2011-0902 A Week of Resets

This week has shaped up to be a very down week for me across the board. However, it’s confirmed several bad habits as bad, and given me some tough choices to contemplate moving forward.

Bad Habits are Still Bad

The go to sleep early, wake up early routine truly works and when I allowed it to go away bad things happened. But this badness is not simple cause and effect, nor is the goodness in the habit self-contained.

First, I think it worked because I was focused on making it happen. And this focus made me simplify my list of goals. I found myself highly focused and productive, but I think it was because I was using that state to validate my suspicions that early rising works for me.

The habit started to fall apart after I accepted that premise, and found myself swept up once more in the sheer number of projects that I am trying to address all at once while eking out a living as a freelance designer. At times, it seems very doable. At other times, it seems daunting. Since everything I do that is new to me seems to take a lot of time, frustration builds rapidly until something breaks inside of me, and I lose hope until the next infusion of energy happens along.

So I think this means that the early habit is actually a method that I apply in the service of controlling the frustration I feel with my slow, unpredictable progress.

Controlling Frustration

I have a giant, giant pile of things I would like to do and make. If I were to try to sum it up in a few big goals, it would probably be:

  • Master craftsman, programmer, designer, writer
  • Seller of high quality goods

Right now, I probably could say I’m at somewhere pretty much at the beginning of the journey:

  • Average programmer, with no “chosen” language
  • Beginning maker of things
  • Above average design thinker, average designer
  • Writer of copious-but-roughly organized words
  • Newbie marketer
  • Newbie businessman

Actually, now that I’ve written that down, I feel a little more sure about the direction I’m moving in, and now my optimism is kicking back in. But the hard part is moving forward. What is responsible for that?

Forcing Movement

It seems I am constantly facing a crisis of motivation. The methods I’ve have tried below generate more of this precious resource:

  • Planning in detail – This is useful to a point, but also daunting
  • Being around inspiring masters – This is helpful in feeling affirmation about direction, and desiring to be part of this group. When not in proximity to this resource, motivation wanes.
  • Being around supportive colleagues – This helps ride out the lows and generates new ideas, and helps release frustration through venting to a sympathetic ear. However, the work you must do often is alone, as the skill/goal overlap is slim. Being part of someone else’s project in a support role can be a good head-clearing exercise that helps that person get things done. I haven’t learned how to let people contribute to my projects. That’s an area for future exploration.
  • Writing – Writing is probably the most effective way I have to generate momentum by myself. I really need to just do it every morning (hence, this journal).
  • Better health – When I was going to the gym, I did feel better physically. However, it just made me want to stay outside more and not sit in front of the computer so much. More of a BALANCE and maintenance contributor, I think, than a motivation generator.
  • Better nutrition – Less of a factor than I thought as far as what I eat. I have to eat MORE in the morning, otherwise the brain doesn’t have the juice to last the day.
  • More sleep – This is what I tried with the rise early / sleep early experiment a few weeks ago, and it does have its place. There are aspects of the methodology that are most helpful, particularly the FIRST THING IN THE MORNING work ritual
  • More sun – This is just a good feeling. It also leads to warm, reflective thoughts
  • More showers – I get a lot of my clearest, most actionable thoughts when water it around me. Strange, as I don’t particularly like water. Showers, though, are where I get my most surprising and actionable bursts of insight.
  • Physical motion – Just moving and NOT thinking seems to work. Doing the dishes. It’s more of a reflective exercise.
  • Mental Isolation – I’ve found that if I meditate and address each thought I am having, dismissing it for a time, then what is left is what tends to happen.
  • Isolation with Project – If I shut myself in a room without any distractions except what I have to do, I can start working on the project because otherwise there’s nothing else to do. The alternative is boredom.
  • Good attitude – This is last week’s lesson. A good attitude, combined with the mental isolation trick and physical motion, is a good way to start.
  • 15 minute limit – A time isolation that seems doable, and gives me permission to not try to fix the WHOLE DAMN project.

As I was contemplating this list, it ate at me that there was something that must be missing. These are all techniques designed, with the exception of “Good Attitude” and “Mental Isolation”, which are designed to push through resistance. Good Attitude and Mental Isolation are relatively recent additions to the list, and they are designed to dissolve resistance.

But what might pull me through the resistance to the goal? Inspiration is something of a push-pull force, but it’s weak without the immediate availability something to sink your teeth into. Moving forward in any significant way requires the building of new roads and skills, and it’s a lot of work. Faith comes to mind next, and it’s a powerful force if you’re a believer that tends toward any kind of polarization; that polarization drives you away from some things and toward others, from the negative to the positive. To some degree, I have faith that what I’m doing will likely yield positive results for me, but it’s hardly in the realm of “God’s Work”.

Pulling versus Pushing

I sat down at Starbucks this morning, sitting in the sun, and I recalled something that my friend Mark had said about me once, that I like certainty. He said this not exactly as a compliment, but as the kind of matter-of-fact observation that one would expect from one of your oldest friends. And it was true. As flexible as I strive to be, I love certainty. Certainty feels like the last click as the pieces fall into place, and from that point on it’s GO GO GO. I love seeing how things fit together, and I love novel ideas brought to fruition. But the itch that must be scratched for all that to have true meaning to me is that it clicks together. Up to then, it’s just me horsing around.

Certainty is my pulling force. “Getting to certainty”, therefore, might be the fundamental piece of my methodology that I’ve never directly addressed. I’m sure there are others, but this is the one that fits both the immediate and historical framework of my frustrations.

In the pure experimental approach, when one is applying the scientific method, one does not pull the certainty switch. Not ever, if you are a good researcher. You draw conclusions. You never speak in absolutes. I love the scientific method, because it is unbiased in its outlook of the world. However, I am not a scientist. I want things to HAPPEN. And I like it when the dominoes all fall down in the way they have been ordained to. I can accept that things may not always go to plan, or that there are factors that may be invisible that are worth considering (and I actually do like figuring these things out a lot). But I like things to work. I like certainty. Certainty is the building block for a machine that works reliably. And I like that a lot.

So, adding another leg to my productivity platform, I need to create ways of generating certainty. Guaranteed payoffs. And some way of putting it all into context.