If someone asks me how I am and I answer completely truthfully, the reply is always “Fine, but…” There is always some reason that I feel life is a little bit hard. Often it’s because I haven’t had enough sleep or have a slight headache. It could be that money is particularly tight, my back is aching, I’m exhausted from my daily activities, I have not enough work, or I have too much work!
Without being a particularly negative person, there is usually a little part of me that is feeling sorry for myself. I can’t help feeling that my life could be better if circumstances were different. I even feel that things are a little harder for me than other people. I don’t consciouly think this, but I’ve realised that this feeling underlies a lot of my background thoughts. I suppose it seems that other people always look as if they’re coping with things so much better, even though I know not everyone really is. “Poor me,” I think as I sit around being a blob, “My life isn’t how I want it to be”.
The other morning I woke very early, not having slept very well and still with a migraine that I’d gone to bed with. So I got up and did the quizzes and puzzles in the newspaper while listening to some music and eating breakfast. Gradually, my migrainereceded a little. Obviously, little sleep and migraines are nasty! But I spent about half the morning feeling sorry for myself because all of my circumstances weren’t different. “Poor me, if I’d slept better I’d be out doing productive stuff.” “Poor me…”
I do this when teaching, I do this at my research job, I do this at uni, I do this when I’m out doing chores, I do this when I’m at home not doing chores. There’s a constant, whispering stream of “poor me” in the background. I think a part of it is a way of preparing excuses for failure – poor me, things are hard – but, mostly, it’s a habit of feeling dissatisfied when I don’t have to be. I have only realised this week how much I do this, and I think it is time to drop it.
That morning I should have been thinking “Lucky me, I can nurse my migraine quietly.” “Lucky me, I don’t have to work today.” “Lucky me, I have the luxury of doing puzzles until I feel better.” “Lucky me, it’s a mild, sunny morning.”
Not unusually, one of my challenges this week is related to productivity. It’s just a little different from usual. I am going to add doing things only when I feel like them.
This probably seems counter-productive, considering I’ve been focusing so much on getting things done at the start of the day and blocking in times to do things. It seems that I am constantly fretting about how hard it is for me to get myself going, how difficult it is to get out the house, and so I’ve been trying very hard to change that.
However, in my last review, I was reminded of the idea that I shouldn’t work so hard to change my natural self. Of course things have to change if I want to improve my life. I can’t spend all of my time being a blob. However, a lot of my focus has been on forcing me to ignore my natural inclinations and bludgeon my habits into a better direction. It’s like when they used to force left-handed people to do things right-handed, it’s a skill that can be learned, but the naturally left-handed brain still functions slightly differently to a natural right-hander. It’s much simpler just to turn the paper and let people write with the left-hand.
So the question is in what circumstances do I naturally want to go out and do things, or be productive at home? I will hopefully begin to figure this out this week. Then, if I know I need to do something, I can arrange circumstances so that it is less effort and I feel more naturally inclined to do it.
Here’s an example of how this has worked for me in the past: A few years ago I had to problems. The first was that I struggled to plonk myself down and do my reading for uni. The second was that I tended to always be a little late for my Saturday afternoon choir rehearsals. But then I figured out a different routine. I got ready for choir about an hour earlier and drove myself to the river or beach near our rehearsal venue. There, I’d sit and eat my lunch and do my readings, before driving the last few minutes to rehearsal. Even if I ran late (which I invariably did), I was so much earlier that I was never late for choir and I usually got at least fifteen minutes of reading in (better than none at all). I had stopped trying to force myself to sit in my bedroom and study. I had stopped trying to be ready just at the right time to make it to rehearsal. I stopped trying to make myself into a punctual person or someone who could ignore all the home distractions from study. And it became a pleasure, a little oasis of peacefulness, nature and purpose.
Back then, I wasn’t consciously changing the circumstances to suit my nature, but it shows the value of trying a different approach!