Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Experiment

A few weeks ago, I came across this post on "optimizing your life" which I found somewhat intriguing. It's been a year of exploration and change for me -- I've been doing acupuncture, trying to get regular massages and trying other forms of therapy in addition to my usual "get as much exercise as you can and sleep until you feel rested" approach. And I buy into its basic premise:
Many years ago an old friend and I were discussing the meaning of life. He said, "I don't think the point of life is to accomplish a certain level of external success. I believe we're actually here to acquire and enjoy experiences."
If you're going to spend most of your time experiencing rather than accomplishing, then perhaps it makes sense to focus on the quality of your daily experiences and not merely on the heights of your accomplishments. It's nice to have a truly fantastic day where you accomplish something wonderful, but what about your normal days?

When you realize most of your life will be consumed by normal days rather than extraordinary ones, you may feel motivated to raise the overall quality of these normal days.
It sounded right up my alley: the zen-like being and experiencing -- valuing the moments -- but also somehow working to enrich those moments. After reading it (and re-reading it to write about it), I think most of what seems to resonate with me are the things that I already try to do or that I agree with but which have fallen below the radar or by the wayside.

I don't buy into the audio learning thing, especially while exercising (generally speaking, exercise intrinsicallynsicly high-quality experience for me), but that's just part of my priorities -- he even says that it's about the overall concept, not the specific menu items. (I also don't think self-employment is for everyone, whatever.) But I remember my initial take being somehow... off, something which nagged at me until I was finally able to hash it out while talking to the SOOTTAD.

What it came down to was the wayside. You know: the things that I recognized as things that I thought had value, but my brain was too occupied with the other stuff that I had to get done so I forgot, or I just didn't get around to doing them, because, well, it was late and I was tired, so, you know... bed.

It kinda reminded me of Stephen Covey's "big rocks" -- the thing where you make time for the important things first (the big rocks), then fill in the spaces with the rest (very small rocks, gravel, sand, germs, etc.). Except that I've got this massive pile of big rocks.

I actually had a meditation practice for a while there, probably doing it for a month or two. What happened? I got back from vacation and I had a million and six projects to finish and I needed to be in the office for work because we hit a schedule crunch and frisbee season had finally hit its stride. Stopped reading and playing piano, too.

There are just so many hours in a day.

But Dude, you say, change number one is "getting an early start."

Well yeah, there's that. He even links to some of his other articles on becoming an early riser and how to train yourself to get up to your alarm (pretty cool, actually). I'm actually familiar with the always-get-up-at-the-same-time concept that he talks about, but I must admit that I'm a bit skeptical. I mean, I buy into the concept at a theoretical level, but logistically, when it comes to real-world implementation, there are definitely some issues, at least for me personally. We're not all created equal, after all.

For one thing, I've actually tried it before -- I think the last time was a few years ago and I got to the end of week three and came down with a massive cold.

Yeah, that went well.

The other thing is how my body responds to the lack of sleep, which is to say, not well. When I'm tired, my brain and/or body pretty much shut down. That's basically the idea -- you don't get enough sleep one night so then you're all tired and stuff the next day and you go to bed earlier. The problem is, that next day I still need to be functional, generally speaking, and generally speaking, I'm not. I played this game last Wednesday when I got up at 6AM to drop off Cat2 at the vet. I was up late the previous night working, so I was operating on maybe 5 hours of sleep. And by 11AM I was having a hard time concentrating at the office. By 2PM, it was an effort just trying to stay awake, let alone actually get real work done. I slogged through the rest of the day, and barely stayed awake on the drive back to the vet around 8PM when Cat2 was finally ready to be picked up. I got home around 9:30PM and, at that point, I had to eat dinner. And after talking to the SOOTTAD (we considered trying this getting-up-early business just for shits and giggles since she had to be up for a meeting herself the next day) I got sucked into some work and ended up going to be late (past 1AM) again. The next morning, I woke up at 5:58AM, realized that starting a day at the office at that point was going to be an egregiouslyiously bad idea and went back to sleep.

The real world has an annoying way of throwing wrenches into the works.

It's back to the big rocks: Is work a big rock? Talking to the SOOTTAD? At some point, you run out of room and you have to start reclassifying your rocks. And that doesn't even include the other things that I would consider to be part of the experiences of a life well lived: spending time with friends, going out dancing, seeing a show... things that I'd like to plan to do, but if I'm operating under go-to-bed-when-I'm-tired, there are a lot of things, a lot of important things, that are going to get jettisoned.

When I read the article, I see the author going to the gym (iew), listening to personal improvement audio broadcasts, meditating, working in his home office, reading, journaling, talking to his wife, spending time with his family. There may be more, but that's all the insight I get. And honestly, that's probably a life well lived. And within that life, it doesn't seem that difficult for him to say to himself: "gee, I'm feeling a bit tired this evening, I guess I'll just call it a night." There's a certain flexibility there for that.

In my life, the life I am currently living, (and enjoying, for the most part, mind you) things don't fall into place so easily.

But, that being said, I'm going to try to see if I can make this work anyway. An experiment, of sorts. Clearly, this wasn't going to start on a workday. (After vet day, I got up so late on both Thursday and Friday that I didn't get into the office until after 10:30am on both days. Whoops.) However, I figured that I could afford to be a little non-functional during the weekend. So today, when I woke up at 7:45AM, I got up. (went to bed close to 2AM last night -- going away party for some friends, talked to the SOOTTAD on the phone and then puttered around on the interwebs while eating some real food. Did I mention that I had two glasses of Kir Royale and a slice of chocolate cake for dinner at the party?)

However, there is another issue, which is that when I'm tired and I do have the flexibility to respond to my body when it tells me it needs sleep, I'll just crash. At, like, two in the afternoon. (actually, today it happened around 4:30pm.) The SOOTTAD seems to think this is some kind of adapted behavior from ancestral hunter-gatherer days. Something about hunting in the morning resting during the heat of midday and then resuming activities again in the late afternoon/evening. Yeah, maybe that, or some kind of whole siesta thing. I dunno. There are also historical records of me getting to bed early (say 8-9PM) after not getting enough sleep the previous night, where I've just woken up at midnight or 1AM, unable to get back to sleep. And then there's that whole thing where I keep myself awake when I'm overtired and I end up getting heartburn the next day. (usually this happens on roadtrips, or when there's a significant time change involved, but it's also been known to happen just from, well, slogging through a couple of days back-to-back without enough sleep.)

Anyway, I know there are going to be challenges, but we're gonna give it a shot. I'll keep you posted.

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