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.
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.
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!
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.
As I commented in Wake Up Calls and Why I’m Going to Smack You, I was diagnosed with prediabetes in June. People can choose lots of different ways to deal with this, depending on taste, medical needs and so on. I chose the diet route and went on a ketogenic diet.
In June, my a1c was 6.0. Last week, when I got it tested, I found that six months of pretty dedicated focus (I cheated twice – once at the beach and ate some watermelon, and once on a cruise where I ate ¼ c. of vanilla ice cream) I’m down to 5.7, which is borderline to normal.
You have to cook, and you have to plan your meals in advance a lot. You can’t figure on just picking up something to eat just any time. You need to plan and know what you’re going to eat.
Now, I have a hobby making bento, which is good. I can pack a decent meal in a small container with no real big deal. The thing is, I don’t have as good a habit of making ketogenic finger food as I could.
In pondering how to make a ketogenic bento tasty and interesting, I was pondering some mini sweet peppers in the grocery store today and thinking that I’d made up some chicken salad. Then got to thinking, “Hey, those stuffed with chicken salad would be doggone tasty and keto-friendly, too!”
I could give a recipe, but honestly, I pretty much wing it with chicken salad. I shred some cooked chicken, salt and pepper it, toss in some shredded onion and celery then use Duke’s mayonnaise because that’s the only real stuff on the market that’s not all sugar-laden and nasty. I mix in enough that all the ingredients bind nicely.
Ideally, you should let this sit overnight in the fridge, so the flavors will marry, but I didn’t for this.
If you like sweet peppers and you like chicken salad, this is great ketogenic finger food.
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.
I am trying to think of a project for November. I might very well do NaNoWriMo, as I have nothing better on my mind.
I haven’t the slightest idea what I want.
Or rather, what I want that seems to be Worthy of Doing.
All these productivity books and inspirational material and all that smack? They talk about that damn Robert Frost poem. Let me tell you, I’ve done things that were out of the norm. Just being out of the norm, just being extraordinary, doesn’t blasted well make something worth doing. I mean, sure, sure, it might be.
But it might not.
Figart Consulting? Sure, sure, I get a charge out of my “office” folding up in my purse so that I can work anywhere. In my pajamas, on a train, on a balcony at the beach. That’s all awesome.
But without self-control, it means you’re working everywhere, which isn’t necessarily a great thing.
So what about some of the other writing projects or community building I’ve participated in?
Yeah, sure, that was worthwhile, though I cannot say that ultimately the circumstances surrounding their creation were particularly happiness-inducing. I learned a lot and left a body of work behind me that has been stated to be worthwhile from some sources that are more than a little flattering.
And that’s all cool. But when trying to think about what to do with one’s life and one’s time, sometimes I think the advice we get doesn’t make much sense. A lot of it seems to be a bit too much centered around what other people are going to think about you when you’re gone.
You know what?
In general, even people you had a great effect on aren’t going to give you an extraordinary amount of thought after you’re gone. I’m not talking about close personal relationships here. I mean the wider world.
Take Heinlein. I cried when I heard he died, yes. His work had a deep and profound effect on my life. His life? That effect meant nothing to him. It couldn’t. He never knew I existed. He died before the effects of his work on me could make themselves known in the world. Hell, he might have rolled his eyes or been horrified at what I’d done with his work and his ideas.
I think, other than attempting to be kind (and God, can you misjudge THAT!), you can’t live your life with an eye to your legacy. It makes your days anxious, empty and unsure.
But even so, our lives are limited. What makes the actual hours one lives worthwhile? Making stuff? I find extraordinary pleasure in making stuff, yes. I have a skull table runner on a black tablecloth right now that I made for my October decorations and they make me happy. I feel good that I did it, and I had fun doing it.
Does it benefit anyone in the wider world? Not really. I have this home I keep neat and orderly and nicely decorated, and the only reason I do it is that it gives me pleasure to be in it. I rarely have company, so few people see it.
Knitting? I get sweaters I like out of it, and that’s nice. That’s not Road Less Traveled stuff, though. There really won’t be much of a legacy going on because I knitted my husband a Slytherin Sweater while listening to Spinning Silver (BTW, the audiobooks is extraordinarily well done).
Working out? Certainly, I like having a body that’s strong enough for my needs. I want my blood sugar to go down, so I’m dieting. That’s less a project and more health maintenance. I’d like to put off the day I must go on insulin as long as possible. So far, so good. That’s a nice goal, but hardly Great Work.
“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” — The Hobbit, or there and back again, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The reality? I love my quiet life and my little hobbit hole. And I feel vaguely guilty about loving it, as if loving that little life is really copping out somehow. I think that’s why I am starting to chew my lip at the Excellence Literature that we’re seeing. It’s as if this quiet life is somehow not worthy, even when it was chosen with open eyes and on purpose!
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.
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.
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!
The rhetoric around people solving health problems with a lifestyle component make me nuts. I mean like, I have to go get face down in a pool for an hour or something or “I’m going to start throwing punches” nuts.
You see this crap all the time.
Angela from East Nowhere, OH lost 70 lbs and this is how she did it!
Hi, I’m Angela, a 33-year-old mother of two who has a business embalming deceased laboratory mice as an art supply for PETA demonstrations. I was happy enough but of course I’d gained some weight after having my two perfect children. When I went to the doctor, imagine my shock to find that my blood pressure was 270/110. It was such a wake-up call.
I decided I had to make a change in my life, so I could be a good mommy and a good example to my kids because I didn’t want them to be embarrassed by having a fat mom, so I started running marathons and eat only the finest produce picked by virgin elves under the light of the full moon when the dew has just fallen on alternate Wednesdays. I’ve given up television and am so embarrassed at all the evenings I spent watching Game of Thrones and eating a bowlful of candy.
Life is so much better now and I’m full of energy and my marriage is wonderful now that I’m a size six again. I look forward to my salads and springwater, and nothing wakes me up like a ten mile run in the sleet!
See, I’ve had a health scare, and yeah, it has a lifestyle component. (It has a genetic one, too, mind. No-one ever talks about that part).
I went for a doctor’s checkup and I’m prediabetic.
Did I decide to make some changes? Why, of course I did. I’d much rather try the lifestyle thing if at all humanly possible because managing blood sugar on insulin is a lot bigger pain in the ass than swimming a few miles a week, lifting some weights, and steering clear of the pasta. Sorry, candy and Game of Thrones never was part of my lifestyle, though I’ll admit being a writer and editor is sedentary as hell. I’ve always been pretty good about getting at least those CDC recommended 150 minutes a week of exercise. It must be showing on my heart indicators, because even my doctor believed me! I just upped the amount I’m getting and am trying a ketogenic diet for a while. (Rare steak, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and strawberries with whipped cream. Oh yes, pity me…)
The thing is, that subtext from Angela’s testimonial (and isn’t the evangelical term testimonial a big damn red flag) is that she became more moral and a better human from doing these things. Terms like “wake up call” and the “I’m so proud of you” condescending nonsense you get from people really says to me that there is a better way to look at it.
We don’t need to witness about focusing on one’s health, friends. Look at it like an engineering problem and take the emotion out of it. What do the peer-reviewed studies actually say? Read them. Health articles often overstate lifestyle stuff because it sells magazines and supplements. Would you buy a diet from Angela? Should you be getting your health advice from someone whose self-contempt was that strong?
I have a problem, yes. I am applying a solution, absolutely, but don’t witness at me or ask me to witness.
This picture was taken some time in 1969, I think. Daddy’s feeding me. Of course, right? Daddies take care of babies.
That’s what I internalized as a young child, anyway.
I didn’t learn until sometime later than Daddy’s involvement in my brother, and my care was a little unusual for the time. He changed diapers. He got up in the night with children. He was there for bathtime and cuddling and putting to bed routines. Well, sometimes the evening wrestling matches with Daddy got us too spun up to sleep, but hey, they were fun!
He did what we accept now as something any parent would do – be involved with and care for the kid. It wasn’t just Daddy being there for playtime, as obviously, he was, but Daddy being there for routine care, too.
However, if he were out and about with us, but without Mom, some man was sure to comment, “Babysitting the kids today?”
That used to drive him up a wall. As far as he was concerned, parents don’t babysit. They care for their kids. Yeah, fathers, too!
This was a time when there were fathers who’d brag they’d never changed a diaper – as if that’s something to brag about. It was a time when plenty of men considered it okay to work, come home and zone out in front of the TV while Mom got the kids to bed.
Dad wasn’t trying to be a feminist, I think. When we’ve talked about it, what Daddy generally says is that he wanted to be involved with us and considered the work of caring for us as part of that.
I consider myself lucky to have had a nurturing father.