Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Threatened New Year's Resolutions?

I talk about my new year's resolutions a lot I know, but I'm one of those guys who sets his resolutions and keeps on them all year long; I definitely don't give up on them within a week or so, as is popular trend. I do weekly reviews which on a weekly basis causes me to open up my typed documentation of those goals, so very regularly am I reminded of them as well, making them never forgotten. Anyhow, there's two goals that I've been really struggling with: Trying to reach cognitive exhaustion at least five times a week, and doing cognitive exercises everyday.

On that former, I wanted to reach that kind of state regularly because I find it to be the perceptual marker for my greatest mental improvements. In any intellectual area where I've pushed myself to the point where I actually feel physically tired and can either exercise that particular skill no more or need sleep, I'll consistently find the next day or two that my intellectual abilities have demonstratively improved. For example, when I first started doing self-driven studies a few years ago, my ability to concentrate was crap. I could hardly maintain it for ten minutes since I was so prone to daydreaming. Being serious about the endeavor I forced myself to struggle with this difficulty and exert myself as much as I could at concentration, and within a half-hour I felt physically tired and frustrated. After taking a sleep I found myself very oddly improved within a day: In contrast to the day prior, concentration came much easier and was even almost effortlessly extended for how long I could sustain it. Additionally, my exertion and struggle had caused me to stay up past my bedtime, but the exhaustion seems to have improved my sleep to the point I slept very intensely, woke up extra early, and felt utterly fantastic upon waking, one of those "I could climb a mountain" feelings. The same has happened with other skills, such as whistling, where I would practice and fail to progress to no avail in one period, but then find newfound improvements the very next day, after a night's sleep. As such, I thought it rather desirable to try and achieve this state more often as a way to rapid improvement, but disappointingly it's been rather seldom.

That's the difficulty: That I seldom achieve it. It takes intensive effort to be able to obtain it, and it's stressful. Honestly, I think I've obtained it fewer than five times in my life, considering only those cases in which I intentionally tried to reach  that point. Reaching it five times a week seems unfeasible at this point, though admit I haven't really given hardcore effort yet.

Hmm. What to do? Although I intended for most all my resolutions to take effect immediately, I've been thinking maybe it's more logical to gradually ease into them, and just slowly build up the habits throughout the year that will allow for these abstract goals to be reached. In this case, perhaps I should just worry more about living a strenuous existence where I'm trying to push myself more often and as regularly as possible instead of trying to reach a bizarre abstract as reaching cognitive exhaustion an arbitrary five times a week. If I maximize and make consistent how hard I push everyday, particularly in the cognitive realm (and especially in studying), I shouldn't have to worry about this goal as it should naturally be met through these means. Besides, it may be very impractical a new year's resolution given other complications. On full days of work, for example, the amount of physical labor I do can eat up most of the time I would have for any other cognitive work there out, disabling me from being able to reach that five times a week mark. Another consideration is recovery, as with the concentration improvement in particular I've noticed I sometimes need more than one night's sleep to be able to recover, and during that recovery the skill in question is crap.  I remember one day when trying to study my vision went blurry any time I tried intensive concentration, since my previous days' exertion tired me out a lot, making me take at least one day off.

For now, I think I'll partially shelve this goal. By partially I mean I won't concentrate on pursuing it to the letter, but at the same time I'll still pursue it through other, somewhat indirect means, such as by focusing more on living full days rather than reaching an abstract point. By this way I should be able to reach this goal in whatever way I can, whether it means reaching cognitive exhaustion only three times a week (and spending the rest of the time in recovery), or going beyond five if possible.

Now, as for my cognitive exercises, they aren't threatened in the abstract as I've worded this goal, but the concrete efforts I've been making to complete them do appear deeply flawed. While I certainly can change my practices, by adding, subtracting, altering, or changing them, the ones I've picked out as of current are troublesome given their context and relevance to my life. As a reminder, my current chosen exercises are to do math equation exercises everyday with an online math generator, and to do conceptual exercises, which, for purpose of concision, I'll just say are more philosophically sophisticated vocabulary exercises.

The math is troublesome given its relevance to my life. Except for shopping, doing mental math just doesn't factor in that much, so dedicating my ten minutes of day is very irksome. In fact, I've become bored and hesitant to the extent that I've been skipping my exercises on a regular basis. The original reason why I've wanted to do them is to enable me to have more prowess in doing mental calculations for work, as culinary math is definite relevant to my chosen career, so it would be to my benefit to have the ability to forgo a calculator entirely if possible. Why fumble with a device that ultimately induces dependence when you can just strengthen yourself to the point of thinking faster than your fingers can punch in the figures? The problem is that I'm not currently in a position where I utilize culinary math, so it feels like I'm building up these skills for nothing at this point, which has been taking a bite out of my motivation to keep them up consistently, hence why I tend to skip them.

Perhaps I just need to refresh my reasons for doing them, as they can still be relevant in other ways. I'm very financially tight, for instance, so aside from any other budgeting I already do, it can be to my benefit to establish mental skills to enable me to perform the calculations in my head in stores, as my current calculator is awkwardly shaped and cumbersome to carry around, while my cellphone has annoying buttons to press and is slow given that I have to navigate to each operation rather than being able to press a button, like the plus sign on a real calculator. When you break things down into cost per unit, such as the cost per ounce on a bar of chocolate, one comes to some rather odd identifications. For instance, at times I've sometimes discovered that it's not always cheaper to buy the larger size, that sometimes the smaller sign actually is the more affordable one. Additionally, I've even found that sometimes a name brand can actually be cheaper than the store brand. In saving money, you can't blindly trust trends such as always buying store brand or the larger size; calculating the per-unit cost can prove otherwise. If I keep in mind that I'm trying to save money by making these mental calculations, perhaps I can once again foster a motivation to keep mathematically sharp.

With all my dependence on a calculator, however, I think maybe I'd be best to regain a fuller understanding as to how the basic mathematics operations work, as I can hardly do division for crap, particular if decimals are involved. Looks like it may do good to do an intensive study of basic arithmetic. Until then, I'll keep thinking.

Now, on my "vocabulary" exercises, the essential problem is actually having words to perform the exercises on. It's a pain to collect them. Most importantly, I want to focus on meaningful terms that have relevance to my life in either something I'm trying to learn, such as an educational text, or in terms I'll actually use in my speaking or writing, so it's no good to just check words at random as Dictionary.com might be able to spew them out at me. As such, often when I open up that website I simply have nothing to do and am at a loss as to what terms I'd be interested in identifying more clearly. As such, I mostly abstain from doing them since, well, what to do?

I think this problem could be solved by some good hard studying. Since being driven away from my studies a few years ago by external problems I've haven't gotten back into it yet, and I think reestablishing a routine would help me since the directed effort to learn, including note-taking, would make it easier to regularly do conceptual exercises since I would have to exert more effort to understand concepts to be able to integrate knowledge on a particular subject, such as in learning the various alcohol types for my bartending at work. In everyday life, otherwise, it's very annoying to document concepts for this exercise since it interrupts the flow of my day, such as pausing in reading a novel for pleasure to take note of a particular word. (All in all, collecting terms for these exercises has always been the primary annoyance.)

How to reconduct my studies, however, is the next big question. Unless I figure otherwise, it may be best to actually delay a new routine, as this article by Burgess Laughlin has got me to thinking as to how I should realign my life to get in touch with my most important goals. While my purpose in life isn't identified in precise terms, I do know that the two most important things in my life right now is to get a second job in fine dining, and to establish practices to make myself the best bartender I can be. The former is the most important for two reasons, 1.) that I need a second income to comfortably sustain myself with my incoming apartment, and 2.) I need to advance forward with my culinary goals after being in the restaurant industry for about two years now. I so want to dedicate myself almost purely to my self-improvement goals for work and general knowledge, but the issue of fine dining employment, I think, deserves the most immediate attention and action. It would be tough, but, if possible, I'd like to be able to obtain the goal within the month. (Bad job climate I know, but I do have prior restaurant experience and am simply moving around in the industry, so I don't think it would be that hard in my position, particular with some good effort.) I think I'll tackle this issue firstmost, worry about the bartending secondarily, and flesh out my thinking for self-initiated studying without yet making any serious time dedications for the actual effort.

In summary, I've been having trouble with some of my new year's resolutions, but I think some things just need to be changed around a bit and rethought so that I can get back on track. Instead of focusing on achieving cognitive exhaustion I'll just worry more about living days full of my hardest striving, and to whatever degree that goal can be met should be achieved naturally. As for my cognitive exercises, I need to rethink my purposes for doing the math exercises and do a refresher study on the basic math operations so I actually understand how to do the basic equations, and contemplate how to reincorporate studying into my life so that I can actually combine my conceptual exercises into that effort, rather than have the exercises be something distinct.

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