Saturday, February 17, 2018

Getting past motivational resolutions in 2018 while still bettering yourself

I realize it is about 10 months since I'd last posted, and so much has happened in the meantime.  My other pages (Academia and LinkedIn) are better updated than this one. But I also have the excuse of having gone through a lot of transitions the past year and trying to make sense of those changes.  I now work in an industry where I am in a university but in an alt-ac path where I do policy relevant work. At the same time, I am carving out a space for myself to do the kind of intellectual work I enjoy without the pressure of conforming to the kind of expectations that had been soul-sapping just a year before. In feeling better about myself, I am also taking better care of my physical and mental health, and being more pro-active towards that end - this includes learning beauty and exercise regiments that work for me (this means using my skills as a researcher; my work in science and technology studies has been useful in this regard, even in understanding my mistakes as a consumer). Although I still have to deal with daily stresses and some non-major bouts of physical ill-health, I am better at identifying their causes and taking the next step towards ameliorating them. This is also the start of a new decade in my life - which is exciting and foreboding at once.

While we appear to be living in a youth-obsessed age; otherwise, why do we have adages such as 30 is the new 20, and 40 is the new 30, and so on and so forth; while denigrating the wisdom that comes from experience and skills acquired through years of overcoming obstacles, as we age, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are never irrelevant just because we no longer have the physical freshness, beauty, or promise of potential associated with youthfulness. Being relevant means living your age while maintaining intellectual curiosity, flexibility in thought and attitude, and confidence in your own abilities and contributions that you make. Despite the seeming focus on youth, no amount of trying to make people think you look 25 when you are actually 45 will earn you respect or relevance. I am learning more and more about this as I now run two research projects: one that looks at youth culture and the other at ageing. I am doing both research not as an expert in either of these, but rather, as someone looking at the sociotechnical conditions that support the different stages of one's life.

Here are some things I would like to share in terms of what I have been trying to work on, both at a professional and personal level. None of these are new, but I am writing from the practical perspective of someone who has been attempting to work with these glib mantras that you see in many Medium articles (and even Youtube channels).

1. Knowing when it is OK to let go while acknowledging that before letting go can happen, you just have to deal with the sense of attachment or grudge because of all the energy and time you have invested - be it of relationships, projects and/or career paths, or a regiment you have been trying (diet, health, beauty, etc). Then try to see what could be working from all of these, even if it's just 1% or less, but which are buried under all that despair or negativity, and go with what you could salvage even if that amounts to something almost negligible to you. You would be surprised at the result.

2. Breaking bad habits even when  neither your mind nor body wants to - this is what I have the most trouble with. Like how I should be sleeping, but my stubbornness insists on my staying awake to do something that could just be as easily done tomorrow. Intellectually knowing your priorities is NOT the same as developing that affective/emotional ability to responding to what has to be done. So if you can intellectualize your priorities but not ingrain into daily practice, now is the time.

3. Thinking the best of everyone, even of the person you cannot stand - this is not so much for them as for your own mental well-being. It is hard, but just see if you can think one thing good about that person the moment you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts. Or if not, try to think about some of the good things you have in your life, or do a positive activity that can help you break out of those thoughts. Don't feel guilty about having negative thoughts; nobody is immune from them. But work towards moving on from them as soon as your able so you don't drag yourself down with them.

 4. Being comfortable with yourself and your inadequacies - this means accepting that you will have to like the way you look even if you don't. Or like what your talents allow you to do even if you wish you could do something else. It is not just about making the best of things (as people are wont to say); it is about affirming your right to be the best of yourself and gaining joy from that even if you are not meeting the standard definition of having it all together in a way you believe society expects of you. This joy is not the same kind of happiness associated with a euphoric response to having things going swimmingly well in your life with minor hiccups, or because you have checked all the right boxes, as that kind of happiness is unsustainable. Only in that can you also give joy to others.

5. Living in the moment - this is something that academics and recovering academics find it hard to do. Well, as do many other non-academics. This might mean trying out something new that is outside your comfort zone and dealing with the accompanying fears. Or asking yourself why you feel uncomfortable to try out the simplest actions (but perhaps not too simple as far as you are concerned) that could make your life better, whether in terms of your physical or mental health? 

6. Living your dream now - even if this means having to clear out some clutter that you are using as an excuse not to live your dream. Living your dream doesn't mean you have to completely remove yourself from your current situation - it means making a move towards that. I learned that recently while reorganizing my storage space - for months, I have labored with the idea that I have too little space in my apartment even as my living space was getting increasingly cluttered and untidy. But as I begin moving things around, I realized that I had been very inefficient with space - I dumped and littered the storage space with a random scattering of objects without any sense of purpose or design, therefore leaving behind, a lot of wasted space. After forcing myself to take the stuff out and thinking of their purpose in relation to the living space, or thrashing them if they serve neither long-term nor short-term goals, I not only have a storage system that is more logical in terms of where everything is placed or less difficulty in taking things out when I need them; more importantly, I now have emptied out storage area for future use! If you think that living your dream is about pure impulse and acting irresponsibly, it is not. It is analogous to reorganizing your life according to better design, and moving away obstacles your are clinging to because they serve as useful excuses. It means moving away from living a random or patchwork life, while also still living in the moment. Now, you can do the thing you have been dreaming to do.