Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Distress Tolerance, Distress Tolerance, Distress Tolerance

Last week I decided that in order to avoid time management failures, I need to work on something called distress tolerance. Meaning, according to Kelly McGonigal in this talk Are You Sure You Want a Habit?, I need to become more comfortable with uncomfortable experiences.

Distress tolerance can refer to developing skills to deal with major and serious events. But  McGonigal says that just wanting can be a distress we need to be able to tolerate. We can want to do something so badly--eat, shop, gamble--we do it immediately to make the wanting go away. That can lead to some long-term and often serious problems.

So How Does This Relate To Time Management For Writers, Gail?

The whole distress tolerance issue relates to writers when writers want to spend their work days visiting Facebook, checking their e-mail, doing endless research, or following publishing professionals on Twitter because that's real work, right? For us, lack of distress tolerance leads to procrastination, "... the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay." Timothy Pychyl in The Procrastinator's Digest.

In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal (Yes, I do refer to her a lot. She is my personal guru, though she doesn't know it.) stress makes us want to give in to cravings and get a reward. Those wants writers experience will provide immediate rewards. Writing a book, a short story, or even a submission letters does not. Figuring out the structure of your story, planning characters and setting, making everything interact and support something can take weeks or months or years. And what's more, writing a book, short story, or submission letter is hard (Again, figuring out the structure of your story, planning characters and setting, making everything interact and support something...ouch), while getting a quick reward from connecting with someone on-line or reading about a favorite subject isn't. Then there's the whole issue of whether the project we put so much time into will ever sell. Whereas we're guaranteed we can watch that funny video over and over again.

So How Do We Improve Our Tolerance Of These Kinds Of Distress? 

McGonigal talks about three skills that could apply:

Automatic Goal Pursuit--This is different from habit. You're trying to keep goals in mind instead of relying on automatic habits. You are always focusing on the goal, instead of behavior.

Implementatons--Essentially, you're planning what you will do in certain situations. When I want to go to Facebook, I will check my timer to see how much time is left in my 45-minute work unit and work until the unit is done. If I still want to go to Facebook, I can go then.

Commitments--When faced with a challenge to our goal, have a rule we can rely on rather than habit. I have been invited to hike tomorrow. Tomorrow is a work day. Hiking won't get me closer to my goal, working will.

(Original Content: TMT: Is This Getting Closer To Discipline?)

Creating some personally designed training:

Yoga. Last week, I wrote about Fuel Your Willpower to Transform with Tapas by Kate Siber in the February, 2017 Yoga Journal. She suggests using yoga to help learn to deal with "the friction or resistance that arises when we go against the overwhelming momentum of our ingrained habits." Friction or resistance being like distress, see? "Holding a difficult-for-you pose on your yoga mat can prepare you for staying with discomfort in your daily life..."

Now because I toy with a short home yoga practice, I can see how yoga could work in this situation. You wouldn't even have to use a difficult-for-you-post. How about just holding any post longer? That would create some minor distress for you to learn to tolerate.

Meditation. I also toy with a short meditation practice. Wouldn't slowly lengthening  the practice improve my ability to tolerate distress? Yeah, I probably don't have a great attitude toward meditation.

Multipliers. If you're not already doing yoga or meditating, you're probably thinking that taking them up is going to take more time out of your life, which is counterproductive. You're trying to better manage the time you've got, not cut down on your time to manage. And you'd be correct. Using yoga and meditation to increase my distress tolerance may work for me because I'm already doing them for some other goal. Adding a goal, increasing my tolerance for distress, makes these activities multipliers. I'm not adding to my workload (much) by creating a new task. I'm using the same task to address multiple goals.

Other possible multipliers:

  • Finish one task at a time. If you're doing dishes, force yourself to stick with the job until you're done instead of giving in to the "distress" of making phone calls, watching a bit of TV, or checking your e-mail because you're laptop is right there on the kitchen counter. (Come on. I can't be the only person who does that.)
  • Add a short amount of time to any workout program you're already doing. Same task, you've added a second goal.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Distress tolerance, distress tolerance, distress tolerance.

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