Siege Diaries 4/22/2021


Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Am I self-aware, self-critical, and self-determining?

The associated meditation clarifies that second part as being based on self examination–that is, not self-critical in a negative sense, but open to examination of both positives and negatives.   To answer:  For me, this has been a part of maturity.  Self-awareness means less about being aware of how others see you and more about how you see yourself.  When I was younger, I always assumed that I was awesome and perfect and that the opinions of others didn’t matter–which is what you have to do when you’re being bullied.  But just because you’re the target of bullies doesn’t mean you’re automatically a good person, or that you naturally have brilliant talent or skills in various activities that simply isn’t being recognized.  I still remember running for mock city council and realizing that the speech I made for it sucked.  Just because I had a good understanding of the facts didn’t necessarily translate to being able to convey those facts well.  Not all criticism is critical in the negative sense–being able to listen to those who actually wanted me to improve made a huge difference in my life.   And I don’t think you can be self-determining unless you have a good sense of what your self actually is.  That’s the ongoing work of my life.

This has been a good day.  At 10:50 am, my obsessive trolling of the Walmart vaccine signup websites resulted in an appointment for Monday afternoon.  Just afterwards, the mail brought my US economic stimulus check — and the amount was much more than I expected.   And to top it off, the melodica I ordered showed up, which should be a bit of fun (and maybe something silly to use during the upcoming SCA Bardic War).  It’s a lot louder than I expected, too!

This article by psychologist Adam Grant came across my feed today, and the light went on.  It describes the state of languishing:

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

So, what’s the antidote?  Flow.

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

I kind of wanted to shout YESSSSSS! out loud when I read this.  This is precisely what participating in the SMASH scavenger hunt did for me, by providing multiple silly-yet-meaningful small projects and a deadline.  Up against the ticking clock, with fun challenges at hand, I found flow.  And that flow overflowed (pun intended) into sparking my embroidery creativity as I attempted to find something else that would help me achieve that same state.  I found it as well in the An Tir Scribal challenge.   Flow is nothing new to me;  in fact, it’s the hallmark of all my most successful creative endeavours throughout my life.  I did have a sense of flow in the early days of the pandemic primarily from writing, but it was sporadic–sometimes it was a high-pressure fire hydrant, sometimes a slow trickle.   Since I’ve taken up the embroidery work, I’m regulating that flow a little bit better. There is always a project on my hoop and another in the queue, and even though I don’t necessarily work on it with the same amount of intensity each day, I find a time to put in a stitch or two (and more often than not feel myself pulled in for more than that).   But I’m also reading, doing these posts, and picking up other projects that push me to do interesting and different things (reading classical Latin poetry will be my Saturday focus this weekend).  Strangely enough, proofreading projects have helped me engage some different parts of my brain, allowing me to practice a skill I’m good at.  And two RPG games are now sparking a different kind of creativity, this time with other people involved, and I’ve come to love those Sunday afternoons and evenings.

That’s not to say I don’t have bouts of languishing.  But they’re temporary, and I now know what to do to dispel them.  First thing I do is to turn off the news if it’s on.  Sometimes just picking up one of the projects is enough.  Other times, I need music, or an online presentation, or even just a little online banter on a Discord server.

Justin Trudeau is apparently getting the same vaccine I will be tomorrow.  It’s now being called the “Gen X vaccine” here in Canada since it’s been opened up to those 40-55 in the last few days, which is the heart of that generation, and been enthusiastically embraced.  My generation is being heralded for its pragmatism, its interest in strong science, and good risk management qualities.  Hopefully we can lead the way so that when things open up for the Millennials and younger generations behind us, they’ll be just as enthusiastic.