It’s been about a week since I ended the “foggy brain monitoring” experiment, during which I was actively monitoring the circumstance surrounding lapses in concentration/motivation. It had been a great experiment, but I’ve been slowly sliding back into fuzziness since them. This past Sunday was about as bad as it gets, sluggishly oozing from bed to couch to the computer to engage in mindless clicking. Internally, part of me was thinking that I’d rather be filled with positive energy and excitement about working on projects, but I could not muster the energy to bring me out of the state of abject mindlessness that had stuck my bottom firmly to my chair.
Although it was Sunday, and particularly the Sunday that sacrifices an hour of the day to the demons of Daylight Savings Time, I still felt that there was something I should have been able to do to roust myself up. At the same time, I found it amazing that I was so adamant about not thinking…what can I learn from this?
The Real Test of an Insight
I’ve been pleased with the insights gained during the Week of Foggy Logging. However, I also know that once the novelty of an experiment had worn off, I tend to revert to my old ways unless I am determined to keep plugging away at them to make them habit. So I’m not surprised that I find myself bedeviled by the old fogginess.
This got me thinking about my motivations. I think I’m primarily motivated by work that presses my curiosity buttons. And what I tend to be curious about is the HOW and WHY of Creativity and its accompanying Processes and Tools. A secondary motivation is the desire for neatness and closure, which is why I write documentation and posts like these. I want to wrap things up, and then move on to the next mystery.
When internal motivation isn’t available, then it’s up to external forces to kick my ass in gear:
- Formal promises made to people in an equal exchange.
- Mandatory chores related to being an adult with bills to pay.
- Requests for assistance or help.
- Sense of duty, or feeling that I should help because I have the skills to do it.
I don’t think I experience these forces as “motivators”. They are more like burdens, constantly weighing on me until they are done. When there are too many of them, then I feel like my freedom of choice is limited.
All of this has something to do with fogginess, I think. Let me log the day and see what happened; perhaps some insight will pop out of it.
The first flare-up of Foggy Brain started late last night after trying out Minecraft again. I’d played the game a couple times before in “Survival Mode”, and had figured out that the most stylish was I could escape the night creatures was by building a virtual tree house. I spent some time gathering materials and building a two-story apartment in the sky, from which a commanding view of the entire landscape could be seen. When I glanced at the time, I was dismayed to see it was 5AM, which meant it was actually 6AM due to the Daylight Savings Time changeover. BAH. I went to sleep and somehow woke up at 1030AM.
The remains of the day ahead of me, I thought of the projects that were foremost on my mind. It would be the responsible thing to get a bit ahead of them on Sunday, especially since I didn’t have any plans for the day. It took some effort to recall which projects were the ones that I wanted to look at:
- Redoing the website, part of the marketing push for 2014, and ready-to-go.
- Clearing the backlog of reader requests for new forms, because I want to.
- Preparing tax filing for 2014
- Major System Design, part I, for the UCLA project.
The last project was the foremost of all projects, as I am starting to build a software system that can record video synchronization, live motion tracking inputs, and time-step based simulation with provision for end-user authoring and playback. It’s complicated, and it’s also exciting, and it too big to fit all in my head at the same time. Last week’s progress was VERY slow as I tried different approaches to getting a handle on it, and by Friday I realized that I probably should actually defer coding for longer so I could make a “Technical Design Document” to outline the architecture of the system more formally. It hadn’t occurred to me because I’m working in a small group that’s applying SCRUM principles, which is a type of fast-moving, “agile” process for sane software development. Making large Technical Design Documents is kind of the antithesis to this approach, but in this case I think it might actually be necessary. Or maybe it’s just necessary for ME and the way I work through system design.
On Sunday, I hadn’t yet had that insight, and I was really cranky about my slow progress. I was impatient to start coding and delivering features that I had not completely worked out in my head, and the dwindling amount of daylight had put me in a depressed mood. The other three major projects, which have been languishing, didn’t help me feel any better as they added their noble weight onto my back. And did I mention two other clients and three other charitable organizations that I’ve been helping with, plus the goal to lose weight this month as part of a $100 bet?
Patience is required, I told myself.
It’s been difficult to keep my mind clear. The normal everyday work chatter streaming in via Skype, Instant Messenger, and email have increased this month, and each request/interaction/meeting has built up the internal pressure to the point that I apparently can’t compartmentalize it completely; it’s leaking into my consciousness as an ever-present “concern”, which is a distracting joy-killer that goes hand-in-hand with my impatience with deferred personal projects. Not making progress on my own goals is a depressing feeling, and because of this my sensitivity to additional work has increased ten-fold.
Calm is required, I told myself.
What was I feeling? I felt “behind” and “not in the zone”, which were important to me because I felt there was SO MUCH complicated stuff on my plate. It contributes to a feeling of hopelessness, that the mountain of tasks (already deferred) will never go away. It’s hard to imagine the future where the mountain is not there blocking my way, but it’s extremely easy to feel stuck in confining circumstances.
It may be that I’ve reached my limit of The Big Lebowski-style dude-ness, having redirected this constant stream of not-finished reminders away from me. Intellectually, I know that worrying about things is not the way to deal with them. Distracting myself from worry is not good either, though I have thought of this more as a “reframing” of my life with respect to having many projects. Today, I shut down and didn’t want to THINK anymore about ANYTHING…at least, that’s one way of looking at it.
And it probably is OK, in the grand scheme of things, to have days like this. I seem to be the sort of person who needs to regularly assess and reset my expectations every two weeks. No one else I know seems to do this, and so I have thought that my continual reassessment was a kind of character weakness that invites criticism. Instead of apologizing for it, though, I think I need to embrace it. Today I need to freak out a bit, clear the slate, and start in a new direction. The alternative is to self-criticize and inform myself that I have fallen short and failed, and experience guilt as a kind of penance to appease the people around me who expect such humility. But you know what? That’s crap. I can’t think of a single situation where recrimination does any good outside of “social justice” scenarios.
The Big Reset
It’s 3PM by now, so I decide to just get away from the computer, which has been emanating a steady stream of work-related messages, and go for a drive. To not think. To clear the mind. To be a little more present in the world, and find some new moments to get lost in. I’d like to say that a zen-like calm descended upon me, but the first thing that popped into my head was, “I hate my kitchen flatware”. So I drove to “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” to look at household stuff, and found a nice set that had a good weight in the hand. After that, I stopped by “Trader Joes” to look for healthier eating options, loading up on mystery juices and nuts. I stopped by Starbucks on the way home, ordered a Frappuccino, and spent an hour writing the raw notes behind this blog post. I even actually did a little bit of work, which I didn’t think I’d be able to get done in my morning state of mind.
Maybe part of the art of Mindfulness is knowing when NOT to be on top of everything, which for me is an unnatural state. Maybe it’s OK to let the fog come in, once in a while, instead of constantly fighting it.