If not now then never, how do I change?
March 10, 2008 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I love doing things impulsively but quickly lose interest if things take a long time. I'll go to Jamaica with you this weekend, but if we plan on going in May I'll be over it. This is affecting my friendships. Any tips on sustaining interest in things?
posted by Danila to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think you have to stay "engaged" (and I hate myself for using a stupid business-speak word, sorry!) My bf likes to say "...then three days went by and I was over it" to describe how he can easily just stop doing something he used to love if he loses concentration for too long. These can be things he was happily doing on a daily basis just a week ago. So, figure out a way for it to stay in your mind for longer than 20 minutes. Using the trip to Jamaica as an example, you could research hotels one week, read people's travel blogs the next week, buy a travel book, plan a shopping trip for a new swimsuit, etc.

You are allowed to decide you don't want to do something once you've done that research, or even before. But it may not look any different to your friends. If the same trip is an example of how it's hurting your friendships, then maybe you need to stop being the "big talker" too.
posted by cabingirl at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is a pretty tough question for someone to answer for you, especially since you extend this problem toward activities that are actually pleasurable (i.e. going to Jamaica). I think the best solution to your problem is to take a long and hard look at why you feel this way. I mean, what makes Jamaica NOW more exciting than Jamaica 3 months down the line? Is it the fact that you enjoy the impulsiveness of an activity more than the activity itself?

In my own personal experience, I've found that unless I see immediate results from my activities I can tend to get bored with them. The only thing I've found to resolve this is to reach into my head and remind myself why I started doing something in the first place. For example, I started riding my bike to work because I wanted to get into shape. The first month of doing this was hard for me because I still didn't feel better (I was even more tired due to the exertion), but after keeping with it I've grown to LOVE it. I think with most things in life that are rewarding you have to push through the times where it seems to be hell, otherwise you don't get what you want out of the experience.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 1:46 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know your type. I was that too...sometimes I still have problems with it. I'm trying to resolve it by saying "NO". "Hey wanna go to vegas?". No. Do I really want to go...hell yeah! Will I end up going? No. So I just say no. I know me...and me I know I'm not going to do it. So if I say "yes", people will think I'm committed to it and I will inevitably disappoint them. I start out saying no.

"Hey buddy, wanna go to jamaica this may?". Nah, but I would be down for X this weekend.

Your loved ones will feel they are getting something they may not have felt they were previously receiving: sincerity.

Good luck!
posted by hal_c_on at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I mean, what makes Jamaica NOW more exciting than Jamaica 3 months down the line?

Not sure if you are asking me or saying I should ask myself that. Now it's exciting because it seems like a fun adventure. 3 months from now it has become a hassle (planning, paying, researching, etc.) and is probably interfering with something else I'd like to do. This applies to anything, not just vacations. "Let's go dancing tonight" Sure! "Let's go dancing next weekend" Sure...then no. By next weekend I'm reading a really good book, or I don't have much energy and I want to rest, or I would rather see a movie that's just come out.

The only reason I'd do it is so as not to disappoint people, but I have a strong disinclination towards living my life solely for others. And I know that's not what is really happening but that's what it feels like and I get kind of bitter. When I make plans for myself and then change my mind it doesn't bother me at all. Unfortunately, I nearly always change my mind.
posted by Danila at 2:19 PM on March 10, 2008

I'm the same way. It's fine so long as it only affects you (that being the general 'you' -- meaning ME), but it becomes a problem when it starts affecting other people.

I think you may be approaching it the wrong way. Changing so that you can "sustain interest" isn't really the way to go about it, IMO. Interest is difficult to cultivate, for me anyway. If it ain't there, it ain't there. What you need to do is learn how to do things you've committed to doing, even though you're lukewarm about doing them when the time comes around.

Some things that help me:

1. I put myself in the other person's shoes. I think about how pissed off/disappointed I'd be if they canceled on me after I'd been looking forward to the plans we'd made.

2. Don't commit so soon. When someone asks me to do something too far down the line, I say "You know, that sounds like fun, but it's a little too early for me to plan it right now. Would you remind me that week so I can give you a definitive answer?" Admittedly, this makes me really wishy-washy and noncommittal, and those are problems in their own right, but at least then I don't feel bad canceling at the last minute.

3. Suck. It. Up. I follow through with the plan. (Sometimes a little poutily, yes.) I go anyway. And you know what? I usually have a much better time than I thought I would, and I realize that it was stupid of me to want to back out of it in the first place. This is doubly good for me, because I tend to be a hermetic homebody.

That sort of addresses the planning-ahead thing. It also sounds like maybe you're asking how to address issues of attention span? My only advice there is to carry a book around at all times and say to your friends, "I'm glad y'all are having such a good time, and I'm happy to be here with you. This isn't really holding my interest, though, so I'm just going to read for a little while. But seriously, I'm perfectly happy to be here!"

Either that, or learn to zone out and engage in a really rich imaginary life.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:24 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Should have previewed.

...but I have a strong disinclination towards living my life solely for others.

Again, take a different approach. Being a good friend means occasionally doing something with people when you'd rather be doing something else. This doesn't constitute living your life "solely for others." It constitutes being a good, reliable, non-selfish friend. And in the end, it doesn't benefit them (not solely), it benefits you -- because now you have friends who can rely on you, and on whom you can rely in turn. And the occasional trip to the dance club or Jamaica? Small price to pay.

I hope this doesn't sound preachy. I don't mean it to be. It's just that I can relate 100% and have been trying to be better about it myself.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:27 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding hal_c_on and mudpuppie.

I have a very similar problem. You're headstrong, independent, and a bit introverted. It helps if hange your attitude.

You're looking at it from a perspective of: what am I missing? (A movie, time to rest at home, time reading). What bad experiences am I having? (This is a hassle, it's stressing me out).

Instead, when you're doing something you'd rather not do (but wanted to do before), make a conscious effort to focus on the cool things you would have missed had you stayed at home. Did you hear a cool band? See something weird on the street? Meet someone cool? Become closer to a friend? Get advice about something that was bothering you? A recommendation for a new book? A tan?

Focus on the rewards that come when you follow through on your word.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:22 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

*It helps if you change your attitude.

Keyboard possessed. Send help.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:23 PM on March 10, 2008

Oh! I feel for you, I'm exactly the same. it's really tricky. I've just learned to say no. It does piss people off sometimes, but much less than me flaking out after saying yes, or going along and being grumpy (I so learned this the hard way!).

On the flip side, I'm sometimes the one to ring people up and say hey! Do you fancy doing so and so, RIGHT THIS SECOND NOW?! If they say no I'm totally fine about it and just go do it myself.

Sometimes the two approaches coincide and we have a ball. These times are few enough for me, and frequent enough for others that we're still friends :)
posted by freya_lamb at 5:16 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, you don't necessarily need to change.

Speaking as a bit of a fan of Myers-Briggs personality profiling, you sound like a "P" on the J-P axis. This means that you're spontaneous & impulsive, and probably don't like schedules & lists of things-to-do-today. The people who like scheduling longer-term plans are more likely to be Js.

That just happens to be the way you're put together, and I'm pretty much the same - for example, I'll decide whether or not to attend a friend's birthday party about an hour before it starts, depending on my mood at the time.

It might help if you read up a bit about Myers-Briggs in order to understand these kinds of differences between people, which will enable you to explain things better to your friends - "managing expectations", as they say in business talk. The more often you can drop lines about how you hate planning things, or how you like to just go with the flow of whatever you're up to on the day, the less likely they'll be to think that you're disrespecting them or not pulling your weight in the friendship.

I realise that this doesn't answer your exact question, but I think it's worth a thought.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:43 PM on March 10, 2008

I disagree. For me, behavior like Ubu describes is unacceptable: if you are my friend, I'm going to expect you to come to my party and commit to doing so in advance. it is simply rude to expect other people to show up for you and then you just breeze by only if you feel like it. and if you don't expect other people to have and keep commitments to you and vice versa, it's not really a friendship.

And it's impossible to plan parties when everyone won't commit because they might want to go to someone else's cooler party that they found out about an hour before yours.

That's called selfish and immature: when you have friends, you have the obligation to show up for them and they do for you. You won't always be in a good mood, they won't always be in a good mood, you will sometimes fink out and so will they-- but more often than not, after stressing about plans and planes, by the time you get to Jamaica three months from now you *will* actually enjoy it.

Impulsive fun is fine-- but if you can't enjoy planned stuff too eventually, you are depriving yourself not only of fun but of lasting relationships, which require some degree of commitment and doing stuff when you don't feel like it.

This isn't "living for other people" -- it's being a friend or partner or parent. It's part of adult life. Obviously, if someone is always wanting you do to stuff you don't want to do, that's another story-- but that doesn't sound like what's going on here.
posted by Maias at 7:06 PM on March 10, 2008

Perhaps I should explain or qualify my earlier comment.

First up, I agree with what Maias said, pretty much 100%.

The thing is, though, you can divide things up into hard & soft commitments. For example, I have little problem with honouring hard commitments, like work or training or family functions or dinners with friends or whatever. A party, on the other hand, is a lot softer. Half the time, you barely even get a chance for more than about five minutes with the host. And if - like me - you become frustrated by too much of a rigid schedule during your regular 9 to 5 life, then outside of those kinds of times, it's almost a survival requirement for your time to be as free-form as possible so you can recharge.

Using the party thing as an example, if there's a party on a Saturday night, a J will usually organise their time so that they catch up with friends for breakfast, do their laundry & grocery shopping & whatnot, maybe schedule a catnap, go shopping for something new to wear to the party etc etc so they actually *can* make it, on place & on time.

A P will be more like "hm, i really need to do some laundry but it's such a nice day I might go down to the park, hey, there's my old friend so-and-so! you're doing what? great, can i come along, only i've gotta try & be back for x's party tonight..." and then a thousand things happen & maybe you make it, maybe you don't. No problems, you can always catch up with the party person later privately, when the interaction will be a thousand times better, anyway.

And in terms of commitment & doing stuff when you don't feel like it, that's what getting out of bed in the middle of the night to change somebody's car tyre, or helping them pack & move house are for.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:27 PM on March 10, 2008

(tiny further example of J-P interaction: a good friend who's largely P-ish was dating a hardcore J girl for a year or two - very organised, driven & scheduled, both in personal & professional life. you could visibly see her stress levels go through the roof when anything would happen to threaten to change her day: "But I have to go home within the next fifteen minutes so I can do my 10km training run, because the half-marathon is only SIX MONTHS AWAY!!" - it's a really fundamental personality difference that's well worth paying attention to, because you generally can't force somebody to go against their natural preferences too much or for too long - forcing a spontaneous person to become scheduled is as much an exercise of pissing into the wind as expecting a scheduled person to become more spur-of-the-moment)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:52 PM on March 10, 2008

Thanks to everyone for their answers. I did pick up some new things I can try. Changing my attitude would take a lot longer and since I am a "P" (INFP to be exact) I will never change my way completely nor do I want to. I've received some really good advice on preventing these problems from arising in the first place. I will be saying "No" a lot more. However, I can also initiate plans, which is something I NEVER do. I am never the one to come up with ideas for what we can do. It's not that I don't have ideas, I just never consider doing them with other people.

I only have two friends. One of them is far away and has a full-time job (I don't work) so everything we do involves long-term planning. And she wants to do lots of stuff. This one causes me the most difficulty. My other friend lives in the same city and she is the idea girl, always going out, always doing stuff. I've never thought of being the one to ask her to do stuff. She would appreciate the spontaneity. And if she says no then it is no skin off my back. I would like to clarify that I don't expect my friends to do stuff with me. I have friends by accident not on-purpose. That's probably a large part of the problem. My friends are people who kept coming at me. I haven't committed to them. I am usually a loner.

Most importantly I guess, I have to change my attitude. I have to get used to doing things I don't want to do and I have to learn how to be a committed friend.
posted by Danila at 5:30 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

This applies to anything, not just vacations. "Let's go dancing tonight" Sure! "Let's go dancing next weekend" Sure...then no. By next weekend I'm reading a really good book, or I don't have much energy and I want to rest, or I would rather see a movie that's just come out.

Maias is right. This isn't primarily about "doing stuff you don't want to do," but it is about learning to plan ahead and forgo other potential opportunities ("I might want to keep reading my book") for actual ones ("I said I'd go hang at this party.") You're attitude of wanting to keep all your options open til the last minute will not only make it harder to sustain and build friendships, but it will actively damage them. Keep in mind that if you say "yes" to a commitment, and then continuously flake out and change your mind, you've signaled to your friend that your activity takes priority over plans you've previously made. In other words, your word means nothing, and they can't count on you.

Another strategy is to be honest. Don't say yes to plans you're not sure you'll still be interested in. Say, "Oh, tell me when it is, maybe I can drop by." While that's still clearly sending the signal that you're unwilling to commit, at least the other party knows this and can plan accordingly. Or if you really know that it's far enough ahead that you're unlikely to go, just decline.
posted by canine epigram at 7:20 AM on March 11, 2008

« Older How do I get terminal services to keep a port...   |   Organic/Ethical/Non-Factory BBQ in Memphis? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.