Part 1

I am rereading Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct, which is a sort of course in improving willpower around a rut. I am focusing on the question Why do I quit? Previously I read this book but my hope was to “swim more.” This time ultimately I am approaching the problem of greatest depth in my personal life, quitting. I want to quit quitting. I want to hold a job someday, and it has always been a huge goal to get a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Bennington if I could get accepted again. I can be an idealist to a fault. I want to teach Poetry, to the point that working at a gas station can be something I allow myself to quit. The problem is I will never stick with my ultimate life goal if I don’t hold to what I am trying to do. The best aim for me would be to work jobs that build upon each other and to always have a job like when I was a student and laborer at Berea College. My time at Berea was a great model of the segue in to working. I did quit a lot at Berea but somehow I miraculously also graduated. When I start a job is it possible for me to communicate my quitting trend to the boss? An understanding boss could be another key to keeping working.

The Willpower Instinct suggests that the key to improving willpower is knowing why you sometimes mess up. So I am examining the question under Why do I quit?

Why do I quit?

I start thinking about quitting.

I grow weak in self confidence based on record of quitting.

I lose sight of the positive side of what I am trying not to quit.

I allow myself to quit.

I justify quitting.

I lose sight of how hard it can be to have a job or be in school and what a big loss it would be.

I have a safety net in place so I can quit without going homeless or suffering immediate consequences.

I let the doubt I hear from loved ones be another reason to quit.

I grow depressed or hopeless.

There is a conflict with a person at work that I might not even have addressed.

I quit so that I don’t have to mess up another way.

I don’t want to get fired and am afraid I might lose my job somehow.

I tell myself I could do something different instead that would suit my better.

When I quit I want rest.

When I quit I want to hide away for a long time often.

I want to feel better.

I want immediate gratification and nothing seems to fix the feeling but when I quit there will be real relief.

Willpower is the ability to control impulses, so I clearly am still working on my impulses. My pre-frontal cortex is made up of three distinct parts. The left front part is responsible for I will power. The right front controls I won’t power. The middle is in charge of what I want.

The impulse version of me wants to quit. The long term version of myself wants to keep working the same job for as song as I can. The impulse version of myself wants to feel relief. The impulse version of myself wants to end the discussion of my quitting that seems ongoing while I am working prior to quitting. The impulse version of myself wants not to be fired so badly that I am willing to quit and that feels like a good idea for me. The long term version of myself wants to work and work lesser jobs and to earn my right to someday teach Poetry.
The question for my future is not will I get another job. I always get something else, at least lately. The better question is will I quit and how can I not quit?

I made a list in another document of 100 quitting times. It was probably only 50 things I listed but some of them repeated. I am not proud of these bad choices I have made. Kelly McGonigal says that listing our goal offenses can help us with meeting our goal. I guess I should also say that my goals are always bigger than is realistic. I want to work forever while I don’t work at all. A more realistic goal would be to stick with a job for a couple months or at most a year. Having a shorter goal doesn’t mean I cannot work longer, but it does make it more realistic that I might someday succeed. Achieving a goal can feel like the release that I seek in quitting. The brain finds it easier to do what feels like a success. You can train your brain to get better at self control. Meditating greatly improves self control skills.

One of the most basic mediation techniques is to breath in thinking breathing in and then to breathe out thinking breathing out and repeat until mindfulness on the breath improves.

Heart-rate variability is one of the big indicators of impulsiveness. Slowing the breath is one way to improve impulse control and will power. Slowing breath to 4 breaths per minute for 20 minutes a day can significantly help. Exercise is one additional helpful strength inducing thing that can be done for self control. It also can nix depression.

I think another big thing about my quitting is how I am in the period immediately leading up to the quitting. I am in a new job, in a new semester of school, or something new. I have been pepped up by it, excited, thrilled, elevated and doing well for the most part probably, but maybe not. Something happens to turn that around, and it is like slipping down a slide. There is no stopping to push myself back up. It seems inevitable. Could slowing my breathing help in this instance, or exercising more? Having quit a hundred times, I am leery to think it could. There is something in the quitting I have to get to the bottom of it before I quit quitting for good, I think. I am still digging to find it.

I guess that the mediation, slow breathing, and mindfulness is wonderful and beneficial but is not guaranteed at nipping the problem in the bud. I want to do the techniques, and also get to the root of the problem.

The root of my problem is history. But it is also this: people who use their willpower more lose it more. Perfectionism in a spell, like when I am doing good at a job, breeds failure, like when I stub my toe and suddenly am ready to quit. My self control abilities in this are vulnerable. I am a willpower burn out, like many people, and many quitters. I just happen to have this as the largest problem in my whole life.

This is a part one of a multi part blog series. I have decided to share these personal things about me for one thing so my loved ones who might get energy to read it that they may if they want to, and for two things to give evidence that I am a person who tries hard, maybe even harder than most. I am working on myself and I am not ashamed. If anything, I am proud.

(I love comments!)

Quitting ANYTHING is suicide. Life is not just this black and white thing. Quitting something in life is suicide. This is about suicide in a way and I have to talk about it.

But overall my record on suicide and thinking about suicide is pretty good. I have had suicidal thoughts and ideas but it always felt like they were less than most people with depression, and I know I never will act on these thoughts. It is somber to have even had suicidal thoughts, and I had some really really bad suicide natured thoughts just this week. I need to get to the bottom of why I went so low in that period of depression. But in terms of quitting, I am just saying, I am not ever literally giving up on life.

Once, a decade ago, I was in a silent retreat that I took very seriously and I think that what I uncovered in that retreat is worth putting under a microscope for a while. A decade ago, I only had ever had one small fleeting suicidal idea. My idea was something like really deeply feeling “life is just not worth it anymore.” So that might not even be in some people’s eye bad enough to be considered suicidal. But I put my page down on that page of my reflective journal and that is how I know it was a buried thing I had not come to terms yet. What I mean is, my contemplative writing instructor told us students on retreat to write until we could write no more and then keep writing. She said write anything, and then turn your journal in, but she promised not to read the pages we turned down. I turned down one single page that semester. I since have lost my notebooks, I am pretty sure. I but I do remember that.

What my contemplative writing professor said was, it might be that that turned down page ends up being something you should think more about later. What if it is something I need to unfold now? What if the key to my ending quitting in my life is in those words I was afraid to write then and that I was terrified to have someone else read.

Part of my new recent suicidal thoughts may or may not be that I decided against doctor’s orders to not take my mood stabilizer anymore, and to just take the antipsychotic medication. A family member wondered if new depression at this time points to that. I am open to such ideas, but I tend to believe I have experienced similar in length and extremity periods of depression at other points at regular-ish intervals in my life.

Let me repeat, I am talking about suicide here because it is somehow central to the willpower of not quitting. Let me dig a little deeper into that. Part of my reason that I have quit so many things before is that I might deep in me be afraid of what I might do to myself if I increasingly stress out. I love life but I don’t always see it. Could part of my bad tendency be rooted in fear of actual suicide?

I feel a need to talk some about the people of support in my life in broad terms. I have nearly exhausted my friends and family with all of the quitting. There also have been parallel bad actions, me starting and stopping plans to go to family vacations or Thanksgivings or Solstice. I have been so back and forth with them, so daily needing help and consolation, so fickle and many other bad words that they have grown tired of me. They have tirelessly been present for me, or tiredly. They have been very supportive to the point of burning out entirely.

I am now in this new era, where I have recognized that I have a problem in being what I am calling “unprofessional” with loved ones. I have been accidentally abusing relationships with loved ones to the point of their distress and definite burn out. I am resolving to change on this very day, due to a conflict last night, to be professional in all my relationships. So a new start, and something important not to quit at!

Last night, underneath the stars and flashing lightening bugs of my front porch, a mantra poem came to me in a way that poems rarely ever have in my waking hours. I don’t know how to see the poem clearly because I am in love with it at this point, because it expresses every bit of my feelings about what I am working on personally right now.

Harness your power

where you may

in questions

and silence


So I am deciding, since it is so meaningful to me, I am going to spell out the meaning here, which is something that I never do with my God endowed poetry. Or rather, my poetry that I sometimes seem to feel comes from God, but really is debatable.

Harness is how I begin the poem. Harness your power. In my mind when I thought about this in the context of the poem the image that arose was a giant turtle literally with a harness and me riding the turtle with a shell against my ear. Power in this first line refers more to Thich Naht Hanh’s The Art of Power rather than misused power. I am speaking of personal empowerment. Harness feels like a strong descriptive word when referring to power. Then I say where you may aware that it sounds like “gather thy rosebuds whilst thee may” or however you write that classic poem. Robert Herrick’s poem needed homage I guess. Then I just kind of list the three things I am using my power in this self growth to work on in terms of personal relationships. Questions, silence, and listening are the approach that I am still trying to master in terms of asking more questions than I answer to be kind, allowing periods of silence in communication for the pursuit of better thinking, and listening as the best key word. I am working in therapy right now on Listening, which happens to sound like glistening and hearkens to the Herrick poem in a way.

Relationship dealings might seem abroad and distant from a problem quitting jobs, or at least like a definite new subject, but it is what is happening in my current personal work, and it is impossible to do anything without relating. Relationships are at the heart of the human experience. So this work I am doing on quitting can’t be done without expanding and growing the field of sort. I must improve my relationships and come to terms with my suicidal undertones in my quitting in order not to quit.

So now I must talk even more precisely about the here and now and what is going on with me now. This is because I have a tendency to be eager as can be to apply to jobs (too much), and right now I have about 6 job applications in to 4 Americorps positions, one Pendle Hill cook job, and a local dentists office. To add to the complications of my life, I also am currently being reviewed for disability which I have been drawing for my mental illness. The doctor announced that he believes I can work now, so that is a wrinkle in what is going on too. I am not sure if working is going to make my appeal of this decision less successful. So that is one reason I might not want any of those six jobs even if I got a call for employment. So I kind of am wonder and trying to decide if I want to withdraw the applications. Yet I also happen to have needs for earning income which make me wonder if I should try to pursue the opportunities I am given if any ask me. So I have a decision to make.