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Slowly

I’ve been reading this for the past hour:

Sweet irony and absolute fit in one.

It’s one of the earliest books I bought myself, but never read fully through, which I’m sure its author, as an advocate of slow-pace anything, would approve of. It so happens I wrote an essay about idleness for university and did this at my grandparents’ on the last few good and hopeful summer days my grandmother had. I had fibbed a little to stay with them, saying I couldn’t write this at home because of the racket. But in truth, I’m used to the average rackets, and really wanted to hold on to what I felt was getting inevitably lost.

It’s ironic to be reading it because I ought to be really busy right now. It’s an absolute fit because I couldn’t be further. I’ve lived this book and worse.

It started on Monday when I still had an excuse. I was seduced by the sweetness of daydreaming when I ought to have started to research for my thesis. After the hectic weekend and the perfectionist’s panic episode that got quite bad at one point, a few hours of daydreaming seemed well-earned. It wouldn’t stop though. A few hours became a day, two days and five. I had no resistance to the peace of it. It felt like nature had given me an antidote to stress and my body was producing its own anaesthetic.

I quite stopped caring about the thesis and failing it the second time. It wasn’t going to be my failure or fault. It simply wasn’t fair play that others get three months and I got three weeks. I thought so much, so very much, wrote a lot of texts in my head too, and daydreamed a little for intermissions, but I never thought of the thesis. It was like being in a lazy cocoon. At the back of my mind, I knew it was stolen, and every day I was making things more difficult for myself.

Today I wondered if this is what burnout is like? Do you just walk out out of the blue? You totally lose touch and stop caring?

I’ve casually followed some course-related discussions on the forum and felt quite inferior and out of place. These people are interested in this topic! They read extra materials! They have all these clever opinions. And then there’s me recommending others that you don’t need to read through the thick English-language textbook, but can pass the course with just reading the slides. Like Delboy at the theatre asking if anybody fancies a crisp.

The entire time I’ve been studying psychology, I have struggled with this attitude problem. I know too well what my interests are and what I’m never going to need, parts of the brain, for example. And my mind filters out the latter and does not want to waste time on courses like this. But this attitude feels immature. Specialization is good but I’m not at that stage. So I feel like a schoolkid among all those people with more mature attitudes who manage to take an interest in a wider variety of topics.

I just like to think really. To think and understand. I don’t care about where the parietal lobe is.

This semester I like my psychometry course very much. Whatever I do with the rest (two), this I want to do. Its a very rewarding experience in its immediacy too. I recently learnt what a Z-score is and how to calculate it and felt like I understand a new piece of what seemed like elite code. And it’s always a “wow, I see, I see” kind of experience for me, no matter how small the new piece acquired. There’s something so calming in working with numbers too. I think I’d enjoy doing that for a hobby in old age. When others go to a knitting circle meeting, I’d go to a statistics and trignometry group, with lovely nerdy bespectacled Miss Marples. If such things existed, of course. Amateur mathematics.

I suppose I will try to do something next week. It will soon be over at least regardless of the result. This cheers me up a little. Come October, I’m freeeee.

Panic

I had a very small, completely insignificant, an insult to the real thing, panic attack earlier today.

It’s not going to be interesting what I write, but I have to write it in the hopes I can get it out of the system even a little.

I found out on 4 September that I can write my research paper in autumn after all. I hadn’t a topic. I hadn’t a supervisor. The deadline is 30 September.

I managed to get myself a supervisor this week, which is more than I managed in spring. I was really glad and thankful, but I find it unethical to land with this insane deadline on my supervisor. I don’t want to force him to work exclusively with me during the next three weeks. I can afford to work more intensively, but I just can’t expect the same of others. So I’ve decided to go it alone as much as I can. I want to turn up for our first meeting with some kind of a draft already. I don’t see any other way. It’s possibly next week. And I’m so completely lost and have no idea how I can do this.

If people were considerate and sane at university, the normal procedure would be to go to your supervisor and discuss your idea. I’m at this stage. I have a topic: episodic and semantic memory in personality testing. I have a couple of hypotheses. I’ve read a few of the most important articles. My supervisor would help to narrow me down and tell me what can and can’t be done and what might be worth investigating in this topic. Then I’d research it and allow it to settle. Make some minor shifts in focus perhaps. Then I’d draw up the project. But with this idiotic three week deadline, I’m deprived of all that. I have to go straight from an idea to a draft without any support or exchange of suggestions.

No, writing this doesn’t help. It just makes me feel worse. Let’s try about the good things.

I failed that course in spring when they had a normal deadline of three months. I couldn’t find a supervisor, but I also didn’t really want to, so was almost relieved no one replied or wanted me. That’s probably why I’m so chivalrous right now when someone actually wanted to work with me.

And this topic is much closer to my real interests than anything I considered in spring. So it was right that it worked out this way. I feel good on that front. And somehow I will make it for this deadline, I know this, but it’s gonna be full of crises like today’s. I especially don’t know how I’m going to manage to lift myself from a know-a-little to a know-a-lot in the 2-3 days I have before the meeting. Hence the panic. That might even be the hardest thing.

 

Patterns

I think I just have to accept the cyclicality of my moods and energy levels. Previously I’ve hoped I’d find something to stabilize myself a little, but this hasn’t worked out. While that hope was alive, I wasn’t making the best of any state as far as pursuing my dreams went. In total I experience four states:

1) low energy  + normal mood (most common)

2) low energy + depressive slump (happens)

3) high energy + bad mood (rarest; also known as my masculine energy phase)

4) high energy + high spirits (happens)

 

The problem was (is) that when I’m having low energy + depressive slump I don’t do anything for obvious reasons. I also don’t do anything useful when in a regular low energy phase. The inspiration is not there and everything feels like a chore. I’ve just exited that phase, so my memory of it is fresh. This time there were days I tried to write in spite of having no inspiration. Sometimes I managed to add one or two lines to an unfinished poem. Some of those weren’t half bad, and one line is better than none, but I felt like I had brain fog. It was really hard to be bright.

Typically when these moods go away, and I have high energy (and high spirits) again, I’m so stunned by the contrast that I don’t do anything useful either but spend most of such times being frivolous and rejoicing in feeling like a normal human being.

And that is why: I cannot change the cyclicality of these things, but I can can change how I approach them.

It’s easier with the high energy phases. I manage to work during those periods now because I acknowledge it’s the best time for it and that times like this will come again, so I don’t have to cling to it like someone that found an oasis in a desert. It’d be good for me if I could tune it down a little bit though and not verge on hypomania. But it’s not really a problem. I control it.

What to do with the low energy phases I really don’t know. I’ve been thinking that perhaps it is enough if I use the high energy phases for working on my creative projects and that’d be that. So, essentially stopping to try and beat myself to it during the low energy periods. Typically, I just end up feeling bad about how useless I am and how I’ll never amount to anything. And that can leave a mark on high energy periods too.

So my current strategy is to focus on the high energy periods and use them well. I’ve only very recently learnt to do it and I don’t trust very fresh improvements. So I won’t be adding new changes on top of it yet. Regardless, I do see potential to use the low energy phases better too. Just, go about it slow.

Today is an excellent day, by the way. I feel like I’m coming close to the fun I had in June again, but I doubt it’d last for three weeks ever again. Still, I take what is given. Starlit walks ahead this weekend. And trips and things and my new poem about falling downstairs that I came up with last night and feel optimistic about.

*

Other: I’ve been reading Martin Eden and it’s so exactly everything I expected it to be that I don’t even know how to feel about it. I suppose I’d have felt disappointed if it hadn’t been what I expected, but I also feel it’d be nicer, better, if it could exceed these expectations. Or I don’t know. When a classic Western is exactly what I expect it to be, like Stagecoach, I don’t complain. I start complaining when characters are miscast, too cruel, plot is implausible, internal logic is violated, but I never complain when I get the tropes and storyline I wanted to get in a well-executed way.

 

Truthfulness in personality tests

Social desireability:  this is when you answer questions (either in a personality test or interview (job)) the way you think a good citizen would answer.

Do you drink? Every other night. Socially.

Do you engage in casual sex? Sadly too often. Almost never.

Do you think all people are equal? Not really. Yes.

Episodic memory: memories of life experience, like how you learnt to ride a bike, what the sunset was like yesterday, or how you felt when you were ignored at the party.

Semantic memory: this contains facts and general knowledge, like one’s shoe size, the birthday of your favourite comedian, the capital of Angola, or how people generally feel when ignored at the party.


 

Due to many factors, among them vast experience of taking personality tests, the resulting boredom, my innate tendency to make boring things more varied, increasing ability/tendency to avoid desireable untruth in self-assessment, have led me to answer to personality questionnaires in a different way.

I now use episodic memory over semantic memory. That is, I don’t automatically and without questioning tick the box of “I agree” to socially desireable answers. I try to strike at the actual truth of it and consider if I truly agree, at all times and circumstances, or do I just like to think I agree. Conversely, I suspect (but am not sure) that when people employ semantic memory in answering personality tests, it might be much more prone to error. One doesn’t think then but just goes with things automatically based on one’s identity, which can be quite static and slow to adapt to change. Plus, even if something isn’t part of identity and one would need to employ episodic memory in answering, social desireability would still interfere.

This explanation is tiresome.

But having started to answer this way has led to the exact same consequences I’ve experienced in real life situations, where a truth-sayer is either pitied for having an unideal life or ostracized for negativism, even if all they do is look at life and themselves more truthfully than common or tolerated. Namely, truthfulness leads to peculiar discrepancies.

Returning to personality tests, I scored in the bottom 2% for conscientiousness in the Five Factor Model. I was quite stunned by being worse than 98% people in conscientiousness. It has also led to a noticeable drop in my agreeableness/sociability scores. This is such complete bollocks it does not deserve refutation.

It is very problematic for personality tests if a more truthful answering style makes the results much more untrue. It makes me think that I can’t really operate on this level of analysis when test-makers and answerers operate on a lower level. Or there should be a social desireability coefficient (that works!).

Alternatives to personality analysis are something I’d like to know more about one day. To date, I’ve not found one that convinced me and could replace the classic way of thinking (trait theory, I suppose it’s called?). It is too static, too governed by self-schema.

I don’t know much about personality psychology really, but I just wanted to record the anomaly I experienced as I shifted from traditional normal person answering style to very truthful episodic-memory-based answering style.

A negativity shift in testing?

The purpose of this test is to confirm that human beings have many bad traits, but are afraid to say so. If you are a good test subject, pay attention to your desire to answer like a good person and focus on how you are actually like. It’s a dare. Don’t be a coward. Every time you spot yourself at a socially desireable lie and correct it, indicate it.

Leading to….social undesireability bias?

 

 

This. This.

The psychological reason why some people are so hard on themselves isn’t necessarily a matter of low self-esteem. It’s more likely a product of the need for affect, which is the intensity at which people want to feel anything. Positive disintegration is often correlated with a higher degree of over-excitability, which is another way to say that people who develop themselves thoroughly often feel they are in a state of crisis, whereas other people would not perceive those circumstances to be as dire, or in need of a similar response.

(could relate to this)

Procrastination

Recently, there have been these theories going around about procrastination being linked to perfectionism and self-esteem. Allegedly, people who procrastinate are the types that tend to set too high standards for themselves so they are not even motivated to begin because the likelihood of falling short of perfect is high. And it’s generally demotivating to contemplate doing things under such pressure to perform perfectly. It is also linked to one’s sense of self-worth. Procrastinators, like defensive pessimists, use procrastination as a coping strategy to deal with failure. The defensive pessimist will imagine everything that can go wrong. When it doesn’t, they feel a sense of accomplishment. When it does, well, they expected this anyway. For procrastinators, the focus is slightly different, it’s on maintaining a positive sense of self-esteem. So, when putting off studying for an exam until the last minute, and then failing, the procrastinator failed not because of their lack of ability, but because they did not prepare properly. The latter is a lot easier to accept, no ego bruise will follow. You got the ability, you were just lazy. If, however, the exam turns out a success, more reason to be proud of oneself for making it even under such circumstances. Such ideas are summarized here, for example: Warning: extremely clickbait title.

So yes, these ideas seem to dominate the popular science psychology articles. I don’t know if they are equally dominant in the less popularly accessible segment of psychology. I hope they are not, because reading these explanations for procrastination was very eye-brow-raising for me.

First: don’t these people with such hypotheses consider putting off doing the dishes as a form of procrastination? If they do – and I would – then how can one possibly fit perfectionism and self-esteem into it? Perhaps an obsessive-compulsive person with a cleanliness fetish might be daunted by the thought of not getting the dishes absolutely spotless, but surely this is not the case for the average procrastinator. Maybe I miss something. These articles always talk of deadlines, essays, work-related procrastination etc., but what of cleaning the bathroom, weeding the flower beds, mowing the grass and other such activities. I would be very interested to know how does one fit “putting off going to the supermarket for milk” style of procrastination into the self-esteem and perfectionism explanation.

I do think I am missing some vital piece of information when reading such articles, because researchers cannot be so blind to ignore these forms of procrastination also happening.

Yes, I think perfectionism can be demotivating and make it hard to begin on something. But I don’t think it’s the universal key to unlock the mysteries of procrastination.

Some alternative hypotheses:

  1. Evolutionary psychology may not be my favourite branch as it is often too reductionist and dismissive of potential for change, but sometimes it can work for explaining things better than many other theories. It’s certainly very intuitive. So I’d intuitively hypothesise that evolutionally, human beings have not been accustomed to much consistent, regulated effort and the time management required of us now is very new to our brains. Rather, in humanity’s long infant stage, we did things in short intensive bursts, followed by periods of rest/doing nothing much. Most procrastinators are similar, are they not? They can get it done, they can work hard when required, but most of the time they spend in some sort of energy conservation mode. Such as: you go hunt that mammoth, then you eat it and stay put and don’t do a great deal. Maybe you pick your teeth with the bones. Even the division of the day into work and leisure time is a relatively new invention in the context of how long the human race has been around. So the short energy burst theory is one hypothesis.
  2. Second: similar difference as between extroverts and introverts when it comes to social energy. Procrastinators have less motivational energy, they prefer to conserve the little they do have and do things that are easy and undemanding most of the time and only to activate their motivational energy when it is unavoidable. I wonder if there is a concept of motivational energy in existence? I hope there is. That could also explain why people are super motivated on the first few days and lose it along the way. It just runs out. Most of us are not blessed with a lot of it so consistency in attaining one’s goals is hard for us.
  3. The negative impact of the must. Most people don’t like doing things they have to do. If phrased like that, this is demotivating. It seems almost hard-wired into a lot of people that whatever is a must is an unpleasant duty, even if it wouldn’t be in essence (like going for a run or gym). I’m definitely like this, perhaps to the extreme: make something a thing I MUST do instead of CAN do and I feel its oppressive weight descend on me and kill off all motivation.
  4. Points 2 and 3 stem from this evolutionary tendency and help to explain variation. Not everyone is a procrastinator, so the evolutionary theory cannot explain why some are classified as procrastinators and others not. Unless. One adds the component of other personality traits that can either neutralize (very high discipline and motivational energy, very high ability to accept authority) the general human tendency to do things in short intense efforts or cancel it out from manifesting.

It’s all rather vague and hardly more than a mind game, but it makes more intuitive sense to me than the perfectionism and self-esteem theories that strangely ignore aspects of procrastination where it is hard to imagine those forces being at play. I hope someone comes up with a more plausible theory.

Also, perhaps this perfectionism theory at least is yet another ‘saving of face’ strategy of the procrastinators themselves – being a perfectionist makes for a good, comfortable excuse. One can be proud of being a perfectionist. But admitting you procrastinate because you lack discipline and motivational energy is not so nice. I certainly procrastinate for those reasons.

Winter passivity

I discovered a good way of feeling absolutely normal.

I took the MMPI test (MMPI=Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which is a test used to determine the existence of psychopathologies). And there was absolutely nothing significantly wrong with me.

Then by some mysterious route, I ended up reading about attachment styles, and took a test to determine my own, which was once again, the most normal secure style.

I haven’t felt so normal in a while.

*Blows a kiss to personality tests*

 

Attachment style test here.

Being an introverted extrovert

Every personality test I’ve ever taken – and I’ve taken my fair share because I like that sort of thing – has placed me firmly in the introvert camp. Reading the descriptions of introverts and extroverts has never made me doubt I was distinctly introverted.

Until…

This spring I came upon something that turned my understanding upside down. Apparently, introverts are more prone to experiencing negative emotions, particularly neurotic introverts. Extroverted neurotics, on the other hand, experience strong ups and downs and life is more like a roller-coaster to them.

This confused the hell out of me because I could relate much more to the latter. I can be ridiculously happy about small things (and big things). None of my introverted friends seem to have that propensity to jump around because of feeling too excited and happy to sit still. They are a lot more subdued, although not necessarily less neurotic.

I began exploring. I talked it through with my introverted friends, I did a lot of comparing, kept my eyes open to the distinctions between extroverts and introverts. Eventually, I had to conclude that at the very least, I was an atypical introvert.

I live an introvert’s life and can’t imagine myself ever starting to value small talk or superficial interactions. I get bored with such talk fast and want to escape. I like to be alone much more than most people. But, unlike other introverts, I sometimes feel the urge to talk to strangers in public places (I’m too shy and polite to do it, but I want to) if their conversation and personalities appeal to me. I love people staying over. I love hosting guests. I look forward to getting my flat in decent condition so I can invite everyone I like there. What sort of typical introvert likes having a house full of guests? But I love it. I don’t, however, like being a guest at other people’s place when there are lots of people who are strangers to me. My shyness makes me uncomfortable and I generally like to get to know people individually and privately rather than talk over the room.

I don’t mind party games, provided they are not embarrassing nor force me to be the centre of attention. I don’t mind strangers coming to talk to me in public places. Usually, such encounters are at least memorable and make for good stories later. Proper introverts are likely to hate all these things.

I can also talk excessively when I’m in the mood. I’m not always in the mood, but when I am, I can be a chatterbox. I have a greater need to share than most introverts, and I can get restless and edgy when there isn’t anyone to talk to (provided I’m in a sociable mood). Talking to likeable people can energize me and make me happy, but small talk does tire and bore me. More bore than tire perhaps.

So I think I’m more shy and sensitive than introverted. I have some distinctly introverted traits, but I’m by no means 85-90% introvert like all the tests I’ve ever taken tell me. Somewhere around 60-70% seems truer. I think the reason I score so high is that although it is generally accepted that shyness and introversion are not the same thing, the tests can’t well distinguish between shyness induced behaviour and introversion induced behaviour. And if I ever get as far as writing a paper in psychology, I’d like to try creating a test that can do it. But I’m sceptical about it happening, so if any psychology researcher reads it and wants to steal my idea, feel free to do so.

Future work fantasies

It is no surprise to any one who has read more than one of my blog posts or knows me personally that I detest my studies. I love the subject, but hate the competitive, stressful atmosphere. And if ever I do pull myself through it and get myself that wretched clinical psychologist’s diploma, it is thanks to fantasies like these.

I enjoy likening myself to Sherlock Holmes in my future work.

My profession – the solving of the problems of the mind. My tools: knowledge, intuition, daring and creativity. My passion: unusual characters and understanding the very depths of human nature.

A patient enters. I tell them that if any one can fix them in our country, it is probably me. But I cannot do my work if they withhold information and deceive me to save face. And if I detect it, I shall sulk like Holmes and send them packing.

And then, on some rainy days, I shall moan about the dull problems the majority of patients have. All those marital troubles that are pretty much identical, and the hordes of anxiety suffering women. I’ll smoke my pipe and long for an exciting, unique patient. A real case! Nothing predictable and ordinary. A personality unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

If I ever become a therapist, I want to be like Holmes.

If ever I become a psychologist, I want to be like Holmes (here played by Jeremy Brett)