Sunday, September 6, 2015

Procrastination and solidifying structure in one's own life

Writing about this subject may be another means of procrastination. But I want to put this out there so that if I fail, at least there is a record of me having tried, or maybe some of the compiled thoughts will help someone else. Besides--you only fail if you never try again, right? Right?

I don't consider myself to be self-disciplined at all. This may come as a surprise to people who know that I served "honorably" with the military for many years; that I own a home and keep my lawn semi-groomed; that I have well-fed pets; that if I wear a piece of clothing out of the house, it is most assuredly clean, dry, and serviceable; that my car is fairly well-maintained; and that much of my coursework for the degree that I finished last autumn was completed online. That last one is the one that really gets people. "You took and passed how many online classes? Oh my gosh, you must be really self disciplined!" No, there are plenty of external motivating factors in all those cases.

Most of the time, though, I have a hard time seeing reasons for motivation and reaping that "just do it" feeling until it's too late. But that isn't what this post is about. This post is about distractions and habits.

Over the years, I've seen several articles about internet addiction and social media addiction. Some people describe their Netflix viewing as "binge watching." I am not a scientist and, if it is possible to be addicted to these things, I'm not sure I meet the criteria for addiction. I have recently begun to come to grips with the thought, though, that my overusing these leisure outlets is negatively impacting my life. If not negatively impacting it, then it is at least hampering my progress. I don't blame anyone but myself.

Twitter and Netflix were absolutely necessary to my survival during a time in my life when I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I wasn't seriously contemplating suicide, but I didn't want to live anymore, either. I found so many wonderful people on Twitter who understood that, and I was able to joke with them about it and share coping mechanisms. I'm forever grateful for the lifeline Twitter gave me. Netflix was also wonderful because I could immerse myself in characters' lives and forget mine. Lots of mindfulness proponents might disagree with me, but escapism was and is a huge coping mechanism for me against anxiety and clinical major depression.

And it's not just escapism. I read an article recently that mentioned that viewers can form para-social bonds with movie & TV characters. So basically, a combination of social networking and Netflix has acted as a stand-in for in-the-flesh socializing for me. For years. I think I needed that at one point when I couldn't see or feel hope and had no energy, inclination, or money to leave the couch, much less my house. But more and more often now, I feel like it's not enough.

My major depression is in semi-remission, so I think I should use this opportunity of the leg-up out of the pit to try to make my life better while I can. Statistics say that I will experience another devastating episode of major depression sometime in my life, so I need to make hay while the sun peeks from behind the clouds.

About a month an a half ago, I ran across a comic ("Is That Not Worth Exploring" by James Rhodes, illustrated by Zen Pencils)--probably on reddit--that made me think. It deals with identifying the unimportant stuff you spend time on and replacing those activities with something meaningful. At least, that's the way I interpreted it. I set the URL to the comic as the pinned tweet on my Twitter profile, hoping that more people would see it and be inspired. Of course, I've not taken Rhodes's advice, but I do think of his words once in a while and sorta hate myself for not doing anything. It has made me think, though.

Lately I've been wondering, "what did I do with my leisure time before I had internet access at home?" And then I realized, "oh, I don't just browse social media and watch Netflix during leisure time. I also do it while I'm supposed to be doing other stuff, like studying, housekeeping, applying for jobs, etc."

As you may know, I am overweight. I like to eat. Most days I eat many times when I'm not even hungry, and then I feel physically and emotionally awful. I mean, yes, I get a mood boost from the food, but then I am upset with myself because I know that overeating leads to weight gain. At one point, I decided to look into Overeaters Anonymous. I thought, "how can OA possibly work when the whole idea behind AA (on which it's based) is abstinence from the substance? Everyone NEEDS food." Turns out that OA's definition of abstinence is only eating planned meals and snacks. It gives a structure. That made sense to me. I tried it for a while on my own (I have never attended an OA meeting), but suffice to say I would not have earned any sobriety coins. I can still see that it makes sense, though, and could work for me. I know that because imposed structure worked for me in the military for many years. The problem is that if I'm the one trying to impose the structure upon myself, I am too lenient with myself.

So here I am, recognizing that I've been making horrible use of my time and that I need structure. I've had way too many zero days, especially in the past four years. But what should I do? Where should I start?

I think I should instill new habits. I'm in an enviable position right now, one where I do not have a job to go to every morning, so my schedule can be anything I want as long as I'm moving toward my goals (and as long as the schedule doesn't cost more money--I'm on a tight budget). You might hear that revamping one's entire lifestyle can be stressful, and that each little habit should be overhauled one at a time. But I have plenty of zero days in the bank to show me that even if I fail on changing most habits every single day, I will still have done more in a few months than I have in the past four years. So why not change everything at once? Fuck it, let's go.

Everyone's probably heard or read that it takes 21 days to instill a new habit. This, obviously, has been contested by psychologists and life coaches, so I'm not going to make this a 21 day challenge. This will be over a few months, starting today and going through December 31, 2015, at least. Let's see what I can accomplish.

Like many of you, I love lists. I love making them, I love checking things off, I love running across them in a junk drawer years later and laughing about how many things I didn't check off and that seem trivial in retrospect. In this case, I don't need a list because the number one thing on my list is studying. Everything except fitness & housekeeping seems to hinge on money.

Since I've already identified how much I rely on Twitter & Netflix to distract me, I'm going to say that I will no longer be on Twitter and will not watch Netflix (or regular TV) between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (local). This will probably seem ridiculous to people who have no problem with this stuff but, in my case, this is absolutely necessary.

I will probably spend the rest of the day bouncing between studying and making new rules/revising my daily guidelines/creating Excel spreadsheets to track everything. Which is more procrastinating--unless it works. *squints at the screen*

My brain is panicking a little right now about staying off Twitter. "How will I know what's happening???" I have to keep reminding myself that

  1. It's not forever, I'll check in in the morning & evening
  2. I have emergency alerts set up on my phone if we need to evacuate for weather or anything.

I'm reminded of basic training when we had no access to news of current events whatsoever. At some point, one of the women in my group remarked that it would be great if we could have access to newspapers. The answer given was that our being sequestered and away from the outside world was temporary and that outside news would not benefit our training. Hopefully, these thoughts will hold me over and calm my nerves.