Being Human: Out of Focus

I am sick of the word ZOOM. Up until 6 weeks ago I thought it was just the mechanism that enabled a camera to focus and capture images clearly.
And I am really REALLY sick of looking at screens. We are so reliant on the internet now to see and speak to each other, and whilst I am very grateful to the mystical web for enabling us to stay in touch with the people we love, I am still finding these communications irksome, unsatisfying and flat. At the end of a long day sat at a laptop the LAST thing I want to do is spend even more time looking at a screen or talking on a phone.

I have been re-reading all of Brene Browns books since lockdown, as I find her work to be the best tonic when I am out of sorts, panicky fed-up or unsettled. And as I turned the page of “The Gifts of Imperfection” there was that bloody word again!!!!

Zoom!!!

I am so overly sensitised to this word now, that every time I see it or hear it, it makes me shudder like a baby tasting a lemon.

But I read on:

“ Shame works like a zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling “ (The Gifts of Imperfection p.68)

Brene Brown seems to have an uncanny way of knowing the very thing that I am struggling with when I pick up one of her books. I usually open one at random and BAM! There she is with her ‘measuring stick’ whacking me around the backside and waking me from my stupour.

Somewhere along my life journey I have created a narrative that says I am not very good at picking up new things, that I am a slow learner. Now I don’t know where this  has come from as I was one of the ‘clever ones’ at school and did well enough academically, but I was a very sensitive and shy child and often took off the cuff remarks to heart. I was also from a very young age programmed to seek perfection. If I got 92% in a test I was dismayed wondering where I lost those 8% and berating myself for not doing better. So despite my glowing school reports and a decent clutch of O and A levels, this insecurity runs deep, and whenever I find myself in a position when I have to learn something new, I feel bone deep dread and a strong sense that I will NEVER get the hang of it, whatever ‘it’ may be. Now I left school in 1984 and at that time there were no computers in the classroom, and a phone was something in the hallway on a little side table that you had to ask your Mums permission to use (and the answer was usually “no”).  The world has changed at such speed since then that a lot of my anxiety centres around not understanding technology. Each time I am sent a new mobile phone or have to replace my laptop the process begins: weeks of me trying to figure out how the bloody thing works and endless frustrated tears.

These days I am much more compassionate with myself as I go through this process, which is just as well, as in the last six weeks I have had to educate myself in all things technical. And there is nothing much worse than being forced to learn about something that you have no interest in, and have zero interest in computers, or mobile phones. In my head it is still 1979 and macramé pot holders are all the rage. Since lockdown I have had to learn how to use the video camera on my phone, editing software, online hosting platforms and my all-time nemesis THE CLOUD.  My old story about me just not being very ‘quick’ has taken hold like sticky weed in a threadbare hedge. And having read Brene’s quote about shame I realised that is EXACTLY how I feel. I am sat at the table with my lovely daughter Ros or her partner Gareth (who is awesome) as they so gently and patiently explain how simple software works and my brain simply freezes in panic as the voice in my head says

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND I DON’T UNDERSTAND I DON’T UNDERTAND AND I NEVER WILL”.
And all I can see is “my flawed self, alone and struggling.”

 The other day whilst engaged in a live chat with a technical advisor (which is neither a chat nor live just lots more typing and looking at screens) my brain quickly going into deep freeze mode while she asked about  file sizes and storage and screencasts and fps, and then she typed “What browser are you using?” Now many years ago I worked in the library service, so to me the term browser is a polite word for the homeless gentlefolk that used the library as a safe place to sleep during the day. So here I am caught like a rabbit in the headlights and I don’t know what browser means. Quickly I opened Google via my mobile phone and searched “What is a browser?” I hope you are laughing, because it is laughable in this day and age. And yet deep down it shames me. To be 52, living in 2020 and not know what a browser is.

So back to my new favourite word: Zoom. When I started this process I zoomed out so far that all I could see was a terrifying array of things that I needed to learn how to do and fast. And it overwhelmed me. And when I get overwhelmed I become unable to concentrate, jittery and restless. In this state I make my narrative come true because I render myself incapable of learning or remembering anything. What I have to do is prioritise, or zoom in.

A visual you might find helpful is this:

Imagine all the things that you think you need to do today are juggling balls. Some are made of glass, if you drop them, they will shatter, some are rubber, and will bounce, and some are just wadded up paper that you made yourself to make juggling even more difficult.

So I do a rough sift: is this thing on the to-do list a glass ball a rubber ball or a paper ball? Then I focus on the glass ones and drop the rest. So I zoom in. Now I may have mentioned in past articles that I am cursed with perfectionism and OCD, the ugly sisters in my life, so I have a tendency to zoom RIGHT in. And when I do this I lose the bigger picture and sometimes forget why I am doing what I am doing. And it can take me hours to figure out what is happening.

The times over the past few weeks when I have berated myself to “FOCUS!” And that is what I am learning to do. And it is a process that includes being both overwhelmed by the bigger picture and fixated on detail. Once I sense those two extremes I can use my zoom function to focus. And I have. In six weeks I have achieved everything I set out to do. But it has not been streamlined or straightforward. I have had to constantly adjust my focus, noticing when I am getting overwhelmed, and using that as my cue to zoom in, but also noticing when I begin to obsess over the fine detail and remembering  to zoom out.

When I was a kid at the playground I loved standing in the middle of the see-saw one foot on either side and finding my balance. All those tiny micro adjustments shifting your weight ever so slightly from side to side to stay in that quite still middle place. In yoga philosophy we are encouraged to find a state of balance in our lives, minds and hearts, known as sattwa (pronounced satva). We can use our zoom function to help us stay steady on the middle of the see saw, because all that upping and downing is exhausting, and you know what? We are already exhausted as we navigate our new and unfamiliar world, and face uncertainty on a daily basis. So think about your focus and see if you can find that sweet spot where you are no longer being pushed or pulled by anything. And remember being in a state of balance tends to be fleeting so don’t forget to enjoy it while it lasts….

xxx

Michelle

(with heartfelt thanks to Gareth, Rosamund, Theo, Rachel and Clare for helping me with my “tech shame”)

3 comments to Being Human: Out of Focus

  • Lyndsay

    Comforting & thought provoking as always, today you especially (& timely) struck a chord………as my usually relatively techie husband bellows down from his loft workspace that his speakers are now not working as he struggles to give remote online guitar lessons to his students! Sometimes it just helps to know your not alone………

  • Jennifer

    You have described exactly what I feel when learning something – the picture of the axe in the keyboard is similar to one that I’ve had in my head while learning the piano – an axe through the keys! But I’m stubborn and, having trained as a lawyer with a working class background, and a female to boot,has taught me that if I apply myself and just keep practising, it will come: I’m aiming for my first piano concert at age 100.
    BUT, like you, technology is a red rag to a bull, so your six-week of getting to grips with the stuff has earned my everlasting admiration!
    Keep on and upwards – and keep safe.

  • Lorraine Williamson

    Hi Michelle

    I really enjoyed reading this…

    You write so well and always make such perfect sense!

    Thank you for your wisdom ????

    Xx

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