Self-Improvement as a Hobby

It’s not a secret that I love trying out life systems and self-improvement ideas. And Goodness knows it’s a weird hobby. Flylady, Konmari, Everyday Systems, Bullet Journals, you name it. I find these things interesting and enjoyable to play with.

That’s the thing. I’ve begun to look at it as a hobby. Not every system I’ve tried has necessarily produced the results I wanted, but you know what?

Some have. My homemaking skills are a lot more Flylady than Konmari, but wow was keeping my home tidy easier after I did the big ole tidying “festival” Marie Kondo suggested.

I like listening to self-improvement books when I walk alone.

None of this has exactly made me a paragon of virtue or excellence, mind. I’m not rich. I’m not skinny. I’m not famous. *wrygrin* My view of the improvement of the Self even questions how in the world these three big goals seem in any way to be listed as self-improvement.

Fine, your house is tidy now. But do you treat people kindly?

Okay, you’re rich. How did you get that way? Were you honest? Were you able to keep your integrity?

Great, you’re skinny. Is this a virtue?

Things I think would be better addressed in self-improvement literature:

  • What is your word worth?
  • How’s your compassion?
  • Do you have good boundaries and how do you enforce them with kindness?
  • What do you see as your duty, and do you fulfill it? If not, what’s stopping you?

Not ONE self-improvement book I’ve seen discusses these topics much. Though, Marla Cielly of Flylady fame and Reinhard Engels of Everyday Systems seem to strike me as people to whom integrity and kindness seem to mean something.

But most of the so-called self-improvement literature I see is a lot less about becoming virtuous and a lot more about becoming inappropriately selfish. I say “inappropriately” because boundary setting can look selfish to someone wanting to take inappropriate advantage of you.

Few of these books discuss one’s duty to oneself and one’s fellow humans.

I think these questions are considerably more important than whether or not you have enough self-discipline to stick to a diet. For my own part, I find sticking to a diet a lot easier than being patient with strangers who frustrate me, speaking up about an injustice, or setting appropriate boundaries with people whose real motive is to use me as a thing or resource.

I think being a size two, being well-known or having a big bank account is trivial compared to that.

And I find it interesting that the self-improvement industry is largely silent on it.

Bullet Journals or, Excellence v. Perfection

Just sat down with my Bullet Journal, as I do every Sunday, to plan out the next week.

I do this for a lot of reasons. I want to make sure I’m following up on everything I need to. It is very easy to allow things to fall through the cracks. This helps prevent it. I cannot say I always follow through on everything in exactly a timely manner. I don’t. Without something to keep me on track, I’ll follow my whims. That gives me about a 15% accuracy on my Get the Important Stuff Done score. When I use a tracking system of some sort, that brings the Get Important Stuff Done score up to between 75% and 90%.

Beepy reminders are usually at about a 75%. That’s still not bad at all, mind. But it’s stressful.

Sometimes I get tired, or depressed or whatever, and to be quite frank, I do not necessarily jump on everything I think needs to be done. A beepy reminder gives you a window of RIGHT NOW to do it before it falls off your mental radar. That’s fine when I’m all happy and motivated and shit.

I am not always all happy and motivated and shit.

The Bullet Journal brings me more up to that 90%, which is as good as it is ever going to get. One of the nice things about my Bullet Journal is its flexibility. The Bullet Journal means that I get more Important Stuff done while actually being less immediately on the ball. It’s forgiving. It’s imperfect. Things get crossed off when I decide it’s not Important Stuff after all.

If I lose interest in a self-assigned project, I have the material to circle back to it if I need to. It makes me less obsessed.

If I’m procrastinating on something I REALLY have to do, consistently migrating that task day by day does poke me to get it off my plate better but feels less emotionally fraught to me somehow. It’s there. I need to do it, but I can migrate it to tomorrow. You know what? It still gets DONE. That’s cool.

If I am Just Not Feeling It, the Bullet Journal waits quietly and without judgment until I go back to it — all necessary information and plans there. With most task management software, an overdue task turns red, or keeps beeping at you and making you feel bad in a way that the Bullet Journal doesn’t (at least for me).

I love the imperfection and messiness of my Bullet Journal. It helps me Not Waste My Life, but still allows for the dips and swells in my emotional energy. It’s such a beautiful reality check for me. When I start feeling badly about myself, I can look and see how I’ve been spending my days. I can sometimes feel like “I’ve gotten nothing done” and when I look back, I realize that no, I PLANNED to play that video game. It was on purpose, so that time was not wasteful.

Yes, I put more than chores in my Bullet Journal. For me, that’s part of what makes it such a wonderful reality check. Am I getting Enough Done? is certainly an important question. So is Am I doing things to recreate and enjoy myself? Did I do the laundry, pay the bills, and get to the dentist? Great! Did I take a walk, play a video game, or knit or see a movie? That’s important, too.

I think it helps me keep things in balance. The reality is that I have no middle gears, and am appallingly bad at moderation. I tend to want things to be perfect and have been known just to give up when I can’t do that. There’s a time and a place for shooting for perfection, certainly, though I’ve had it pointed out that shooting for excellence rather than perfection makes more sense.

Excellence is different from perfection. Excellence means you’re consistently striving for better. Excellence isn’t binary — either meeting the mark or not. It’s not a pass/fail proposition, but a fairly consistent effort. It cannot ever be “perfect” and even accepts that there is always something else you can do.

This is hard for me because I tend to be binary in my thinking. Of course, I do. It’s EASY to think in binary terms. Okay, that’s fine and even appropriate for some endeavors, but it really doesn’t reflect the realities of an entire life. There’s no such thing as a binary human life.

Which is exactly the point of the imperfection of my Bullet Journal.

Feminism and Housework

My husband never helps around the house.

Now those of you who know my husband are about to freak out and jump to his defense. Stay with me, this isn’t as bad as it seems.

My husband never helps around the house.

A few years ago, my husband read, as many men did, “You Should Have Asked” and had rather a revelation. Like a lot of men, they were absolutely happy to do assigned chores. They understood that they lived in a home, so they also needed to do housework.

So, if a chore was assigned, they’d do it and that was cool. They’d do exactly what was asked. They were good, modern men who were supportive of their partners’ needs and didn’t expect all the housework to be done by the woman.

The point of that comic, if you didn’t read it, was the idea of the mental load – how the project manager doesn’t do the work because managing is work. Many, many women are the “home project managers” as well as the staff. The comic throws it into sharp relief.

See that to-do list? He wrote it after a discussion with me. We both had finished some projects (him a graphic novel due out July 4th, and me a programming class) and neither of us had really addressed the housework all that much. Nothing outrageous, but he commented that the house needed some TLC, and was Sunday an okay day to do it?

Both of us stay on task better when we have lists so we don’t get distracted (as I am right now writing this piece!) and so he asked me to help him come up with What Needed Doin’.

He took the initiative. He asked for input. We do have slightly different household priorities. He’s a much more thorough vacuumer than I am. I care more about glass, mirrors, and basic levels of clutter. But between us, yeah, the work is done and done well.

So no, my husband never helps around the house. He knows that the home needs maintenance and will take ownership of that fact.

Which is exactly what we need to see more of!

One Year Later: My Life Revolves Around My Health

Last year I had a health scare with a lifestyle component. Never mind that there’s a genetic component. Health problems are All Your Fault, and you’re a lazy bad person for having them, right? Healthy is for the virtuous, and we all know that people with illnesses get them because they’re all bad and stuff, right?

*sighs*

Did I Change My Lifestyle to Manage my Blood Glucose Levels?

I did make a couple of changes and did get my blood sugar under control. I dropped an a1c reading from 6.0 to 5.5 using two things: a ketogenic diet and an average of 45 minutes of moderate exercise every day. I took this figure from my fitness watch and just took a straight weekly average of how many minutes a day, I got my heart rate into the aerobic range. So… pretty accurate for how much I move.

All this work didn’t make me skinny. Not even close. While the weight loss was significant, I’m still well into the plus size range. But the goal was never to get skinny. The goal was to manage my blood sugar, and I did.

You can manage some health issues with diet and exercise, yes. If you’re willing to let your life revolve around it. Know what? I have the luxury of the time and money to do that.

My Life Revolves Around My Health

Is a ketogenic diet a time-consuming, expensive pain in the ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

I mean, the food is tasty. I like bacon and eggs. I enjoy salads. I love a good steak. Strawberries and real whipped cream? Bring it. I like nuts. So, as far as enjoying my meals, heck yeah, I do! I might want to snack sometimes, but I’m not dealing with actual hunger.

However, I’ve had to resurrect my bento hobby and adapt it to my diet. See, whenever I’m out and about, I cannot count on a satisfying meal, or need to pay for a really expensive one. Not much in my diet besides nuts is shelf stable! (Most of those “meal bars” marketed as low carb aren’t. At least according to my fasting blood sugar readings!) That drives the price of “convenience” food up. Sure, sure, I can buy boiled eggs and cheese or something, but wow, at over a dollar an egg, I’m better off planning and making a bento. Honestly, this hobby is a lot of why I can tolerate eating a ketogenic diet.

It also changes how I interact with travel. Bento are great for travel – sort of. Taking a trip on an airplane or a train, it’s nice to slip a bento in your bag and go. But meals out become incredibly expensive, and you’re always wondering how much sugar is being used even in meat sauces and marinades. Cruises? You can handle it, but you can’t just, you know, eat a meal. You need to talk to the waiter to make sure what you’re getting is okay for you to eat, and you need to be careful about hidden carbs at the buffet. Theme parks? You can get hot dogs and hamburgers without the bun, sure. It’s also really expensive. Simple carbohydrates are cheap calories, after all. I don’t say this to snark it. I have a whole nother rant on why the abundance of calories isn’t the daggone evil people like to put it out to be, but that’s for another blog post.

Anyway, even though a ketogenic diet is more expensive, I suppose it’s cheaper than insulin. But the reality is that insulin may need to be a thing in the future. I’m doing what I can, but at a certain point, one’s genetics does factor in.

It’ll be blamed on me not being skinny, of course.

Is Daily Exercise a Time-Consuming, Expensive Pain in the Ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

Forty-five minutes a day is a lot of damn time. I’m doing it and to be frank, I’m glad of my fitness watch, as it means that I can wave the data under my doctor’s nose as proof that yes, I’m exercising at recommended rates and intensity, and I’m still not getting skinny.

It’s still a big chunk of my day.

A short workout is half an hour. On busy days, I’m up at five in the damn morning to get that walk in. Unlike a lot of people, my treadmill was a wonderful and frequently used purchase, even two years later. Expensive? Yeah. I could go outside. Except I live in Northern New England. I don’t like to walk in bad weather and generally won’t. It’s very hard to talk yourself out of a half hour walk on a treadmill in front of your bedroom door.

A longer workout is a swim. That’s a minimum of an hour in the pool, but you have to add a minimum of a half an hour on either side to get to the gym and clean up after the swim. Expensive? Yes, gyms with pools are expensive. I genuinely enjoy swimming, but the way I go at it is most certainly because of the need to get in large wodges of exercise.

Do I ever take long walks? Sure. I live near some amazing trails, and my husband and I often take an hour for a nice long walk. I find this a somewhat less… irritating use of my time. Hanging out with my husband is important, and a walk is a way I enjoy doing it.

It’s still all about managing my blood sugar. If I skip a day, my fasting blood sugar spikes a couple of days later. Almost a direct correlation. It’s why I continue to exercise.

Oh yeah, I check my blood sugar every morning.

Concentrating on Health is Distracting

I can’t just… have a meal without thinking about it most of the time. I’ve always been in the habit of meal-planning and cooking, and thank goodness for it. I don’t know how someone who didn’t plan and cook a lot would handle this.

How am I going to get in my workout today? That’s a consistent question. I know, the idea is that you’re supposed to do it just like brushing your teeth. I don’t. *shrugs* The reality is that I don’t have a consistent schedule.

Here’s the thing: The mental energy that it takes to get me eating and exercising according to my health needs is mental energy I do not spend on family, work, creative projects or other things. That’s real. Perhaps there are people who have unlimited mental energy for all this. The very real reality is that I don’t. If I were in a survival situation of some sort – rotten family dynamic, job insecurity or anything like that, I don’t know that I could do this.

I can see easily how diabetes can be poorly managed from a lifestyle point of view.

So, the smug health-is-a-virtue jerks can suck it.

Unnecessary Parameters: When Good Enough is Actually Great!

Do you have goals you want to accomplish?

Do you get excited about getting something done, or reaching a milestone?

I do. I also do something else, and I’m curious if anyone else does this, too.

You’ll set a goal. Maybe you’ve joined some kind of challenge – to pick something completely at random, maybe your gym had a challenge for you to swim 50 miles by the last day of September. (Completely random, I swear). Say the challenge starts May 1.

Okay, you have five months to complete your goal. You need to swim roughly 10 miles a month, or two and a half miles a week.

Are you the type of person who would then decide, “Oh, no! That’s too easy. I’ll swim four miles a week and get done at least six weeks early!”

If you are this type of person, I have another question:

Have you ever made it too hard on yourself and quit on something because of this foolishness?

I caught myself doing it twice today. I’m in the middle of a really busy time. My client has a go-live and a lot more training to be done than usual (meaning there’s a major, major software change that I’m on the floor helping people use), I’m doing that Completely Random 50 mile swim challenge, and I’m taking a programming class.

I caught myself doing a couple of things and realizing how I was actually making a few things that are genuine challenges far more difficult obstacles than they needed to be.

I was saying I was going to swim four miles a week. Sure, I can… Some weeks, I probably will. The reality? If I get in my ten miles a month now through September, I’ll hit my goal. No biggie. I don’t need to push to do that Every. Single. Week. I will reach my goal without driving myself crazy. So, why drive myself crazy? I’ve done that before and quit.

I was also doing some extra credit work on a project for my class.

Am I done with the required work on the class?

I am not.

Do I have plenty of time to complete the required work?

Well, yeah, I do. But if I get tied up in the extra, I’m not going to finish the required stuff properly.

While excelling is important, something I’m slowly learning as I am getting older is the value of calmly plodding along. The body of work you leave behind and what you accomplish when you don’t add unnecessary parameters to what you want to get done is more impressive than the frantic nonsense you can push yourself to do.

So, are you adding unnecessary parameters to goals and making it so difficult you quit? I’m curious to see what people are encountering.

 

“Unskilled Labor” is a scam

I am very proud of these slippers.

Would I show these on Ravelry, excited about the project and expecting congratulations on my knitting prowess?

No, I would not. The reason I am proud of these is a bit subtle.

They’re just slippers. They’re made out of leftover cheap acrylic yarn made on the spur of the moment because my husband’s old slippers had died and this was a way to get him some quickly. They’re not even interestingly awful, like something cruel, informed people would snark at a craft fair. They’re just something some old lady might make sitting irrelevantly in her rocking chair.

At least, that’s the cultural narrative.

They’re also the culmination of nearly 45 years of achieving mastery in several subjects.

You see, I didn’t open up any pattern book to make them, even though I’d never knit socks in that size or with that weight of yarn before. I didn’t even use a spreadsheet to do the calculations.

The learning process for these slippers started on a snowy day when I was a child. On snow days, because they were rare and had a holiday feel to them, my mother made cookies with my brother and I. But sometimes… Well, we’d want to make more cookies than the recipe on the back of the yellow Nestle’s bag of semi-sweet morsels. That’s when Mom taught us not only how to add, but how to add fractions.

The learning process continued as I got older and wanted to learn to write a computer program. My father didn’t let me turn a computer on. Oh, no. He handed me a pencil and paper and taught me to write out what I wanted to do with that program. That’s how I learned that thinking out the design phase of a project was important, even though I didn’t think of it that way in my grammar school mind.

On the learning process went, with math teachers explaining that fractions are really ratios and how to calculate, with my mother teaching me to sew garments and dozens of books on how to create proportional irregular shapes. It went on with me reading books on clothing and how design ease worked, and how much to create for different sorts of garments. It went on with learning how to knit, and learning from other books and other knitters various skills in creating garments and the ratios that tended to be consistent across body shapes. It went on with learning to use Excel as a tool to create garments so often that I memorized certain calculations.

On, until one day, my husband needed some slippers. I asked him to tell me how long his foot was. And then…

I just gathered up some leftover yarn, pondered for a moment about some ratios and I sat down to knit. I did it as casually as you’d drink a cup of coffee and tell your family about your day, with as little conscious thought as bringing in the mail.

People call things like manufacturing and garment work unskilled labor. I know better. I also wonder what other work is really a culmination of years of various studies that we dishonor like that.

Misunderstanding the Goal of Tidiness

“What can you do to give your house a show-room shine?”

This question brought me up short.

Have I struggled for many years to develop the habits that will allow me to have a neat, clean home?

Yes.

My goal was never, not once, to have it be a home that you’d see in a magazine. I wanted decoration and color schemes that would make me happy. I wanted to be able to store my stuff neatly and logically. I wanted to let go of possessions that I no longer needed.

But the idea that I wanted my house to look… like a stage set or a picture in a magazine never once crossed my mind. Magazine articles are generic. They’re a least common denominator. That’s like having your home decorating ideal be a hotel room or something – pleasant enough, and will be close enough to most people’s tastes not to offend the eye.

What an awful way to live!

See? That’s my my view from my writin’ chair. Neat enough, sure. But is it staged as it would be as if I were selling the house? Made generic and magazine perfect? No. There are dragons and skulls and pictures and toys around that are unique to me and make me happy.

That is such an individual thing. I have dragons and yarn and books. My husband has action figures and movies and artwork he has drawn. My mother has teapots and depression glass and crystal figurines.

Sure, we want to make sure that we don’t use the sofa as a wardrobe. (Though I can remember having someone come over and there was underwear on the sofa. It can happen…) We want our bathrooms clean and our dishes washed.

But showroom shine? I don’t live in a showroom. I have a home. I like my knitting by my writin’ chair so I can pick that up and work on my projects.

The goal is to be able to get to my yarn and have a place where my knitting lives so I can grab it easily. The goal is to have clean clothes put away and dirty clothes in the hamper. The goal isn’t and should never be to have my home look static like a museum exhibit. Homes are a dynamic process, so they cannot and should not always look “perfect.”

Whatever that means.

Working

I am blessed to live in an area, that though rural, has an incredible amount of community theater.

I saw a production of a musical called Working last night. The musical is adapted from the book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, and is more a series of vignettes where characters discuss their working lives, and has some brilliant segues between different points of view.

While I enjoyed it, one scene kinda hit me between the eyes. It’s about a factory worker who makes luggage. As I was watching it, I ran my hands over a purse I bought at Wal-Mart many years ago because, well, it was cheap. I thought about all the interim steps to get that purse made, packaged, shipped to my local Wal-Mart, stocked, then checked out when I bought it. I thought about how many of those purses the person needed to make an hour to earn her (it was probably a woman, after all) wage.

The point of the musical and it’s an important one, is that every single thing you own, every product you use, every service you need, has a real, live human being doing that work. That’s an important point.

Go see the musical. It’s not just a Heavy Message. Parts will make you laugh.

Working

March 1,2,8,9,14,15,16 at 7:00 PM

March 3,10,17 at 2:00 PM

at the Briggs Opera House, White River Junction, VT

Gluttonous Reading

It has been a long time since I’ve ignored what I “ought” to be doing and dive into a book. I would occasionally treat myself to gulping down a new release by a favorite author on the day it was released. We’re talking once every other year at best if a book is released when I don’t have too much I really must get done that day. (And dammit, I am tired of the October Daye novels being released the day after Labor Day when I almost always have to be working. Looking at you, DAW. You did it again this year with The Unkindest Tide…)

Audiobooks, you see, mean that I usually don’t have to in order to enjoy a story. I can listen to a story and clean the house or cook a meal or knit a sweater. For the most part, that has been a blessing.

Except… I’m finding myself needing to read in a way I haven’t for quite literally decades. Reading like I did when I was a child and a teenager — walking around with a book, resenting mealtimes, because I was reading, dammit, reading in the bath and then getting far too hot and sprawling on my bed in a towel to cool off while I read some more. Guzzling a book in a day or less.

I’m not fighting it, because I’m pretty sure this is going to circle back to my writing eventually. And maybe I’ll have to corral it a bit because I am a grownup with Responsibilities.

So…

I’m looking for new material.

Generally, a book that sucks me in presents the reader with a Different World with New Customs. That doesn’t necessarily mean science fiction or fantasy (I loved The Chosen, after all) but that’s definitely where I find it most.

Any suggestions? The lusher and richer the worldbuilding – especially the social structure, the better.

You Win. I’m Too Tired to Fight It

I’m back to lifting weights and while I’m not as weak as I feared, I’m not as strong as I hoped. I am very sore this morning, but not as sore as I’ve been when getting cocky about how strong I was after a hiatus in lifting.

My dumbbell set is enough to carry me for about six months, I think. Then I need to decide whether or not to join a gym or buy a bench with a bar. I’m really leaning to buying the bar. The things that keep me out of the pool are a million times worse in the weight room and I’m tired of fighting it. While I need to burn some energy on my body and health, the microaggressions on being The Fat Lady Who Works Out and Never Gets Skinny are too much.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of newbies trying to make a Project out of me.

Way to go assuming my intelligence and intrinsic motivation there, cupcake.

I’m tired of the weight loss talk in the locker room.

If you’re working out an extra hour because you put whipped cream on a single slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, you don’t have the problem you think you have.

I’m tired of health being seen as a virtue.

Yes, healthy habits can be helpful. Overall health is often a crap shoot and luck plays a significantly bigger factor than you think. Ask anyone who had healthy habits and is slammed with a chronic condition.

Thing is?

I miss swimming. I’m eyeing a local college gym (I can join because my husband and I work for an affiliate organization) that is amazingly cheap, but does have crap swimming hours. Thing is, my own schedule would allow for me to swim there. I may still go back and just allow myself the indulgence of snarling at anyone who dares speak to me. I don’t really want to behave that way, but while I’m fine with flinching before diving into cool water, I’m less sanguine about flinching at the talk constantly surrounding me in the locker room.

But, ya know, I miss this: