I realize this one got away from me, but I wrote this January of 2014, hence the strange year references.
Since restarting this blog, it’s been very interesting to see what has stuck and what hasn’t. I have neglected a behavior post for so long, let’s take a look at what has and hasn’t worked within this blog’s brief lifetime.
1) Doing something every day is the challenge, not the task itself
Something about practicing everyday is extremely distasteful, even if you kind of like it. What I’ve learned while practicing sketches and drawing (I still am, by the way! Comics are more fun to read though), is that if it’s something you’re kind of good at, that practice time can seem like “Scheduled time to reveal how much I suck”. After my 11th week of drawing, I said that I needed to take time off of drawing and move that towards Chinese. The prospect of re-sucking, even for a little bit was enough for me to get back into what I call perpetual-prepare mode. I love to make lists and prepare for things. With art, this might mean acquiring all the fun tools before you really need them. For Chinese, it was researching material, getting my notebooks, organizing my notebooks, considering when I’d practice…you get the idea. Everything EXCEPT actually practicing. I found that once I start the task, it really isn’t that painful at all, but the anxiety/procrastination up to that point gets ridiculous.
2) Perspective flips can drastically lower procrastination
The flip side to this is the results. I often have to draw things in class while teaching. Granted, I’ve always been horrible at drawing on a perpendicular plane, let alone with markers, but even there I’m able to see strokes and angles I had been practicing shine through. When I look back at how clumsy I was with photoshop even a just one month ago, I can see the amount of time I’m saving by the way I move around the program. The difficulty in this early phase of learning is to change the perspective from “Holy cow. I can’t even do something as easy as my small goal well. I suck.” To “OH WOW LOOK HOW MUCH I’M LEARNING!” The difference in subject knowledge between a total beginner, and someone who has spent even just 5 hours practicing feels like 1000% . At this point, learning anything is more than doubling your original “nothing” known about the subject.
3) Even medium sized goals can sometimes be too large.
“You got cocky, kid.”
I gave myself the goal of writing 5 small sentences every day, and tried to get up to 30 minutes of mandarin conversation. I was trying to jump into Chinese and land at pace. This failed spectacularly. Not only did I get trapped in perpetual-preparing mode, but also the sentences I wanted to make were not within my ability, which produced another convenient roadblock to procrastinate behind. By my own rules I could have just written, “I am Sam” 5 times and I would have been done. This gets even more depressing when you think about how long that would take you to do in English. Maybe 1 minute tops if you are clinically sleep deprived. I thought this would be a small, reachable goal, but no. Instead I wrote a blog post to fill the time. And that got me in trouble.
4) Video Games
About the time I wrote pt.1 to get yourself re-motivated, I cautioned against tv, or games since they could domino into more tv and games. That’s when steam sale hit and Batman Origins was on sale. Fast-forward at least 60 stolen hours later, and am only now starting to see the end of the tunnel. I fell into the exact trap I cautioned about. It should be stated that I think there is a place for games in a productive schedule, but you have to keep them strict, and that has to be based on a time increment, and not something arbitrary like, one more level..Ok, finish this quest…this side quest….oooh that looks pretty, I can almost buy it.
(annnnd it’s 3 am)
This has most recently found itself with me blitzing Game of Thrones in 4 days. Time efficient? Hard to say, and probably not.
5) Single living is great except for the not great things
I am loving the bachelor life. I can bunker down in a nice apartment day in and out with no real distractions. This has been wonderful and allows me an amount of freedom I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing before. The downside is the maintenance. I’m also the only one around, which means lucky me always draws the short straw for chores. It baffles me how long I took to clean apartment that couldn’t have been much more than 250square feet take. Especially since I try to keep myself organized for the most part. Right now, this is the main distraction from everything else. As I mentioned before, I’m not entirely convinced that eating out is all that much more expensive than cooking for yourself, especially when I consider exchange rate along with time saved ( I can be drawing/learning Chinese while I wait for food to get to me for take out). It also means I get out of my apartment and be a human being once in a while. Walking is great for exercise, but more importantly, I get to explore. Something I have hilariously done very little of despite being in a foreign country. For shame.
In 2014, I will refine my clean up and get it so that my place can go from trash to class in 30 minutes, or 1 hour if dishes are present.
6) Everything is Awesome When You’re Part of a Team
I recently have been doing some future planning and was reminded how awesome it is to have a few other like minded people on your side. Decisions got made, figures were exchanged, stress melted away…it was beautiful. I like this quote enough to restate it, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, bring friends”. Simply knowing that being reminded that I have a part to play in a larger scheme (friend group gaining momentum, or achieving a goal) can really nudge me forward. It gives me reason, I can see my worth and agency in the situation, and it is generally benefitting either myself, or someone I like. These friends are also essential for getting you to stick to your shit. If you have a group around you that won’t allow you to cheat on your diet, or they all realize that it’s ok for you to just do 40 airsquats, maybe even teasingly remind you when it’s time, all of that is invaluable. One of the aspects to living with roommates that I enjoyed was just having that other presence made me want to brag and show off how well I was keeping a schedule, or how well I was progressing at something. I wanted to be arrogant, but that’s hard to do when alone, or if you suck. Luckily, having someone around often solves both those problems.
7) Plan for failure, but don’t rationalize it
This is by far the worst thing I’ve done this year. Planning for failure is just good planning. There is strange little irrational thought worm that goes something like “I cheated on my diet, well, guess I’ll eat the rest of these cookies while I’m being a failure. It’ll be make me feel better too”…no, that’s silly! You made a little mistake and then leapt backward on your progress. Instead, realize that you will stumble, stabilize and move forward again. What I’ve found success with is planning for one of my work days to completely crumble, or spent all day doing an errand I really wasn’t counting on. It’s acceptable to have a no draw day if it meant I could get a substantial amount of work and errands done. The thought worm did eventually get to me and this lead to rationalizing smaller, and smaller reasons for why this day should be a no draw day. Because I wasn’t strict with my self and didn’t just draw every day, there ended up being a string of no draw days because I simply forgot. I’d go on a pointless errand with pressure to finish quickly because I didn’t remember to get home and quick draw before crashing. What was hardest was assigning priority. How do you know which is more important to do right now? Another resolution of mine is to read all of the ebooks I brought with me to China. Do I spend a day reading and crushing books, do I draw and make progress there? Or is there something else I should be planning for? Making sure you are strict with your rules is completely necessary. Otherwise, you’ll get tricked the same way I was and have to start back up every few months.
8) Putting things online, even if only a small number of people are ever likely to see them makes you feel responsible to someone for something.
Documenting my progress in a blog form has been extremely helpful in making me feel like I have some duty to you all to get my shit together (thanks social facilitation). I’d like to thank you all for putting up with my ridiculously bad scheduling and late posts. It does help.
9) Sometimes the New Plan is the Old Plan
Too often, I over complicate things. Ironic, I know, for someone taking a stab at a blog themed on minimalism and simplicity. As my college roommate could attest to after watching me play Portal 2 (I’m so, so sorry) I have the magical ability to naturally find the most complicated solution first and unfortunately for game designers I sometimes succeed. This doesn’t work quite as well when translated into the real world. Often times the best plan for getting non life changing things to occur has just been the path of least resistance. This usually requires just asking someone to do something for you if you are confused, or don’t have the tools. People are on the whole decent, and will try to help you out and actually like helping out. After all my ring arounds trying to get an appropriate internationally unlocked smartphone in China, I finally just resorted to asking someone to help me buy one rather than try this international finagling with hand offs, customs, visas, secret handshakes and whatever else.
10) Keep Good People Around, or Find Them
This one comes up last, but it is the most real and important realizations I’ve had recently. You can only travel solo for so long without consequences. If you haven’t been able to pick up from earlier posts, especially concerning this matter, I’m quite introverted. I like being able to set up my own systems and not let others mess them up or change them when I’m not looking if I’ve got a project going. But that really can only go on for so long. I have a history of never really being in one place for long. Growing up, I could be found living for sometimes weeks at a time at any of 9 friend’s houses to save time and gas money driving back and for the to farm house located about 40 miles away. At college I wasn’t much different. I quickly moved into the Japanese Language house on campus which was, maybe not surprisingly, the most isolated of the language houses. After working hard to set it up, I then studied abroad in Japan for a year before coming back to finish senior year, the least social of all college years! Now that I’ve jumped ship again and am a little more than half way through my China adventure, I’m starting to feel the wear and tear of having no real social network. I still keep in touch with all my friends, but that is not the same as knowing that you can go outside and hang out with someone. Especially while you’re a language learner. With no way to accurately search for group meet ups, and no way to talk about them even if I did find them, I am forced to turn to what English speakers I have available to me.
Then, everything changed when I went to Shanghai.
Not only were there the largest group of English speakers I’ve ever seen in an Asian city, but they all seemed to be DOING something. More often than not, those somethings were really interesting. It was electric to remember what it was like to be just around people who were excited about something, and trying to see what they could do about it. I’m used to committing to the long haul for nearly anything, but it took until now to realize that I’ve been doing just that without making sure I had a social net to help support me. Especially when living in a country you don’t speak the language, this is extremely important to remember. Charge up on your hugs before heading off. You will get homesick. It will suck. Make things easy for yourself and drop into a location that will give you as stable a base as possible, and the chance to make friends.
11) Crank it to 11. Lower News/Notifications as much as possible
To date, my most productive days were when I never touched the computer unless to quickly check email, or get some art drawn. As soon as I was completed with those tasks, I’d disconnect from the internet (physically pull the cord) and get whatever else needed to be done. It is amazing how long hours and minutes become when you aren’t filling them with what countries are saying about other countries. If something huge did happen, people will let me know, or it’ll be on the newspapers. Removing reddit, facebook, and even emails for a few days at a time can be very very helpful and very productive. This is still an on going struggle for me, and one I will have to continue working on.
If you’ve gotten all the way to the end, thank you for taking the time to give my thoughts a read over. It means a lot, and I’ll see you next time.