Back in the Saddle

It’s been a while since I updated this website with my activities . If you recall, my last series was about looking at my self-destructive boom and bust design cycle. I was only going to take a few months off, but instead it became a few years – three years in fact! A lot has happened in that time, as I have moved on to different focuses, many of which were not even related to gaming. But now I am back, and it’s time to look at my next new project.

One of the things I did during that time was manage to run and play in a few online roleplaying games with an old friend of mine. I even managed to get my fiancé interested in gaming, by encouraging her to join us. We played around in a Dungeons and Dragons game set in Barovia, as well as a campaign using our own Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game material.

Now, with the New Year approaching, I am looking at running a new game online. Given my experiences working with Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips, I thought that writing about how I plan, set up, and run my new campaign might make for a great series for this website. At the very least, it will allow me to return to a routine of writing.

What’s The Plan?

So, what’s the scope of this series? Because of the open-ended nature of the campaign, it’s far too easy for me to plan too wide of a scope and never successfully end this project. As such, I will instead be using a series of milestones to help manage myself and prevent me from overworking myself.

I intend to start a new campaign in the new year, so my first milestone will involve a four-part series looking at how I set up the game. There are several key decisions that need to be made before we even run our first session, and a good foundation will make for a great campaign.

The Future

Following that, I will look at a series demonstrating how I record my campaign, and plan future sessions and adventures, as I respond to the events of the game itself. This will be a continuing feature, for as long as the game itself runs.

It can be easy to get lost in recording and logging a campaign, but I will look into doing further series of how I develop adventures, explore new ideas, and generally evolve my campaign. There’s no planned end date at this time, as I am hoping that the campaign itself will evolve over time to cater for how we play.

So join us here next week, as we kick off with planning a new campaign from scratch!

Interesting side note – I discovered that sometime in the past three years, Virgin Media finally got around to nuking my old Cult of Da’ Vane website, taking with it the originally hosted copy of the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game. This prompted a thorough web search, where I found a copy to rehost here on this site. Seems that the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game has some dedicated fans, and is noted as the FIRST full conversion of the franchise. We even have an entry on RPG Geek, which I wasn’t even aware of!

The Final Countdown

charge!Finally, after several weeks, I have managed to complete this article series describing my “boom and bust” working cycle. The article series covered six different steps:

  1. Decide to Start A New Project
  2. Plan the Scope Too Wide
  3. Work Myself Too Hard
  4. Burn Myself Out
  5. Abandon My Project
  6. Re-Evaluate and Repeat

This final article will serve as a conclusion that will round off this series. Instead of going over everything that has been discussed so far, since you can just go back and click the links to those articles, this conclusion will focus on my own self-discoveries and decisions as I have gone over each step, updating them with a look towards other possible projects that I am considering. After all, I have mentioned my past and my present approaches, and now that we have the full cycle covered, it seems only right that I should add my future planned approach here as well.

Start Over Renewal Restart Round Red ButtonStep 1 – Decide to Start A New Project

As I stated in the second article of this series, I used to destroy all my old work, or otherwise look for a way to get that “fresh start” approach that fires me up when I begin a project. I decided that in future, I would instead archive my work, so that I could look towards deciding if I wanted to return to previous projects. As of yet, I have not returned to any previous projects, so I don’t know if this is going to be beneficial in the future, but I feel that as I archive more and more material, the opportunities to go back to previous projects will increase.

sniper-scope-wall-decal-2-203-pStep 2 – Plan the Scope Too Wide

In the third article of this series, I admitted that my plans are often too wide in their scope, becoming nebulous due to lack of concrete boundaries. Addressing this issue, I detailed a narrow plan that I was intending to use for this series – a series of eight articles based around each of the steps of my cycle, capped with an introduction and a conclusion.

Looking back, I have managed to stick to this plan, and as such, I have managed to complete this series, and for the first time in a long time I have finally completed a project. It feels great to be finally reaching this stage, and I am able to look towards moving on to other projects.

As I also stated, I have no plans to progress or propagate this series further, besides general social media techniques. While there are opportunities, such as embellishing further on various issues, addressing certain questions, and looking back in the future at similar examples, there really is no need for me to continue what is basically a one-off series.

What I can say is that the plan worked, helping me stay focused and reducing the chances of burning out and abandoning this project. It wasn’t easy, but by covering what I was doing and how I was going to do it beforehand, I could bring myself back to task, despite the waning enthusiasm for the project as I slowly burnt out.

images (6)Step 3 – Work Myself Too Hard

In the fourth article of this series, I asked myself if I was overworking myself, and what could I do about it. Given the issues with my low work tolerance, thanks largely to my Crohn’s disease, the answer was a resounding “Yes.”

This would become evident to me the further that I progressed along the series, as I would be writing later and later during each week, to the point that I was sometimes writing my post the day before it was due. Yet, I managed to keep things focused and get each article scheduled and posted on time.

I also started exploring my own issues of self-worth, particularly based on my desire to prove myself as a games designer. Although I admit that it might take some time for me to resolve these issues, acknowledging them as a driving factor in overworking is a good start.

So, what did I do about these facts, when I found myself overworking? Well, I could have started slowing down the project, even abandoning it for a brief time, but instead I found that I could sacrifice other chores in order to complete this series.

misc-clean-all-the-things-l-232For example, I reduced the amount of housework and other daily chores that I felt needed to be done, to give me the time I needed for the all important leisure time which allowed me to recuperate from overworking easier. In addition, this article series allowed my fiancé to see some of the issues that I faced, and she helped support me by not pressuring me to overwork, and picking some of the slack by trying to do more herself.

Ultimately, it was, is, and still will be, the little things and the little differences that are important – slight changes here and there, that will have significant influence over the outcome of events. Hopefully, I will be able to continue this trend of positive change to improve things for myself as time goes on.

Burning carStep 4 – Burn Myself Out

In the fifth article of the series, I discussed how I often neglect my own downtime, and how this significantly affected my ability to recuperate from overworking. This would become evident as I found myself needing more downtime, and thus was finding myself able to write later and later during the week between articles.

I addressed this by increasing my downtime, and trying to make better use of that time. However, despite the positive effects of this, I still found myself struggling, and may need to admit defeat here – a week simply might not be enough time between articles for me.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgMost importantly, I did my best to counter my desire to work in my downtime, because of my drive to prove myself as a games designer. I didn’t force myself to adhere to unrealistic levels of perfection, or to achieve overly demanding content production goals. By sticking to my plan, and trying to keep this project as simple as it required, I found that I was able to finish this project in a timely manner.

Overall, I failed to avoid burnout, but I did manage to limit it to a certain degree, and as such, I believe that this is the way to go forward for me. Shorter projects may be more suitable for bigger ones right now, as I continue to develop the ability to limit, and hopefully avoid, overworking and burning out completely.

Cartoon-Car-crash-pq9561Step 5 – Abandon My Project

In the sixth article of this series, I tackled the somewhat dark topic of “crashes” and the stress and trauma that they can cause. By talking candidly about this subject, I was able to address my own self-destructive behaviours evident from my own crashes – the most distinctive of these being the urge to abandon my projects.

I must admit, addressing these issues was heard, particularly as I found myself overworking and burning out during this project. However, writing this article series turned out to be a form of therapy in it’s own right, as I was able to ask myself questions, tackle my feelings, and talk about them in an open manner which meant that they were not simply cluttering my mind with endless stress.

Depression and SorrowIn addition, by engaging in other less impactful desperation actions, I was able to stave off the bigger crash – abandoning this project. There were times when I was tired and exhausted, feeling like life was an endless battle that simply wasn’t worth fighting any more, while wondering why I was even bothering to finishing this article series.

However, I found that by not denying these feelings, but instead accepting and processing them, while allowing myself respite in a place of sanctuary – which, in most cases, is my bed – I was able to cope with them. Such times simply become downtime, where I would accept that I needed a break and would go and do something which, if it couldn’t make me feel better and more positive, allowed me to feel less negative.

download (4)So overall, I managed to succeed in avoiding a crash  – this time. In that regard, this step, and this project, was and is a success. However, the question still remains whether or not I have managed to break the cycle, or whether I have just managed to put off the inevitable.

Regardless, now is a positive moment, and will remain thus, and that is a milestone that is sure to come in handy in the future. As such, I will continue this method of catharsis as a means of dealing with my thoughts and emotions, as part of the bigger plan of positive change. It may be a long time until I achieve serenity permanently, but for now, brief visits that get longer each time seems like a good way to get there.

reeval projectStep 6 – Re-Evaluate and Repeat

The seventh article in the series covered what happens after a crash. However, since I didn’t crash, it might seem a bit odd that I am recapping and looking at my success with this step. How can I possibly write about a step that I haven’t taken yet?

This is a good question, but as I came very close to crashing while writing this series, I realised that my behaviour could be seen a cycle of mini-crashes. By allowing myself to engage in minor desperation behaviours, I realised that I was actually triggering the recovery process earlier, before a more significant crash could occur.

download (5)This seems like a good thing, even if it is just a matter of perspective. Triggering the recovery process meant that I would recuperate more efficiently, than I might have done otherwise. I don’t know if this is a good long-term solution, but hopefully if I can increase the time between these mini-crashes, or even start developing the ability to use the recovery process without crashing, then that might be a solution.

In addition, I tackled more questions about why this is a cycle for me, particularly my instinct to prove myself worthy, particularly as a games designer. These questions still have no concrete answers yet, but by verbalising the questions to myself, I at least have a place to start.


So, did I succeed in my ultimate goal – to break my “boom and bust” cycle? In a manner, yes I have succeeded, as I have not yet crashed and managed to complete this article series. However, whether this is because I have truly broken the cycle and changed my behaviour, or whether this is simply a case that I never reached Step 5 in this project, remains to be seen.

silhouette of a man's head with a glowing light bulb, and gears.Either way, I have completed this article series, and that is a positive thing. This article got deep at times, and certainly got very meta, but it appears to have been worth it to reach this point. I might not have proved myself as a games designer, but I certainly proved something – that I am capable of asking myself questions and trying to learn from them. That, in itself, gives me some worth as a philosopher. However, whether or not society values philosophers remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I can try to tackle my self-worth issues, and move on to other projects in the future, hoping that this self-analysis of my own working process and the changes that I have looked into as a result will serve me in the future. if not, well, I can always try again, looking for better solutions next time.

images (2)The Future

So, what have I got planned for the future? I can’t say at this time. I intend to take some time off for a few weeks – July, August, and September are busy times for me, for various reasons, including a summer holiday. It is time for me to start projects in some of the other arenas in my life, including finally doing the housework!

In the meantime, I get to ponder my next project, including questions like why I want to prove myself as a games designer and how I intend to do that. Until then, continue to stay AWESOME!

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

8iEjn5qoTSo, here we are at the final step in my “boom and bust” cycle. We have gone all the way from deciding to start a new project, through burning out and crashing, and we have now reached Step 6: Re-Evaluate and Repeat.

For me, this marks a great step in this project, because for the past week, I have been struggling to bring myself to finish this article, and thus the series, on time. In fact, I am writing this the day before release. This is demonstrative of the issues raised thus far in the series, such as burning out. It was a close call, but this is the final step, leaving only one more article in the series – the conclusion – left to do.

reeval projectBut for now, it is back to the final step – Re-Evaluate and Repeat. This step comes about because of a few different factors in the human psyche. These factors tend to help us recover, but in turn, also often trap us into performing the same tasks over and over. This is what makes the “boom and bust” process a cycle.

The main issue here is that the majority of these factors are actually positive, and breaking them here can actually be detrimental to your well-being. It is not recommended that the cycle is actually broken here – instead, by hopefully understanding how they work, you can make the most of them, and set yourself up for greater success next time round.

Puzzle-piecesPicking Up The Pieces

The first factor that we must consider is that we come with an in-built recovery system, which helps us deal with the effects of any “crash” that we experience. The principle is simple in theory – the whole point of “crashing” as a survival instinct is to engage our “fight or flight” process to escape stress causing situations. This often results in desperate behaviours that can cause immense damage to ourselves and those around us. As such, it is often a risky, but vital, gambit to save ourselves.

costabravaphoto3As such, the after effects of such actions often leaves a lot of psychological debris, including additional stress, for everyone involved. However, should such actions be successful, and the situation is escaped, we will often find ourselves in a situation where we can take stock of the situation, repair the damage, and go on to rebuild our lives.

knowledge_lifecycle2The Cycle of Knowledge

The opportunity and act of rebuilding allows for us to re-evaluate our circumstances and look for opportunities for improvement and refinement. This is all part of what is called the Cycle of Knowledge, a common cycle that allows us to understand our work, recognise patterns, and adapt to new situations. It is this process that allows us to predict the future to a certain extent, simply by looking at what has occurred in the past.

The Cycle of Knowledge has three steps, and represents a process of asking questions, answering those questions, and then implementing those answers. Once this is done, the cycle repeats as more questions are asked based on those answers.

academics_logoAlthough the Cycle of Knowledge is a key part of the majority of academic study, and includes a large focus on established methodology as part of the process, we do also tend to follow a more primitive version of this cycle intuitively so that we can learn from our own experiences. This occurs at a subconscious level for the most part, so we are not always aware of this process as it goes, although many people may consciously engage in this process as part of rational thinking.

face_question_markAsking Questions

The first step in the Cycle of Knowledge is always based around formulating and asking the questions that we seek answers to. The questions themselves are important, because they will shape our thinking in a profound way, often determining what types of answers we end up with. This is well understood in academics, and as such, questions are often specifically formulated, sometimes to the point of abstraction or uselessness.

For most people, the questions involved will often be things like “What just happened,” “Why did that happen,” “Will that happen again,” and so on. Such intuitive questions are often nebulous and unfocused, as we often assume and imply certain specifics to the questions that we simply don’t state.

In the context of Step 6 of the “boom and bust” cycle, the most common questions relate to the events leading up to the “crash” and the circumstances that followed. We often try to understand what just happened, and how to prevent it from happening again.

EvidenceGathering Evidence

Once we have asked the questions, we will then look towards trying to discover the answers to those questions by gathering evidence. Deciding what counts as evidence is an important factor in many academic studies. As part of this process, and because of the specific nature of many academic questions, this step will also include making claims or hypotheses in order to prove or disprove.

One issue with this process of making claims, is that because the answer is typically formulated before the evidence is gathered, it can lead to some evidence being censured or dismissed, as we tend to use rationalisation of what we already believe to be true, instead of taking an unbiased approach.

3162813_origWe also tend to do this rationalisation intuitively, as we try to discover what happened in a way that can help preserve our often already damaged self-esteem. As such, we try to find reasons to absolve ourselves of blame, including trying to put the blame on others, while trying to portray ourselves in as positive a light as possible. In our minds, we are always the heroes, not the villains, regardless of our actions – simply because this is important for our own mental welfare.

In the context of Step 6, this will often revolve around trying to identify the true source of stress that caused the “crash” event, while underplaying how much our own stress tolerance has had to play in the affair. We tend to neglect looking at what we could have done better, simply because this would show us as being more fallible and fragile than we wish to believe ourselves to be.

Pencil_blogDrawing Conclusions

The final step in the Cycle of Knowledge is to draw conclusions and find the answers to the questions that we asked in the first step. In order to do this, the evidence that we find will be looked at and interpreted in the context of the questions being asked, before being stated.

In academics, such conclusions are often simply whether the evidence backs up or refutes a previously stated hypothesis. This makes it easier to answer complex questions, but tends to carry to baggage that the evidence and the conclusions can be tainted by the perceptions, intents, and beliefs of the academics involved.

exploding-head-by-keith-haring1-300x300-300x300Intuitively, the same thing can often occur with us on a more innate level, as we have the tendency to accept or reject conclusions depending upon whether or not they support our own self-narrative of events. This is because such self-narrative is often based on our own previous experiences, conclusions, and principles. it is rare that we will have the mental strength and self-confidence to expose ourselves to the stresses of cognitive dissonance resulting from having conflicting beliefs.

In the context of Step 6, most individuals are extremely fragile after the trauma of a “crash” event, and as such, are going to favour drawing conclusions that allow them to reinforce their own principles rather than challenge them. Unfortunately, this can lead to returning to the same principles that resulted in the “crash” event in the first place, simply because the individuals will often fail to identify any means of self-improvements, simply because they downplay their own personal responsibility in the events to absolve themselves of guilt.


The ultimate aim of the Cycle of Knowledge, however, is to find answers so that we can move on, and eventually improve ourselves. This motive is a fundamental motive referred to as self-actualisation, and is portrayed as the ultimate need in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In many ways, all the other needs identified can be seen as a form of self-actualisation, as we seek to move from a position of perceived weakness to a position of perceived strength.

self-actualization-1-638In moving to a position of perceived strength, we can then look towards challenging our own weaker beliefs, to slowly and surely improve our own mental well-being. As such, we can steadily increase our own stress tolerances, and better cope with challenges to our own psyche that might otherwise cause trauma, and potentially a “crash” event.

It is this desire to improve ourselves that often results in the “boom and bust” cycle actually being a cycle, as actions to improve ourselves are often at the heart of our decision making processes when we decide to start or continue new projects, and the scope of them.

RWS_Tarot_12_Hanged_ManAs stated previously, it is detrimental to try and break the cycle at this point. This is because the only way to break the cycle here is not to try and improve yourself, not to recover, and to leave yourself vulnerable. While we all take different times to recover from various types of trauma, leaving ourselves vulnerable to more trauma will actually make us more likely to engage in future, potentially more self-destructive, “crash” events.

In many ways, failing to recover is indicative not of successfully breaking the cycle here, but rather that the individual is still undergoing their “crash” event, and has such has yet to reach this stage of the “boom and bust” cycle.

download (5)Positive Action

However, this issue with breaking the cycle at Step 6 doesn’t necessarily leave you helplessly doomed to repeat the cycle again. Instead, positive actions here can help establish a strong foundation from which to challenge and hopefully break the cycle next time round.

images (1)Acceptance

First and foremost, acceptance of your role in the events of your crash is important, as it allows you to examine what you might be able to change in the future. Don’t dwell on the blame, however, but instead understand and accept that you acted the best you can under the circumstances. Ultimately, the “crash” should be considered a learning experience, from which you can look towards improving in the future.


Focus on your recovery until you feel that you are strong enough to move on to actual self-improvement. Don’t push yourself too hard at this stage. Slow progress is better than no progress, and there will be time to challenge yourself later on. Accept that people take differing amounts of time to recover, simply because the impact of trauma is different for each individual.


When you feel up to it, you can begin to look at what happened and try to find areas for self-improvement. Were there warning signs that you missed? Could you have acted and reacted differently? Were there any misunderstandings or principles that held you back from taking more appropriate action? When asking these questions, try to be as open and honest with yourself as you can, and only tackle questions that you feel capable of dealing with.

images (2)In addition, remember that you are yourself now, looking back at who you were then – and as such, try not to be overly critical of yourself. You possess new knowledge and new experiences compared to what you had then, simply by virtue of going through such “crash” events.

Focus purely on what you can do better next time, should the “boom and bust” cycle occur, as opposed to what you should have done better last time. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future, and that is done by learning in the present.

p02b35hcMove On

Ultimately, you should focus on moving on with your life. While it may be tempting to reassess and evaluate what happened, you must remember that you must decide to implement and actually carry out any conclusions that you have drawn to move on. Don’t let fear hold you back.

It can be difficult to move on, particularly if you feel that you are doomed to repeat your past mistakes over and over. But it should be understood that the alternative is not to move on, and to remain fragile and vulnerable.

How you move on is important however. Perhaps there was a flaw in your set up which undermined you to the point that you crashed? Perhaps you tackled projects that you were ill-suited or unprepared for? Perhaps you are driven by desires that are unrealistic and doomed to failure?

identify-ppt-18bc1If so, none of these should prevent you from moving on, but instead could be used to identify future potential issues and avoid tackling challenges which you are incapable of at this time. It may even be the case that you should move on to a period of recovery, reflection, and reinvention, to prepare yourself for the possibility of having to challenge your own principles and mindset, in a more controlled manner.

game-designerMy Approach – Past and Present

My approach at this step has always been very haphazard. In the past, I have always taken varying times to recover from my “crash” events, ranging from hours or days, to weeks and months at a time. Quite often part of my “crash” will include a vow to “never return” only to repeat the same thing at some later date.

While I do learn from my experiences, and as such I tend to progress that little bit further each time, I ultimately end up repeating the same mistakes, going through the same processes, and resulting in the same “crashes.”

images (3)A big part of this involves the fact that I have an innate desire to prove myself as being a Games Designer, largely driven out of a desire to prove my worth to myself and others.

Challenging this central concept is difficult for me, but it may be time that I looked at this in detail. I am driven by what it means to be a Games Designer, but this is largely based on my own interpretation of what a Games Designer actually is. Might it be that there is some flaw in this interpretation that is bringing about my repeated failures?

download (7)Taking this series as an example, this series has NOT been about Games Design. Anyone reading this series wouldn’t think that I am a Games Designer, if I didn’t keep mentioning it. Instead, it features a lot of social-psychology and self-understanding, with some very general counselling advice. In general, these articles ask more questions than they answer, as they explore the ideas of questioning ourselves as a means of learning and understanding our own place in the various arenas of life.

Does this mean that I am wasting my time looking to prove myself as a Games Designer, when I could look towards some other avenue to prove my self worth? Maybe.

Ghostwatch_Technical_FaultAlternatively, it could be that my very desire to prove myself is at fault here. I try to prove myself because I feel worthless, but perhaps this is because I do not fully understand my worth in terms of myself and others. I don’t think that I have ever asked myself if, how and why others value me, or indeed what other people seem to value in others.

These are some very fundamental questions, and answering them could be interesting projects, just as this one has been. I am pretty sure that I am not the only person that seeks answers to such questions, and it may be useful if I can show my processes with others.

images (4)Finally, as I asked above, could it be that I simply don’t understand what a Games Designer is, and that my own interpretation of the concept is flawed and needs to be challenged? Perhaps I just need to start asking what people think being a Games Designer is all about, and see if there are any flaws in my interpretation that can be fixed and allow me to better weather, if not avoid, any future incidents of the dreaded “boom and bust” cycle?

Lots of questions to consider here, and I won’t get into the answers here just yet. This was the final step of the “boom and bust” cycle, leaving the conclusion for next week as the final article in this series. There I will finally go over what we have learnt, and maybe share a few of the answers that I currently have.

So, until next week, stay AWESOME!

Step 5: Tested to Destruction

CrashTestDummy-2-8544bOver the past several weeks, I have been looking at my working cycle, which is a typical “boom and bust” cycle, with an eye towards how to improve my efficiency and break the cycle. So far, we have covered issues in planning projects too big, overworking, and burning out.

Now, we come to Step 5: Abandon My project. This will be a delicate post, as it deals with the motivations why I tend to abandon my projects. This is the “bust” of the cycle. Some readers may find that the open discussion of the topic of self-destructive behaviour might be a bit distressing. Indeed, it can be – because the impact of self-destructive behaviour can be devastating to everyone involved, not just the individual engaging in such behaviour, but those around them that have to deal with the aftermath.

It is important to understand the seriousness of all forms of destructive behaviour. It destroys lives in many ways, both physically and mentally. Please note that I am NOT a professional psychotherapist, but I must advise anyone who feels that they or those around them may be engaging in self-destructive behaviour to seek professional help as soon as possible. Please don’t leave things until they are too late to deal with.

Cartoon-Car-crash-pq9561Fight or Flight

So, what happens when people burn out? The answer is simple – they “crash.” We have covered why people “crash” in previous weeks, but very little has been said about how people “crash.” This is because such behaviour is often unique to the scenario involved – it depends upon the severity of the reasons of the crash, the mindset and personality of the individuals involved, and the circumstances and support that they find themselves in.

When someone “burns out” from stress, they stop doing what they are doing that is causing the burn out. Unfortunately, the situation causing the stress doesn’t always stop at the same time. This means that it can continue to have a significant impact upon the severity of the “crash” for the individual.

fightUnderstanding Aggression

Stress provokes adrenaline, used to engage the “flight or fight” instinct that all living creatures have. This response is a false dichotomy – there is rarely such a choice involved, since both systems use the same process, with the same ultimate goal – to end the situation causing the stress. The only difference between these two is how our actions and reactions manifest themselves to achieve this outcome.

Unfortunately, in modern life, we can’t always “fight” or “flee” from sources of stress. This tends to leave us trapped in a situation which becomes steadily worse. We become increasingly desperate to escape the situation, by either fighting or fleeing. The thing is that these two are not distinct, and will often be used together to try and remove ourselves from the source of the stress. This is results in ever increasingly extreme actions to achieve this result, until we either successfully escape the situation.

breaking-free-chainsThis instinctive behaviour is largely subconscious, and is a basic survival trait intended for short term immediate survival. It typically manifests as aggressive behaviour, as we either confront the source of the problem, or we try to break out of the situation.

Unfortunately, the direction of such aggression isn’t always towards the true source of the stress. People can lash out in aggressive behaviour to those around them, even if they are no part of the problem. In some cases, this aggression can be turned inwards, towards ourselves.

Such aggressive behaviour doesn’t always have to be overtly aggressive. It doesn’t have to be a direct physical attack on the source, those around them, or even themselves. This aggression can manifest in a number of different covert ways, which often depends upon what the source of the stress actually is.

download (1)As discussed previously, we have many different arenas in our lives, and different levels of needs. Each of these can be a viable target for some form of extreme action or aggression, whether by ourselves or others.

It is important to understand that the stress and the resulting reaction are almost universally some form of mental trauma, and it is often difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between cause and effect. More importantly, such circumstances are not always singular, isolated incidents, but are more likely to be a pattern of behaviour as the person becomes increasingly desperate to find some way to solve or escape the situation.

Depression and SorrowPerpetuation of Misery

Needless to say, such behaviour, although normal, isn’t exactly healthy – physically or mentally. Stress and adrenaline can harm and kill, especially in long-term exposure. Extreme behaviour due to stress can cause significant, if not irreparable damage, to all those involved, including those who just happen to be around at the time. Most importantly, such behaviour can often be a cause of stress and trauma to those experiencing it, thus triggering a potential feedback cycle that actually makes the problem worse.

2000px-Biohazard_symbol.svgThis process of action and reaction to the trauma of stress and it’s consequences is known as the “perpetuation of misery” and works like a sort of emotional disease within society. It is an unconscious side effect of our own instincts, and can only be tackled, and interrupted by understanding and reason. We must work to overrule our subconscious, but this is always easier said then done.

Self-awareness takes time and effort, and sometimes, when our instincts and reactions kick in, it is often too late to try and stop them. However, by noticing and observing the less extreme problem behaviours, we can often pre-empt and prevent the more extreme behaviours from occurring. This is probably the best way to preventing the “perpetuation of misery” that we often experience – the cycle that most often is the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

glass__lucent_heart_by_raingardenWorst Case Scenario

Failing that, if a crash happens, the next step is to recover and try to pick up the pieces of the situation. We have to try to keep ourselves and each other from being affected by the circumstances of the crash. The best way to do this is to talk about it openly and honestly, so that we can process the information, and learn from the experience, while working through our own feelings and reactions to the events that have occurred.

By being aware of the event, and monitoring our own feelings, we can try to engage our reason and intellect to help us challenge our own emotional responses. We can protect ourselves psychologically, by attempting to inoculate ourselves from the “perpetuation of misery.” We can take steps to anticipate and mitigate our own instincts, so that we can lessen the impact and suffering to ourselves and others.

firstaidDealing With Trauma

The trauma of any such crash should never be underestimated. A lack of understanding or support about any such circumstances is often the biggest contributing factor to the escalation of desperate behaviours. Just as a baby’s cries become more incessant the longer they are left untended, extreme and aggressive behaviour will only become increasingly worse until it is tackled and challenged. Most importantly, we should seek to resolve the cause of the trauma, and not just the extreme behaviours that are provoked by it.

Ultimately, it is important to focus on the process of how trauma and stress works, including how such behaviours can, and often do, escalate if they are left unresolved. While some situations do resolve themselves, many don’t without some sort of intervention by those involved, and those around them. Left unchecked, they can become serious, and sometime fatal. Neglect, self harming, suicide, and worse can all result if desperate situations are left unresolved for long enough.

download (2)My Approach – Past and Present

With this in mind, I can look towards my own crashes, and my own incidents of self-destructive behaviour. Abandoning my projects when they result in  too much stress is the most typical response and reaction, and just one example of the self-destructive nature caused by the trauma of stress.

It might be hard to appreciate why this reaction is such an issue for me. However, when you take into account that successful completion of such projects are a key means of building and preserving my self-esteem, the self-destructive natures of this act should become clear. Likewise, as a professional games designer, have a wake of abandoned projects on my resumé is an act of self-destruction against my chosen career. With each failed project, it becomes harder for me to complete future ones, as my self-esteem bottoms out, and opportunities to take part in such projects diminishes.

Fighting my instincts to abandon my projects is tough. I find that this is the case regardless of the size of the project, be it a product manuscript of 100,000 words, studying for a university degree, or trying to complete a computer game. Even this article series, right now, is a challenge to finish because of other stresses – I find myself writing the articles later and later, creeping closer to my self-imposed deadlines, and just itching to press the delete button.

download (3)Tackling the Issue

So what can I do about this. Firstly, I can, and I am, acknowledging this issue. It is a problem, but with a mixture of determination, reason, and support, I can hopefully overcome this issue. However, it will always be a daily struggle – each incidence, and each project, will have to tackled as it comes, and hopefully I will be able to teach myself how to handle these feelings.

This series, in fact, is basically me going through this process of teaching myself and tackling this issue head on. Firstly, I am asking questions and trying to answer them openly and honestly. Why do I feel the urge to quit? What is it that causes this “crash”?

Well, I think that the true cause is actually low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy. I constantly worry whether any of my projects are good enough, or even viable, as I strive to deal with my need to prove myself as being worth something. Not just as a games designer, but as a part of society and humanity.

25283Changing My Behaviour

What can I do about these feelings? Well, firstly, I can, and do acknowledge, that I have these feelings, and more importantly, that these feelings result in a positive feedback cycle of stress. The more I worry about these things, the more stress they cause, until I “crash.” This is the typical process of someone who suffers from constant neurosis.

Yet, I shouldn’t dismiss or ignore these feelings, because this too causes stress. Rather, the best approach is to acknowledge that these feelings are okay, and that they are a result of my neurosis. That is, that I am stressing about stressing, which is okay when handled with care.

In addition, there are two different, yet similar, actions that I can take to try and resolve my feelings to quit when I get them. The first is to place myself in a controlled, supportive environment, where I can be reassured until these feelings subside. Situations where I can’t hurt myself, or others, when I become desperate. For example, I might spend the day in bed, away from my PC, or doing household chores. I might keep myself isolated, so that I don’t end up stressing anyone else until I feel better. In the worst cases, I might surround myself with things to hurt and destroy that I can do so without significant impact – for example, pillows that can’t get damaged as opposed to my PC.

imagesThe second action is basically a form of substitution or replacement. This means that rather than quit or abandon something that is important to me, I might do a similar, but less impacting action. For example, starting a new PC game (often overwriting an existing one as I “Redo From Start”) is a common action. By doing so, I can abandon the game, with little or no consequence. I think that this, in itself, might be a big cause of my gaming addiction – something that I amusingly try to justify as “research”.

Ultimately though, I aim to also reduce my reliance on such behaviours, by directly tackling the causes themselves. By challenging my own inadequacies, and my reactions to them, I can hopefully train myself to limit the impact that these have on my life. As it stands, I am often able to challenge my inadequacies head on, reminding myself of my achievements.

download (4)Achieving Serenity

I remind myself that I am AWESOME, and that makes me adequate. After all, being AWESOME means to try and better yourself, to be the best that you can be, and that in itself, is more than enough to make me adequate. After all, I am judged solely by my own standards, and I remind myself why they are, in fact, my standards. I remind myself that I am trying to be who I want to be, and that is all that anybody can do.

This can be hard to do when you are gripped in the depths of depression and neurosis, but I just remind myself that I am me, quite often with the help of others such as my friends and family, and directly challenge and disrupt the cycle that results from neurosis.

I have the serenity prayer on my wall, and it’s words comfort me:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to tell the difference.”

This poem reminds me that I should try not to worry about the things I cannot control, that I should be brave enough to challenge what I can control even if it is just to take responsibility for my own behaviours, and that I should strive to be aware about my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions as well as those of others.

With that in mind, there is only two more articles in this series to go, so until next week – stay AWESOME!

Step 4: Crash and Burn

Burning carOver the past couple of weeks, I have been looking at the various steps of my “boom and bust” working cycle, including last week, which covered step 3 – working too hard. The main purpose of this series is to look at ways to improve upon the flaws in my working patterns. However, last week, I failed to define any concrete solutions, and commit to anything more generalised than “try not to overwork.”

Although this may seem like a cop-out, the main reason for this is that overworking itself is cause of the real problem – burning out. Thus, while attempting to limit my overworking, the real problem is trying to avoid burning out, and the effects that causes on my working patterns. While overworking is the main cause of burning out, it is not the only cause of it, and we can solve the same problem by looking at other causes that will help reduce, or even prevent, burning out from overworking.

woman in office with burnoutWhat is Burnout?

Burnout is the term for becoming emotionally, mentally, and even physically fatigued with a given set of tasks. This effect can cause you to actively avoid pursuing such tasks, even to the detriment of yourself and those around you. More importantly, you may become so fatigued that you end up being unable to function efficiently, if at all, in certain areas and tasks.

We covered some of the areas in which you can overwork, and these areas also correspond to the areas where you might suffer burnout. This means that overworking and burnout is a “positive feedback” cycle – as overworking increases, the chance of burning out increases, which in turn leads to even more overworking and a higher chance of burning out further.

Quite often, overworking in this case isn’t so much about consciously trying to do too much, but that what you currently trying to maintain becomes increasingly harder, until you fail. Even mundane tasks, such as simple household chores, minor social interaction, and maintaining your basic standard of health can become almost impossible to keep up as you burn out.

13427934_lPreventing Burn Out

Because overworking and burning out is a positive feedback cycle, it can be extremely difficult to prevent, particularly once it has started going out of control. This is normally when most people begin to suspect that they have a problem, but quite often this is too late – and the main solution is not to prevent burnout, but instead to try and mitigate the damaging effects of burning out, while picking up the pieces as quickly as possible to try and return to a position of strength.

However, there are actions that you take before this “point of no return,” especially if you are aware of the issues caused by potentially burning out. Trying to reduce your overworking is but one of these options. Some others include things like self-awareness techniques, understanding your motivations, prioritising your goals, time management, learning to say no, and including downtime into your schedule.

silhouette of a man's head with a glowing light bulb, and gears.Self Awareness

Self awareness is a key activity when it comes to managing yourself, and your capacity for work and burning out. At the very least, self-awareness allows you to realise when you are overworking to the point of burning out, and allows you to take actions to slow or prevent this from happening.

Self awareness is also good for letting you plan ahead and spot potential troubles that you might encounter, and to try and deal with them and mitigate them before they become real hassles. In this way, you can try to pre-empt any such problems, and create solutions that will reduce the stress such incidents can cause. For example, if you know that you are prone to having “off-days” where your capability to work at certain tasks is limited, you can try to find ways to help with the necessary tasks, or consider using this time for activities that you find easier to deal with.

1370097681The main benefit of self awareness, however, is the ability to read your own mood and motivation levels. If you know you are feeling low, drained, or depressed, then you can take actions to correct this – such as switching to activities that you enjoy, or to taking it easy for a while. Alternatively, if you are feeling in a good mood, inspired, or energetic, you can look towards taking full advantage of this fact by tackling some of the more difficult tasks you might be facing.

By being self aware, you can adapt your plans to your own individual circumstances, and this can help your workflow better. This roughly equates to your tolerance for work, and as such, the general principle of doing more when you can, and doing less when you can’t is paramount here.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgUnderstanding Your Motivation

Understanding your motivation is a side-aspect of self awareness and allows you to get an insight into why you are doing the things that your are doing. According to Maslow, we have an “hierarchy of needs” which drives us in our goals. This hierarchy starts from simple physiological drives, through to emotional drives, all the way to the topmost drive – an innate desire for self-improvement.

This means that most of our actions can be defined according to one or more needs, and one or more levels based on those needs. By understanding this factor, we can look to see if what we are doing is fulfilling our needs efficiently, and if not, whether changes can be made to help your actions better fulfil your needs.

tabletop-game-designerIn my case, my projects tend to be driven by the desire to prove myself as a games designer. This is my chosen profession, and as such, I yearn to engage in this profession, to have others recognise my talents, to improve my abilities, and so on. This ranges from the mid-level “love/belonging” tier, through the “esteem” and “self-actualisation” tiers – the top half of Maslow’s hierarchy. I need to be appreciated, and this is more important to me than the actual financial benefits of my work. As such, I greatly favour blogging and similar forms of content creation, as it allows for quicker feedback on my work.

downloadPrioritizing Goals

An important skill to learn to avoid burnout is to try and prioritise your goals, so that you are working on more effective, and more desirable tasks, which have a longer lasting benefit.

Prioritizing your goals is a very personal skill, however, that is largely based on your own motivation. As such, any advice beyond general principles is hard to come by, and each person should look towards developing and understanding their own list of priorities.

In general, faster tasks should come before slower tasks, since you can do more of them in any given amount of time. For example, answering an email might be prioritised above writing a product or doing the laundry, because it can be completed quicker, leaving time to work on other goals.

Look towards doing the tasks with the longer lasting benefits, that require the least amount of upkeep and maintenance. For example, writing content can be prioritised before housework, simply because once content is written, then it is generally done and can be put aside. Likewise, a bigger product with a long-term shelf-life might be prioritised before producing website content that only lasts for a few days on your website.

As mentioned, motivation is important – for example, if you like playing computer games, and this helps you feel better, then you might prioritise playing computer games over doing other tasks, particularly when you are feeling low and need the boost. What might seem like a low priority task to someone else may be better as a higher priority, particularly if it has some other, often overlooked, benefit.

busy_someecardsHowever, one key thing to watch out for is that you don’t over-prioritise “busy-time” activities – activities that seem to be efficient and keep you busy, but don’t actually achieve much. For example, responding to a specific email is quite quick, but responding to multiple emails and trying to clean out your inbox can be quite time consuming, and can often be an uphill battle if you continually receive emails as you are working on them. It is all too easy to find that you have spent all day reading and replying to emails, and left no time to actually do any vital content creation.

time-management-skills-300x252Time Management

Time management is a useful skill that allows you to make the most of your time, simply by being aware of how you are using your time. We only have 24 hours each day, and we often have numerous tasks which we have to accomplish in that time, including physical necessities like eating, sleeping, and washing. Add in things like work and social commitments, and it is easy to find that your time quickly disappears, often without you realising it.

The essence of time management is two-fold – being aware of what time you have, and trying to make the most of that time. Like priorities, time commitments are largely personal, and everyone should do their best to try and develop their own processes for working.

wiltshire-free-time-logoTo be aware of what time you actually have, it may help to draw up a timetable of your most common activities. From this, you can see where most of your time is going. Make a note of what “free time” you actually have – time where you get to choose what you do. Most of us tend to have several smaller blocks of free time, rather than a few large chunks, and as such, we rarely realise just how much free time we actually have.

Such a timetable allows you to also be self-critical about your habits. Are you over-sleeping or spending a lot of time commuting to and from work? Do you spend a large amount of time watching television, playing computer games, or checking Facebook? If so, then looking at the time table can allow you to see if any changes can and should be made, so that you can get as much free time as possible.

24hoursThe second aspect of time management is time efficiency. This is about using your free time, as well as other time, to get the maximum potential out of your 24-hours. In regards to free time, this is largely about prioritizing your goals, but also includes how you organise your use of your free time. This depends largely upon how your free time is arranged.

For example, if you have a big chunk of free time, you might allocate bigger tasks to this time, so that you don’t have as many interruptions, particularly if the task requires some time to warm up or wind down. Alternatively, you might break down bigger tasks to fit into smaller free time slots. Breaking down tasks can also allow for greater flexibility. In many cases, doing a task a small step at a time is better than waiting for an opportunity to do it all at once that may never come.

noLearning to Say No

The most important skill that you can learn is the ability to say no – to others, and to yourself. You need to be realistic about what you are capable of. Taking on too much is often the main cause of overworking – even if you have a narrow scope for your projects.

It is all too easy to bow down to peer pressure, and there are many cases when you just can’t say no. For example, if your boss asks you to do something that is part of your job. But in many cases, the sole reason people have difficulty saying no is simply because they are scared that they will look bad or let other people down.

Saying no is probably the biggest form of agency that we have as an individual, yet many people simply don’t know how to use this properly. Although some people may try to pressure you into changing your mind, by saying no and sticking to it, you help prevent people wasting both their time and yours.

It is important not to abuse this power, however. Saying no for the sake of saying no is almost as damaging as not saying no in the first place. Be honest, and think about your priorities and motivations. Think about your time commitments to yourself and others.

Ask yourself if you want to do it, will it help you, and is it an efficient use of your time. Likewise, ask yourself if it really needs to be done, and what the outcome of you not doing the task is actually going to be. Can the washing be put off for a day while you finish your product? Do you have other plates in the cupboard? Are you really needed to go shopping right now?

Most importantly, the biggest issue most people have with saying no, is that they don’t give a clear reason why they are saying no. Don’t be afraid to justify yourself when you say no. It is perfectly acceptable to say that you simply don’t want to do something, and if you can demonstrate why, people are more likely to either offer a solution or accept that you have said no.

Downtime Activities

Being realistic about your priorities, motivations, and commitments is very important in making sure that you don’t overwork, and in limiting the possibility of burning out. However, it is also important to understand and accept that main way in we recover from work is by taking part in downtime activities. People need time to relax and wind down, to avoid being overworked.

However, just not working isn’t necessarily the best way to wind down. Everyone should allow them some time to do what they want to do, just for fun. It might not be efficient to just relax on the sofa and watch TV, but if it makes you feel better, then it should be included in your priorities somewhere.

When it comes to downtime activities, look towards things that you actually enjoy. Everyone has different tastes and requirements. For some, listening to music or going to the cinema works, while others might need to take up a sport or engage in a more thought-engaging hobby.

If possible, try and keep your downtime and your free time separate. It is all too easy to consider downtime as free time, and then find yourself overworking as you fill up your free time with your work and neglect to give yourself enough downtime.

Downtime should be the periods where you get to choose what to do, for the sake of relaxing and recovering, rather than fulfilling other types of goals. There’s nothing saying that you can’t work on your projects during this time, if you desire to do so, but it isn’t a decision that should feel forced.

If you can find ways to combine your downtime and free time in synergistic ways, then that is good. For example, if you like playing games, pleytesting new ideas can make downtime productive for you.

I cannot state the importance of efficient downtime enough though. If you can use your downtime to relax efficiently, then that is good. It will help you feel better, increase your working tolerance, and your productivity and quality. The biggest cause of burn out is not giving yourself enough downtime, or using your downtime ineffectively.

If you are not recuperating during your downtime, you are not using your downtime effectively. Not doing anything isn’t downtime – it’s wasted time. Try to make sure that you are doing something meaningful with your downtime. Something as simple as cooking a meal, doing the washing up, or having a nap can be efficient if that is how you like to recuperate.

Basic RGBMy Approach – Past and Present

My approach has often been to try and squeeze as much out of my free time as possible, and neglect my own downtime. After all, my priorities tend to revolve around me working, and if I am not working on something, I am not happy. In many cases, I will often use my downtime as my free time, leaving me little or no actual downtime for myself.

Because of my Crohn’s Disease, I don’t always know how I feel each day, how much energy I am going to have, and how much downtime I will need. In fact, as my Crohn’s Disease gets worse, I have discovered that I am requiring more and more downtime to recuperate. This makes time management a bit more difficult for me.

As such, I have adopted a simpler approach, which is based upon flexibility and self awareness. Basically, I tend to go day-by-day, giving myself a single task or priority for the day based on how I feel and my other commitments. if I feel up to a big task, I will do a big task. If I am only up to small tasks, then I will do one or more of those. If I am not up to anything, then I don’t do anything.

With this task-based approach in mind, the rest of my day is basically downtime for me. I might only have a small amount of downtime if I spend all day on a task, or spend all day in downtime if I am not feeling up to anything. I try to prioritise correctly, and I am not afraid to say no and be clear about why, regardless of what others might demand from me.

This project has required weekly articles for my website, and as such, I will generally spend a day writing these. If I am feeling up to it, I will write two or more in a single week, allowing me to get ahead of myself. As long as I have a single article scheduled for this website, I am happy.

The best approach that I can find to avoid burnout is to be realistic about myself and my capabilities right now. I don’t know if this will work, but as long as I can try to keep myself from overworking because of my desire to “prove” that I am a games designer, it seems like the best way to go.

Until next time, stay AWESOME!