Old dog

I don’t think that anymore. Those fantasies are silly really. As the character Judge Smails played by Ted Knight in Caddyshack so aptly put it, “The world needs ditch diggers too.” … Accepting the fact that you are a contributor to a larger community as opposed to being a Demi-God uberman is not just humbling…it’s a huge relief.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/10/old-dog-new-tricks-2/

But my biggest challenge is the closely-related problem of continuously thinking about all the things I “should” do. Where, “should,” is a self-evaluated judgement that arises from my thinking about all the things I could do. …and HFS I could do all sorts of things.

Having happily set down all the Big Picture “shoulds,” I’m currently trying to pick off all the true “shoulds.” I’ve learned to stop looking to the stars, and to instead set my sights on the next hilltop. I should put the finishing touches on the garden we built last year. I should get that tree trimmed professionally so it’s good for another 10 years. …those aren’t so bad. But some: I should finish going through all this photography. I should find a home for this pool table. …I’ve been trying to get done for like 10 years.

Overall, there’s a pretty big list, but importantly, the list has not been growing in recent years. On the other hand, it weighs on my mind none the less.

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Herky-jerky breakthroughs

The trajectory is not a smoothly-ascending curve, but a herky-jerky spasm-fest marked by seeming dead-ends, plateaus, dark nights of the soul, intervals of boredom and stasis, not to mention bouts of terror, despair and self-doubt, which are followed, if we’re lucky, by quantum leaps to the next level.

In other words, we advance by breakthroughs.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2012/07/how-we-get-better-part-two/

The key is to turn around and look back at how far you’ve progressed. Set goals, plan, and take aim by looking ahead. But when you want to assess your progress, do not look at the goal. I spent far too much time looking at my goals and invariably saying, “I surpassed the goal… I should have set a bigger goal. I could have done more.” …or saying, “I fell short of the goal. I suck.” Both of which are dangerously negative.

Instead, leave markers along your journey—you can look at your earlier writing, look at your earlier paintings, reminisce with a friend, etc. Look at the markers you’ve left along the way and think, “look how far I’ve come!”

This is the only way I’ve found to maintain a positive outlook.

Think of a goal you currently have; something you’ve been working on for a while. When was the last time you looked back to assess your progress?

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Bashing against the resistance

… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows. 

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

Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.

Maybe.

Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.

These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.

But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?

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Enough already of having the dial at 11

This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/kind-done/

There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt this way. I had the work-ethic, grit, stick-to-it-iveness, determination, bull-headed, finish-all-the-things dial twisted to 11 and covered in duct tape.

I believe I have learned the lesson. We’ll see what 2020 brings.

I’ll know I have it sorted when it only feels like an “idea” to tackle some new thing, help someone do something, implement some idea, accept a new challenge… When it feels only like an idea, rather than an urge like an addict has urges.

…because ideas I can say ‘no’ to.

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I am not my work

“I am not my work,” is one of those aphorisms that I need to have etched into my cornea. Have you seen watermarks on images? I need this phrase watermarked directly onto my vision.

Long ago–if memory serves–I was motivated by extrinsics. Doing something well resulted in external confirmation; so generating that external confirmation was easy for me. But–as everyone knows–it’s a vicious cycle of saccharine sweetness. Eventually, that lesson was learned. The obviously better option is to be intrinsically motivated. Check. Got it.

Unfortunately for me, there’s another onion-skin layer to peal away below, “be intrinsically motivated,” which is to not take criticism of work done as criticism of myself. The immediate hack is that I’ve inserted a mandatory, “thank you,” in response to criticism. This doesn’t fix the problem of identifying myself with my work. But it does buy me a few moments. By the time I’ve said thank you and acknowledged the critic, it’s become possible to see the criticism as being ‘of the work.’ Crucial moments indeed.

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Renunciation

Renunciation is one of ten trainable qualities known traditionally as the paramis (the others being generosity, resolve, patience, morality, effort, insight, loving-kindness, equanimity and truthfulness).

~ David Cain, from https://www.raptitude.com/2017/11/opting-out/

This feels—perhaps—like a more nuanced version of my, “just say no to everything,” theme for 2019. That may should harsh, but it’s not. I say, “yes,” to many many things. When I try to say, “no,” to everything, I end up saying, “yes,” to only one-many things.

I’m not a Buddhist by any stretch of the imagination. So I’m not about to take up the paramis as an explicit practice. But the idea of actively renouncing things gives me a positive practice; something I can actively do, rather than something I have to avoid doing.

If you have an elephant problem, “don’t think of a pink elephant,” isn’t going to help. “Just say no,”—despite it’s possible utility as a drug use prevention program—isn’t working very well for my problem. So instead, “think of flowers,” works better for the elephant problem.

So maybe, today I can practice keeping space.

Also…

The solution is simple and difficult.

We can turn it off.

If it’s not getting you what you need or want, turn it off for a few hours.

~ Seth Godin, from https://seths.blog/2017/10/the-engine-of-our-discontent/

Hear! Hear! …and, once more, louder for those in the back!

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That’s easy, but it doesn’t count

In other words, the only way for a person to experience that particular place and time was to experience that particular place and time, and I although I was in the right place, I spent much of that time goofing with my phone.

~ David Cain, from https://www.raptitude.com/2019/09/nothing-can-be-saved-for-later/

I have become a master of not goofing around with my phone. I have become a master of experiencing certain moments; leaning into the present one might say. Engage with random dogs. Wander that interesting side street. Stop and actually smell that flower. Take off my shoes and play barefoot in this tree. Pause and enjoy the sunshine and blue sky during this nice walk.

But that’s trivial. And it doesn’t make my life terrific. I’m still profoundly unhappy and stressed out.

Know what’s hard? Leaning into, and enjoying, the experiences which are stereotypically the things I dis-prefer. (I’d prefer them to be otherwise, but in fact I have no control over.) That chunk of boring software I have to write. Staying up until 1am, (I’m normally asleep at 9:30,) to babysit a computer system that has to be rebooted in off-hours. Dealing with burnt-out headlamps on the car… when it’s raining, and I had an appointment to get my Mac fixed. Pouring my life into a project and watching no one support it. And so on. Lots and lots of moments that suck the joy of life right out of me.

Yeup, lots more moments I need to lean into.

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§21 – It’s all about love

(Part 33 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

For me, what defines a human being is the combination of our intellect, our self-awareness, and our mortality. Developing the first two, and in particular becoming comfortable with the third takes a lot of time. It’s clear to me that there are seasons to our human lives. The best description I’ve heard is that of four seasons: roots, fire, water and air, corresponding to beginning, actively carving one’s path, learning acceptance and understanding, and finally wisdom. (This is obviously a variation of the four, classical elements.)

Frequently over the past year I’ve found myself thinking about the transition from the season of water to the season of air. What would the season of air feel like if I experienced glimpses of it from the season of water?

I believe I have an answer: Understanding self-love.

To come to grips with one’s own mortality requires a deep apprehension of the temporary state of our existence, and I now believe understanding self-love is the doorway to the age of air.

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Missed it and that’s ok

Yesterday, there was no post here on the ol’ blog, and yesterday I was ok with that. This is a big deal for me.

I’m obsessive about sticking with systems, and of course I have a system to my mornings which involves setting aside time to write. Yesterday, some other important things came up and I felt my time was better spent elsewhere. After all, “write a post every day” is not a pillar of my self-identity. (“I am someone who blogs,” is a pillar.)

Previously—by which I mean, on any day I can recall, before yesterday—I would have been all over myself, all day about not having had a blog post. I probably would have listed “no blog posts” among the nightly reasons I review while falling asleep as to why the day was a failure.

But somehow, yesterday, there was simply no blog post.

Today you might argue that I’m cheating because I’m writing about writing. But I am writing. Most importantly, I’m writing abot what’s on my mind.

So, what other routines might I be clinging to for no good reason?

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