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Latent Lollygagger: Runaway Train

I’m still in re-entry mode after a week’s vacation last week. It was wonderful to unplug, turn off work email, and hide in nature among redwood trees and coastal fog.

Every day was simple, because there were few decisions to make. I had to think through very little because choices were limited: one thing to eat for breakfast (oatmeal), one activity for the day (kiteboarding), one market to purchase dinner supplies (and $5 growlers of beer), one evening activity (chatting by the campfire). My brain had nothing to over-analyze. I had nothing to compare my days to, which meant very few “shoulds” popped up (I should be running every day, I should be writing more, etc.).

I mean, I knew it already, but I think I can thank meds and therapy for allowing my brain to be in a place where it could really see how it so easily turns one decision into a runaway train of analyzing every angle, which then works up momentum to analyze every angle of every decision, no matter how small, until I’m exhausted and bitter when someone asks me to make a decision.

It was in the space of vacation and fewer choices that I could appreciate the absence of this runaway train.

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

What makes for a great vacation does not make for a great rest-of-my-life. I’m sure we’ve all been there, towards the end of a trip, daydreaming about what it would be like to give everything up and continue living wherever we traveled and come up with schemes for how to earn money and make life into an endless vacation. I imagine a life without this train, and false logic suggests that a new life would mean no train.

Or, we vow to recreate the vacation at home through goals that could be easily achieved on a trip but nearly impossible to do at home (it’s hard to be online when there’s no cell service, for example. And it’s easy to start the day reading when there’s literally nothing else to do).

So we return to our lives, hoping that whatever we felt on our trip can be bottled up and released in small doses over time whenever we get stressed. I usually marvel at how good it feels to unplug and then find myself quickly back scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, spiking up the amount of input my brain has to process.

The chasm between vacation-life and real-life then grows, until it seems impossible to capture any of that vacation vibe.

First of all, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, to have a huge discrepancy between vacation-life and real-life. That’s the whole point of a vacation. To recharge and reset in a way that isn’t possible among the demands of daily life. It’s why vacations are so important and why I needed one, despite the fact that right now there is no epic traveling.

Where the danger lies for me, is the unrealistic goal-setting, the vows to overhaul my life at home, so that I have fewer decisions and fewer inputs. Fewer triggers. The absence of the runaway train felt so good, so it’s of course tempting to want to hold onto that.

Ironically, the very act of this goal-setting puts my brain into the over-analyzing mode I’m seeking so hard to avoid. Because it’s fraught with “what ifs” and “should I’s” and “if I could justs.”

And those little phrases set my brain up for what it likes to do when it’s not over-analyzing: self-criticism over an inability to recreate vacation life, to stop the over-analyzing, to “just do” the stuff that felt so good. Even though there is literally no way to meet those goals!

So now, instead of trying to set all these goals, I’m trying to simply keep the pendulum from swinging back to the land of over-analyzing and self-criticism. I’m sitting with the lessons I learned about what triggers me, what starts that runaway train moving, what I can do to get it back on track.

Might these lessons affect how I approach real life? Sure. But there’s a difference between trying to recreate vacation life and trying to make small adjustments to real life. One’s an attempt at a quick fix that is doomed to fail, and one’s a more sustainable, realistic process that takes time but is more likely to keep that train consistently chugging along.

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