My Checklist for Bad Days

September 29, 2008

I’ve written a checklist for bad days because I often misattribute bad feelings to complex things when it is often something quite basic that is amiss. So when I run into trouble that I can’t get rid of or seems to return to me, I go through this checklist. And yes, I’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. My list is just a personal diagnostic. I begin in the order of the most primal.

  1. Love myself. NO! It’s not what you’re thinking. Without self love, even the most mundane can be problematic.
  2. Drink water. It’s better than caffeine.
  3. Eat food. If you want to feel more energetic and not suffer dramatic lows in your day, eat breakfast. I was not a fan of breakfast, but it’s as good as they say.
  4. Pee and poo. Maybe even whiz and crap.
  5. Sleep. Before I finished a round of psychotherapy for depression that saw my eventual ascendancy, I had the most erratic sleep hours. But during the course of going to therapy, and quite organically, I started to adopt an ever more regular sleep schedule.
  6. Shower. I think showering has more to give than just cleanliness. It probably plays a great role in mental health because it’s a source of exclusively private time.
  7. Go outside.
  8. Exercise. I don’t mean rabid gymage. Just walking is good enough. Something to give you the sense you’ve covered territory.
  9. See people.
  10. Talk at length.
  11. Learn something in depth. My health can probably be tied to my book reading.
  12. Improve myself.
  13. Help others improve themselves.

I go through these and discover things like, “Oh! I’m not feeling sad because of an argument with a loved one. It’s because I didn’t poop.” So figuring out the more ambiguous origins of problems can be very relieving. Didn’t think I could sneak a pun in there, did you?

What do people have on their own personal checklists? I’ve left out finding the love of my life and it’s more visceral counterpart, sex. Believe me: I’m working on it.

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I often get paralyzed by thought. I find it very easy and acceptable to just think instead of acting, even when it becomes very important that I act. This even results in near-perpetual loops sometimes, as I go over covered ground, trying to find minutia I had skipped over. Needless, to say, this is really bad.

I did not understand the origins of this behavior well enough until I started going to talk therapy for depression. Here I realized a little bit about the different modes of thought I used, and misused. Talk therapy was very useful in regard to reacquainting myself with my own personal history/story. And through this self-viewing mechanism, understanding more about how I build my personal story and how I’d like to continue to do so in the future. The first thing I learned was about my two modes of thought, the synthetic and analytic (Mind you, these did not come from my therapists, but from a systems mode of understanding, applied to my own experience).

I have one mode of thought which is highly analytic, where I go about breaking things into sub-systems, trying to understand a model through its components. This is an inherently specialist activity because as I break the system into subsystems I am able to treat each subsystem as the new exclusive domain and pursue new subdivisioning.

The other mode is very synthetic, where I discard rules and inhibitions to put things together in new and interesting ways. This is the domain of creativity. Though I find synthesis more rewarding than analysis, I do if far less than I would like. I suppose one sensible explanation for this may be that breaking things down is a resource-cheap activity.

Progress is made through a balance between the two activities. However, I find that often I fall into an exclusively analytic mode when I’m trying to achieve something. This leads to paralysis because of two things.

The first problem is I try and take everything into account while making the task happen. Unless it is a virtual task that operates under high constraint, I will not be able to do the task while thinking analytically. This is probably why video games are so rewarding. I can maintain an analytic mindset while achieving a task.

The second problem is there are synergetic effects that occur while doing something. These are effects that are unpredictable from an analysis of parts. A line in isolation will never tell you that three of them form a triangle. An atom in isolation never tells you there is an attractive force between masses. Analysis breaks things into isolated systems and fails to reveal certain characteristics that are revealed through synthesis.

No amount of self-analysis is going to tell me how I’m going to interact with people, do in business, or create an artifact. What an analysis does do is optimize a story. By breaking things apart you can manipulate them in ways you could not as parts of a whole. From this point, you can reconfigure a personal story in such a way that the lens this story creates alters the way you look at things and therefore how you act. But you must always resynthesize and not bulk in perpetual analysis. Otherwise you get stuck with a stagnant system where nothing is discovered, only rediscovered.

I’ve cobbled together a simple little Ruby on Rails app. I’m going to leave it up for a couple of days running on my machine and then replace the link with a screenshot. This app was generated out of some meditations over randomness and success. I mean this literally, I was actuallying sitting in Zazen when a flurry of website ideas hit me and I had to rush to write them all down.

The app itself produces some interesting results, but see for yourself (just a screenshot to get the point across, I’m no longer hosting it). If anything breaks, give me a buzz. And if the site is running slow, then it means the app is popular and my machine is getting nailed, or I’m downloading something (I will try not to). Thanks and as with all alpha projects, sorry in advance.

So hopefully I will soon be hosting an Inspirathon event. An Inspirathon is an inspirational movie night, where we all get together and watch concept-challenging videos and then discuss in a salon/casual atmosphere. Jeff Lindsay invented and hosted the first Inspirathon.

It will probably be at my house (Bay Area, SJ, CA, USA), and we’ll have a host of videos, like this video and this video. Though we don’t intend on making this a giant event (it has to fit in my house), you are welcome to inquire and see about capacity. Probably best to join the mailing list and see how things are going.

http://inspirathon.pbwiki.com/

http://groups.google.com/group/inspirathon

The point is to meet great people, talk about great things, and have fun.

Short Neuro-Cogno Post

May 26, 2007

It was while I was practicing Zazen today that I became aware of the time duration of the thoughts I was observing. Some thoughts took longer than others to “complete.” This duration awareness struck me when I was thinking about a conversation I had about education. The recall lasted so long, that after I came out of focusing on that portion of my past, I could detect the duration I lingered over specific sentences and gestures.

Unrelated, I have been thinking about what constitutes the point between conscious and unconscious thoughts. When I am solving a problem, I often step away to get a drink and have to run back because the solution has popped into my head. Something about rendering a thought-endeavor unconscious allows you to run it in parallel with other thoughts. When a thought-endeavor remains in the conscious it can not run in parallel. Often times, focusing on an issue that has already been clearly defined will paralyze solving it.

Now I see the connection between the prior two paragraphs. Perhaps unconscious activity are those thoughts we linger on for near-zero duration. Not enough to draw specific sensations, but enough to draw general/aggregate emotion and to skip to other related thoughts.

In my last article about encephalotechne I wrote about the encapsulation of emotional states into command-verb forms. This is the idea that we can form words for commanding personal change. So as you can tell a person to hit a ball, you can tell them to feel happy.

Practicing encephalotechne has been very useful to me. This last week and a half I’ve felt a remarkable difference in my mood, composure, and work. I’m not sure it will work for everyone, but here are some of the words I’ve created, and some others that I’ve put more of my time into thinking about.

Invented words:

  • Confidate: Become confident
  • Brite: Write in your blog (Just invented, I might make a new one because this one already has a definition)
  • Dermaclear: Clear up acne (This is my most far fetched, and yet creates a local relaxing effect that I think increases circulation)

Recovered words:

  • Hope
  • Enjoy
  • Discern
  • Tranquilize (I’ve used this to alleviate pain)
  • Calm

The word discern is of particular note because of the multitude of reactions it has created in me. One time I told myself to discern, I was overwhelmed with feelings of happiness. Another time, I became very tranquil. Another time, it made it very easy to turn in some applications I had been avoiding.

Confidate is one of the earliest words I developed and most important in affecting my overall mood. I walk taller and get myself into situations I would have hesitated to the point of withdrawal. I talk to women more readily.

The new word I’ve been thinking about, but have yet to create, is about, “becoming the person you wish to be.” This might be encapsulated in the word “develop,” though develop is too impersonal. Impersonate! That’s some of the word, but I want it also to mean having certain material possessions and accomplishments. Perhaps that word is for another post.

Often times, when I try to motivate myself to do something, I use definitions to invigorate myself. For instance, if I’m supposed to write a blog post, I tell myself that, “I write a blog post every day. This is what I do.” Or if I’m supposed to work on software, I say, “I write this software.” These reinforcements of personal title rarely move me toward activity.

After thinking about the actual words I was using, I have started using verb commands. This is remarkable in it’s ability to motivate. And it makes sense when you think about how a person motivates another. When you tell someone to do something, you don’t tell them, “You are the person that stacks the books,” you say, “Stack the books.”

The new motivating words I use are things like, “Write the software,” and “Post on the blog.” The ‘I’ drops away because it would indicate the action as a description of ‘I’. And as the issuer of the command I don’t need to add a redundant definitive ‘I’.

But what about creating emotion? For example, how do you command yourself to be confident? There are no verb commands for confidence (to my knowledge), so I invented one, ‘Confidate’. I also have an anti-depressant verb for moments of malaise, the forgotten, ‘hope’.

So far these internal verbal commands are great at sparking action and emotion. Maybe I’m deceiving myself, but I’ll accept it under the test of pragmatism.