Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's Not Paranoia If You're Really Out to Get You

As mythical curses go, Lycanthropy shouldn't rate above an inconvenience. Ask anyone with half a brain how they'd deal with it, and they'll say the same thing: on the night of the full moon, go someplace isolated and chain yourself to a wall. Voila, problem solved.

Odysseus took the same approach when he encountered the sirens. He heard their call and knew he would be too weak to resist, so he ordered his men to tie him to a mast. He had the sense to treat his future self as an adversary to outwit, not an equal to bargain with.

When you can predict your behavior and you know your trigger, any weakness is manageable.

But first you have to admit that you're weak. Truly weak. It's harder than it sounds.

I work from home - VFX work, when I'm not chipping away at my game projects. Sometimes I'll work onsite for a few weeks, but otherwise I enjoy silence, privacy and freedom. I can wake up when I want and sleep when I want. I can watch a movie after breakfast, take a nap after lunch, then eat cake for dinner. I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty cool.

What do I do with all this freedom? I get up at 6 or 7 in the morning, eat breakfast, and start working. And I don't stop working until dinner (or cake), sometimes later if the job demands. It's a strict routine.

I learned the hard way that if I break routine, even for a day or two, it triggers my transformation. I become the Beast. You know the Beast. He's the lazy bastard that procrastinates on the internet. The one that can't stay focused. The one that nearly got me fired because he wouldn't stop playing Minecraft long enough to submit a shot that I should have finished the day before. (True story.) The lazy bastard doesn't give a hoot about my career or my dreams. Sometimes I can't believe we're related.

When I meet people who have a hard time working from home, it's usually for the same reason: they think they should be able to control their beast.

Note that I didn't say they think they can control their beast - they know they can't. Most are self-aware enough to list their faults with a laugh, stuff like:

  • I'm distractible
  • I have no self-discipline
  • I can't stop watching TV while I work
  • I can't stop browsing the internet while I work
  • I use friends as an excuse to avoid work
  • I can't stop eating cake for dinner

All problematic, sure, but they leave out the one that really counts:

  • I indulge in the fantasy that a good person can always control their behavior in the moment if they try hard enough.

Emphasis on fantasy.

This is why Lycanthropy is a curse to be feared and not merely an inconvenience. Some idiot always thinks they're strong enough to beat the full moon. Don't indulge in that fantasy. Save a peasant. Chain yourself up.

Are you distractible? Clear your working space of distractions. Are you using your friends as an excuse to avoid work? Tell them about your problem and ask them to help you stop. Are you browsing the internet? Unplug the internet. Do you need the internet for your job? Block your favorite sites.

Are you irritated with these suggestions yet? You should be - they're horribly condescending. I feel like telling myself to fuck off.

I will feel that irritation until the day I die, the way someone raised Catholic still fears hell long after becoming an atheist. I want to shout: If it were that simple, I'd be doing it already.

What makes it so complicated?

I'm always tempted to say 'the very qualities I'm trying to compensate for,' because come on, that's a great excuse. But it's rarely the case. I've witnessed this with my own eyes - a motivated person asks a circle of friends for solutions to these problems, and the instant someone drags out those chains, the willpower just drains out of their eyes. They were ready to do anything except take that critical step.

No. The truth is, it isn't complicated. It's painful.

Deep down, all the way down where you keep your most sacred beliefs about your value as a human being, you feel you shouldn't have to do chain yourself up. Maybe everyone but you, but not you. That's the fantasy. That deeper part of you believes using those chains admits of a weakness so profound that you could never laugh it off like you do the others. Oh, we can pretend to laugh it off - we'll joke around and say 'oh man, I just can't stop myself, ha ha, isn't that funny.' But to truly accept that you can't stop yourself, that no matter how hard you try you really can't stop, that stings. It really does.

I don't know where this fantasy of self control comes from, or what makes it so raw. I have my suspicions - maybe it originated with the Cartesian concept of the perfectly revealed mind. Or maybe the Christian concepts of sin and free will. Or maybe it's more universal. Who knows.

Whatever the cause, we flinch when it's threatened and fall back on the dull ache that we know: the paralysis and self-loathing of holding ourselves to a literally fantastical standard. A dull ache that will throb for the rest of your life if you let it.

This is getting a little dark. What were we talking about? Working from home?

Here's my point. Rip off the fantasy like a band-aid. Yes it hurts, but you can handle it. Stop thinking of yourself as one person who can control their behavior and start thinking of yourself as two: one who can, and the lazy beast.

Then stop depending on the beast to do the right thing, and stop beating yourself up when he doesn't. Because he can't, by definition. Just like our mythical werewolf, at the point when you're most in need of self-control, you have already lost whatever qualities formally enabled you to do control yourself. If this weren't the case, you wouldn't have a problem to begin with, right?


Do this and I promise you, all those irritating 'simple' solutions will start sounding a whole lot simpler.

Now. Time for cake.

1 comment:

  1. ironic that this kept me from working! :D awesome wrote.. I'll try to think about that when i need to get some progress... Keep up the writing... It's interesting