I’ve decided that I need a goal. An over-arching goal that is singular. I’ve been reading a book on habits and how they are formed, also on how they affect our lives. It is magnificent to know that habits really aren’t just pure abstractions sitting in our frontal lobes. What I mean by that is that habits, as we have come to know them, really rest and rely in or on a part of our brain known as the basal ganglia.
When we’re first learning something, or encountering something new our brains are on full fire. We take in everything as best we can to ascertain our situation. However, if we were like that all the time, we wouldn’t be able to function normally. That’s when the basal ganglia comes into play. It’s kind of like a little tape deck, or camera that opens it’s aperture briefly and records what’s happening. The more times the same thing is ‘recorded’ the stronger the signal will be. When the signal is strong enough our mind will actually rely on that recording, given the correct cues, to dictate our activities or thinking. When we’re engaged in this rote our brain activity actually “lowers”, and is even able to focus on something else at the same time.
There’s a bit more to it than that, and if you’re interested in learning about what I’m reading about, that being habits, you can click on the link to the left under “What I’m Reading.” Because I live in Colorado I unfortunately cannot get an Amazon affiliate membership, otherwise I’d have that link go through my affiliate account and would help support me, but ah well. Still, I’m still in the process of reading it. I’m only about 35 pages in, but a lot of it is making sense and is quite interesting. The stories definitely draw me in, and I appreciate their immediate concrete induction and application.
It starts out with this woman as an example. This woman went from being overweight, smoking, and thousands and thousands of dollars in debt, to being trim, clean, and in the black in a relatively short amount of time. She became a member of a study group to determine what exactly was going on that could be identified scientifically that helped her achieve these goals.
She told a story about how she ended up, after a messy divorce, completely at odds with the world in Cairo. She literally tried to light a ball point pen as a cigarette after waking up just before she accidentally smashed a container of water on the ground. In the taxi cab she realized that she needed one goal. She was going to do one thing, no matter what it meant needed to change to do that. She was going to tour across Egypt.
So, she got herself together and did all these amazing things with her life in anticipation of going on that trip through Egypt. Little did she know, at the time, that there would’ve been plenty of room on that bus for a pack of cigarettes, but she focused on that one goal and was able to change her behavior.
When the scientists looked at her brain activity, they recognized that the activity that showed up when confronted with the temptations to engage in various destructive activities was the same, but at the same time another part of her brain would light up. And each session, that other part would get stronger. This is the power of a habit, or in this case, reversing a habit.
It can be done.
Why is this important to me? I am a creature of terrible habit. And I mean that, my habits are terrible. I mean, sure, I don’t shoot up or smoke, and that’s good. At the same time though I have a lot of thinking habits, emotional habits, and behavioral habits that get in my own way.
The first most blaring example of this is me waking up in the morning. Left to my own devices, as they are now, I will sleep all day. I mean it! I will literally fall back asleep after waking up in the morning, sleep another five hours, wake up… and then if I’m not careful, fall back asleep for another five hours. The longest I’ve slept in one take was twenty-three hours straight. I didn’t even get up to pee, meaning, I wet the bed.
I believe this began for a number of different reasons. When I was having a really hard time I was on edge all the time. I had extreme anxiety and I didn’t know what it was or how to treat it. I would end up just sitting or laying in one position for hours and hours to maintain the least amount of stimulation and disturbance in my body and psyche. I think that “reward” fused this habit into me.
All of this time I’ve been blaming my lack of discipline and my medications. While it is true that when my anti-psychotic was upped by 2.5 mg I started sleeping all day pretty consistently, there is a certain amount of will power in there too. But if I look at it through the eyes of a habit auditor, it’s not that I’m battling the good feeling of slumping to the couch and falling back asleep, it’s that I’m battling the automatic thinking and actions that have ingrained themselves into me for the last five years or so.
Funny enough, that actually helps me put this into a different perspective. I’ve always known one of my faults was laziness. I lack self-discipline, I really do. But, perhaps self-discipline isn’t really just gritting your teeth and doing the, usually, opposite of what you want to do every time. Perhaps self-discipline is a set of well procured habits. What I mean is, if I can develop a different habit, doing something different immediately after waking up, I’d be more apt to do that instead.
I’m not yet that far into the book, but it makes sense. So, instead beating myself into submission each day as I imagine it, I actually would just be fighting to make a new habit until I had one. Once I had it, it would be easy to maintain, or at least that’s the idea.
I’m hoping learning about habits and automatic thinking will be able to help me understand what it is that I do sometimes. I think I get worked up into certain ways of thinking or feeling by habit, and I can almost physically feel myself unable to get out of them. Like, for instance, having to go to Starbucks to read or work on the computer. Starbucks is a cue, but it’s not a necessary cue. But when I think of coming home to my battle station and doing the same things my body almost viscerally rejects the notion. I think, now, that it is rejecting it out of habit.
I wonder if I actually sat at my battle station, made myself sit there even if I didn’t do anything every morning after I get my medication, I wonder what would happen. At first, I can guarantee you that I’ll probably fall asleep. One I’m beyond that, I’ll probably just sit there completely aghast at myself for being there. But the idea is that if I do it every day eventually I’ll be able to start forming a new habit that won’t require Starbucks every day.
Starbucks can get kind of expensive if drunk every day, by the way.
So, I spoke about a goal. I’ve been thinking about my past life and I’ve tried to determine when were the times I was the most disciplined, or at least, if not that (because little of my life has really been disciplined by my own hand) what were the times I had the most focus.
The first thing I thought of was of course my invention. Although I’ve made some amazing head way into the invention, I’m stuck at a major crossroads right now, a bridge I can’t seem to pay the toll for. In fact, I realized that I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking really hard about that problem deliberately every time I go to bed. What does that do to my sleep? My brain is firing right up until the end, when really, I should be meditating and relaxing. Could this contribute to my sleep problem?
But I digress. No, the invention is a perfectly good goal to have, but being as how impossible it generally is and how improbable that I’ll come up with the solution after three months of straight thinking every night (yes, three months), I don’t think that’s the singular goal to strive for. No, instead, I need a goal that is achievable and actually has some kind of impact upon the real world. I can dream about riches and exploding whole departments of mathematics, but dreaming about them doesn’t really get me closer to them.
So when else have I worked towards a specific goal? Or even a vague goal with singular purpose? When I was in school I did all my homework and everything faithfully, but at the same time I was kind of forced to do that when it really came down to how I comprehended the situation. Of course, if I went back now I wouldn’t have taken a single bit of it seriously, but I did then.
So that leaves a kind of a good thing, and a kind of a bad thing. That leaves, my old high school club. When I was involved in growing and flexing the club, I had purpose and a sense of belonging. Of course, I was also an unmedicated imbalanced hormonally charged teenager, which was the beginning of the end.
The old high school club was a group that I thought up originally as the [redacted]. When I first proposed it to my brother he suggested a few changes and it became a different name. I still remember that day we committed to this idea. We were walking around the grass outside of school during lunch. That day was one of the most exciting days of my life when I look back on it. I don’t know why, it just was.
There’s a lot to that old club that was an absolute perfect storm. Me and [redacted] had big dreams, we were going to do amazing things. This was before the day of cell phones, youtube, google, Facebook… we had the wild world of the internet at our finger tips. But, like almost everyone’s teenage years, life kind of had different plans.
And that was okay in the end.
Since then I’ve played with the idea of maybe trying to do something similar with today’s technology and being a more stable adult. I’ve recognized and grown a lot since the first time I had a go at this. It took me a long time to think up a name. We had the unfortunate Pableerian Order, but yeah, no. Then there was the kaleidoscope, or calliope organization… yeah no. Finally OPS, Original Pursuits Society, came into my head and stuck there.
You can learn more about the Original Pursuits Society at its website. In short, it’s an organization for the creation and appreciation of quality art. People go there to have a creative outlet, and to enjoy the creations of others, whatever and wherever that may be.
I kind of put out a feeler on Facebook about the whole deal, but, it seems nobody cared. That’s okay, most everything I do is dead in the waters when it hits the internet anyway. So I’ve determined I’m going to have to be more physical and see if I can get people interested in other ways. I have a hard time asking people to commit to anything, so it’s a bit of a tough project.
I’m hoping with something bigger to contribute to, to spin, to make, to include, I can maybe get my life back on track from the total disparity that it’s been experiencing lately. I’ve had to start taking my anti-anxiety daily again because my life just seemed lost. That I couldn’t focus on one particular thing or have one particular goal. I didn’t know when I needed to be working, sleeping, playing, or whatever. I wasn’t eating properly, making meal plans, taking care of myself. This has been hard for Maus and I as I am responsible for making the rest of our lives run while Maus is at work.
But I’m thinking, if I can use this as an umbrella, much like I did sometimes when I was running TCO, there can be a definite goal, a definite purpose, a definite end game or plan. Then I’ll know it’ll be okay to plan meals, do laundry, write, focus, play a video game.
And if it’s okay, then it’ll be okay.