Why are you afraid of what you can accomplish?

Addiction is a good syndrome of fear. Addiction as a way of procrastinating, I might add.

Getting addicted to any kind of lifestyle, be it a healthy (like going to the gym obsessively, reading the whole University library, or sewing your way to a whole new wardrobe) or an unhealthy one (like partying too much, eating junk food, or watching too much tv), is actually a way to escape reality. There is this fine line where a hobby becomes an addiction: when you stop doing things for fun and do them out of guilt (because you know you should be doing something else). It’s kind of perverse, in a way, and it spoils everything.

I know what reality I want to escape: the one where I have to finish my dissertation, defend it in front of a jury, get qualified by the national university board and apply for a job at the Sorbonne by spring 2017.

There is something about getting it finally over with that is so frightening and overwhelming it makes it very difficult to focus on the task itself.

After complaining for three years that being a PhD student got me stuck somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, I can’t seem to really want to grow-up and own it. Writing a dissertation (anything, really) means working really really hard without being sure of the outcome. But being afraid of failure is part of being an adult. When I was little, at school, if during a test you gave all the right answers, well, you’d have an A. Now, you don’t always know what the right answers are, mostly because there are none. When you create something, with that comes risk, and that’s perfectly normal to get frightened. 

I invite you to make a list of everything you think frightens you in your current project. Everything that might be the reason why you’re not getting any progress.

My list goes like this:

  • I am afraid that when I finish it, it won’t be good enough. Perfectionism is a bitch.
  • I am afraid that if I finish, and go in front of a jury, and even get out of there with the highest honors, it won’t be real. I wont be fitting in. As if, knowing me, how flawed I am, I couldn’t actually become a Doctor, a peer for my professors and supervisors.
  • Does it mean that I’m afraid of failure? Sure, this too. I’m afraid that with this huge thing (the dissertation), people will finally see me for what I am, that is someone that’s not that smart, not that well-read, not that brilliant. And I have to uphold a reputation of someone who has never failed and has been on a winning streak for the past 17 years.

I think every time we are afraid of doing something it is because deep down we think we are not worth it. Admitting it is the first part of getting over it.

I think the next step is to just take a chance, and never do it alone: instead, it is always best to seek the support of others. Your friends, your family, your mentors. No one will think less of you if you admit that you are afraid. No one will turn you down if you seek support.

I’d love you to share your thoughts with me in the comments. Do you feel afraid too? Does it reach such levels that you procrastinate instead of working? Does it make you want to quit?

 

 

 

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The TV Detox (stop watching TV for a month with me)

Last week, on February 17th, I decided for myself that I would stop watching tv-shows for a month.

I had just spent almost 20 hours straight in front of my computer, watching, again, episodes of a show I used to be addicted to several years in the past, the O.C. 

I don’t really know what triggered it. Here I was, last Saturday, with a few hours in front of me to work on my dissertation, but instead of opening my Mellel file, I opened Safari and that was it, she was not heard of again…

So, on Wednesday, I though to myself: enough is enough, and I can do this, I feel strongly motivated to ditch the tv-shows for a month.

I even opened iCal and scheduled weekly motivational messages.

Wednesday and Thursday I eased into it. I didn’t watch any episodes per se, but went on reading stuff about the show on the Internet. This was a cheap move, but hey.

On Friday, well… on Friday, I caved. I had a plane to sit on for two hours, and even though I was looking forward to read and write, and clear my mind, I wasn’t kidding myself.

So here I am, almost a week later, with the first congratulations alarm set to go off tomorrow, and still in over my head with the same old problem: how to be a grown-up, suck it up, work to fit your deadlines, stop procrastinating stupidly and being literally addicted to television.

I decided I will do now what I should have done a week ago.

I’m setting up a challenge. I open it to everyone who’s interested. I will come back here every week (at least) with a review of my successes and struggles and some motivational speeches.

What I intend to do:

  • Stop, drastically and completely, cold-turkey and without looking back, all relationship with the following websites: putlocker.is, watchseries.ag, sidereel.com, youtube.com. The goal is to reach one month. For now, the first goal is one week. The ban will be lifted on March 1st. 
  • Stop, drastically and completely, without looking back, all time wasting activities, such as: surfing the web in search for interviews and reviews related to the show(s), reading message boards, reading Fanfiction. I’m not banning writing Fanfiction, because at least it’s a creative process.
  • That’s all, actually. Easy-breezy. A bonus challenge would also be stopping Facebook, but tiny steps, tiny steps.

What it is supposed to improve in my life:

  • I will stop obsessing about the lives of fictional characters and devote my thoughts to real relationships with my friends, family, and loved ones. 
  • I will go to sleep early and wake up early as a result. It’s not a difficult thing to do, since I’ve been doing this for a long time now before the latest tv-show devastating streak.
  • I will have so much time on my hands. Time that I will use in any way I like. I will find myself a hobby (I used to love to sew, to knit, to build things, to cook, too) and report on what I did with my free time in a week.
  • I will stop procrastinating? (ha!) I don’t know about that, but at least I am going to try and work, write my dissertation that is, and face all the difficulties that stand before me.

I’m a passionate nature and get addicted quickly. I want to ultimately find balance. But first of all, by the end of this seven days period, I want to be proud of myself.

Who’s with me on this? Leave your thoughts in the comments and join me for the challenge.

Each week I’ll be discussing the challenges of this project, the eventual failures and the successes, I’ll also be monitoring my time and will come up with ideas on how to spend it otherwise than on the couch.

The Straight-A Student Syndrom

Ah, the Straight-A Student Syndrom. SASS. Has it ever happened to you?

You discover something new. Let’s say you play pool for the first time. You might struggle a bit at first before you get it right.

You then quickly rise to the occasion and have no more difficulties what so ever. You get straight A’s, metaphorically speaking. Every time you touch a ball, it goes in the right direction. You’re on a winning streak.

Then something happens. As time goes by, the pressure rises. You have to get it right every time now, because now that you’ve become the “master”, you can’t fail anymore. One failure will lose you the title. You will be ridiculed.

So you play it safe. Or you stop playing all together. You never rise to the next level, you never discover what’s in store for you. You are one of those people others say they’re brilliant, just because a long time ago they have impressed with their skills. It’s all a matter of rumors and built-up effect now.

If you know what I mean, then you too are SASSy.

You are afraid of doing anything in case what you’ve done isn’t as good as it should be.

You are your own cruelest judge.

You are petrified at the idea of not finishing something you’ve started, and at the same time too afraid to finish it because you lack the self-confidence.

Your motto is: if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough.

I think there are probably a hundred psychological reasons why we think like that. Does it mean we want to be acknowledged? Or simply loved? Does it mean we are afraid of staying alone with ourselves, because we’ve only been defined so far by what others think of us? Where did that self-confidence go?

What I know is that now, as I’ve established the syndrome (actually, my wise aunt has said it out loud, after listening to me whimpering about how I struggle to write my dissertation), I know what I’m dealing with. I know how stupid it is. I know I have to take a deep breath and just get to work, one tiny step at a time.

Are you SASSy too? How do you cope with your perfectionism? Does it make you procrastinate like crazy? Do you have a solution?

Let it all out in the comments!

 

 

On losing time and building our inner temple

I’ve just finished reading a great article I stumbled upon while checking out my Facebook feed, something I don’t like to do often, as I can usually feel how this automated action makes me unaware of time as it flies inexorably by. The article, published in an old issue of The Atlantic, and written by Nicholas Carr in 2008. addressed a similar issue, as it tried to answer to one of the most anxious questions of our time: is Google making us stupid?

Same as the author of the article, and as some of the people he quotes, I too have experienced this: being unable to concentrate long enough on a long article or a book the way I used to, simply because my mind refuses to dive deep enough into what I am reading, jumping instead from one idea to another, finding and forming new links to stuff I know and urging me to follow all those mental roads at once instead of allowing myself to contemplate one idea at a time. It creates a sense of urgency that can be productive, depending on what it is you do, but that can also lead to feel as if you’re spinning and losing control over your own mind.

Even more than the symptoms and the problems described in the article, I experience something that I would identify a new kind of procrastination, a frantic procrastination, if you will. If the end goal is to get something done, then does the way you do it really matter? Or the impact it has on your other activities? For example, if I have to remove the paint from my nails,  and, in the same day (let’s imagine it’s the day before work), prepare a presentation, or a lesson, if you’re a teacher (my case). Those a two completely different tasks, the importance of which has almost nothing in common, to me, anyway. I know that preparing my lesson is more important than painting my nails, but still, when I take a short break from my work and go to the bathroom, I automatically tell myself: “hey, I’m in the bathroom, let’s remove the paint right now, this way, I won’t have to do it later and it’ll be one thing less to do today”. It’s true: one less thing to do. But in the meantime, I have completely disrupted my work process, the one I had going on before the bathroom break. I can return to it, of course, and I will, but without me even realizing it, it will take me a little more time to readapt to the writing / working state.

You could tell me that those kinds of interruptions are just a way to procrastinate, and you’d be right. As John Perry describes it in his famous book on procrastination, procrastinators are “passionate” people who can spend hours on the Internet following every new link they see pop up in front of them. It is a form of curiosity of course, and it is also a way of avoiding the task that needs to be done, and that needs to be done in quiet and peace.

So, either it is because I am a procrastinator, or because I am getting more and more used, as are millions of people today, to a “google” way of thinking by association (I am in the bathroom, i.e., I can remove the nail polish; I am going out i.e., I can take out the trash) and through pop-up windows, I have a really hard time concentrating. And on the one hand, I get a lot of small things done (like painting my nails, getting our the trash, sewing that button or writing that e-mail), but when it comes to more serious things, that cannot be done without “going under”, “diving in”, if you will, I’m constantly trying to find ways to interrupt myself. So this makes me a quite effective person that has, as a result, some free time, free time that can (and should) be used to get into deeper projects – my dissertation, my book, even my lessons actually, that would benefit a lot from being prepared fully in advance. Instead of this, I ofter lose my free time by surfing on the Internet, unable to switch my google brains off and my writing brains on.

There is some hope, though.

This weekend, for example, I decided to take a break. So I forgot about work and all the things I had to do and watched old episodes of The Good Wife, drank good wine, ate and slept. I completely disconnected with the rest of the world and, although it was the hardest part, didn’t feel guilty. When I finally emerged, I had the feeling of just returning from vacation. For a few hours (some would say they were lost, of course they were. I could have taken this time to dive into a great novel instead of watching TV, but I did what I did. Diving into a good novel is harder than diving into a good tv-show, but essentially it is the same thing) I would be concentrated only on what was in front of me. My world wasn’t bigger than the one depicted in the show, my mind didn’t wander outside of what was on the screen. In other words, I was concentrated really hard on one thing, something that doesn’t happen a lot.

Then, the ultimate question is: how to achieve a similar level of concentration when working on something? When you are active, instead of being passive? When, no matter how interesting what you’re doing is, it is always easier and therefore nicer to watch TV (or read a book or go outside or do whatever you like unconditionally, whatever you are passionate about) than to work on something.

Because as soon as we think of something as work, our brains automatically refuses to give it full attention. Thinking of your work as leisure is one way to do it, but I haven’t really succeeded at it yet. Exercising your willpower is another way to go. Constantly reminding yourself that concentrating on what you’re doing is best for you and will give you better results is, in my experience, the thing that works the best.

What does it mean ? It means actually being aware of your concentration problems and doing everything in your power to create an environment that would make it easier to concentrate. Very often I think of it after the free time is over and I have to work very fast to at least do something before the deadline. But I’ve decided to put the ball in my court and keep it there. I’ve decided to remind myself as often as possible that I can take time to breathe deeply, segregate myself from the world and allow myself to take this time I have to think deeply on a subject, to stop all the haste and to take a short time off from the world around me. I know that if I go to a café for example, to work, instead of staying home, I will achieve this state much faster. I know that if I create a soothing environment for my ideas (like a glass of wine, for example), it will be less hard to allow myself to contemplate and slow down a little bit. And most of all I know that if I write a little bit everyday in my diary (or on the blog), I allow myself to go deep into my own thoughts and reemerge cooler and more relaxed.

So what I want to say in the end is this: living in our fast paced world, where information runs so fast it becomes difficult to just stop and think about one thing without feeling guilty for missing out on all the other stuff that’s going on, the way to stay sane is to cut yourself from the world sometimes, concentrate on one subject at a time, force yourself in the beginning and help yourself by creating a soothing environment. Concentration can only be achieved in silence. It doesn’t have to be outer silence, but inner silence. That’s why I work best in crowded places, because I retract myself from the humming around me. On the contrary, working in total silence can be daunting, because your mind drifts very easily from one thing to another.

What do you like to do to achieve maximum concentration? Do you struggle with your mind going to all kinds of places instead of focusing on just one thing? Do you create a special ritual to stay focused and concentrated?

I’d love to hear your feedback on this!

 

2016 (non)resolution

Goodness, it’s been so long.

Last time I had something to write about on this blog was just before my birthday, on November 2nd, 2015. I wanted to recap all the things I wanted to leave behind me in the 26th year of my life, and all those I wanted to bring with me in my 27th.

One of those things consisted in not waisting anymore time and doing things in an efficient and productive way. A “said and done” kind of mantra I wanted to implement right after my birthday.

The irony of it all is ever so full of wisdom.

There are, of course, some things I want to leave in the past, where they belong. In the year 26th as well as in the year 2015.

The feeling of imperfection and inadequacy.

The constant worrying.

The internal belief (and source of enormous stress) that if I try hard enough, I can change people and make people be what I think they ought to be (because I know better, obviously).

The things I want to bring with me in the new year are things that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have those flaws to begin with. Overcoming your own shortcomings is, I believe, the very best part of being alive as a human being.

So, what I want to do in the next year is simple:

Let things be. (Let my life unfold the way it should, let others live, eat, drink, move or not move the way they want to, let my students figure out their own shortcomings for themselves and make them better for it, etc.)

Be the change. (Go to the gym if I want a perkier butt, which I know I’ll get as soon as I start to train regularly; Finish my PhD, which I know I can do if I write regularly; Inspire my students by being myself and always seeking to be better at what I do, etc.)

There are lots of other small stuff, that said out loud sounds much easier to achieve than these two mostly psychological goals. Eating less carbs and ditching industrial sugar, going to the gym at least every other day, sleeping at night, writing every day, going outside, ditching Facebook, etc. etc.

Those are means, and some of them are useful. The thing is to implement all new habits one at a time. Take them as they come. Step by step.

This will be a great year, I’m sure of it.

Happy 2016 to everyone!

 

“When this is over, I’ll get on living…” How to stop this kind of thinking and be productive.

“As soon as I’m done with this project, I’ll return to my normal routines.” “Just wait until this is over, then I’ll be thriving.” “I just have to get this over with, then it’ll be all good.” Sounds familiar? These kinds of thoughts pollute our minds more often than it is bearable, and once we get in the state of “as soon as… then”, not only do we not enjoy the thing that needs to be done itself, but we actually lose a lot of time on stress and unproductive behavior, jeopardizing the very chances this particular project gets done in the best way possible.
An example. Last Friday night I had to attend a cocktail party at my High School. It was the first one of he year, all my students and their parents were to be there and, as a teacher and the head of the department, I had to make a speech. It didn’t have to be long, and no serious matters had to be discussed. Only greetings and thanks. Then there were to be other speeches, and food, and drinks, and some of my students actually had prepared some kind of a show. So really, there was almost no reason for me not to enjoy it. That’s what I had been telling myself for hours before the event. And every time a voice in me head had replied: “I don’t want to enjoy it, I want to get it over with.”
It wasn’t only that I longed to finally get some rest after an eventful week, or that I was a bit scared of the speech, and also at the though of having parents come up to me and ask questions about their children. As I was writing the first draft of this post, I understood I had very few things to fear, virtually none.
Still, I’d rather been anywhere else but there that night.
The cocktail went very well, and, the day after that, my first field trip with my students went smoothly as well. I had nothing to worry about. Of course, you always “have” to worry about small stuff, but shit always happens, so it’s not even that. I was new to all these events, but the process itself of worrying sick about something that was planned ahead and that I had to wait for to happen wasn’t new to me. Actually, this is how I’ve lived for the past few years. Being a PhD student didn’t help: I had a weekly schedule, sure, with courses to teach every week, and scientific gatherings to attend, and my thesis to write “in the meantime”. That is where it went wrong. Because instead of making the writing my priority (lots of reasons there, but now I’d like to tackle the particular problem of planning), I kind of lived from “event” to “event”, occupying myself sporadically with other tasks that seemed important too, but mostly waiting for the week/class/conference to be over so that I could finally sit at my desk and write uninterrupted. 
With experience comes wisdom, sometimes. The experiences of the past few weeks, as I now have a full schedule, lots of time demanding unimportant stuff, and still my thesis to finish, not to mention other projects and things I like to do (like going to the gym and writing my novel), have finally taught me something precious.
There never will be a time with no distractions. It is an illusion to think that “once this is over”, you’ll have time to do what matters. Life always happens, and if it isn’t an “important” e-mail, or some kind of certificate you have to get to the administration asap, or a real emergency, it will be picking your clothes from the dry cleaner, or making dinner, or picking up that phone call from a friend you haven’t heard from in ages. Life throws a lot of unexpected things at us, some of which we have to deal with right away. These are states of emergencies. There aren’t a lot of those. Most of the time, the things that get thrown at us are expected, we just choose to ignore them before they happen, even if we know they will, and we live in a delusion thinking we will always have time to get to our most important project and set us up for deception and guilt.
So I’ve decided to ditch the “I just have to get this over with” way of thinking. Instead, I am implementing a new habit, one that I expect will make me more productive and happy in the long run.
Here are the foolproof rules:
  • Don’t be a hypocrite. Same thing as when planning a budget, if you choose to ignore some the monthly expenses you make because you firmly believe that some of those can be cut but end up dealing with them anyway, there are things we do every month that take up a lot of our time and yet we don’t plan them ahead. Like making food and eating it. Like responding to e-mails. Like dealing with administrative stuff. Or laundry. Or going to the gym. Include all this stuff in your schedule and then you’ll see more clearly how much free time you really have. Some people choose to only check their e-mails twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It is a good habit, as there is rarely such a thing as “urgent e-mails”. I haven’t yet mastered this habit, but I’m getting there.
  • “Free” time means time to think, and when something important is scheduled, it only means time to stress. Occupying yourself productively during this time is not only a great way to reduce stress, but also to get things done. Knowing ahead of time how you day will go and how much time you’ll have to spend on preparing the said event (it may be an important meeting, or a drink with a friend), how much time the commute will take (and what you can do during – so many books can be read on a train if only we didn’t automatically reach for our phones to check the latest word events and cute kitties pictures…). Don’t set yourself up for failure: so often do we expect too much of ourselves, thinking that when we have an off day we can get a lot of things done, and then something else comes up and we believe the whole day is ruined. It isn’t.
  • Make time every day for you most important project, the one that has a deadline, the one that is important to you. To me, it is writing my dissertation. I have classes to prepare, and meetings to attend, and e-mails to answer, like everyone else. But I know it would be delusional for me to think that there will be days where I could only write. So I try to spend at least an hour every day on my thesis. Make your most important project part of your schedule. And know that an hour can go a long way, especially if instead of doing this you’re waiting for some “free time”: you might be waiting a whole lot, get nothing done, and when this free time comes eventually, be too tired from everything else to do it.
  • Make time for yourself. You’re most productive when you’re rested. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep and exercise. Plan activities that will make you relax and stop obsessing. When we obsess about the things we have to do, we only stress and get nothing done. It is important to take the time, even if it is just for ten minutes a day, to breathe.
  • Be realistic. This all comes down to this simple fact. Planning means being realistic. It means knowing the things you have to do in the day, it means scheduling the time to do them and, most importantly, knowing that there are always things you cannot predict. It also means setting your priorities and mustering the courage to decide that some things will have to be dealt with later. You can’t do everything at once. We live in an over connected world where we can be reached at any time and where our routines run the risk of being disrupted. Accept this. Do the things you can, one at a time, and you’ll see that more often than not, a lot of “urgent” things that you might have tackled right away, if you let them be for a while, actually resolve themselves. Be a hero when it comes to your most important projects, the ones you’re in control of. Take the path of least resistance with the things you’re not the one of being in control of. You’ll see how shifting not only your priorities, but your responsibilities, towards the things that matter the most will make you the most productive version of yourself you’ll ever be.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Why you should never hold back

How many times, when we do something we are too tired, or too lazy, or too self-conscious to give it our best?

How often do we think: this time I’ll just spend this much energy, but tomorrow I’ll push all the way?
It’s one thing to measure our effort so that we can sustain ourselves in the long run, it’s a whole other deal when we hold ourselves back because we just don’t feel like challenging ourselves.
One of the best advices I’ve heard to beat a procrastination habit is to decide to work for a short amount of time. For example, sometimes I tell myself : tomorrow I’ll have the day off so I will spend the whole day writing. In most cases, I won’t even get to my desk and spend the day doing more or less meaningless chores, partly because they have to be done, and partly because I’m too afraid of spending the whole day working. Because the thought of doing something for ten hours straight is so daunting, you’ll keep pushing it away until the mere possibility of it happening vanishes.
Instead, when you tell yourself: tomorrow I will find one hour to write, unless something unexpected comes and ruins your plans for the whole day, you usually manage to fit one hour of uninterrupted work into your schedule.
But that’s the catch: if you decide you do something for one hour, you have to be all in. You have to give it your best effort, so that this hour is worth it in the long run.
Often we are too lazy to do things on the spot: we always think we’ll have time later.

Well, sometimes we don’t.
That’s why it’s important to never hold back: to kiss the person you love like you’ve been apart for a week. To hug your parents the next time you see them as if you never going to be able to do that again. To say the truth. To stop and think for a few moments before coming up with a thoughtful birthday wish for your friend instead of just writing “happy birthday” on his Facebook wall.
I’m not saying you should live every second of your life as if it was the last one. There is such a thing as too much intensity. But putting some excitement in your routines is a sure way to be present, and to be grateful for all the things you have and that make you happy.
As for work, no matter how much time you decide to spend on it, make sure to give your best, even if it is just for thirty minutes. Being concentrated on your task is the first rule of performance.
So, don’t hold back, break the routine, cherish the moment.

The power of music

Right now, I’m sitting in the train, waiting for it to reach it’s final destination, which is where I work. It’s 6:46 am. I’ve been up since 5.

What makes it a fun ride is The Cure going at it in my earphones, singing “Don’t you cry tonight”. There’s especially one moment in the song, where Robert Smith makes this kind of hissing sound with his mouth that always makes me smile. It’s a sexy song. It’s far from being a Monday morning song. But that’s what makes it so perfect to listen to on Monday at 6 am.

Music surrounds us. Music is our most faithful companion at all times. Music deserves our outmost attention, almost as much as the clothes we choose to wear every day. Selecting your work playlist, your morning, evening and gym ones is an occupation that can prove to yield the most effective results:

  • When we start our mornings with music that’s energizing and makes us smile and want to shake it, there’s no way we’d want to stay in bed more than needed. One advice though: make sure you switch your morning music every so often, so that it doesn’t become boring.
  • The same playlist played at strategic moments of the day also has it’s perks, motivation wise. Once we’re used to accomplish certain tasks when we hear certain songs, the Pavlovian response is almost immediate: the next time you’ll hear that song (lately, for me, it’s been “London Calling”), you’ll know it’s time to work.
  • In his famous book on procrastination, John Perry advices to choose energizing music to listen to every morning so that the routine: “wake up, make coffee, get to you desk, write” becomes not only more pleasurable, but much easier.
  • Whatever your music preferences, the only thing to make sure of is that the song you choose to wake up to, the one that puts some boogie in your commute, the one that gives you the cue to pick up your project and start thinking or writing puts you in a good mood. Every song or melody we listen to becomes associated with a particular time and place we’ve listened it to in, and sometimes with people and particular emotions. Music is almost as powerful as smell to make you take a stroll down memory lane. It’s up to you to use it wisely to create that perfect space in which you’re most comfortable to wake up or work.

What about you? Do you use music to motivate you? How do you compose your playlists? Do you make sure you don’t listen to the same songs every day or do you enjoy the repetition?

Let me know in the comments below and have a great day!

Why we need alone time

As we go to work day in and day out, five days a week, follow our routines in the morning and in the evening, eat, sleep, commute, repeat, come Friday night, we find ourselves not only exhausted, but hollow. We’ve spent the last five days surrounded by people and weighted down by responsibilities. We’ve dedicated all our spare thoughts to our oncoming projects and all our “spare” time to making dinner and being with our children or loved ones. We’ve been focused, but mostly occupied. Then, on the weekend, we relax, or take the time to work on other things. But come Sunday evening, and the routine is on again.

It doesn’t matter what job we do. Some jobs, of course, are more people oriented than others. If you work from home, you don’t have to deal with being in front of people all the time. And if you’re self-employed, you don’t even have to deal with a boss. But still, you’re never alone. If you’re dedicated to your job, you’re always connected to the world, even if only by the thin thread of e-mails and phone calls.

Human contact is very important. That’s why one of the best ways to get centered after a work week is to turn off the Internet and spend time with our family and friends. The warmth of human contact is crucial to feel yourself feel again.

But I’ve found that it’s not enough. Because when you come home to someone, you’re not the only one there. It might be obvious, but it’s something easily forgotten. The other person has too had a full day of interacting with the world. Or the other person might have spent the day working from home and forgotten how it may feel to take the subway at rush hour. Whatever the case, your expectations of the night ahead might not be the same ones. In the best case scenario, you’ll come home to a cooked meal. In the worst case, you’ll end up in a fight because your desire to just curl up in bed won’t be met appropriately. Relationships are all about compromise, true, and it is also important to make time for your relationship, not just for the other person, but for the connection you share, so that it doesn’t go sour.

And that’s why alone time is crucial. To put things into perspective. To stop worrying. To breathe deep and think straight. And just to get away for a few hours. You might read a book, a novel that is so skillfully plotted and written that you’ll be able to forget about everything else. You might take a bubble bath and do your nails, while listening to your favorite music. You might watch a couple episodes of your favorite TV-show. Or paint. Or write. Any activity that soothes you and won’t be interrupted for a few hours counts as alone time. Any activity that is just yours, not shared, but the importance of which is well acknowledged by your family members, so that they now that, for instance, on Fridays, from 6 to 9 pm, “mommy/daddy”, “girlfriend/boyfriend”, “wife/husband” are not to be bothered.

Before this ideal state is reached though, the important thing is to be aware of both your own needs and of the other person’s daily experience. This awareness can be hard to attain, and that’s why talking is important. But talking mustn’t take place when you’re on the verge of exploding. Talking must take place when you’re both fed, warm, and had a good night’s sleep.

About responsibility and confrontation. And how to kick procrastination.

I always thought growing up was all about being responsible. That’s how I was raised. But what I didn’t get until recently was that being responsible and taking responsibility for your actions are not always the same thing.

You can be responsible by doing your homework. Or taking out the trash when you’re asked to. Or having less to drink at a party because you know that sixth shot of tequila is going to send you straight into disaster.

Taking responsibility for your actions comes in when you screw up. When there is no one around to tell you what to do. When you make your own decisions and when those are crappy ones. Being an adult is sometimes drinking too much, waking up the next morning not knowing where you are and what you’ve done, but instead of burying your face under the blankets, reflect on your experience and make the next step.

We can’t turn back time. What we can do, though, is decide not to run away anymore. Being an adult means confronting what’s ahead of you. It might be your fears. It might be the work you have to do. It might be the person you have a problem with.

And running away can take oh so many forms. We run away when we decide to go out and drink ourselves into oblivion only not to think about the problems we have to face. We run away when we sit in front of the TV for several hours straight, hoping to lose ourselves in a parallel universe where our problems (work, boyfriend, boss, argument) don’t exist anymore. We run away when we procrastinate in any way instead of doing our job.

Because confronting stuff is scary. What if I don’t succeed? What if he or she will laugh at me? What if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t have to time to finish what I know I should start? This last one is the worst. How often do we procrastinate because we fear that the work we’ll do in the amount of time we have won’t be enough? How often do we drop things just because we imagine we can’t possibly do them?

I’ve realized that although I am a responsible person, I am often running away from confrontation. Because I fear that the outcome won’t make me happy, though I don’t even try. But success only comes to those who try.

So the best thing to do is to take baby steps. Concentrate on the task you’re doing while you’re doing it. Don’t think of the outcome. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Others are here for that. Don’t think about what tomorrow will look like. Take short breaks. Give your undivided attention to your breaks the same as you do for your work.

Be in the moment. Be true to yourself.