiment

So yesterday, instead of calmly sitting at my computer and wondering why the heck I wasn’t actually getting anything done, I first berated myself for being lame. And did I want to be lame? HELL NO.

I let the displeasure and anger build, which increased my heart rate. I let myself breath deeper and more rapidly. I tensed muscles and balled fists, as if the task itself were a burly antagonist daring me to take it on. I paced back and forth, telling myself that I was not living up to my own ideals or taking my own medicine, and that made me a candidate for being a loser and a hypocrite. I let myself get angry. Then I told myself there was just one thing I could do to break the curse: finish a project

It seemed to work. I got a long-standing personal HTML/CSS project done, finally. Woo hoo!


I don’t know if this approach would work again, but it’s interesting enough that I will try it in moments where I’m being distracted.

I have that bunch of task cards that I’m whittling down. We shall see if another one falls today. DAVE SMASH! WAAAARRGH!

A few side notes:

  • As I was browsing Wikipedia’s entry on epinephrine and other neurotransmitters, I came across a mention of a subtype of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) known as Predominantly Inattentive. This subtype lists many symptoms that I could ascribe to myself. Whether I have it or not, there are drug-free regimens that are used with kids to help them cope with their attention deficit. I’d love to know what those exercises are.
  • I’m not suggesting that people should beat themselves up emotionally, particularly if they’re already feeling low. I think it may work for me because I already have a value system in place that says making stuff and showing it is the foundation to everything I want to accomplish. There is no alternative path; I’ve explored the ones that I’ve seen, and the conclusion I have now is there’s no avoiding the messy work.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the experience :-)