Working on My Inside by Working on My Outside

When I get into a funk, which has been the case  off and on lately, I’ll often spend a great deal of time in analysis mode: figuring out what’s going wrong, trying to identify ways to fix it, and setting myself (theoretically) on a path toward healthy thinking. Here’s the thing: despite 30+ years of journaling and time with and without therapists, I’m remarkably bad at fixing myself. However, one thing I am good at doing is setting external goals and then achieving them. This is what I’m preparing to do with my 2020.

What’s Wrong With Me? vs. What Do I Want?

As my friend and mentor D2 has pointed out, self-analysis and asking “What’s wrong with me?” can become unproductive if nothing constructive comes out if it. I end up beating myself up for whatever faults I have; then I realize how much time I’ve spent in self-analysis; and then I start beating myself up for my inability to fix myself or stop thinking. This internal struggle, in turn, starts interfering with my confidence to do other things in life. The process of self-analysis can, if I’m not careful, create a downward spiral that makes my depression worse.

Enough already!

This morning I reset the brain cells and reminded myself that I was a pretty happy camper 1994-2013. Why? Because I had a goal, a mission in life, if you will. For that 19-year stretch, I was focused on getting myself into space or, barring that, other people. Having that goal as my focus, I woke up every morning with a solid reason to get out of bed and look forward to my day.

In 2013, I was downsized out of full-time employment in the space business and found myself freelancing. I still do space work, but not as much. It’s at the point where space exploration is not the center of my thoughts anymore. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. If not that, some other goal or task could take its place. I’m very much a mission- or task-oriented kind of guy.

So I started thinking of the “Life Balance Wheel,” which I think I first saw in What Color Is Your Parachute?:

Life Balance Wheel
Image Credit:

I decided that I’d be better off aiming for some concrete outcomes within each of those pie slices: activities that would require me to do something more than meander inside my head. So I started thinking about things I could do on the career front–specific projects to pursue (write a novel, travel to XYZ countries to scout for potential retirement spots, etc.) rather than nebulous things like “Get my life in order.”

Here’s the goofy part: when I started thinking about things outside my head and its jangled contents, I started feeling better. Confident, even. How did that happen? Somewhere along the line–when I was half the age I am now–I shifted from asking, “What’s wrong with me?” to “What do I want out of life?” and then “How do I go about getting/doing those things?” When I focused on the practical, my life got a whole lot better. I just needed to remind my 50-year-old self of that, because in the past 25 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at achieving concrete, external goals.

If I manage to improve my morale, my state of mind, or my various faults and foibles along the way toward achieving my goals, great. In the meantime, I have practical things to do to motivate me and I have a reasonable amount of confidence that I can do those things. Maybe I’ll fix the inner chaos, maybe I’ll just tame it or shunt it aside because I have more important (or at least interesting) things to do.

Anyhow, I have things to do, starting with that to-do list. May your internal thought process work as well for you.

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