I started this blog about three weeks after leaving a demanding job, in part because I now had the freedom of a little more time in my schedule.
I also had more self determination in how to tell stories, not having to be so considerate of what it means to represent an Institution, or a Subject.
Today will be my fiftieth post in 24 weeks, or about two posts a week.
What I’ve been reflecting on most is the question of productivity, and what supports me in wanting to write with consistency.
Earlier this week I was talking about concentration, specifically the challenge of dissociation when trying to work within a deadline, or on a sustained task. Homework was specifically discussed. I referenced in that conversation how much I identify with that challenge, and what I put in place to try to mitigate my own dissociative tendencies, and fluctuations in sustained attention, especially on someone else’s timeline or in a structured, daily format.
In reference to blogging, what I’ve adapted to is my body’s timing. I’ve backed away from writing the same amount every week, or even only once a day, and instead I’ve started to write when my attention turns there.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes composing an entry in my sleep. I pull over when I’m driving and text myself a group of sentences that I’ve been repeating. I write down lyrics that affect me, and I take myself into settings that enlist my creativity, often places that are outside, and not totally quiet.
I don’t write for an audience, or on a specific set of topics. I write for myself, and I leave my writings public. I’ve taken the writing I engage in daily and stretched myself to include an audience. And I’ve taken my style as a facilitator and allowed that to flow in my written voice.
In thinking about concentrating on a task like writing, one hurdle is timing. Specifically, time to start and complete an idea, and a way to keep your mind from going somewhere else.
Dissociation is one expression of your mind going somewhere else, and it can be exasperated by stress. It can also be a trauma response, involuntary in what triggers it and how long it lasts, and if one is conscious that it’s happening. It’s especially associated with developmental trauma, and traumas early in childhood.
For me, a mirrored challenge is setting, as a lot of things in my physical environment lead me to dissociate, or if not dissociate, have a sudden spike in my stress responses that are activated.
In managing my own dissociation, I shared this list of tools that have supported me with a teenager this week, and I’m making that list public as well.
Dissociation exists on a continuum, and the big things have to do with this:
1) Is something SPECIFICALLY stressful, or is it now generalized? It can become triggered broadly, not as a reaction from something you can easily pinpoint.
2) Can I be brought out of it easily or quickly? It can become more severe and long lasting.
3) Am I conscious of when it happens? It’s associated with memory loss.
Things that help most are also physical, connecting to your five senses — smells, textures, visuals, tastes, sounds. Any strategy that connects you to the physical, aka the present, is referred to as a grounding tool. Grounding “brings you back”, checks you in.
Here is a list of stretegies I use for grounding, especially if I have to be productive, like with homework:
1) Listen to music with no words
2) If playing TV, put the screen somewhere where you can hear it but not see it. If possible, reruns are ideal because you know what’s happening.
3) Touch all the things. Toy animals. Paper clips. Silly Putty. Jewelry. Coins. Feathers. Pipe Cleaners. Anything that is interesting to you, ideally a mixture of textures, and small.
4) Use timers. No more than 30 minutes on anything without a change. Change can be new seating position or place, different task, break from screen, break from reading. Frequently disrupt your task and try to finish things in short jolts. This is easy for pairing with REWARDS, or ADRENALINE. You can have something if you finish x in this time period, or you have to be done in thirty minutes because x thing is starting. You want to feel rushed so that you remain motivated, and it feels like this won’t last long.
5) Annotate, aka write on things. Highlighters, pens, sticky notes. Create things that keep your hands involved, especially when reading.
6) Keep very flavorful candy handy. Sour, mint and spicy are best. Things that fit under your tongue and you don’t swallow right away.
7) Same with smells. Lotions. Candles. Things that keep you alert. Essential oil roll on pens are awesome for this.
8) If possible, keep your feet barefoot, and have a textureful rug on your feet. Something you want to run your skin on.
9) Stretching and core training. Sitting on a medicine ball is great. Getting up to stretch. Standing when possible. Do wall sits. Use a stationary bike. Sit on the floor and hold a stretch.
10) Limit screen time — gives headaches and becomes a visual cue to dissociate when bored or tired.
11) Ice — eat it. And drink a lot of water. Cold is better than hot.
12) Use showering as a reward. Pair it with getting something done first, because it is something that relaxes you. Being relaxed isn’t actually helpful in staying on task, because it makes you more distracted, and more leisurely.
13) Pipe cleaners. Wrap your fingers in them.
14) Get up and move. Play with your hair. Twirl. Dance. Stetch. Yoga. Every twenty minutes to an hour, or if suitable, while doing a task that you don’t have to write.
15) Stay off your bed. Use time where you’re already doing something else whenever possible, driving and gym are two easy ideas. Prevent homework from having big build ups so it never needs a lot of time at once. Especially with studying or things that don’t have a quick turn around or obvious wrap up.
16) Get in the habit of doing hw with your peers — make deals with each other to add incentives.
17) Find a podcast you like. Increase things you like to listen to, but not music you listen to usually. Nothing that your brain wants to sing to or that shifts your attention to that instead.
18) Do before dark, or earlier in day. There’s less to look at when it is dark, and all the lamps are similar to screens in leading you to get tired or bored or restless.
19) Try not to have more than two hours of anything for school a night.
20) Write your schedule in pen — do your longest task first — keep your to do list to under 3 things.
21) Do more early in week, by Thursday limit to 1 or 2 tasks if anything
22) Studying needs tactile — highlighting, writing in pen, making note cards, little reading without doing something else with your hands — reading leads to dissociating, so do screens and recordings, so add something physical with movement or using your hands
I share this because I remain aware that sometimes our language for what we’re experiencing doesn’t actually offer practical support, and without that it is a challenge to use that knowledge. My goal in sharing what works for me is to encourage more customization in our toolsets, and more spreading of places to start. I hope something here resonates.
Check out too some new research on self-regulation.