Traffic in my mind

My mind was going at 100 km an hour. I had too many things to do, and clock ticked pass 5 pm. I didn’t notice how fast my mind was rushing, though. It seemed logical that the only way to do so many things was to think faster. And yet when I did, it tended to leave me with the feeling of anxiety rather than satisfaction. I knew deep down that not everything was done properly, even if I managed to (rarely!), that I would have accidentally made mistakes that would haunt me later.

Knowing this though, what do I need to do to stop the amount of work that needs to be done, the constant calls, the constant emails, and the constant meetings? This traffic never seems to stop. Ever.

Have you had days like mine? Sometimes I thought that when there are too much traffic, there will naturally be a traffic jam, where everything will finally come to a stop. But sadly I found out these jams are not a much needed timeout but rather a horrible period when I get very low on my confidence, I get sick, or worse, I get depressed and become hopeless the situation.

In the last couple of years, I found out  that  there is something I can do with this traffic before it becomes a jam. So hopefully if you have been in the same situation too many times, it may help you as well.

To begin, attach a thought to each tasks in your mind, and then visualise each thought as a car in the traffic in your mind.

trafficjam-pano_17396

The first time you do this, it may look like the above :O

The road in the mind is filled with various cars, and you are sitting on the side of the road. Some sports cars, pretty polished lot, always give joy to watch. Two ambulances, that are going to hit the intersections at the same time. Oh! you just hope there will be no accident, otherwise there will be a traffic jam. Several garbage trucks. They are smelly and slow, and you wish you won’t sight them anymore. Looking at the vehicles gives you different feelings – feelings of joy (sports cars), of immediacy (ambulance), and of disgust (garbage trucks). You can stand up and step into the traffic jam, push the garbage trucks out of the road to make ways for the ambulance, but it’s not necessary.  If you stand on the side of the road, and wait, the traffic will pass by, and you will soon see the traffic is reducing. By itself.

emptytraffice

The act of standing on the side of the road, and noticing the cars that go by, is meditation. When you close your eyes, and picture each of your thoughts, labeling them and being aware of their existence in your mind, passing harmlessly from one intersection to another, you allow thoughts to pass through you, without the need to respond to them. Without meditation, it is akin to standing in the middle of the road, getting hit by the fastest ambulance – speeding on 100 km an hour.

Meditation, is a very simple activity. It involves closing your eyes, breathing rhythmically, and being in touch with your body stimuli. Around mid 2013, I watched a ted talk by Andy puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes which persuaded me to try following a simply 10 minutes daily meditation for 10 days. The guided meditation make it very easy to follow, and it focuses on me being relaxed, without having to bend to weird uncomfortable posture, without having to breathe from stomach, without having to empty the mind. Simply to take regular breathing, and to notice any thought that arises within the 10 minutes. I look forward to these sessions every day and I don’t think I can function properly without them.

They say you only need 100 minutes of meditation to see some effect of calmness and clarity, and I can attest that it is true. After some practice, I can recognise feelings, especially negative feelings like anger and anxiety as they arise, and I can choose to do something about it. I am a calmer person in general, although I can’t calm myself down on-demand like what some people can do, yet. What I can do now is to realise that I’m entering hot water, and I can spend the next 10 minutes to meditate rather than making decisions that I will regret in the future. The nice thing is that with just 10 minutes, I can move to a calm state, ready to respond to the problem at hand or to rationally postpone any decision that has to be made on that day if I feel that I’m not calm enough yet. Feels like having a superpower, especially when you can recognise the anger eating some people you are dealing with. They can’t think properly, but you can 😉

Have you ever meditated before? Did you find the calm-spot? 😀 I’ve introduced the same guided meditation program to my colleagues and they also find the activity very calming and enjoyable. We usually do it at work around 3 pm, when the day is not finished but yet clarity is depleting.

Just a side note, the 10 day program was free, but afterwards I have to pay. So I search for meditation app that suits me. I found a simple meditation music app, it has a really nice soothing songs that run for 8 minutes. I enjoy the song every time it plays, and the app lets me know when the 8 minutes is up (it stops playing), freeing my mind to take the effortless joy in watching the traffic in my mind.

Why I Write

I struggled with writing this post. The poison post schedule has started to feel like a chore, and I think it’s because the last few posts haven’t been very meaningful. So I’ve been doing a little soul searching about what I’m trying to get out of writing in the first place.

Realistically, nothing (serious) is going to happen to me if I don’t meet the schedule. Marty will probably hound me every time she writes one, but everyone else who might invoke physical violence is about 1600km away. At the end of the day, the poison blog chain is a small push to encourage posting, but if there’s no purpose to post for, it becomes somewhat contrived.

And yet there was definitely a reason why the poison blog schedule exists, one that I think is still extremely relevant. When Mel and I first came up with the idea of a poison blog, its main purpose was to provide a way to keep in touch, since we were getting busier, moving to another country and all that.

Embarrassingly, looking at my last few posts, they’ve been less about keeping in touch and more about putting something out there. The most recent one has really been A postcard from Chicago, but looking at it now makes me wonder how valuable it really was in terms of an update. It’s also a little lonely when you do write something and you don’t get any indication that someone has actually read it, especially if you’ve put some time into it. I think I can definitely do better.

I recently watched a video about accumulating career capital, talking about how how successful folks accumulate the skills they leverage to shape the life they want, but is also critical of common wisdom that you should follow your passion. One of the things mentioned is the idea of deliberate practice, where folks engage in activities purposefully meant to get better at their craft, as opposed to just normal practice, where they carry out their craft. It rang true for me because it highlighted the difference between “just programming and writing stuff” and “writing something with the purpose of improving yourself as a developer”.

I think a similar idea applies here, where if you say you are writing to keep in touch, or to advance your professional career, it should be deliberate, purposeful, and you should have a clear idea of how to evaluate if you’ve been successful, be it by receiving feedback, the number of pageviews, likes, or otherwise.

Something like keeping in touch seems a little fuzzier, but I know I can definitely share more than posting some pictures and some short narration 😉 I still think that meeting face to face is the best way to keep in touch, and failing that Skype or Hangouts is a distant second, but being able to share something helps to asynchronously fill in the inevitable gaps between those times. It’s not like I’ll quiz everyone I told about my blog “Have you read it? Don’t you know I did this?”, but more of a way to say hey, if you have some time and you’d like to catch up, you can even if I’m not available or free, and we can talk about something a little more than superficial the next time we do manage to catch up. It goes both ways though, and I’ve been more slack than I should have when it comes to reading other blogs.

It’s a similar sort of story when I look at my posts about the projects I’ve written. I had always thought that I would be able to point to my projects at some point in the future and say “hey, look, I did this in two weeks” as a way of building up some level of professional credibility. Reading them now, I don’t think I’ve gotten closer to it because it’s always been an idea, a naive hope at the back of my mind that I’ve not actually tried to consciously work towards in my project posts. Practicing is great, but it’s deliberate practice that’s going to get you somewhere.

In a long roundabout way, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s definitely still a reason for me to keep writing, but I hope to do so with a little more purpose, to make sure I’m getting as much out of writing as I hope to. In a new year, in a new, overdue post, I hope to do a little better;)

Why do you write? Have you been getting as much out of blogging as you would have liked to? Would love to hear your thoughts, especially folks on the poison blog roll 🙂

I’ll be the first to point out that this post hasn’t really talked much about what I’ve actually been doing in the last few weeks. In my defense though, that’s going to be the topic of the next post that will definitely be on time 😛