Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Energy, Enthusiasm and Willpower


“Energy is a power which meets with an instant recognition by the mind. What the mind of the average healthy person cannot endure for long in monotony, or, worse still, absolute stagnation. The mind lives by action.” – p.1613, Volume III, Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia

Yesterday I endured a day of nothingness. And I wasn’t alone in this. I spent much of the day in Second Life and whist I was there I chatted to some friends. It seemed they were either experiencing the same, or had done so the previous day. Sometimes it seems as if the whole planet is experiencing the same stupor.

Some of us repeatedly went afk for more coffee, I myself did this too, but I realised it wasn’t caffeine that was required but simple willpower. For me, one cup of coffee is enough for the day – I’m pretty sensitive to the stuff – so if one cup doesn’t perk me up then no amount of cups will help.

By the afternoon I still hadn’t got started on anything and I said to a couple of friends: “I’ve had my porridge, lunch, a cup of coffee, and two cups of tea and some biscuits… I think I’m about ready to start now being productive today!…” but it wasn’t to be. In fact I think the stimulant that is caffeine is probably counter-productive when we are lacking the willpower already – when telling myself “I’ll get a cup of coffee and then I’ll get started” vs. “I’ll do this task and then treat myself to a cup of coffee”, the latter is probably more beneficial – it not only omits the procrastination technique, but I think the caffeine assists in unsettling the mind: it will be more easily distracted if it is already behaving as such.

The weird thing was, that while I had been simply sat all day yesterday, pretty much doing nothing, my stomach still managed to growl at me at the usual time as if I had used up all the energy from the previous meal. A sure impossibility. The evidence again here, wasn’t a lack of fuel, but a lack of willpower.

Energy … is not enough. It must be directed to a purpose … What is needed, if energy is to achieve anything, is direction.

We cannot make energy. All we can do is to find it, release it, and direct it.

The athlete is what he is by the use of his energy.

Today has been a different ballgame. I’ve done some work, I’ve planed and hung a pair of closest doors (which I had never done before and first involved watching a couple of professionals show me how on Youtube), I’ve given myself a language lesson (again thanks to Youtube… or rather, danke), I’ve done some reading, and I’ve played piano.

Because I’m self employed and I don’t have a set schedule each day (clients phone me up and book me for times that suit them for example) I can go for a few days without any immediate work to be done – it takes some focus to prevent work from disrupting my whole day when I do have a lot scheduled, just as it is important to not let my non-work stuff get in the way of stuff that earns me a living.

Before I started working for myself over ten years ago I had some time out of work, and I remember fondly of how I kept myself busy and active – I drew up daily schedules and made sure I didn’t spend all of my time in front of the TV. I think I had the added advantage of not having internet access at home – I’m trying my best not to let that be an excuse these days (but it is tough). Now I work but I have no set schedule I can stick to, so it has at times felt like a juggle.

However, just recently I have created for myself a new technique, one that can work around any timetable:

I have some slips of paper and on each I write a task I want/need to spend time on, such as reading, writing, language learning, piano playing, DIY, non-paid work work, chores, etc. I have them in a pile on my desk and I work through each in turn, currently aiming to focus on that one task for an hour. Switching my mind off from other stuff (especially what’s going on online) is very important.

If I have a lot of work one day then I might only manage two or three tasks, but on a day with no work to interrupt me I could potentially get through the whole pile. Once the pile is complete I start again from the beginning.

When we fail to focus our attention on one specific task then a number of issues arise, not to mention things like making mistakes, but in particular with learning or improving a skill, when our attention is distracted or our mind flits from one thing to another, the cognitive processes don’t occur so deeply, kind of like slapping on a thin coat of paint I guess. Also, in the process of ‘multi-tasking’ (which some people like to think they are good at) this flitting between tasks also takes time, perhaps this seems to be only slight, but it adds up. For example, if you spend three hours a day talking to a friend online whilst reading a book and watching TV, honestly, how much of the book and TV programs do you think you’ll remember, and how much will your friend appreciate you for only giving them 1/3rd of your attention?! Or if the TV is not entertaining enough to warrant your full attention for an hour, why not cut it out all together? The concept of one half of your brain being aimed at one task while the other relaxes is a fallacy – to really participate in a task the whole brain needs to be available. Sure, one half of the brain may have regions best suited to creativity and the other to more rational stuff, but where true brain efficiency kicks in is with the neural pathways and links between the two halves, and all regions.

The only thing now is for me to incorporate some acceptable flexibility into my technique of maximising my tiem because some tasks are better suited to certain times, and some, like creative tasks can’t always be called upon at will (looking ahead to the next task can help in this regard, but not so much that it distracts the current task). For example, a task that involves mental learning, I believe, is best done before going to bed so that the mind can continue on that subject, but always studying the same thing before bed means other subjects don’t get the same beneficial access to the subconscious. Also, two such lessons should not be done in close succession – perhaps an hour of learning followed by some exercise is a good rule – that way your mind can mull over the lesson while the body is tended to. In thinking about this method of scheduling it makes me think back to my high school timetable and which lessons followed which, like French after Maths – perhaps not a good idea? And then straight home to do homework, before playing out, and then going to bed?

Why do I bother to try and focus my attention at all? Well, I do all this because I impress myself with how much I can get done when I put my mind to it, when I focus my attention on key things. It is amuses me somewhat that every day can’t be so productive and something within, something that controls my will, seems to dictate if I am to have a lazy day instead of a productive one. It is amusing but at the same time I do tend to beat myself up about this laziness and why it goes from one extreme to another. Or perhaps it is my willpower that waxes and wanes.

Further reading:



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This entry was posted on 25 February, 2015 by in Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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