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.

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.

 

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:

Yes, I Make My Bed

I’m reading Make Your Bed: The Little Things That Can Change Your Life…. and Maybe the World.

Things a SEAL might have to say might be things I can go along with, or things that might make me chew my lip a bit. And so this does. However, I do not necessarily have to unilaterally agree with everything an author puts down to find it valuable. (Being a Heinlein fan, the world oughta be grateful for that, just sayin’)

ADM McRaven says something quite early on in the book that rather struck me between the eyeballs.

Now, I am a bed-maker and have been since toddlerhood. Mom taught me to do so and it’s What One Does. You know things you kinda do without question? I do that. So, it was easy for me to agree with the idea that you start the day with making your bed. His commentary – that you start the day with a completed task and see the evidence of that completed task when you complete your day, really hit home to me.

I will sometimes complain of Not Having Accomplished Enough at the end of a day to have my husband send me to my Bullet Journal in irritation, telling me to review and see if my day was really as lazy as all that. (In general, it was not).

The idea that an extremely successful man in a very tough career looked to something to remind himself that he did at least one thing well that day was an interesting one and made me realize all these years I was doing only part of the task of making my bed.

Acknowledging I do it is actually important, too.

Tidy Forever: Was Marie Kondo Right?

I’ve said repeatedly that I felt the real issue with the Konmari Method was that it did not teach maintenance.

I have a detail cleaning schedule that I freely admit I snarfed and adapted from FlyLady. This week was supposed to be the floor and craft supplies in my closet. I was out of town visiting my family, so I did not do the “Little Chores” day by day as I usually do.

I was chewing on this on the train ride home, as I’ll skip cleaning closets whenever I can. I have hated cleaning out my closet since I was small.

I decided I’d just suck it up and do a week’s worth of detail cleaning in one day. I’d spent a lovely evening watching The Hunt for Red October and finishing a shawl I’d knitted on the spur of the moment for my mom. (I’m putting it in the mail for you on Monday!) With the enjoyment and relaxation of Cold War nostalgia and knitting under my belt, I felt ready for anything.

I emptied the floor of my closet, culled some craft supplies, got a stuck drawer in my craft bin unstuck, culled some bags and purses that don’t spark joy, vacuumed it, and then put everything away.

I Konmaried my house back in 2015. While I am dubious of the Tidy Forever promises, I think that Ms. Kondo has a point. I have, at least a couple of times a year, culled items from my closet that no longer sparked joy.

Even though I’d broken out the job into three planned fifteen-minute sessions spread out over a week, it really took less than half an hour.

Pre-Konmari?

That simply would not have been possible. I would have had too many possessions. Decision fatigue would have been quite real, and I would not have developed the habit of asking myself, “Does this spark joy?” and releasing any guilt I feel about releasing items I no longer want, need, or use. Nor would the “Fifteen minutes of decluttering a day” of my FlyLady days have addressed this, as I’d been doing FlyLady for a decade and a half (off and on) by then. I never addressed the closet enough to make its routine minor decluttering worth anything.

As I have stated repeatedly, I do not have a perfectly tidy home. I have a home tidy enough to make me happy and that’s all good. The public areas are far less than the fifteen minutes worth of messy at any time prescribed by FlyLady. Closets and drawers can be another matter, but I have a system to address them regularly that is much, much more useful and painless post-KonMari.

So, was Marie Kondo right? I’d love to hear your call on that!

Self-Improvement Literature

I’ve had it with self-improvement literature.

This is not because I consider Improving Oneself an unworthy goal. Rather the opposite. Ultimately, I think that it’s the second most important goal you can pursue.

The most important goal, of course, is Improving the World.

Sometimes the goals intersect. If you’re a cruel jerk, certainly learning to be kinder is going to improve the world – especially for anyone close to you.

I did figure out what it is that a lot of self-improvement literature, especially crap written by 30-something male bloggers, revolves around what I can only call status seeking behaviors involving a better body or a bigger wallet without giving even the slightest thought as to why you’d want it.

They have titles like Crushing Excellence and How to Achieve Your Dreams and Be the Most Awesome You or some nonsense.

They never, not once, ask you to ask yourself why you have the dream you do. Having achieved decades-long dreams that turned out to be damn nightmares, I think this is a real flaw in the process.

If your dream is money, why? Seriously why? How much do you need and why do you need it? Money is not a unilateral good. It’s the lack of it that sucks. So, knowing why you want a specific amount is a good thing.

A lot of times personal excellence will revolve around physical fitness. Anyone who has met me knows full well I am a big believer in exercise. Thing is, it’s not a moral thing. Being a better athlete doesn’t mean you’re a better human. Being strong or having a lot of endurance is nice, and if you’re healthy enough that exercise will give that to you, it’s wonderful to have, no doubt. But it’s hardly a moral value.

Which, I think, brings me around to my objection to a lot of “success” literature.

A lot of the literature doesn’t talk even a little bit about character. Are you kind? Are you honest? (No, kindness and honesty are not diametrically opposed) Are you the kind of person who thinks that making small improvements to the world around you is a Good Way to Live? (Quick test for the able-bodied: In what condition do you leave the shopping carts in the parking lot?)

The idea that developing one’s character isn’t even on the radar of a lot of these writers makes the whole Crush Your Goals mentality seem like a lot of cotton candy nonsense. Might taste pretty nice, but I don’t see that it has a lot of substance.

I Meant to Get Around to It

We decorated for Christmas this weekend. Yes, it is absurdly early to do so, and in general, I do not like to decorate before December 1. Our son was up for a Thanksgiving visit and we wanted to decorate while he was here.

My Bullet Journal has a note reminding me not to fuss if my husband wants a live tree this year. I didn’t say a word about the tree, figuring I’d be back to vacuuming needles out of the carpet and notes to myself to water the tree again this year. In fact, he brought up the artificial tree. I think he wasn’t up for the Christmas Tree Hunt and was perfectly content to have a Balsam and Cedar Yankee Candle for scent ambiance.

This tree is one of the ones that comes with lights attached. I love this innovation, as it makes tree set up simple. However, one set of lights wasn’t working. My son patiently traced the problem to a missing bulb. He replaced it, and All Was Bright.

As we started to decorate the tree, we took out one of our ornaments – a model of the Enterprise (NCC1701-D) that plugs in to one of the light sockets, lights up and blinks. As my son pulled it out of the box, we all grinned sheepishly, realizing the reason the bulb was missing.

So, I wrote a note in my Bullet Journal for next December that we needed to remember about the missing light. (Or not be so lazy and replace the bulb when we take down the tree…)

I don’t remember things from year to year unless we’ve been repeating it for decades. If I think of something in January, I don’t remember its importance in June.

This has always been a big downfall for me in terms of organizing my life. Make my bed? No biggie. I do that every day. Wash the dishes? Not really going to forget.

But no, it is unlikely that I’m going to remember a tidbit of information that will save us half an hour or so for something I do once a year.

It’s not necessarily trying to be “Perfect” or anything. The reality is that perfect can’t happen and I don’t worry about it any more than I try to flap my arms and fly. Ain’t happenin’.

What’s nice is that when I lose focus or lose motivation, I don’t lose track. If I spend a day not feeling arsed to get something done (hey, it happens) I don’t lose a record of the things I really do want to get done. I can have my down day, and when I’m feeling up again, I can get to the things that are important to me done.

This is an advantage over the habit-based productivity systems that I like a great deal. You know the ones where you try to develop a chain of habit doing something Every Single Day or it’s All Broken? (Or stick to the diet perfectly or eat a whole box of oreos?) I’ve tried those systems and they’re good for some things. But they don’t allow well for the variability of personal energy, mood, or the fact that emergencies happen in life. If you break the chain, sometimes the goal goes bye-bye. (Or, is that just me? I’m far too inclined to binary thinking)

This gives me something to circle back to, whether it’s housekeeping tasks, experiences I’d like to have, or just planning for things in life. With my Bullet Journal, I just plain “get around to it” a lot more because I think about what’s important to me and write it down.

It sounds so absurd, but it’s oddly powerful.

If you’ve never tried using a Bullet Journal, I highly recommend you looking at Ryder Carrol’s video. You’ll notice this isn’t the art bullet journal you see in Pinterest. This is the system I use because I’m not an artist.

Getting Rid of Should

Two years ago, I tried a new organization system – The Bullet Journal.

You’d think this is going to help you be all productive and stuff, and remember what you need to do. And so it does.

Oddly enough, that’s not why I love it. Yes, yes, yes, I have a mind like a sieve and being able to refer to things written down, to think and to plan and to have a concrete place where I keep all that planning is awesome, it really is.

That’s still not why I love it.

I love it because it lets me stop being a prisoner of “should.”

I should clean the house.

I should be working out.

I should be productive constantly.

I should make that phone call.

I should

It’s not that my house isn’t clean (it is). It’s not that I don’t get in my exercise. (I do). What the Bullet Journal has helped me do, however, is focus on what I want to do and let go of what I don’t want to do.

I get a lot more done.

When you have a Bullet Journal, one of the things you’re supposed to do is review the tasks you’ve set yourself. If you didn’t complete a task, you migrate it to the next time period (week/month/year) that you intend to do it. I promise you that once you’ve migrated a task more than three times, asking yourself, “Is this really important to me?” becomes very easy. If it isn’t important to you, it is better not to clutter the journal or your life with it. You just cross it out.

I do more things I’ve been meaning to do and just put off or let go. When I started the Bullet Journal, I’d been meaning for years to do some seasonal decorating – nothing big, just some table runners and centerpieces for my dining room with a theme for the month or season. I have that now, and it’s a small thing that makes me happy. Instead of time getting away from me, I’m living through it consciously and deliberately.

Writing down the things I wanted to do in the Bullet Journal let me focus, though, on things that seemed nifty, that I wanted to do, and wanted to experience. It put a value on them instead of just dreaming. Stuffs what are writ down are Important Stuffs, yes?

It allowed my wants to become more important. To become Projects.

To be done.

I have a hobby of making bento. I also have a hobby of going for walks on some really great groomed paths I have in my area. I’d been meaning for years to pack a couple of bento for my husband and I, taking a nice walk and having lunch in some nice spot in the woods or by a river. We’ve done it a couple of times now and we’ve enjoyed it a lot. Is it a big deal? Not really. Just a picnic, really. Not expensive, not fancy. But it’s fun and we enjoy it.

I admire living deliberately. I admire and value choosing how you are going to live and then doing it. For me, the Bullet Journal has been an incredibly powerful tool in doing so.