“Unrealistic optimism”

Last week, while I was away from home, I envisioned having some time to catch up with a few things that would make my life easier when I got back . . . not completing any work, but accomplishing several small items that keep getting bumped to the bottom of my to-do list.

Before I left, I started reading Sam Gosling's Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. Gosling is a psychologist who uses the "traces" of people's lives to see what can be learned about them. Snoop is an extremely well written recounting of observations derived from Gosling's, and others', academic work. I read almost none of Snoop while I was on the ground in Washington. I read it on the plane to Seattle and on the return trip, and finished it after I got home—in close proximity to my intentions.

Among other things, Gosling lists an array of reasons why people might live in cluttered spaces. One of them he called "unrealistic optimism": the belief that it's possible to get more done than can actually be accomplished. Whammo. Nailed me.

Over the two travel days and six Seattle days, I hoped to read chunks of six books (two about Mac computers, two novels, and two nonfiction), clear out my e-mail inbox (which was empty in October, and now is clogged with 417 messages, despite daily, diligent effort), visit Elliott Bay Bookstore and Dusty Strings music shop, catch up on my sleep, reformat the files for one of the books I'm writing and move them into the software program called Scrivener, and knit a pair of mittens. In my world, these are pretty limited expectations, things that could be fitted into odd moments around the primary purpose of the trip, spending time with my family.

I did read one whole book. I got to Dusty Strings. I slept between 1.5 and 3.5 hours more a day than I do at home (taking the edge off semi-chronic fatigue). And I knitted half a mitten. Snoop counts as an accomplishment, too, because I completed it within twenty-four hours of returning home.


And yes, I did a lot of visiting, although there's never quite enough of that, either.

The book I read all the way through seems related to "unrealistic optimism," another take on the idea that we can reach farther than we think we can: Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope

Both "unrealistic optimism" and "audacity of hope" sound to me like reasons to wake up in the morning, shuck off as many lingering shadows of depression as possible, and head out to do a little more than is rationally possible with our quotas of time and energy.

I really would like to vacuum the carpet and get the (clean, folded) laundry put away, instead of just grabbing it to wear again.

But the following are some of the items that are higher on my priority list: write part of one section of a book, send another book to press, make progress on a freelance editing job, do editing or layout on the next Nomad Press title, figure out whether I'm likely to have enough income this month and how to rearrange jobs or expenses if necessary (usually is), ship cartons of books in response to a purchase order, inventory the fonts I can move to the Mac and those I'll have to replace and the ones I'll need to live without, do the end-of-year physical inventory, walk the dogs or do some physical therapy with the older one, and maybe squeeze in time to meet a friend for a cup of tea.

Oh, and file or delete a bunch of e-mails—and put some more rows into that mitten so maybe I can have warm hands the next time we get a big snow.



Quote from the Wild Words from Wild Women daily calendar, December 25, 2008:

"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do." —Freya Stark


11 thoughts on ““Unrealistic optimism””

  1. Your goals all sound attainable to me! One thing about having pets…they motivate us to vacuum! Oh, and since I pile clean laundry from the basket onto a bed and Nikki Cat likes to lie on that bed to inhale the freshness, Nikki tends to motivate me to put away the clothes! (Notice I wrote ‘tends’….) Happy New Year!

  2. On the cat and the laundry: yep, either put it away, or have to wash it all over again! Now, *there’s* a waste!

    And happy new year to all. I am liking the look of 2009.

  3. Well, Unrealistic Optimism is better than no optimism at all…

    Nailed me, too. But optimism in any form is better than falling into malaise. I just keep telling myself ‘I’ll get to that today’ – as long as I don’t feel bad that it doesn’t happen, what harm does it do?
    And I thought clean laundry was supposed to have cat hair on it…

  4. We live in a “no pets” building, so any problems with cat or dog hair are moot here. : – )

    I’d like to average finishing one book each month: the first year, I did three; last year, I did six; I have three pretty much plotted out now, so there is hope for the first quarter, at least.

    There were lots of things I wanted to get done over the holidays as well (and we didn’t go anywhere!), but I’ve still got them sitting on my “to-do” list. With luck, I’ll get one done today, and maybe one or two more by the end of the week.

    And if I get really frustrated, I can pick up work on my shawl….

  5. Now that reading this post has me exhausted, I’ll go take a nap! Seriously, one thing that’s helped here in chaosland is the rule of 3–3 things put away, 3 minutes of whatever evil thing needs done, then 6 minutes of reward. Amazing how the hyperactive hamster of my life slows down a bit with this…usually….

  6. Hmmm. And people say I get a lot done every day–not compared to you, Deb! I think that we each have a pace that suits us, and we structure our lives and the spaces where we live and work to accommodate that pace. And maybe those of us who take in more stimulus either move faster because of all the energy it gives us, or get completely “tapada,” a Spanish word that means, well, blocked, and then grind to a halt completely.

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