Attitude and assessment

It seems likely that Jack Sparrow’s admonishment about attitude is an echo of Aurelius’s reminder to himself two thousand years earlier. This idea that the attitude and assessment is most important has really helped me relax. Things will never be done, and I create all of my problems. I’ve come to understand that concrete goals and clear progress are detrimental to my health. They’re necessary, yes, but detrimental. The more goals I set, the more clear progress I can measure, the worse off I become; Mentally and physically those things grind me down.

Since they’re necessary—without them, it seems I’d simply devolve to being a blob on a sofa—I must have something in my life which counters the damage so that I can continue setting some sane number of goals and measuring some concrete progress. One of those things is practicing my attitude and assessment. I set aside time for this each morning. It’s not meant to take long. 15 minutes is really long enough. I read through a prompt from a set that I’ve created for myself. I read through a selection from some key books. I write in my journal, usually copying a single new quote from my collection as the beginning of the journal entry. I write some thoughts. I write some observations from the previous day.

Unfortunately, just about every morning, my urge—affliction? addiction?—to measure and create goals creeps into my morning reflection. Why am I taking all this time? (I’m up to something like 4,000 hand-written pages of journals!) Am I getting benefit from all this reflection? What’s the optimum “dosage” of reflection which yields the most benefit? How do I even measure the benefit? Is that page—that one I just wrote, an instant before these questions pop into my mind—worth writing? If I read that page in a year, will it in any way help me? Is the entry for today long enough? Should it have more “here’s what I did yesterday,” type stuff, or less? Maybe I should be also making a small note on my mood, or how I feel physically? Maybe I should… Oh, crap.

Close the journal, and go on with today!

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Looking back

I’ve started thinking about a touch phrase for 2021. (2020’s was the superbly helpful, “Get less done.”) As part of the thinking, I was browsing the old blog, and wondered when I last missed a daily post. That turns out to be November 18, 2019. It’s simply a random day with nothing posted.

For a few weeks leading up to that 18th, there’s a post on each day. But October of 2019 is Swiss cheese—actually, it’s more hole than cheese. But early to mid 2019 things look mostly solidly-posted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I also know that in the very beginning of this blog I wasn’t even intending to post daily; In the beginning it was just a place for me to put things that I felt I needed some place to put. Unsurprisingly, character by character this blog was built like a drifting sand dune. In 2021 this blog will turn 10. Hello World was posted on August 13, 2011. If I continue, and I see no reason to stop, post number 3,000 should appear in late December 2021.

I bring this up because this time of year is traditionally a time for wrapping things up, and striking out anew, perhaps with a fresh start or a new commitment, into the new year. meh. That never works for me. But you know what has been working well—year-round, not just during this completely arbitrary calendar roll-over point—

LOOK BACK!

Look back at some of the things you’ve accomplished or experienced and think: “Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Seriously. I’m not going to end this post on a, “but if you don’t like what you see…”. No.

Take some time during the arbitrary end-of-the-year machinations to look back and think:

Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

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Getting Less Done

My touch-phrase for 2019 was, “no.” In terms of self-imposed stress and crippling depression, 2019 was the worst year ever; I’ve more than 10 years of journals and I’ve checked. 2018 was bad, but 2019—the year I set out specifically to reduce the problems—was definitely and significantly worse than 2018.

I remain convinced that it is not possible to optimize one’s way out of burn-out. If I have 500 things I want to get done and I’m burnt-out, the solution is to reduce the number of things, not get better at getting things done. I’m speaking from personal experience, not from theory.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In 2019, the “no” touch-phrase was meant to guide me to developing the habit of saying no to things coming towards me. A huge amount of ideas and opportunities come at me, and I’ve gotten much better at saying, “no.” (I’m not quite ready to say I’ve gotten “good” at it; but I’ve definitely gotten better.) I’ve gotten better at evaluating Big Asks from the world, and saying, “no.” A textbook example of that is people/groups which reach out to me, asking for my input or participation.

“No, I do not have the time to do that well.”

“No, I cannot to do that the way it deserves to be done.”

…and so on. Note particularly the absence of the societal lubrication, (a.k.a., the usual lie,) “I’m sorry, but…” Because, I’m not sorry. I’m defending myself, and I’ve reached the point where if my candid, timely, and honest response feels like a wack on the head… Bummer. Life’s hard; get a helmet.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In a previous post (on my personal blog) I mentioned the idea of leverage; positing that I should focus on asking myself, “how much leverage does this opportunity afford me?” This still doesn’t feel quite the right fit for 2020 because leverage per se isn’t a value I’m interested in maximizing.

So that leaves me where?

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

GLD — Get less done.

Maybe that’s the touch-phrase for 2020?

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Meta: I had posted this in the Movers Mindset Forum early in 2020. But, for some reason I cannot fathom—perhaps it was simply an oversight—I didn’t post this here on the ‘ol blog in very-early 2020 when it was written. ;)

The writing is easy

The hard part is deciding what to share.

At no point am I at a loss for something to write. Instead, I’m at a loss to decide what is worth sharing. This is true for this web site, conversations I have with podcast guests, and my personal journal. The way I sort out whether something is worth sharing is to think about who is it for. I read my personal journals in an ongoing way—each morning, (give or take,) I read that day’s entry from various numbers of years ago. So in my journalling I know that capturing my struggles and frustrations will serve me well; 9 years later, I read those entries and am relieved to see how that story turned out.

Other things—this web site, the podcast conversations—are not meant primarily for me. And so with pieces like this I try to have a point. Today it’s: Language, writing, conversation, reading, etc. are tools. As with any tool, it’s the intention of the user which matters most. You can break things or build things up using any tool you care to consider.

But first you have to ask yourself are you using your tools intentionally?

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Self-esteem box

Today, two thoughts popped into my head in rapid suggestion: “Self-esteem box,” and “I’ve never pull-quoted Movers Mindset.”

Brandee Laird

Craig: So for me it’s I know if I go for a walk that’s almost, not always, almost always enough to make it so I can go back into the cave of ugliness and get back to work kind of thing. So what are some things that will help you turn that corner, brighten you up or energize you?

Brandee: Yeah, that’s a great question, because I do get very dark moods pretty often actually, because with compassion comes the pain of caring so much about all these people and all this situation, it feels very futile a lot of times, like what can I do to change this. Yeah, I get there and I have a few tactics, I basically build protocols for myself for when I get in those moods. So one of the first things I go to is my self-esteem box.

Craig: This sounds like a good idea.

Brandee: And my self-esteem box is digital, it’s a digital self-esteem box and what I have done, is I have taken screenshots and copy/pasted and just dumped in all kinds of nice things that people have said, either to me or about me over the years.

So I have this file that is just full of gratitude and compliments and just stuff that I have had to read over and over and over in order to actually believe it. So that’s actually more like last resort is the self-esteem box. If nothing else works, open the self-esteem box, look through here.

Craig: In case of emergency, break glass, right?

Brandee: Totally. Totally. So that’s something I think everyone could and should do that. I guess I’ve never really told anyone about that. But it’s a nice thing.

Craig: I think that’s a really good tactic. People talk about doing gratitude journaling, but the gratitude journaling. I mean, I know that you know what it is, but gratitude journaling is a process which you have to execute on the spot when you feel like you’re having a bad mood. But the idea of having a self-esteem box is a clever one.

Brandee: Why, thank you.

~ Brandee Laird from 46’30”, https://moversmindset.com/72

I think these two thoughts popped into my head as the photo-frame on my wall changed. One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is set up a digital photo-frame. I email it photos of things—you know, all those digital photos you never do anything with. :)

Anyway. I love love LOVE my photo-frame. It’s chock full of hundreds of great photos. It’s not quite a self-esteem box. But it generally has the same effect. Every single time I glance at it it makes me smile.

Meanwhile, ever since I had that conversation with Brandee, (in September 2019,) I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a self-esteem box. I’m not quite sure where to put it [digitally] though; Also, I really do not need to make up yet another system for myself for organizing and storing things.

But the idea keeps calling to me.

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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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