Self-undermining behavior

This semester, all my classes have been grouped together so that I’m done teaching by 1. This may seem to leave a wonderland of free time for writing and research, but experience tells me that is not the case. While I enjoy Shimer classes a great deal, I am an introvert and hence I am usually exhausted by the end of three back-to-back 80-minute sessions in which I have to be “always on,” both intellectually and socially (to help manage the dynamics of the class). Serious creative work is out of the question by that point — sometimes even reading on the train ride home feels like a struggle.

Early on, I realized that translation was a much better fit for my mental headspace after class. I was pleased with this, because it allowed me to put otherwise dead time to a good use other than doing laundry. For the first half of the semester or so, I made significant progress on my translation, putting me well ahead of the pace I needed to get it finished on time.

So naturally, at a certain point I decided that I needed to try to force myself to write on those afternoons. The result would be that I would squeeze out a paragraph or so, but spend most of the time hovering on Twitter. Then I would be frustrated with myself and despair of ever finishing the writing project in question.

On one level, I understand why I made this switch. Due to my extra CTS class, I only have one free day this semester, so it makes sense to try to find other windows for writing. Yet the project that I’ve been so prioritizing is not due until a week after classes end — and since I’m not traveling for Thanksgiving, that is a full week I have free, during which I can very easily finish the piece. I then have another piece due a couple weeks after that, but again, I will have a much more open schedule.

In the end, I think I just became obsessed with being “done” with my overwhelming amount of work for the semester. But even that would have been self-undermining, because history teaches me that when I don’t have a project to work on during break periods, I quickly become listless and depressed. So the net result of this totally gratuitous prioritization of a project that could easily wait is that I have needlessly halted progress on my translation, generated a trivial portion of the article (which could have been achieved in an afternoon had I chosen more hospitable circumstances), and ranted a lot on Twitter.

What about you, readers? Have you found yourself caught in self-undermining cycles lately?

4 thoughts on “Self-undermining behavior

  1. The University that employs me has put strict limitations on the amount of hours that adjuncts can teach each semester. This has cut down considerably on my income and increased time for listlessness. It’s rather frustrating, however I’ve had a lot more time to read this fall. I have particularly enjoyed two of Mark Edmundson’s books: Why Teach? and The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Rock and Roll Gods. I just finished the latter last night. Though I found it a bit uneven(Edmundson’s knowledge of Rock and Roll is dubious,) it is an entertaining read and manages to be inspiring towards the end. I enjoyed Edmundson’s “Why Teach?” a lot more. It gave me a similar feeling to Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, which I read a couple of years ago after my interest was piqued by your blog posts on the subject.

  2. Plan a day with nothing on your schedule and no one else at home. Sleep late and awaken naturally. Run a hot bath in a warmed bathroom. Turn off the electric lights and light a scented candle, you can put on some music. Place a stand next to the tub with a bottle of wine and a glass. Be sure to all interactive electronic devices are far removed from this room. Washing is optional but soak in the water until the falling temperature forces you out. Once dry and comfortably dressed (underwear and socks are fine) go to the living room and watch bad TV (preferably old black and white movies) with a bag of potato chips, Ritz crackers, Jiff peanut butter, etc by your side. Indulge yourself at your lowest common denominator and if necessary read Mark Slouka’s 2004 Harper’s Magazine article “Quitting the paint factory: On the virtues of idleness”.
    I admit that this advice is easier to give than to take. Though this behavior is well within the reach of anyone in our modern culture it can be extremely difficult to execute. Even a small step in this direction can be helpful. I hope you can find the lack of discipline to do it. Good luck.

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