Friday, November 07, 2014

Attitude reset: Jumping off the Anxiety Treadmill and taking a break from "polishing the shiny"

I read one time--okay, lots of times--that since the key to establishing a successful routine is to get into a habit, like writing,  the flip side is also true: if you have bad habits, such as reading advice columns or stress eating or checking Facebook incessantly, if you have a break of even a few days, the ties of habit and the neural pathways that reinforce them get weaker, so it's easier to give them up.

Being at a conference is a good reset break. Yes, it's stressful as well as stimulating, and yes, you will definitely get sick when someone drops into a chair next to yours and announces that they're coming down with a cold but just didn't want to miss this session, but the reset part is pretty much worth it. I had already gone on a Facebook fast and felt much calmer as a result.  Going to a conference is like pressing the reset button on bad habits. If you leave Twitter alone, too, you may even stop feeling like the Red Queen, as though you have to top everyone not only in productivity but in bragging about it--excuse me, "wisely promoting your brand and your scholarship."

At Inside Higher Ed, there's a great post called "Get Cracking" that calls this endless self-promotion "polishing the shiny." From the article:

[I]t reminds me of how pervasive the combination of raised productivity quotas (measured in quantity and dubious reputational metrics of quality) coupled with the need to be spending a substantial amount of our time promoting our personal brand through multiple social channels is making it hard to do anything other than produce and polish that shiny surface like mad. No time to think, or learn, or listen. We can’t do those things because producing and polishing the shiny takes all of our time and we’re scared. Scared we’ll fail. Scared we’ll be overlooked. Scared we won’t make the rent. Scared we won’t have a future.

I am starting to think of the whole education-social media complex as a giant Anxiety Treadmill. No matter how much you do, no matter how fast you run, someone is always doing more. Tweeting from a conference, of which there are multiple ones every single week of the year. Publishing a book or article. Getting a contract. Being invited to do a talk. I've written here before about whether our obsession with the number  of words we write bears any correlation to the quality of those words, or, for that matter, to the readers we hope will learn from them.

Think about it.  Do you sit down with a journal just for fun and to keep up, or do you look at it only when you're doing some research of your own? Do you think to yourself every time you sit down to read something not immediately related to research, "Yes, but when I'm reading I'm not writing"? 

I'm not denying that there's knowledge to be gained through these channels, especially Twitter.  But is  it worth the feeling of running and getting nowhere?

In trying to step off the Anxiety Treadmill, I discovered one thing: when you look back on that frantic  stream of information, it feels a little being on board a ship and looking at the land receding behind you. They're gesturing, but you don't have to listen to it, at least until you decide to dive back in again.  Then you can do the reset button all over again. 

No comments: