GHDO for August 8: Thoughts Sailing Across Still Water

GHDO for August 8: Thoughts Sailing Across Still Water

"Groundhog Day Do Over: Brain Lake Stillness" Hey guys! It’s August 8, which means it’s time for another (NOT) Groundhog Day Resolutions Review.

In last month’s report I described how extreme social isolation seemed to be one way I could get things done more consistently. I had even found precedent for this in the book The Creative Habit. Thus encouraged, I vowed to put **extra emphasis*** on enforcing my creative isolation to see if I could make better progress on the software work that has been dragging on.

So how did the Creative Bubble work out? Pretty well…with an unexpected twist!

Part A: Expected Results

The social isolation strategy seemed to work for me. A couple of takeaways:

  1. I love the creative bubble. I reserved Monday/Tuesday for interaction tasks, including video conferences and medical appointments. I didn’t expect to get any real work done on those days. To create my bubble, I eliminated all interactions with other people from Wednesday-Friday, going so far as to reduce my participation in the Virtual Coworking Chat. It was really wonderful to not have to think about anything or talk to anyone while throwing myself at work.

  2. The three-day creative bubble gave me enough time to overcome my basic startup problem. It has always taken me a long time to get enough energy going to just start tasks. It’s been like this going back to elementary school. I know once I start working on something that the momentum tends to carry me, so I employ a lot of timer tricks and time blocked activity to goad myself into action. It is even harder to start when I am also defining the problem at the same time, and so it is extremely exhausting for me mentally. By Thursday afternoon and Friday, I was typically in-motion, so I would get a good 1.5 days of focused work done before a regular Saturday morning family call.

Being able to make progress for the first two weeks helped alleviate the extreme frustration I had been feeling for the past couple of months. Previously, I did not feel I was making fast-enough progress on my work. Those 3-day blocks of Creative Bubble Time were essential.

Part B: Unexpected Results

On Tuesday July 21 I started taking bupropion. I had mentioned to my doctor on the day before that I was thinking of looking for an ADHD expert in the area to (1) get professionally assessed and (2) see what medical options might be available. Instead of referring me, the doctor suggested a three-week trial of this drug because it is sometimes prescribed for ADHD. It is also prescribed for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome (SADS), which I have also felt. Why not? A limited trial might give me more data, and I could still look for an ADHD practitioner in the meantime.

To start the trial, I took one pill in the morning for the first three days. After that, the dose is taken as one pill in the morning and another in the evening. Friday was the first day of full dose, and I didn’t feel any different or experience any bursts of energy. It was only on Saturday, when I had forgotten to take the pill in the morning, that I realized that there we a subtle change: an unprecedented feeling of “silence” in my brain on Friday, which disappeared on Saturday morning.

I should explain what my normal day is like first. When I have to do any kind of chore or any uncertain task, I experience resistance. It’s a palpable sensation, subconscious and immediate. The moment I form an intention as simple as “I should go upstairs and feed that cat”, a sharp negative reaction instantly leaps into my consciousness like a snarling dog. It’s automatic and I can’t stop it from happening. What I CAN do is negotiate with myself while applying numerous productivity hacks to get myself to deal with the work and uncertainty. This tends to be mentally draining, and I can usually manage it once or twice before having to take a long rest. This is the way it’s been for as long as I can remember; it’s only in the past 15 years that I started creating ways to manage it. In fact, Groundhog Day Resolutions is one of the first systems I came up with to harness accountability and regular tracking as a way to combat the resistance.

These familiar feelings swept over me on Saturday morning. I realized I hadn’t felt them on Friday at all. In fact, Friday had been an unusually good day, which I had attributed to being in a good mood after making badass documentation. As I mentally reviewed the day, I realized also that I didn’t get the slight stress headache at all and didn’t need to take frequent naps. After I took my Saturday pill, I started to notice that there was a quiet in my brain that I had never experienced before. I also found that I could shift from thought to action without the sharp negative reaction I defined above, and therefore I didn’t need to self-negotiate or apply any productivity hacks. Weirdly, I just started tasks on my list and…did them. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE.

Up to now, I had assumed that I got headaches from thinking about hard problems, because it’s supposed to hurt right? There are dozens of thoughts competing for attention in a roiling sea of uncertainty and distant rewards. In these choppy waters, thoughts easily become jumbled without the external memory devices I employ to keep myself on track. I have to actively steer each train of thoughts toward my object, recovering when knocked off-course by the chaos of distraction or forced to sail against deep undercurrents of discontent. It’s exhausting even on the best of days, and I frequently have to “recharge” my brain with 23-minute naps. This reduces the level of “brain noise” that makes it difficult to stay focused on top of the negative “snarling reaction” I feel. This is terrible for motivation.

Bupropion seems to correlate with the feeling of quietude arising from a brain stillness that is new to me. My brain feels like a mirror-smooth lake across which my thoughts can skate without interference. This is very promising! The trial lasts another week, after which I have another checkup to report my observations and make sure there are no dangerous side effects like high blood pressure.

Other Good Things

Perhaps thanks to the bupropion, I finally finished a significant system that has taken me eight weeks to write: a scriptable simulation engine in Javascript for Learning Sciences researchers. It was very difficult for me, hard to hold in my head all at once. I have no idea if what I implemented is actually the best way to do this, but it works and now I can start playing with it. This is a huge win, though it’s later than I would have preferred.

I’ve also been thinking about the backburnered projects related to making more content to share via the blog and YouTube. I purchased some gear for the video side of things: an ATEM Mini Pro HDMI switcher/streamer and a Glide Gear M75 Teleprompter. One of the video essayists I like, Lindsay Ellis, had offhandedly mentioned her teleprompter in a recent video and I was like WHUT THERE ARE TELEPROMPTERS FOR SMARTPHONES. I had thought that Lindsay was just SUPER GOOD at eloquently unspooling her commentary in a long unbroken string of well-crafted words, but it makes sense that using a teleprompter could be a shortcut that helps in those situations. Whenever I have made narrated videos, I found the amount of editing I needed to do to get a clean video was more than I wanted to do. With the teleprompter maybe I’ll be able to do some narrated “how-to” videos for the productivity tools with a lot less ums and uhs.

The Month Ahead

My list is very short:

  1. Continue maintaining the Creative Bubble schedule (Saturday-Tuesday social, Wednesday-Friday extreme isolation).
  2. Continue to monitor my bupropion trial to see if this unprecedented brain silence continues. If it does, that would be a tremendous game changer!

Wish me luck! I’ll report in as events warrant :-)

About this Article Series

For 2020 I am NOT doing Groundhog Day Resolutions, and am instead thinking about what life is like without them. You'll find the related posts on this subject at 2020 NOT Groundhog Day Resolutions page. You can also find the link under the INVESTIGATIONS menu item on my website.