Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Justification for Occasional Laziness (and Better Methods for It)

Recently I read an interesting article the importance of downtime, citing great men like Warren Buffett, postulating that their downtime could be a major element in how they've become so great. You know, for the usual reasons, such as the brain building itself up from sleep and whatnot.

That resonated with me because it pointed out a flawed effort I used to make during intense study, in that I refused to offer myself sufficient recreation after I exerted myself. I would be so adamant on chasing my goals, being disciplined, and always wringing myself for progress that I would burn out and linger in many areas, sometimes writing articles full of foolish errors I could have avoided, or having my vision go blurry every time I attempted to concentrate.

I still think that such intense effort -- to the point of getting those side-effects -- is admirable, for it means you hit your absolute limit, wherein, after your repair, your abilities will vastly expanded. The greatest leaps in my abilities have occurred through such intensity. It might be unpleasant to work yourself to the point of such utter exhaustion, but give yourself the thumbs up if you do!

However, this article wisens me up to know that when you reach such a point you should really grant yourself a great expanse of recreation, otherwise you won't have sufficient time to repair yourself, such as through sleep and playtime, in order to experience those new levels of performance. This is why, for example, you should have rest days in between intense muscle-building workouts: The fatigued muscles simply need days to repair themselves, otherwise performance goes down and progress is halted.

The same applies to the brain, for all mental activities.

But this wisdom alone isn't enough. Even, way back then, when I had recognized that I deserved to rest and treat myself, I was often clueless as to what would fuel me, so I'd end up dissatisfied in aimlessly trying out things to no satisfaction. I just really didn't know what to do.

As a solution, it's a really good idea to note to yourself what works in this kind of situation, and to store it in a kind of imaginary valise so that you can summon from memory the range of options you have. In fact, store them like a bulleted list, so that you can engage in trial-and-error when you're petered out and see what works.

To start filling that valise, let me offer what has worked for me plus some additional tips:

1.) For whatever endeavor has exhausted you, try engaging a different sense.

If you've exhausted yourself from reading books, for instance, try listening to audio podcasts, to go from stimulating your mind directly to involving your audio senses. Or try watching a program. Or switch to a pictorial book, such as in photography or comics anthologies.

Oftentimes when we're exhausted, we've really only exhausted a particular range of faculties, and we may find ourselves fully fresh and charged once we tap into another portion of ourselves.

2.) Enrich your senses. 

The thing that drove me absolutely daffy in my most intense autodidact periods is that I spent the majority of my time in my room near my PC. I was productive and made progress and many areas, but it drove me nuts to keep seeing those same walls, pieces of furniture, and all that!

I have a hypothesis that "Stir Craziness"/"Cabin Fever" is our brain sending us a signal that we need to stimulate the sensory maps portion of our brain, for being surrounded by mundane stimulus deprives your brain of the needed stimulus to sustain those sensory maps. Thus, we experience that brain signal in the form of an emotion, of our getting disgusted by our surroundings.

Most notably for me, whenever I experienced my own discomfort, I always looked longingly out the window, and sometimes felt like my eyes were literally getting massaged when I took a walk on a sunny day. Whatever my aim, I stayed cooped up too often.

If you feel like this, stimulate your senses by engaging in aromatherapy, going to a museum, taking a walk in a nature park or mall, and so on. The principle, mainly, is to expose yourself to sensory stimulus you don't experience often, or else just stick yourself in a new environment, like a mall, to give yourself a whole new sensory experience.

3.) Consider whether you want to engage in an "input" or "output" activity. 

By "input" I mean a kind of activity that entails you taking in information, such as reading, listening to a lecture, or observing a play. By "output" I mean a kind of creative activity, such as writing, singing, or talking.

Deciphering what kind of mood you're in can help you greatly in figuring out what may replenish you the most. For instance, before I identified this dichotomy I often made failed attempts at switching from input activities, such as from reading to listening to an audiocast, which made me falter since my brain was already so filled up already. I found it was more effective to write when feeling like that.

At least for me, my brain is like a sponge. Sometimes it feels hollow and clear, and I need an input activity to fill it up, for my mood so strongly desires to be stimulated by others' creations while my own voice is petered out. After getting filled up, I then feel like I need to wring the sponge by writing or talking.

As you go on, you'll get better at figuring out your moods.

4.) Do something passive. 

In some cases, you may be so petered out that neither input nor output activities apply. In that case, just let the brain off the leash and do what you will.

For example, such a state is the perfect time for me to wander off into a nature park for hours and hours, just purely daydreaming. Letting my brain do whatever it wants. I may sing the praises to concentration often, but daydreaming is a needed counterbalance when you've applied yourself thoroughly, otherwise the fuel tank goes empty and stays empty.

One could also zone out to movies, television, the radio, and so on.

This may sound deplorably slothful, but remember we're speaking from the standpoint of having worked oneself so thoroughly that great exhaustion has taken place. Such slothfulness in a time like this is well-earned and beneficial.

5.) Don't worry about spending money on something

Another regret I have about my most intense autodidact period is that I pinched my pennies too hard. I may have been saving up to move to Texas, but such extreme frugality made me miss out on some deserved pleasures. It would have been nice, say, to go to the zoo or something.

So if you got a bit of spare change and have worked well, persuade yourself to ease up on your frugal
nature so you can enjoy an outing, such as paying for admission at an arboretum or museum, going to the spa, or whatever. Those options are reasonably affordable, and can be restorative.

6.) If you have productive habits, take all the time in the world.

My last regret about my most intense autodidact period is that oftentimes I wouldn't permit myself enough recreation time, instead giving myself disciplined limits when unwise.

Again, I emphasize we speak here of a state of intense exhaustion, rather than the typical break in a day. On a daily basis it may be wise to, say, limit one's playtime to 40 minutes or so, but when the stores are really depleted much more time is needed. On the days that I felt so depleted, I should've just thrown productivity out to the wind and instead daydreamed and play video games all day long, literally.

If you make a habit out of productive endeavors, and I do mean habit in the strongest sense, then this realm is usually one where your emotions will signal when you've had enough. I noticed before that when I was very habitually productive I would usually get antsy to get back to work once I recreated enough to restore my energy. In other words, I would literally get tired of playtime and become restless to get productive again.

Thus, in such a case, you can probably trust your emotions here. In your taking the rare day off, feel free to be a worthless sloth watching movies for eight hours in a row, for if it keeps feeling good, then you're most likely still replenishing yourself; you'll become restless for work once you're revived.

- - - - - - - - - -

These are the contents of my imaginary valise to date, though it will be surely added to in time, and I definitely welcome input.

As a last emphasis, this is an important issue to consider because if you don't allow yourself sufficient recreation or else don't know how to wisely go about it you could potentially sacrifice a lot of progress, well-being, or else discard habits out of frustration.

The classic example are those people who deprive themselves of sleep in order to rack up more working hours. Even if more hours clocked in does sound more productive, it can entails a drastic decrease of quality and efficiency, and, if severe enough, negate the worth of the effort altogether.

For instance, in struggling to satisfying a self-imposed writing deadline in a state of exhaustion, I would often stare at the computer screen with my eyes quivering left and right, my mind blank against my will. Any words that came out came out in a horrendously slow pace, and never of good quality.

So get the full night's sleep: A person isn't truly advancing his life by negating his efficacy this way.

Thus, when you've tested yourself in life and have tired yourself through your efforts, grant yourself the much needed and deserved downtime, especially if you want to reach new levels of performance and living.

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