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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

I’ve started a new job. It’s difficult. Now that I’m into my second week, I’ve reached the point where think I know what I’m doing, only to find that I’ve fucked something up– sometimes something really important. This is doing wonders for my anxiety disorder, but I am trying my best not to let it drive me insane. I can’t, really. I need this job, I need to do well at it, and what I really need is to focus.

My boss said to me the other day, “I know you’re a bright girl, so you’re not used to getting things wrong.” I didn’t have a response to that. She’s right, of course. This is the first job I’ve ever had that really challenged me, and I’m kind of terrified that I won’t be up to the task. I want to do everything right. I don’t want to make mistakes. The problem is that I’m so fixated on not making mistakes that I, predictably, make mistakes. I need to focus on doing the particular task at hand right.

This is partly an issue of attention span. The internet has destroyed my ability to focus. In the midst of writing this I’ve jumped to other tabs and other programs at least a dozen times. Words make connections in my mind, so I leap to the next thought without finishing the first one. My system of thinking is not linear; it’s a web. This is all well and good, but it presents problems when I follow a thread somewhere instead of anchoring it where it needs to go.

So. Focus. This applies to my work (as opposed to my job) as well. I know I’m capable of doing this; the problem is that I get sidetracked with new ideas and possibilities and oh look a butterfly so that I lose the actual thread of what I was doing. This creates confusion. This confusion is a smokescreen for what’s really going on under the surface of my thoughts, and that is this: I don’t wanna do this it’s haaaaaard.

My habit of allowing myself to be distracted, of demanding that I get everything right the first time, in the end comes down to my own laziness and my own desire to be right. I was a really smart kid. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know and didn’t learn until much later is that being smart isn’t enough. In school I learned to rest on my laurels. I took the easy way out. I saw that being smart gave me the opportunity to do less work, and being lazy, I took it. I’ve spent the last ten or so years of my life paying the price.

But the time has come, the Walrus said. I’ve had enough of being a slacker. I’m thirty years old and have just now got my first proper job. I’m deeply in debt, and as of writing this, I’m still a hobo. I haven’t published a novel. I don’t even have an agent. I’ve got to sort myself out.

I have to focus, and part of this focus involves precisely what the title of this post describes. Instead of letting my mind flutter all over the place, I need to figure out what’s important and fucking let everything else go. One thing at a time. One task at a time, done correctly, equals everything done. This goes as much for my work as for my day job.

I’m proud to say that for the last four paragraphs, I did not open another tab or look at another program. I did not allow myself to be distracted. I resisted the little imp that’s tired of focusing and doesn’t want to think too hard, and as a result, I might have said something coherent.

One thing at a time.

 

Postscript: I’ve just seen a tag in my cloud called ‘talent envy.’ What I think I still fail to take into account very often is that what we mistake for talent is actually that habit called hard work.

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Everything changes when someone you love dies. Everything is wrong. The unfairness and impersonality of the world become, for a little while, completely irrefutable, and you are left without words. Nothing will suffice. Solemnity feels self-indulgent but gaiety seems frivolous. There is nothing you can do or say or feel that is right. Everything is wrong.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Genuine grief makes self-pity look like the pale shadow that it is. There’s no guilt in this revelation, either– just the knowledge that life and love and work and happiness and anything that means anything does not emerge from a cowering anxiety about everything. Death reasserts your priorities.

I’ve lost someone that I love very much. It hurts. And I would slap anyone who said this to me, but it has made me realise that no matter how awful things are, I still have my life. I can still make words, and it is time that I stopped making excuses.

I have to be honest. I have to face the things I try to look away from when I write. I am not invisible. Who I am will emerge in every word I type onto a screen or write onto a piece of paper, and what I have to do, what I must do, is stop fucking apologising for it. It’s a stupid way to write. It’s a stupid way to live. It’s not productive. It’s not meaningful. What could be more tedious than a work that constantly apologises for its own existence? What could be more tiresome than a person who does the same thing?

There is nothing respectable about insecurity. There is nothing admirable about guilt. You can’t pre-empt everything, and it is a pernicious exercise in self-defeat to even try. Stop it, cut it out, and knock it the fuck off. Life’s too short for this shit.

Filing this under ‘advice to myself.’

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There is a particular type of person who self-identifies as ‘rational.’ They sometimes use other words– inquisitive, logical, open-minded– but the intent is much the same: to place themselves on an intellectual hierarchy above those simple creatures that make decisions based on emotions and irrational beliefs. They don’t say that, of course, because that would make them look egocentric, but it doesn’t take too much thought to figure out that that is exactly what they mean.

These people should read Why People Believe Weird Things. It’s a fascinating book that lays out the reasons why otherwise ‘rational’ people believe in things like creationism, ESP, and the non-existence of the Holocaust.* What’s nice is that Michael Shermer manages to do this without sounding like a self-important ass chuckling at the folly of lesser human beings.

I hate to boil the book down to a few sentences, because it really is worth a read (or several), but the gist of it is that human beings selectively remember things that support their beliefs and ignore those things that don’t. It’s not a groundbreaking idea by any means, but Shermer’s writing is engaging, and it’s refreshing to see someone use evolutionary psychology for something besides justifying patriarchal gender roles.

This post brought to you by the realisation that I don’t do nearly enough reading these days.

*I use ‘rational’ in quotes because at the end of the day, we are all still monkeys running from the thunder.

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