Thank My Self for Trying (Don’t Beat Myself Up for Not Succeeding)

I feel bad because I don’t have a great body. It sounds silly to say out loud. Actually it’s embarrassing to say outloud. I’m a grown man and I am relatively healthy as far as I know. So, I feel ridiculous admitting it.

I’ve wanted a great body since I was like six. I knew I couldn’t have have one til I was older, but I wanted to look like The Incredible Hulk (as played by body builder Lou Ferrigno) someday. In high school I lifted weights and played sports. I was kind of in shape for most of it. But the summer after high school I got depressed for four months and barely did anything exercise wise and got unhealthy. Then I go to college and get in amazing shape. I had the time and I had a good amount of energy. When I was a junior, I had a body I would love to still have today. Not like film star quality by any stretch, but more like an obvious strength. And I felt great. Then my senior year I got depressed, ate a lot, worked out little. Got to the heaviest I had ever been at that time. Moved to Chicago. Recommit to working out. Get back down to my weight in college. Years in Chicago pass and I get depressed and hit the gym with much less frequency. I get to my heaviest again. Do a ship, workout the first two months. Lived like Java the Hut the other two months (ate so many chicken strips and ranch dressing while watching ten to twelve episodes in a row of House or The Sopranos or whatever show I was gorging on at the time.

I don’t wanna belabor the point which is that I have had a gain and lose weight life without every getting to look like Lou Ferrigno. And I don’t even want that anymore. I don’t want to look like a body builder, but more like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies or something like that. Even that is embarrassing to say out loud. But it’s true.

So, essentially, I haven’t achieved a goal that I’ve wanted for nearly thirty years of my life. I don’t mess around with undone tasks. And by ‘mess around’ I do not mean ‘procrastinate.’ I procrastinate like a professional. I mean I don’t get happy about it. I get angry. I become the evil taskmaster nun in some 19th century British story who screwed up the kid for life with their mentally exhausting methods. I’m that bad. But I’m not that bad to a six year old British boy. I’m that bad to me. Here’s an example:

Today I was socializing with a group of people (students who just finished taking one of my classes) and telling an anecdote about a commercial audition I went on. The dialogue went as follows:

Me – ‘I struck up a conversation with this stranger in the waiting room for this commercial audition. And he was a looker. Built guy. Real handsome…”

Student – ‘In commercial auditions do they not take all the same type?’

Me – (looking offended) ‘Wow. The only descriptors I used were built and handsome.’

She felt a bit bad, but she didn’t mean anything by it. I’m not what most any person would truthfully call ‘built.’ That’s just a fact like the fact that I’m bald and white and don’t have a great jaw line. The difference in the facts is that I can’t control my hair growth or my skin tone (or my jaw line most likely), but I can theoretically control my weight. I say ‘theoretically’ in the common vernacular to mean ‘hypothetically’ I think. Because I have a guess that I could lose the weight and become ‘built,’ but the only definitive proof of that hypothesis is if I conduct the experiment and collect the data. I count at least eight different days in my life spread out between ages sixteen and thirty three (present age) where I have said, ‘Today’s the first day on my one year journey to a better body” or “Let’s just workout three to four times a week for the next three months,” or other similarly flavored goal statements. I think ten is a conservative estimate also.

The point is that I look at myself as one who’s failed to meet a goal with ten attempts. In science you collect a lot of data before declaring a proof. So, I can’t say definitively that I ever will accomplish this goal. I may never have a body that’s amazing. Does that mean, I’ll be mean to myself my whole life? That doesn’t make any sense. That sounds awful. But if I don’t change the status quo, that very thing will be my life.

I want to have a good body again. Or at least an equivalent to the body I had when I was a junior in college. It wasn’t the Hulk, but it was decent.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be more built. I know people who’ve made similar goals and accomplished them. So, I don’t blame the goal itself for my meanness. What other cause could their be?

I had to make a model in my head and run the data I had access to.

The model: A boss and employee.

The data: (http://www.globoforce.com/gfblog/2014/25-great-statistics-on-employee-recognition/) tells us that the top three reasons employees fell ‘engaged’ (which makes them statistically more productive) are:

1. Communication of clear expectations

2. Listen to employee opinions

3. Recognition and Praise

I feel like the category you could put all three of these traits in would be called: Gratitude. If we’re truly thankful for the job our employees did then we would likely have a better relationship with them (#1) and be able to communicate more clearly (#2) and drop grand gestures (kind words, a card, a birthday cake, an in office trampoline, etc.) which is another way of saying gratitude (#3).

Well, I’m self employed. And I as my own boss need to not only be nicer to my employee (also me). Not only do I need to stop being a slave driver with a grudge, but I need to be grateful to myself for the work I do. That could potentially help me to be even more productive. But even if it doesn’t make me more productive, it will at least be more pleasant. Much more pleasant than feeling bad every time I take my shirt off or eat a cookie. Cookies are awesome. Why should I only enjoy the taste? Why not enjoy the taste guilt free?

I got out of working in an office partly because I didn’t like my bosses. I never felt like they appreciated me. They made my working life kinda hard a lot of the times. That made me hate the job. Every week day was bitter and sour. Now, I am my own boss. Why wouldn’t I be a lot nicer to myself?

I want a big house one day. But that does not prevent me from loving my apartment. I want a good body one day. But that does not prevent me from loving my current body. Rather than yell at myself for not achieving the goal, I’ll be grateful that I’ve done as well as I’ve done. Because we don’t know if I’ll ever accomplish the goal or not. But I know what kind of boss I want to work for if that’s the only way to accomplish it. Someone who’s nice and grateful and open to new ideas and smiling and joking and giving warmth and love. The guy I’ve been working for these last seven years (myself) is rather unpleasant. He’s fired. Hiring a new guy. This guy’s gonna be much nicer.

The problem is I don’t know the mechanism in the brain that I can use to switch my view of myself from ‘disappointing’ to ‘grateful.’ Is there a particular exercise or meditation or other act that would have healing properties over my psyche.? Or is it a matter of willing it to happen kinda like Neo in the Matrix? Or of writing it down like a short story told in first person?

Regardless of the how-to-change-it-part, I know that’s my new goal. Just like firing a real manager from a real company however, I can’t just do it instantly and find a replacement instantly. Or can I? Do I have to go through the steps of interviewing my inner self to make sure I’ll be a good boss before I hire myself back again? Do I need to give my current attitude some official write ups before a termination can be possible? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

If anyone has any tips, please let me know in the comments section.I want to make my brain think this way.

Shout out to Andreea for asking me the question about my commercial audition that lead to me telling the story to my girlfriend. And huge shout out to CJ for taking the time while she baked to ask me the question, “Have you ever thought about accepting your body for what it is?” and then proceeded to be patient with me as we talked about this very heady subject which lead to this blog post and a new goal for my mental heath.

Thanks, y’all!

Rich

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Failure > Regret

The personality trait I don’t like about myself that I’m attempting to work on right now is procrastination. I’m terrible about it. There are probably several reasons why I procrastinate, but my goal right now is to isolate some of them and fix them or deal with them in some way.

I believe one of the reasons I don’t finish stuff is because I’m afraid that if I ever accomplish certain goals that I’ll step back and realize that it’s completion brought me no additional happiness. For example, I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was twenty. But I’m thirty-three and never finished writing the rough draft of a novel (I have five unfinished ones just waiting to be finished though). If you’ve ever tried to write one or even if you haven’t you probably understand that it’s a tough process. And it is. But I don’t think the degree of difficulty behind it is what’s preventing me from doing it. Or at least it’s not the only reason.

What if I finish the rough draft and I don’t feel any different? You know that moment in the movie when the main character finishes the race or wins the football game or finally meets Meg Ryan at the top of the Empire State Building? What happens next? There’s music and emotion and a freeze frame and then the movie’s over. And we the audience are typically left feeling a sense of happiness over the events of the film. But real life ain’t no film.

After completing something we’re still us. Any insecurities or fears we had before the completion of the task typically don’t go away just because we did something. They may go unnoticed for a while. Kinda like the negative stuff is a noise like a klaxon or alarm or something. And it’s making noise the whole time, but the happiness of the moment is like a stereo blasting a favorite song. However, the happiness of the moment ends. The noise from the negativity may still be going the whole time.

I don’t know if this metaphor is a great way to describe it all or not, but the point is that I wonder if part of the reason I don’t finish things is because I fear that when it’s done I’ll still be unhappy about things. Recently I cleaned out one of my email inboxes (see previous blog post if you wanna read about how I made myself do that). And I felt great about it. But like most anything else, that feeling of accomplishment has worn off. And while I’m still glad I did it, I don’t feel significantly happier for having done it. This means that if I put tons of my time and energy into finishing something I might step back and realize I’m still not super happy. And then it will feel like a waste of all that time and energy.

However, even if this is true, I’m trying to look at the whole situation differently. I saw a facebook post today from a friend who’s recently earned a lot of success (she’s the creator and star of her own sitcom that debuted a few months ago and got picked up for a whole season). She wrote:

“You know what feels worse than failure?

Regret.”

And this hit me in a great way. Maybe my finished novel will suck. Maybe it’ll suck so hard that I throw it all in the trash once I’m done. But what’s better, having a completed crappy novel or having an unfinished novel for yet another year? Maybe it’ll be great. And maybe I’ll still struggle with feelings of fear and insecurity and unhappiness. But if I’m going to feel that way, why not have a finished potentially decent novel on my hands? And who knows? Maybe completing it will give me a new perspective on things and help push me towards happiness. Maybe not.

I know this for sure. If I turn 34 (July) and still don’t have a finished novel then I’m likely still going to feel like a failure. Like someone who set a clear goal and still hasn’t accomplished it. Worst case scenario, I finish it and don’t feel any different. But I’ll at least have it done.

Gonna try and incorporate this philosophy and perspective into everything. Wish me luck!

Thanks, y’all!

Rich

Baby Steps to Not Drowning

My mom loves to use the following piece of advice:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

There’s a few variations on this point with different metaphors. One I’ve also heard is:

“Even the longest journey starts with a single step.”

My therapist said something to me the other day that I know I knew this logically to be true before. In fact, if you’d phrased it like a true/false question, I would of course said it was true. But I either used to have a grasp of it and forgot it or I never really truly understood it before. She said:

“Even baby steps count towards your destination.”

I don’t know why that resonated with me more than the two formers sayings, but something clicked. You see, I get depressed sometimes. And one thing that really cuts my psyche to the core the most is feeling like I’m so far behind on my to do list that I’ll never catch up. I’ve never had interest-accruing financial debt, but I imagine that I would feel as nervous/agitated about that as I do with interest-accruing time debt. I feel like every day I need to complete x amount of tasks. At least I need to have an average of x. Some days I don’t get anything done, because I’m working an all day gig or on vacation (rare) or hanging with friends or something. Regardless, when my average drops I get depressed. I feel claustrophobic. I feel like a failure. I have things I want to do and when I’m not doing anything to accomplish those goals and I’m also not doing enough to take care of my day to day then I get really depressed.

What’s the cure for this? Get stuff done. Start crossing things off. How do I do this?

That’s the rub. Sometimes (rarely now a days) I get a burst of focus and drive and I jump into a task for upwards of 2 or more hours. This zone that I can occasionally jump into is like the Speed Force that the Flash taps into. But unlike the Flash I feel like I can’t tap into it at will. Rather it’s like I’m running around chasing storm clouds with a lightning rod in hand. Maybe I’ll get struck, but it’s less my choice and more a happenstance of mother nature that I can assert a very slight amount of influence.

Tonight, I got into that zone. I had 1147 emails in the inbox of my primary email account as of 11:45PM Friday night. Now, it’s 3:30AM and that same inbox has only 227 emails in it. It feels indescribably good that I finally took a chunk out of that massive elephant. I understand that not everyone feels the same way about their inbox. Some people have a cluttered inbox and never put forth the effort or in many cases even think of the need to unclutter it. And I don’t judge them. I kinda envy them. But that’s not how I operate. I hesitate to use the figurative term ‘OCD,’ because I understand the severity to which true sufferers feel that syndrome, but I will say that I highly prefer cleanliness with my communications and tasks. Is that a mild form of OCD? I do not know, but it’s debilitating whatever it’s called.

I feel like tasks represent gallons of water. And x number only brings the water up to my knees. That’s what I’d like to keep it at. But y number of tasks bring it up to my rib cage. It’s not the worst, but it’s not great. Well, most of my adult life (at least 75% of it) I feel like the water has been over my head or at least right above my eyes. I get panic attacks sometimes because it feels like in a way I’m drowning in stress.

I have a pattern I’ve noticed. I wish I had taken care to document all the times I got the energy/willingness to go in and clean up my to do list. It’s happened a number of times. But even after these bouts of productivity, I can say that there are several items that have never been crossed off. Finish the rough draft of a novel is one of those. I started my first novel in 2003. Since then I’ve started four more. Never finished a one. I know it’s difficult and I’m by no means the only living person who wishes they had already finished their novel, but it bothers me. When I was in high school I never had these things. When I wanted to do something (like make a really bad home movie with my friends for a social studies project in 6th grade) I did it. I didn’t get nervous about how much work it would take. I just did it. I was fearless less because I looked at fear and outstared it, but more because I didn’t even see the fear so I never had to summon any courage.

I want to get back to that. I want to see my life through the eyes of my younger naiver self. I don’t want to think about the potential implications of failing to finish a project or worse yet finishing a project and realizing it’s a failure. Because logically that’s the best thing to do.

I have failed to do so many things because of fear. And let’s say hypothetically I would have done these things in my past and they turned out to suck. So, what? I’d much rather look at a finished piece of crap than an unfinished unknown for years and years.

It’s my hope that whatever happened to me tonight to get me into the workhorse mindset will visit me more often. If it was something I did then I want to repeat it. One thing I noticed was what I said to myself. I was awake at my computer. CJ had just gone to bed. And I said to myself, “Let’s take ten minutes and try to cut the inbox down by 100 emails.” And I reluctantly agreed to my own suggestion. “Fine,” I thought. “I’ll take ten minutes, but I won’t like it.”

Then what happened? About ten minutes later I realized that I had cut out nearly 300 emails. And I got excited. I was better than my projection. So, it became a game. With the next ten minutes how many could I get rid of? The second go round I only eliminated another 120. But the average was still pretty good. 420 emails in twenty minutes seemed pretty good. And who cares if it’s a ‘good’ pace or not. I know that one day I’m going to take the time to clean this thing out. Why not spend more time on it now?

So, I kept at it. And after a while I got the equivalent of a runner’s high (I was also medicated from some California herb which I know helped me focus) and just kept going. And then I realized that I wanted to make a graph of my workouts for the past twelve months. Why? Cause I’m a nerd and analyzing the data is the only way to learn from it.

So, I made a deal with myself. Ten minutes would be spent on emails and ten minutes would be spent on graphs. Well, I didn’t actually time myself. Instead I just did one until I felt I was losing steam and would switch to the other thing. Simply changing tasks reenergized me every time. After I finished the graphs I checked the number of emails and I was down to 506. I’d cut down my inbox by more than half. I decided to post it on FB as a way of making it feel like an official milestone. Social media helps me often with accountability.

At that point I was gonna go to bed, but I got a second wind and decided to keep going until I was absolutely done. I stopped with 227 emails in the inbox. I filed/read/deleted 920 emails. I feel damn good about that.

My hope is that I can 1. Not feel so afraid and overwhelmed by doing stuff like this in the future 2. Keep up with my inboxes and other daily tasks well enough to prevent them from piling up so high again and 3. Not beat myself up if that number goes back up before it goes further down.

I’m 33 and I’m sick of feeling like I’m drowning all the time. I make it a goal of mine to be the kind of taskmaster I was as an adolescent again now as an adult.

Thanks, y’all!

Rich

Change or Cope But No More Wallowing – The Start of a New Me

I procrastinate like crazy. Like literally crazy sometimes. For example, I will buy something or someone else will buy me something that would be really cool and sometimes I’ll just leave it unopened for months. And inevitably I’ll open it and use it and figure out that it’s amazing and could have made my life better in some way this whole time. That’s happened many times, but if you want an example, my ipod. I bought it in 2005 in July. I wanted one because I’d just moved to Chicago and I thought it would be good to listen to audio books when I was on the train or the bus. I think I brought that thing home in July. And I don’t think I ever actually used it until December. Why? I have no idea.

Sometimes, I just get these mental hangups that defy logic and understanding. I don’t know why I do some things, but I know that some of the things I do frustrate me. Often when I commiserate with friends and acquaintances about some of the more common traits I don’t like about myself (my lack of drive to get more auditions for example) I get very well intended, but completely unhelpful responses that sound something like this: “Yeah, but everybody’s like that. You can’t beat yourself up.”

First of all, they’re not correct. There are people in this world who have drive to better their careers. They seem to be in the minority, but they definitely exist. However, even if they were correct, they’re not being helpful. Actually, they’re being somewhat helpful. The bit about not beating myself up is the right thing to say. I shouldn’t beat myself up. A lot of people do (not everybody, but a good portion of the population) and it’s not healthy. But even that is an example of an annoying aspect to my personality that I don’t like and makes no logical sense, but I still do it anyway. But simply knowing that there are others (possibly many others) who experience what I do is not helpful. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, so it’s helpful in that way, but it doesn’t help me to change it.

So, I’ve decided to focus my energy from beating myself up to doing something. I don’t know why I do certain things, but I know that there’s a big world out there full of people, some of whom may have once felt like I do and have somehow figured out ways to improve their behavior. And I’m going to find them and help myself as best I can. I started seeing a psychologist (thank you CJ for pushing me to do so) and hopefully she’s going to help. But it doesn’t stop there. If I identify a patter in my life that I don’t like, but don’t know how to change it I’m going to analyze it like a scientist would. First I’ll put into words what my problem is. Then I’ll research to see if other people have overcome this same problem. If so, I will read their articles and books. I’ll attend their seminar or buy them a beer and ask them questions. I’ll seek out their answers. Then I’ll try to form a solution based on that data and try it. If it works, then I a become closer to the type of person I want to be. If it doesn’t, I try different solutions based off as much data as I can get. If it never works after exhausting all efforts to change then I’ll seek out people who could not solve this problem and find out how they learned to cope with it. And I’ll apply the same method.

For example, I know some people who are overweight who really don’t want to be. But despite their best efforts, they cannot seem to alter their behavior well enough to lose the weight. So, they have figured out how to make it work for them. They embrace it and market themselves as actors to play such roles as video game nerds, socially awkward person, funny fat guy, etc.

One example for myself is my lack of hair. I went bald a few years ago. I wish I could change it, but I’ve tried Propecia and Rogaine. Neither worked for me. The only other solution I’ve read about is to get implants, but I cannot afford that. Fortunately, I’ve been able to cope with it. I wish I had my hair back, but I don’t think about it nearly as often as I used to. And I’ve used it as motivation to workout more. Because I believe that you can look good as an overweight bald guy or a built bald guy. But to have a bald head and average body doesn’t necessarily look great. It’s part of the reason why I’ve had such a regular (or semi regular) workout regiment as of late.

But there are examples of things I can do to alter the situation. One trait I don’t like about myself is that I accumulate emails. I have three emails and they’re all insanely full inboxes. I don’t like this. So, I’m getting a new computer. My current computer is slow and it’s frustrating to go through emails because of the delay. Hopefully, with the speed of the new computer I’ll be able to take a few days here and there to really clean those bad boys out.

I’m just done wallowing in emotions I don’t like. It’s time to deal with things. Either I’ll change the circumstance or change my outlook. I have to. I can’t live with depression and self disappointment any longer. Most of my adult life I’ve been disappointed with myself. I thought I had so much potential in college. And i still think I do. But I had diamond dreams and I’ve only hit the minimum for gold. At least that’s how I see myself. And I can’t listen to it anymore. It’s like a low hum in the back of my mind. Usually I don’t hear it because I’m distracted with so many thoughts and noises (a good movie/tv show/book/video game gets me so involved that I really can’t hear the hum), but in the quiet when I’m alone I hear it. And it’s just the mind’s ear hearing a representation of the disappointment I have in myself.

No more. I’m either going to make it go away or use it to my advantage. I have a feeling I can make it go away. I’m not sure how. I’ve always assumed it would go away when I accomplished certain things. And that may be true. There are definitely goals I have that I’ve never come close to attaining (be on TV, write a novel, write and shoot a bunch of youtube sketches, book a commercial, etc.). But I need another way to silence that hum. I need to get rid of it and replace it with a mental cheerleader. Someone who’s gonna be proud of me and encourage me. If you know of any good techniques, I’m all ears.

No more wallowing. I deserve better. =)

Thanks, y’all.
Rich