Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Triptych Series 4: Plans for the Day

Many of my ideas in this post grew out of a wonderful conversation I had last Thursday during a mid-distance run. In August, I joined the Marathon training program at Fleet Feet here in Huntsville, and over the last two months running with them I've learned that a lot of the things I thought I understood about myself as a runner weren't actually true. I do, in fact, enjoy running with other people, and it's much more likely that I'll over-train and injure myself than it is for me to slack off and not work enough.

Last Thursday, I talked with another runner about unrealistic expectations and how they can wreck our perspective on ourselves, our success, and our failures. A three-pronged perspective on time, particularly on the time of a single day, can illustrate this destructive potential of our own expectations. I'm not a big fan of making written schedules or keeping a calender of the things I need to get done. If I did keep such an agenda, a single day might look like this.
  • I'll work on ads for 3 hours.
  • I'll write the rest of the article that's due tomorrow.
  • I'll revise the article I just got back with editor and reviewer comments.    
Instead of planning things out clearly like this, I usually wake up in the morning with vague and scattered pieces here and there of a still vaguer idea of everything I think I should accomplish in the coming 24 hours. I need to finish this article. Breakfast. Coffee. Oh yeah and I want to work towards my weekly quota of hours for my other job. Ice shins. Coffee. When am I going to squeeze my run in? Facebook. Read email. Shit there a lot of corrections to make on that last piece. More coffee. Heart rate and breathing rise in response to the not entirely articulated hunch that there is a lot to do and maybe not enough time to finish it today. A productive morning of writing. Frustration around 1:45 when I realize that I'll probably need to stop and eat if I want to continue doing productive work (In my more intense days of furiously studying the urgent questions of modern and Renaissance French literature, I would habitually skip breakfast and later look up in the library and realize the sun was setting and I hadn't stopped for lunch either). 

Like many of our faulty mental faculties, our ability to plan for the day tends to go haywire and get wildly mis-calibrated. We say to ourselves offhandedly "I want to do this, this, that, this, and the other today." But we don't spend very much time evaluating how much time all those things actually take. We demand of ourselves that they get done before we sleep, and if for some reason they don't--like for instance we were grossly overestimating how fast we can work--we go to bed feeling like we whiffed on the day.

I've developed a way of defending myself against the disappointment that creeps on me when I realize that today I won't get any further than step one. My protective mantra: I cannot do everything. Some days will not be a triptych of success. Sometimes, we guess wrong and revisions take all morning and part of the early afternoon too. And really unless I'm performing hands only CPR or an emergency tracheotomy, there's not much reason to ever get in such a goddamn hurry to finish anyway.