GHDR 2022 November Report: Battling Impairment, Finding Heart

Posted Friday, November 11, 2022 by Sri.Tagged PROJECT, GHDR
EDIT STATUS:second draft
Painting of Chemistry Cat by Aja TrierPainting of Chemistry Cat by Aja Trier (full size image)

IMAGE CREDIT: This amazing print from Aja Trier is called Chemistry Cat Contemplates The Science of Catnip and it may be my best purchase of 2022! It seemed to go with "relatable-weird" theme of this post, but mostly I just love Chemistry Cat.

A Long Terrible Month

SUMMARY I am changing GHDR to account for specific executive dysfunction and social disconnection problems. I am also looking for an emotion-based principle to motivate productivity through mission instead of metrics. Labeling myself as a writer is one possible principle.

The month of November has been extremely difficult, starting from the very first day. I have been grumpy about my lack of progress on this year's super-simplified GHDR goals, and I also felt that I had lost the big picture of what I was doing. Then, a chance comment from my ADHD medication provider made me realize that, despite all my efforts to communicate, I was just unrelatable to most people. I felt disconnected from society and wanted to just...fade away.

This is not a good place to be, so in addition to increasing visits to my therapist I have been writing every day to try to figure out why I felt so awful. I also didn't want to burden people with my troubles because I believed that they wouldn't relate to me anyway...that was the problem!

So, I turned to my old friend process. I have been sitting-in on our "writers group" club in the DS|CAFE Coworking Discord. People have been sharing the grind of revising draft after draft, so I decided to do the same with my November Groundhog Day Resolutions Report. I also acknowledged that this was a necessary act of self care. I felt that I was missing something really important...but what was it?

ed.

The November 11 date for posting the report came and went, but I didn't want to force out a post just for the sake of meeting a deadline...I'm just now posting this on December 1st.

Breakthrough!

I had the first breakthrough on November 17. Sick of staring at my computer screen, I switched to pen and paper to exercise a different part of my brain (this sometimes leads to different thoughts). I quickly dumped out every anxiety and frustration I could think of on the first sheet, then used my gut reactions as a prompt for the next chunk of rambling on additional pieces of paper until I ran out of ramble. After a few days rest I transcribed them into the journal entry GHDR Note: Cold Hard Sri-nalysis.

While there is a lot more in the journal entry, for purposes of GHDR process engineering the key insight is that I've always struggled with two forms of resistance, and decades of trying to find ways to clever my way through or around them was never going to happen. In the case of Groundhog Day Resolutions, I seem to get stuck in the same place every year. However, my recent ADHD/ASD spectrum diagnoses suggested some new approaches.

I hereby declare that I accept that I have perpetual impairments that are never going to go away. I will have to learn to deal with them. The two impairments are linked to my ADHD/ASD diagnoses:

  • I have an impairment of executive function, specifically with regards to starting projects. The only reliable catalys is to ensure that I can talk daily to other people that are also deeply involved with the work. Without that daily contact, progress is slow and painful as I lose any desire to work on something that no one seems to care about. I think my impaired executive function can be partially explained by ADHD, but it also expresses a bit differently due to my ASD-style brain.

  • I also have an impairment of connection, but its root cause is less clear. My working hypothesis is that I have so many uncommon traits, world views, and life goals that it's really difficult to find like-minded people that can understand where I'm coming from and where I want to go. I am constantly reminded how weird I am in the way I look at the world, which perhaps can be explained by having a neurodivergent brain and an unusual childhood.

This was sobering but also reassuringly clear. After rereading these statements, I had a surprise gut reaction and wrote the following:

I am not my anxiety. I am not my impairments. I have always tried to be the best version of me, and I can exist apart from my negative emotions, fears, anxieties, and doubts. It is because I choose this path and I want that to be the reflection of who I am.

-- A Defiant Sri

This gave me a sense of agency and hope, but I didn't quite understand where it was coming from or whether it was more than just a snarky response to thinking about myself in terms of being impaired.

The Trouble with GHDR and Big Pictures

I decided to list all of my possible impairments to see if interesting patterns would become apparent. I detailed these findings in the journal entry GHDR Note: Lack of Relatability. The "lack of relatability" is a kind of social impairment, a self-limiting belief that other people don't want to relate to me because I'm just too weird for them. It occurred to me then that my defiant statement about "not being my impairments" and "choosing this path" came from deeply held values that I had not explicitly acknowledged in my initial analysis. My reaction to this thought is this statement:

My personal mission is to create a sanctuary where creative outcasts like myself can thrive and prosper. I will collect universal truths and share them. I will create tools and materials and share them, striving to make them with quality and caring. I want this place to exist so we can be ourselves and support each other.

-- An Ambitious Sri

Is this the big picture I had lost? You know, GHDR tends to emphasize either producing "tangible results" OR embracing "the random journey" and collecting the fruits of that experience. When I include the effects of ADHD and ASD in the productivity equation, there are these complications:

  • If I focus on the result, this triggers an ADHD impairment involving deferred rewardFor many people with ADHD, reward is thought to boost our dopamine levels, which energizes us. With a deferred reward, there is no such boost, so the hypothesis is that our brains will seek something more immediately gratifying. For me, the feeling is like I'm "apathetic" or "dead inside". This can be overcome when there is shared mission, perhaps because that idea creates a huge dopamine burst?. I know I dislike waiting for rewards that are behind the fog of uncertainty or the distant future if it's me that has to do it. It is very demotivating and is a significant irrational/emotional hurdle that blocks my will to start a task. I can talk myself out of the feeling, given time, but this is also draining because I'm fighting my own emotions. I can do this maybe once or twice a day before being wiped out.

  • If I focus on "the journey", anxiety will build up due to time blindnessFor me, this is having anxiety about future things that I don't want to forget which tends to paralyze me in the now. I also really can't visualize having time in the future to do a thing, which when combined with my difficulty in starting tasks creates more anxiety. The problem would go away if I could just start things and not worry about it, but that is the executive dysfunction impairment., which is another common ADHD impairment that I have. It also creates an "open loop" that does not resolve, and this can trigger an anxious reaction in people on the autism spectrum. Which is also me.

The Third Element: Emotion is the Salient Motivator

It seems that I can't rely on pure reason to get past these traits. Lord knows I have tried dozens of ways to get around it. I think the idea of having a personal mission is at the heart of what I'm seeking. This is not the "big picture", which is more of a strategic look at the two productivity approaches I outlined above. I need more of an emotional assurance that I am doing the right thing, and that I can clearly frame what I do in terms of emotional reward. This has a couple of advantages:

  • Emotion is immediate, not deferred. This helps with ADHD.
  • Emotion is at the heart of my memory, not task lists.

It's important too that my logical thinking serves my heart instead of the other way around. I spend a lot of time on ensuring my emotional stability, and reason is the tool I use to achieve it. That said, I need to remember that feeling the emotion is what is the driver of action for me, though my approach is outwardly very logical and process oriented.

Having a sense of personal mission is an emotional heartfelt state, and it's the strongest anchor for memory that I have. I rarely do things just because "it's the rational thing to do" because that's kinda boring to me. It's much more interesting to do the IRRATIONAL thing and observe what happens from a safe distance. But I digress...the main attraction of personal mission is that it is more salient as a motivator, and that makes it a strong foundation for maintaing daily intenfulnessI define intentfulness as the precursor to 'mindfulness': a persistent and enduring frame of mind that gives context to every action. It's the active part of setting strategic goals and the metric for measuring the outcome of tactical action.. Without intentfulness, I am quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of steps that I need to take to build this sanctuary I'm talking about in my personal mission statement. With everything I have to keep track of, I lose sight of the personal mission and am consumed by the need to do-do-do-do-do. It's the worst case scenario for someone with ADHD working as a solo entrepreneur, so perhaps it's not surprising that my progress has been so scattered. I just do not have the executive function skill to keep it all together without a tremendous amount of effort that is better used to create. Emotion, by comparison, is much more stable in my case (I think), thanks to the logical processes that I've developed over the years to protect my gooey optimistic heart.

Applying Insights to GHDR

Let me rewrite the two impairments into guiding truths that could work for GHDR. Remember that the purpose of GHDR is to provide direction and support task completion that serves a larger strategic goal. in service to a larger strategic goal. In short, things that I am naturally bad at...

*AHEM*

  • I have difficulty starting tasks (executive dysfunction). I can not "think my way around it", despite trying for decades to do this. What I know works is having external stakeholders that I can talk to regularly throughout the day to maintain our shared vision.

  • I have difficulty connecting with people because I feel like a misfit in polite society. This is due to the "uncommon" traits I have and the ambitious personal values I hold dearly. However, as I wrote in my journal entry on relatability, I can mitigate this by "masking" for the purpose of smoother social interaction. People actually do like me for different reasons, so I can lean into that.

Now let me consider the "third element" of personal mission, which is the emotional anchor that works better for me than rational anchors. My logical system is controlled by the needs of my emotional core. I can kill two birds with one stone if I emphasize emotion because the logic will come along for free:

  • I need a strong personal mission at the heart of my activities. "Classical productivity" by itself is not enough to overcome my ADHD/ASD traitsAs much as I'd like to, I can't just ignore my emotion because the anxieties I have are deeply ingrained in my childhood experiences. I already spend a lot of time convincing myself it's "all in my head" and "it probably won't literally kill me". I know it's dumb, but it's there and it's something I think I just have to live with. Emphasizing classical productivity metricsWhen you are focused on output-based productivity, the key metric of achievement is being about to count concrete achievement. in the spirit of what gets measured gets done addresses only the logical side of my brain. It is the tool that my emotional center uses to cope with an inconsistent and arbitrary worldThis appears to be a common experience for autistic people who are relatively unimpaired in their communication ability, and can 'mask' their traits to fit-in..

Let's try applying them!

Guideline 1. Don't Work Alone, EVER

This sounds crazy even to me, but it directly addresses my dominant form of executive dysfunction. In particular, working with people is the only reliable counter I have toward starting a task; once I get going I tend to be fine. Without external collaborators, activation is hit-or-miss.

In practice, this rule implies that I should be very selective about the clients I take on for freelance work: they must be hands-on and extremely collaborative. This rule also implies that I could structure my personal projects so they are of mutual benefit to specific people, thus increasing the chance that someone will join me.

To find these kind of people and projects, I will have to actively broadcast of my intentions on social media and to my friends, because what doesn't get shown doesn't get remembered. It may also means I have to take on project management roles, which ordinarily might be a drag on productivitySee maker vs manager mindset but I'm hoping that the sense of mission will compensate for that. I guess I'll find out.

PROPOSED GUIDELINE

  • Don't work alone...ever.
  • Find ways to include people into project at the specification stage!

Guideline 2: Use Masking Techniques to Make Others More Comfortable for My Own Benefit

The feeling of rejection hits me very hardThis trait is shared by many people with ADHD. This video How to Deal with Rejection Sensitivity from How to ADHD channel on YouTube is a good explainer., and it tends to suppress my desire to even TRY to connect with people.

I have worked around this by sharing my writing on blogs and other forms of social media (e.g. my Discord Coworking/Office Server). I have this obsessive desire to share what I learn to help people avoid the inconvenience and pain of lousy documentation and ill-fitting cookie-cutter solutions. Not knowing if anyone will read what I share doesn't even matter, because if there is the possibility of my writing can help someone in need, then it is totally worth doing. This is an example of the heart at work. I also happen to know I have helped people in this way, judging from the handful of mind-blowing emails I get from people who found my ramblings helpful and at times life changing. Wow. It doesn't happen often, but it is all the more reason to keep sharing what I think and learn.

An interesting aspect of sharing what I learn via blogging is that it's connection by proxy; I can not see the expression of people who find my content boring or unrelatable or stupid, so the feeling of rejection is not trigger. I do know that my writing style is a hard sell for general audiences, but the people who do response to it are likely to be good candidates for future collaboration. Based on my web traffic, I estimate the connection percentage to be around 0.25%, and that is split between two different audiences: the productivity tool lovers and the personal development seekersThere is a skew of at least 10:1 in the popularity of the productivity and personal development content (perhaps due to a lack of content strategy on my part) that suggests 0.025% or 25 people out of 1000 find my musings relatable. I'm pulling these numbers out of my ass, of course, but qualitatively it supports the notion that my "relatability" ratio is low. That's not really a problem, as it's relatability to like-minded people that is the important metric, not broad appeal to the largest market..

The real challenge is handling the face to face connections, which is what I need to do when expanding the pool of external project collaborators so I never work alone. I am very sensitive to how people respond to me in person, and it is pretty exhausting. I typically need about 8 hours of rest to every hour of personal interaction because my mental processing is so intense and prolonged. Readers on the autistic spectrum may find this experience relatable.

I think this is related to the coping mechanism called masking, which is purposefully acting "normal" for the sake of avoiding condescending/discriminatory treatment. It is extremely tiring, as I described above, but I think I can use the same mechanics to improve relatability instead as a host that invites people to share some weirdness WITH me. In practical terms, it just means not overwhelming people with the full firehose of my ADHD/ASD multicultural transgender cross-disciplinary mind, which is something I know I have done in the past (cringe!). This is not that much different than hosting a chat room online where the main goal is to help people feel welcome and seen so they become comfortable. I've been practicing this since 1989 and have a fairly good handle on it. Applying the same sensibilities on a person-by-person level seems like a very small leap to me. In other words, I can apply everything I know about masking to help them feel comfortable in MY conversational space so I can have people energy to keep me motivated and happy. I once wrote a blog post about Being the Mayor when I saw the then-mayor of Providence Rhode Island waving at everyone in town. Mayors are proud of their town and promote it constantly and joyfull! Why not apply the same attitude to my own personal mission?

PROPOSED GUIDELINE

  • Connect by proxy through writing and online conversation, relentlessly!
  • Connect in person by using "masking" skills to make them feel comfortable in my conversational spaces.
  • Moderate the intensity of my weird mind when communicating with others, because I can quickly overwhelm or bore them if I'm not careful.

Guideline 3. Reframe GHDR to Focus on Living the Personal Mission

Up to now, Groundhog Day Resolutions has focused on finding ways to focus my actions so I could achieve my goals with greater efficiency, thus reaching my desired goals faster. To this end, I tried to make concrete and clear goals, but kept ending up with strategic goals instead of measurable operational goals. You know what they say, "what gets measured gets done". I took a different approach this year, creating a "strategic horizons approach" that instead defined multiple "stars to steer by", trusting that by always pursuing a particular star that I could trust myself to figure it out. This is almost a personal mission, but suffers from being a bit vague. It's more descriptive than it is visceral and immediate, which is what my dopamine-deprived brain needs to overcome executive dysfunction in the first place.

An example of "visceral and immediate" is my belief that by sharing my thoughts, someone in need might read them and be saved a lot of pain and heartache. This is a belief that is very strongly held, and it is something I will never forget. I think about this every day. I need to find a way to package the personal mission statement in something similarly powerful, something that speaks to my most deeply held beliefs that have also been affirmed by exceptional experience. Here's the original statement.

My personal mission is to create a sanctuary where creative outcasts like myself can thrive and prosper. I will collect universal truths and share them. I will create tools and materials and share them, striving to make them with quality and caring. I want this place to exist so we can be ourselves and support each other.

While it is pretty descriptive and clear, I don't like how it is more of a "things to build" list rather than something that I actually feel or relate to something that creates feeling. While logically I see that these are all activities that will lead to a wonderful future state, I unfortunately have ADHD time blindness and the future is practically invisible to me. It is not motivating at all. I need something accessible right here and right now, something that it so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I won't forget why it's important. This is more than a star to steer by! This gets into the identity and labeling crisis I have every few years...what do I call myself so other people understand what it is I do that goes beyond just "graphic design" or "javascript programming". And how will that label inform MYSELF in what I will do? When you're a kid, you can say "I am going to be an astronaut!" and that paints a pretty clear vision in one's mind: exploration, science, competence, fitness!

I'm going to try on a label that is a bit weird: English Major

Let me explain with some background: my favorite classes in middle school and high school were English classes taught at the AP/IB level. I discovered that I liked writing essays and was surprised that my English teachers liked them too. I was just trying to write what I was thinking and spent time trying to link ideas together, though I did not polish them up as much as I could have (a problem I still have today). I owe it to those dedicated teachers who exposed us to the the experience of living that books strove to do, though I didn't fully appreciate it until after college. I had planned to be an English major, but ended up disappointing my teachers by choosing to study computer engineering which in 1985 was very very new. I figured I knew how to write well enough, but I didn't know anything about computers. I wanted to make video games that made me feel something, and I thought that I needed to be able to build those computers that were capable of better sound and graphics because they did not yet exist.

Fast-forward 30 years, and I think my trek into computers engineering lead me across multiple fields involved with communication and storytelling. I lost interest in my original goal of video game development after I got into the industry, realizing that the games themselves weren't as interesting as the conversations that brought them to life. From there I expanded into adjacent field: interactive design, graphic design, computer programming, system design, organizational development, freelancing, project management, animation, video editing, and so on. The common element to all of them is the desire to communicate something based on felt emotion that was firmly backed by universal relatable truths. I also liked mastering the technical aspects of these fields, but that was also because I thought that's what I needed to focus on to be fulfilled and competent. I brought this same attitude into Groundhog Day Resolutions, focusing on technical measurable production rather than enjoying the process or loving the medium itself for what I could do with it. It was always very difficult.

Here's the key insight: my memories high school memories of English class is accompanied by a deep appreciation of my teachers. They cared about what I thought when I was an awkward teenage dork. They strove to SEE ME at my best so they could SHOW ME what that was like. This is incredibly important to me. When I switched to computer engineering, I think I broke the heart of my English teacher at the time, who had gone out of his way to write recommendations for my ungrateful clueness self. I don't think I would take back my choice to study computers because hey, it pays the bills. That said, I don't think it's too late to return to my original impulse and get serious about it.

In more practical terms, the one activity I always start with is writing! I write thousands of words every week just in my Discord Server and new website. I start my programming and graphic design project by writing an essay to clarify my thoughts to myself and for others. When I have a face-to-face meeting with prospective clients, I distill our conversation into a short essay that lays out the challenge in their own business language reflecting their own world view, packaged in a way that they can use for their own communication. I am, in short, doing what I was taught in English class.

Another way to think of this is to think of myself as a kind of writer that just happens to also code and design. I have also thought that someday I would write a book once I figured out how to successfully bring Groundhog Day Resolutions to a successful conclusion. But you know what? My writing process is the embodiment of my personal mission, and being a writer is what you call people who write for any reason. In my case, writing is the way I structure my thoughts so I can make change in the world.

It occurs to me that I've been writing that book since the very beginning of my blog in 2004. Last I checked, it had well over a million actual words on it, and that was 10 years ago. I have strived to explore, learn, build, and share for several years now. Every activity I've cared about, every person I've reached out to, every friendship I've kindled...these experiences all have contributed to this endless collection of ideas I seem to be writing. The drafting process has just been very long. Perhaps it's this that is at the heart of my personal mission, the artifact that embodies what I am trying to do. In a way, I am trying to apply to the real world what game designed do when creating a virtual one: authoring reality.

PROPOSED GUIDELINE

  • Think of myself as a writer that is researching a book about "authoring reality".
  • The writing process is at the heart of what I naturally do, and I know that I write because I believe my thinking might help someone else in need.
  • I also know that writing is THE WAY I start projects of any kind.
  • By thinking of myself as being the kind of mystical writer that can bend reality through words and action, much in the way I appreciate my English teachers, I have a more visceral and immediate "role" to emulate.

I'm not sure this is quite right...I still need to figure out how to initiate action, but I think this is the start of an interesting experiment. We'll see how it goes!

Other Writings of the Month

Ok, that's enough of GHDR rethinking. For completeness I want to provide lists of new content I've written since the last Groundhog Day Resolutions Report, as this will be useful when I'm doing my end-of-year wrapup and want to remember what was on my mind.

Journal Writings

New Entries in the Digital Garden

Wrapping Up

This was a bear of a report to write, but I think I have yet another "promising direction" to explore for the end of the year. I'm going to rest for a few days, then try to break this down more systematically. Thanks for suffering through the experience with me, and good night 😁


GHDR 2022 REPORT INDEX

February 2

Kickoff - Defining the goals for 2022.

March 3

Focus Level Up! - Initial goals cleared. Added "daily making" criteria.

April 4

May 5

Much Mental Processing - Thinking through mental health issues.

June 6

Too Much Work - Burned out on work. No report.

July 7

Back to Meeee! - Work commitments ending, looking forward to focus on my own work.

August 8

Setting Strategic Horizons - Need for "singular focus" stronger than ever. Hypothesizing goal-less strategic planning strategy based on structured procrastination.

supplemental

Related journal entries Defining Archetypes, Defining Goals, and Defining Operational Goals dig into the conditions for setting strategic horizons. Reboot Complete is the summary of progress made.

September 9

Progress in Four Phases - Warming up to meet my strategic horizon goals took time, but the systems of the past are proving useful in the present!

October 10

Fighting the System, Letting it Be - Limited progress on the big yucky goals that must be done, reflections on the challenges, and a reminder maybe that I should just let things be beautiful.

November 11

Battling Impairment, Finding Heart - Addresses long-standing mental impairments as "personal fact" that GHDR does not directly address.

supplemental

December 12

TBD