Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Listen to yourself

A while back, I gave a speech for Toastmasters called "Get rid of your buts." I based this on a conversational quirk I've observed in most people (including me). Instead of listening, acknowledging, and confirming understanding when someone says something that we don't agree with, we tend to immediately rush in with our rebuttals. This is true even for personal statements, such as "I'm so nervous about that test tomorrow," and not just political statements such as "I hate Democrats!" You can read the whole speech at the above link.

But "buts" are not just about conversation.

Sometimes it seems like any idea I think up is immediately followed by a "big but." It can be mundane, as in "I need to get batteries, but I can't do it right now so forget it." It can be personally important, as in "I need to ask X if what I said was inappropriate, but that's too embarrassing to even think about."

This is not a good way to keep the flow of ideas coming. That's like calling your dog when she's wandering too far and them reprimanding her when she comes bounding up to you. She might keep coming when you call, but don't expect enthusiasm or joy. And she just might stop coming altogether.

Writing that speech got me thinking about how often I do that to myself, and if it's affected how I think.

I don't know how many times I've had a thought, and just dismissed it without comment or action. Something like "Oh yeah, I have to get a card for so-and-so," or "I should really be exercising now, instead of reading." Whether it's something unpleasant, something that I can't do immediately, or even some doubts that I'm having, it's a small blip and then it's gone.

So one day I decided to try to pay more attention to the blips. Ok, not every thought is worth the effort, but I do dismiss or ignore more than I should. As I went through my day, I jotted down as many stray thoughts as I could. At first there were a lot of silly ones, like "my nose itches," but my brain soon got the hang of it and I could safely omit the truly momentary and trivial thoughts. Good thing, too, or I would never have gotten anywhere.

This can be taken to extremes, as in this example:
BBC NEWS | Magazine | This man wrote down his every thought - why?

But for those of us who could be more efficacious and maybe have a teensy bit more self-confidence, I think this is a valuable exercise to try.

What I found is that not only do I sometimes dismiss potential ideas immediately, instead of jotting them down and thinking about them later, but sometimes I don't even listen to myself at all, or acknowledge what I say to myself.

I found that jotting down the important stuff using David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology helped clear my mind of a lot of free-floating junk. I'm not there yet, but I'm beginning to understand what he means when he talks about "mind like water." *

And sometimes just listening to the doubts or negative emotions and acknowledging them is enough to let me move on. For those, I use some tricks from Susan Jeffers, as in saying to myself, "Yes, I am nervous about that. That's normal -- I'm trying something I've never done before, and I'm learning and growing."

Lion Kimbro, the Seattle programmer who wrote down every thought for 3 months, says of his experience:
It may feel that for the first time in your life, you really have a clear idea of what kinds of thoughts are going through your head....And you find answers. Basically, it feels like watching Atlantis come up.
Even though I only did it for a day, I felt excited by my discovery, energized by the positive results, and even, yes, more self-confident about my own voice.

And that's what I call moving towards joy.

* Here's what David Allen says about the "mind like water" simile in Getting Things Done, as quoted in an article by Ana Maria González.

In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriate to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Even passion has its crappy days

One blog that I subscribe to and read regularly is The Occupational Adventure (sm), written by Curt Rosengren.

One recent post, entitled "Even passion has its crappy days," resonated with me.
Part of the misconception about passion is that it means that life is always like skipping through a field of daisies. The reality is, pursuing your passion is probably going to be more of a challenge than jumping on the treadmill and following where it leads. But it is also going to be infinitely more rewarding.

There are going to be crappy days when you pursue your passion. There are going to be days when you wonder what in the hell you´re doing. There will be days when you will be tempted to skulk back to the treadmill and jump back on.
I've been under the weather lately, and feeling stressed from all the commitments I've made. They're all good commitments, but I was starting to doubt my abilities to do any of them, and thinking how much easier it would be to have no ambitions or dreams. Then there'd be nothing to hurt, right?

Well, maybe, except that feeling no pain because you're numb is much worse than the occasional pain that's a part of growing and stretching. That's what Curt's post helped me realize.

That also ties into something a friend said a while back, that I've been chewing on. He said,
"Happiness is the goal, not the standard."
What that means to me is that, while not everything I do in pursuit of my dreams will make me happy at the moment, doing the right things will make me happier in general and in the long-run. And also that something that may make me temporarily happy might not be the best way to achieve the goal of lifetime happiness.

It's a good thing I've got blogs and friends to help keep me moving towards joy!