This week has been an emotional rollercoaster in terms of general life/career updates. It is ending on a happy note—I cried tears of happiness for the first time ever yesterday. I’ve been reflecting a lot on my sources of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation because many of them have lifted over the past few weeks. For example, I’ve felt pressure to make my family proud, but after I received happy news for the first time, I realized that even when they were happy, I was still putting pressure on myself. Then I got a bunch of disappointing news and then more (very) happy news, but even though the extrinsic pressure is mostly off now, I still feel a strong drive to work and “succeed,” whatever that means.
I think I actually do a lot worse when there’s a lot of external pressure to get letters of recommendation, increase my GPA, built my network, prove myself, etc.—and that was my entire fall semester. So easy to lose sight of why you even want to get to where you’re going in the first place. I’m excited to do my work and live my life just for the joy of it. I remember that my academic performance and mental health were at their best during my senior spring, when there was little pressure to perform well academically. I think meditating has been helpful in advancing my understanding of why I feel so stressed sometimes and disentangling the causes.
Anyway. It has been extremely hard to calm my body and racing mind this very crazy week, but I guess that relates to what Tenzin said in class about how it is relatively less challenging to achieve stillness in a quiet, tranquil environment, but the real challenge comes from achieving stillness in a hectic, crazy world with many external demands. I didn’t do so well at truly quieting my worries or the crazy joyful thoughts of the past two days (it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt this much joy/excitement and it’s honestly kind of exhausting—I think I prefer to feel calm), but I’m glad I at least spent the 30 daily minutes to take note of my thoughts and slow down a bit.
I’ve been thinking about Joi’s comment that the best time to engage in contemplative practice is precisely when you feel focused and energized and ready to work—I find it incredibly difficult to tear myself away from my work when I’m “in the zone",” when I feel like I’m being productive, but I find that I struggle with burnout and getting in the way of my future self by overextending my present self. So I’m working on that.
This past month or so has been the first time in a long time—i.e. the first time since I was maybe 13—that I’ve had a regular sleep and exercise schedule with an explicit goal of getting 8 hours a night (I know the requirement for this class is 7 hours, but I need more than that). I have noticed improvements in mood and reduced anxiety, but I am getting less work done (at least in the short run). I think my overall mental health is better when I get up in the morning, attend 90% of my lectures, go to meetings and other events, eat regular meals, and go home to sleep, but my creative output is actually higher when I stay up super late to get work done, sleep through lectures, and emerge bewildered from my room at like 2pm.
I’m taking more participation-based classes this semester, classes that rely on participation and practice and attendance (rather than, say, reading and writing and using technical skills) to achieve mastery. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a class outside of the departments I’m interested in (14, 18, 21W/CMS, WGS), and I find myself sometimes responding to new ideas with defensiveness and judgment. I find it difficult to juggle my “economist” mindset—for example, thinking “what evidence would I need to establish a causal relationship?” whenever I notice a behavioral phenomenonn—with being a regular person with unfiltered thoughts that aren’t backed up by a body of empirical evidence.
Update 2/15: Just found myself trying to do a math pset at midnight. Sigh, must get better at time management. Ironically (?), taking on more activities that require attendance and presence has led me to become even more obsessive about scheduling every minute of my life so that I can make time for everything (like mediation, reflection, reading the news, running, rehearsing). I think it’s good for my discipline (and mental health) but I’m not sure if this is the intended effect.