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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Our deepest fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

~ Marianne Williamson

§21 – It’s all about love

(Part 33 of 35 in 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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Be kind to yourself

I just finished listening to an interview with Stephane Vigroux (see, 123, and 4) and one of his take-aways—the point he ended with actually—was that your parkour practice should make you happy. If I may unpack a bit: That you should be kind to yourself.

Stephane teaches a drill which has many variations, but is roughly to spend 30 minutes balancing on a rail. One finds something reasonable to balance on, like a simple railing or a low bar, where falling off has no consequences and where it’s easy to re-mount. When balancing, simply stand as still as you can. Switch legs and positions as you need to, but mostly, simply stand still and balance. If you fall off, simply get back on, and be kind to yourself for the duration.

Go do this drill. Seriously. If you cannot balance on a railing, scale the challenge down to fit your ability; Find a narrow wall, a curb, something the size of a shoebox, a bench—whatever, and alternate balancing on one foot at a time.

I’ve had the chance to train with Stephane a few times. Once, in Évry France (right in front of the Cathedral) a large group was being led by Williams Belle through a long sequence of ground movements. I had arrived at the event from another week-long event, in the middle of a summer after I had recently given up a year-long physical challenge that had my left shoulder with an aching weakness. It was only mid-morning and I was grinding my way through the physical training. There was a tremendous group spirit of support and encouragement, with everyone—absolutely everyone being pushed to their own personal limits. There was shouting and cheering and a good bit of laughing.

I could have continued. It’s possible that every other time I had ever done physical training I did continue. I had struggled through the, “this hurts I want to quit,” rationalization much earlier that morning. But for some reason, at some random moment, I stood up and walked off to the side where I sat down on an outdoor chair in the shade. At that moment, it felt right to choose to be kind to myself rather than persevere.

After a few minutes, Stephane also stopped, walked over, sat down in a neighboring chair, and asked how I was doing. It wasn’t an, “are you injured, why have you stopped?” visit. Just a friend dropping by to see how I was feeling.

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Incessant

I’m on a streak about my problems and weaknesses, and today I have another one: Incessant, incremental improvement. I need to learn that sometimes it’s best to leave well-enough alone. My drive for continuous improvement causes me problems in two ways.

First, not every conceived improvement turns out to be so in the end. It’s more like a random walk experiment; One step forward, one step forward, one step forward, two steps back! The setbacks stick in my craw and I get fixated on the thing I was tinkering with. I had good enough, better, ok wow, awesome… and the setback to ‘better’ just feels unbearable. My favorite though is the setback to now it’s totally broken.

Second, I expend huge amounts of mental effort and time looking for incremental improvements. I can take this quest to batshit-crazy levels. Sometimes I manage to see or experience something and not start thinking of ways to change it. Sometimes. It’s rare. There’s no peace nor serenity when your mind is always ticking looking for improvements.

As usual, more questions and observations than answers today.

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Daily reminders

I learned then that even when I felt powerless to control my job or education — or anything else that seemed out of my hands — I always had control over my own mind and how I treated others. Even when I had nothing else, I could still be kind, just, generous, honest, loving and compassionate.

~ Susan Fowler, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/opinion/power-self-improvement.html

I find that I’ve often committed myself to an unmanageable number of responsibilities. There are so many things I have the personal power to do, that I seem to be compelled to constantly deploy my power. Worse, I feel guilty if I’m not constantly applying my power towards some goal. I end up with a forest of goals and a feeling of being trapped. Shortly after feeling trapped, I find myself sinking into the pits of dispair on the shore of the lake of learned helplessness.

One habit I’ve built to try to keep myself entirely away from that lake is a collection of daily reminders. Ever the process maniac, I have them in my personal task management system in a rotation that brings one up each day. There are enough of them that even though they are in a fixed order I never know which is next. Each feels like a fresh reminder. They are collected from Ben Franklin, Leo Babauta and some other places I’ve neglected to keep track of.

They are:

  1. AM I AN ENERGY-GIVER OR -TAKER?
  2. BECOME MINDFUL OF ATTACHMENTS THAT LEAD TO CLUTTER AND COMPLEXITY — For example, if you are attached to sentimental items, you won’t be able to let go of clutter. If you are attached to living a certain way, you will not be able to let go of a lot of stuff. If you are attached to doing a lot of activities and messaging everyone, your life will be complex.
  3. TEMPERANCE — Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  4. Habit 1: Be proactive — While the word proactivity is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than meerly taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.
  5. AM I LIKELY TO “ACT” OR “REACT” TO A TASK?
  6. SILENCE — Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  7. Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind — Each part of your life can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you. By keeping that end clearly in mind you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have to your life as a whole.
  8. DISTRACTION, BUSYNESS AND CONSTANT SWITCHING ARE MENTAL HABITS — We don’t need any of these habits, but they build up over the years because they comfort us. We can live more simply by letting go of these mental habits. What would life be like without constant switching, distraction and busyness?
  9. ORDER — Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  10. Habit 3: Put first things first — The degree to which we have developed our independent will in our everyday lives is measured by our personal integrity. Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to take and keep commitments to ourselves, to “walk our talk.” It’s honor with self, a fundamental part of the Character Ethic, the essence of proactive growth.
  11. AM I AUTHENTIC OR OBSEQUIOUS?
  12. SINGLE-TASK BY PUTTING YOUR LIFE IN FULL-SCREEN MODE — Imagine that everything you do — a work task, answering an email or message, washing a dish, reading an article — goes into full-screen mode, so that you don’t do or look at anything else. You just inhabit that task fully, and are fully present as you do it. What would your life be like? In my experience, it’s much less stressful when you work and live this way. Things get your full attention, and you do them much better. And you can even savor them.
  13. RESOLUTION — Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  14. Habit 4: Think win/win — Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, hardball or softball, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed. It’s based on power and position rather than on principle. Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.
  15. HOW DO I TREAT SOMEONE I DON’T KNOW?
  16. FRUGALITY — Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  17. Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood — You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?
  18. CREATE SPACE BETWEEN THINGS — 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?
  19. INDUSTRY — Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  20. Habit 6: Synergize — What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.
  21. IS THERE AN ELEMENT OF STRUGGLE IN MY HISTORY?
  22. MY OATH — Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I shall make no excuses and hold no grudges. I care not where I came from, only where I am going. I don’t compare myself to others, only to myself from yesterday. I shall not brag about successes nor complain about my struggles, but share my experiences and help my fellows. I know I impact those around me with my actions, and so I must move forward, every day. I acknowledge fear, doubt, and despair, but I do not let them defeat me.
  23. SINCERITY — Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  24. Habit 7: Sharpen the saw — It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. … “Sharpen the saw” basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways.
  25. WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING?
  26. JUSTICE — Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  27. FIND JOY IN A FEW SIMPLE THINGS — For me, those include writing, reading/learning, walking and doing other active things, eating simple food, meditating, spending quality time with people I care about. Most of that doesn’t cost anything or require any possessions (especially if you use the library for books!). I’m not saying I have zero possessions, nor that I only do these few things. But to the extent that I remember the simple things I love doing, my life suddenly becomes simpler. When I remember, I can let go of everything else my mind has fixated on, and just find the simple joy of doing simple activities.
  28. MODERATION — Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  29. WOULD I WANT TO GO ON A LONG CAR RIDE WITH ME?
  30. GET CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT, AND SAY NO TO MORE THINGS — We are rarely very clear on what we want. When we see someone post a photo of something cool, we might all of a sudden get fixed on doing that too, and suddenly the course of our lives veer off in a new direction. Same thing if we read about something cool, or watch a video of a new destination or hobby. When someone invites us to something cool, we instantly want to say yes, because our minds love saying yes to everything, to all the shiny new toys. What if we became crystal clear on what we wanted in life? If we knew what we wanted to create, how we wanted to live … we could say yes to these things, and no to everything else. Saying no to more things would simplify our lives.
  31. CLEANLINESS — Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  32. AM I SELF-AWARE?
  33. TRANQUILLITY — Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  34. PRACTICE DOING NOTHING, EXQUISITELY — How often do we actually do nothing? OK, technically we’re always “doing something,” but you know what I mean — just sit there and do nothing. No need to plan, no need to read, no need to watch something, no need to do a chore or eat while you do nothing. Just don’t do anything. Don’t accomplish anything, don’t take care of anything. What happens is you will start to notice your brain’s habit of wanting to get something done — it will almost itch to do something. This exposes our mental habits, which is a good thing. However, keep doing nothing. Just sit for awhile, resisting the urge to do something. After some practice, you can get good at doing nothing. And this leads to the mental habit of contentment, gratitude without complaining.
  35. CHASTITY — Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  36. WHAT IS MY TALK-TO-LISTEN RATIO?
  37. WE CREATE OUR OWN STRUGGLES — All the stress, all the frustrations and disappointments, all the busyness and rushing … we create these with attachments in our heads. By letting go, we can relax and live more simply.
  38. HUMILITY — Imitate Socrates.

Update Oct 2019: Added the seven habits of highly effective people from Stephen Covey’s book.

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When to quit

The next time you’re feeling stymied and frustrated, look at the clock. When is your best time to create, to analyze, to think? Is it early or late? Are you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

~ Angie Flynn-MacIver, from https://www.ignitecsp.com/blog/when/

I often feel my entire existence is a vicious cycle of plan, plan, over-plan… until I rebel against the self-imposed structures and tear down all the walls and systems. But one thing is ever present: I never know when to quit.

I should amend that. Until very recently, I never knew when to quit. That does not mean I now always know when to quit, and it certainly does not mean that I do quit when I should. But every once in a great while, it occurs to me that now would be the perfect time to stop.

Way too often I feel I don’t have the time to do something at the right time and try to just jam the square peg in. One more task before dinner. One more thing to organize before this. One more thing. One more thing. One more thing.

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