Focus is the thing, and it’s tough.
My New Year’s Resolution? Write 1000 words a day.
Someone asked me what I would write about. Writing that much each day means I should start with some particular topic, right? Maybe that will come in time, but right now the intention is just to get into the habit. It’s certainly a difficult habit. My current ability to focus is terrible. I flip between what I’m writing and other applications and almost without thinking veer off any particular train of thought. That’s another reason why I’m attempting this challenge, to help cultivate my ability to focus.
I spent a lot of time in the shower this morning thinking about what I’d write about. It seems like I’ve always got some thoughts racing through my head: frustrations with the world around me, frustrations with my faith, frustrations with myself. I must sound very frustrated! I’ve always found angst to be the greatest motivator for my writing, so I suppose it is inevitable that angst-driven writing should end up reflecting so much frustration.
Perhaps that’s another good reason to write: to push past this angst-riddled writing to something more substantial and meaningful.
People often clam up when talking about difficult decisions they’re facing. They get uncomfortable and just stop talking. I don’t know precisely where that comes from, but I’ve been noticing it in myself. In some ways, it feels easier just to avoid talking about difficult questions and hope time will bring answers, especially when answers seem so elusive. Sometimes this approach works, but often at the cost of missed opportunities.
I don’t want to end up there. I want to be able to communicate my struggles and my frustrations. I want to be able to try to solve problems by working through them. One thing I’ve noticed while counseling others is that relationships often fail because people don’t want to do the hard work of communication. It’s difficult to take the time to put into words your reasoning for doing something, your thoughts on a particularly complex issue, your hesitations for doing something. Not only does it require you to have a solid grasp of what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it, but you then have to find a meaningful way to frame those thoughts and transfer those to others.
Finding a meaningful way to frame my thoughts has never been difficult for me. Thankfully, the right words have always come quickly to mind and spelling and grammer present very little barrier for me. The real challenge for me has always been figuring out what’s going on in this plastic mind (rimshot). My head seems so filled with cognitive dissonance that I often find it hard to sort through issues (another reason this exercise of writing is so valuable for me).
I’m relatively certain everyone struggles with this. Perhaps struggle isn’t the right word. I’m sure many people have unclear thoughts on a particular topic and it doesn’t bother them too much; but it seems like most people who care about a particular thing spend time trying to craft the most cohesive and beneficial course of action about that thing.
That’s another troublesome area for me: caring too deeply about things that ultimately don’t matter. How often I’ve submersed myself into controversies that have done nothing more than consume my thoughts and my precious time! When you’re an analytical person, you tend think critically about everything, from the way your coffee is prepared to current government policies to the philosophy behind how the goods in your home were manufactured. It can be maddening.
It seems to me the solution for such a disposition is careful attention to discipline and focus. I find that diving into the news or into a social media stream first thing in the morning tends to send my mind sailing down a particular stream of thought. It’s as though I’m handing over control of my mind for a few hours; instead of thinking about the goals and issues I’m responsible for in this day, I’m off solving other problems that don’t really belong to me.
Typically, thinking carefully and critically about things is the mark of a thoughtful person. However, thoughts are currency and should be spent wisely. I’ve often found myself so consumed with a petty debate I’m having with someone that I don’t have the mental energy to talk meaningfully with my wife about plans for our future. I’ve spent up all my energy arguing the merits of this author or that economic system that the things nearest and most practical to me are left unattended.
Focus is the thing, and it’s tough.
The most frustrating arguments are the ones in which the person I’m arguing with keeps changing the topic of the discussion. An objection is raised, we begin moving the conversation toward a resolution of that objection, and just before we reach a meaningful conclusion, the topic is suddenly switched out for another. There’s no end to this rabbit hole of conversational madness.
My brain likes to play the same game. Approach a meaningful resolution and my brain becomes a similar magnetic pole, pushing back and flipping itself to something else completely. I’ve come to recognize this tendency as a primary symptom of self-pity and loathing. It’s a frustrated and self-aggrandizing emotionalism masked as intellectualism that feels like a pursuit of truth which is never really satisfied with truth, only with frustration. The biggest lie I tell myself in this mode of thinking is, “you obviously haven’t thought through this like I have because here’s another related thread that is also problematic.”
I hate it, but I indulge in it from time to time.
Thinking carefully about all aspects of a given topic is admirable. It’s the emotional tendency to remain stuck in the frustration “status quo”—the inability to rise above angst and find answers—that I detest.
I’m hoping that this writing exercise will help me toward an honest and critical pursuit of truth.