Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Pain of Entry

For the past year or so I've been swimming  three times a week at a local high school pool. In order to get a lane to swim in I have to get up at 4:45 AM and be poolside by 5:30..  I don't mind the getting up as long as I go to bed early enough.  The toughest part, by far, is jumping into the cold water.  It only takes about a half of a lap of swimming to get used to it but the initial shock of entry is hellish.  I used to sit on the edge for awhile to delay the pain.  Now I'm forcing myself to get wet right away.  It's a lot better that way.  Still terrible but better.  I always feel wonderful after a swim and the sense of well-being I have lasts through most of the day. On the days that I swim  I consciously catch myself feeling good and tell myself to remember that that it's been bought and paid for.  It's because I pushed myself to get up at an ungodly hour and to jump in an ice cold pool.  Despite this, on the day before a swim, I  find myself dreading the coming morning.

I recently made a commitment to write for thirty minutes each day.  I've missed some days but overall I'm writing a lot more.  I've come to realize that the emotions I feel when I'm trying to begin writing are almost exactly the same as when I'm sitting at the edge of the pool bracing myself for the cold rush of splashdown. I don't want to get into it.  There's a strong resistance to turning on the computer and  typing the first words. I don't know what adjective to use to describe this emotion.  I do know it's extremely uncomfortable and is almost the exact feeling I have when I'm standing on the edge of the pool.  Likewise it dissolves almost immediately after I begin writing, just like it does once I start swimming.  Both activities are satisfying and comfortable once begun and rewarding enough to make me want to keep on wanting to swim and write despite the pain of entry.

What's going on here?   This is fascinating to me.  I understand my my reluctance  to experience the shock of entering a cold pool.  I'm not so sure why it's so hard to begin writing.   The fact that the feelings are so similar should tell me something. Shouldn't it?

If I can figure this out maybe my writing will improve or maybe the insight will be so profound that it will dissolve resistance to tackling any challenge.

 In talking this over with my wife it seems this resistance to taking on ultimately rewarding tasks is a fairly common thing.  We discussed how there's some things we do where there is absolutely no reluctance such as her playing piano or me playing golf. but we each also had a long list of things it's hard to get into such as exercise or writing.  What's the difference?

It's interesting to me that the word "playing" is used to describe the things we both are most enthusiastic about. Maybe that's part of it.  There's not much of a contest between doing a chore or playing.  So if I start thinking of writing, going to the pool and a whole bunch of other things "play" they'll be less of a struggle to get into. What makes something play and what makes it work?  This is getting messy.

When I was an addiction counselor one of the most effective tools was cognitive behavioral therapy.  One reason it was helpful is that it can be easily explained and understood.  It's as easy as A,B,C.

Activating event (sitting down trying to begin writing) + Belief ->  Consequence ( negative/reluctant/resistant feeling.)

According to this model a negative consequence to an event can often be traced to your belief about the event and not the event itself.  Change the belief and you can change the consequence.  Simple to describe but not that simple to do.

One of the tricky parts is figuring out what the operative belief is.  Sometimes it's easy...cold water is uncomfortable and jumping into the frigid water sucks.   Often it's not so obvious...resistance to writing.   Er..maybe the nuns at St. Joseph's scarred me for life by making me write "I will not be a bad boy." a thousand times. Writing equals punishment?  What about all those hellish term papers I was made to research and write? Maybe the belief would be "I'm writing because I'm being bullied into it.  I don't like being bullied.  Writing sucks."  All very deep and mysterious.

I think I'd probably need a long-term psychoanalyst to figure out some of this deep-seated crapola.  Short of that I've got this blog, but, as you may have noticed many of my self-exploratory adventures seem to turn into dog-chasing-tail cartoons. But that said, I do believe that much of my reaction to things is based on thinking that may have made sense in the past but often has no logical relationship to the current situation.  I think it helps to try to take a look at what I'm saying to myself and try to change the script if it isn't helping, even if I don't understand why or how the original story was written.