Before dawn

I’m not sure if it’s the silence, or the darkness. Maybe it’s the fact that pre-dawn there are two kinds of people, those who are sleeping and those who are up attacking their day and I prefer to be the later. (Although, it’s a physical fight with my body every morning.)

There’s a time and place for most everything. Writing, for example, seems best done in the early morning. Vacationing seems best done at the end of summer. Hard labor seems best done in one’s 20s.

I wonder when is the best time for introspection?

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What do you do for fun?

It’s the holiday party season! (At least, on my continent it is.) From late November into January, it’s a pleasant parade of parties and fetes.

“What do you do [for work]?”

omfg could we please stop asking each other this question. My stock reply is, “as little as possible.”

Instead, could we start asking each other questions which actually start the process of getting to know each other? …questions whose answers would actually help us remember each other? …questions which elicit some story or some passion or something other than, “I file TPS reports.”

Let’s start asking:

What do you do for fun?

What’s something you’re passionate about?

What’s something new or exciting in your life?

What are you most proud of from the past year?

…and if you want to really get to know people:

What’s something that’s currently challenging you?

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§24 – Recovery Days

(Part 36 of 36 in Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

In certain circles it is said, “what was once your workout will become your warmup.” In my journey of rediscovering activity and play, there was a long period—20 years now, perhaps—where I was able to focus primarily on growth, forward motion, and transformative change. This made for a very long period where my workouts did gradually became my warmups. Certainly I’ve always had rest days; nearly 10 years ago, when I started parkour, it was all I could manage just to recover over the course of the entire week before heading back to the next hard training session. Rest and recovery were always in the mix, simply because I began my journey of transformative work in my 30s.

I’ve found it increasingly challenging to remember the importance of recovery now that I’m no longer shoving the needle of progress ahead day by day. Truth be told, I’m squarely on the mid-life plateau and it is time to take life more freely. Sure, the days of working every day for seven years on the house, climbing mountains, jumping on stuff, and doing things which cause police officers to say, “…and you sir, how old are you? You should know better!” are not over. (As far as I can tell.) But these are also, certainly, the days where spending a couple hours, every day, sitting still reading and writing is truly blissful.

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Artificial constraints

A lot of my thinking, and sometimes even my problem solving, revolves around juxtaposition. What would the inverse of the current this be? Can I gain useful perspective from the other position? Big/small, loud/quiet, perfuse/sparse, etc.; there are many obvious qualities that create striking changes in perspective. However, I find particularly rewarding juxtapositions in unusual dimensions, and there’s one dimension in particular that pays off more than all others: Time.

Have a problem? …how would I solve it if I had 100 years? …what would have to be the case if I were going to solve it in 5 minutes?

It’s become common to talk about “minimum viable product” in the entrepreneurial space, and that’s a form of time constraint. (But it’s a useful idea because it also includes other constraints such as resources and people.)

The famous Getting Things Done system has many critical components. One in particular is paying attention to the next action for any given project. (And in GTD everything you do in your entire life is a ‘project’.) This too is a form of time constraint; it’s not, “I’ll move this project forward at some point in time,” (the perspective of unlimited time,) rather it’s, “if I was going to move this project forward in the next minute…”

Where in your life might a shift to expectation of greater or lesser time yield a huge benefit?

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Creating an administrative day

Once I reached a point where most of the administrative and maintenance things were under control, I found that I had a steady stream of small things to do every day. Certainly, having things organized saves time, but things still need to be done—I can’t organize and optimize everything to zero-time required. The next step was to grab a trick from time-blocking: Set aside a chunk of time to focus on those administrative and maintenance tasks in one long go.

I’m not going to bother you with which day of the week I picked. The point is simply that I have a day—the entire day—set aside to do all the things that must be done. Laundry, occasionally changing the house air filters, stacking firewood, scheduled appointments (if I can get them on that day), banking and bookkeeping, special errands and shopping trips for home repair items, and on and on. The point is that I’ve moved all the things which feel like they aren’t directly related to my goals and aspirations—although obviously they are directly related, they just don’t feel related—to one place; one big block of time; the admin day.

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Goals versus aspirations

A distinction I’ve been making in recent years:

A goal is something specific. It will be clear when the goal is achieved. For me, goals should always be the classic specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time dependent, sort of SMART goals.

An aspiration is something directional. It will be clear when progress is made in the direction dictated by the aspiration.

The more goals I set, the worse my life becomes. I set great goals… big challenging, self-stretching goals. They pile on like dead weight and drag me down. Lose 10 pounds. Read an hour a day. …and so on.

Aspirations, being open-ended, don’t feel so daunting. Provided the aspirations lead to actual action, then I don’t need to worry about tomorrow. I can simply do the things—today, now—which are guided by my aspirations. Be someone who moves. Be exposed to lots of fresh ideas. Be someone who helps others. Be someone who creates value. Be someone whose mind works well.

What aspirations do you have?

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Where you put your mind

There’s a hard-won lesson I learned about getting things off of my mind. If my mind is stuck on something I need to deal with that immediately. Sometimes I still make the mistake of just doing the whatever, to resolve the thing on my mind. But that’s my artificial urgency problem kicking in, and I continue working to avoid that. No, by ’deal with’ I mean simply: Figure out what it is that is making that thing stick in my mind, do the thinking required to figure out the next action, and capture it somewhere not in my mind.

What’s on your mind right now that you could write down/capture outside of your head which would then free your mind for having ideas, rather than using it to try to store ideas?

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Lose no time

I suspect some people need to cultivate a sense of urgency to motivate them. I need less motivation. I need less urgency.

I managed to create a life where my perception is that every waking moment I’m either on-task or off. Every waking moment is either doing something that moves me towards my goals, or a moment of relaxation and unwinding—self-care practices so to speak. (Of course, there’s another third of my life when I’m asleep.)

It’s perfectly obvious that there is no such thing as work versus life balance. There’s just life. Some moments I’m doing this thing. Some moments that thing. Some moments resting my eyes. Some moments eating. Some moments interacting with this person. Some moments with that person. Many moments I’m alive.

The only way it would make sense to talk about work versus life… I don’t mean work, defined as when money is changing hands. I mean work as in efforts spent progressing towards a goal. The only way it would make sense to talk about work versus life balance would be if I were two—or more—different people; the work me and the life me. I can readily see how that could be a thing. I can see people who do that, or at least they try to do that. It’s completely obvious when people try to be one person in work contexts and another for themselves. I’m not sure I ever tried to do that. I’m sure that I don’t want to do that.

There’s just me. There’s just life. I need to catch myself making a distinction between work and life. That would be a moment, earlier than where I’m currently trying to solve my problems, where I might have more purchase.

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What would it be like?

I have a list of daily reminders that I cycle through. This one came up this morning and, as always, it bears repeating:

Add padding to everything. Do half of what you imagine you can do. We tend to cram as much as possible into our days. And this becomes stressful, because we always underestimate how long things will take, and we forget about maintenance tasks like putting on clothes and brushing teeth and preparing meals. We never feel like we have enough time because we try to do too much. But what would it be like if we did less? What would it be like if we padded how long things took, so that we have the space to actually do them well, with full attention? What would it be like if we took a few minutes’ pause between tasks, to savor the accomplishment of the last task, to savor the space between things, to savor being alive?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/simple-living/

Where I am, there’s a winter storm coming later today. It’s the end of the world. People rushing around. Grocery stores picked clean. Flurries of communication about, “have you heard…,” and, “is this thing cancelled?” It’s like this every year; not just the first winter storm, but every storm.

The crazier it gets, in general, in life, on the roads, in the markets, online, the more I feel like, “meh.” Tempest in a teapot. All the world is but a stage, and all that. On any given day, there are things I want to do and I set about doing them.

What do you want to do today? Have you allocated time to do that well?

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Mindless or mindful?

Have you noticed how often we all repeat what we say?

Too many people simply begin talking at another person, before having obtained their attention. This happens all the time! Once you start to notice it, it’s everywhere.

Too many people aren’t paying attention. Although, I suspect it’s partly in response to too many people [and computers and phones and our entire culture] clamoring for their attention, that they’ve stopped paying attention as a self-defense mechanism. Withholding attention shifts the default setting of how attention-getting something must be to actually get their attention.

Many years ago I made a house rule that we would not talk to each other unless we were in the same room. It took a long time until it became the norm in our house. No shouting from one room to another with a question, or an order. How often do things like, “Hey, could you…” travel from room to room in your home? The rule forces us, when I want your attention, to go to you. This puts some actual effort onto me, where it belongs. No one is permitted to call from the living room, “Hey, can you bring me…” when we both know full well we should get up and get it ourselves.

Settling into that rule was tough, but part two was far harder. The other side of the exchange. The person who is interrupted, even if it is ever so politely, by a demand for attention. Having reached a point where we each travel to the other, (the first part,) we then had to learn to treat the arriving person with respect, (the second part.) For example, when I’m knee-deep in computer work and she arrives, I had to learn to pause from my work and turn my full attention to this person who is vastly more important than anything happening in my computer. Frankly I’m still working on this.

So meta. She arrived to talk about something as I was typing this… ;)

…anyway.

After a few years of all of the above, I noticed my attention was becoming a much sharper tool in my interactions out in the world. Some of this was surely due to years of martial arts training, but much of the change was due to my intentional practice described above.

(Then I realized just how much of my attention my phone was demanding, and I fixed that shit right quick. Then I threw my participation in social networks under the bus.)

Now, I see countless examples of mindlessness any time I venture out into the regular world. But I also see examples of mindfulness. They’re not as common, but some people I encounter are awake. Some people I encounter are interested and interesting. Some people’s presence make the immediate area a better place.

Which are you, mindless or mindful?

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