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Taking Time Out to Listen

 

I’m sitting in my living room on a Sunday morning, still in my pajamas and ugg-boots, feet resting on the coffee table. My laptop is balanced on my lap, and I’m having a moment of peace.

I sat down in the middle of doing some housework because I’d had a brilliant idea for a blog post which I felt I had to write immediately, before the inspiration faded.

But, as I prepared to write, I started to notice the space around me.

It is a beautiful, warm, spring morning. The light outside is probably too bright for writing, but it is gently filtered by my living room curtains. I can hear the bird song. There are lots of currawongs and cockatoos outside, by the sound of their calls.

Occasionally I hear the drone of an aeroplane overhead, and the rumble of the traffic along the Pacific Highway, not far from my flat.

Upstairs there is the soft hum of a neighbour’s vacuum cleaner, and in the distance, I hear a neighbours dog barking.

It’s not silent, but it’s peaceful.

Usually my life is noisy. I listen to music, or podcasts or audiobooks while I do housework or drive from one place to another. When I’m not working, I’m reading books, blogs, newspapers and my twitter feed. I’m always, always thinking.

My brain is so noisy. I toss around all the things that have either inspired or troubled me, turning them over in my head and working out what I think or want to do about those things. I plan, make lists, solve problems, find new problems, grumble, rejoice, philosophise, wonder and create. It’s hard work all this thinking, and sometimes I think it is noisier inside my head than outside.

So it’s nice to be able to switch off from time to time. I’m glad I started to notice the birdsong this morning.  I’m feeling more peaceful and content than I have in a long time.

Here is a video I found in which you can hear the birdsong from my part of Sydney.

 

Why I Write

I need to write almost as much as I need to breathe. Its my way of making sense of things, of clarifying ideas. Its how I discover what it is I really think, feel or believe about things.

When I don’t write, I start to feel overwhelmed. My head is so busy with thoughts and ideas spinning around, crashing into each other. There is so much noise in there some days.

Writing allows me to take those thoughts out of my head and put them into some sort of order. It allows me to experience peace. It allows me to focus. It allows me to reflect and to learn.

I write every day, in many forms, but probably the most satisfying form of all is blogging, even though I don’ t do it very regularly. I think its because its public. I have to be disciplined. I can’t go round and round in circles, navel gazing and being self indulgent. I have to get to the point.

And when I get to the point I learn. I figure out who I am, what I believe in, what I value and what I need to do. It’s how I grow.

That’s why I write.

Why do you write?

I hate people watching me write.

Here is one of my insecurities: I hate people watching me write.

I write and rewrite. I rearrange the words and syntax. I’ll write hundreds and hundreds of words, then delete the whole lot and start again.

It’s this process that helps me work out what it is I want to say.

I’m fairly certain this is normal.

When people start watching me, looking over my shoulder, taking an interest in what I’m doing, it unsettles me.  I don’t want them to see my half-formed thoughts on the screen or on the page.

Writing demands a response. We see the words and we form judgments. We have no choice in this. We relate to it, or don’t. We agree or disagree, approve or disapprove,  accept or reject, are interested or bored. You get the idea.

When people view my words before they are ready.  Before the words say what I want them to say, I feel …

I was going to say violated but that is too extreme.

I was going to say exposed or naked, but those words won’t do either. They imply that by looking, people will see what is really there – the real me, warts and all.  Unfinished thoughts aren’t a form of nakedness. Nakedness is a form of truth, but unfinished writing – well that’s more likely to be a form of untruth.

When people view my words before they are ready I feel embarrassed because the words aren’t ready to be looked at yet. And I mean REALLY embarrassed. My stomach knots inside of me. I feel like I’m naked with a million cameras and eyes on me (okay, so maybe the naked analogy DOES work). I fold my arms and hug them into myself. I wait tensely until whoever it is goes away.

Then I feel angry.

And then I feel guilty for being angry with people who are “just taking an interest”.

So there you have it: embarrassed, angry, guilty. That’s how I feel when people look at my writing before it is ready.

Are most bloggers introverts?

I’m starting to suspect that many of us who blog are introverts.

As an introvert I need my time to process things and I can spend hours absorbed in my thoughts, turning things over and exploring ideas.

Blogging helps me find clarity, much as keeping a diary did during my teenage years. The difference is, that because it is public, I have to be more disciplined and (hopefully) less self indulgent.

As an introvert, I find small talk difficult, boring and quite frustrating at times. I dislike going to social events where I know that will be the main form of communication. I’ve become better at it overtime, but its not something I am comfortable with.

However, if someone starts to talk to me about ideas, then I’m hooked. If I have the opportunity for someone to tell me what ideas they are exploring, or what makes them tick, I am usually fascinated and will happily stay for hours.

I think that’s why I like blogging and Twitter but loathe Facebook. When I read blogs, I find out what’s important to people, what they are thinking about, what drives them. When I write my blog, I have the chance to communicate the issues or ideas that have been occupying my mind. There’s substance to blogs, and the links that are shared on Twitter.

Facebook on the other hand, feels shallow and annoying. I left it almost a year ago, and haven’t missed it for a moment. I blogged about why I left Facebook here.

Since my introverted tendencies attract me to blogging, I suspect it attracts many other introverts as well. I’ve decided to put my theory to the test using this extremely reliable scientific poll.

Are You an Introvert?

Image from http://pinterest.com/pin/197102921161485136/


When I tell people I’m an introvert they think I’m joking.

I am a fairly confident person. I make speeches in front of hundreds of people and stand in front of a class each day to teach. I run meetings and am not afraid to offer my opinion, even if it might be unpopular. I was briefly the lead singer in a band. I put myself out there in blogs and on Twitter. Above all, I really like people. I love my friends, I love meeting new ones and I love hanging out.

I just don’t love hanging out for too long.

I enjoy company, but after a while I usually want to leave.

In fact, I NEED to leave.

If I remain when I feel this way, I begin to find it hard to concentrate on what other people are saying or to hold up my end of the conversation. I lose focus.

If leaving is not possible or would seem inappropriate, I start to feel trapped.

All I want to by this stage is take time out to be quiet and to collect my thoughts, which is a fairly lame sounding excuse if I was to offer it up as my reason for leaving early. I think it would offend people.

To avoid offence I stay, but it feels like an endurance race and my stress levels rise. I find little ways to escape briefly, like going to the bathroom or checking something on my phone.

I used to worry about this because it didn’t seem normal to feel such a need to be alone. I thought I was weird when I’d turn down invitations to go out with friends on a Friday night because I was l looking forward to my solitude.

But it turns out it’s not so weird at all.

Introverts make up around 25% of the population. We become energised through solitude, where we have time and mental space to think and process. We like being around others, but it drains our energy so we don’t enjoy it for such extended periods. We recharge when we are alone. Studies have shown that our brain is wired that way. We require less external stimuli, perhaps that’s why after a lot of social stimuli, I feel overloaded.

Extroverts on the other hand do not thrive in solitude, they need to interact just as I need to be alone. Their energy fades in their own company and expands when around other people.

There is a continuum of course, and while I do have extrovert qualities, I’m definitely more of an introvert.

I feel a lot better now that I know that. Instead of feeling guilty for wanting to leave early, or turning down an invitation on a Friday night, I realise that it is just how I’m wired. I need my time out to recharge.

If you have an introvert in your life, or think you are one yourself, I recommend these two great articles:

Caring for your introvert (I love this title!)

The top 5 things every extrovert should know about introverts

Tasks I Just Can’t Face – Beating Procrastination

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” ~Olin Miller

I had a moment of self-revelation yesterday when I discovered that I have been using one of my key productivity tools – my to-do list as a form of procrastination.

Some people use lists to procrastinate by spending such a long time making and prioritising them that they have no time to do their actual tasks. I do still do that from time to time.

My method of procrastination has been to lower the priority of the tasks I just don’t want to face to the point where I never get around to doing them.

A number of months ago I scraped the front of my brand new car on the edge of our garage door. It was a horrible scrape – gouging out paint from 3 panels.

I was so ashamed that I did that to my new car (it was only 2 months old at the time) I just didn’t want to face it. Nevertheless, I added “arrange smash repair” to my to do list.

Each morning I would star the items that really needed to be done that day. I’d make sure I would get through all the starred tasks, and then, if I had time and inclination, would attack the other tasks. So long as I got through my starred list, I could go to bed with peace of mind that I was staying on top of everything.

Since “arrange smash repair” didn’t have to be completed by a certain date, it was never starred. I would just keep putting it off. Weeks turned into months.

On Friday, however, I dinged my lovely new car again. This time on the rear. I was backing into a space and caught the edge of a garden bed which had a brick border only 3 bricks high. I just couldn’t see it from my rear window. I now have a scrape on the rear left corner of my car to match my scrape on the front right corner.

I realised I couldn’t put the repairs off any longer even though I didn’t want to face them. That’s when I admitted to myself how I’d been procrastinating over the last few months.

Forcing myself to deal with the damage was difficult. I felt like such an idiot for damaging my car twice and I didn’t want to admit to anyone that that is what I’d done. I also didn’t want to have my car off the road for repairs, and I wasn’t looking forward to paying the excess (with 2 separate incidents, its become very expensive).

I couldn’t face the whole process, so I decided to just face the very first step – ring my insurance company. I’d deal with the rest of the process later.

Breaking it down like that made it easier. I booked the assessment. Now that that is out of the way, I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the process. I can’t wait to have my car restored to the beautiful condition it was in when I bought it last year.

So here is what I’ve learned:

My tip for avoiding procrastination

(Based on Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done)

  • Ask: What is the very next action I have to take on this task?
  • Just do the very next action.

This helps me, because I can ignore the enormity of a task, especially one that is overwhelming, and, as I start to chip away at it, it gains momentum and becomes less daunting.

Sometimes in life, the difficulties we face are only difficult because we make them that way.

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do sort of tasks to you procrastinate, and how do you beat procrastination?