Break it down, and get it right

I’ve noticed a very different way of doing things, now, than I used to follow before.

In the past, I wanted (needed) long stretches of time to think things through, figure them out, and then gradually move through them.

Now, though, I work better when I break things down into smaller steps, focus fully on them, and then let them go after a little while.

I never realized, before, that spending too much time on what I was doing, was holding me back.

But it was. I would get tired. Then I’d get scattered. And I would get distracted to the point where I would lose focus on what I was doing, wander off and do something else, then wonder why I could never get anything done.

I know now why that is/was. I get tired.

So instead of trying to do everything all at once, I break things down into smaller steps and do them one at a time. And I don’t try to do everything all at once. If I plan properly, I can come back and pick up where I left off, and all is well.

All really is well. This is a huge improvement for me. I get more done, and I don’t exhaust myself in the process.

Onward.

Finding balance – work and rest

Sometimes this is how it feels - like I'm a snail on a rock. But at least I'm balancing.
Sometimes this is how it feels – like I’m a snail on a rock. But at least I’m balancing.

In a few months, I’ll have been at my current job for a year. That’s very interesting. The merger with the other company is happening, and may take place before summer is over. But nobody knows for sure. There’s all kinds of activity going on around it. New email addresses, new business cards, new laptops, and who knows what else.

Management keeps trying to set our fears to rest, and they keep asking us to ask questions, but it feels like a trap — like they’re trying to see who’s “on board” and who’s digging in their heels. I’m not sure anybody trusts anything coming out of management, by this point. They’re getting rich, while everyone else… well… not so much.

I can’t really worry about it, though. I have to keep focused on my work, which is actually pretty challenging these days. The work, yes, it’s challenging — but even moreso is the focus.

The cadence at this company is very different from the startup-like frenzies I’ve experienced elsewhere. It’s much more staid… steady… and they don’t expect you to do earth-shaking things in the first year… or two… or more. They think you need at least a few years to ramp up, so expectations are low. But at the same time, I still need to move forward. I still need to take steps. I still need to do what I need to do for my own career, to move it forward.

I’ve kind of lost sight of that, in the past couple of months. The big business trip at the beginning of this month completely took over my life for 4-6 weeks prior to it, and I’ve been slowly … sloooooowwwwwllllyyyyy… recovering from that adventure. It’s taking much longer than I expected, and it’s tough to get back in the swing of things.

But get back in the swing, I must. I’ve re-ordered a supplement I found that actually helps my energy, and helps me sleep. And I’ve started swimming regularly, again. I had gotten away from it for months, for some reason. Just winter/early spring inertia, I guess. Now I’m swimming every chance I get — 3 days a week, ideally, sometimes more. And I’m going to start working out before my swims, as well. That’s so important. I need a better strength regimen than I’ve been doing in the mornings.

Mornings, I need to work on my cardio and balance — wake myself up, and get my balance together. I’ve got some exercises from the trainer at work that I can do, so I need to print them out and DO them. I keep forgetting to print them out.

Anyway, I’m figuring it out – and figuring out how I can balance out my work-work-work nature with the slower cadence at my job. They don’t actually expect miracles, first thing, and while that’s good in a way, it’s not how I work. I prefer to do miracles whenever possible, and not be held back by people who are telling me it’s not possible. It IS possible. Maybe not for them, but for me.

It’s all an evolving process, really. I want to go-go-go, but I know I run the risk of burning myself out, if I do. And then I’m not good for anything. I want to make progress, every single week, but then it doesn’t happen. And then I get down on myself. I’m tired of getting down on myself. I need to do better tracking of what I actually accomplish. I’ve been doing a better job of that, over the past couple of months, so that’s good. Now I need to work it into my routine.

I need my routine.

And so I’ll work with that. See what I can do. Take steps to both simplify and improve the systems I have. And keep on keepin’ on.

Onward!

That One Pure Thing

Somebody has to wait their turn...
Somebody has to wait their turn…

I took time out over the weekend to focus in on getting some things done that have been hanging over my head for quite some time. I had an idea that needed to be developed, and so I developed it. I cleared everything else off my creative plate, pretty much, and I just worked on That One Thing.

And as it turned out, it was a very productive time. I really got a lot done.

I didn’t hash through all the other millions of things in my mind, which I also want to do. I focused on That One Thing.

Plus, when I wasn’t working, I did the other things that I need to do regularly — I got my naps, I did my morning workouts, I got some acupuncture, I went for a couple of hikes and long walks down the road, and I made some good meals.

And I got ‘er done.

Which is great, because I have a tendency to start things and not follow through. That’s gotta change, I know. I’ve been able to sorta kinda mozy along, jumping from one distraction/interruption to another, and piecing it all together bit by bit as part of a “flow”.

The thing is, “flow” for me is more about my pesky lack of resistance to short-term interference. This can happen when you get hit in the head a lot – like I have been. You get distractable and can’t sustain attention. Your mind knows it wants to focus on one thing at a time, but your brain just ain’t feelin’ it. It’s not just that it ain’t feelin’ it — it’s literally incapable of dealing with it. It just can’t.

My own resistance to short-term interference is almost in the single-digit percentile. It’s really, really bad. As in, 90″ of the people in the world are better at resisting disruption from interference, than I am. It’s not that I don’t want to — I do. It’s just that the wiring in my brain has gotten a bit frayed from all those concussions / mild TBIs, and it doesn’t light up as well as it might otherwise.

So, what’s the solution? Clearly, I need to come up with some approach that lets me function. I can’t go through life jumping from one thing to the next.

And this past weekend, I made some headway on things.

By realizing — after looking at my List O’ Things To Do — that I was never going to make progress, if I kept letting one thing trump another. I just needed to buckle down, make some choices, and Do That One Thing.

As purely as I could.

So, I did. And today I have an actual finished project under my belt.

And that’s pretty cool – not to mention a relief.

Happy Monday, everyone. Onward.

 

 

 

 

Focus… magic

Keeping eyes on the prize on down the road
Keeping eyes on the prize on down the road

So, I have my weekly schedule together. And I am focusing on one project at a time. And it is magical, what the focus brings me.

Just being able to say “No – not yet” to some of my projects gives me the energy boost I need.

Because I can actually get things done.

And I don’t have a gazillion competing ideas rattling ’round in my head, sucking my energy away.

Onward. For sure.

Rest is my friend – five things that changed my habits for the better

Go to sleep, I’m a bear… Wake up, I’m better.

Today is another “on” day for me. Yesterday I had to step away from my LIST of to-do items that I’d put together on Friday, and just move at a more restful pace. I’ve been pushing pretty hard all week, with a lot of good ideas which promise to bring good things to me.

But by Saturday morning, all the Activity caught up with me, and I had to just back off a bit. I juggled a bit in the morning, wrote a little bit, then got together with friends, took a long nap, and got up to do a little bit here and there in the evening.

All in all, it was a good day. There were some things I was really hoping to get done (some that I really needed to get done), but I didn’t. And that’s that. I don’t really care, right now. The main thing was, I got some rest, caught up with myself, and gave myself some breathing room.

That’s important. I tend to push myself so hard — overachiever that I am — that I don’t give myself enough down-time to recoup. And that is far more damaging than any lack of ambition or “failure to launch”. Overwork and overtrainng are all very well and good for the short term. I almost have to do it, sometimes, to get things to lodge in my brain permanently.

But every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year?

Thankfully, I’m learning to do things differently.

It’s interesting, what changed that mindset for me. Most of the time, I try to overpower my unhealthy tendencies with raw, brute force. Willpower. Resolve. Even a bit of guilt. But that doesn’t work. What does work, is introducing a new piece of information into the mix that provides a better Idea about what will be most effective.

Case in point: Rest. And its importance.

I have intellectually “known” for a long time that rest is important. It helps the brain consolidate memories. It helps the body remove toxins from the brain. It is important for rebuilding the capabilities that you’ve fried, in the course of everyday overwork.  I know that rest helps me keep emotionally centered, as well. It keeps me from snapping out. It keeps me from getting depressed. It gives me a great sense of well-being and ability.

But have I made a point of getting to bed at a decent time and sleeping all the way through the night?

Until recently, not so much. I “knew” I was supposed to, I had the whole raft of ideas about how helpful it was. But not until I had an Experience of the incredible help that rest gives me, have I enthusiastically gone to bed at a decent hour — during the week before 11 p.m., on the weekends, before midnight.

What changed things? Having a bunch of good great experiences with Rest, that really brought home how much it helps me.

First, actually being able to rest in bed has been huge. I bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then, I have not had any trouble falling asleep. I used to lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. I couldn’t afford a new bed. And I had to make do with what I had. But it was rough. I never actually put it together that the problem was the bed. I figured it was just how things were. For some reason I didn’t get that the lumpy mattress that wasn’t flat and forced me to balance my weight in different ways was keeping me up. Now that I have a new bed which is exactly flat and very firm, I have been falling asleep almost immediately. The only times I don’t, are when my body is seizing up from not stretching enough. But when I get out of bed and stretch, I’m able to relax, and I fall right to sleep. And I sleep pretty much through the night — except when I wake up in a sweat, which has been happening lately, with the change of seasons and the stresses at work. Now, when I think about going to bed, I don’t dread it because I expect to lie there for hours, unable to sleep.

Second, waking up rested is a whole new thing for me that puts a whole different spin on my day. I’m actually semi-functional, first thing in the morning. And with my rocket-fuel coffee that gets me going, my mornings are now something I look forward to, and get myself out of bed for. I wake up feeling so great, that I can’t wait to get to bed at night, so I can have that feeling again.

Third, getting a little bit of rest at work in the afternoons, has completely transformed my days. I used to really dread my days, because I would burn through all my energy by noontime — if not before. Then I’d spend the rest of the day scrambling to keep up, feeling like crap, eating junk food that would rev me up and make me crash, offsetting that effect with more coffee… and more coffee… and more coffee… and ending up so wired by the evening, that I could not fall sleep, even if I was on a decent bed. Taking a quick power nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon, when I just can’t go on anymore, has completely turned that around. Now I know the pressure is off, and if I need to step away and take a nap — or just close my eyes for a short while — I can do it. I generally keep a couple of hours open and free of scheduled meetings, most afternoons of my week, just so I know I can step away, if need be. And I do it. It makes all the difference in the world, to sleep — or simply relax. The boost I get, coming back after a nap, not only makes me more productive, but it makes me feel so much better about myself and my abilities, that I actually don’t mind being at work. I don’t dread and resent it the way I used to, which is a real blessing.

Fourth, learning to juggle much faster than I thought possible — after giving myself time to rest in between practice sessions — is truly inspirational. I love having this feeling of surprise and delight that I can actually keep more than one ball in the air. I never thought I could juggle. I tried many times in the past, and it never “worked”. But now I am learning pretty quickly, and the thing that seems to make the difference, is Rest.

The first day I was trying to keep a couple of balls in the air, I did it for a count of 42, max.

Then 37 times.

Then 35.

Things were clearly not improving, so I lay down and took a nap.

And when I got up, I kept the balls in the air for 135 tosses. That’s quite the improvement. What a confidence-booster! And I credit Rest for that.

Last but not least, I like myself a whole lot better when I’m rested. I am much easier to live with — both inside my head and outside. I have a higher tolerance for frustration. I can think more clearly about things to come up with good solutions. I don’t have the same temper flares, my fuse is a lot longer, and I don’t have the extreme outbursts that come when I’m really wiped out. Just the other evening, after helping a friend move, I started harassing my spouse about something they had done that was troublesome, but not exactly catastrophic. I had it in my head that if they kept doing this, Something Would Go Terribly Wrong, and I needed to “nip it in the bud”, so to speak.

The net result was that we were both pretty unhappy by the time the conversation was through, and I felt like sh*t as a result. There was no need for me to go off like that, but I did. Because I was tired. Getting more rest over the next few days did wonders for my mood and my stability. Too bad my spouse is the kind of person who holds grudges. They’ve recovered less well than I have. (But that’s on them – I’m not responsible for their state of mind, much as they’d like me to be.)

Now Rest is my friend. We’re on good terms. What a difference Good Rest makes.

Second chances – found by accident

I have a full day ahead of me. And it’s all good. I have some programming techniques to learn and test out, and I have some documentation to write. I have some busy-work to do for my day job, and I have another set of house chores I need to take care of.

The beauty part is, I can get it all done. I can do the programming for a few hours this morning, while everything is quiet… then I can move on to the chores that need to get done. Then I can have my lunch and a nap, and then move on to the other things for work-work. I’ll get a little bit of exercise, while I’m running my errands, and I’ll get out and about a bit. Heck, I might even be able to catch up with some friends for lunch.

On second thought, I need to not cram too much stuff into my day. I need to keep things simple, because life will become complicated enough on its own. Just because it does.

I feel incredibly hopeful, because I know that I don’t have to run out of steam and drag through the second half of my day like the walking dead. I don’t have to live that way anymore – especially because today is Saturday, and I don’t have to be anywhere, or do anything that I don’t choose to be or do. And tomorrow is Sunday, which gives me yet another day to move at my own pace, get things done, and really take good care of myself and my life.

Now that I have figured out how much just a 20 minutes of sleep in the afternoon helps me, and I have found a way to make sure I get a nap in regularly, it’s like I have a whole new lease on life. Seriously. It makes all the difference in the world, to not have to cram all my important activities into the first two hours of each day, and then spend the rest of the day worried that I’m not going to have the energy or the resources to make it through in top shape.

Having a nap in the middle of the day is like having two days instead of just one. It’s like that stock split at Google, which has pretty much cemented the two founders’ control over the company. Having some more rest in the middle of the day, when I have completely wiped myself out with all my going… and then having a second chance to pick up where I left off.. or just start something completely new… THAT is an amazing thing.

The other amazing thing is that having a nap in the afternoon actually helps me get to sleep at night. I can just allow myself to feel tired, not push myself through like a crazy person. I can just let myself feel exhausted, not force myself to be ON, like I used to have to, before I got into the whole nap thing. And when I really get into feeling how I feel, and I allow myself to just feel tired, then I can call it quits for the day, when it makes sense to do it, and just get myself to bed.

I did that last night, when my spouse wanted me to stay up and watch more episodes of a show we both really enjoy. I wanted to stay up a bit longer, and they wanted me to do it, too. But I just couldn’t do it. So I turned in at 11:30 — later than I wanted to, but earlier than I might have. After all, it was Friday night, so I “deserve a break” and should stay up as long as I damn’ well please, right?

Wrong. Staying up that late does a number on me. And today I woke up at about 5:30, so that means I got maybe 6 hours of sleep, if I’m lucky, which is not enough.

The pressure’s off, though, because I can always nap later. And because I have been getting more sleep lately, and I know I will have time later to nap, I don’t feel this intense pressure to be ON for the next four hours — or else. I can relax. And that’s so important.

Another benefit of getting additional sleep is that I have been making better choices with the time and energy that I do have. I have a number of new things I need to learn, and it’s easy for me to spin my wheels and run in a million different directions, but I’m better able to stop myself from getting too distracted, and I’m finding it easier to just choose to NOT do or learn or try certain things.

Life is better with naps. And I realize how much it was stressing me out, to feel like I only had about four good hours each day to work with. Nobody really gets just how exhausted I am — all. the. time.  They just seem to assume that because I can keep going, I should keep going. That because I don’t complain or draw attention to my exhaustion, it must not be that bad.

It has been bad. The fatigue has been crazy. And it really screwed up my life for years and years.

But now I have alternatives, and it’s good.

Onward.

 

 

 

Picking my battles carefully

Save your energy…

So, this week has been interesting. I’ve been working very long hours (12-14 hours a day), trying to clean up a lot of outstanding tasks that are months late. In the past, it made me crazy to be late on anything, or to fall short on anything I undertook. It just wasn’t allowed – and it worked out in favor of my standard of living, because nobody loves an overachiever more than a company that knows how to put that OCD impulse to good use to make a lot of money.

I’ve done well by my employers, if I say so myself. And before my TBI in 2004, I’d long been in the habit of never tolerating anything less than my best effort. I was always locked on target to continuously out-do myself, no matter what. But then I fell down those damned stairs, and things started to unravel. So much fell apart — slowly and quickly — and before long, I was just happy to be getting through the day.

One of the toughest things about my TBI after-effects, is having to deal with sudden onslaughts of all sorts of mediocrity. I was in a meeting the other day, discussing a project that I was doing a very poor job of managing. The whole thing had just gone off the rails, and I was a little freaked out about the whole thing. In this meeting, we were trying to come up with solutions about how to handle things, and I was getting very turned around and confused, not connecting the dots, and generally not representing very well.

It was pretty disconcerting for me. I’ve long been accustomed to being one of the “with it” people in the room, but that day, I was definitely not. So, I stepped back and just let the other folks who were with it talk amongst themselves and come up with a better solution.

And it worked out okay. We finished the meeting on an up note, and I got some new ideas about how to fine-tune the way I work with other people.

It just wasn’t a very good feeling, to sit there all foggy and clueless, not following the conversation and not being much help at all.

I hate this kind of chaos. I feel stupid and dense and impaired. Right now I’m feeling pretty impaired, actually, because I am tired, I am stressed, and I need to start working on some of my take-home tasks in a little bit. I need to hammer out some work before the weekend is over — and my spouse is inviting company over tonight, to stay into tomorrow, which takes a bunch of productive hours away from me in the morning. Shit. Oh, well. Welcome to my chaotic life — that’s just how it’s been, lately.

Actually, now that I think about it, the chaos has been ongoing since before the holidays — since before Thanksgiving time, when the holiday scheduling difficulties started to happen. So, since around the middle of November, things have been up in the air, and I’ve just been treading water, trying to get things done, to precious little avail. Three full months of uncertainty and scheduling problems, holidays and travel and jet lag and exhaustion… and more.

It’s just sucked so terribly, it’s unreal.

It’s almost as if the people who are in charge of setting the stage just don’t give a damn about whether or not anything gets done. It’s all on us to “manage” — and if we can’t keep up and can’t meet our goals and get everything done that we need to get done, well, it’s on us. Nobody seems to care anymore if things are actually done.  Nobody actually seems to care if things are left half-baked and fraught with uncertainty. It’s almost as though nobody cares about actual quality, as long as the “experience” people are having is acceptable.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that something should actually get done, every now and then.

I feel a rant coming on, but I’m going to step away from that, because it’s not worth it.

And here’s the crux of it all — I’ve been picking and choosing my battles, figuring out what matters most to me, and focusing on that, and letting the rest of it go. Some things I just can’t afford to get worked up over — things like sitting in a meeting and not feeling like I’m actually following everything that’s going on… or falling short on one project after another, and yet deciding to not get crazed about trying to keep up…

It’s best I concentrate on focusing on the good that I do have, and leaving the rest of it alone.

My time is much better spent on figuring out what I want to do with myself, and how good I want my life to be, instead of bitching about how bad things are right now.

It’s funny — I’m reaching a slightly different perception of my employer, these days. They keep taking things surveys at work asking about how people feel about working there, and every year the scores come back lower and lower. It’s kind of sad, that there are so many miserable people working there. At the same time, though, I think it has a lot to do with the character of the people working there. The fact of the matter is, we are responsible for what we make of things. All of us at work can make our situations into anything we want or need. We’re not helpless victims, and we have the power to control our attitudes and our gratitude.

And it occurs to me that maybe the problem isn’t so much that I’m working at a terrible place. Maybe the problem is that I work with a bunch of whiners. Thousands of them, in fact. They do a lot of bitching and complaining about just about everything under the sun. And I get really tired of hearing them bitch and complain about every little thing. It’s really up to us, to make things right — not to expect someone else to come along and fix it all for us.

At some point, you’ve gotta start acting like an adult.

I mean, geez, if people knew half the crap I have to wade through, just to get through the day, they’d probably run screaming from the building. But when you have to deal with it, you have to deal with it. The pain, the confusion, the fatigue, the emotional roller-coaster, the constant ringing in my ears, the unpredictable coordination, and this brain that just loves to crap out on me at just the wrong times… it’s just how things are, and I have to deal with it.

So, I’ve got a lot on my plate. And I have to pick and choose the battles I fight. The fact of the matter is, I am working with less working memory capacity and some pretty significant attentional issues, so if I get all worked up over things and I spend all my energy fighting against stuff that’s not going to change from me getting bent out of shape… then I just hurt myself. And I don’t want to do that. Getting a handle on what I can change, and focusing on fixing that, rather than spending a lot of time and energy beating myself up over things that are already done and can’t be undone, is a much better use of my time and energy. And it pays off in very big ways.

This weekend, I’m battling a bunch of backlogged work that I need to sort through. I’ve got so much to do, it’s crazy — and it’s all sorts of work, both tactical and strategic. So, no, I can’t worry about sitting in that meeting, earlier this week, and losing my place, not following what was going on, and getting turned around. Screw that. I don’t have the time. I’ve got to put my focus on other areas where I can be sharp, and I can be reasonably sure that I will make progress. Fine points like doing math on the fly and seeing quickly how a bunch of different moving pieces are put together… those are definitely not my strong suit when I’m stressed and exhausted (which was all last week — no, the past three months, actually). I just can’t let that derail me — I need to find where I can make up for those gaps, and concentrate on that — like just plain getting things done in the quiet and comfort of my own home. Like looking at bigger picture pieces of the grand puzzle.  And keeping my motivation high and intact.

So I’ll be taking a lot of time this weekend to just settle in and do the work that’s in front of me. It’s not terrible work — I actually enjoy it. There’s just a lot of it, and it’s really disheartening to be so far behind… and have people at work complaining about it, too.

So, off I go. Got lots to do, and I’m feeling pretty good about the idea of having it all done.

Onward.

Having a good laugh and getting it done

Each day is a new discovery. That much has become abundantly clear to me, over the past years. I think I’ve always had that orientation, really, from when I was a kid. I was inquisitive, no doubt, and I had an insatiable curiosity to find out “what happens if –” I had plenty of opportunity to find out the answer to that “what if”. And not all the answers were fun and games. But at least I kept at it.

I had another “discovery evening” last night, after dinner. I was helping a friend get some web stuff together, and they were starting to get anxious and pushy. I seem to have a lot of friends who get anxious and pushy… Anyway, tempers were starting to escalate, and I was getting pissed off. I was trying to help them, and they kept arguing with me and changing what they wanted to do. Exasperating.

So, I told a joke. And they laughed. And the whole mood changed. The whole experience turned from being a hurdle, into being an interesting discovery that we could figure out together. And we ended up having fun with it. Of course, it would have been nice if we’d done this earlier than 10:00 at night — it woke me up, and I didn’t get to sleep till midnight, and then I woke up at 5:15 today. Bummer. Oh, well. At least we managed to get that web thing done, and with any luck, it’s going to help them make some money and be more independent.

Humor is becoming more and more key for me, these days — or rather, figuring out how to find humor is becoming more key. I used to be a real card — a cut-up, a joker, a fun-n-games type of person who was always good for a laugh. All growing up, I could always make the people around me laugh and smile and feel better. It was one of the things that made me so great to work with. People really enjoyed working with me, because I was a lot of fun, and I could turn any tense situation into a much easier one.

Then I fell in 2004, and all of a sudden, nothing was funny anymore.

Nothing.

I think of all the things TBI has cost me, my sense of humor has cost me most dearly. It’s really messed with my quality of life, and my ability to function in the world. You wouldn’t think that a sense of humor would be that critical, but in trying times — as they so often are for me — being able to laugh at myself and my situation has carried me through some very tough spots. And it’s helped others as well. In fact, my sense of humor is one of the things that attracted my spouse to me in the first place.

Not being able to lighten up has made things much more difficult in my work, my relationships, my marriage, and life in general. I used to be able to lighten up “on demand”, but over the past years, it’s been incredibly difficult to do that. In fact, if anything, I’ve gone in the opposite direction — spiraling down, down, down, on an instant’s notice. That’s been very hard on everyone around me. And watching them struggle with me has felt terrible. I should be able to do better. But that “better” escaped me for years.

Fortunately, that’s changed somewhat over the past while — I’m not sure if it’s been a year or months. I lose track of time. But regardless, I’ve been able to find humor in places that tend to trouble me. When I can find the humor, I can get some perspective — and my brain gets the additional oxygen it needs. And everyone gets a much-needed break from all the intensity.

Thinking about the dynamics between my spouse and me, they were always the one who was heavy and intense and deeply feeling, and I was the bright light that danced around in the sky, getting our minds off all those troubles, and hoping for a better day. I really was able to balance my spouse’s mental challenges and physical illness with good humor and courage, for many, many years. And my humor gave me tons of energy and optimism. Between the two of us, we could get a ton of things done. When the humor left me around 2004-2005, we lost an important part of our relationship and our dynamic.

And everything got that much harder, that much more mired in the muck of life.

But now I can see myself coming out of that dark space. I hear myself making jokes again. And I find myself laughing spontaneously, for a change. Facebook and YouTube help, actually, with their steady stream of videos and pictures highlighting the follies of humanity. My laughter is lighter, now, and less bitter. Because I’m getting out of the weeds, and I’m figuring out how to not get mired in one detail after another.

You know, it’s funny — I’ve been thinking, lately, about how lax I’ve become with a lot of things. I used to be so diligent, so conscientious, so focused on results. Now, I’m more interested in enjoying myself in what I’m doing. But has that cost me, in terms of doing what I say I’m going to? No. Actually, it helps me. Before my fall, things were much more proportional in my mind — I could keep things in perspective, and not get hung up on all sorts of stupid little details. TBI really screwed with that — and I became obsessed over sh*t that didn’t matter, sweating every little thing that was of no consequence. The more I obsessed, the more I sweated, the more obsessed I became — over a lot of nothing.

Now, I’ve figured out how to let a lot of that go, and just focus in on enjoying what I’m doing, without really sweating all the little details. A lot of the things that used to drive me — doing exactly the right thing in the most perfect way possible — oh hell, I don’t care about that anymore. It makes me crazy — and for what? The job I do isn’t going to save my soul, and it’s not the ticket to a gloriously happy life. It’s a job that pays the bills. It’s fairly interesting, but it’s not all that — like it used to be.

Ironically, I’ve found that when I let a lot of my obsessing go, I can actually focus in on what I’m doing, and do a better job of it. I can clear out the cobwebs with a good laugh, and buckle down to make some progress. Having this balance is a new thing. And it’s a good thing. It feels odd, to not be over-the-top obsessed with being #1 at every single thing I do, but I can live with that odd feeling.

As long as I’m enjoying myself and not driving myself crazy… as long as I’m making progress and moving things along… it’s all good.

Until somebody tells me it’s not. Then I have to refocus… but that’s another topic for another day. For today, it’s all good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always beginner’s mind

Perspective makes the difference

I’m taking another shot at cleaning up this hard drive on my “old” computer. I think there are still components that can be un-installed, to reclaim even more space, not to mention speed. The more programs you have running on your computer, the slower it tends to go — if, that is, you’re a “mortal” like me, with a serviceable but far-from-top-of-the-line model.

I start my vacation today. Just two days off, before the onslaught at work begins. I have a ton of stuff to do, and in the past I would have declined to take time off, because I take a lot of pride in my productivity, and I don’t want to leave my co-workers hanging. It’s a terrible spot to be in, and Lord knows I have pulled out all the stops for them in the past, so they wouldn’t be left hanging.

But you know what? The Company is doing a lot of things that say loud and clear, “We don’t really care about your productivity and your team, and you better do what we tell you – or else.” They’ve pushed this agenda for the past 2 years, and I hate to admit it, but it’s worn me down. Also, my co-workers are just a little shy of insane, with their go-go-go mindless reactivity that dashes madly from one task to the next, without ever actually finishing anything. They’ve worn me down with their multi-tasking mediocrity.

Now, in the back of my head I have been thinking that I don’t want to trash my reputation with poor performance. I don’t want to alienate people who could do recommendations for me. But the people whose recommendation I care about have either left the company already, or they are on their way out, and all of us are going to say super nice things about each other, because it’s a small world, and we know that if we do good for others, there’s a chance it will come back to us. The people who are staying, who are invested in me super-performing for them and The Company, aren’t the sort of people I need recommendations from. So, I don’t feel like my long-term prospects have been that jeopardized by this environment and this organization. It’s all good. And anyway, I’m going to go back to contracting, once I’m done here. There’s a lot less pointless drama for me, when I’m not “permanent full-time”.

So, I’m not getting concerned, and I’m not letting  myself worry. Today and tomorrow is “me time”, and I’m looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying things. Running a few errands this morning… taking a trip to a museum I’ve been wanting to visit… heading out into nature to just relax. They’re calling for rain tomorrow, which could put a damper on things, but my spouse and I are fine with that. We’ve got rain gear. We also are taking books to read, and if we spend the day sitting in the car reading and resting…. away from the hustle and bustle, that’s just fine with us.

The point is getting away.

It’s funny, though… for me, getting away is less of a necessity than it is for a lot of people. Yes, it is good to take a break from it all, and yes, it does help me “reset” my mind and give me a different perspective on things. But I don’t crave it like some people. I think it’s because each day literally seems like a whole new one to me. Every morning when I get up, things feel new. Hopeful. Like there’s something else out there to discover and learn. Sometimes I wake up with a terrible sense of dread, but that’s usually due to fatigue or a physical feeling. When I’m feeling sick and foggy, and I’m in pain, I really do get depressed. But when I’m well-rested, not much can get me down.

In this respect, I think my crappy short-term working memory actually helps me. Because I forget so much, and I lose my place so often, I have had to learn how to keep an open mind and perspective, and watch for clues and opportunities. When much of your daily experience that’s more than 20 minutes old seems to evaporate behind you as you walk through your days, you learn to keep going and keep your eyes open for clues about where to go next.

Literally. I mean, my memory for how things were and what I was doing, just an hour ago, tends to be pretty vague. I have to think hard to recall what I did just half an hour ago. And who has the time and energy for all that work and thinking, every minute of every day? If I focus too strongly on the past, I lose sight of my present and where I’m going in the future. So, I have to keep going, keep moving, keep growing and improving.

Some people would get pretty upset, if this happened to them and that’s how their life turned out. For me, I can’t remember anything different. I just never realized that this was unusual, until I did my neuropsych testing and learned that I have the short-term working memory of a chipmunk. Things get lost for me after a surprisingly short period of time. They start to dissolve and disappear on me, leaving big gaps in what I think I remember about what just happened.

That was an eye-opener for me, and it threw me for a loop. But then I realized that it wasn’t all that catastrophic — I’ve managed to put together a pretty excellent life, despite all that “disability”, and frankly, a lot of stuff that people insist on remembering simply isn’t worth hanging onto. I have several really good friends who are ultra-invested in nursing grudges and remembering every single slight and hurt that’s ever been done to them. I can honestly say that that kind of mentality does NOT make you a happier person, than someone like me who has no “storage space” for that sort of stuff. I mean, I couldn’t remember it, if I tried, but why bother trying? It’s much better, in my opinion, to start fresh each day.

Obviously. I mean – compare… I cannot retain much of anything, and I bounce out of bed on many days with a great sense of expectation and anticipation. While they remember each and every instance of insult, slights, hurt, inconsideration, offense… you name it… and they literally can’t get out of bed a lot of days. They don’t want to live their lives, they’re afraid of living their lives. They expect bad things to happen to them at every turn, and a lot of times, that’s exactly what happens. But the bad things happening is not the problem. They get stuck in those bad things and cannot work through them, so they get stuck. Because their minds are stuck in that place. They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up.

I’m sure a lot of it is neurological. One of these friends was routinely knocked out on a regular basis by abusive adults their parents hung out with. There’s also the one-time drug abuse that left its mark, long past their last drink or drug. It’s also biochemical — one of the most hard-up friends I have simply refuses to eat responsibly. They live on coffee and chocolate and rarely eat a real meal. Small wonder they’re screwed up. They just won’t take care of themself. It’s heart-breaking to watch, but that’s their choice, and no matter how I try to reason with them, they just can’t seem to get it.

The thing that keeps these friends of mine going is drama and stress and adrenaline. They’re always getting themselves into some sort of mess — probably because it makes them feel alert and alive. I know for a fact that a lot of them have “tonic arousal” issues, as a result of brain injuries. But they can’t hear me talk about it. They just can’t get their head around the whole TBI thing, which is a shame, because they could really be helped if they would just admit that that’s the issue. But they’re more interested in proving that the problems come from outside them, not inside their head. There’s a whole mindset there that just kills. And it’s a shame.

But enough about them. For me, beginner’s mind is the only way to live. I start fresh each day, mostly because I have to. It’s way too much work to try to remember everything — that’s where my lists come in. Most of all, it’s way too much work to try to remember all the emotional and mental experiences I’ve had lately — even if those experiences were uplifting and encouraging. When I think about it, I realize that I’m constantly orienting myself to the present and to “what’s next” — not so much to the past, because that is dim and fragmented for me. And when I interact with people, I really follow their lead when I socialize and take cues from them, and I rely on them for reminders of what I’m supposed to remember and think about.

It’s a good thing that all of this happens inside my head, because if people new just how reliant I am on the people around me for even the most basic conversation topics and direction, they’d think I was a complete idiot.

On the other hand, when I look around at people who supposedly “know” how things were or what happened once upon a time, I see a lot of people who have very different perspectives about exactly the same thing, and who have completely different recollections and interpretations of “reality”. It’s like they’re all living in their own worlds (I guess most of us are), and they believe with all their hearts that their version is the right version. And they’re willing to defend that interpretation with their very lives — as a result, we’ve got wars and conflicts and political parties.

So, maybe having a “good” memory isn’t so great after all.

And maybe it’s actually better for me, that my past becomes just that — a faded, fragmented, distant past, about so much of which I’m uncertain. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember all that much from my childhood, aside from shadowy memories and a bunch of brightly shining times when I knew I was okay, and new everything was going to turn out alright. Maybe it’s a blessing, that I can’t retain all the kinds of crap that my friends are so adept at remembering.

Maybe beginner’s mind is exactly the right thing for me.

I know it’s what a lot of people strive for. They actively seek to put themselves in that frame of mind. But I’m there by default, thanks to at least nine mild traumatic brain injuries that had progressively negative impacts on me. Each time I got clocked, a little more of my brain changed. And now here I am… beginner’s mind. Some people would (and do) pay tons of money to learn how to get there, but I learned for free.

NOT that I’m advocating repeat concussion as a route to enlightenment. Far from it. The thing is, for all that I’ve lost as a result of mild TBI, life hasn’t turned out to be a total waste. I’ve been forced to acquire new skills and adapt — or else. And all the hard work has been worth it. If I ever get concussed again, I’m not sure what will become of me. Maybe my memory will be completely erased.

Who knows? All I know is, right here and right now, I’m feeling pretty good. I have a few days off — a four-day weekend, which I’m looking forward to. I am practicing relaxing and getting back to my “happy place”, and the world looks pretty promising to me — despite all the international upheaval and what-not.

Bottom line — life is good. Onward.

Spending time on the things that matter most

Time flies – Use it well

It’s turning out to be a beautiful day. I got to bed early last night — around 10 — and I was up at 5:30, after lying in bed resting (and observing my head getting going) for about half an hour. I’m working on getting myself out of bed whenever I am awake (or my head is awake) and not just lying there. I did try to focus on my breathing and just relax, which was fine, but my head was up and ready to go… so up I got, too.

Then I had some breakfast — not the kind of big breakfast I had been building up to over the past months… somehow my portions were getting a little bigger each week, and I was starting to drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, instead of one. Yesterday, when I cut back and just had a small cuppa joe and an apple, I actually felt really great all morning — started to get a little antsy around lunchtime, and then was increasingly on edge by the end of the day (pro’lly as much due to running out of steam as being hungry). So, I went with the minimalist approach and kept to a strict 3/4 cup of granola, some rice milk, and a cup of coffee that was not splashing over the brim.

I’ve got two whole days ahead of me — praise be. And I got a whole lot done yesterday. I know, because I sat down with my list after I had my breakfast and looked over the whole slew of things I wrote down that I had to do. Sure enough, I accomplished everything that had to be done — and then some. I exercised… I picked up my package from the post office (alas, it was not the exact item I thought I had purchased, which is actually fine, because now I know what to look out for)… I went to the bank to deposit a check… I went online and moved some money around to cover bills I have had to pay which have not been drawn against my account just yet… I checked on the due date for a very important expense I have coming up in another month or so… I bought a new window fan to replace the one that died in the bathroom… I tended to my lawn and took in the barrel of weeds that I filled up last weekend, and then forgot about so it was standing beside the front porch for the past three days, getting all funky in the hot, wet weather… and then I took my nap. And in between all these things, I also did some research for one of my projects, pricing items at hardware stores and learning my way around towns that are near where I live, but I normally don’t spend much time in.

Not bad for a day’s work. By the end of the day, I was done. Baked at 9:30 p.m., which felt pretty great — except that my spouse was keen on me staying up with them till 2 a.m. watching movies, which is about the last thing I needed. After a testy conversation about how much I need sleep and how I’m not really interested in staying up till 2 a.m. because I really need to keep on a regular sleep schedule, I managed to extricate myself from the living room and crawl into bed for a good night’s rest. I was concerned that I might be too sore to fall asleep, but I had no trouble with that. I did wake up before 5 in a sweat with shooting pains in my lower back and legs (all that bending and standing work on the lawn does a number on me), but when I focused on breathing and relaxing, it subsided, so that was good.

Nothing like starting the day with shooting pains… as much as I wanted to just get up when I woke up, at least this way, I started the day without too much anguish.

And then I had my breakfast… a small-scale, nutritious start that tasted all the better because I went without, yesterday. My 22-hour fasting experience (I had my last food at 10 p.m. the night before, and I ate at 8 p.m. last night) was pretty enlightening, making me quite aware of how much agitation is lurking at the edges of my attention. People I was mad at, situations, circumstances, details that got under my skin… Any number of things were hanging out, waiting to jump into view to get me going. Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of really great things that came to mind to get me going.

I’m sure it’s just bad habits of thought, because I’ve trained myself over years to generate energy by getting pissed off over bad things. I haven’t trained myself (yet) to generate energy by getting excited over good things. So my go-to default for getting my energy going is to find something to get pissed off at, and then think about that till I’m revved up and rarin’ to go.

Not so hot. Is that really how I want to spend my life and time and energy — being pissed off and upset about things? That’s the thought that came to mind yesterday as I was driving around, feeling miffed about this or that or the other thing. I have a three day weekend, and I’m going to spend it dwelling on sh*t? Silly.

So, I spent a fair amount of time yesterday adjusting my attitude and repeating “Hormesis” to myself — which is the principle of using large doses of stressors for short periods of time to build up immunity to them. Things like cold, hunger, fatigue — all these (among others) are things that you can use hormesis to overcome, and when I thought “Hormesis” at times when my patience was starting to wear thin, it calmed me down, because it reminded me why I was doing this — to train myself to just deal. It also reminded me that the stressors I was experiencing at that moment were fleeting and temporary. I would be eating within hours. I was in training. I could take a chill pill, already.

And that worked.

The other thing that worked, was sticking to my list. I’ve been reading about the usefulness of everyday rituals in making certain activities automatic, so you can focus your attention on other more important things. Rituals and automatic activities free up your mind to focus on the finer points of things, rather than the gross logistics of everyday life. I have found this to be very true for myself. Having a morning ritual of rising at a certain time, stretching, brushing my teeth, washing my face and hands in cold water, and making breakfast in a specific order, frees up my mind by not having to think through every single next step I need to take. I don’t have to figure out what’s next. I don’t have to figure anything out. I can let my mind wake up at its own pace, while my body goes about the work of getting started.

Lists do the same thing for me. When I was really struggling with my everyday life, several years ago, and I wasn’t able to start my days without some sort of meltdown or freak-out, I took to making step-by-step lists for myself each and every morning. I had everything planned right down to the amount of time I spent on each thing. Some people acted like I was crazy to be doing that, and they insisted that I didn’t need that “crutch”, but it helped me immensely. It helped me to regulate the details of my morning, and it freed up my brain to relax because I knew exactly what was going to come next.

All I had to do was follow instructions. Easy-peasy. And it helped.

Now I have rituals in the morning rather than lists, but those rituals came out of the list.

Either way, they allow me to focus my time and attention on things that are more complex — and more fulfilling — than the drudgery of “what’s next”.

And that’s a good thing.

Today, I have more items on my to-do list. I have emails I need to read and respond to. I have things I’ve been needing to do, and haven’t gotten to because I’ve been so busy this past week. Some of them are more fun than others, and I need to arrange them so that I have some good rewards after I take care of the less fun things. Some of them are downright nerve-wracking, because they involve some complex thinking and I’m concerned I will screw them up.

Then again, I do have 2 days left in the weekend, so I can take care of some of this tomorrow.

That takes the pressure off. It makes things easier to start, when I take the pressure off.

Speaking of getting started, I guess I’ll get on with my day. I’m up early, so I actually have time for a walk before I start all this. Excellent idea — off I go…

Onward.