Sending Myself to My Room Without Dinner

I’m aiming to make fewer resolutions. 

My resolutions are all about making myself better: I’m going to play scales on guitar for an hour everyday, or I’m going to stop looking at my phone the moment I wake up.  They’re little ultimatums I lay on myself. They’re the equivalent of grounding myself or sending myself to my room without dinner. What’s the chance some sneaky part of myself isn’t going to sneak out the window and go out drinking with my friends?

I’m trying out a few things that offer me more dignity and agency. Things that sound less like a childish tyrant levying decrees.  Here’s one from Daniel Coyle’s “Little Book of Talent.”

After you’ve finished a practice session write down three things:

  1. What worked
  2. What didn’t
  3. Ideas for the next session

This practice says I have the intelligence to discern what works for me, and what doesn’t. It invites me to pay attention rather than instead mindlessly practicing guitar scales until I die. It says that tomorrow I can engage my curiosity and see what works again. 

Maybe what doesn’t work is the ordeal of forcing ourselves to doing things.    

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Messing up the song and changing it is the goal.

Editing is hard for me. I kinda hate it. It’s on my mental to do list daily, but I spend my time on other things. I learn David Rawlings licks. Re-binge “Breaking Bad.”

I’m learning I can melt my resistance to tasks I avoid, (tasks which scare me), if I give them some attention with a Daily Mood Log. I pulled one out and wrote “editing a song” as the specific event causing me strife.

I circled the emotions on the page which come along with editing a song for me: Anxious, frightened, inadequate, incompetent, alone, foolish, stuck.   

I wrote down all the negative blurts and thoughts as well, the first of which is; “I’ll mess up the song,” as well as things like, “it won’t be any good,” and “it will end up obvious I stiff and obvious that I workshopped it.”  

Soon I was looking for thoughts to crush the negative thoughts that have been holding me back this came to me:

“Messing the song up and changing it is the goal.”

Soon I was at work screwing up the song I wrote to improve it.

The Mood Log:


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Rebranding Frustration

I’ve been feeling frustrated this morning. I’m learning the outward signs of my frustration include low grade anxiety accompanied by berating myself and procrastination. (I honed in on this by doing a Daily Mood Log from Dr. David Burns).

This morning my procrastination took the form of cracking open my notes to Daniel Coyle’s “Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for improving your skills.  (It also took the form of a two hour binge of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). Scanning through the file I landed on a note about “The Sweet Spot,” the zone in which we gain the most skill from our practice efforts.  One assumes you’d like to get as much gain from your efforts as possible.

First, there are two other zones you might find yourself in. We’re aiming to get to “The Comfort Zone” which is when we are successful in our efforts more than 80% of the time.  It’s marked by a feeling of effortlessness.

There’s also the “Survival Zone,” when we succeed less than 50% of the time and feel overwhelmed and outmatched.  Probably want to find ways to avoid that zone.

The Sweet Spot, like Goldilocks, is right in the middle. It has a success range is 50 – 80%.

And it’s marked by feelings of . . .

Frustration, (as well as alertness to errors, and engagement with the task at hand).  

Eureka!  Frustration can be a marker of success. Frustration can tell us we’re in the right place, at the right time.  

For many of us, we focus a lot on avoiding frustration, getting away from it. That’s understandable.  Frustration sucks. But frustration coupled with engagement and alertness is a sign of growth. It’s a sign of the sweet spot.  It could be something to seek out. And to be honest, once we’re engaged with something it isn’t exactly frustrating anymore. So let’s rebrand. How about Funstration?  

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I Should be Writing Everyday.

I’ve been stuck a lot lately with the thought; “I should be writing everyday.”

What I tend to do, is procrastinate everyday. I like to ride the bus to Kickstand Café with the intention of writing and then manufacture flashcards in Greek for two and half hours. Then, if I have the day off, I might seek comfort in a lunch of steak tips, french fries and a cold Sam Summer Ale. A nap is likely to follow.  

This may start to come across as self-denigration or flagellation, but it’s also not how writing gets done. Writing gets done by looking at our fears and distortions of reality and finding ways to converse with them.  Also, by sitting down and writing. Writers write after all. So let’s work with the thought, “I should be writing every day.”

The gold standard of writing seems to be rolling out of bed into a chair at a writer’s desk where I’ll spend somewhere between the ten minutes and ten hours scrawling away. All the famous writing teachers advocate some form of this from Natalie Goldberg to Julia Cameron to Steven Pressfield. My fear is if I don’t write everyday, I won’t be a writer, I’ll be a phony and a fake.    

Here, Dr. David Burns, podcaster and author of the book “Feeling Good” saves the day for me, (or more accurately, saves some days for me). David is one of the chief exponents of CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’ve found his tools to be immensely helpful, even more helpful than a one beer buzz and belly full of steak tips and french fries.  

One tool begins when I note what distressful thoughts I have. I Actually write them down. I read through my thoughts and find the fears and distortions in them, searching out ways they don’t portray reality accurately. David has a list of ten common ways our thoughts may distort reality which is helpful here. The distortions have names like overgeneralization, all or nothing thinking, shoulds, mind reading or fortune telling.

Sometimes merely discovering a thought’s distortion is enough to release me from its grip.  In the case of the thought, “I should be writing everyday,” I can see the nasty word “should” is at least part of the thought distortion that’s got me down–rephrasing it as “It would be preferable if I wrote everyday,” may be enough to help me feel a bit better.   

But there’s a paradoxical question that’s even better, basically the Brazilian Jujitsu of CBT:

“What about this thought shows how you I awesome and admirable as a human being?”

This question can make a mind go numb. It’s been helpful to hear David work on his podcast with other people to get some ideas. It can also help to take a different angle like; “What makes me want to write everyday?” That’s easier to answer:  

1. I’d like my writing to eventually earn some money for me or even help support a career.   

2. I want to share things I find useful and helpful with people.  

3. I believe talking about my own vulnerabilities and where I can find strength in those vulnerabilities might help others find strengths hidden in their vulnerabilities.   

So what do those three thoughts reflect about me that’s awesome and/or admirable:

1. “I’d like my writing to eventually earn me money or even help support a career.” This shows hope, ambition, and drive.  Is hope ambition and drive awesome and/or admirable? Yes!

2. “I want to share things I find useful and helpful with people.” This shows care and concern and a desire to help others out.  Is wanting to help others out awesome and/or admirable? Yes!.

3. “I believe talking about my own vulnerabilities and how I can find strength in those vulnerabilities might help others find strengths hidden in their vulnerabilities.” This shows openness, honesty, even humility paired again with the above desire to help others out.  Are these things that are awesome and admirable? Yes!

Hidden in a thought I was beating myself up with are a swath of thoughts and motivations that are useful and admirable. Six months ago, before I’d learned these techniques for David Burns, I couldn’t have done it uncovered the good in these thoughts alone. There are other fears and distortions that keep me from writing obviously. Things like; “What I write won’t be any good,” and “No one wants to read what I write,” are in the top ten of my brain’s playlist. But these are also distortions that can be worked with in similar ways.   

If you’ve interested in check out more of Dr. David Burns, his Podcast is here and his website is here.  Listening or reading may help you start to see how you could work with, and transform your own fears and distortions.

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