My Deep Life Project: Contemplation

When I think about Contemplation that’s learning and reflection, but Newport cites spirituality, philosophy, which can lean towards contemplation. I’m vaguely spiritual, but not religious. This summer, I contemplated my Executive Functioning strengths and weaknesses.

I’m weak in task initiation, working memory, and stress tolerance, but I’m strong in planning / prioritizing, flexibility, and goal-centered persistence (damn right: I’m finishing writing my third and fourth book this year). I learned this from a book Meggan got me: The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success by Peg Dawson, and Richard Guare two teachers and psychotherapists. They provided a framework for considering these two areas.

The weaknesses make a lot of sense due to my diagnosis: ADD affects Working Memory and procrastination (Task Initiation) and Aspergers leads to not being comfortable with regular schedule changes, which leads to anxiety and therefore low stress tolerance. The former leads to depression and what my diagnosis said in my personality profile is that I “expect to fail” in all of my goals, because I procrastinate and don’t fully capture all of my Yes’s. I do think I do a fairly good job of combating Working Memory, due to my journaling habit that I’ve cultivated since I was a teenager. I think I write down about 85 to 90 percent of the tasks and projects I need to do and those next steps but I’m not so much good at getting started, which is why I gravitate toward GTD and specifically the Two Minute Rule.

I ask: will this next step take 2-5 minutes for me to do? If the answer is yes then I’ll get started, but it’s the next steps that really hold me up. If it takes a while to get started, I will put it off. For example, in my contemplation it matters to me that I read more and I process my notes from my reading into a reference system that’s sustainable. I’ve tried doing Ryan Holiday’s index-card system but it creates too much clutter and I have a lot of pocket notebooks already and journals, so I didn’t stick with it. I think I’ve hit upon a good system but it is still really time-consuming. Here’s what it looks like right now in reference to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Zadie Smith’s recent book of essays, Intimations:

What the process looks like in my Bear notes

Obviously, I need to simplify the whole thing but I haven’t taken the step to figure that out.

Probably I will figure that out once I hit post on this essay.

Now for stress tolerance, I do a lot better when I counter it with time blocking—though that also feeds into my Aspergers diagnosis that when anything deviates from the time block, especially if it cuts off writing deep work, it usually really affects my tolerance and stress levels. But the middle ground is to counter it with mediation which I use the Waking Up app and Stoic philosophy, both of which I engage in daily.

Stoic Philosophy—while it is about more than dealing with stress—that is specifically what it combats for me is tolerating and handling stress and feeds into my flexibility strength that could always be improved, because I get stressed out easily.

Meditation and philosophy really does help with seasonal Resistance Syndrome. It’s probably why this September transition went more or less smoothly but the overarching goal for contemplation and constitution and dealing with all of my executive functioning and mental and physical health is to get more sleep. That is probably the biggest goal of all this fall season—work on getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day and that greatly affects my ability to function at my best.

How Intentions do not lead to Impact When You Have ADD

Martin Sheen on the West Wing

Since my last post on SPIN and SLIDE, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about myself and the work that is necessary when it comes to intentional impact.

See the problem with intentions and impact when you have ADD is it takes several extra steps to get there. Check this video from How to ADHD:

It’s like a bridge with lots of missing steps. So there are two rolling hills when it comes to the ADD spiral. The first is SPIN, which we’ve covered. Then there’s SLIDE, which is:

Self attack
Life attack
Isolation
Dread
Escape.

So one day in January, in my Morning Pages, I come up with a question that I ask: “How do I intend this [next action] to impact my wife, my children, my physical and mental health, and the story I want to tell about my life?” But the problem is that intention doesn’t always lead to the impact that I want it to have. And that usually sets off the SPIN and SLIDE spiral.

So the way I solved for this is to bust out my American College Dictionary and look at the antonyms for shame, pessimism, isolation, and no creative or productive outlet. Those are:

Love
Optimism
Creator Connection
pOsitive
Mindful
Proactivity.

I tried to make it into an anagram like SPIN and SLIDE and came nowhere close, except my brain–for whatever reason–changed proactivity to (m)otive and it became LOCOMOTIVE. And immediately, because I’m a comic book nerd with ADD, the Superman theme came into my head.

More powerful than a locomotive! It’s Superman. The thing that I’ve always liked about Superman is that he’s a writer. So the way to counteract all of that SPIN and SLIDE is always what it has been since I was 13-14 years-old—to write it out and leave it on the page. So, naturally, the way through is when I am doing the spin and slide it’s to remember the Superman theme which causes a giggle and then the question and sometimes I slide right out of it.

It’s a habit I’m working on building.

19 Lessons I Learned From 2019. (Plus one for the New Year.)

  1. My diagnosis of ADD, High Functioning Autism (Aspergers), Depression and Anxiety. I learned that these symptoms are representations of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance in the War of Art. But really it’s all just an addiction to pain, shame, pessimism, isolation, and no creative or productive outlet. Weston and Shadow King is resistance and Great Grandma is the muse.
  1. Quotes of the Year: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” quote of the year from Meggan, “Never ask for permission only forgiveness.”
  2. As a result, there’s a lot of internal conflict happening here. Meditation and Stoicism has taught me how to respond to that internal conflict.
  3. Estrangement is the norm, but for the first time in a generation that’s changing and it started with my parents and it continues to me. That is an incredible honor (and burden.)
  4. It’s my responsibility to give all that I have to my family and the stories I want to tell. Being a dad is a privilege and I must remember that every day.
  5. Doulas are amazing human beings. “The second child’s birth is the birth of a father.”
  6. John Grisham’s Work Routine is what works for me.
  7. Headspace Meditations on Sleep Health, Pain Management, and Anxiety are helping me defeat my resistance.
  8. Always remember what it’s like to be a kid.
  9. Seven to nine hours of sleep is required.
  10. Read everything, put yourself—as strange as you are—on the page.
  11. Less is more in life and digital.
  12. Remember the walk to Mirror Lake. That is your Creator’s Path. You listen to everything, choose a new action, and stop blaming others.
  13. If you want to get stuff done, wake up early.
  14. Playing with Loglines: Wonder Boys meets Parenthood and Legion. For fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and the work of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. As if John Hughes, Danny Woodrell, and Kelly Link were on the writing staff of Twin Peaks. Tintin meets Hellboy. Little Nemo in Slumberland in the 21st century.
  15. The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony and how being an office drone leads to creative death.
  16. What it means to be the father of a daughter and there are unwitting predators everywhere. Transfering that anger from real life to fiction.
  17. Matthew McConaughey on life not being easy, unbelievable is the dumbest word, happiness is an if/then statement and never attainable, but joy is a constant ever-present process of doing the work of being a human. That you must define success for yourself and don’t leave crumbs behind. Pay yourself every day.
  18. Small things lead to big things and a lack of doing the small things lead to big problems. So make small things playful activities with your kids.
  19. Finally always ask: how does this next action impact my intentions to be a loving, joyful, proactive husband, father, and storyteller?

Spinning

Morning Pages

Happy void period between Christmas and New Years! We are back on for the week in which I will talk all about what I learned this fall.

The first such thing is Morning Pages. I write them in a Field Notes notebook because writing them in my main journal is too long and feels more like homework. Previously them I wrote them on legal pad paper and that’s probably one of the reasons I dropped the habit.

I did them for a long time, when Squibbish was born but I dropped out of the habit, because I stopped seeing the purpose of them. I was just writing to write and get three pages in about literally anything, but since developing the new routines, I see value in them to write about and work out a solution for the resistance and my diagnosis’ symptoms to generate actions that lean into my intentions of being a loving, joyous, and proactive husband, father, and storyteller who is working on being physically and mentally healthy.

That last statement is my voice as a human like the novella I finished just before my daughter was born was a pure distillation of what my voice is as a fiction writer. A loving, joyous, proactive husband, father, and storyteller. This is my character, or whatever you want to call it.

This is when I realized, while finishing Ned Hallowell and John Ratey’s 2005 book Delivered from Distraction, that the last three months—really since Baby Girl was born—and I got out of sync with my work routines and adjusting to an expanding family and all that goes with it. I have have been “SPIN[ning]” as Hallowell writes where I’ve hit a wall in which my therapy, the medication, etc has driven me into a wall and in many ways I feel worse than I’ve ever felt. SPIN stands for:

Shame
P stands for pessimism and negativity
Isolation
N stands for No creative, productive outlet.

Family illnesses, inconsistent work schedule, Mercury in Retrograde, a car accident that totaled my car and the stress of finding a new one wrapped around the holiday seasons and an exceptionally boundary-pushing preschooler has made the last three months really rough. All this has equaled in not finding much time to write, feelings of deep shame for the horrible car accident, isolating myself from work and loved ones because I just don’t feel like I’m worthy of their love or kindness and worst of all—not writing or working on fiction, or working on it very slowly.

So in my Morning Pages, I asked myself what next action will I take to show my intentions of being a mentally and physically healthy dad, husband, and writer who loves all three of those things and works on them with joy and proactivity? That is: to take the next best action afterwards. And keep building towards a finished product.

The Journal of Best Practices by David J. Finch

No not this David Finch
This one.

 

Forgive me for this one because there will be a lot of comic book puns.

David J. Finch is like me—a writer, a parent, and husband. At my age, he was diagnosed with Aspergers. But when he was a kid he was also diagnosed with ADD and got help and treatment for it when I did not. It’s because I wasn’t a behavioral problem. I don’t lose my cool. In fact, I’m pretty calm a lot of the time—very easy-going—until I’m not. I can rage, snap, and treat loved ones like the bad guys whenever I like. And will at least once a week. It’s horrible.

After my evaluation was complete it came with a bibliography for future reading and this book was one of them. The fact that it started with journal and best practices and with the subhead of: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband. I knew I had to read it.

My symptoms—my mental health was exacerbated by a life-altering move. It’s still affecting my personal life. This, obviously, is really hard to admit publicly, but I have to take accountability and I don’t want to use my condition as a stick to beat myself up and use my family as a barometer for expectations that I pile on top of myself and then fail to achieve my goals. Here’s something my wife said: “choose you; choose us.”  My symptoms, while not hyperactive, do manifest as tantrums from time to time so I do behave like a 40-year-old toddler. I make my familythe bad guy and I’m not managing myself, which is the key to this book, a journal of best practices. So I started my own journal of Best Actions. Here’s something that I took from this book, something my wife said: “choose you; choose us.” 

I’ve amended my root productivity document after reading this book to help me manage my symptoms:

1. Listen and give your undivided attention. 2. Perform action to what you’re paying attention to and either achieve the goal of what you’re acting on or receive the stimuli from the result. 3. Seek solutions by managing yourself and doing research and asking questions but don’t blame your mind, your body, or your family for how you’re feeling or falling into your victim pattern where you make excuses, blame others, complain, and turn people into the bad guy. 4. Recognize that your mind is unreliable and it is just doing what it’s used to and it is your responsibility to respond as a creator and change your Victim / Creator alternating pattern. So go back to the beginning until you achieve your goal and stay out of the Victim’s Woods, stay on the Creator’s Path and get to the Ideal Life Summit. Remember Aurelius: “You could leave life right now. Let that govern what you DO, say, and think.”

From my Routines document.

Here’s what that means: it’s me, not my wife or Squibbish, that is responsible for my symptoms. I was born this way and it means that I have things to say about it. And on today, our four-year-anniversary, the ultimate lesson of the Journal of Best Practices is to manage myself and let go of my hang-ups. They are a part of who I am, but I’m responsible for them–and so are you. So that means a better routine for managing myself–and it starts with the above. It’s also one that Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners has helped me explore.

How to Talk So Little Kids Listen By Joanna Faber and Julia King

The first symptoms of my conditions are dysthymia and extreme egotism, which—I think—if you read this website you can see that I have that. 

The first thing that damages one’s relationship with others as someone with ADD and Aspergers is how self-centered they are, unfocused, and inflexible. They are used to managing themselves through their schedule and not interracting with others. Obviously this is a problem when you have children, are married, and you work with people rather than alone. I think this is one of the reasons why writing for a living was and still is very attractive—I’m alone with my thoughts. I make money from my thoughts, my words, and my imaginary friends. I’m good with words, thoughts, setting intentions, and being creative, but I’m not good at action. (See also: Why I never submitted my fiction until recently.) So when I picked up this book as a part of trying to re-frame how I talk and listen to my son (Squibbish), I was going through my evaluation and one of the things that I struggle with is talking and listening to others. That’s symptomatic of someone with High Functioning Autism (Aspergers, HFA, etc.) They are so rigid in their schedules, routines, and struggle with empathy. For me it manifests as self-centered. We don’t come wired well for empathy. I think that’s why I was so well-suited to memoir and nonfiction and fiction that is strongly autobiographical. But in my evaluation I came to realize that my empathy quotient is higher than most people with Aspergers and that’s why I’m tricky to diagnose. I’m good at playing alone, being imaginative, and creative. I think it’s because I love to read, write, and teach. To be good at any of those things you have to be somewhat good with people. And I am. Another reason why I’m tricky but still not “neurotypical.” 

My first fiction short story that was published was something I actually did as a kid. What happened in the story, the people involved in the story were not people I knew, or how things concluded, but they are extensions of my life—fictional takes on my autobio. 

So I lean into my symptoms when I do that and I write it off as “Well all fiction writers do that to a certain extent. They take elements of their lives and mine it in their fiction.” That’s true, but I probably do it more than others. Writers also stick to a strict schedule or pattern and when things don’t go to plan, they struggle. That is, once again, symptomatic of Aspergers. A lack of attention, of focus, of being able to process feedback as information rather than an attack is symptomatic of ADD. A lack of social and communication skills is symptomatic of both. All of the above make for a pretty rough cocktail when you’re a dad who wants to be a fiction writer. 

What do you do when you have this problem? I read. I ask questions, I try to learn, but when you have a hard time processing information as information and processing words into actions, well, you have a cocktail that makes you stagger around psychologically drunk every other day. How do you combat that? You go to therapy. You go to a group. You read deeply, slowly, and you make notes. You talk about what you learned.

So that’s what I did and How to Talk So Little Kids Listen continues to help me. Sure some days are better than others, but that’s life as a parent. You have to learn to go with the flow of your kids. That’s what I learned from this book. Some highlights: 

  1. “You can’t behave right when you don’t feel right.” That’s kind of my mantra with regard to Squibbish.
  2. Acknowledge feelings with words and avoid using the word “you” when expressing annoyance, irritation, or anger.” 
  3. Take action with limits: “I don’t want to be late for work. I’m buckling you in, I know how much you hate that!” 
  4. Be playful and make it a game. 
  5. Describe the effect on others: “The baby loves it when you make those funny sounds. I see a big smile on her face.” 

But the chapter that really did it for me was Chapter 5: Tools for kids who are differently wired. 

“Our world feels wrong to him—too loud or too quiet, too much touching or not enough, too much to look at, and too exhausting to make sense of it all.” (167)

This nailed the book for me because it helps me approach a situation, hypothetically, when and if Squibbish or any of his future siblings manifest my symptoms. This book, and all of this research I’ve done on my diagnosis will help my wife and I work with that possible future, and hopefully be able to help them way earlier than I got the help I needed. Twenty-four years after my first diagnosis is a tragedy but not one I, or anyone else, had any control over.

More on that tomorrow.

The Method.

The book and my journal–open to today’s entry.

What finally convinced me to read the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius was how frequently it was mentioned in the Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll. The other thing that struck me was that Carroll was diagnosed with ADD when he was younger and eventually this led to the development of this method. 

While reviewing the book and taking notes on it into my diary this past winter and spring, I was undergoing an evaluation and was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Aspergers. For twenty-four years of my life I knew I had a non-verbal learning disability, which is the school psychologist way of saying Aspergers or as it is now known as High Functioning Austism, but I came to realize that this former diagnosis was not the whole picture, and the realization for why the Bullet Journal worked so well for me in the last seven years of my life was because it was designed by someone like me. 

So when Carroll quoted Aurelius, Seneca, and others in the book I knew I finally had to give the Stoics a chance. And both journaling and Stoicism has helped me come to grips with my diagnosis–twenty-four years after an accurate diagnosis may have helped save a lot of strife in my life. In the chapter on control, Carroll writes: 

“We can’t control our feelings, people, or external events. But there is something we can control and it’s powerful. We can control how we respond to what happens to us.” 

My marginalia in the book, because I’m a nerd.

This quote has become the touchstone of my exterior life the last six months. I’ve always considered myself a Naturalist because this is what naturalism is about. The practice Carroll preaches to get this quote from intention to action, or responding vs reacting is to go through what you have to do that day and identify what is and what is not in your control. For example, on Sunday, I wrote that it would be great if I took a nap, but immediately after I did a little premeditation and looked at what I had to do on Sunday—it became clear that a nap wasn’t going to happen. Despite knowing I needed it. I had to look at the manufacturer of our house’s sun-room door, write three pages and do a blog update, write the newsletter, write the week schedule; and primarily, break down the boxes in the garage to be taken out by the recycling service Monday morning. So I resolved that the most important thing that I do is break down the boxes in the garage and get them out of there so we can at least park one car in there. If I did that then I would sit on the couch for a little while and read and put my kid in front of a movie, and I did that and dozed off for about a half hour. 

Most importantly, goals provide direction, they focus on outcomes that are out of our control, so really the only way to achieve anything is to break them down into actions like: use the box cutter to strip the box for the television. Undo the tape on the book boxes and lay them flat so that you can cart them out easily in the morning with the big broom. 

But most of all write down at the end of the day what you’re learning. I do a morning reflection where I talk about what I’m grateful for, what would make today great, and I practice the Stoic method of Premeditatio Malorum, or worst case scenario.  Initially, in my evening reflection, I started out asking of “How Could I have Made Today Better?” Which, if you’re like me, lays blame on oneself for not being “neurotypical.” So instead I flipped that and ask myself: what am I learning? What lessons has [blank situation or relationship] taught me or inspired me to learn? What do I want to learn more about? And finally how will I go about learning it? Because that doesn’t make excuses, or blame others or complain that heads in the direction education and creative problem-solving. It’s staying on the Hike’s path. 

It is one of the reasons why this book led to How to Talk So Little Kids Listen and how I learned how to be sensitive to my son’s needs and how to not just listen to him but others as well, because that’s something Aspie folks like me struggle with horribly. 

Goals Chapter Notes