I accomplished four big things yesterday that I hadn’t expected to: I got out for a run, I cooked the planned dinner and used the refridgerated mince, I sketched, completed, scanned and uploaded a new drawing, and I even cleaned the goddamn kitchen.
I think part of being able to achieve all of these unexpected – and valuable to me – tasks was down to two things. First, I took the pressure off myself by not having them weighing on me as expectations. Second, when I “drew out” the picture of the likely flow of the day yesterday, it highlighted the few places where I had some choices to make; if I wanted to cook that mince, I was going to have to prepare it before we left for the cinema; if I wanted to get out for a run, I was going to have to determine a window when I would still have energy and enlist the help of my husband to make it happen – guilt be damned.
As for drawing, that was a bit of a happy accident. I think my positivity and energy levels were up a bit anyway from having unexpectedly accomplished more than I had hoped in the day. That always helps – there’s an unfortunate chain-reaction effect that comes with obstacles and a thwarted productivity feeling that can come with that. I can’t say that I’m likely to ever have a huge amount of control over that. Or … maybe? Maybe I can control something about my reactions. With time. But anyway, also, I turned off some of the “should” portions of my brain around drawing. I didn’t force myself to work on any particular project. I stepped out of a narrative where I was already imagining the reactions of others to what I was creating, and I just created for myself. It felt good, and in the end I did decide to share it. But that wasn’t the driving purpose behind it.
Let’s not even talk about the kitchen, or the state it’s now in this morning.
So look, I’m not going to spend each morning outlining a worst, best or expected path through the day. I can see that it had some advantages for me yesterday, but it strikes me a bit like the tedium of keeping a food diary, and I suspect long-term it would start to gain stories and problem spaces in its orbit tied up in obligation and trying to manipulate myself towards more objective productivity. Basically yesterday worked for me because I actually did have the underlying energy to cope with the day and I wasn’t forcing myself to do more than I was able for. I was actually “okay” with if the day followed the path I had outlined.
The problem is that long-term I’m not okay with doing the minimum. And that seems to sometimes end up having the opposite effect on me to the one that I hope for. When I put pressure on myself to perform and achieve, some protective instinct inside starts to fear that I won’t listen when I need a break, and so it pre-emptively shuts down my attempts to try.
I’ve got to stop trying to “game” my own internal system. I’ve got to stop trying to trick myself. I’ve got to start trusting myself to behave like an adult. I know, I know, past history points to being untrustworthy on that particular front. But I can’t live the rest of my life inside all of these flawed defenses set up – some of them – before I can even remember!
Coping honestly with life is going to necessitate being honest with myself about my life and my reactions. It’s going to necessitate making choices rather than just reacting each day. But that’s hard and requires me to unlearn a whole lot of habitual responses. It’s work to remain conscious throughout the day, rather than living a zombie blissed* out unthinkingly following a flawed path.
(*) Coz of the “ignorance” thing, but of course it’s not true bliss.
So change, change will be hard, but – to paraphrase Geneen Roth – is it any harder than living as I have been? Once I’ve made the decision that I’m unhappy with the status quo, then what choice do I have other than to do the work that I can to make things different for myself.
So, some notes for today:
- Think about the fact that each thing I do can be a conscious choice.
- Beyond keeping us all alive, there is no “should”.
- Be aware of the future, but no need to live in it.
That’s all I’ve got for today. And it’s enough, for today.