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.

 

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.

Have You Broken a Habit?

You’re going to die.

I was listening to an audiobook about creating the life you want that was unusually good, when this little gem came out.

Okay, true. I’m going to die. The moments I have in this world are limited. So, why am I listening to this audiobook and playing this mindless matching game? I mean, the audiobook is fine, but if I need to do something while listening, there’s that sweater I’m knitting for Peter sitting within arm’s reach. I could just as easily be knitting that and listening. Which one is Future Me going to be happier about?

I got to thinking, as is my wont, and I decided to make a rule for myself.

No listening to audiobooks and not doing something else productive.

That was the whole justification I gave myself for spending that monthly fee on the Audible account, wasn’t it, that I was going to be more productive. I can knit, clean house, go for a walk outside or on the treadmill… anything. But it must be working towards a goal or useful task of some sort. For the most part, I kinda do this. My house’s organization owes itself almost completely to audiobooks. However, it is clear I am slipping on my use of this medium. There’s just no excuse, though, for listening and playing Popit. None.

I started thinking about the hooking in a bad habit with a somewhat decent one and remembered from my teens and early twenties that I used to like to read and snack. I even used to joke if I never snacked and read, I’d be rail thin.

Thing is, I broke that habit. I’ll read and eat a meal if I’m eating alone, but in general, I don’t snack much. I’m not rail thin, either, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is, I broke that habit. Totally broke it more than fifteen years ago, and you know what? I never really noticed.

So, I have a question for all of you.

Is there a habit you have broken, but never really thought about? Maybe it deserves a little Go Me right now!

Avoiding the Post-Holiday Blues

Happy New Year!

I have hated taking down the Christmas decorations for as long as I can remember. It meant the end of the holidays. It meant that the pretty, shiny things had to go away. It typically meant gray skies (I grew up in Virginia, which is cold and rainy most of the winter) and as I got older, the austerity of New Year’s Resolutions in which I tried once again, to be some who actually had her life together.

We always took down the Christmas decorations, though close to New Year’s Day. My grandmother used to think it was bad luck for Christmas decorations to see New Year’s.  Mom wasn’t so fanatic, but we did usually take them down close to then.

So New Year’s just meant going back to the damn grind for me.

I’m not doing that this year. While I have goals I want to accomplish, that’s not special to January 1. What I am going to do instead is actually decorate for January. No, it’s not as elaborate as how we decorate for Christmas, but it is still special decorations and colors.

I’ve chosen ice colors – blues and whites and crystals for this.

I have the snowflake table runner and the cranes in the glass vase filled with blue glass gems. It’s a simple and easy centerpiece to make, and I like it. I’m still waiting for the blue candles that I ordered to arrive, and that will complete the table setting.

I put some of the leftover glass gems in crystal bowls and put a pillar candle in each one to keep with the theme.

However, I also miss Christmas lights. So, I decided to buy a strings of blue ones to use for the month of January. While the days are lengthening now that the Winter Solstice has passed, it still gets dark pretty early and will for the rest of the month. Once the sun starts setting at five in the evening, I’ll probably feel the need for strings of lights a little less.

This really didn’t take a lot of money. I did buy the glass gems, origami paper, and the fabric for the table runner, but other than that, I went searching around the house for things I already had that were blue or silver or glittery to get the effect. But I can tell you that you can often find glass bowls at the dollar store, and you can often get pretty fabric fairly cheaply.

Is this high-end decorating? No, of course it isn’t. But that’s not the point. In fact, the point is that sometimes you really need to do something special with your environment, and you’ll find if you’re creative about it, you can do something nice without necessarily dropping a lot of money.

Though am I going to have pork and black-eyed peas for good luck?  Why goodness me yes! We visit my family in Virginia every Christmas, and I’d mentioned that I needed to pick up some black-eyed peas (you can’t count on finding them in New Hampshire), and Daddy bought me a bag of them to take home.  So, yeah, making Hoppin’ John.

How Else Can They Become?

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.’

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

‘So we can believe the big ones?’

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

‘They’re not the same at all!’

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.

‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed…

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A… A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

‘Talent?’

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed…

NO. YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME?

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

Assistive Technology and Being a Grown Up

assistivetech-1

I genuinely, no kidding, need assistive technology to be a grown up. I’m 47, so I was in my thirties before I had A) the technology, and B) a system to help get around this. It is not always perfect, but this helps.

The technology means I have beepy reminders to do things. I use these for everything from making my bed and washing the dishes to making sure I work on contracts for clients and keeping up with relationships with people I care about.

Thing is, as anyone who has this problem knows, beepy reminders are not enough. You’ll go down a rabbit hole chasing something that isn’t important pretty quick and still not solve everything.

I have to combine this with a pretty strict schedule. If I don’t stick to it, my llfe falls apart. My schedule would seem crazy and oppressive to someone who doesn’t share my issues. It deals with bedtimes, when to do paperworky stuff like calling for and scheduling appointments and doing bills, making sure I get enough exercise, making sure I take some time to do something chosen at a whim, making sure I contact people that are important to me or doing the shopping and even scheduling opportunities for naps (I need a lot of sleep)

It helps a lot. I find I need something from the store? Its goes on the list for my scheduled shopping day. Barring an emergency, I only shop then. I get a bill I need to deal with, or some other taxy-kinda thing? It goes on my pile for Paperwork time. (Filing Time comes after Paperwork time). Tasks are broken down into very small units and I’ll think ahead to plan out what is needed for each step of a task to make sure I have what I need for the task before I go on. And yes, Plan Tasks has its own place on my schedule.

Thing is, if you see me in an office situation, you’ll think I’m really organized and together. I worked for a man for THREE YEARS who thought I was really organized and had this great memory until he played a joke on me before my last day, asking for some work I’d never agreed to do. I didn’t catch that he was being outrageous and goofy because I was automatically going to my computer to look up what I’d agreed to do and see what progress I’d made on it. He was surprised when I confessed to him that I had a system to take care of stuff because I get so distracted and can’t remember things.

Some people can just DO this stuff. My mom can. She sees dirt or clutter, and she just CLEANS it, and doesn’t get distracted. I can’t do that. it isn’t NATURAL to me, so I had to develop some very rigid routines to take care of it instead. To someone who does not have my problems, it probably seems like a terribly regimented way to live. In some ways, it is.

But the house is clean (enough), I get enough exercise, bills get paid and paperwork followed up on. That things get taken care of is better for me than the anxiety and confusion I experience when I do not have these rigid systems in place.

You Don’t Have to be Beautiful

I’m tired of the “All Bodies are Beautiful” rhetoric.

Why?  There’s still the goddamned pressure to think of yourself as beautiful above anything else.

Am I beautiful?  As in photogenic?

Hell no.

Does that mean I feel badly about my looks?

Not unless I have to deal with some asshole deciding to be mean to me because I’m not beautiful, and therefore need to be punished for it in his eyes.

And that’s exactly the point.  If we do the “all bodies are beautiful” thing, what we’re really saying is that beauty is the most important value to have, and trying to make people who aren’t physically beautiful focus on that as the important value.

I’m not beautiful.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s cool for people who are, and goodness knows they should enjoy it.  I enjoy being smart.  I enjoy being determined.  I enjoy that partners find me attractive.  (Beauty and charisma are two very different things. Charisma is a skill, and yes, I can turn that on if I want to).  I am blessed with a strong, agile body and I love that.

Do I like my body?

Good heavens, YES!  I am an extremely physical person and yes, I like my body.  I love the way it feels when I pull through the water during a swim.  I love the agility of my fingers as I knit.  I love dancing and letting my body and mind merge with music.  I love the way I can use facial expressions to communicate volumes without saying a word.  I love the feel of well-tailored fabric and admire the way good clothes move with my body.

I love these things independent of any aesthetic view of my body, and it takes the pressure off to be goddamned “beautiful” all the time.

‘Cause, come on, I’ve got stuff to do!

springscream

What if Happiness Isn't an Emotion?

I’ve often talked about love not being an emotion, but a set of behaviors, a commitment, and a way of interacting. That’s true. Sure, sure, emotions are included in that, but it is not the sum total of what love is.

One thing I’ve often pondered, chewed on and driven myself crazy with is the idea that happiness is an emotion and there’s something wrong because I don’t often feel it.

What if happiness (as in a state of being with one’s life) is like love, and actually an emotion, but a state of being over time that has to do less with actual emotion and more to do with life and choices in relationship to it?

(I know this is weird, but stay with me here. I just asked this question about thirty seconds ago when my To-do Beepy Reminder went off to tell me it was time to get some writing done. This is not a planned-out essay.)

There is some background to this. I am always looking at systems for things. It’s just kind of the way I am built. If there’s an underlying logic or method to doing or being, I’m going to run in that direction. It’s just the way I am, and in general, I like it that way.

So, I was feeling kind of upset and depressed and frustrated about things a few months ago when I downloaded a mood monitoring app for my smartphone. (How Are You mood tracker. You can get it on Google Play, I know).

You’re asked to rate your mood on several criteria — how determined and ready to act you feel, how frustrated you feel, etc. You get a beepy reminder to do this three or so times a day, and the results were kind of interesting to me.

No, more than interesting. They were an uncomfortable revelation.

My mood was pretty consistently above 70% on the scale as an average. Oh, sure, it dipped from time to time, but overall, my mood as I was self-rating in the moment was generally pretty damn high. You’re asked if you’re feeling: Alert, Hostile, Friendly, Determined, Active, and a couple of other things I forget. It’s nine different questions, anyway. You have this circle slider where you drag to estimate how much of each of the different states of being you’re feeling at that moment.

I just took the test and it had my mood at 86%. Now, I’ve been pondering Life, the Universe and Everything most of the morning, and it’s a gray day, so I wouldn’t have said I’m all that happy at the moment.

But, maybe I’m tagging the wrong state of being as happy. I mean, the test could be a load of crap, but I’m wondering if my point of view is really what’s been messed up. I’m wondering if I’m mapping joyful to happy, and happy is a quieter thing. Seriously. To me, happy is being on a boat on the ocean or being at the beach or swimming or finishing writing a novel or teaching a class or knitting something or being with my family.

Maybe those things are better than happy. Maybe those things are joyful. Which is cool, ’cause I get a lot of joyful stuff in my life, and that’s pretty awesome.

But if happy is really more about some ratio of Attentiveness, Determination, Active, and Inspired over Upset, Hostile, Nervous, Afraid, Ashamed (yes, I looked it up rather than guessed), Determination, Attentiveness and Inspiration are almost always pretty strongly present in my mental landscape. They’re gonna be there whether or not I am feeling what *I* would call a positive mood in the moment. That means, I’m going to be rated as “happy” by this scale more often than not.

While I’d never really considered myself a particularly positive person, I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe I kinda am, and while I’m moody as hell, that may have less to do with my overall state of being than once I thought. Maybe it’s like waves, you know? They knock you down, or you dive under them, but if you know how to swim, and pay attention to the push and pull of the water, you generally can cope and even have fun with them.

Maybe it’s like my view of love, and happiness isn’t entirely an emotion, but a amalgam of many sometimes conflicting things, just like swimming in the ocean can be.

Whether or not it’s true, it kind of makes me feel better about Life, the Universe and Everything.

Is Housekeeping an Avoidance Technique?

Last night I found myself getting annoyed with someone being Wrong on the Internet. Instead of focusing on it, I cleaned a couple of brass candlesticks I have.

I’m looking at these candlesticks now, shining brightly in the morning light, and I got to thinking about how often I use productivity as a distraction from negative emotion.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider this essentially a flaw. In fact, I consider it mostly a good thing, as it means when I am feeling something I don’t like, I can go do something else.

If, of course, there is nothing serious that needs to be done about the negative thing.

That’s the rub. There are a couple of extremes in dealing with stuff in life that I really try to avoid. The first is ruminating. I’m good at ruminating. In fact, I am so good at it that I don’t think a got a proper night’s sleep in my life until I developed the habit of listening to audiobooks to go do sleep to, and to lull me back to sleep when I wake at night.

Lest you think this is a crutch and smarm at me about what I’d do if I cannot have the audiobooks, I will point out that I did develop a non-technological solution that works just as well when needed.

I re-write the endings to books that ended in a way I didn’t like. Gone with the Wind, believe it or not, has given me endless fodder for plot points in which Scarlett gets a damn clue and grows up. This puts me back to sleep without ruminating.

Do I think that I have a tendency to pick books that have some sort of bearing on my Current Issue in some way and am actually solving a problem? Almost certainly. But the fiction gives me an emotional remove that allows me to go to sleep and let my subconscious deal with it and me to get some damn sleep.

So, I go through a lot to prevent ruminating. I’m okay with that. The alternative is pretty unpleasant.

Isn’t that sticking your head in the sand? What about Scarlett O’Hara thrusting away anything unpleasant with the whole, “I’ll think about that tomorrow” thing she did?

You do bring up a good point. This tool isn’t about ignoring problems. Notice that when I got annoyed last night and went to polish some candlesticks, that it was something I genuinely couldn’t do anything about. I’m not recommending this for things you can do something about. That would be irresponsible and it would be sticking your head in the sand about the issue.

I think the problem is at least in part our emotional makeup is very instantly reactive. In a living situation of low technology and high danger, it pretty much needs to be. That’s how we evolved, isn’t it? Being jumpy is a survival trait when you’re dealing with snakes crawling over you in your sleep and lions chasing you when you were just trying to catch dinner. Reacting with heavy emotion in a big and obvious way to the negative keeps you alive! Seeing as much of the negative as possible is likewise.

It’s not quite as useful in my air-conditioned office or upholstered living room and my full fridge.

We live in a more complex world now, and our survival trait of seeing and noticing the negative and having a serious need to do something about it RIGHT NOW just doesn’t serve as useful a purpose when problems need careful though an analysis. Nor is the emotional activation doing as much good when you’re not prepping your muscles to run away from a hippo.

That doesn’t mean that you should let things slide, though. If you have a problem, it’s fine to ask yourself, “Is this something I can do something about in this second?” Sometimes it is. And yes, the responsible thing is definitely to do something then. Do as much of the paperwork as you have the information for, make the appointment to get the car fixed, etc.

But after that? The responsible thing to do is to find something else you can do something about.

So, do I question whether or not I use chores as pseudo-productivity and an escape from something more difficult to deal with? You bet I question it!

Even so, I do think it is useful, because at least one of the problems I am dealing with isn’t unpleasant surroundings.

Is it Rude to Say No?

I’m running across something that is making me squirm a little bit. It seems that we have messed up badly in teaching the younger generation (and goodness knows my generation has its own issues) about an aspect of manners that is going to make it really hard on them.

There is this huge frustration I am seeing in the 18-24 crowd because they seem to have been taught that the act of saying no is aggressive and shows bad manners.

I am not a paragon of good manners. I was taught them and I do not always practice them. Not the fault of my teachers *grin* but a personal failing that I recognize.

However…

Good manners is a great tool for setting boundaries. It’s bad manners to answer the phone during a meal because you’re supposed to put your attention on the people present. It’s bad manners to use mealtime to hold someone captive for a harangue because it is supposed to be time to interact pleasantly. Yes, parents using mealtime to yell at you for bad grades was bad manners. They’re supposed to call you on the carpet for that at another time. Indeed, the expression comes from the idea that you’d be standing on the carpet in your father’s study to be scolded. NOT in the dining room. (Dad didn’t have a study. I got scolded in my bedroom)

Let’s take the invitation. Good manners requires that you ANSWER the invite. It does not require you to say yes. If you want to/are able to go, you say, “Yes, thank you!” The no does require a few more words. You have to thank ’em for asking. Then you say you’re sorry you can’t come. You may volunteer a reason if you really want to, but you’re not required to, and the host is not supposed to ask for a reason.

All right, what about hugging. It’s bad manners not to want to hug someone, right?

As a matter of fact, indiscriminately wrapping your arms around people is not only horrible manners, Miss Manners herself would describe it as assault. Offering is okay, sure. But refusing the hug is perfectly fine manners. I don’t much like hugging strangers, myself. I stick my hand out to create some space and make it obvious that the touching I am okay with is a handshake. Good control of facial expression, especially around the eyes, can make this kindly and warm.

LOL. If I had my way, we’d move to the Asian greetings that don’t require touching strangers, but that’s not current North American etiquette.

Good manners was never meant to get people to knuckle under to poor behavior. The point of good manners is to help people get along. Part of getting along is having a way for people to say no to things gracefully. But good manners doesn’t even require that you sweeten a no. Good manners does not require that you answer the door every time someone knocks. It does not require that you answer the phone on every ring. It does not require that you respond to every request for money, nor does it require that you say yes to every invitation.

In fact, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, she says, “In fact, etiquette has no such requirement. The mistake arises from the fact that it does recognize that one has duties toward others, which is why it will not put up with such duty-dodging attempts as “Why should I thank Grandma for the check just because she wants me to?” And it does require being polite to others, even when they are no role models themselves.

“But that is a far cry from declaring that courtesy means taking everybody else’s orders.”

I know people tend either to love or hate Miss Manners, but I adore her. She’s no doormat and has an utterly wicked sense of humor. One of the things she cautions about in the chapter on saying no politely is that people usually get themselves in trouble when they try to explain themselves saying no.

So, for what it is worth, yes, one should learn to say no, and do so politely. That usually consists of a “No, thank you.” or some such then shutting ones mouth. She encourages a warm and regretful smile and possibly that’s not a bad idea. And the non-verbal “no” that is common in many cultures? No US culture (nope not even the South) requires it, so we’re off the hook for this.