I'm stuck in beta
July 14, 2008 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I have spent years reading self-help books, productivity blogs, self-help productivity blogs. I’ve found some treasured information and they have probably helped me in more ways than I’m conscious of, but…

What now? I mean, how does one apply all this info? I get to the implementation stage, and I freeze because I can’t remember which question I need to ask to get an authentic answer, how to break it down into manageable steps, which bucket it should go into, which three steps I take to counter my negative thought, etc etc. And then I get distracted by a new Steve Pavlina entry on my RSS reader. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s very frustrating.

I’ve gone through several of those major life-changing events in the past 6 months or so: death of a parent (which, while unexpected and very, very sad, has been the catalyst for a rediscovery of appreciation in my life and is part of what’s pushing me to try to “live fully”), new job. Blah.

My motivation feels all shot to hell, and I feel like I’m just doing what I need to do to get by. I worry that life is passing me by. I know these major life-changing events are certainly having an impact there, but I just don’t know what to do, how to move forward without cheating myself out of healing time, knowing when to move forward.

And, I’ve started to wonder: what’s my goal anyway? What does the super-productive, creative, self-assured me look like? I feel like I’m being bombarded with different versions of the ideal every single day, and I don’t know what to choose.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The answer depends on what your goals are. Basically, what did you do today that contributes in any concrete way towards achieving one of your goals?
posted by mpls2 at 5:07 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in this boat: self-improvement fatigue. I'm not entirely sure of the ultimate answer, but I think when you get the point where you feel like productivity tips are sloshing out your ears, it helps to take a break. Stop thinking about How To Improve Yourself and just spend some time being whoever you are right now--you can get back to self-improvement later. As you point out, there are dozens of different versions of the ideal, and contradictory ways to get there. If you don't step back and get a bit more grounded in who you are right now, there's no good way to choose between them.

Trying something new helps, too, provided it's something you are interested in for itself, which is totally unrelated to your grand productivity plans. For me this is something like mime, or origami, or playing the theremin. For you it's probably something else. Spending time and energy on something that has nothing to do with Visions Of A Better Me gets me out of my head and gives me a better place to stand to sort through all those ideas.

That said, this is still something I struggle with, so obviously I haven't got all the answers. Good luck.

Postscript: I'm very sorry to hear of your loss. I wouldn't push yourself to "move forward"; I think that happens when it happens, and you should take as much time as you need to reflect and grieve.
posted by fermion at 5:13 PM on July 14, 2008

Welcome to the club.... ?

I feel your pain.. I have rare glimpses of the ideal person that I want to be, and completely frustrated that I'm not able to make it happen on a more regular basis. I consider myself pretty web-savvy, read a lot of blogs and subscribed to various feeds like Steve Pavlina. The problem (as I see it) is that a lot of the advice is good, but everyones life situation is unique. Having the quickness and clarity to apply the correct approach to dynamic everyday situations sometimes feels like an immensely difficult (if not impossible) task.

Without sounding cynical or defeatist... one of the things I try to remember is that I dont have to be perfect. That its enough to just be trying. Although thats a difficult realization to live with alongside the constant reminders of wasted potential.

If its any consolation.. In the last 5 years or so, I've also been through probably the roughest time of my life, and it completely changes your outlook. I find it A LOT harder now to care. About anything. and I dont know why. I dont think its depression. I think the experience of going through life changing events clarifies your insight to a laser focus (cutting through all the BS of everyday life) and a certain part of you realizes how rare the meaningful stuff is. That realization is quite de-motivating.

I'm not sure what practical advice I have for you except the following goals I've made for myself:
--make a list of priorities and constantly review it so you know your on track
--make an effort to simplify your life, removing things you dont need, or solving a host of small problems so you can focus your energies on the big Priorities (the meaningful stuff)
--remember that you may regret trying and failing... but you'll regret more not ever trying.

You're not alone in the situation of going through life changing events and then finding life harder. Remember that there are other people out there also searching for meaningful experiences. Try to be that kind of person (the one who people want to be around, because you have quality substance and share meaningful things)

I realize a lot of the above sounds trite and cliche and ambiguous. I wish I had better answers, but I havent figured it out myself, so hopefully others will comment and help.
posted by jmnugent at 5:20 PM on July 14, 2008

And, I’ve started to wonder: what’s my goal anyway? What does the super-productive, creative, self-assured me look like? I feel like I’m being bombarded with different versions of the ideal every single day, and I don’t know what to choose.

I have wondered the very same thing many times. Basically I think life-hacking sites are really fun and interesting. But, they're not realistic for the most of us. Setting personal goals is worthwhile and can make you happier. But, a lot of people, like me, might waste a lot of time on these sites and books but never implement any of the strategies in a committed way. Let's face it, it's hard to change. It's hard to remember the "16 Tips to Triple Your Workout Performance "or 5 Powerful Reasons to Eat Slower". Who gives a rat's ass? If you're exercising that's awesome. If you're making a healthy dinner four nights out of the week, that's awesome too. Don't think too much about things. Don't make things complicated or have these stringent rules or routines for yourself. You'd probably be better off jotting things down in a spiral notebook. Create your own goals because they're something you really want to achieve, not because Mr. Personal Improvement Man suggests it.

Be happy and enjoy your life. Lifehacking blogs are fun, but they're "that guys" mission, not yours. Who do you really want to be? On the inside? Would you be happy if you succeeded at everyone of those life hacks? Maybe. Maybe not. Who would you be if extrinsic factors didn't come into play? If you didn't have to impress anybody, or you didn't crave status? What would you do?

Your focus should not be perfection. Your focus in life should not be what you can do in order to be super efficient, super attractive, super healthy, super productive, super balanced, super creative, super receptive. Let that go. It's not real.

I think it's more wise to engage in activities that make you happy. What hobbies and activities really make you happy? Write a handful of them down and narrow them down to a couple. A "super-productive, creative, self-assured day" will include some of these activities. No matter if you're playing the piano, hanging with friends, drawing, reading a novel, or watching Brit Coms. What makes you happy? Where do you derive your pleasure? If your were on a desert island and nobody was around what activities would you engage in?

Things that really matter:

1. Engaging in activities you truly enjoy (Not because you think they make you look cool or interesting, but because you truly enjoy them.)

2. Proper self-care (getting enough sleep, waking up at a decent hour, bathing, getting some physical activity, routine medical and dental checkups, making healthy food choices, alcohol and junk food in moderation, taking proper care of your living environment, etc.)

3. Cultivating relationships. Even if you only have a few friends. Even if you just have a romantic partner, a few family members, and no friends, enjoy the people you love and try to make more friends if that's your thing. Appreciate people. Have fun with them. Spending time with people you like is what really matters.

That's it. And...

If you spend too much time surfing the Internet, try to cut down. Stop reading those personal development sites. Engage in real life. As much as I love my internet friends (and I hope to meet some of them one day soon) it's not "real life". (Unless you're going to a lot of meetups and your internet friends are your "real life" friends.) I wish I could hang with all of you interesting people instead of the hicks I'm surrounded by, but I can't. (And those hicks are probably just as interesting but if I'm substituting internet friends with real life friends, how will I know?) You miss out on the life that's right outside your door if you spend too much time on the computer. Let's face it, your community, your neighbors, your friends and family are what really matter and what can bring you true fulfillment, not phantom strangers on the internet. This may not be an issue for you. Ignore me if it's not.

Good luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:48 PM on July 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

maybe you need to stop focusing on the future so much. i have seen someone i know get so completely bogged down in making plans that they never actually live.

you have, assuming no life-limiting conditions, about 80 years on this earth. you can afford to spend one processing your grief and other changes. you have plenty of time to be creative, super-productive, and all fired up. but you also have time to mourn, and be lost, and find your bearings. don't deny yourself these things--even olympic athletes need to take a rest day once or twice a week. so this is your rest day. a long one, but that's okay.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:15 PM on July 14, 2008

LoriFLA's advice is great.

I'm sorry about your loss. My father died last winter and I know how tough it can be. Events like that do prompt many of us to ask big questions--to move from thinking about procedures (how can I do more of X) to thinking about goals (what's the point anyway?). I find it helps to think about productivity blogs, lifehacks, etc. as tools to achieve what you want to achieve. If they're not useful tools for your goals, feel free to abandon them. If I want to take out a section of drywall, the best socket set in the world isn't going to help me very much. Similarly, if my goal is to simplify my life and concentrate on a few things that are truly meaningful, I'm not going to be helped by a productivity system that promises that I can get more things done.

Not so long ago it was customary for middle-class folk to wear mourning clothes for a year after a major loss, to signal to the world that they were taking time off from full engagement with the demands of life. You should feel free to live life slowly for a while, as you grieve, and then as you start to want to engage more with the world, think about what you want to accomplish, what you're content with in your life as it is now, and whether any of the myriad tips and tricks out there will help you get closer to your goals. When you read about a tip or trick, ask yourself whether it would help to put it in your toolbox, and forget about it if it won't help.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:24 PM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Some really, really smart Mefite compared endless self improvement to self loathing. It always gives me pause when I think about it. Stop trying to improve yourself for a moment and accept yourself As Is. You've had a brutal 2008. Take a moment and give yourself credit for simply making it through the gauntlet. Just appreciate your own resilience for a few days.

Then, if you really feel you must improve, you'll have a fresh perspective on the correct path.
posted by 26.2 at 12:16 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sometimes all you ever need from a self-help book, or a motivational course, or an life-improvement blog - is maybe just ONE advise that will change your life for the better. 25 ways to be more productive? No. Implementing just ONE is good enough. All the blog articles and life hacks and everything? They make a good read but is an awful lot of time-waster. Life goes on without them.

One problem that I've had myself, is an information overload - too much reading and thinking, and not enough DOING. That's the most important part... you can have all the knowledge in the world but if it's not doing any good to your actual life, then it's no good!

Echoing the advises above, a good way to start is to just get engaged in an activity. A hobby, or a meet-up, or a sport, whatever. Just get out there and DO. You'll have no idea what meeting new people and doing new things can lead your life to.
posted by arrowhead at 12:24 AM on July 15, 2008

My father died two years ago this October. I'm a bit prone to melancholy thoughts to begin with, but nothing really brings the intensity like that. When I was looking at my father's corpse, and still now, when I think of the wake, I keep hearing the words, "You will be me." It generates feelings of both futility and urgency.

I worry that life is passing me by.

This is really what it's all about isn't it? Mary Oliver's poem 'When Death Comes' is one of the better responses to this that I have come across. Amazement is not a function of efficiency, but of engagement.

Growth is important, I believe it's vital for happiness. When you are responding to something "particular, and real" there's nothing wrong with pursuing an increase in your capabilities. That's where much of the pleasure in life is. And there's all the difference in the world between that, and imagining oneself as a master of strategies and techniques detached from goals. The latter seems connected to a belief that one is inadequate and desires to be something other.

Determining your goals is your first step. The way I do it is through thinking about what I'm grateful for. That reveals what I value, and with that in mind I can set a meaningful goal. Not everyone needs to do it, some just know what they want. But if you don't, it can help. And after that mpls2's question is all you need. When tracking your progress doesn't motivate you, you aren't connected to what you value.

When you feel engaged and connected, techniques have their place. Otherwise, reading about them is just another way to dissociate.

If self-hatred is an issue (which tends to be the case for most of us), you might find Cheri Huber's book, 'There Is Nothing Wrong with You' to be worth a look. It has a Zen Buddhist flavor. As the title suggests, it's pretty direct, definitely a quick read.
posted by BigSky at 7:45 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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