I was thinking this weekend about those activities in which I become completely immersed. I lose all sense of time, as I am completely absorbed in what I am doing, reading, thinking at that time. It came to mind when I was texting with a friend about what she’d done that day, which turned out to be a craft project with her father. I replied that I had gone on a hike for the first time all year, and that it was just lovely not to think about work during the few hours that I was out there.

And that made me pause for a moment. I never thought of hiking as an activity in which I become immersed, mostly because my thoughts on the matter have typically centered around how I love my work, and can become immersed in it to the point of losing track of time.

The same thing happens when I hike. I got back in the car, heard my stomach growl, and looked at the clock, only to realize that more than an hour had passed while I was out in the woods. (Side note: it was an awesome hike to this really cool natural limestone bridge…short but steep hike, and completely worth it.)

Back to the texts with my friend. She then went on to say that she used to quilt a lot – before life got so nuts – and that she loved it for how it distracted her. I’d argue, instead, that she was completely immersed in what she was doing while she was quilting.

For me? I realized that the list is longer than anticipated. For me, immersive activities include my work, particularly when I focus on one thing for a decent period of time. Reading a good book. Counted cross stitch, which I did as a child. (Side note: I love cross stitch, but cannot find kits like I used to find as a kid… also, I kind of hate cutesy images and that seems to be what the majority of kits have you make. All of that to say, I’d love to pick it up again but don’t think it’ll happen unless there’s a revolution in cross stitch kit design. Ha.) Hiking, obviously. And baking.

All of these activities take all of my attention – get distracted while hiking, and you could break an ankle. For baking? Distraction = major recipe fails. Trust me on that one. This might not apply to something like meditation, if that’s an immersive activity for you. Unless there are dangers of which I am unaware related to meditation?

Finding that immersive state is such a gift. The mental engagement combined with the silencing of the incessant list of to-dos and issues and challenges and I-have-to-reply-to-100-emails is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being human.

I feel fortunate. I’m into the summer now – freed to focus on my research projects, and preparation for fall courses (yes, already). I look forward to more immersive days than I’ve had in the last few months, although there have definitely been moments scattered here and there.

The other term for this immersive state is “flow”. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Time to stretch my mind (my body was already stretched by my workout this morning, thanks). I hope you have a similarly excellent start to your week.

Musings on work and repeated failures

**Warning… Boring research- and work-related brain dump ahead. Seriously. You might just want to skip this one, but it’s what was in my head this morning and it pushed its way out. I had planned a whole post on self-compassion and self-respect and the voice in my head and… clearly this was what my mind wanted to share instead. Sorry. Come back later this week, hopefully, for self-compassion?**

If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that if you keep the same approach, you’ll keep getting the same results. If it fails every time, then it’s time to take a step back, reassess, and think of a different way. Sometimes, a failed approach deserves another opportunity. Maybe there were circumstances outside your control. Maybe you didn’t make a key point or connection, realize that, and when you plug that hole, the “failed” approach will become your success.

Research can be a Sisyphean task. You roll that boulder up the damn mountain over and over again…and if you are lucky, one time out of 100, the reviewers will push the boulder over the summit for you. Finally. Yet, most of the time the burden is on me to find another path up the mountain, hopefully one that will have an smoother route to the top. And the the boulder will tip over thanks to the final push of outsiders approving of what I think is a really good idea.

It’s this need for justification and support for ideas that are mine and mine alone that makes this field so challenging. If it were just me having the courage to put my ideas out there, and not caring what happens as a result, then it would be completely different. Yet, I think my ideas have merit, so I keep on keeping on. We all do. That persistence in the face of repeated rejection is, I think, one of the hallmarks of a researcher. (The other, as I think I have mentioned, is an incessant need to ask questions…)

The difference with a research study is that you want to do something, you want to improve something, you want to make it better. This is especially true for the type of research I do. I’m a nurse researcher. Improving peoples’ health and well-being is, well, it’s what nurses do, whether you work at the bedside or a lab. So I don’t just put ideas out there and hope people read them. I want them to read the ideas, approve of the ideas, fund the ideas, and give me the means to make the difference that I want to make in the world. So a lot more rests on how you present my ideas and how they are received.

I realized that this is what’s been happening to me in my most recent attempts. I try to fit the kitchen sink in there, without a clear argument for everything I am cramming in, and it just doesn’t work. Trying to put every single idea I have into one particular study – rather than judiciously picking those that I need to examine first, and prioritizing and focusing on those – does not work. Focused and purposeful is a better approach then jamming every possible variable, every possible concept, into THIS particular study.

It’s taken me too long – and too many failed attempts – to figure this out. On the other hand, at least I figured it out now, and not in 20 years? That said, it’s going to be hard to change what I’ve been doing. Then again, isn’t doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result the definition of insanity? Probably time to try something different. Time to find a new path up the mountain. Even if I don’t succeed this time, I’ll know that I made a change, I worked to improve the outcome, and I can do it again.

The Definition of Insanity. - Smaggle