Friday, January 24, 2014

Time and the Perception of Failure

Here is an equation for you math majors out there:

Feeling of Failure= Time Passed x Level of Obligation

In other words, it's been a while since I've updated, and I feel terrible. Given that, what better way to return from my blogging absence than to discuss the effects of time on the perception of failure?

Looking back, it has been 3 weeks since I've posted. In that time, I wrote at least 2 other posts, but never posted them. Then I became embarrassed. I've failed at keeping a blog once before, but I swore this time would be different! I set deadlines. They are right there on the left sidebar of the blog: Updates Weekly, Next Post...

Unfortunately, allow yourself to miss one deadline, and the illusion is gone. You see, the trick of honoring your goals is to make it unimaginable not to. However, when you fail, and see that nothing much happens, it becomes easier to reason your way out of other self-imposed deadlines.

For a few days, it feels okay. You're taking a vacation, you reason. After a few more days, you look up and notice you're one week behind. What now? Surely it is painfully obvious to everyone that you have failed and will never recover! The more time goes on, the more dreadful the thought of picking up where you left off becomes, and eventually you give up on ever accomplishing that goal. And so, a lifetime of regret is born.

"Whoa, hang on!"you're saying, "That's a bit drastic, isn't it?"

Well, no, it isn't. Let me apply it to a real life situation.

Remember my monthly resolutions? January is yoga. I started strong, and did a solid two weeks of daily practice. Then I injured myself, and took a day off. Then I had picked the wrong routine to get started again (it's hard to feel cosmic peace settle in when rock ballad electric guitar is inexplicably the background music for your yoga video). I took a day of vacation. And then I had a bad week. And then I looked up and today is Friday the 24th, and January is almost done!

It has only been nine days since I last did yoga, yet it feels like three weeks.

Here is where the perception of time comes into play. During the two weeks I did yoga, time moved so quickly. I watched my accomplishment add to itself each day. I eagerly stamped my calendar after each practice, enjoying the site of the ink overlapping when I'd done 7 days. I imagined a calendar entirely obscured by the marks of my success. I looked forward to yoga, rather than dreading it as exercise.

What about the past nine days? Why did they feel so long, when, relatively, those days were hardly any time at all?

They dragged on because of a nasty mixture of guilt, doubt, and procrastination. Nothing makes an hour ooze by like being filled with self-deprecation, scoldings, and regret. Better yet, every time I would look at the clock, I would curse all the time I'd just wasted feeling guilty, and the cycle continued. Eventually, I didn't even want to think about yoga anymore, because I knew it would simply lead to unhappiness rather than action.

Humans are very good at repeating this cycle of success, failure, and guilt. It happens all the time, often without us even consciously recognizing what our thoughts are doing. This leads to a lifetime of regret, not because of one grand, romantic failure, but because everyday several little things drag out hours of malaise, and pulls us a little further away from our potential. Looking all that time in the face is daunting, and often too much to bear.

I wish I could come to everyone's rescue at this point, and explain how to easily outsmart your own brain...but I haven't figured out a way to do that yet. (If you have, please share! PLEASE!) What I am doing is exercising my will power as best as I can, and channeling a little of that guilt into action. It takes a surprising amount of work to perform a mental U-Turn and get back to doing what you want to do, and I don't always succeed in overcoming my own inner voice. However, I'll consider this one small step in the right direction.

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