On Motivation: How To Get Yourself To Do Things

Hello, hello, hello! I skipped a week, but fear not, it was for a good cause! It is half term, after all, and after having written here and here about how I struggle to rest, I actually… you know… rested.

Not that the week has been work- and stress-free. But I managed to go out dancing, hang out with friends and watch some stuff, as well as catching up on tasks. So, aside from my suddenly developed habit of going to sleep at 2 am, I would cautiously call this week a win.

One thing that I have achieved that has been brewing for a while is the beautiful token board that you’ll have seen featured in this post. “What is a token board, Rita”, you will ask, “and why are you arts and crafts skills so awesome?”. As for second, natural talent. But about the first.

As some of you know, I work with autistic children. It’s been about a year since I started in this line of work, and challenging though it may be, I also love it. I’ve been learning a lot about attention and motivation, because, quite frankly, to help my students I often have to strive to be the most interesting person around! I have to be fun to hang out with, as well as implement correct methodology while motivating my primary-school-age students to focus and do small bits of work. So it got me to think about the nature of motivation quite a bit.

When I’m motivating a student to do work, I will frequently use tokens – such as stickers, lines on the paper, stars, what-have-you. Anything will do, as long as the pupil and I share an understanding that after a finite amount of tokens – say, five – we can go Do Something Else That Is Not Work. Pupils will complete their work and then choose their own reward, whether it’s playground time, spending time with their favourite toys or playing a computer game. Getting tokens means practicing patience; it helps associate the feeling of achievement and reward with doing work-related things; it allows to track how much work we have done. In fact, when I was in training on the topic, one of the token systems we frequently mentioned was money: a thing that we perform a lot of work for, a reward that most of us are chasing to exchange it for other things. And even though we want the things that money can buy, money itself generates a satisfied feeling… because at some point the token gives you the same feeling as the real thing that it stands for. I digress.

As part of my homework I had to write down an idea of my own token board. Nobody asked me to actually implement it: the goal was to understand the things I was asking my students to do, to engender empathy. But I was intrigued: collecting points and measuring achievements is such a human thing to do – could I leverage this to do tasks that I struggle with? As I have recently done a test that was meant to measure how I form habits, based on my personality type, I knew I was what they call an Obliger: a person mostly reinforced by other people’s company. I tend to do well with outside-the-house employment, accountability, things like that: if I want to exercise, I will sign up to a class rather than try to do it on my own. Every time I try doing things when alone, it takes much more psychic energy and I fail much quicker.

Long story short: I combined the idea of reinforcing good habits, the token board and a bit of pomodorro technique/Unf*ck Your Habitat time management. I perform difficult tasks (often the lonely kind, of “this is so boring, but future Rita will thank me” kind) in chunks of twenty minutes, with roughly ten minute breaks. I reward each twenty minute chunk with a token (or more, if it’s particularly difficult) and every token is worth £1. I am rewarding myself with buying things that I really want to buy – the kind of shopping that I can’t really justify on a budget. I literally earn my own money back from myself at well under a minimum wage and you know what, you can laugh if you like. I don’t care.

It works.

I’ve been trialling this system for a while, but this week I actually created the board and started tracking what I do. I am well over twenty tokens at present. I have done writing (a solitary activity that I love, but struggle to get going), cleaning (something I struggle with, but also a thing that helps my mental health a lot), meditation, exercise (yes, there was a solo trip to the swimming pool for good forty five minutes!). I am trying to be cautious and not do everything at once, but I also can’t deny it. I. AM. SO. EXCITED!!!

This might not always work. I am relatively well, psychologically, and I need to be pretty organised to keep this going. But quite frankly, I’m a bit relieved. I have spent literal years conversing with my brain – trying to convince it to Do Things and being met with a blanket “I DON’T WANNA”. Add to it that often the things you most want to do are the things that terrify and paralyse you the most – also known as the concept of resistance (hugely recommend “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield on the topic) and you have one confused Rita, who really wants to Make Things, but is wondering why she can’t get anything going. Apparently the answers are either “call a friend (and set up some accountability)” or “hack your brain (and set up some sweet, sweet rewards)”. Anyway, I dearly hope this will continue to help me out in keeping my Creative Cave clean and my Creative Brain well exercised.

If you need me, I’ll just be here, associating putting a pin in a cork board with feeling of satisfaction and a fresh Amazon purchase….

Coping Mechanisms And How To Change Them

Hi everyone. Here is me, writing this blogpost while a voice in my head keeps insisting that it makes no sense to do that and it isn’t worth it.

Charming, huh.

I attended a workshop recently and the facilitator said something very interesting. She said “I really respect people, who have addictions and vices, like alcoholics. These things are coping mechanisms. And if you want to take them away, you need to put something in their place”. It stuck with me. I, too, have coping mechanisms – behaviours that get activated when I’m not well. I’m very aware that they are not helpful… and I’m not sure what to put in their place.

My coping mechanisms would be broadly classified as Media Intake.I binge-watch youtube (rarely films, it feels like too much of a commitment). I read fanfiction and random articles on politics, social justice, literary things. Advice blogs. Friends’ blogs. Whatever happens to interest me that day. I almost always have 50 windows open in my phone browser.

then

It started as reading, when I was a kid – I literally never put a book down. I was a weekly visitor to the library and got an adult library card as a teen. The librarians knew me, and they’d realised that I ran out of things to read. I would bring stacks of books home and attack them with relish. My brother complained (we shared a room) that I would wake him up on Saturday morning with rustling of the pages.

It’s hard to say at which point “I love reading” became “I read to not deal with life”. My dad certainly noticed it and tried to read what I read, just to monitor the content a little. I was bullied at school and had little in a way of social life, and music school that I attended had a pretty busy schedule. So instead of sneaking around with friends, I would put a book on the piano and try to read and play at the same time, so that my parents would hear me practice. I’d shove a book under the piano when checked on. At that point it was maybe a compulsive behaviour. But even so, to a certain point I did pretty well in school – my reading habit helped with general literacy and understanding and gave me lots of extra information, so it wasn’t all bad.

A lot of the time I read things that would have been broadly classified as “trash”. Okay, that’s snobbish. I am a Lit graduate, after all, but things that I read As Coping Mechanisms were fantasy, sci-fi (anyone read Star Wars before watching it, or just me? and all the published fanfiction?), romance and mystery books. Oh, and adventure books – travel, cowboy-and-noble-Native-Americans genre, three musketeers and anything else that Dumas ever wrote. Books “for girls” and books “for boys”, if it had a plot, I was on it.

Then Internet happened.

Around my A-levels and in the beginning of university I was having a bad time. It was then that my fanfiction addiction has truly blossomed. I discovered fanfic in middle school, age 14, but it was in high school that I switched to reading it in English. As a result, I graduated from the limited puddle of Polish-language Harry Potter fanfic to the limitless ocean of English-language, any-fandom-you-want fanfic that the Internet offered. I was able to mainline fanfic for sixteen hours a day if there was nothing else to do. My family were worried, but there was little they could do at the time. I still went to school, but I spent every other minute inside the computer screen. In the end,  I managed to graduate high school and pass A-levels despite not having studied; to no one’s surprise my highest scores were languages and writing, Polish and English. (I actually scored higher in English than in Polish, although that’s a different story altogether).

My parents finally divorced when I was 20 and at university (and if you think this is a non-sequitur, let’s just say that there were Reasons why I’d not been able to deal with life well), and I went and got myself 3 years of therapy, so I managed to graduate my MA levels and get back to halfway functional. But my media intake coping mechanism remained.

now

Fast forward to today. This weekend. I recently attended a workshop that gave me a lot of Feelings. I have work tonight and tomorrow and a lot of things to do and to plan. And I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing – not clean my room, or the kitchen (my turn); not cook the week’s lunches, not take my vitamins, go to the swimming pool, do a bit of yoga. Not learn the quiz, which I will lead in 5 hours time. No nothing. I’ve eaten random foods and watched everything by Try Guys, and read a bunch of fanfic.

I realise that there are things that would help me right now. Meditation would help. So would exercise. Even cleaning would give me back a feeling of control and impact over my life. But frankly, I keep having a feeling of despair instead, of failure. I failed. I didn’t do All The Things that need to be done. I have a deadline (a.k.a. quiz and work tomorrow), so however imperfectly, I will be forced to deal with stuff. In general, deadlines help. Social commitments help, unless I am deep enough in the funk that I start avoiding people, which can also be part of the pattern. I don’t want to deal with life, so doing things that I “should” do is a no-go, but doing anything else is also a no-go, because I “should” be doing The Things That I Need To Do.

Even writing this blog is difficult, because I promised myself that I would blog weekly, so this is a “should” activity. But writing this down helps a little. So here is the thing: I am locked up in a room inside of my head, and the way it works is that being stuck seems to be the best option (don’t want to do a “should” activity! should not do a “not-should” activity! best stay and watch another video!). I know about things that help – literally anything that breaks the stalemate in my brain – a conversation, a shower sometimes (other times I’ll go straight back to watching after the shower).

I haven’t had an episode this bad in a while.

The kicker is, this, right here, is the reason why I can’t be a freelancer. This is why I’m not a full-time actor or writer. Because my brain gets me stuck in places. Much as I don’t always like having a Muggle day-job, if things get really bad, it gets me unstuck and also pays regular money.

The thing is that reading and watching videos are things I do to chill. To rest and enjoy myself. So it’s hard to distinguish between having a bit of a rest and sinking into a funk. Not until I’m already deep under. And there is no resolution to this blogpost. I hope that I can run a semi-decent quiz tonight. I hope that I don’t hate myself for wasting all this time. I hope I can clean the kitchen at some point.

I hope I can break free. But that’s a tall order right now. Maybe I could start with a shower.

 

Why Do I Write

The question arises in me. I’ve written since I knew how to write. The hunger was always there. To put the world into words, to lock it in, to understand. To create. To capture rhythms and beat, the steady steps of an absent-minded wanderer, the erratic fly, everything in between that resists definition. I want to create my own kind of beauty – and truth. I want to confront. I want to explain. I want to share.

There was a moment when I did less writing. There was a moment when I had no time. I felt the need burning in me. Still do. Some kinds of writing are more demanding than others. I tend to not begin what I cannot give my focus. The full sacrifice. Somehow I’m always biting down a scream.

Why do I write. Why do I not write. Why do I love it, why does it make me bleed. Sometimes I want to bleed words onto pages, if only it were real. Something real. I got to this point. When life I’m building is beginning to be alive, but it isn’t at all how I imagined, isn’t what was promised. I can’t achieve my goals, half the time I don’t know or understand them. The world is burning but slowly, the embers blink, I don’t know if hope is folly or the only thing that can be. I don’t know at all. I know the words, and before I fall, I’ll throw my breathlessness onto a page. Alongside laughter, desperation, rage. Rhyme, always – rhythm. Arrythmia of feels.

If I still prayed, I’d want something real.

Midnight Rant On Internet Habits

It’s quarter to midnight as I write this. I already wrote a nice, quick, inoffensive blogpost, a literary landscape with cake – a throwaway moment in time that helped me deal with my huge appetite for today, in context of my tiredness and need for rest. I keep thinking though. That’s the thing with me; I can’t stop thinking.

Today wouldn’t quite have gone the way it did if I had no Internet. That’s just a fact. Yes, I was overwhelmed because I wanted to do a lot of things, but I would have likely done more of them if distraction wasn’t so readily available. We often talk about access, accessibility – and Internet breaks a lot of barriers for everybody. We no longer have to contend with gatekeepers of knowledge, a lot of it is free for the taking. That IS wonderful, but we have new problems now. The overabundance of information – truthful and false – is one of them. But what really concerns me is the ready availability of online content that is emotive and stirring. When I read articles that activate both thought and emotion, when I read Facebook updates, I feel connected to… something, shaken, moved sometimes. But I have very little control over what I’m going to encounter and weirdly, it’s the easiest thing to access of all the available Things.

I’m not explaining this right. I am a fan of Internet, if one can say such a thing; I certainly don’t expect to stop using it permanently, we’re on my blog over here. But often I have to get offline to realise that I’m relatively isolated; that I haven’t reached out to friends; that I have too many encounters of the purely online kind. Add to this the fact that easily digestible emotional experiences are a click away, and I begin to feel like a rat in an experiment cage, pressing the button for cocaine. Sure, we don’t stop living – we cook and clean and go to work and perform all the productive functions – but I feel that my quality of life suffers without disconnecting from it at least a little bit.

I used to live in a house that had no WiFi – I had no data on my old school phone at the time – and remember experiencing it as a welcome relief. Like, I had to go to a cafe or library to go online, and that would switch me in the work mode. I remember being so relaxed. And sure, when I go vaguely offline nowadays, I let myself look things up – my offline discipline does NOT extend to recipes – but at least I’m grounded in the present, making stuff with my hands. Don’t get me wrong: I love being connected to the web, finding friends and common interests, but I also feel… dried out and stretched and imbalanced when I’m in there for a long time. Perhaps that is why I consciously sought out employment that doesn’t require a lot of online activity?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I experience a pull to use my online experience more consciously. That’s how this blog started: as a private call to action, to create a writing habit and put my words into the world, instead of steadily inhaling someone else’s. Perhaps using Internet sparingly is the answer here, the answer in which I will fail a hundred times, because a month’s long experiment is like a diet, and what I’m after is a lifestyle change: a permanent solution, not a yo-yo effect. And for this, a cutesy cake post, much as it is relatable and descriptive, doesn’t quite cut it. I’m asking myself this: why do you write? Who do you write for? I’ve yet to find the answers.

 

Tired Friday With Cake Potential

It’s Friday….! Which means that I made muffins for breakfast (black banana from the fridge finally utilised), had a coffee (I ration the stuff) and got through my swimming class (instructor was very concerned because I was tired – kept asking what was going on. Aside from a busy week at work, and aren’t they all, the answer is simply PMS; should have said so).

Swimming and blogging are the weekly staples of my Friday diet, but I always try to do something more. In fact, I had so many ideas today, that I wound up on Facebook, because it all sounded like so much work! Sample idea:

  • making a cake! lemon loaf again? or that difficult apple pie that I fancied?
  • finish my registration for European elections – that one’s in the calendar!
  • watch RuPaul’s Drag Race – but not before other work!
  • do two-three loads of laundry (okay, one of those even happened)
  • footbath and scrub! ooh, and a facemask (I never do any of these)
  • look up the next slow cooker sensation and plan shopping, so that lunches for next week are done (steady on, got a couple of days yet…!)
  • ….more…

The problem is that Friday is duvet day for me. As in, the one and only rest day I allow myself in the week. I always make plans for Saturday, I work Sunday nights as well as Monday-Thursday – there is literally no part of the week when I’m not DOING SOMETHING. So maybe – just maybe – making a cake that I fancy eating and watching Drag Race is not the end of the world. I mean. Maybe. I can’t quite make myself believe it.

In fact, the one thing that is steadily suffering in my new world order is socialisation. Oh no, make that two things: socialisation and gigs. I all but stopped doing comedy, and while I get lots of human contact from my dayjob (yay kids!) and evening job (yay quizzers!), seeing my friends seems impossible. I did do pilates, yoga AND swimming this week, so maybe I can give myself a break…?

In any case, by writing this down I want to give myself permission to both Want All The Things and Not Achieve All The Things. I’m tired. I’m sitting on the sofa. I really fancy making a cake. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that.

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