Playing at the edge

I’m endlessly fascinated with mastery practices. I might, on occasion, go so far as to say that the purpose of life is to pursue some mastery practice or another.

If you learn to play at your edge, you learn to stop shying away from discomfort. You grow and learn in new ways. And you develop a confidence in yourself that is hard to do when you stay in your comfort zone.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/edge-practice/

Where is your discomfort zone? Are you avoiding that for a reason? Have you truly explored near that edge?

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Transcendence

Maybe, if I was feeling really brave, I’d say that there is just one thing that I need to get beyond. If I was feeling that brave, I’m not, I’d say it’s the drive drive drive I feel to do do do.

What we usually do is either be driven, driven, driven by this fear … or we conclude that we need to abandon everything and start with a fresh slate. With this fear, it can feel like these are the only two options.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/still-behind/

As Babauta of course goes on to point out: There aren’t, in truth, only two options. I’m still not feeling brave, but the idea that there’s a third-way sounds delightful.

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Making space

Suppose I wanted to give something up, but I’m completely baffled by how to decide which thing. I’m not talking about needing to give something up. I mean: This is all nice, and I’d like to have less. It turns out I spend a lot of time thinking about what to give up, and how to give it up. And who would I be once that thing that I do ceased. And why am I still making the mistake of identifying who I am as what I do? (I run, but I am not a runner.) Most of the answers I’ve found to, “what to give up and how?” come from visualization exercises. I know in fact that I will eventually give it all up. Suddenly, it’s no longer about “if”, but more simply “when”. If next decade is fine, why not next year? …why not right now?

To change a habit – whether you’re starting a new habit or quitting an old one – you have to let go of something really important to you. This is why most people struggle with habit change – it’s not easy to let go of your sacred cows.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/sacred-cows/

As always Babauta’s thoughts and perspective inspire me to pause, breath, relax. We do need space, because without space when are we comfortable simply being? I now often find I do have such space. Although my urge remains to fill the spaces up with doing, not-breathing, grasping— Therefore I continue, slowly. breathing. relaxing. visualizing. being.

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It matters that you start

It matters that I start something. I don’t have to start everything; That’d be tragic. I don’t have to start many things, nor even more than one thing. But it matters that I start something. The knowledge is in the doing of that something. It matters that I go through contemplation (choosing just the right something), then into commitment, and then… that’s where I often struggle.

I’d like to propose a different view: that struggle is the place of growth, learning, curiosity, love, creativity. Struggle is an incredible opportunity for being creative.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/struggle-to-creativity/

I struggle when there’s a huge gap between the know-naught starting point, and my being one of those effortless creatives who get stuff done. Those who get stuff done well and demonstrate craftsmanship and care and pride and joy! (Gazing at the horizon,) there’s the thing. I know what it can be. I see how to begin, but I see hills and I know there will be challenges. Don’t turn away. (Gazing at the horizon,) if there’s somewhere I want to be, I need to start walking.

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What indeed

While there’s nothing wrong with always having our nose to the grindstone, and having every day feel the same as the last … what would it be like to open to something different?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/transcendence/

I hate to quibble with Babauta (his writing having been so instrumental in my growth over decades). But… uhm, actually, I’m going to say there is indeed something wrong with having one’s nose to the grindstone. Working a hard dash on meaningful work is healthy. Dashing all the time is—by definition—not dashing. Lately I’m again and again (and again and again and again) returning to the same problem. I’ve so many things I want to do, but only so many hours.

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There is only discipline

I often mention the false sense of urgency that I experience. I have lots of ideas, sure, but it’s more than the frequent appearance of those endless new opportunities. It’s more so the sense that anything I’m already working on, I could do just a little bit better. There’s a pessimistic paranoia that old, greying system administrators develop; they look both ways even when crossing one-way streets. All of that combines within me. I’m not sure if all that striving leads me to feel there’s a scarcity of time and opportunity, or vice versa— I have a sense of scarcity, which leads to the sense of urgency and incessant striving.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism is based on two kinds of observation. The first is an inward-looking observation that we aren’t simply rational beings who seek to know and understand the world, but also desiring beings who strive to obtain things from the world. Behind every striving is a painful lack of something, Schopenhauer claims, yet obtaining this thing rarely makes us happy. For, even if we do manage to satisfy one desire, there are always several more unsatisfied ones ready to take its place. Or else we become bored, aware that a life with nothing to desire is dull and empty. If we are lucky enough to satisfy our basic needs, such as hunger and thirst, then in order to escape boredom we develop new needs for luxury items, such as alcohol, tobacco or fashionable clothing. At no point, Schopenhauer says, do we arrive at final and lasting satisfaction. Hence one of his well-known lines: ‘life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom’.

~ David Bather Woods from, https://aeon.co/essays/for-schopenhauer-happiness-is-a-state-of-semi-satisfaction

For five months I’ve had a single sticky-note on my monitor which reads, “There are no miracles. There is only discipline.” It’s a strikingly clear guide star. I believe that a disciplined person knows not only when to strive, but also when to ignore an idea, when to pause for the time being, and when to rejuvenate.

Most often that sticky-note triggers my thinking about living a balanced discipline. I see the note (it’s unfortunately only on my monitor, but should be added to the interior of my eyelids) and then I notice if I’m feeling harried, or if I’m striving… Why? Is this thing I’m doing, or that thing I feel I should be doing, actually urgent? And how—get clear here, Craig—did this or that even get to be the thing I’m doing, the thing on my radar, on my to-do list, on my to-should list… What would it be like, to simply be?

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Anxiously panicking

A couple of weeks ago I started obliterating processes. I’ve often talked about how everything is a process, and I still believe that. However I’d reached a point where I simply had too many processes (I won’t bore you with unbelievable examples) and a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough. I spent several days doing nothing but thinking about everything I was doing, and wanted to be doing but wasn’t “getting around to.”

We’re overwhelmed by it all: all the things we have on our plates, all the interruptions and messages and emails, all the things online and on social media, all the news and chaos of the world, all the things going on in our relationships.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/onebreath/

Some things I do can feel like a chore but when I was honest, they are actually things I enjoy doing. Furthermore, they pay off outsized benefits for the time they require. What then made them feel like chores? I think it was the anxiety of the other things I felt I should be doing—after all, I put those other things on a list or made a process so I could chip away at them in sane-sized chunks. I went through everything, and then started deleting things from that “everything else” space.

Is this simply me oscillating between no-planning, planning, no-planning, planning? Is this a 2/3-life (or, if I pretend I’ll live long, “mid-life”) crisis? Have I said a polite-but-clear “no” to some big things? Have I been having some anxiety-free days? YES, to all of those. I’m currently trying to be vigilant to notice the first thing I get anxious about—because I’m going to delete that next.

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What does done look like?

And then they got home, and there were piles of tasks, emails and messages waiting for them. The urgency of those piles threw them off their best intentions.

The urgency of piles throws off all of our best laid plans.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/piles/

If I could have one wish this holiday season (maybe I should start marking silly pop-culture references in a different typeface) it would be that you’d just go read everything he’s written. If I could have two wishes, it’d be for you to click on his name which takes you to a listing of all of my posts related to him, and then for you to continue onward to read each of his things I’ve linked. But, to dig specifically into his topic of piles, I’ll try to make a point about working all the way to done.

Some things are never going to be done in the sense of disappearing from your life; our household will always have a gentle snow of tax-related paperwork accumulating through the year. That’s technically a pile. But that pile has a home (out of sight) and related things always, immediately go on that pile, where they sit until tax season. That pile has no tension associated with it. Laundry is the same way; of course there’s always some dirty laundry in a “pile” (both a physical pile and in baskets which have homes.) But again, no tension. That’s where dirty laundry belongs.

What causes tension is when your expectations (I want things a certain way—like a tidy, uncluttered home) conflict with reality (the mail, taxes and laundry are strewn about.) The key is to realize that the second 90% of anything is the unglamorous part we’d prefer to skip. We want to jump ahead to the first 90% of the next thing.

What do I mean by the second 90%? Filling up the gas tank as you approach your destinationis part of the journey. What does done look like driving somewhere? The car’s normal state is to have some reasonable amount of gas in it. Drive it (the first 90%… the fun part involving getting somewhere) and get gas (the second 90%… the un-fun part including leaving early enough to have time to stop for gas.) What does done look like mowing the lawn? I need the time and energy to clean the mower at the end. What does done look like doing laundry? I have time and energy to do the ironing, folding and putting-away parts. And yes, big project that involve multiple sessions of working? Each session has it’s own done to reach.

Do this for everything. Every. Thing. Ask: What does done look like? Do I have enough time and energy to actually get to done? …or am I just excited by that first 90% and I’m going to quit there?

You’ll quickly realize you cannot get everything (literally everything) to a “done” that corresponds to your expectations. The hardest part starts once you realize that you’ve over-stuffed your life. The real problem is that you really don’t have the time and energy to do the second 90% of every thing. The real solution then is to make the hard choices to undo the mistakes that un-simplified one’s life.

And by “you” I mean “me.”

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Don’t try so hard

If you talk to someone about “relaxing,” they will usually think of that as the opposite of “trying hard.” They think of lying on the couch, muscles relaxed, not doing anything. “Relaxing” is equated with “laziness” for a lot of people. So “trying hard” and “relaxing” are seen as two opposite things. What would it be like to try hard while relaxing?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/dao/

I’ve long known I have a bias to action. So trying hard used to always look like activity—often physically strenuous activity. Eventually I came to refer to that as my “bashing” mode. Imagine the Hulk working on anything; Bashing. But this leaves a trail of destruction more often than not. As I’ve worked to value recovery, rest, and relaxation—because, hey, why couldn’t one’s life be mostly peaceful relaxation?—I’ve gravitated towards “work” that can be done in a relaxed state. If any of this is news to you, as always, Babauta does a great job suggesting ways to get into it.

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Balance

Once we feel like we’re a little good at something, we cling to that. We cling to wanting others to think we know things and are good at things. We cling to the feeling of knowing what we’re doing.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/destroy/

Balancing continuing to work on what I know, and single mindedly focusing on something new, is the challenge I can never seem to resolve. Destroy all the things I know? …that doesn’t end well. Destroy some of the things I know? …sure, but which ones.

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Named your fear must be

Sometimes, our heads won’t stop thinking about something. Our thoughts will spin around and around, not willing to let go, obsessing. It might be about another person, a big event coming up, or about ourselves. It might be overthinking a decision, big or small.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/obsess/

I read this the other day after its being queued for ages. It was eerily apropos of a really bad mood that I was in. Except I read it just after I had deployed Babauta’s “face the fear” strategy that he describes. It definitely works. And for some reason, Yoda’s admonishment that, “named your fear must be, before banish it you can,” sprung to mind.

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What would make it amazing?

This process starts with identifying the things you want in your day, as if you were curating a small but thoughtful collection. What handful of things would make your day amazing?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/simplify5/

Sometimes I’ve not the least interest, let alone hope, of getting to “amazing.” Sometimes my days are all spiders, paper-cuts, stubbed toes, and sepsis. And then I think: well, actually, what would it take to get to “amazing?” The answer is invariably two-fold: I would need to cut loose from something-or-other, and doing that would burn a bridge, (money, relationships, etc.) Then I waiver. Usually, I decide not to strike the match. But sometimes… I just want to strike the match and watch my world burn.

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Never how it actually goes

This is one of the main obstacles to forming habits. Our hopeful idea of how it will go, and then our disappointment and frustration with ourselves when it doesn’t go that way.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/perfectionism/

Nerd alert: I’ve always appreciated that Babauta takes the time to craft the URL paths (often called the “slug”) by hand. They’re not simply auto-generated from the titles of the posts. I love that this particular one, about perfectionism, has a single-word slug that contains the word “perfect”.

While writing this post I spun off to discover Grammar Monster. Yikes! Driven by my perfectionism, that’s the sort of thing that I could spend hours in. I backed away from it very slowly.

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Always a good reminder

We often turn it into something bad: I suck for not being disciplined, I suck for not being able to focus, I’m not strong enough, etc etc. But it’s just a part of being human — we all have fear, uncertainty, doubt, resistance built into our survival instincts.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/resistless/

My “I suck” dialog has different vocabulary, and I have a penchant for petulance. Nonetheless, it’s always a good reminder to be aware of it. I can sabotage myself, without fail, by setting expectations—any expectations—for anything I’m working on. The only way I can stay balanced on the narrow, mountaintop spine of rock that is sanity is to pay attention to the next steps. There’s not really much option about where the path along the ridge leads. In recent months I’ve been tinkering on a new project creating something I’ve been curious to try for a long time. It’s interesting, but not particularly difficult work. It’s definitely creative, and I’ve repeatedly found interesting little twists in the path. Am I going somewhere in particular with the project? …not really. I have ideas of what might be farther along the path, but that’s more an interesting additional possibility, rather than the reason for doing the work.

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Or soon every day will have gone by

… and soon the day has gone by and we wonder what we did with the day.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/interstitial/

I marked this for “read later” back in December 2021, and am just getting around to reading it. I know that many—most? all?—of the amazing coincidences I find in my life arise from my innate, monkey-brain drive to see patterns and causation where none actually exists. I don’t care. It’s a nice coincidence that I’ve just gotten around to reading this, while in the past couple of weeks I’ve been simplifying and focusing on a small number of things that I want to be working on.

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Expansive

Normally, we think of these difficulties and frustrations as something wrong with us, the other person, or the world. With this kind of view, every failure is another reason to feel bad about ourselves. Every frustration with someone else is a reason to shut down to them or lash out at them. Everything wrong with the world is another reason to feel discouraged.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/practiceground/

I recently read a discription of one’s mindset that used the term “expansive.” Having a “growth mindset,” or a “positive attitude,” are other turns of phrase in the same vein. Thinking expansively leads you to find opportunities. For 6+ years I’ve been tinkering on the Movers Mindset project, and a legitimate question comes up: What is the mindset of a mover?

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Create a space

Today I’d like to share an idea for getting things in order: just as I recommend for decluttering your house, create a place for everything that matters to you.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/place/

When you first hear this idea—for physical things and for the things “in” your life—it sounds insanely hard. If you manage to push through that initial resistance you find out that the problem isn’t the things in, or “in”, your life. The problem is that you let them in. And then you realize, that you didn’t actually let them in, you invited them in.

For me, solving the problem is not about my ruthlessly removing things. (And to be clear, thoughts this post I’m talking about physical things that are around me, people around me, ideas around me… everything.) Solving the problem is not about my ruthlessly trying to keep things away. No. The real problem is to identify and then resolve the urge. The urge to want more. The urge to collect. The urge to—I think—try to fill some sense of need.

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What actually is the problem

Every obstacle that we normally think of as a problem to be fixed … every “flaw” in ourselves or others that we judge as something to be fixed … what if we can pause, find stillness, and get curious instead of trying to fix?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/explore/

Any day that Babauta gets me thinking is a good day. (If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.) I’ve gotten pretty durn good at the “pause”, and the “find stillness”, parts. I also believe I have the “wait but why” curiosity bit figured out, since it has always been with me. It’s that “trying to fix” part upon which I’m perpetually stuck. And I get “particularly stuck”— “particularly stuck” aren’t the right words… if I could find the right words or word, I would use it instead. “Ensnared” is close. Or, have you ever gotten caught by a single thorn while out walking or hiking? That one thorn isn’t going to do too much damage if you stop quickly. In an instant, that one thorn becomes the laser focus of all of my attention. I really feel like I should be able to find the right word to fix that sentence.

Well, that’s curious.

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If only

The day is actually quite spacious, if we don’t try to overfill it.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/unrushed/

It took me far too long to learn this lesson. Or, perhaps I should practice improving my self-talk: I’m so glad I understand this now. For a couple months early in 2022 I had a sticky-note about “urgency?” on my monitor. That had a profound effect on me. Is the house on fire? …okay, then where is the urgency coming from? Hint, Craig: You brought the urgency to the situation.

But, why? Why does the urgency creep in for me? I make long (long loong) arguments out in my mind about how each of the things that I’m doing, represents an intentional choice. At one time, I used to allow other people to choose for me. (I know, right… That’s nuts.) But these days, I’m working out the lesson that just because I choose, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice. One choice, two choices, three choices, four, five, six… and the day is over-full. Quick! All these things need to be done—I chose them. Hello, urgency.

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Suggestions too

It’s harder to see it when we’re the ones who are complaining so often. And in fact, in my experience most of us are in the habit of complaining, either out loud or to ourselves. Myself included.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/complaint/

I am not a complainer. (I’m not pushing back on Babauta’s post. It’s excellent, as usual.) If you spot me complaining, I’d appreciate being called out. Certainly, there was a time when I complained, but it is not now.

Being a “suggester” correlates with being a complainer. People who complain also suggest. “You should do that this way…” “This would be better with more…” “If I was in charge I would…” Ridding oneself of one of these flaws, will make the other intolerable, which begins the work of ridding oneself of the other.

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