Friday, January 2, 2015

Laziness and Lethargy

I am not one to write out a set of resolutions at the beginning of each new year. However, I do take time each year as the old year wanes and the new year begins to reflect on the past year and to think about what I might like to achieve in the upcoming year. When I reflect on the year that has just ended, I never fail to be astonished at the complexity and richness of my life, the lessons I've learned, and the wonderful experiences that form the highlights of that period of time. I am fortunate to have a good life.

As I think ahead to goals in the upcoming year, I think about overarching themes (e.g., make more time to pursue my art), along with some specific strategies (e.g., sign up for a painting class; buy a lightweight collapsible easel for plein air excursions; leave work an hour earlier most days). I don't look at it as a self-improvement project, but rather as a way to live mindfully, identify what kind of life I want to live, and put in place the structures and actions that will enable me to have that life. 

An odd thing that I have noticed is that it is often hard for me to get started doing things that I want to do. I understand my feelings of reluctance to get started doing things that I don't want to do, like doing a radio interview, or dealing with a difficult personnel situation at work, or preparing to present bad news in a staff meeting, or cleaning the bathroom. But what perplexes me is my reluctance to initiate something that I love to do, once I am actually doing it. I can think of many examples: going skiing, working in the garden, working on a painting, going out for a walk, working on my writing. 

Let's take the example of going skiing. The first skiing excursion of the year, I actually dread going to the hill. I think of excuses not to go, and when we head out that first time, I dawdle while getting ready so that we are always late in arriving at the hill. My boots hurt, the wind is cold, I probably have totally forgotten how to ski.....and then we start skiing down the first run, and it is fabulous! I love it. I want to ski and ski, and it is only my shaky out of shape muscles or the last run call that finally causes me to call a halt to skiing for the day. 

Looking at the example of gardening, all week long at work I will look forward to the weekend, and the chance to get out in the garden. I'll think about working the soil, and how I am going to lay out the plants, and what new approach I might take -- for example, this last year, I tried out potato bags. And then Saturday rolls around, and instead of leaping up and getting out to the garden, I sleep in, sit around drinking coffee and reading newspapers online, get distracted by indoor tasks like laundry, and suddenly it is 2:30 or 3:00 pm., and I am going out into the garden. 

Rob says that I work too hard at work so that on weekends I need some down time to rest and relax. But for me, gardening is restful and rejuvenating. I think that I am just being lazy. 

Many writers have written extensively about motivation to write, and in particular about writers' avoidance of writing. Some writers suffer writer's block. They just cannot think of what to write or get the words to flow. (Luckily for me, that has never been my problem. I always have lots of ideas, and as soon as I start writing, the words pour out onto the page.) Other writers avoid writing because of performance anxiety. They have a hurtful interior critic who tells them that they are no good, not real writers, and the act of writing becomes derailed by self doubt. Again, for me that is not the problem. Although I do sometimes doubt myself, that is not the reason I do not write. My problem is with initiation. I just don't start. 

I have the same problem with painting. I will think about a painting that is in progress. I will go down to my studio in the basement and spend twenty minutes looking at the painting and thinking about what needs to be done. I will spend hours reading art magazines or painting blogs. I will plan to do a plein air painting on the weekend. But actually taking out my paints and working on a piece doesn't happen very often. If I was not part of a weekly painting group, I fear that I would not be painting at all. And yet I love painting once I am doing it. Why can I not get started?

Laziness. Lethargy. It is easier to be passive. It is easier to read a novel than to write my own novel, to read about painters and art than to actually paint, and to daydream about the garden than to actually turn over the soil out under the hot sun. I know that I will feel far greater enjoyment and accomplishment engaging in these activities than sitting and scanning Facebook for hours on end. So I have learned all kinds of techniques to help myself get started. Once I start, I know that I will continue doing the particular activity and at the end of the day feel happy and satisfied that did. 

I know that I am not the only person who experiences this kind of motivational stumbling block. Just think of all the hours every day that many people waste watching TV, or surfing the net unproductively, or texting or using other social media. Each of these pastimes has its place in moderation. But I am curious as to why I and so many others sink into passive lethargy during most of our leisure hours, letting the good engaging activities of life pass us by.