December 2 – Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)
It's a measure of how stressed I am of late that when I got this prompt, I wanted to throw up my hands and say "I have no idea. Everything." It's taken all day to come to something like an answer with more perspective, and even that perspective is uncertain, because I feel like I don't know the answer for certain. I can block out the internet with apps like Leechblock, Chrome Nanny, Freedom, and Self-Control; or I can let it in, because I find that I feel that I'm writing less in a vacuum when I can periodically chatter a bit on Facebook or Twitter.
Neither one helps, really: I still feel like I have to work harder, and harder, while feeling at the same time that I don't know how to work any harder than I already am. The result is that sometimes I have days like today, where I'm so tired I can't focus at all. I should take breaks before I reach that point of exhaustion, but it never feels like I've worked hard enough to earn them, and the result is that each time I take one, I despise myself a little bit more.
This really doesn't work well.
I have a friend who is ruled at times by jealousy. I was ruled by jealousy once, several years ago, and found the process dismaying enough that I swore up and down I'd never be again. But if I've let myself feel a tinge of pride at the fact that I've succeeded there so far, then I need a bit of a comeuppance, because I'm easily ruled by self-doubt, more, perhaps, than the friend ruled occasionally ruled by jealousy.
The result is that I feel that I have to check everything, over and over; that if I step away from my work for a day, I feel as though I've forgotten my place entirely, and have to start over again from the beginning. This is because I tell myself that I know nothing; I am entirely unwilling to countenance the thought that I might learn. In my head, I am incapable of learning, of change. And yet I know this isn't true; I can point to areas of my life where I have grown and changed in the last five years, where I feel more human, and less isolated than I have for most of my life.
What can I do about this problem? I love my subject, but it is difficult to transform that love from contemplation to action, when my concept of my own activity is soaked with self-loathing. And I'm skeptical that I can just slough it off the way I beat jealousy, if only because this is a problem that has been with me for far longer; which has shaped who I am. In moments of clarity, it occurs to me that much of the hardest work I have done has emerged less from love than fear.
That last point is hard to face. I don't like evaluating the balance of my life using it, because I know how much lands on the side of the scale marked fear.
And yet, I can remember clearly the end of my sophomore year in college, staying up most of the night to write an essay on Euripides' Medea, without relying on caffeine, because I loved it enough that I didn't feel I needed it. (Also because I was young enough that I didn't need it.) And that same love has characterized my research of the last few years. If I had been wholly ruled by fear, I wouldn't have been able to stay as calm as I have throughout, I think. I think.
So, what can I do? If it's not possible to simply regain freedom from self-doubt in one fell swoop, then can I establish a few guidelines for better combatting it? I think I can. So, how do I set up concrete steps to act from love, rather than fear?
1: I need to go to the internet because I want to, not because I'm feeling inadequate. Doing this may involve setting Self-Control the night before, so that I'm blocked in the morning, in order to avoid being overwhelmed.
2: I need to acknowledge that a balance between work and leisure is healthy; that it serves a purpose of allowing me to examine ideas freshly.
3: I need to believe and know that mistakes, when I make them, can serve a purpose. Right now it just feels like they slow me down, and that's bad.
I'm going to stop this here for now, with the resolution that I'll come back to this post and keep exploring.
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