Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Optimizing mental rejuvenation

Published: 26 Nov 2012

My wife and I have been together for 10 years now (in a few more weeks, anyway). It’s pretty amazing and I’m very lucky. Partnerships always require work, honesty and devotion. That’s something we’ve both practiced since the beginning and it’s paid off.

One of the very few issues that we were far apart from a mutual understanding was about my mind. She couldn’t understand it and I wasn’t good at explaining it. Then with the help of a book, it became clear to her. I don’t even remember the book, but the message was simple. Cognitive or mentally stressful efforts (typically from work) require periods of mental rejuvenation. The book called this “Fire Gazing time”.

My fire gazing is not very conventional, at least according to that book. I don’t like to watch TV. I really love watching soccer, but still am very productive while watching. She didn’t understand this. This isn’t to say she tried to prevent this time; she merely didn’t understand it and as such treated it as if it was unimportant. She instead tried to fill the time with something fun for both of us. She had a hard time understanding my brain needs this time!

I spent a lot of energy trying to explain it and illustrate it’s importance. I spent a lot more energy explaining than I ever did trying to make myself more efficient. This week that imbalance finally floated up to my conscious mind and immediately felt it must be solved.

A new goal

I need to improve. If I truly believe in making five minutes today more valuable than 6 minutes yesterday why have I not targeted this before? I was missing out.

The first steps to achieving any goal is to clearly define what the end result is. What is my victory condition? This is actually pretty challenging for something as nebulously defined as fire gazing.

Fortunately, I’ve had years of focusing and explaining, so I can define the outcome for me:

  1. I am able to selectively focus and concentrate on a task of my choosing.
  2. I am able to visualize what I hope to achieve.
  3. I feel happy to be doing the work I choose to do.

This is essentially the state I wake up in most mornings. I want to recapture that sensation later in the day.

Current methods

My favorite activity for this is jogging, however right now I’m unable to run. A 2 to 3 mile jog is amazing to clear the mind and instill fresh vigor into my being. This continues to be my preference, but it is very time consuming. At a reasonable pace, my 3 mile run takes about 30 minutes with stretching and cool down. Then I need a shower. All in, about 45 minutes and I truly feel fresh. This has amazing success rates.

Another activity is writing. This is very hit or miss. I often times find myself flittering away, since the entire problem I’m attempting to solve is waning focus and concentration. If I know what I want to write I’m able to be more successful. The challenge is that I rarely know what I want to write. Often times I don’t want to be typing anymore. It’s a careful balance and only works when the stars align. It’s too inconsistent.

Reading is enjoyable, but I’ve never found the end result to be a renewed creative and focused mind. I wish reading did provide me with this but so far it hasn’t. If I’m really enjoying a book I will find myself reading for hours, spending far more time than I originally anticipated. If the book isn’t that engaging, the time merely passes and then I’m back to where I was.

The final method is playing video games. Any game that require active concentration and thought will work. My success rates are pretty low, about 50%. Even if I’m successful, I tend to have increased fatigue. I’m able to multitask and let the background thoughts bubble up. In this regard, it is better than even running. I keep paper next to me and write down problems I’d like to solve or ideas to explore. If playing online, I’m sure my teammates hate me; I will frequently stop playing to write down some thought or idea.

The major issue with video games is that I feel very unproductive. I enjoy games, but the time spent rarely seems worth it. Only when I truly am done and want a break (or playing with my son) do I feel ok spending my time playing a game. The rewards are not high enough.

Since my knee is out of commission, games and writing are all I’ve been doing. It’s inadequate and I need to change.

New ideas

Ultimately, I want to feel very productive. My renewal and refreshing requires my mind to be focused on a task, but the task can have no consequences attached to it. I cannot worry about competing or failure. When I run, I focus on a few things and simply zone out. It’s a meditative experience. When I play a video game, I think about the gameplay but there are no consequences to it. Writing is similar, thinking of construction and if I’m not posting it I don’t care how terrible it is. Consequences cannot exist to renew my mind.

The idea I tried today was easy. Doing something around the house that I want to do. Not a chore, just something that I think makes the living space better. I’m trying this through the week. It gets me up and moving around, allows me to be creative and feel like I’m solving a problem I’ve noticed. I’m free to even stop if inspiration hits abruptly.

I have some other ideas, but will write on those after I see how a week of home improvement goes.