Weather vane

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here other than about the research I’m putting together as part of the Clore Social Leadership Programme. I was going to write a list as a shorthand way of explaining, but really there’s only one thing on it: I was trying to do what I normally do while also growing a baby who needed a bunch of extra tests to check that it was okay.

Hence the hyggethe reams of knitting, the hours of listening to books on tape—stemming from the overwhelming sense of unfocusedness and occasional hopelessness. But then December struck and the tests were clear and we headed off to America for a glorious family Christmas. I could relax, I could read books to myself, I could run again (or “joggle” as my kid prefers to describe it). I could begin to figure out what the next steps in life might be Iike.

I realise how unlike myself I felt the whole of last autumn, the summer too, in fact. I’ve talked before about the need to go fallow for a while—I hadn’t realised that it’s not always possible to control when and where it happens, or for how long, nor how self-preserving it is. But now I’m back to sowing seeds for the next few months, and life beyond, life with two little kids.

I now more than ever believe that we each have an attitudinal weather vane. Sometimes it’s blown forcibly in a direction, sometimes we can edge it towards where we want it to face, we have less control over it than some (I) would like, but more than others might think.


Laying fallow

Barn-and-Fallow-FieldRight at the start of my #Flourish40 experiment, a pressing concern was that I shouldn’t turn into a douchebag. The reason? If I were to bang on too much about flourishy-flourishy stuff and become Little Miss Self-Improvement, then I am in clear danger of becoming boring, earnest and perhaps a little bit psycho.

I also remembered, somewhere along the way, that humans are the creatures who are best at habituating themselves of all. In other words we are highly adaptable.* So highly adaptable that what is for a short while a novelty soon turns into something just mundane and ordinary—we go from ‘whoah!’ to ‘meh’ surprisingly easily.

And it’s when we get to ‘meh’ that stuff starts slipping. And, for me, earlier this year, that was a moment for me to go ‘uh?’. I’ll stop with all that ‘meh’, ‘uh’ ‘whoah’ stuff now. It was a moment for me to galvanise myself to take stock, to spring clean.

But now, now I realise that actually to do what Franklin tried to do and have a clean sheet of virtues on repeat week after week for ever is INSANE and most likely deeply depressing. In fact, we humans are cyclical beings**, and what would be much more sensible is to acknowledge, honour and maximise those cycles of productivity/sloppiness or flourishing/languishing.

A regimen a bit like the one I adopted for six weeks is a good idea [well done me], but it can’t last forever. It shouldn’t. It should be a temporary, stop-gap thing. A time to do a slightly drastic realignment, with the expectation that it will need to happen again at another point. Maybe in a month. Maybe in a year.

Here’s how I see my cycle:

  1. TRUNDLE AND BUMBLE. I’m just mooching along, doing what I’m doing, not really thinking, getting most stuff done and feeling okay. I’m picking up a few bad habits, and they’re sticking because I’m not really mindful of them because I’m really pretty busy right now, okay?
  2. LANGUISH AND FADE.The mooching gives way to the mounting stress and doom of too much to do, too little time. I’m not burned out just yet, but I’m conscious that it’s not that far away. So I have a choice: continue trundling along, doing too much and getting stretched or—
  3. GO FALLOW. Deliberately shut down and do just the bare minimum that’s required to function in key elements of life, such as, um, my job or being a parent/wife/friend. Maybe after a few days, I’ll throw a pity party for myself; put on some Annie Lennox, find a box of Kleenex and read through Forbes’ 30 under 30 knowing that I’ll never make that list, while piles in my inbox and laundry basket mount on up.
  4. CRITICISE AND LOAF. Write out all the things I wish I did differently. Then figure out which ones would make the most impact, right now, if I were to change them. At the same time do utterly unproductive, inane and possibly morally/ethically dubious stuff (buy Company AND InStyle AND Grazia, buy scarily cheap clothes, eat three hamburgers and a burrito in a week, plug my child into an iPad for 24 hours) until I get to the sweet spot of functional self-loathing. And this is the moment to devise the regimen, the six-week or forty day boot camp to restore order and move up.
  5. BEGIN THE REGIMEN. Make a small number of hard rules and try to stick with them for a short amount of time. Note down what works and what doesn’t and reflect on the process. Keep going. Stay strict on myself, but reward myself when I do well. Probably with chocolate. This is the time to aim higher than where I ever expect to land, in the expectation that I’ll land somewhere higher than I if I had expected to land somewhere lower. (Victor Frankl says that better.)
  6. DITCH THE REGIMEN. And go to guidelines. If I stay on the regimen too long that’s when I have the potential of really going psycho. Instead, at the end, ditch the rules, and develop just a few guidelines on what I’d now mostly like to be doing. Keep going until it falls back into the trundle and bumble stage and then start all over again.

*This is one of those posts where I’m not fact-checking; so go on the assumption that all claims I’m making are spurious.

**As above.