Last month of 2019 is just a day away. My Youtube recommendation is already full of videos showing goal and resolution planning for 2020. Beautiful videos showing exactly how to sort our messy life and become the best version of ourself. No wonder I get sucked into these videos so easily. After spending an embarrassing amount of time watching these videos, I was all pumped to plan 2020 and surely this year was magically going to be the best year so far. I would achieve all my goals. I would finally shed those extra kilos I am carrying around. I would suddenly start posting every day on my website. I would read hundreds of books and implement everything I read in my own life.
I think you already know where I am heading. This is not a new story. Not for me at least. I make great plans every year. Get super pumped up to change my life. Make lists like crazy. Use every organization and planning procedure I can find. And at the end of every year, not even 10% of the plans become a reality.
New year resolutions do not work for me. Neither do any of the new age productivity-goal planning systems. Be it GTD or HB90 or whatever is the latest trend, nothing is going to work.
I struggle with depression and anxiety way more frequently than I would like to. Depression and anxiety are not the only demons playing inside my head. Occasionally they invite their other friends to come and mess with my head even more.
I am still learning to live with these uninvited guests inside my head. I am moving ahead in my life and achieving goals and such. But it feels like I am driving with hand breaks partially engaged. I am moving ahead but the engine is burning up.
Now, what does all this have got to do with reading/writing challenges we see everywhere online (especially around the new year)? There are reading challenges like Popsugar reading challenge. For writing currently, NaNoWriMo is going on and there are many many others to keep one accountable and on track towards their pre-defined goals.
Well, it may work for the entire world but it just hasn’t worked for me yet. Somehow if I make reading/writing a task to do each day, I get such strong pushback from my mind that I end up frozen in fear of failure and end up doing nothing at all.
Reading and writing both are activities that bring me immense pleasure and joy. When I am in the zone, trivial things like sleep and hunger make no difference and I keep going non-stop. I have stayed up all night just to read a new book in a series I love. I have written and felt words flow through me as easily as breathing.
These challenges and goals put a lot of pressure on the output. The destination becomes more important than the journey. I do understand that we need to keep our sight on the milestones to reach anywhere but this pressure is just plain hard to handle sometimes.
There are a lot of motivational quotes with pretty background saying that pressure makes us stronger like a diamond. Well, I do agree that we need some pressure to keep going. But I am beginning to realise that too much pressure can cause more damage.
If you have ever seen a kite flying, you might have noticed that the string connecting it is not taught all the time. The kite flyer keeps adjusting the tension depending on the wind and other factors.
Similarly, I need to remember that I have to keep adjusting as per the current requirement. Putting pressure when there are already fissures will just break me and not make me stronger. Putting pressure after filling the fissures will help in gaining more strength.
I love reading. And I love telling all about the book to my brother (and now my husband). That said, I do not like writing a book review or even give it a rating. Somehow that disconnects me from the book, the plot and the characters. So updating book read status on Goodreads became a chore I started to hate a lot. The goals like yearly reading challenge on Goodreads became a cause of stress as well. My reading speed is not constant. I have finished 600-page books in one night and spent months with a 50-page book. It all just depends on how I am enjoying the book. Some years I have read over 100 books and some years not even 30. But the Goodreads notifications telling me how many books I need to read to keep up with my reading goals just ruins the reading experience for me.
Popsugar comes up with a reading list every year and I have been trying to finish that challenge for 4-5 years now. The thing is I like stumbling upon books by chance. I love reading books recommended by people close to me. I love browsing through stacks of books in a second-hand book store or an airport book store or even taking a stroll in a library and then coming across my next read. But going through the same stacks with a list of books to fit the categories of the challenge feels a lot like grocery shopping and instantly loses the charm.
For me, how I stumble upon a book in itself is a pretty important part of the reading experience. Otherwise what’s the difference between reading for fun and assigned reading.
Similarly, I love writing. I love writing so much that I find written communication much easier than verbal conversations. My typing speed varies based on the speed of thoughts inside my mind. I have written upwards of 2000 words in one hour and at times I have spent days sitting in front of a blank page staring into the void. I know its important to be disciplined and not let these things come between me and my writing goals. But it is just plain hard. And making rigid plans makes it harder.
My mind has a mind of its own and it will do what it wants and not what I tell it. I am learning that sometimes I need to stop telling it what I want it to do (or how to think and feel) and just listen to what it needs. And when I do, when I shut up and listen to what’s going on inside my mind, I find the answers. The solutions may not be the perfect ones and may not work. But this is what my mind wants to try currently. And unless I give it a try I won’t know if it is going to work or not.
Sometimes the mind just needs to feel validated just like the rest of us. I just need to listen without interrupting and judging and without giving it unsolicited advice. Once my mind has said its piece I feel much better. When my mind is relaxed, it suddenly becomes so much more productive and creative.
Like today I was in my usual slump and was forcing myself to make detailed lists of everything I need to get done – everything I wanted to read and write. I started feeling heaviness in my chest that was growing and engulfing me. Then I decided to take a break and calm myself down before I proceed again. I asked myself what was causing the panic and the answer came that I am scared of failing. I was feeling terrified of setting so many expectations from myself and then failing all of them.
It was then I realised that I was feeling this fear of failure not for some task assigned to me by my boss. Rather it was the tasks I love doing (reading/writing) and I was feeling panicked about them even when no one else was forcing anything upon me. I was choosing this. That was an important moment since I quickly decided that setting goals and making plans is not going to help me if it sends me into a panic attack.
After realising this I stopped all the ‘planning’ I was doing for 2020 and went for a hot shower. While in the shower my mind started coming up with great ideas for not only writing but many things that will make me happy. When my mind was in a happy place I came up with a topic and wrote the article very quickly. An hour ago I was trying to make a list of post ideas and was coming up with zilch.
Not planning for the coming year, not making tons of goals and not worrying about random challenges is what is working for me right now. So that’s exactly what I am going to do.