Friday, February 7, 2014

Need a Lift?

And so I arrive at day five of my attempt to build a writing habit, and already I've arrived at an important point.  A day when I really have no idea what to write about.  I have no outside direction for today, the course I'm following simply tells me that what I should be focusing on right now is momentum.  Not quality, not craft.  Just building that forward motion, getting used to producing every day.

So this may be a bit of a ramble.  I'm thinking of maybe doing some fiction over the weekend, a bit of a longer version of my earlier short story.  But for today, I thought I might talk a bit about the source of my writing habit course.

The whole thing started at the end of last month, actually.  I'd just signed up for the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club, which is honestly a lot of fun.  I've been a bit concerned at how much of a shut-in I've been lately, not just in person (Canadian winter and no job tends to do that to me) but online as well.  So at least in that area I needed to find an outlet.

And it's a wonderful outlet so far.  Hanging out in the IGGPPC forums has gotten me more inspired and social online than I've been in a long time, with Valentine's swaps, trading mix tapes, discussing movies and books, being exposed to fandoms I haven't really had much contact with before (Nerdfighter? YA fiction? Mystery Men?  What are these strange things?).  And of course getting assigned a pen pal, which is a totally new experience to me.  As is trolling stores for cool, geeky stickers and other flat things that fit in envelopes.

One of the things that's come up in the forums is exercise support.  Always an issue for the committed geek who isn't usually inspired to take time off from their beloved hobbies to go run laps, it's good to have somebody in your corner.  And one part of that is a monthly fitness challenge.  On the spur of the moment, I decided to try this month's challenge: Wall sits.  Basically start with 10 seconds and add 10 seconds each day, with the end goal being 300 seconds of wall sitting.  Sounds a lot easier than it is, today was the 70 second one and I thought I was gonna die.  But I shall perservere where I can.

To support this, one of the Iggles (generic term for IGGPPC members, boy members are called Miggles) created a plan on the Lift: Daily Motivation app.  This sounded like a good deal to me, and it was a good chance to try out one of those daily learning/motivation/time management apps people keep talking about.  Sadly, the app doesn't seem to exist for the iPad (there's one with the same name that has a different icon and different setup) and the version of Android on my phone is too old to support it.  So it's off to the site to see if the web version works.  And thank goodness, it did.

It's a pretty simple thing, really, which is one thing that I really like.  All it does is when you sign up for a course, it gives you what you need to do that day.  Usually these are small tasks, like draw something, or add 10 seconds to your previous day's wall sit, or in this case, simply sit down and write for some self-selected amount of time. Once you've done that, you click a checkmark and you go on with your life.  And that's really it.

I was taken with the concept right away.  It can be pretty intimidating jumping wholeheartedly into a task, especially if it's a pretty big time investment. Breaking it down into manageable chunks is a fine idea, but not one that's easy for everyone to do in practice.  It's a matter of aptitude, some people respond really well to the idea that you should spend six hours a day writing if you want to be good at it and I honestly applaud those people.  They're amazing to me, and I know from practice that I really don't have that capacity.  Same goes for drawing, learning a language, whatever it may be.  So having  a process that helps in the process of breaking things down into smaller chunks really helps someone like me who has a hard time separating the parts from the whole.  Maybe one day I'll be to the point where I can sit down and work at writing or drawing or whatever the same way that I'd work at a full-time job.  But I definitely can't do that without working my way up to it.

Which is probably part of what ultimately destroyed my plans to become an animator.  Perhaps if I'd stumbled upon systems like this four or five years ago (did they even exist then?) things might have been different.  Maybe they still will.  Only way to find out is to do it.

And that's really the whole point to any positive motivation/task breakdown scheme.  To simply do it.  I suppose I'm fortunate that I'm unemployed right now, since it provides me with ample free time in which to develop these habits.  Even if I started working tomorrow (well, tomorrow's Saturday so that's pretty unlikely), the few days I've started with and the low time overhead of each item wouldn't be too hard to carry over into an "after work" context rather than a "middle of the day" context.

So of course me being me, I had to jump in and try out a bunch of habit-forming courses/challenges at once.  So let's go through what I have on my plate right now:

30 Day Wall Sit Challenge This is the one I started with, so I'm a day ahead of most of the rest.  As I mentioned before, you start with a wall sit and hold it for 10 seconds. A wall sit, if you're not familiar with it, is basically where you take a position like you're sitting in a chair, but instead of a chair you brace yourself against a wall.  It's mostly thighs, but I suspect there's some abdominal/lower back elements in there.  Add 10 seconds to the time every day.

30 Day Plank Challenge - Beginner I started this day after I started the wall sits, so I'm a day behind.  This one's not so punishing as the wall sits, but it's still pretty tough.  Basically you start with 20 seconds in the plank pose, body rigid and resting on toes and elbows, and 15 seconds on each side.  That sounds pretty easy but if you've never done planks before or haven't done them in a long while, it's challenging.  Instead of increasing daily like the wall sits, the increases are after three or four days, so it gives you a bit of a chance to get used to the time.

Intro to Meditation I've wanted to get back to meditation for years, but whenever I try it doesn't seem to stick.  So this is a good chance to not only build the habit back up, but also to try out a method different from the Shambhala Buddhist version I'd learned back in the late 90's.  It's easier, I'm finding, to get into meditation when you've either got some sort of guide or other people doing it with you.  Certainly the Buddhist version was very enjoyable when done in groups and in a beautiful setting like the temple in Halifax.  This one's done in short, less than 10 minute segments through Soundcloud.  I've found that it's quite nice if I do my writing immediately afterwards, it's much easier to get in the swing of it.

Develop a Writing Habit Speaking of writing, here we are.  If you've been reading along so far, you already know what I'm getting out of this course.  Each day is a paragraph or so on developing writing as a daily activity, and pointing at what you should be doing on a daily basis.  As I already mentioned, today is a bit directionless in the sense that the direction is mostly "just write, and get momentum going".  Yesterday was similar, but looking ahead I see there are a few more concrete topics down the line so we'll see where that takes me.  The amount of writing, and the metric you use, is up to the individual, although the course seems to prefer a time limit rather than a word target.  

Daily Drawing Now we get to the hard one, at least from my perspective.  It doesn't really sound hard.  Draw every day.  Simple, right?  And yet, everything on the list even the physically demanding wall sits, don't bring up so much procrastination and avoidance in me as this one.  I suppose on some level it scares me.  And I suppose that's not the biggest surprise ever, given my art-related insecurities until now.   After spending the better part of four years comparing yourself unfavourably to your peers and friends, it gets a little daunting.  Hell, I'm misting up a bit just typing this.  But if I really want to move past all that, and get to somewhere I'm happy with myself, I've got to work at it and get past that fear.  Which is what doing's not really a challenge or a course, just a daily all about.

So there's the lot.  It sounds like quite a bit, but even taken all together it's  not that much time.  About an hour between the writing and art (although I tend to take two or more 25-minute segments for writing, I don't need to), 10 minutes or so for meditation and another 5-ish for exercise, although that'll increase as I go.  Not much of a bite out of my day, really.  

The real trick here is to stick with it long term.  That's tough, given my personality.  I've always been a bit of an enthusiast, rushing off to check out cool stuff, then coming back to wax enthusiastic at people about the ones that I thought were especially awesome.  Kind of like what I'm doing now with the Lift app.  

The trouble of course is there are a lot more cool things out there, so how long until I drop this in favour of a new shiny thing?

I suppose one thing that helps is I'm a bit older now and, at least in some respects a bit more mature.  I've got a different perspective on things than I had twenty years ago, or even twenty weeks ago, which hopefully will help me stay a bit more grounded.  The low time investment of developing these various activities as habits helps a bit as well, due to the affordable "cost" of keeping them up while still allowing time to pursue fun leisure stuff as well.  That's the theory at least.

As time goes by and these few days turn into a month and I try to continue these habits to a second month, a third, a year and so forth, hopefully that theory will bear itself out.  And maybe eventually I can be a bit more self-starting about the whole mess instead of relying so much on external tools.

But maybe that's the wrong way of thinking about it?  After all, is there any shame to using a tool to make your life better?  Perhaps thinking that you must be self-starting and self-maintaining in order to be good or effective or committed is the wrong way of going about it, and a self-defeating mindset in the same way that assuming the way one successful person does things is the way you must do them and if you don't you're a failure.  I know that doing so is a sure-fire way to make yourself give up, and has been demonstrated in a great many studies.

I don't know the answer to that.  Indeed, I don't know the answer to any of this, even if there is one (or only one).  All I know is right now this seems to be working, and for six days now I've been writing more than I have in years.  And there's nothing at all wrong with that.

As a bit of a postscript, I was searching for something in the uncharted wilderness of my hard drive last night when I found something pretty interesting.  The "100 Themes" challenge.  Essentially it's a list of 100 topics which you draw an image for until you've exhausted the list.  Obviously it's a production and habit forming tool, the same as the writing habit course I'm doing now is, but focused on volume and variety, rather than working daily.  It's also meant to be themes for drawing images, but there's no reason why topics such as "silence" or "innocence" couldn't be written about instead.  And further, there's no reason not to apply them to the system I've been using with daily check-ins and positive motivation to keep me going through the list.

So that's my intention, once this 30-day writing course is done, to start writing on the 100 themes.  If nothing else, I'll gain more experience at writing and provide more content to my blog than I've ever had.  Can't say either makes me unhappy.

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