Going Against the Grain

My last post dealt with deciding if you are in a rut.  Ruts are tricky things; they can be emotional, mental, or physical, even.  They can spread out like tendrils into various aspects of our lives until they eventually take over our lives.

The rut you find yourself in will be specific to YOU.  If you are a writer, for example, that rut might be a wall-like barrier to your creativity.  In writer’s terms, this is often called ‘writer’s block’.  I see in my mind a haunting image of the writer at a desk, gazing blankly at a computer screen.  A recipe for sore eyes, I can assure you.

Writer’s block.  This is an excuse behind which most unsuccessful writers hide.  Have you noticed anything about excuses? They are defense-walls.  Very often they defend us from what we are afraid of, too tired, too lazy, or too ignorant to break down.  Have you ever been told, “honey, the only thing standing in your way is you?”

As clichéd as that sounds, it’s true.

You can burst through writer’s block.  Want to know how? Observe the kind of university student (just one example out of the many kinds of university students out there) who procrastinates on assignments, but says that they work best with panic on their side.  Honestly, the best work they do is in the final week, or couple of days before the assignment is due.  Suddenly they’re on a roll! Legal pads come out, they scribble frantically as one idea after another pops into their head.  Miraculous ways of garnering information are discovered, from Google Books to online databases you and I have never heard of before.  Whether their quality of works merits an A or a C-, supposing they pass the assignment, they will tell you that their best work happened in those hours of pushing themselves.  Panic was their friend.  Often these students enjoyed their studies most at that time, rather than when they were sitting in class for weeks in advance (which were meant to be used in preparation for the assignment in the first place) playing Candy Crush Saga on their smartphones.

Why does this happen?

I rather think it’s partly because in that time of panic they did not have time to second-guess themselves or question how they were going to produce.  The time of what I term ‘negotiating procrastination’ was over.  Being out of time, they just went for it.  They had to.  Failure is not an option.  As painful as it was, they forced themselves through it.

Here’s one piece of advice I will give you: Never debate with yourself about what you have to do to achieve what you want in life – your goals.  If you have set up actions to forward the achievement of your goals, do not allow yourself to compromise on those actions.

As a more typical example, let’s say you’ve decided in this New Year, to get up every day except Sunday at 5am.  I tried this once.  I’m sure you know how it went –  As soon as the alarm on my iPhone rang, I hit the snooze button.  Fine – it’s permissible to hit the snooze button.  Once.

Not five times.

Which is what I did 😉

Thinking about it later in the day, I decided to do what any lifestyle website writing on “Waking Up Early” would tell you to do – put the alarm clock, or cell phone, far away from you so you have to get up, just to turn it off.

The reason for this is simple.  I discovered the next day that I was so concentrated on turning off the alarm that I jumped (literally) out of bed (I didn’t want to wake the others in the house) and turned it off.  Immediately I climbed back into bed.

OKAY!

Obviously, a new strategy was needed.  This is what I have now come up with to get myself out of bed in the mornings.  Let me bullet-point it for you:

  • put the alarm clock away on the other side of the room from the bed
  • go straightaway to the toilet
  • while washing my hands after, I might as well wash my face
  • oh, while I’m up I might as well have a coffee
  • hey – I wonder if that client has emailed me back yet concerning my post?

There! I’m up! I’m up! I’m up!!!

In a nutshell, I’ve stumbled upon a routine that works for me.  You might be able to notice from my train of thought once I’m out of bed, that my subsequent actions follow quite naturally.  There’s no pressure for me to “stay awake” – I do not agonize about “Ohhh, man, I have to stay awake… I’m soooo tired… just another minute…”

Nope.  My actions are simple, and natural.  I need to go to the toilet.  I need to wash my hands.  Those actions for me go without question once I’m first awake.  Washing my face and having a cup of coffee are actions I enjoy.  And the curiousity of whether I’ve been emailed really helps me to not even think about going back to bed.

See, there was no debate, no conversation going on my head that might open me to the attractive possibility of a few more minutes of snoozing.

To break out of your rut, you will undoubtedly find that you need to do something that is completely unexpected.  A bit like Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins.  I’m a big fan of The Hobbit, and anyone who reads it will be amused and inspired by the way Bilbo became the Bilbo of legend, and not a simple Baggins of Bag End who never did anything out of the ordinary.  No – he did something quite unusual: he had an adventure.  He went against the grain – and so must you.

Back to the example of arising at 5am – I had spent years sleeping closer to that time than waking at that time.  So the idea of waking at that time was revolutionary!

There’s something about doing ‘the unexpected’.  A kind of attraction and intrigue about doing something revolutionary to your normal behaviour.

My Reader, I encourage you to sit and think.  Pull out a notepad and make notes.  Brainstorm.  Screw that up and rewrite your ideas of change without the chance of referring  to what you read before.  Why do this? I’ll explain later.  For now, remember, tiny steps.  You need to challenge that rut.  Step out of it.  Yes! Yes, you can do it! It’s called will-power.  You need to apply yourself to the work of revolutionising your way of thinking, your way of trapping yourself in ruts, whether they be emotional, mental, physical, and so forth.

Leave any comments below, if you’ve found this article thought-provoking.  Oh, and I’d be eternally grateful if you’d sign up to follow my blog 😉

More later!

PS * Also, here’s a neat trick: if you read “How to Sleep Better” blogs or articles, they’ll usually tell you to not use a computer or watch TV or any other backlit device for a few hours before going to bed.  That’s because the exposure to bright light suppresses melatonin release, which helps you to feel sleepy.  Well, I’ve found that the light from my PC or iPhone wakes me up something marvelous.  Try it!

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Is It a Rut?

Okay so… in the first place, how do you know if you’re in a rut?

Firstly, let’s define ‘rut’. In a manner of speaking, a rut is intended to mean a groove that you are struggling to drive out of, if you are trying to escape at all. For the purposes of this blog, it might be a life situation that you find yourself in that is less than desirable, or a state of mind that you cannot shake. Whether it be one or more of these possibilities, it is either something that sinks you into a static depression, or kickstarts your innate ‘fight or flight’ drive. In other words, there are those who remain stuck in a groove all their lives, and always ‘mean to’ do something refreshingly different, but who never actually do, because ‘the time is never right’. One of my friends who also was a caregiver constantly said, “oh, as soon as another job comes up, I’m leaving this place!”

Thing was, she’d worked there for donkey’s years, and will probably stay there till she retires.

Examples of this sort of doggedly putting-up-with-a-situation-that-you-hate abound in human life. And there will always be sensible reasons for us doing so. Lack of sufficient income, kids to feed, bills to pay, etc. Yet we pine after those who were brave enough to make changes to their lives, and who are now happy as a result. Evidence of this is everywhere. The Internet is a wonderful thing – everyone tells everyone their life story! While this might be frowned upon, it is a great tool for self-education and learning from other’s mistakes. It will always be true that no great things were achieved without sacrifice. Changes are not made in a day. Success takes time and effort, however you choose to define it. Basically, you’ve got to do the hard yards first.

That being said, plan your work, and then work the plan. So you’re in a rut. You feel under-utilised, over-worked in a situation you hate, trapped in a bad working or personal relationship, whatever the case might be. The list is infinite. Will you stay there, like an animal in a trap, or will you take your life in your own hands and accomplish what you were born to?

You are?

Great!

What to do next?

Let me give you an example from my own life. For many years I worked as a hospital assistant, here in New Zealand. I needed the money, being first of all a poor Arts student, and then a poor Nursing student. For six years in total (a long time in my book) I put up with back breaking lifting, (although striclty speaking you are not allowed to lift in NZ resthomes, but please – as if hoists and slippery-sams are all that easy to operate? Talk about cumbersome!) cleaning all manner of human waste, and being faced with a decrepit and thankless form of human nature. The pay was a joke. Most importantly for me, I was waking up each day dreading getting out of bed and going into a job I absolutely hated. I hated every minute of it, from the time I arrived to the time I left.

To be fair, Nursing was not what I really wanted to do with my life. It was a poor decision, in any case, to decide to become a nurse. Since I was little I loved to draw and write, and was fascinated by Ancient History and Mythology. The possibility of exploring other worlds in the distant past was always something I was waiting to grow up to be able to do. Sadly, when I did grow up and leave high school, I was stuck in a very narrow-minded bubble; I was advised to get a degree – it didn’t seem to matter to my so-called advisors what degree it was, just as long as it was a piece of paper saying I had completed study at Tertiary level. Why a degree? To get a job, of course. Doesn’t matter if you hate it! We need to have a guaranteed income in our day and age, when jobs are scarce. There are always jobs in the Nursing Profession – therefore, away to Nursing School I went.

My Reader, let me tell you, that was the stupidest piece of advice I’ve ever heard in my life. And my following it was the dumbest thing I could have ever done.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with Nursing. I admire nurses with every fibre of my being. For me, though, it was this poor decision that sparked a desire to make some drastic changes in my life. Cleaning all that poop whilst caregiving made me recognize that the reason I was unhappy at that job was because in it I was not utilising my full potential. I knew my talents, but wasn’t using them. This was what made all the difference, I realized. I firmly believe that it is important to work in a field that you enjoy. Here’s my reasoning: you spend no less than eight hours of a day, often more, at your job. Why not do something you love? I lately watched “The Making Of” Appendices to my “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy set, and what struck me as being particularly inspiring, was the way Sir Peter Jackson and his team looked so happy about their work. They seemed up-beat, motivated, and full of energy. “These people truly enjoy what they do,” I thought to myself, “so why shouldn’t I?”

So, I am now doing what I always wanted to do – write. 2013 has marked a new era for me. It’s the year I come into my own as a writer and artist! It’s my time to perfect my craft. Hopefully one day soon I will earn money doing it.

I am fully aware that there are many ‘realistic’ people in the world who will condemn such a radical idea as this. On the phone today to a customer service operator, I said (rather blithely), “I’m going to earn money doing what I love!” To which she replied, sarcastically, I thought – “don’t we all?”

I find her lack of faith sad. Don’t you, My Reader? Look around at the people in life who inspire you. Look at those whose lives you envy. They seem happy to go to work, and seem to do well both in their working and personal lives. They love where they’re at in life, and so on. I bet it’s because they enjoy what they do.

From the example of my own life you can see that I took the first important step: I firstly realised I was in a rut. I came to understand that I was unhappy because I was not doing what I was born to do, quite simply. Maybe you too, have an urge to write, sing, act, study volcanoes, be a zoo-keeper, whatever. Maybe you’ve got the potential to be a brilliant scientist but are stuck in a relationship where your ‘significant other’ refuses to encourage you or give you the chance to explore the amazing possibilities of your talent.

I repeat: Whatever the case might be, your life is what you make of it. We all build and tailor our lives. The couch potato, as obvious as this statement is, has made himself into such. How? Perhaps boredom led to television-gazing, maybe for an hour every evening after work. That soon turned into whole days during the weekends. Maybe now he is in a state of such passivity that he has no drive for life except to relax in front of the screen. Life’s too exhausting anyway, and it’s easier to watch adventures than have them. Before long he has no life outside of the flat screen.

– You get my point.

Take the time to sit back, brainstorm, and think about how you got to where you are now. More than likely your present unhealthy habits or way of life have taken years to form. You can’t rewind the clock, but you can start afresh. Start today, right now, to forge new habits that will help you to accomplish what you want to, to lead a fulfilled life.

Tiny steps…

More later. Share your thoughts below…