There you have it: a reason to write. These social psychologists, in their study, have shown that “reflection leads to better performance.” Just 15 minutes, they claim, after a day of work helps you find out what are the takeaways of the day, including both the lessons learned, as well as successful stories that, in the spirit of self-help zeitgeist, facilitate your sense of motivation conducive to carrying on of the next day of work. In other words, as these social psychologists summarize at the end, “This is because writing helps ‘codify’ the things you have gone through.” Reflection is key: Even recalling of negative feeling and emotion helps to strengthen the sense of individual personhood. I couldn’t agree more: this research’s finding resonates profoundly with me. Just a couple days ago, another colleague also discouraged me from writing this blog, which got me, for the fourth time in three days, to re-think whether or not I should keep going with this effort to write this blog (after all, this is just the Day 2 of the 100-day game plan, so if I shall decide to leave it there it wouldn’t be too bad).
So, I have all these external pressures pursuing me, telling me not to do what I want to do. But the more important question is, why am I so persistent in wanting to do it despite the fact that most people around me are telling me that it is a bad idea?
While procrastination is the usual suspect here, I am suspicious that which is the reason why I am writing this blog — since, in a way, writing this blog is all about writing my dissertation. Fine. I may be a master of procrastination (sometimes) but why would someone writes just so that he could avoid writing? Fine. Writing this blog is different for writing dissertation, and someone the feeling of accomplishment I may get from writing this blog might psychologically substitute what I “should” be doing. But, hey, still, I don’t think that which is the reason why I write.
Here, to explain my self, I would like to resort to a metaphor: during the past few months of dissertation writing, I have been feeling as if I had been walking in a rather dark tunnel without a torch. There’s enough light for me to see the path in front of me, so, as a young man with the vision he himself trusts, I did not think that I need a torch to walk through this tunnel.
Suddenly, I slumped.
I then got up, and then slumped again after a few feet, and after a few slumps that followed I began to realize that what I was looking at through my eyes had been merely the walls of the tunnel because these walls were at the same height as my eyes.
What I didn’t see very clearly was the floor, on which there were rocks and bumps and so on (it’s a tunnel after all, right?). Suddenly, I realized that had I had a torch, I would be able to cast its light on the floor while walking on the path. I would be able to look at the walls while also paying attention to the floor. That said, there was no way I could go out to get the torch since the dissertation writing process was already half way in — wait, let’s stick to the metaphor of the tunnel, or cave, or whatever I used earlier — I was already half way inside the tunnel. So, what I could do is to pay more attention to the floor. I’d be walking much slower, because I would pay attention to every step I’d take. I would be looking down as well as looking up when I move my foot forward. Sometimes, I would also move my foot backward if that would help me avoid big bumps and so on. I think of writing this blog, precisely, as that process. I want to have the time to look at the floor on which I walk. I can’t focus on both of the floor and the wall at the same time. Focusing on the wall is a must otherwise I’d walk into the wall and hurt myself. The chances that one of my foot might hit some rocks on the floor and bring me down might not be that high, and even though when that happens it often doesn’t hurt as much as running into the walls anyway, there is a good reason not to want that to happen to you. Looking at the floor is like reflecting on your capability to move forward. You can’t just move forward. You also need to inspect the direction on which you have walked. It’s true that writing at the end of the day — like this blog — would be more like looking back at the path that I have walked on in order to realize either lesson learned or achievements, or both, who are we to say that we understand space-time so well that we can only think of the path in front of us as something with a much closer proximity to the future than the past? I see the path as a reflection of the past (pun not intended!) — we only know that something is a path on which we can walk because we have walked on it, or, in most cases, something that may appear similar to it, before, and I have, as, in my case, this has been the path that I have been walking for the past few months: the path of writing my dissertation. When I write, I consciously and unconsciously take in all kinds of experience in daily lives. I have tried to trick myself with various techniques to believe that I can separate my daily lives from the stories that I write, but it never worked, because the main part of me wholeheartedly believe that by doing so is no more than kiddin’ myself. But, with this sense of reflexive that I now have and will forever hold dear, I will see the path in front of me with consistency reflexive eyes, in order to make sure that the resonance between what it looks like and what the wall in front of me is telling me what it “should” look like would protect me from stepping on the wrong stone and slump.
So many people that I know write something, and then re-write what they have written something entirely the next day — either by themselves or because of the comments they receive from their peers. Why is that the case? My theory is that when you get too absorbed into something, say, writing, the part of your mind that helps you perceive other things around you get shut off. When it comes to academic writing, once that part of your mind get shut off, your writing becomes incomprehensible. It’s like talking to yourself — such closing-off and then closing-in affects how you conceive what you write, obscuring the reason why you write at the first place. This is the reason why I tend to disagree with many people who think that writing a dissertation must be a full-time job. The process of closing-off and then closing-in might work for some, but it obviously does not work for me. Last time I did that, as I was running late on a deadline, I ended up having to write the entire thing all over again, simply because I did not make time to reflect.
Photos: These two were taken on Fuzhou Road in Shanghai.