Category Archives: Methods of Thinking

Procrastinate to Think

A check of my Timex sports watch, 13:00. I shrug, no problem.  I hurry out the door for a Monday afternoon jog.  After a productive morning of writing, I deserve a break and some fresh air.  The other work can wait.

I run half way around the lake path, walk the rest, and make it home in under 45 minutes.  Maybe a quick protein shake, then back to the writing?  On a second thought, maybe a shower first.  With damp skin, I could catch a chill.  But before that shower, a speedy check of the email.  A quick pop-in just in case, I don’t know, someone needs me immediately.  Not sure who the hell that would be, but too late.

One check of an email leads to the click of a link, another, and then a Google search about creative entrepreneur teens who are changing the face of feminism. Maybe a YouTube search to find out what the music and TED talks are all about.  A Timex check, 15:00 already. I should eat a substantial lunch if I hope to get through the mental obstacles of revising my manuscript.

Bread warming in the toaster; ham slices, tomato and relish at the ready. The sandwich made, I grab a book and read while I eat.  Only crumbs left, I read some more and enjoy the warmth of our sunny patio. Then, okay, 16:00; is that the time?  Wasn’t I supposed to work on something this afternoon?

I pull up the document.  I sigh.  A disjointed mess of words hang on the screen.  The usual awaits: sorting, revising, massaging, re-typing, finding a rare jewel hidden in the crud.  Eyes drooping; maybe a revitalizing cat nap?  No, too late in the day.  What about that full sink, there in the kitchen, disgusting and screaming out to me? No, it’s hubby’s turn to wash; don’t give in.  But the dog needs to go out a little early this evening.  Don’t even think about it.  I could stare at the screen; think of the thousand things to do other than write this essay; this essay about procrastination.

A friend joked that I would probably put this one off.  My laugh flowed easy when she said it, but inside I knew.  It would be like every other essay, every other project.  That first hurdle; not necessarily of focusing, but convincing myself to start, and start immediately, before anything else popped into my frontal lobe and offered an excuse to delay.

No, sit back down, you don’t need to find some damn gum. Just chew on your tongue.

*********

To procrastinate is not exactly a positive choice in our culture.  Beyond the simple definition, there are the social stigmas: procrastination equals lazy and lack of will power, or leads to the plague of never getting anything done. Self-help guides line bookstore and virtual shelves to assist with this near mental disorder.  Sciences study indicators and motivations, hoping to figure out the almighty weapon to fight off procrastination so it never returns.  Are we in the battle of our lives, to conquer and defeat the fire-breathing monster known as ProKrastin Ate?  I admit, I intentionally delay certain tasks that linger on the top of my priority list.  But sometimes I am only taking a pause to think.

From my experience, the first stage of procrastination involves a fear and apprehension welling up from my belly’s pit.  In response, stress throws up a mental roadblock that always offers a convincing detour sign.  The messy-house-that-must-be-cleaned is my classic form of procrastination.  If my home is unkempt, the universe will of course disintegrate back to a tiny particle of dust.

My inspired muse works overtime to generate more creative procrastination techniques, expertly veiled behind cloaks of both necessity and temptation.  While juggling multiple assignments, the easy one becomes the focused center; the intentional distraction to divert any attention given to the one that’s due.  I also prefer busy work in the name of procrastination.  Although I do not budge an inch on the targeted task, I accomplish lots of other stuff like paying bills, creating a new household budget, organizing notes and files, even completing a few cryptograms from a puzzle book.  And then there are the obvious offenders: eating sandwiches, checking my arms for odd shaped moles, sorting through junk mail coupons, taking pictures of my sleeping puppy dog, biting my nails, daydreaming of the nearby construction site and the creative ways I could dismantle or mangle the excessively loud equipment.

My fail-safe method of procrastination is time travel.  Jumping forward, out of the present moment, and making to-do lists; creating new schedules that I implore myself to follow this time.  Just turn off the brain and follow the damn list.

I think the Puritan work ethic is engrained in our culture’s psyche.  You must be hard at work to be a good person because while the boss is away the mice will screw off and idle hands are the devil’s something or other.  I read an article published recently, “5 Tricks to Teach Kids to Avoid Procrastination.”  The article advised to prioritize work before play, to keep a to-do notebook and to get organized.  The subject in the article was a child who had entered the first grade.  Yowzah.  What is that, 7 years old?  I thought I was stressed out in grade school when I had to use my stuffed animals as dates for my Barbie dolls because I didn’t have Ken.  I never knew this stress was a projection of how I felt about putting off other more important shit.  Seriously, someone should have let me know about the other more important shit.

It’s all about results. I was raised to produce, to accomplish.  When I got into school, homework was on, then band practice and tennis practice, then some more homework, nightly assignments, monthly tests, quarterly projects and exams.  After public school came college.  Time management was the necessity; procrastination meant cramming, all nighters, gut-rot from too much coffee and NoDoz. How did I manage without the current prescription Adderral focus-me drugs?

Maybe we credit procrastination too often as the culprit, the something to blame. “Oh, I’m just procrastinating,” I tell myself with a dismissive wave.  But what is the delayed activity and why am I dragging my feet?  Do I feel an intuition of bad timing, or do I hear the disgruntled integrity alarm?  Maybe it’s plain ole fear and I need to gulp a breath before leaping into possible failure, or possible pain (I’m thinking of the dentist appointment that I have to make). Procrastination could be the red flag snapping in the storm, a signal to take a moment more of thought and consideration.

Wait, that’s right, no time. Multitasking is the desired momentum in this day and age, with everything geared toward doing more in less time.  Procrastination could be the rebellion, to escape a social conditioning that runs our humanity dead tired into the ground.

To me, procrastination is a symptom of our productivity obsession; a sign that the overstimulated, multitasking wires are fritzing on overload.  If I am not busy and producing, the social control kicks in and I feel horribly guilty.  I must not be managing my time, or, oh-no, procrastinating.

If the social stigma evaporated and we didn’t beat ourselves up for delaying an action on some things, we could be a more relaxed culture. That’s a scary unknown.

Just because I create a to-do list doesn’t mean I actually have to do anything from it.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

It Could Be Better – methods of thinking

© Roz Foster 2014

© Roz Foster 2014

I’ve been reading up on noise pollution in the United States (U.S.) and the adaptations that human city dwellers have made to adjust to the layers of man-made noise in urban soundscapes.  Adaptations not necessarily to eliminate, but to lessen the impact of the unhealthy noise discomfort.

Adapting seems to be a normal, maybe even expected survival skill.  But I wonder if the ‘normalcy’ of adapting, habituating or getting used to something implies that it is an automatic response. Automatic to the point of reactive.(Reactive in the sense that action is made as a response to the situation as it is, without intention of prevention or changing the circumstances.)

Are reactive responses “normal” and proven to be easy paths with the least resistance?  On the other hand, could a proactive train of thought be an equally automatic response, or is there an assumed or projected difficulty level that makes this method of thinking less appealing?

In U.S. culture, have reactive responses been taught as the “go-to” method of thinking over proactive responses?   I think both reactivity and proactivity are used for problem solving. But is proactive thinking not the norm?

The phrase, “It could be worse” comes to mind as an example.  I’ve used this phrase countless times to describe my day, or an event, or a circumstance.  “It could be worse,” delivered with a shrug, at first appears to be optimistic, looking on the bright side of things.  But on a second look, the response appears reactive, a response of resignation and mud-stuck acceptance of a not-so-great state of being.  “It could be worse” tips the domino thinking toward all those horrible situations where, in fact, it could most definitely be worse.

What about the phrase “It could be better”?  I haven’t said that one much, and I’m not sure how much it is used in general society, but this phrase could potentially encourage the dominoes to fall another direction.  Uttering “It could be better” to acknowledge the not-so-great situation implies the next thought will emphasize how it could actually be better and what needs to happen to make the change.  A proactive approach.

Maybe there is a difference when talking about personal versus business issues.  For example, could a business prosper if someone asked “How’s profit?” and the response was “Eh, it could be worse.”   A business perspective may encourage a more proactive response like “It could be better…. and here’s how”.

For personal situations though, would a proactive method of thinking take priority?  “How are you feeling?”  What if the consistent reply was proactive – “It could be better….and here’s how.”

Could a proactive method of thinking work in today’s culture?  Or, is a shrug more likely as a response, resigned and accepting of circumstance, settling for what you have, where you are or who you are because you might lose it all and actually live the fear of “It could be worse.”

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

My First Steps

The new calendar year begins.  A prime time to think about life, direction and perspective; to reflect on past thoughts and seek out new lines of reasoning. So, on a rainy fog-filled morning, with coffee cup in hand, I strained my eyes thoroughly, browsing through the multitude of headline stories presented by online media outlets.  At the start, I searched for inspiration among the black and white lines of text.  Then, as my posture slunk further to a form that asks “are humans really supposed to sit for hours this way?,” I realized that inspiration was the distant star of emotions triggered by my perusing.  Frustrated, disconnected, fearful, sympathetic, enraged and ultimately betrayed – those were the emotions and reactions ranking near the top of the list.

From death and destruction caused by suicide bombers, to people complaining about the requirements for the Nobel Peace Prize, to a child plagued by unstoppable weight gain due to a surgery side-effect, to a list regarding the ‘11 Dumbest Things Said By Media About Women In 2013.’ These were just a smattering of story lines; each snagged my attention and triggered a distinct emotional response.

Actually, because of my responses to those stories, I am reminded of my earlier blog post (“Frustration Loop” published October 2, 2013) when I mentioned briefly a method of thinking, described as reaching outside of one’s self as an immediate response to anything encountered.  I then continued by asking if perhaps there is another first step, which would include “reaching in.”

To develop and apply the concepts of thinking methods, I wanted to break down how I normally think, which I will describe as “looking outward” and then try a different perspective or method of thinking, that I will describe as “looking inward.”

So, what is that first step in the method of thinking timeline (either outward or inward), before any emotion, or any action may be triggered?  Is that initial step so natural and engrained that it pushes my train of thought down a well entrenched path without me even thinking about it?  I think so, or else that’s just my excuse for procrastinating with this blog post and staring at a blank screen.

Okay, down to business then.  In order for this to make sense to me, I need these concepts (looking outward/looking inward as methods of thinking) in a useable everyday format.  Let me work with a concrete example.  I’ll take a media story that I just saw online and process the experience in both methods and try to note the timeline and details of both.   Here goes….

I  just saw a story streaming on the Today show about a teen bullied because of her looks and deciding to get plastic surgery.  She got a nose job and a chin implant and feels confident enough now to go back to school and make friends, after not wanting to leave the house for a couple years.

Outward – First Steps:

*I think about the story as it is told, those involved, the circumstances, the choices, the outcome.

*I feel judgments rising, emotions gathering energy.

*I feel frustrated that this kid got plastic surgery in an attempt to affect people’s judgement of her.

*Then, the frustrated spiral continues when I ask myself, are these the values that we want our kids to live by?

*Then, there is the counter-argument in my own brain – she is empowered and can do what she wants as long as there are the resources for it.  If it raises her confidence, then great.

Ah, the loop of no clear answers and frustration, feeling a pressure to form an opinion and a convincing argument, the automatic and expectation that I should have or make a judgement.  I am left feeling slightly manipulated, drained a bit of energy, leaning toward  ‘who cares’ apathy.

Inward – First Steps:

*I listen and watch without judgement – a calm pool.

*I gather the details for the sake of knowing, observation.

*I have no opinion; I feel compassion.

*I understand the story’s perspective, but give no energy to it.

*I maintain my perspective.

*And I let the encounter go.

*I move on.

There is no analysis, comparison or pressure to form an argument. In this example, I do not think as the first step, I listen.  I am not launched onto the mind’s path of judgement, of creating an opinion.  I do not personalize the story, or take it in.  I maintain my own perspective and empathize with the characters involved in the story and observe the various facets of a society intertwined.  I feel full and deep with the warmth of heartfelt interaction.

Interesting.  So, the first few steps lead perhaps to more questions, to more “concrete example” work.  Hmm…another coffee cup in hand, another rainy fog-filled morning and the new calendar year continues….

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

A Reflection on Control

This morning, I jogged around the lake close to my home.  The foggy cold paralyzed my senses momentarily.  But, once my blood felt safe to actually circulate throughout the entirety of my body and I could feel my ears again, I began to hear conversations from some people I passed on the path.  Since I am only an accidental eavesdropper, I caught just a few random words and phrases, but one sentence seemed to stick out.

An older couple walked towards me at a brisk pace.  They matched in their puffy down jackets, black jogging pants and gray beanie hats.  They leaned their heads in toward one another, while their arms pumped and their warmed breath smoked around them.  The woman spoke rather loudly to the man, probably from the physical exertion and of course the thick wool caps covering their ears. Just as they passed, she exhaled “the sad thing is, there is nothing you can do.”   Without context or any extreme inflection in her voice, I had no immediate emotion or image to anchor the words.  I guess there was a bit of concern in her manner, maybe a hint of frustration.  For the most part, the words appeared to have been thrown out there, more of a figure of speech or something to be said because there was nothing else left to say.

As I continued past the couple, I slowed to a walk.  My brain definitely tends to function at a slightly higher level when it’s not figuring how to conserve as much energy as possible while immersed in an aerobic workout (jogging) and not simultaneously providing a continuous stream of arguments against the benefits of the aerobic activity (jogging).  With the walking decision made, my thoughts turned toward the statement I had heard.  “The sad thing is, there is nothing you can do.”  Applied as a universal concept, I look at this sentence as potentially limiting and definitely just a matter of perspective.  Assuming that the latter part of this statement is correct “there is nothing you can do”, does that lack of control make it a “sad thing?”  Or does the realization that you have no control in a situation equal another emotional realization besides sadness, dependent on the circumstances? This could be anything from extreme anger to extreme tranquility.

Or does the realization that you have no control in a situation present a different perspective all together that suggests that “control” is conceptual, self created, system binding, defined inaccurately, a root of “how” humans are taught to think (along the lines of opposites – control vs no control).  Taking the perspective further, could it be suggested that we are deluded  to think that we have control and we only think we do because we don’t want to think that we don’t?  But are those two extremes of having and not having the only choices available to us?

I had asked in an earlier blog post ‘what can you control?’ and provided a possible answer, ‘you control you.’  Perhaps adjusting the definition of “control” would help to align the concept I was talking about before and the concept I am talking about now.  That is the concept of awareness, becoming aware of situations, intentions, and ultimately decisions.  This includes an individual’s involvement in that process, in order to engage one in one’s path, choices, actions and reactions.  The awareness concept addresses all of the details and hues of “control” as we may perceive the word, but without the lockdown effect of the word’s enactment.

So, released from a definition, the perspective is left without the influence of “control vs no control.”  The perspective is no longer in the same language, color scheme, style, landscape, etc since the normal definition of “control” wasn’t even in the foundation. That’s kind of refreshing.  The perspective does not need to go through the “control/no control” rigid filter to arrive at the initial understanding or direction.

Getting back to the sentence with this definition release –  “The sad thing is, there is nothing you can do” – the statement then becomes a simple awareness of the situation and a reflection of one’s choice within it. An act; a movement; another step on the path.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2013

Relationships in the Present Moment

The most current of events that continues to impact my daily life and train of thought is my recent move from Belgium to the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  Even though time has raced by and already I have been in my new surroundings for almost two weeks, my feet still feel slightly swept so that I don’t quite have the full balance or steady methods to anchor myself.  However, piercing through all of the uproar and chaos during this change, the impact of “relationships” has cried out with the fullest gusto and has demanded some attention.  Imagine that, relationships needing attention…  I have noticed that beyond people, even how I relate or connect to things, actions or to situations has snagged my curiosity and has overwhelmed me at the same time.

When I think about the word “relationship,” my automatic word-association is to “romance” or “friendship.”  My second filter of word-definition jumps to what I learned in high school/college literature classes – “relationships defined by capacity of conflict.” These are the “Person vs Self, Person vs Person, Person vs Society, Person vs Universe, Person vs Nature” descriptions.  But, since relationships are hopefully not just about conflict, and not just about other people, how else can I be conscious of how I am connecting to everything?

I think that understanding how one relates to everything around or within oneself on all levels is possible, as well as important.  At the moment, of course, I am addressing some of the levels from my standard understanding because “what you know” seems to be a great place (as well as the default place) to start.  But, I would like to move on from the automatic and flow beyond my learned method of thinking or organization of thought to find a perspective that can handle the overwhelming that I am experiencing.

So….Relationships to everything, on all levels and sub levels. I suppose this train of thought could race to the umbrella concepts that span across my thought and that are ultimately affected by my associations, definitions and experiences to everything. I suppose one could say that the human experience and subsequent human expression could be defined through relationships on all levels.  But, exactly how can someone be aware of all relationships at all levels to the extent of continuous comprehension and to consciously live within them?

Maybe the relationship that pushes and stretches the boundaries of imagination and thought should be explored to find the different perspective.  Person and Infinity.

And how can I describe my relationship with infinity?  Well, it’s like a sling shot effect, or like the quick zoom-out on Google Maps.  The map is bursting at the seams, trying to hold infinity and in a snap, there is a zoom out and now, infinity looks like the tiniest dot within the landscape of additional infinity.  And what is that tiny “infinity” dot in relation to my life?  A focal point in my day, a mere moment, perhaps the present moment.

Can you ever be outside of the present moment?  Well, I think you can definitely be unaware of the present moment.  But, if the awareness is there, would it be possible to develop only my relationship with the present moment and thereby develop all relationships at once?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2013

the frustration loop

the government shutdown.  posturing seems to be the new term and the favorite pastime.  the political figures have their agendas, whether they verbalize them or not.   frustration surfaces in the mainstream as does the realization that a large part of our lives is so greatly impacted and controlled by the decisions of a few.

And this is where the loop begins.  Frustration felt from the lack of control.  We, the people, cannot fire the politicians for not doing their job. We do not have the authority.  We, the people, cannot demand immediate re-election of our representatives in order to voice our opinion.  We do not have the unified confidence or means.  So we wait and watch to see what the few decide.  And we stew in our boiling pot, searching for the answer, the resolution, not to the political debate necessarily, but ultimately how to relate to this lack of life control.  Nothing immediately comes to mind; so the frustration continues.  We bite our nails and shake our head, there has got to be something to do about this, to make things better.  We rack our brains amidst the waves of betrayal, unbelievability and anxiety; how to create change. Nothing again, except another bout of frustration.  And this is the loop.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends that have started out with “there has got to be another way to think about this.”  The ‘this’ has usually resolved itself into a full blown frustration loop, like frustrations with the government shutdown, or encounters with sexism, or crazy people expressing themselves with guns.  For myself, when I become stuck in a loop, I feel the energy bubbling over, with no productive direction for this building energy to be funneled; at least productive in the sense that the direction would alleviate the pressure from the cause of the frustration.   So, how to avoid the loop to begin with and put energy towards a more productive path?

I have noticed that my immediate response is usually to reach out and change or solve whatever is causing me the frustration.  I look outside of myself to effect change.  But when I encounter an issue, a concept, a culture, an event beyond my control, then the frustration loop begins.   What if the first step was something else altogether? Another method of thinking, or a different way to process information and come to solutions, resolutions or even just an understanding.  I wonder if our society is buried so deep in normal processes of thinking (stereotypes, belief in opposites, understanding through differences, one reality, blame, ‘one man to save the world’ storyline) and our culture perpetuates this current ‘how’ in thinking, that it would be extremely challenging to impact or be aware of how we develop our perspectives.

So, how do I think about the government shutdown without entering the loop?  I honestly don’t know.  But I feel like it is all about the first step.  Instead of reaching outward for the answer, maybe the first step is to reach in.

a ratio of one to one

Sometimes I simply spin in circles, trying to find the best way that I can to help, to assist, to fix problems, or find solutions to problems where I may not be in the position to help directly.  But the problems arrive one after another, and the reality becomes frustrating and my response slows, dizzy and finally falls jaded and exhausted. Starving children, slaughtered animals, rampant child abuse, elderly neglect, and violence against others based on religion, on power hungry egos, on unrelenting fears, on the need for profit.   They spin and I spin to chase them.  Where is the answer? What can I do to directly impact all of the issues, all at the same time and make the cruelty, pain and power struggle stop?

I remember what my grandma had told my dad when he was younger and he relayed the same words to me – ‘Realize what you can control. You can control you.’  So, I thought about this for a while.  Okay.  Control me. Concentrate on myself to have the most rippling impact on others. Lead myself.  Take responsibility for myself, my attitude, my actions/reactions, my words, my awareness, my positive/negative mood, my intentions, my energy.  Motivate and inspire myself to be the best me possible.  Live as though I were a role model for myself and for anyone who may resonate with me.  Makes sense, but is that enough?  Well, more enough than spinning in circles.

For example, if I monitor my intentions in a situation and decide to smile with positive possibility and to act with a warrior voice of confidence and these actions resonate with even one person out of how ever many witness the situation, this would be a one to one ratio, a 100 percent impact.

In mid-September 2013, another person decided to kill others in a mass shooting.  During some of the news coverage, there was a live press conference with the chief medical officer at the hospital trauma center that cared for the wounded and casualties from the shooting.  Dr. Janis Orlowski gave the status of the patients, relayed how many  had died and then, unexpectedly voiced her opinion on the violence that continues to spill out of the seams in this country.  Her words received some news coverage attention and when asked, she assured the media that her words were spontaneous and from the heart regarding how she felt about the situation in our country.

I resonated with what she was saying and how she presented her opinion.  This, to me, is an example of the one to one ratio.  When the doctor gave her opinion, maybe it was not only what she was saying, but how she was saying it.  From the heart, with positive intention, with no agenda other than a frustration with the violence against innocents.  Was she making a political statement about gun control?  She said that she was not, but even if she was, the political is all about the personal.  Through her honest delivery and intention of her point of view, there rings a truth.  And even if she reached one person and only one, she has affected essentially 100 percent.  She is one person, the recipient is one person – one to one – complete.