Alarm Clock

Correlation or causation?

I got back into the habit of rolling out of bed in response to my first morning alarm. Last semester I slipped into the pattern of setting a respectable alarm clock time (say, 7am). I would tuck myself in to bed with full and honest intentions…only to turn the alarm off and doze onwards until 7.30am or later. That became my normal. Now, you wouldn’t think that 30 minutes dozing time was too bad…but it set up an undercurrent of annoyance at myself and a tolerance for poor self-discipline. It’s tricky in the winter when you don’t have natural light to wake up up, but I’ve been good about my waking routine in the past. As the Fall semester closed I was avoiding the gym, avoiding cooking at home and feeling other stuff in my work/personal life sliding.

Fixing this sort of shit is important. In 2016 I got tougher. I’m now re-trained and getting out of bed upon my alarm beep at 6.30am. Probably next week I’m going to dial it up a notch and return to the 6.15am wake-up. It doesn’t even matter than I take it easy first thing: drinking a slow espresso in my dressing gown, taking in some precious sunlight. I respect myself enough to get out of bed when I say I want to. I have enough time to go to the gym 3-4 times per week (maybe not as early in the morning as I’d like, but early enough to – usually – find a convenient parking space on campus afterwards). Suddenly I feel a lot more energetic and optimistic.

Hopefully the good momentum can continue. Once routines are established they tend to stay put quite well. I like the gym. I always enjoy time in airy spaces with plenty of natural light.

Cashflow remains a major issue, but it bothers me less. Again, you form money habits and sometimes it only takes a little self-discipline to get on a better track. If I stay away from the student centres and their convenient, quick-fix foodstuffs (coffee, cake, burritos) I can go whole days without spending cash. Of course, I also like the brisk walk in the fresh air to obtain a red velvet muffin…but reducing money stress is a bigger priority right now.  I’m sustained on dreams of Manhattan and Philadelphia – burning saunas and intriguing restaurants will have to wait. Who knows? Maybe they will be all the sweeter for the wait.

***

Research is going well. I remember two years ago I was almost overcome by panic. A failed project is oftentimes easier to cope with than a successful one. Your reaction fails? Go home early to have a bath and a careful think about what (if anything) you can try tomorrow. Your reaction works? Great! Your boss wants a manuscript draft, air-tight control experiments that no peer reviewer could possibly frown upon, full list of citations and complete characterisation data for all the new compounds you’ve made. And if you could get it done quickly, we should get this published as soon as we can. A successful project means that you are contending with a myriad of new opportunities, deadlines and expectations. A messy convoluted project has to be transformed into a showcase of scientific prowess.

Honestly, I’d worked on many unsuccessful projects. I’d innured myself to failure: didn’t take it personally, kept my morale up, continued. Training myself to deal with success was an equal challenge. I didn’t think I was worthy of success, I both feared and hoped for somebody to take this project off me “You aren’t good enough, I’m giving this to someone else to finish”. I dreaded being exposed as an imposter scientist. Juggling manuscript drafting and data collecting ramped up my stress levels.

Yet…I managed. I made mistakes that weren’t too horrendous. I learned. I developed strategies for keeping morale up during periods of success. I tried to keep the stress levels under control. I worry that I wouldn’t be able to do Task X (I’m not smart, knowledgable, skilled enough…). I try Task X. I succeed at Task X. My morale and self-confidence goes up a little bit.

You train yourself. Even the smallest quantities of imposed self-discipline make things better. Before you know it, you’re back in the good routine.

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