Single-Mindedness

It appears that I do not possess the trait of single-mindedness. What I do have is a primeval need to mull about five or ten different things at once. My brain (or whatever is doing the thinking in there) is most comfortable when there is a steady quota of things in motion, swimming around, bouncing off the walls, finding little tunnels, etc. On the flip side I can actually meditate with some effectiveness. It’s a simple switch to alternatively tune to a different channel where there is not a lot of anything going on, or focus for a while, eyes closed, on just one concept or emotion. It’s a nice break too — like a mini vacation that when you get back to reality it feels like you’ve been away for a while. But in general my preferred M.O. in waking life is letting those neurons do what they will. I admit it does sometimes get me into trouble.

The outcome (among other things, but I’m limiting it to the one topic here) is that I tend to spontaneously invent projects (i.e., things to do) and reliably have many going at one time. It’s not compulsive behavior, but rather just a natural state of being. Just like singers need to sing and jokers need to joke, for whatever bit of DNA is arranged just so, I have an organic, core necessity to come up with things to do where there isn’t necessarily a good impetus to do so. I must plan, create, witness change, and produce a result. The thing is, my projects are all about my surroundings — house and home, walls and rooms, my family and their stuff. It’s fairly mundane and not anything at all super-fun like creating music or making fashion or starting a business or doing anything with chocolate.

While this drive to create would appear to be a single-mindedness trait, in practice for me it is not — my projects are generally unrelated to each other and they’re all in varying stages of being more or less complete. Even while pecking away at one project I tend to jump around on others or come up with new ideas and attack them with gusto right on the spot. Then with time and familiarity the passion becomes a slow beat until it’s months later and I may not even remember when or why I started this thing, or any of the others. I do envy the single-minded in that I imagine they can get something huge accomplished in a weekend day, two at the most. Like my sister planting her entire vegetable garden on a Saturday morning. Who does that? Exactly how early did she get up to go and buy the plants? Didn’t she need to remove the carpet of weeds first? Did she not break away to pee or eat chocolate or play with the dog? Didn’t she deviate from the task when she discovered she could make a cool garden border with the pile of cobblestone pavers left by the previous owners of the house? Yes, all that would have been my morning. Pretty sure I would have at least weeded the soil, but the planting would have had to wait.

At least my dragging project timelines are my own doing. Interfere with me starting a new creation and you’ll meet up with a wild-haired loon who is not OK with the world. Take last winter for example. Idea: Let’s refinish that old trunk. Idea blocker: OH NO! It’s the dead of winter and only 5 degrees in the garage. Idea: Let’s completely dismantle the family room and paint, rearrange furniture, update wall-hangings and slipcovers, etc. Idea blocker: OH NO! It’s December 17 and there’s only one week until those holidays. Idea: Let’s purge unused stuff from the attic. Idea blocker: OH NO! Someone believes we might need that stuff one day.

Then I’ll stew with motives at a slow boil, trying to figure out a way to get things rolling. My hair will be wild. It’s a strange side-effect. But in the end I may find I need to put a suffocating lid on some ideas until conditions are more accommodating. More likely I’ll work around the roadblock, sanding that trunk indoors and making a complete dust bowl of the house just so I can keep my head on straight. Then the trunk and I will wait for a stretch of weather long enough and warm enough to move it to the garage so I can stain it and keep the fumes out of the house.

So how is this not an example of single-mindedness? Because the same day I decided to refinish that old trunk I also decided to line all of the kitchen shelves with that grippy shelf liner stuff (more so to tamp down kitchen noise than any other reason), finally put the protector sleeves over my vinyl album covers, and hem the bedroom curtains that are about 2″ too long and get in the way of the vacuum. I also added about 26 things to my to-do list and at long last emptied a closet and filled a box with unused school supplies to donate to the local middle school. What did I actually complete that day? Nothing. Closest I achieved was getting the box of school stuff into my car. It took another couple of days to finish the kitchen shelves, and I’m only halfway through the albums. The curtains? Well, they were a dusty mess (thank you, trunk) so they need to be washed first. They’ll probably sit clean and folded for a month or two before I get back to the hemming idea.

It is typical that I’m in the middle of way too many half-complete projects at any point in time. I’m at peace with it. I do not have a compulsive planning disorder, I’m not manic-depressive, and I do not suffer from an underachievement complex. Honestly I do see single-mindedness as a virtue. I simply don’t happen to possess it at this point in time. I know that eventually I will finish all those projects, and maybe even during their “fermentation period” I’ll come up with some improvement or other and they’ll take a detour for the better. And maybe I’ll nix other projects altogether; not all ideas are worth pursuing. In the meantime I get to experience the change, the creation, the transformation of whatever it is I’m working on. It’s always fun, and it’s all OK.

Six Reasons to Own Your Multi-Mindedness

  1. Doing just one thing at a time can feel like a grind.
  2. Energy and momentum are connected. If parallel projects stoke your energy and give you momentum, go for it.
  3. Doing stuff can give you ideas about doing other stuff.
  4. Orchestrating parallel projects is exercise for the brain.
  5. If a messy desk is a sign of genius then what of a messy brain? Helllloo, brilliant mind…
  6. Even heroes practice multi-mindedness: think firefighters, soldiers, police officers, teachers. They must simultaneously hold awareness of the status of many things going on around them, all the while performing other tasks aimed toward some epic objective. Be like a hero.