Ecdysis

What I'm Thinking About

Getting Lonely: Why I’m Going Traveling By Myself

In 5 days I will be at the Calgary airport, waiting for a first a flight to London and then to Prague. For the first time in my life I am going traveling by myself. One month in Central Europe, and it starts in 5 days.

I know almost nothing about Prague. Amanda has been and liked it, and I have read that it is well known for its parties, but that is not what drew me to wanting to go. It is a little weird and random but the thing that really made me want to go is a building and a cafe that opened up late last year. The institute of crypto-anarchy and cafe that only accepts Bitcoin. I read about them on Reddit a few months ago, and immediately wished they were in my city, and then wished I could go check them out. I wasn’t actually thinking about going to Prague at that point, only fantasizing a bit, but it got me thinking about spending some time staying in the Czech Republic. Two months ago I booked a ticket and in less than a week I will be there.

A few months ago I realized that I was scared to be alone. Amanda was staying in Calgary for a few nights and I was home alone. I was at home by myself, lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and worrying about someone breaking into our house, wondering what every sound I was hearing was. I was scared and I was lonely, I wasn’t comfortable being alone with myself. I realized that something needed to change; I wanted to feel more comfortable with myself, so I thought about spending a month abroad by myself.

It is a little ridiculous that I was scared to be alone, because I would not be much safer if Amanda was there and someone broke in, but nonetheless I was scared. I have not spent much time by myself. I moved out of my family home at 17, into residence at university, probably the most social living situation I will ever experience. From residence I moved into a house with 4 friends, once again an extremely social living situation. From that university house I moved in with Amanda, and we have lived together for 3 years now. So I have never lived by myself, and I have never really gotten comfortable being alone. I have always had people I knew around me to make me feel safe and to fill holes for me. By filling holes I mean other people making up for my weaknesses. I had a lot of social anxiety so I felt really scared, meeting and getting to know new people. Having social people around me meant that I could meet new people without actually taking much emotional risk. Being home alone and feeling scared and lonely made me realize that I can be more independent, that I need to trust myself more if I want to have a healthy relationship and be able to accomplish the things I want to accomplish. I thought I would learn a lot by travelling for a month by myself. I started thinking about where a good trip would be, and eventually I settled on Prague and bought a ticket.

Some of you might disagree with me thinking that I need to be more independent to have a healthy relationship. You might have been indoctrinated with the idea that dependency and obligation are the foundations of a relationship. That being feeling needed is important. From my experience a feeling of need between partners brings nothing but resentment and hate.

When you think that you need the person you are dating you become very afraid of your relationship ending. The thought of being alone becomes scary and you eliminate the possibility from your mind. When you think that you need to be in a relationship, you lose the sense of wanting to be in a relationship. It is now something you have to do, not something you have chosen. Choice is a necessary precondition for wanting something. Think about a time when a superior at work or a parent has told you to do something you were already going to do; it makes you not want to do it anymore. If you are forced to do something it is impossible to know if you like it or don’t because you have no choice in whether you take the action.

A good example of this is food you like now, but you hated as a child. When you have made the choice to eat the food you can appreciate the positive characteristics, but when you were a child and you were forced to eat them, you didn’t have time to decide if you like it or not.

In a relationship where the individuals feel a sense of need towards each other there is no space for like, or desire, or love. The sense of need has closed off the possibility of the relationship ending. You feel like you are in the relationship forever and you lose the fact that you are choosing to be there. You cannot really want something you have no choice about getting.

Going traveling alone, I hope will make me realize that I can take care of myself, that I am an self-reliant, independent person. I believe that two confident, independent, self-reliant people are the necessary foundation for a healthy relationship.

Trying to improve myself in order to have a healthier and happier relationship is not the main reason I want to go traveling alone. The improved relationship is a side effect of the increased self-esteem that I believe comes from traveling and especially from traveling alone. Traveling teaches you that you are able to face any challenge you face, and that you should not be afraid of most of the things you are afraid of on a day-to-day basis Improving self-esteem is the reason I want to travel alone, and a improved relationship I believe will be one of many side-effects.

Stop Learning, Start Doing: Applying Your Knowledge

Stop Seeking. You’ve already found what you are looking for.

You’re reading a diet book looking for the one golden nugget of nutritional information that will cause you to start losing weight, but you already know everything you need to know to lose weight, you’re just not doing it.

You’re reading self help books, looking for some new idea that will allow you to feel productive, happy, satisfied, but you already have everything you need to be happy.

 

I don’t know why it is so much easier to look for information, then to simply apply the information we already have. Maybe it is a by-product of the advertising of businesses telling us we always need more. There aren’t many profits to be made in telling people to simply use what they’ve got; that they don’t need anything else. Maybe it is because the root causes of our failure to apply our knowledge are painful emotions that are uncomfortable to deal with. Let me give you an example.

My girlfriend Amanda and I were talking two nights ago about how she was starting to think it is impossible for her to make money writing. When we got back from traveling 6 months ago she felt like she could accomplish anything, but something has slowly been changing, the doors that once appeared open to her slowly seemed to be shutting. She was feeling frustrated because she wrote a lot in November but has slowly been losing her routine, not writing as much and feeling less and less productive. I can empathize with that feeling. As I started working a job I’ve gotten caught up in stress that in a wider perspective is not really that important, but it makes me tired, it makes me stop working, and it makes me think that my goals are farther out of reach.

I knew that Amanda wanted empathy. She wanted me to understand that she knows how to fix the problem, and she feels sad because she’s not doing it. I knew that’s what she wanted, but I was tired. I tried to fix the problem. I wanted to set her up with a morning routine, complete with meditation, journaling, & a lack of distractions, that would make it easier for her to write, she would be writing more, and BOOM problem solved. Two points for Ryan.

 

I was trying to give her information to solve her problem. She already had the information; it was just the application of that information she was struggling with.

She was telling herself that becoming a professional writer was impossible or improbable as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling painful emotions. This is a cycle I have gone through myself many times as I have tried to make changes to my life, so I know it well. She was telling herself what she wanted was impossible because she was no longer putting a lot of effort into accomplishing what she wanted to accomplish. She wasn’t putting in a lot of effort because she felt guilty for not putting in effort. It looks a bit ridiculous in writing, but these loops of thought are a very common problem for people, causing us to start chasing our tails, running around in circles and going nowhere.

She began, at some point to feel guilty for not writing more. Guilt is an unpleasant emotion to feel, so the reflex is to repress it, ignore it and run away. When she thought about writing a bunch of guilt came along with it, so she thought less about writing. Over time the lapses in routine become larger and larger, until one day you stop altogether. It is natural for most of us to make a reason for our lack of success that lies outside of ourselves. So we say things like its hard, or I can’t, instead of saying I won’t, or I don’t want to.

The key to stopping these self-destructive loops is to understand why we get into them in the first place. Amanda started to feel guilty because she was not writing as much as she wanted to. I don’t know how much she wanted to be writing, but I think it was quite a bit. She expected herself to have time and energy to be writing even though she was working a full-time job, doing some other work on the side, eating healthy, maintaining a social life, and exercising almost every day. She believed like so many of us do that she could do it all; that she had to do it all, because to admit that you can’t do it all is a failure.

She held unrealistic expectations of herself. A job takes lots of time and lots of energy, so she needed time to relax and restore her energy. Expecting to work on writing after working a job is like expecting a car to run on an empty tank of gas. Not accepting a human need to relax, leads to feeling guilty, lowering your view of yourself, thinking less of yourself leads to poorer results, which confirms your declining view of yourself, and on you go.

I use this example because it is so recent and clear in my mind. But almost the exact same thing has happened to me time and time again. I’ve wanted to eat healthy, exercise more, live happier, and lots of other things. I didn’t take the time to think about what I really expect from myself, I didn’t take the time to think about if those expectations were reasonable. I just found some new program or piece of information, like the Paleo diet, a kettle bell workout or studies about journaling every day. I found this new information and expected myself to apply it constantly for the rest of time.

When you are trying to change your behavior, you are trying to change a deeply engrained habit. There is a Spanish proverb about how habits begin as cobwebs and turn into chains. The more you do something the stronger you are pulled to do that thing, because you body has adapted to it. It is not realistic to expect yourself to break your eating or exercising habits just because one day you thought it was a good idea. It is going to take you probably months of making different decisions daily until those habits truly go away. If you don’t define a reasonable expectation you will probably take on an extreme expectation of yourself. If you hear about the benefits of eating a paleo diet and decide to do it without thinking about the reasonable amount of failure you will probably expect yourself to eat paleo all the time. When you inevitably give into the pull of some delicious food, maybe a luxurious chocolate filled croissant like the one I had this afternoon you will be racked with guilt. The guilt of failing to live up to your expectations of yourself is going to lead to you thinking poorly of yourself (I’m weak, I can’t diet, etc.), which will lead you to give in more easily in the future until you eventually abandon the change you where trying to make all together.

It doesn’t matter what the new information you are trying to apply is, whether it is a Paleo diet, yoga, Crossfit, jogging, writing, being more empathetic, if you expect yourself to change instantaneously you aren’t going to apply the information successfully, you will feel guilty, you’ll feel bad about yourself and you will fail. We spend so much time distracting ourselves with the fanciest and most complex diets, programs, and information because we won’t accept that before we can make positive changes we need to feel positive about ourselves. To start feeling more positive about ourselves we need to accept our humanity. We are not computers; we can’t upload a Paleo program and only eat grass fed meat and kale from now until death. Chocolate covered croissants are spectacular and if you are tempted for long enough you are going to eat one and that’s perfectly okay. We are running around looking for new information because we are trying to convince ourselves that we don’t know enough right now to accomplish what we want. You know way more than enough to lose weight, you know way more than enough to get in shape, you aren’t doing it because your afraid to admit your not perfect.

 

Hiding Behind Sarcasm

Towards the end of a 6-month trip I took to South America this year I started to think more about my relationships, and relationships in general. Something about the conversations I was having with people while traveling was more enjoyable. Travel conversations usually start of with small talk, but can progress quickly into much deeper areas, like the meaning of life, the reasons for working, and the things you don’t like about home. Conversations with the people I had been friends with for longer tended to be about sports & things that had happened recently or were going to happen. Topics that were not as engaging or, in my mind, as important.

Beyond just being more interesting I noticed that there was something else missing from travel conversations… insults. My conversations at home so often included teasing and I relied how refreshing it was to talk without insults. Instead of the word insult people call it teasing, giving people a hard time, or messing with people, but in reality it is the same thing as verbal abuse. People using words to tear someone down for their own benefit. Over time, in groups where people spend a lot of time together conversation changes from people sharing their feelings, thoughts, & goals into people insulting each other, being sarcastic and tearing each other down.

What makes the communication change from one of curiosity and openness towards others into cynicism and coldness? What makes conversations with fellow travelers more enjoyable than with coworkers?

When you are talking to someone in a hostel, in a gym, at a party, or on the street you are very aware of your choice to be in that conversation. You can always choose to leave, or to simply stop your conversation whenever you lose interest in it. In groups of coworkers, schoolmates, or long establish social circles, there is a sense of obligation about the relationships, like you have to interact with these people and that is when negative communication like sarcasm, and bullying appear.

At work, or at school people lose the sense that they are voluntarily interacting with everyone around them. People going to work start to lose interest in the people they are around all day, then they start to lose empathy, and eventually start to lose respect. People may decide to censor themselves to avoid a disagreement with a coworker, and that self-censorship will quickly turn into resentment.

Even if you enter a group with the intention of communicating positively it is really scary and hard to always stand up for yourself. Telling people your feelings are hurt, will inspire the group to tell you to not take things so seriously, and will probably lead to you being excluded.

Sarcasm, cynicism, and being mean to people in groups are socially acceptable and very popular. They inspire laughs from the bystanders and may help you gain traction in a group, but they are without a doubt negative communication. We like to pretend that you can lovingly be mean to people around you, that you can jokingly call people fat, or ugly, and because the people around you laugh you think it is okay. The victim of the bullying feels hurt but is scared or unable to express that pain because the person is “just joking” and their is a group of laughing people all laughing, giving sanction to the insults. Despite what we like to pretend insults do hurt people.

The sad thing is many people do insult people they care about. People are too scared to express that they care about someone so instead they insult them. People are too scared to say that their feelings are hurt to the person responsible so they talk about that person behind their back. People are to scared to admit that they are sad or in pain and instead are mean, and sarcastic with the people around them. All they need is some compassion from the people around them, honesty and authenticity, and a place to feel like they are cared about. But it scary to admit that to people, so instead we push people away with sarcastic comments and mean jokes.

I’ve noticed myself doing all of these things more and more. I hide behind cynicism, sarcasm, and insults because I’ve been losing touch with empathy for others, and feeling too scared to communicate my actual feelings. It is the culturally acceptable way to deal with pain, so it is easier in some ways. Going against the crowd is scary. People might call you boring, or not funny, tell you that you take things too seriously. But in avoiding sarcasm and communicating positively you will build stronger healthier connections with people. People won’t have to decipher that your insults mean you care about them, because you will communicate that to them. Your honest expression of your feelings will inspire the same from the people around you.

Lambasting Labels to Lift our Limitations: Thoughts on Being a Procrastinator

I was talking to a coworker at work this week, and they complimented me on my discipline. It felt weird hearing someone telling me that I am disciplined, when I have thought of myself as undisciplined for most of my life (and still a little bit now; I put off starting this blog post for 6 hours…).

When I was in university I procrastinated essays and studying to the very last minute, sometimes even beyond it, taking late penalties because I wouldn’t or in my mind couldn’t start a project. I would avoid thinking about deadlines approaching, until a day or two before. Often, with an essay due in the morning I would be sitting in the library at 9pm with no words written at all.

I would watch my friends, roommates, and girlfriend start on projects in advance and finish them with time to spare and think there was something wrong with me. Everyone I observed seemed to posses an ability to properly schedule and complete projects. I felt isolated and somehow different. I gladly took on the label of someone who procrastinates.

The word procrastinator is thrown around a lot at universities. It is used as a label of a personality type. Someone who waits to the last minute to begin, or complete a project. From my experience people talked about it like it was a fixed characteristic or some sort of condition, something you are afflicted with, like blindness, not something you have control over. I heard advice on how to manage it, but never any discussion of procrastination as a response, or a result of some factors in my life.

 

Labels, like procrastinator, make it easier to understand the world around us. They help us pretend, or at least think of the world as black and white, as static instead of the complex ever changing world that we actually face. The label procrastinator means someone who typically does not allot themselves enough time to complete projects to satisfaction. The label saves us fifteen words, but more importantly than that it saves us from introspection into ourselves and from the follow up questions that would probably result from others if we described the actions instead of the labels. When I tell you I am a procrastinator it implies a fixed state of what I am, in the same way it would if I told you I am six feet tall. It implies something static and permanent, doesn’t inspire further inspection. When I tell you I almost always leave projects to the last minute and even then spend time distracting myself to avoid starting them, I imply that those actions have a reason behind them, and you may be inclined to ask why?

Why would you avoid thinking about a project in the lead up to it, and then have very strong urges to be distracted, to continue avoiding thinking about it and tune out?

Tuning out, or losing yourself in distraction is a stress response. In the face of stress that doesn’t go away your mind will try to escape. It is natural to feel some stress in the face of a large, or very important project, but to feel so much stress that you shut down and tune out for almost every project you face means that you have way to much riding on the results of these projects, and you don’t see a high chance of success.

 

I was extremely stressed by essays and tests in university (a procrastinator), for a number of reasons. I was told from a young age that I was smart; another label that downplayed the importance of situational factors and implied, in my mind, a number of things. To be smart meant being smarter than others. Since it was a positive label it made me feel good about myself, I became attached to the idea. “I am smart” became, in my mind a permanent feature of who I was. So, to write an essay and receive a bad mark would make me feel like a terrible human being because it would mean the thing where my value came, being “smart”, one of the defining features of who I was, was actually not true. With every project, my value as a human being was on trial and that was stressful enough to make me avoid thinking about projects.

Procrastination had another benefit as well. By never working as hard as the people around me I had a reason to believe that I still was “smart”, I just didn’t try as hard. I told myself that if I did try I would have got as good of grades. So on top of stress making me want to escape, I actually had an incentive to not try as hard.

During university I though of procrastinating as being lazy, but now I see that it has much more in common with the more positively thought of, but comparably destructive label of a perfectionist. The procrastinator, like the perfectionist views their performance as a statement of their value as human beings. They always look for the things that are missing from their achievements instead of appreciating what they have. The perfectionist goes through life striving and working for a satisfaction they will never achieve. While the procrastinator never strives because they are to stressed by the risk, and they figured out that they can maintain the illusion of their identity in their heads if they don’t put much effort into succeeding.

People build associations around labels like procrastinator, and perfectionist. Perfectionism becomes attached to high achievers, and success, while procrastination takes on laziness, and failure. The labels blind you from the reality of the actions these people are taking, and the things they have in common. The labels lead us to be passive, to define ourselves and others with labels that came from others and our actions in the past. When you think of labels in terms of actions, a perfectionist is someone who cannot accept anything but an unachievable perfection, they are driven past the point of good enough because they attach almost all of their personal value to the results of their next project. A procrastinator is someone who avoids starting projects as a result of the stress they feel because they have attached almost all of their personal value to the results of their next project. Removing the label allows us to see the commonality in things we though were different. It allows us to understand and have more compassion for the struggles of others, and it allows for further introspection, understanding and growth within ourselves.