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Coping With Activism

September 19, 2014
Bisexual and Lib Dem mugs on a Bi Pride flag

I will never tire of pointing out the bisexual Lib Dem activists need a good cuppa every now and again.

This originally took the form of a post on my Facebook wall, and received a lot of positive feedback so I thought I’d share it here. I read this article on “digital detox” recently. Some of it’s a bit hippy-dippy for me, but the general theme of managing variable intermittent reinforcement rings true. Political activism is a perfect example –  sometimes you try something in politics and get a positive result, whether it’s winning an election, signing up a new member, getting a policy motion accepted etc. Often you don’t, but the rush is palpable. And there is always more to do, until we have every ward and constituency in the country a safe Lib Dem seat. There’s a phrase that “Activism expands to fill more than the time available”, which is why it’s important to get your priorities right.

Over the last year or so I’ve adopted a number of tools and habits which have made me more relaxed, more productive and feeling much better. Some of it’s about removing distractions. I used to be involved in a lot of geek chatrooms, which have the same intermittent reinforcement – somebody would come along and ask a question, and you’d answer it and they’d be happy and you’d feel good about helping a stranger. I’m now only in two chatrooms with any regular conversation, neither of which is hugely busy, and both of which are largely social chat with people I know personally.

I’m using Workrave, designed as an anti-RSI tool, to prompt me to take occasional short breaks and infrequent longer ones. I’ve turned off push notifications on my email client, and told it to check for new mail every 30 minutes so I’m not frequently distracted by incoming mail. I have made sure I have a decent chair and table to sit at, meaning I can work for longer stretches without getting uncomfortable or giving myself back ache. Occasionally I turn off wifi on my laptop to concentrate on typing up minutes or writing blog posts; I make a note of anything I need to research and come back to it after I’ve finished the draft rather than scampering off in search of data and getting distracted. As a result I’ve been writing more and better. Using Dropbox and ownCloud means I can benefit from remote backup and sharing but still have files available when I’m offline.

Most importantly, I’ve used the parental control feature of my ADSL router to cut off the Internet from my laptop at midnight; this stops those late-night Wikipedia / TVTropes binges, and encourages me to go to bed even if I’m not yet completely exhausted; lying in bed reading a book is more restful, and grants me better sleep, than sitting online until I feel tired. I’ve actually noticed that I wake up after less sleep, feeling better, by going to bed before I’m exhausted, and I’m squeezing an extra hour out of every day as a result. I’m doing better at looking after myself as a result – I’m eating better and not often forgetting meals or being too busy to eat, which keeps my brain fuelled and able to concentrate.

I’ve been making heavy use of my back garden over the last few months; sitting outside in the fresh air, listening to the noises of the neighbourhood and the feel of the breeze has been great for me, and there are two green spaces (one well-tended park, one more overgrown reserve) very close to me that I can walk around and enjoy, or sit reading a book within. I’m getting more actual reading done, more time to sit in thought or actively meditate, and I’m doing more home cooking which I find grounding.

The self-reinforcement of variable interruptions is starting to wear off; I’m finding it easier to put down non-urgent tasks when I need to rest, and also easier to complete tasks before they become urgent and stressful. I don’t currently have a smartphone so I don’t have the temptation to constantly check email and social media on one, but when I do get a new one (hopefully before Conference) I will need to work out a way to manage distractions through that as well.

In terms of my activism, I’m also doing things that make life a bit easier for other people – after last night’s local party exec meeting, I gave three other people lifts home, to save them slogging on the buses. It’s a simple thing, doesn’t take much time for me, and helps them stay positive.

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