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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

2014 was kind of an up and down year, but all in all significantly better than the last couple of years. I was fighting depression off and on–still am, for that matter–and because depression lies, I had trouble remembering all the good parts even though I enjoyed them as they happened. I’m thinking maybe it would help if I did a review like this more often, just to remind myself how blessed and lucky I am.

Some of the highlights:

Neil treated me to a blowout 60th birthday, with tickets to the Celtics and the Bruins on the same day 😀

Middle kid and his fiancee got married at Disney World in September. Lovely time was had by all. They’re expecting our first grandchild now. That will be a distraction for sure.

Lots of travel — big trips to Wisconsin/Michigan to visit youngest, Florida to help middlest get married, Montana to visit my family, as well as shorter trips like a weekend on Block Island for bicycling, a three-day canoe trip on the Connecticut River, and three days at Tanglewood for hiking and music.

Golf league, concerts, art classes, learning to canoe, getting back on a bike for the first time in many years.

Writing: edited Overamped one more time, cutting 20K words, and sent it to the Amazon contest, where it did not do well. Wrote the second draft of Crows, preliminary draft of Lace, and the start of a steampunk work that is at least a trilogy and possibly a series, plus a few short stories and poems.

Looking forward to an even better 2015.

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I’m not a morning person. In my ideal world, I’d go to dinner at 8, stay up until midnight or later writing, and not get up until 8 or 9 the next morning. The times I’ve been able to stick with that cycle, I was healthy and happy and didn’t suffer from insomnia.

Oddly, though, I also didn’t get much done, especially writing. The day was half gone by the time I got up and moving, and while the late-night words always seem to be high quality, they don’t come easily. I get the most done when I get up early, no later than 6:30. When I started getting up that early, years ago, it was a forced decision based on work and kids. Now it’s either such a habit that I can’t throw it off, or my body rhythms are changing with age. Be that as it may, an early morning seems to work best for me now.

I used to use the morning time for writing; when the kids were in school, that time before they got up to get ready for school was the only writing time I had. I wrote well then. As they’ve grown up and left home, the schedule has kind of come apart. I’ve kept irregular hours and battled insomnia.

About a year and a half ago, I started getting up again. I’ve been using the early morning time for errands and online stuff. I get up, read my mail, read and reply to Forward Motion posts and my blog, check Facebook, etc. You know the routine. 😀 Then I’d try to write, or I’d go to the gym to work out and then do the housework for the day and try to write afterward. I wasn’t losing track of loose ends that way, but I wasn’t getting a lot of writing done, either. It’s hard to sit down and get into the story when I’ve already been buzzing around for several hours.

I thought about going out to exercise first thing in the morning, but the gym is crowded then with people working out before they start their job. Besides, experience has shown that I will exercise at other times of the day. Afternoon may be the easiest. I can do chores and errands any time. I can edit, for myself or for Moongypsy, at any time of day. I can read any time.

The only thing I don’t seem to be able to do at any old time is the writing. It goes well first thing in the morning, and it goes well late at night, and it struggles against fatigue, distraction, and interruption the rest of the day.

I was reminded of this rhythm while I was on vacation, oddly enough. We visited my parents, who are 80-ish and no longer get up early. We were in the mountain time zone, but we were waking up at our usual eastern time. So we had at least a few hours in the morning to ourselves. I was able to use some of that for writing.

Now I’m trying to get back on the old schedule at home. Get up around 6, breakfast, sit down to write. It’s only been about a week but already the writing is flowing more easily and productively. I’m happier. The best part of my day is going to the thing I want to do most. I’m also getting more done in the afternoons when I’ve already accomplished the important goals and don’t have to worry about getting done in time to write.

We’ll see if it continues to work that way but so far it’s a successful experiment.

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I was reading an article this morning about some of the science behind the formation and maintenance of habits: “A dopamine-rich part of the brain named the striatum memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward, explains NIDA’s Volkow*. Eventually, those environmental cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic.”

That makes sense from a functional point of view. If routine behavior becomes automatic, that leaves more of the brain to deal with the non-automatic, the dangerous and threatening, the creative and new. When the habits and routines function in the service of productive living, life is good. If the habits need to change — clearly, they’re hard to change. Doing something outside the web of reinforcing behaviors isn’t perceived by the brain to be a good thing (I’m at the philosophical level here, not the biochemical), it’s perceived to be a threat to the structure of life, or at least to smooth living.

It looks to me like that means the reward system has to change along with or even before the habit can change — in the short term as well as the long term. If it’s something like a good eating habit that’s going to pay off down the road, hanging out for long term rewards might work if you can keep reminding yourself, but getting the short term rewards in line will make it a lot easier to do and make the new habit a lot stronger. I was accidentally lucky a few years ago when we discovered that “eating healthy” opened up a whole new world of food we happened to find exciting and delicious. But recently we’ve been sliding back to “a starch and a veggie beside a slab of protien” eating.

It’s been even worse with my writing. I don’t have any particularly bad habits to overcome, but I’ve never been able to get into good habits, either. Not to write routinely on the task at hand. I go skittering off after the new thing or whatever looks exciting, but there’s no reward to plodding onward.

Partly this is due to the inherent delayed-gratification nature of writing anything longer than a bit of flash fiction. It’s at best days before something is finished, and often years. My issues with “impaired executive function” play into it, certainly. But I’m thinking that another aspect that might be lacking is not just routine but the structure around a routine that allow my brain to recognize that I’m entering the territory where automatic reactions ought to come into play.

In other words, I think this means I need to build up some healthy and more productive rituals around my writing — things that are immediate rewards, but also things that are signals that it’s time to settle down and get to work.

And when I thought about what I could do with that, I realized that since I got the laptop, I haven’t even had a fixed place to work. I love the flexibility of being able to write out on the porch, or at Panera, or in the room with the fireplace, but I’ve let my life fall into that and now all that’s left in what used to be my work area is castoffs and clutter. No wonder I can’t get into a writing habit!
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* = Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and an authority on the brain’s pleasure pathway. Full article here.

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I suppose it’s only human to have ups and downs, and this past week was very much down for the first few days. Neil was in the Carolinas for a business trip. I used that as an excuse for not keeping up with my daily life or routine, eating poorly, not exercising much, and not getting a lot of work done.

Then it was the weekend in Detroit for niece’s baby shower. I was crocheting madly on the flight out — and glad we were a bit late — but finished with plenty of time to spare. I think it turned out quite nicely. The shower was great and it was fun seeing all the relatives again at a happier time than November’s trip. But again I didn’t eat right, didn’t get exercise, and laid awake at night beating myself up about it.

I started to do the wrapup for last month, but it was a litany of things I didn’t do (subtext: you lazy bitch) so I deleted it. Will try again today.

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