Change it up

How easy it is, to fall into a rut.

Day in and day out, I have pretty much the same routine, and part of me likes it. I get up, I exercise, I have my breakfast, I go to work, I come home, make supper, watch some television or read or do some work, and then I go to bed. In between, I may stretch or take a walk or do some sort of additional exercise. I’ll also check my email periodically and have a cup of coffee and a snack in the afternoon to keep me going.

Each day, it’s pretty much the same. Even on the weekends, my routine doesn’t change much. It’s great for keeping myself on track with a consistent, reliable schedule. And it makes me quite reliable, as well. I often have so much going on in my life, I don’t have a lot of leeway to stray from my path. That makes me a valuable employee, a responsible spouse, and a solid community member.

It also represents a bit of a change from how I used to live my life, when each day was a new form of improvisation, and I really didn’t have much routine at all. When I was much younger, I drifted from job to job, relationship to relationship, state to state, country to country, residence to residence, a bohemian vagabond who was more interested in the experience of living, than actually accomplishing anything.

Then I got all respectable and what-not. I got a real job. I settled down with a partner. I had responsibilities. And I changed how I did things, becoming responsible to a fault — rigid and regimented and not very flexible at all.

I went from one extreme to another. It wasn’t all bad. It made a lot possible for me that had eluded me for years — a steady income, a (somewhat) predictable career path, respect from people around me, a higher standard of living.

But I’m starting to feel antsy again. Sometimes it’s nice to change things up a little bit, and I’m beginning to feel the pull of change. I guess working in technology for the past 20 years, I’ve sort of become dependent on constant change — I expect it, I’ve acclimated to it, as things are never static for long in the technology field.

The trick now is to introduce some change into my life that doesn’t derail everything I’ve accomplished. My job history is dotted with relatively brief (12-18 months) positions that focused on one thing, then I “traded up’ to something else. I’m not sure I want to do that. I need a change. I crave a change. But I need to find somewhere to have healthy change — not destructive change.

In the past, I’ve been all too quick to just cut and run, when things got too familiar, or too comfortable, or downright easy. I need things to be challenging, and it’s always been tough to find regular challenge that can last. Especially when I’m working in environments that are geared towards standardizing everything and making things as predictable and as “safe” as possible.

I suck at safe. It’s just not me. But being a danger-seeking adventurer doesn’t go over that well in the corporate world.

I need change, and I need it on a regular basis. But I’m also realistic. Looking at my life, I don’t really want to get rid of my routine — it makes my daily life possible in ways that a hectic, constantly changing and shifting series of distractions can never do. But I do want to change some things about my routine. Like the exercise I do, first thing. For about a year, I did the same exercises — lifting free weights in the same kinds of sets, in the same sequence — and I never deviated from that.

Which is fine. If that’s all I wanted to do. But I found that it had all become quite rote and, well, boring. And it wasn’t waking me up quite the way it used to. I guess I’d gotten too acclimated, and I didn’t actually need to work at it anymore — which is the whole point of my exercises, first thing — to work out and wake myself up in the process.

So, I switched up the weights I was using and went heavier. I also changed the number of repetitions in each set.

I also moved away from doing ONLY weights, and I started doing more full-range movement, to strengthen and stretch more of me, not just isolated muscle groups. I started doing a bit of yoga, following along with some videos I found.

The overall results have been good, I’m happy to report.I feel more awake and more “with it,” thanks to this shift in how I’m starting my day. I feel more energized, actually, with these small alterations in my routine. I still have the structure of the routine to get me into my day, but I have some leeway in the midst of it all to perk things up a bit. I can have the best of both worlds – a regular routine that gets me into the day, along with some variety to keep me interested and engaged.

The same thing holds true for my work at my day job. I’ve pretty much “got it down,” after nearly a year of some pretty arduous efforts. Now I need to keep with it and build on what I’ve got, rather than running off to find some other way to keep my attention trained on what it is I’m doing. I need to watch my energy, that’s for sure, and not wear myself out. But I also need to keep active and not let myself fall into the trap of getting bored… and then getting in trouble.

It sounds odd to hear myself saying this. At my age, one would think I have more sense and more stability than to be debating this, but it’s a lifelong habit of cutting and running that I have to overcome. It’s taken me three years of regular rehab — talking with someone who understands my cognitive issues within the context of my history of TBIs — but I’m finally at the point where I realize that I don’t have to completely trash my life, in order to stay engaged.

Actually, on a deeper level there’s something important going on — I’m finally at the point where I (at long last) realize that I’ve been trashing my life to stay engaged, all along. I never realized that, till I learned about how TBI and neurology affect attention and distraction and resistance to interference, that seeking out drama and “refreshed” situations (read, new jobs, new friends, new homes, new… everything) was my way of keeping myself alive and involved in my life.

It’s not that I deliberately want to sabotage myself, or that I don’t think I deserve to have success in the long term. People have told me that story about myself for as long as I can remember. They’ve told me the following:

  • You’re a quitter.
  • You don’t have what it takes to get the job done.
  • You’re not up to the task – it’s too hard for you.
  • You’re trying to sabotage yourself/the group/the job for some deep-seated psychological reason.
  • You don’t think you deserve success.
  • You just can’t.

In fact, the exact opposite was true in many cases.

  • I wasn’t a quitter – I had a really hard time holding my attention on tasks that were easy, and I didn’t know I had that problem, so I could never address it.
  • I did have what it takes to get the job done – in fact, I had more than enough, but the easier the task got, the harder it was for me to concentrate.
  • I was up to the task – it was actually too easy for me.
  • I wasn’t trying to sabotage yourself/the group/the job for some deep-seated psychological reason – it was a neurological and physiological combination of compromised attention, susceptibility to distraction, and anxiety that set in when things started to go wrong.
  • I didn’t start out thinking I didn’t deserve success – but after so many failures and aborted attempts, I started to believe it.
  • I could — I just couldn’t see what my issues were, so I couldn’t deal with them.

As a matter of fact, many of the “decisions” I have made to either “give up” or “start fresh” were not conscious decisions at all. They were impulses driven by a serious need for alertness and attention — which was physiologically compromised by my neurology, and which I could only get back through changing up things, when they got familiar and comfortable and I was approaching mastery.

The easier things got for me, the less I paid attention, and then things started to fall apart. When things started to fall apart, I would get anxious, wondering why the hell things were starting to go south — and that anxiety and worry would further encroach on my already limited attentional capacity. I would start making choices that stressed me out, and because I thrive on a moderate dose of stress hormones, I would keep that up, gradually exhausting myself and burning myself out and endangering my working relationships.

The downward cycle would commence. And keep going. Until I was out looking for another job.

I would go looking for something else that wasn’t familiar — I’d wander off in search of more excitement that didn’t involve the situation I was fleeing. I told myself I wanted another adventure. It wasn’t that I needed to trash my life — I just couldn’t think as well as I wanted to, anymore, in those old familiar surroundings. I couldn’t function as well as I desired, and that made me very anxious and complicated everything all the more.

In a way, the easier things got for me, the harder it was for me to stay.

So, I didn’t.

Now, here I am at a job I really like, with people I really like, in an industry that’s actually stable and growing. I’ve got it really good. They like me, too. There’s absolutely no reason I should leave. So, I need to find ways to keep myself alert and engaged and attentive. Focused. Intact.

My TBIs have trashed my life often enough in the past. Time to change things up. For the better.

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