Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jun 10, 2013

Lead with your Head

I think one of the major things holding me back in my life is that I have crushing anxiety issues--I am MORE afraid of success, ANY success, than I am of failure.  Any kind of success creates a chain of responsibilities that must be followed-up on.  Write a novel?  Now you have to edit it, send it out to publishers or self publish, promote it endlessly, engage with fans and detractors both, and write another one.  I start a part-time job at a retail store (I've held AT LEAST six jobs EXACTLY like this one at various points in my life) and I am PETRIFIED.  I have broken down in tears more than once.

Failure hurts, but it's kind of liberating, too--when nothing you can do will fix the mess, you might as well do what you want.  I think I may be addicted to self-sabotage--when things get challenging, I want to throw everything out and start fresh.  Starting something is fun and gets me all enthusiastic.  Keeping it going is another matter.  I don't need a fresh start.  I need to buckle down.

There are some things in my life I've actually managed to complete and even follow-up on, but I have no idea why.  It has something to do with my emotional stance when I start the project, that much I know, but for the life of me I can't seem to figure out what causes it.  Some things I just decide to do, and then I do them.  I might get tired or annoyed midway through, but I still manage to finish it somehow.  So, what's the difference?  And, more importantly, how can I manage to do this on command?

I suppose the thing to do is to look at my successes, few as they are, and try to figure out what's different about them, if anything.  My only glimmerings of a clue at this point is that the times I've been successful at things, I . . . didn't have any particularly strong initial emotional reaction to them.  Does that sound strange?  I mean, when people talk about success, don't they always tell you to "follow your passion" or do something that makes you super-excited or similar?  This does not work for me.  Enthusiasm PARALYZES me and turns into helpless terror that cuts off my judgment and eventually I bail out from sheer desperation.

Every single colossal failure or bit of stupidity in my life started out with enthusiasm.  I think I may use enthusiasm as a sort of anesthetic to push myself into doing things I really don't want to do.  But like rage, enthusiasm cannot be maintained long-term.  It might get me to start an ill-advised effort, but it won't get me to finish it.

I'm not saying enthusiasm itself is bad--I've experienced enthusiasm in the course of my various successes, as well as satisfaction, fatigue, annoyance, etc. etc.  I just think that when I'm enthusiastic at the start of something, this is a sign that I'm hiding my real feelings from myself and I won't be able to carry it through.  I'm anxiety-ridden.  When I start something my natural response is dread, not enthusiasm.  I start work at Meijer tomorrow and I'm totally dreading it.  I have zero enthusiasm.  But I'm going to do it anyway, because I decided to.

That seems to be pretty universal with the successes I've enjoyed.  I just decide to do them, and then do them.  No passion, no enthusiasm--maybe even a bit of dread.  As I sit here contemplating this, analyzing it, my dread has faded away from my awareness, leaving only the functioning of the analytical part of my mind.

I read an article not too long ago about a bit of research that seems to indicate that your emotional and analytical functions are mutually exclusive--engaging one shuts the other one off and vice versa.  So, that may very well be the secret to my successes--I get my analytical apparatus engaged and let my emotions, whatever they are, just tag along.  Emotions are fickle (well, mine are, at least) and cannot sustain an effort, but I can analyze shit FOREVER. I can forget about dread, physical discomfort, lack of food, lack of sleep, you name it.

So, why don't I just DO that?   Because there's a kind of "switch" that has to be operated.  I don't know if it's true for everyone, but most of the time I seem to be in emotional-operations mode; coasting along, letting my feelings run the show.  Hungry?  Go eat.  Bored?  Go play a game.  It takes some kind of special effort or preparation to turn on the analytical--it's never automatic.

So, maybe what I really need to do is to create a habit of turning on my analytical mind regularly.  I HAVE this habit, but I tend to dissipate my efforts in stuff that's enjoyable but not all that productive.  Facebook.  Playing games.  Some rewarding little ritual that pulls me in and settles me down for work.  Maybe list out the various things I want to work on and create a little ritual for each one.

Stop trying to feel my way into accomplishing something.

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