One Horse, One Ass…In Sequence

My mother’s death has sparked a huge upheaval in my motivation…a focus unlike I’ve felt before. Very much a “this is the worst that can happen?” point of view, I find myself exploring things I found myself saying that I’d “get to that eventually.” As great as this such a sudden surge of interests is, it can lead to a quagmire of indecision and poor focus. Here’s what I’m doing to manage it all.

The curious thing about this motivation is how it is squarely tied to spiritual and cerebral pursuits. Having so long focused on just my body, moving toward intense mental gymnastics is something that is extremely new to me.  Specifically, this article is about juggling all of my efforts into one week of productive studying/practice while still attending to work and home responsibilities. How am I doing? Pretty well, considering. Am I perfect? Not by any means, and I don’t want this to come across as such. However, I’ve found a few things that are working for me, both generally and specifically, to help increase consistency and reward for effort.

General Considerations

Considering my tendency to want to relax when I’m at home, here are the “groundwork” processes I set up before starting any study session:

  1. Scheduling. The method I like using is the “Autopilot” schedule I found on Study Hacks. By setting the activities for a specific time each week, namely the ones that I’m most concerned about, I can better work other activities into my life without too much juggling. For instance, I’m going to CLEP out of Management at University and test into Mensa this summer. So I schedule my sessions of Dual N Back and CLEP studying at the same times every week. I also try to keep the activities complementary; doing the cognitive training, taking a short nap, and then starting on CLEP studying really helps the process along. These, my workouts, and my evening meditation at the zendo are all scheduled, thus not a consideration for removal. So if you asked me what I will be doing Tuesday, I’ll only mention the things that aren’t automatic for that day.
  2. Stimulation. Specifically, espresso and ammonia. While it might seem strange to use smelling salts as a study aid, for me it is the quickest short term refocuser I know. While the caffeine will keep me at a nice buzz, the ammonia clears my head should I start to drift off in thought. I feel it’s a great tool, more so than just for max effort squats.
  3. Binaural Noise. I use the Soundmind binaural beat program to keep attention up during things like blogging or writing for school (as mentioned, built into the autopilot). I’ve found it does in fact improve my concentration and the 20 minute long program lets me take breaks in a nice interval so that I keep fresh.

That’s the base of everything: a plan, adrenaline, and brainwave manipulation. What about the specifics?

For Intelligence Training

  • As I mentioned above, I’ve been using the Dual N Back test to increase my fluid intelligence. This is the same test researchers use at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to improve fluid intelligence. Doing this test literally takes the brain to fatigue, so I’m slowing building up to 30 straight minutes of testing: 20 with the Dual N Back and 10 with the PASAT test and other cognitive games.
  • Nootropics are used during practice to maximize brain performance, specifically piracetam, choline, and ALCAR. As opposed to something like adderall, where the flood of dopamine lets you think everything you do is great, these supplements merely maximize your stage performance. I’m also experimenting with vinpocetine and huperzine A, but the trio listed really supercharges my brain without anything illicit.

For CLEP Studying

  • Active reading. Specifically Ryan Holiday’s tips on “Reading ‘Above’ Your Level.” Just being turned on to post-it highlighters drastically improved my ability to digest really boring shit, specifically the management crap required to pass the test.
  • Cliff Notes. No explanation needed, and it is actually a better study tool than the official CLEP study guide for management and marketing.
  • Flash Cards.  After I plow through the notes, I test myself with the flash cards found here. Crowd sourcing, in this case, has proven extremely accurate…and useful.

For Everything Else

  • I’ll be spending next summer in Latin America, so I’m learning Spanish with the work of Michel Thomas. I typically listen 1/2 to 1 hour a day at my leisure. I bounce what I learn off my girlfriend, who is fluent. This is more leisure than work, as I can do it on my couch, thus is something I float into the autopilot.
  • My workouts are built into the autopilot; I change what I do every 6 weeks, usually a few days off and a couple small tweaks. Keeps me fresh and injury free.
  • I’m a trainer, so I really can’t bring work home with me. Winner winner chicken dinner.

As a former procrastinator, I’ve found that being able to do what I’m doing doesn’t require a huge amount of time, just attention to what you’re working on. As soon as these are finished, I’ll rest and let whatever bubbles up in my attention and desire to take hold. I’ll schedule and work it the same way I’m working these goals. Rinse and repeat.

Hey you, reader! What are you tips for increasing the productivity of personal improvement activities?

3 thoughts on “One Horse, One Ass…In Sequence

  1. Hi Skyler,
    you’ve set some intriguing goals for yourself. Good luck or maybe I should say, “go get ’em.” I don’t think luck will have anything to do with it.
    Here’s a question or thought to ponder for your spiritual side. I’ve found that spirituality without community might feel good, but doesn’t typically lead anywhere. For me, spirituality isn’t about making me feel good, if it does that’s okay, but I’m more interested in it making live more fully and I have only found that to be true in community. Of course, that means I have to be in relationship with people, who are sometimes annoying. At any rate, who or what is your community that not only offers you support, but holds you accountable to be the person you want to be?
    Like I said, it’s just a thought, and I’ve enjoyed perusing your blog today as I lay in bed feeling recovering from whatever nasty bug I’ve contracted.

    1. Mary,

      Thanks for the comment. I hope you’re feeling better than the damage isn’t too bad.

      Now, as far as this spiritual side question, I have a community at Appamada, the meditation group I attend weekly. I’m slowly finding more things about the group that I’d like to participate in for that reason, the person side. The group aspect serves the function of community and idea/experience relating, but also of grounding. As I’m going through these parts, the group is good at basically saying, “That’s nice” and not blowing up any experience I have (as I might like to). This grounding/putting myself out there is also why I keep this blog and a community of individuals whom I respect…accountability for things I say I’m going to do. I always liked putting myself out there; this just makes it easier.

      Further, though it seems a bit “cafeteria model,” I’m a big fan of Stoicism as an applicable philosophy. So I’m doing all of this reading and integrating it together into a practice that satisfies (even if uncomfortable at times). So I don’t know if there is a group of “Integral Atheistic Stoics Respectful Of Spiritual Teachings” group…perhaps I should start it?

      1. great response – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate it when people are interested in thoughtful engagement.

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