Long term attention span.
May 24, 2014 8:23 AM   Subscribe

I love complicated things. Games, books, writing detailed stories, hobbies like scrapbooking, and so forth. But I forget about whatever project and move on to something else to find 6 months later I will fiddle for two weeks and then promptly forget about it again. ARG.

Here are some examples of stuff in my life: a blog. I kept it up for about 6 months regularly and then updated twice a year until I gave up. Polvore(a collage making site): go through phases where it is awesome and then one day I just stop logging on and then a year later come back for a few weeks. Games like fallout. I love them. I play them for a few weeks and then wonder off wasting money and never getting a sense of completion. I use to write regularly and now don't at all. If I don't finish a book in two three days it isn't going to be read. And then I go through phases where l'll read a bunch of books on a row and then won't pick one up for 18 months.

I want to change this. I do commit to things ( i just finished a year long spiritual course, I have a master's degree, I work so I do follow through on things with schedules and expectations) but in my personal enjoyment life I just flutter to one thing to another even though I know I get enjoyment and a feeling of fulfillment from long term things.

What are things I can do to help myself hold on to my attention span on my personal life? I get enjoyment out of this stuff I mentioned and would like to have that more consistently.

I don't have ADHD. I also do not have a mood disorder. I've been evaluated by enough psychiatrists over the years to know it isn't those things.
posted by AlexiaSky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, for me, the fun is in mastering and learning the new game/subject/hobby; once I've mastered it, it's not as interesting to me. I used to be very distressed that I flitted from hobby to hobby to hobby, but then I realized that my hobby is actually learning new things.

This has three implications. First, I don't feel guilty about learning things and then dropping them. Second, I am more strategic about how I spend my hobby/entertainment dollars with this in mind; I don't invest in $300 of STUFF for a new hobby since I know as soon as I master the basics of it, I'll lose interest. I see if I can borrow tools from friends, I get low-cost student materials, I look for beginner classes where you get to use the studio's tools. (I'd rather spend $150 on a pottery class where they provide everything than $50 and have to buy, store, and dispose of my own stuff.) Third, since I also get enjoyment out of long-term projects, I pick a very small handful of things I enjoy over time. Sometimes I have to force myself to pick them up, but since it's just a couple of things that I "make" myself do, and otherwise I "let" myself be a dilettante, it's not such a psychological hurdle. (My "long-term" hobbies are embroidery, reading, and writing. I kind-of rotate among them, though. Right now I'm reading a book a day but I'm barely writing or embroidering at all.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:44 AM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

my hobby is actually learning new things.

Yeah, me too. Although it's nice to have some completed project to show off -- otherwise, all (!) you have is new connections in your head, and the exterior appearance of a dilettante.

One thing you might avoid is open-ended projects. When you start a blog, how do you know when you're done? (Maybe you were done after 6 months!) But don't pick a masterpiece project to demonstrate your ability in a skill. You're not trying to show that you're as good as the best, just that you're a competent journeyman who wouldn't wash out of trade school. So: pick a project, document that you've picked it, explain what constitutes success, and then complete it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by spacewrench at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

my hobby is actually learning new things

Same. I know how to cook crazy complicated dishes, knit, crochet, sew, paint, play a variety of sports, play a few musical instruments, speak a couple of languages (ish), etc. But I don't do any of them particularly well. I enjoy learning the new thing, but once I get to a decent enough level that I feel like I can say "I can do X" then I lose interest. Like, if I had to, to save a life or something, I could play a piano, knit a sweater, and make a souffle. But would the musical sweater souffle win any awards? Probably not.

This is all to say that you're not weird or broken or anything because you bounce from hobby to hobby. I've tried a variety of strategies to get myself to commit to one thing, but nothing has worked. I'm just the Jill of All Trades, Master of None (well, I do have a masters degree, so I guess Master of Some).
posted by melissasaurus at 9:11 AM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm don't have this problem, but I do have a lot of hobbies (all types of needlework, stained glass, fine art, home renos and decoration, writing) and have had some trouble with creating focus and setting limits. So, what I do is limit myself to one project from each discipline. I tell myself I can only do one knitting project, one embroidery project, one sewing project, one renovations project, write one book, etc., at a time — no starting anything new in any one arena until that project is finished. It gives me a variety of stuff to work on, I cycle through working on all of them in turn, I'm bound to have one project lying around that I feel like working on at any given time, and I do finish things on a regular basis. My guess is that what you'll need to do is figure out how to set some kind of similar parameters so that you get the variety to work on that you need and so you're finishing whatever you start eventually.
posted by orange swan at 9:40 AM on May 24, 2014

Re your blog:

I have had websites for years but they originally grew out of discussions on an email list. I have struggled with how to make them work. I struggled with "what's my motivation?" It's just a lot easier to respond to a question than to figure out what the heck to blog about. But those emails didn't really translate well to a blog and I ended up stuck for a long time.

I got past that by finding one person to write for who was interested in what I had to say. Then I continued to blog to keep my sanity during a tough time. Then I dismantled that blog, where I had written about any old thing that caught my fancy, and used it to seed several other sites with a bit more topical focus -- all of them are areas of long standing interest for me. So I know I will return and develop them further...eventually, even if a lot of it is back burner at the moment.

I think you need a hook of some sort. Writing a blog when you have no audience is hard to stick with. After you have some kind of established audience and have some practice and what not, it gets easier to return to it. I am still wrestling with some of my projects but one of them will likely start getting reborn because I recently found one person who seems interested in reading it. That's all I really need -- an audience, even if only one person, who actually wants to know what I have to say on the topic (and it needs to be a big enough topic to justify a website for it, not just a one off email).

You need some reason to engage long term/ at a deeper level. For publishing on the web, connecting to other people is my personal motivation. Now that I have a smidgeon of an established audience for some things, it is easier than it used to be (though, for other reasons, I still struggle to be consistent).
posted by Michele in California at 10:56 AM on May 24, 2014

Unfortunately I'm not getting the answers I want to get from this which is tips about long term commitment to hobbies. Regardless of the hobby I leave it.

I use to write fanfiction and had my own little cult following. It was cool. One day I just stopped writing and never went back. People begged me to and I just went 'meh'.

I got so much enjoyment out of the writing and I just could not sustain it. And I feel anger and resentment at myself sometimes because I did xyz and it was cool but then I wondered away to the new shiny.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:43 PM on May 24, 2014

I was trying to address that:

You need some reason to engage long term/ at a deeper level.

For me, connecting to others is part of that. But, as noted elsewhere in my reply, I also am working on a number of topical projects where the topics are of "long standing interest" to me.

I don't know what would hook you at that deeper level. I know what hooks me and part of that is social contact. But there are other things. For me, I stick with things better if it hooks me on several different points that are, for me, deeper reasons.

I hope that helps a little.
posted by Michele in California at 3:49 PM on May 24, 2014

I'd look at the places you stop and try to figure out if there is anything in common with them.

For example you may be happily writing away on a piece of fan fiction which has a mystery half solved and two shipped characters slowly developing the ability to work together, and all of a sudden... you don't care. It feels finished even though it obviously isn't. So what part of the story did you complete most recently? Sometimes there is something in that scene that completed things and the rest is all anticlimactic. Maybe one of the characters admitted to being in love with the other character. You just got the full emotional pay off and all the rest of the story - finding the killer, escaping the island, whatever - is just anticlimax You don't need to write it.

The solution for that is to make sure the payoff scene doesn't get written until the rest of the plot is finished.

Or if you are working on a creative project, do you stop when you have solved it? Maybe you are problem solving? How on earth will you get this sweater you are knitting to come together properly? And then when you know... well, there's no more suspense, no more challenge, just boring purling and knitting.

Is it possible you are taking on projects that are too big? Like not knowing where the blog is going to end so eventually you just stop, possibly when it becomes clear that you don't know where to end it. You have to stop blogging someday. Do you mean the blog to be your autobiography so it should end with your last entry about your failing health the morning of the day you die? Or are you trying to get a particular point across? Maybe you made your point. Maybe the material was starting to get repetitive. Is it really necessary to play every single scene in the game? Maybe it has gotten too complicated so you no longer know how to get to that end point.

Back to knitting. The first sweater was challenging. Then you made sweaters for all your siblings. Then you made sweaters for your parents. Then you started making sweaters for all your nephews and nieces... and second cousins... wait, where does this stop? The projects could be getting so big that they become so daunting that you are unable to figure out how to tackle them.

Could it be a matter of diminishing returns? The first few hours of Fallout it's all new and exciting. But there comes a point when it turns into grinding... kill another person... break into another base... Kill another person... this is boring.

You seem to be taking it as a personal failing that you are giving up on things. But it doesn't make sense to keep playing Fallout religiously as if something bad would happen if you stop. Why do you feel bad about stopping? Do you feel you are letting yourself down? You paid for the game, so you should be playing the darn thing. Let's say you paid $60 for the game and played it for a month every single night. That means 30 days, so each playing session cost you $2. To me that would sound like you got your money's worth.

Are you possibly overloading on social interactions? For example, it is fun to get followers for your blog or your fan fiction, but they can also be intrusive. It's considered really rude not to write a thank you letter to everyone who gives you feedback on your fiction. So you are now forced to be replying to people all the time and the fiction becomes less and less your own and more and more about the people who are following it, and story writing time has to be sacrificed to writing those thank you notes. Other people's expectations, or social anxiety could be making you stop. You might be getting self conscious or in stuck in public mode.

Stopping places are important. When I write I prefer to stop in the middle of things and leave the work raw and not proofread. The next time I pick it up I start at the beginning of the previous writing session and go through it fixing the errors and cleaning it up and make sure it is clear. This gets me primed to keep going when I reach the previous stopping place. It's much harder to get into writing a piece that has been proofread in a previous session, and harder to get into a piece that ended at a resolution point instead of during a cliffhanger.

The same could be true for other creative projects. Possibly going back and reviewing would make it easier to get back into projects. If you go back and redo the last two pages in your scrapbook maybe it would give you the momentum to get back into it.

There could be hormonal, seasonal or other cycles going on. When it gets dark early you may be less energetic, so come the fall you might be giving up on a project just because the quality of light has changed. There may be changes the interface in Live Journal that made writing no longer automatic. When your love life is going nicely the writing happens but when you are feeling unloving and unloved your muse walks out on you. Did anything change that could be affecting your inspiration or your concentration?

You could be going at it so hard you burn out. The trick then is to try to schedule one blog entry of 250 words a week rather than letting yourself write 600 every single night. After a few months of 600 words every night you need a vacation. If you wait too long for the vacation you may be so burnt out you can't bring yourself to get back into it.

Would reviewing help with the books you abandon? Start by rereading the table of contents and check what was the main point of each chapter you have already read before continuing where you left off. If it's fiction skim until you can clearly describe the plot and what was happening and can remember who the characters were before you go on. The purpose is to get you thinking about the book again.

You could try scheduling time for the projects. For example make a weekly calendar up. Monday, you will reread the blog and make one short entry. Tuesday you will pick up an unfinished book, jot some quick notes about what was in it and read a chapter that is new. Wednesday you will play Fallout. Thursday is back to the blog again. Friday is a reading night to make more headway with the book you are reading. Write it down and commit to spending an hour facing the blog or the book, or logged in on Fallout every evening. But make it an easy schedule that is not too demanding.

Is part of why you feel bad about giving up on your projects because you miss being intensely engaged with them? Do you feel bad because you just want to be totally absorbed and now it's not working?

Do you stop after you make a mistake? You think the scene in your fiction is dumb, or there is visible glue in the scrapbook, or something is making you unhappy with what you have produced. Sometimes people stop when they are unhappy with the result. They maybe stuck and not sure how to fix the problem or they may not be feeling confident and pleased and the bad feeling from making a mistake makes them feel bad about the entire project.

It would seem that if you really wanted to get back into doing these things you could and you would. But there must be at least a part of you that either doesn't want to, or simply can't. Let's say you are trying to get back into reading a book that you abandoned part way through. What are you feeling when you read it? Frustration? Boredom? Confusion? Is your mind wandering? If you are not getting engaged there is a reason for that. It might be that you are too fatigued for example. It is worth looking at what happens when you try to get back into the project. Do you fall asleep? Get annoyed? Feel inadequate? Feel futile?

What are you doing when you are not doing your projects? Watching TV? Random net surfing? If you are doing mindless things then you are probably not able to focus enough to work on the reading or the creative projects. Extra sleep, caffeine or a reduction in work stress could make a difference.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:59 PM on May 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

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