Grooves, Ruts, Water, Ice, and Tracks of Various Kinds

Billy Joel has a song that unfortunately has really spoken to me at various times: “Running on Ice”.

As fast as I can climb
A new disaster every time I turn around
As soon as I get one fire put out
There’s another building burning down

That sense of running as hard as you can just to keep from falling down, not actually getting anywhere…it’s very real. That’s not where I am right now, thankfully. But I’ve been there.

Ages ago I saw an old black and white one-panel cartoon (maybe from the New Yorker?), in which a person says to someone sitting next to them, “I’m not sure if I’m in a groove or just stuck in a rut.” I went looking for it today, just to discover (unsurprisingly) that this groove/rut dichotomy has been cartooned (and later memed) to death by pretty much everyone who can draw at one point or another. Which I guess is fitting.

I’m not stuck in a rut, myself, as far as I can tell. But I don’t really feel like I’m “in a groove”, either. I’m definitely not experiencing a lot of “flow state” these days, but then, I’ve only ever really been able to achieve flow in highly competitive environments, like chess tournaments, hockey games, and certain online games. Well, and when practicing tai chi and other forms of meditation, I suppose, but that flow feels different.

From the outside, though, I imagine I might look like someone either in a groove or a rut. I have a ton of routine in my life these days. All of it very deliberately crafted. My brother Pearse got really into the science and practice of habit formation awhile ago, and then got me hooked. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is my current go-to book on the subject; I highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already. So I have routines. I have a daily routine, a weekly routine, and mini-routines that kick in when I am working on specific kinds of long-term tasks. And I’m pretty consistent about them.

I have also been diagnosed with ADHD-I (which probably has a different designation, now–they keep changing them), which means my brain has a powerful tendency to try to smash routines in order to feed its need for novelty. My whole process, these days, of habit formation, routine development, and self-discipline (which is NOT the same as “will power”–it’s MUCH more useful), is a combination of a war and a compromise–an angry sort of dance, if you will–with my own neurochemistry. And it gets me through and helps me accomplish quite a lot.

But sometimes, when I have been sustaining my intentional routines for a long time, I get this sick, breathless feeling in my chest. It’s like I’m treading water, but can feel the energy that it takes to do so slowly dying, and my need to breathe increases even as I can sense the water rising higher and threatening to cut off my access to the air above, which makes me tread faster and burn energy faster and get more out of breath…

Well, maybe that’s more dramatic than it needs to be. But there’s an impending sense of something, and it feels like waiting for a house of cards to come down. Interestingly enough, being on Ritalin for an extended period of time gives me a similar sensation. I don’t take anything for ADHD these days, but back when I did, I could sometimes get into these–grooves? ruts? routines? rushes?–in which I kept getting stuff done, getting stuff done, and on the outside it just looked like a fairly even-paced efficiency, but on the inside it felt like an engine slowly over-revving.

So it’s interesting to get a similar feeling without drugs, just from my personal behavioral disciplines. It’s like, I’m “on track”, but maybe those tracks are roller coaster tracks and I’m getting a little tired of the whooshing. This is still too dramatic, though. I don’t feel panic, or fear, or exhaustion, even. But I do feel a quiet sort of alarm going off that really wants to break the routines and habits, just to get a break. I wonder (I really have no idea) whether this is a false alarm, or if it’s something I should actually attend to in some way.

I do know this: I don’t really have a lot more room in my life for additional stuff. Partly this is because it’s December and I’m a pastor, and my professional life gets really full for me every Christmas season. Partly, it’s because life under COVID has taken away from me my psychological reserve tank just as it has for so many others. I’m handling the stuff I need to handle quite well, but if you try to balance one more plate on top of the stack I’m carrying, it might all come crashing down.

Or maybe not. Human beings are remarkably bad at estimating their own breaking points. Just ask a Navy Seal. Or anyone who has trained to overcome those built in stops we all have, to discover that their actual capacity for hardship is far greater than they first thought.

Anyway, I’m okay. But in my self-reflections, I do wonder if I’m building up new normals that I can eventually relax into, or if I’m smoking my pistons a bit and need to either find another gear or ease off the gas a tiny bit.

I’m not sure if these ramblings will be of use to you. Maybe you identify with this feeling I’m describing, and if so, then know that you’re not alone. Or maybe this is all very foreign; in that case, isn’t it interesting how different people can be?

Next week maybe I’ll talk about my actual system of habit formation, routine building, and self-discipline. I swear it works with no bad side effects! 😉

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Objective Truth vs Personal Truth

Does objective truth exist? Does it matter?

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Welcome to Yet Another Reboot

On and off over the past couple of decades, I have had various blogs and websites that I posted semi-regularly to. Some were fairly political, others more technical in nature, and some were just random nonsense. Why? Essentially, I am a communicator. Whether we’re talking about my professional careers (of which I have had several) or my personal hobbies, communicating ideas has always been a central part of what I do.

Well, of course, everyone “communicates” in their jobs, their hobbies, their personal relationships. Human beings are quite chatty, after all, as a species. But what I’m saying here is that I not only do a lot of writing and speaking, but I do a lot of thinking about writing and speaking. I actively enjoy thinking about writing and speaking. I am most happy when I am creating something, and the kinds of things I most enjoy creating all involve words. Whether I’m telling a story or explaining an idea or exploring a theory or telling a joke, I can’t stop thinking about the how of it all. I’m a structure nerd when it comes to this sort of thing, for instance.

Anyway, that still doesn’t make me particularly special. However, I’ve been doing a lot of self-evaluation and self-observation over my lifetime, and I’ve recently been really working on honing in on whatever appears to be the essence of what I do when I am doing something well. And, well, “communication” seems to cover that category rather nicely.

So here I am once again writing a blog. Why this format? And on what topic? And for whom? Slow down, I’ll get there.

First of all, my main creative and communicative output is in other areas right now. I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and also YouTubing (I guess that’s a verb now), and those two areas will continue to be my main professional focus for now. But I’m working on developing my overall communication skills through the building up of new habits. So I’ve decided to experiment with the discipline of a weekly blog post. Those of you that already subscribe to the weekly email I send out (typically on Fridays) about happenings at the Washington New Church may say, “But you already do that!” Well, yes, I do. But those emails have a very specific agenda, despite the fact that they sometimes drift dangerously close to mad ramblings at times. This new weekly blog post plan is something else entirely.

Instead of having a focused agenda (like letting people know what’s going on at the church I am pastor of), my Monday blog posts will be a lot looser. They could be about anything, really. If it’s on my mind, and I can generate some words on the subject, it’ll show up here.

Which isn’t a very good way to build an audience. So I guess the answer to that third question (who is this for?) is…well, no one. But if you’ve stumbled across this, then you’re more than welcome to come along for the ride. I can’t promise it’ll be enlightening. Heck, I can’t really promise it’ll be anything at all, other than weekly.

So if you’re in the market for a blog/column/whatever that has no target audience, no particular subject matter, and no agenda other than to be reliably weekly, then you have come to the right place! And as a bonus, since I have no agenda besides consistent output, you can have a big influence on what kind of out I’ll be putting. (Puting? Put-ing? Hm…) Just drop a comment here and let me know what you think I should write about, and the odds are good that I’ll be desperate enough for ideas each Monday that I’ll just write about whatever you want. Until the suggestions start to outnumber the Mondays, of course.

To conclude, here’s a nice picture, because blog posts are more visually interesting when they have pictures in them:

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Reduce Conflict in Your Relationships

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Dealing with Social Distancing During the Pandemic

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