This is the time of year when, like many people, I do the majority of my goal-setting and strategic planning. Your Best Year Ever is a great companion for this process. Michael Hyatt starts by asking why fewer than ten percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them, and what might be wrong with that process if it generally fails. A healthy mix of skepticism and optimism provide for the ideal planning mindset.
Your Best Year Ever puts its own spin on some standard goal-setting tools. Many people are familiar with the ‘life wheel,’ which usually divides areas of life into eight categories. This book offers a chart with ten Life Domains, providing more nuance. Another upgrade is the familiar acronym SMART, for “specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.” This book asks us to make our goals SMARTER, for “specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant.” That alone might make a difference for those of us who tend to get stuck on commonplace goals like “lose ten pounds” or “get organized.” Choose risk and excitement if you’re looking for that hidden motivation!
A strong feature of the book is the structured review process. For the previous year, go over what went well and what didn’t, and think about both what you have to regret and where you can feel grateful. Where are limiting beliefs and scarcity thinking holding you back? During the coming year, pause each quarter and review your goals. Use the five R’s: Rejoice, Recommit, Revise, Remove, or Replace. It’s hard to express how important this is in strategic planning, the flexibility to adjust goals in the face of reality. For instance, the year I started running, my goal was to run 2.25 miles, but I reached it in six weeks rather than twelve months. That goal became both a Rejoice and a Revise.
Choosing appropriate goals can be trickier than it looks. This is partly because many of us feel like we have to choose from a set list of boringly ordinary goals, like “clean the garage.” Ugh. Your Best Year Ever recommends that we stay out of the Comfort Zone, choose goals in the Discomfort Zone, and also stay out of the Delusional Zone. For me that might be going camping for a weekend, planning a week-long backpacking expedition, and climbing Mt. Everest. Thinking about that Discomfort Zone in the middle makes me excited, and it makes me want to upgrade my workout, organize my gear, save money, clear my schedule, and start calling my friends, which are all great supporting goals. Uh oh, I think I just talked myself into a little discomfort!
Young people are more likely to reach their goals. Why is that? I would have guessed that young people would be too busy and too broke to make goals, while older people would use their experience, skills, earning power, and planning ability to get things done. The sad truth is that as time goes by, we disappoint ourselves by not achieving everything we set out to do, and we lose faith in ourselves. We give up. This can only be because we don’t understand how to use the goal-setting and review process to actually make our dreams come true. Also, we give in to the Law of Diminishing Intent, which says that the longer we wait, the less likely we are to do something. This is one of the reasons I use December and January for strategic planning; without a deadline, I’d never have any momentum and nothing I ever dreamed would find its way into the time dimension.
If you only read one planning book, this is a very strong contender. What if all you were ever missing was a little more structure to your process? Take a look at it, and hopefully you’ll make 2019 Your Best Year Ever.
Doubt is a goal toxin.
...if you already have everything you need to achieve your goal, then your goal’s probably too small.
Regret is a powerful indicator of future opportunity.
Agency sees an obstacle and says, “I can overcome this,” while entitlement complains about not being done yet.
Many people feel stuck or fail to make progress because they can’t make the connection between their yearly goals and their daily tasks.
I never met the goal police, but I’m certain they don’t show up when you strike a goal off your list.
NEVER LEAVE THE SCENE OF CLARITY
WITHOUT TAKING DECISIVE ACTION.
The secret to Doing All the Things is to put as much of it as possible on autopilot. Anything you can do without thinking, you can do while watching Netflix, listening to a podcast, or talking on the phone. It’s those pesky decisions that trip us up. Postponed decisions automatically turn into clutter, overflowing email inboxes, junk hours spent scrolling through queues and playlists without choosing something to watch, and delayed dinners. Here’s a new way to quickly and easily separate out the easy stuff from the stuff that, you know, actually takes brain power.
I’m a decisive person in general. Most people are, at least about certain things. We can take one look at someone’s outfit and know we’d never be caught dead in that, unless of course we have a lot of friends who are into prank videos. Same with menu items we know we wouldn’t prod with a fork unless there was a cash prize on the line. We can harness this inner decisiveness and use it to cut more hassle and mess out of our lives.
There are three areas where I tend to get hung up on decisions, and those are social events, launching new projects, and anything that requires spending money. These tend to clutter up my email if I let them. I deal with these in different ways.
First, there’s policy. Set a policy that works for you in every area of your life and you’ll rarely have to make a decision again.
Launching new projects is my default mode. I’m much more likely to start something than to finish it. Gradually I’ve trained myself that I can’t start anything new until I’m done with my current project. Instead of launching multiple projects, I have a master list. Every time I have a red-hot new idea, I add it to the list and take notes so I can come back to it later. I still have this compulsion to want to dip my paintbrush into all of them for a few seconds each, so I have to keep reminding myself, not yet, not yet. Nothing on this list will ever be more than an idea unless I focus and finish, one at a time.
This includes ideas of my own creation, but it also includes projects that other people wave in front of me. Learn a new language! Take this online class! Try this new workout! Buy this cookbook! I’ve had to learn to recognize that anything I would do here in the Time Dimension will displace any other time-bound activities. Thus, it’s a project.
Social events might include anything from a local event or concert to a club contest, a martial arts seminar to a webinar, a party to a Vegas show. If I’m considering it at all, it’s because it seems like fun. It can be draining to try to go to everything, though, and I don’t always know at that moment if my husband will be on business travel or whatever. As soon as I get an invite to something like this, I immediately move it to a folder called Decisions. Then I make a note to bring it up at our Saturday morning status meeting.
Once we have a list of these events on one screen and a calendar on another, we can bang out decisions for the week in just a few minutes. “Oh, wait, these are both on the same day in two different cities. Never mind.”
My financial policy is that we save 40% of our income, and we’re aiming for more. If I’m actually spending money on anything at all, I have to feel like it’s truly worth it. If I see something online that I might want to buy, I save the link to a folder called ‘Shopping.’ I check it at birthdays and holidays for gift ideas. I also save small household items on a list on Amazon because our pet food is an add-on that requires an additional purchase.
I don’t tend to see things I want to buy in stores because I almost never go shopping. Grocery store, yes; anywhere else, I avoid. 1. I have better things to do; 2. I hate mall kiosks with a burning passion; 3. Makes it easier to meet our financial goals. The policy on shopping is:
Only buy something if you:
Can explain why you need it
Can afford it
Know where you’re going to put it
Know how to clean it
Often I wait so long to buy something I’ve seen that when I go back for it, it’s been discontinued. This has created problems when I’ve tried to buy sweaters, sandals, and other seasonal items, so I’m trying to adjust my expectations here.
Other types of decisions tend to confound people. A lot of time is burned up through dithering. This is time that could have been used beautifully, through napping, talking to a friend, reading a book, organizing a small area of the home, cooking a meal, or otherwise creating a little lifestyle upgrade. Instead, it’s waffling back and forth. What do I watch? What do I eat? Where do I go? What do I do next?
One way to look at this banquet of exciting options is as a never-ending mental puzzle. Eh, that doesn’t work so well. Another way to look at it is that we don’t have to decide at all, because we can’t possibly lose. No matter what we pick, it will be at least a three-star experience. If we vet our choices well enough, we can bump it up to four- or five-star options at all times. And we can fit in at least one more thing if we quit wasting, what, half an hour a day trying to make up our minds?
What’s for dinner? Make a list of your ten favorite dinners/restaurants and then just close your eyes and pick one.
What do I watch? This is such a non-decision I can barely think about it. Just click on the next thing in your queue and go with it. If you don’t like it after five minutes, delete it and never go back. Just pick the next one. It’s not like there won’t be any new shows or movies next month. Or maybe kill your watch list for a month and see how much more you get done.
What do I read? Same thing. I have something like 1800 selections on my library wish list, which is embarrassing, but it does mean I’ll never run out of great things to read. There’s a tab for ‘Available Now,’ so my only real decision is between audio or text. When I run across something new that’s a higher reading priority, I just put it on hold, and the decision is made for me when it becomes available.
What do I wear? Get rid of 80% of your clothes and see how much easier this gets. My capsule wardrobe works like this: Fits and looks fine today. Works with at least three other items. Goes through washer and dryer. Does not need ironing or dry cleaning. Has pockets? Once I’ve bought something that fits all my criteria, I have only one wardrobe decision. Suitable for day’s weather?
Decisions are easy when you’re basically comfortable with your life as it is. Most decisions are incredibly trivial. Which shirt do I wear, what dinner do I eat, what book do I read next? Come on. Compared to real decisions like whether to quit your job or go in for surgery, these are simple. Automate and free up more time for enjoyment.
This is a story about a cosmic joke. It’s a detective story. It’s a story about self-awareness. Most of all, it’s a story about why I got the common cold eight times in 2018 and what I did about it.
Every year, I go through a really elaborate goal-setting process at the New Year. I publish it on my blog and then I post quarterly check-ins. Part of my annual review has included choosing a mantra or theme for the upcoming year, and last year it was ‘PAUSE AND BREATHE.’ I’ve been regretting this.
What I intended was that I would spend more time in deliberation, making sure I was using strategy to plan how I spent my time. I thought this would help me to be both better rested and more productive. Maybe I’d also get into meditation, something that has eluded me in the past.
What actually happened was that I kept getting sick, and getting sick, and getting sick. I had more time to pause (on bed rest) and focus on my breathing (or lack thereof) than I ever have in my life.
After the eighth go-round, I was understandably pretty frustrated with this. I called the advice nurse, who put me on with a physician, who ordered some labs and suggested that I get a physical. I managed to see a doctor in person the very next day, and this is how it went.
I tend to see doctors as peers. That’s because we’re typically both Type A alpha nerds. We might have been study partners if we had known each other in school. Most of my doctors have been women. We wind up being about the same age (mid-forties), fit, ambitious, brainy, reality-based, and dealing with the same problems of trying to turn a 24-hour day into 36 or 48. Often my doctor of the moment will wind up taking advice from ME, like one who started doing century bike rides, another who got into triathlon, and another who signed up for kickboxing. This particular one will most likely be going home to talk FIRE (financial independence, retire early) with her husband.
“I’ve had the common cold eight times this year, five times just since August, and I’m starting to be concerned that it’s more than just a cold.” I went on to catalog some of my alternate hypotheses: immune system problems, allergies, asthma, an abnormal sinus? That’s the problem with common symptoms like coughing, headache, or a skin rash. Is it a fungus, bacterial, viral, tuberculosis, mold, cancer, did I inhale a LEGO brick in 1979? I go in with the understanding that a diagnosis starts with guesswork and thrives on data. I bring the verifiable, testable, quantifiable metrics that I know how to track.
The blood tests indicate that my immune system is functioning normally. That’s great news in one sense and a bummer in another. If there’s nothing WRONG-wrong with me, then it must be something common, and if my real problem is the common cold, I’m hosed.
The doctor goes on to rule out allergies and asthma. Also good news, especially because like most people I’d rather not have to choose between my health, my sanity, and my pets.
We spend a few minutes talking about hygiene and hand-washing. Fifteen seconds, right? I mention that I want to make sure I’m not somehow skipping a step, like everyone else is using an extra soap nobody told me about. Nope. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, don’t touch your face, got it.
“What kind of work do you do?” That’s a fair question. It stands to reason that a hermit in a cave won’t have the same exposure risk as the couriers for the clinical laboratory where I used to work, or a kindergarten teacher, or a janitor at the airport.
I mention that I work at home, but I do ride the bus and travel a lot. I read that people who ride mass transit have a six times greater chance of getting the common cold. My doctor finds this impressive, and I can tell that she’s going to check this out in the literature at her first opportunity. We talk out the idea of wearing a surgical mask on the bus, and she suggests maybe gloves as well. She says that when someone coughs, it can spread over 25 feet, and hang in the air for a few minutes. “Someone could cough, and you could walk around the corner and never even see them, and you could pick it up.”
That means every bus coach, every airplane, every train car, every escalator...
Then she asks about my stress level. Um. Well. My husband has been traveling, and I only see him three days a week, and my dog just got diagnosed with a liver tumor... and I haven’t really been sleeping well all year...
I share about my diet, that we make an effort to eat significant amounts of cruciferous vegetables. We’ll eat an entire head of cauliflower or broccoli, for example. “In one sitting?” she asks, incredulous. Yup, in one sitting. My previous lab work is exemplary for lipids, glucose, etc.
The doctor tells me about a colleague who got sick twice a month for nine months. She worked in the hospital, she had two little kids, and she wasn’t getting enough rest. She thought there was something seriously wrong with her, but it was just her exposure to sick people combined with stress and lack of sleep.
What it comes down to is that no matter how healthy my diet is, how scrupulous I am in washing my hands and avoiding touching my face, how big our home air filter is, I’m still vulnerable to the common cold. I’m vulnerable because I don’t get enough sleep, because my stress level is too high, and because I regularly place myself in major transit hubs.
A quarter-million people a day go through the LA Metro, and around 600,000 a day go through LAX, an airport through which I travel maybe a dozen times a year. All those people are breathing and touching things. The bus I ride the most often happens to be the airport route, compounding the problem.
I suggest a full-body sneeze guard, then realize that this would be more like a phone booth or a giant hamster ball. This helps me to realize that wearing a paper mask (and maybe gloves) might be slightly less weird.
The thing about wearing a surgical mask in public is that it changes everything. People can and will sit down right next to you and cough, yeah. Other than that, it’s almost like dressing as a nun. You don’t get panhandled, you don’t get catcalled, street harassers ignore you for once. People won’t even ask you what time it is. It’s the closest thing I’ve found for a universal symbol that says “please leave me alone.” In other words, it suits me.
This is what I’ve learned in my quest to understand that dastardly curse known as the common cold. If you have a moist (runny, sniffling) nose, it makes you more vulnerable to the cold virus. A supplement with B6 and zinc really does seem to shorten cold duration and help with the draggy, flu-ey feeling, as backed up by research from Oregon State University. Hand-washing is extremely important but it won’t protect you from inhaling other people’s coughed and sneezed airborne germs. Sleep really does matter. It may be the key component of a functional immune system.
I’ve done what I always do when faced with a frustrating health problem. I go to the research. I read as much as I can. I track my own symptoms and try to analyze my behaviors, assuming that I am doing something incorrectly or that there is a factor within my control. When I go to the doctor, I tend not to get the “final answer,” but I do have an opportunity to check my hunches with the cutting edge of professional opinion. Talking to doctors has honed my analytical methods. It wasn’t a doctor’s specific advice that helped me beat my thyroid nodule, or migraine, or night terrors, but it was learning from the way that doctors search for clues and speculate as to a diagnosis. The difference is that I have 24 hours a day to analyze myself and my health metrics, and nobody other than me does. Nobody else has the motivation that I do to change my behaviors and work toward better health.
Now we’re going into 2019. I’ll pause and breathe as I work on my annual review and my plans for the upcoming year. I’ll go through the winter with my new knowledge. If you see me in a surgical mask, wave hello, but please don’t give me a high five.
Rounding out the year, ready for a season of celebration and mass partying, it’s time to take a look at all your open loops. Closed loops, too, of course - you want to give yourself credit for everything you’ve done and everything that went well. As you dance into the New Year, you want to ask yourself, how much unfinished business do you want to carry forward? You’re close enough to the countdown that you can use that sense of a deadline for momentum. Close your loops and start the New Year feeling ready for anything.
What is an open loop? It’s a catchphrase from the productivity system known as GTD, or Getting Things Done, by David Allen. If you’re looking for a good winter read, that would be an excellent choice. An open loop is any unfinished business with the power to distract you or disturb your peace of mind.
An open loop might be anything: an unpaid debt, a picture you want to hang somewhere, a flirty text you’ve left on Read, an argument you’ve had with a friend, or a postponed decision to move, change jobs, or go to the dentist. If it makes you squirm a little, if you wince when you even think about it, it’s an open loop.
That’s the point of closing your loops. You want to be free of the icky, creepy feelings that come up when you think of your unfinished business. Peace of mind is impossible with that sort of crud going on.
Your physical environment is very much a reflection of open loops in your life. Some open loops are purely internal, like when you delay making up with a friend or breaking off a dead romance. There’s no outer sign, no material evidence. The rest of it, though, shows up as clutter. Unopened envelopes! Expired prescriptions, expired food, expired coupons! Clothes that don’t fit! Shopping bags with the purchases still inside! Unread books! Unfinished craft projects! Partial to-do lists! (To-maybe lists? To-dither?)
Most people have a dream, or, rather, most people have a whole lot of dreams. They don’t come true because there are so many that sound equally appealing, it feels impossible to choose between them. If you have five dreams and you put equal effort toward each one, then you’ve made 20% progress on each. That’s where quitting comes from! With the discipline to choose just one and only one, to cut off the other four dreams, then you can make one come true. Close the loop. With that feeling of progress and possibility, you have that much more confidence to choose the next dream and put all your effort toward that. Five dreams in five years, rather than 20% progress and five quits in one year.
How can you have faith in yourself when you keep quitting on yourself? When you keep quitting on your dreams?
Most dreams are so modest that they’re almost boring. Get organized, lose that weight, clean out the garage, might as well put “floss your teeth” on there. Ho-hum. Those are starter goals! Those are goals that work in the service of something bigger. Get organized so it’s easier to focus when you start your business and then quit your day job. Lose weight so you can hike the PCT or get a black belt in something. Clean out the garage so you can set up your work bench and build a battle bot or make your own guitar. Floss your teeth... um... so you can crush it in your next job interview. I dunno. I don’t know your life, I don’t know how big your actual dreams are. I just know they’re bigger than the one-size-fits-all goals on the magazine covers.
If you choose a big enough dream, and it matters enough to you, then those basic off-the-shelf goals can be knocked out in a few months. You can completely turn around any of those basic scenarios in three months, no problem. You can go bigger, too - I know a lot of people who could complete the work for their college degree in only one term, and you can train for a marathon in four months. The only way to get more juice out of a humdrum goal is to do it faster, at record-setting pace.
It really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach your goals and finally start living your dreams. It doesn’t matter because once you reach them, you’ll have a fresh new perspective, and this time period will just be a blip. It will be no more memorable or consequential than climbing a flight of stairs.
Open loops are like hanging out in a stairwell. The only time people do that is when they need somewhere to sit while they’re waiting for something or making a phone call. That happens sometimes. Sometimes a loop needs to stay open for a while because we’re deliberately creating an opportunity for something to happen, something that needs input from someone else. A job offer, a signed contract, approval for a grant or a loan, that ‘yes’ to your ‘U up?’ text. Usually, though, our loops are only open because of inertia. We haven’t bothered to close them. We haven’t bothered because we have nothing better to do and no brighter ideas for how to spend our focus and attention and our precious time.
Let this time be different. Treat this upcoming New Year as a chance to experiment and try something else for a change. What would happen if you rushed around and closed as many loops as possible over the next couple of weeks? What if you played a game and spent the thirty-one days of January closing even more? What would your New Year look like if you truly did feel like you were starting the game at square one?
There are two ways to take the urgency out of shopping with swirly eyes. One is to cut off the part of you that wants to buy things. The other is to replace it with the feeling that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it, and that most things aren’t really worth bringing home because they don’t meet your standards. One can lead to either contentment or an intensified scarcity mentality. The other can lead to either mad materialism or placid abundance. This is what I mean when I say you can buy with your eye.
As a young person, I learned to have a certain amount of contempt for people with more consumer power than I had. I thought the fashions and hairstyles looked stupid. I thought the advertisements were annoying. It was a sour grapes problem. I’ve never worn Crocs or Ugg boots, I didn’t have a Tamagotchi or a Beanie Baby or a My Little Pony, yet I was still highly aware of the brands and the majority of their product lines. I might even have been more materialistic in the sense of envy and thwarted desire than the trendsetters who owned those things.
One day in my early thirties, I saw an IKEA catalog for the first time. This was not a store that existed in my previous region, and I had no idea what kind of place it was. I leafed through the pages, because I kinda enjoy scoffing at extremely expensive design collections. Two thousand dollars for a coffee table?! That kind of thing.
Suddenly I realized that for the first time in my life, I could afford to buy something I wanted that would make my life easier.
Thus began a five-year love affair with IKEA furniture. I would pick up a piece a few times a year and spend the evening assembling it. Again, a new experience: not just being able to afford something, but being able to choose something that matched my other stuff.
At a certain point, I felt like my apartment was ‘done’ and that I had everything I needed. Most of the stuff in the store did not suit my tastes and I didn’t have room for more. I felt pretty darn satisfied to have a dining table with matching chairs, a couch with no stains on it. That’s the level of emotion I want to have after I spend money on a consumer object. I use it all the time and it meets my needs.
Why would I buy something I didn’t use? Why would I buy something I didn’t need? Especially, why would I buy something if I didn’t like it?
Why would I buy anything at all when I could just be at home, enjoying my couch and reading a book?
This is the feeling that goes along with a debt-free life. Having the financial means to buy something IF you need or want it takes away that inner drive, unless you are somehow stimulated by the recreational aspects of shopping, which not everyone is. It means circling around looking for parking, it means waiting in line, it means getting there and finding out that location is out of stock on the item you wanted, it means foot-long receipts and yet more plastic bags, it means crying kids, it means a lot of hassle. How do people forget all the hassle and keep lining up for more?
I know people are doing it for the thrill and not for the object because all my clients have unopened shopping bags, still full of items with the tags still on. Sometimes these bags are three years old or more.
I also know that some of the people doing it aren’t even buying things for themselves. They’re buying gifts for others. Often they buy random objects without a specific person in mind, or multiples of the same item, and then they’re tasked with figuring out who might not ‘object’ to such a gift. This is one of the main sources of the unopened gift bags that I keep finding. Anonymous gifts bought for anonymous people, unwanted, unneeded, cluttering up everyone’s homes forevermore. Shopping for the sake of shopping.
What if we just bought with a thought? Mentally considered the object and then left it there? Walked away, knowing it will still be available if we change our minds and buy it later?
I have a gift in mind for my dad when he retires. I’m not buying it yet. I’m not sure which specific store or which color, but I’ll know it when I see it. When the time comes. When the time comes, in fact, I’ll probably wind up buying a nicer one than I would buy today, because a nicer one will be available and because I’ll have been saving for it for a few years. There’s no hurry. This is why I would never consider buying an anonymous gift and keeping it in a closet in case I ‘need’ a gift.
If I don’t know someone well enough to know exactly the kind of thing they’d love to have, then we aren’t on gift-exchange terms. If some extreme situation came up, I would donate to a charity in their name. Boring, sure, but at least it would be more useful than a gift card that never got cashed or an anonymous gift that sat in the bag.
There are, of course, things I choose for myself. I don’t buy them, either. I might think, oh, I like those earrings, and then realize I’m not wearing earrings that day because I only put them on a few times a year. Oh, I love that painting - and it’s too large a format to physically fit in my living room. Oh, I love that bedspread, and I already have a bedspread. I don’t have anywhere to store an extra one and I still love the one that’s on my bed right now. I can feel a brief attachment to something beautiful, something I really like, and acknowledge it and let it pass.
In the moment I buy with my eye, I own that object. It becomes a part of the fantasy me that floats in a castle in the sky, one with infinite closets and an unlimited floor plan. I have no interest in mopping that castle in the sky, and that’s why I don’t live there. In the sky castle, I can dance around in a hundred wedding gowns, because in reality I have no interest in ever planning another wedding. Fantasy Me can wear chunky bracelets and liquid eyeliner, because Reality Me knows better. Reality Me is really good at translating the moment’s impulse into practical terms. Just because I think it’s pretty for ninety seconds does not mean I really actually want to wear or use such a thing.
What I like better than the myriad things is the financial power to ignore them. I’d rather brag that we save 40% of our income than boast about where I bought this or that.
The other thing about buying with your eye is that you can imagine yourself buying much more expensive things. You can walk through a gallery or a store outside your price range, and you can still mentally shop there. This helps build that denial muscle, that refusal to waste a dollar here or five dollars there on poorly-made disposable junk that will fall apart a year later.
Learn to buy with your eye. It will save money, save time, and result in less housework. In the end, you’ll have more fun and the few things you do buy will delight you more than you realized they could.
Can a book change your life? Does it matter whether you believe that a book can change your life or not? There is some serious magic going on in Jen Sincero’s books, and most likely in the lady herself. I pre-ordered You are a Badass Every Day and read it as soon as it came out. Let me share a couple of moments of magic involved in that relatively mundane event.
Kismet! Kismet, I tell you!
Also, I found a $20 bill a few feet outside my front door earlier today, just as I was thinking, “I’m finally going to upgrade my computer the first week of January.”
The thing about manifesting is that you can only really believe it works after you’ve experienced it in action. Otherwise it sounds kinda dumb. For those who know, this will be a delightful and very useful book to keep handy. For those who don’t know, um, it might be better to start with one of her other books. Which, I mean, you’re going to want to read them all anyway, obviously. There’s a reason why you keep seeing so many cool-looking people reading You are a Badass everywhere you go.
I loved this book. I loved it so much that it actually occurred to me to make some cross-stitch samplers out of some of my favorite quotes. As with her previous books, You are a Badass Every Day has sections that feel like they were written specifically for me, directed at my exact issues. I bookmarked the heck out of it. This is magnificent to do with a digital copy, because you can look at just your notes and bookmarks, and it’s like a custom manifesto!
There is so much in this book, so much in each of Jen Sincero’s books, that I feel all fluttery and wound up when I think about what I want to say. Maybe I’ll write a concordance, 800 pages that will finally organize my commentary. Until then, just read the book. You know you want to.
An excuse is simply a challenge that you’ve decided has power over you.
When you succumb to fear, you are under the illusion that you can predict the future.
If you keep waiting for the right time, you’ll keep living the wrong life.
If I were ever single again, I think I’d stay that way. The standard that my husband has set has just raised my bar too high. I shudder to think of how much work I’d have to put in to house-train someone new! But he was already a proper grown-up when we met. I don’t think that’s necessarily true of everyone on the dating market. Failing to “adult” properly would certainly explain why at least a certain selection of people are available in the first place... Dating a grown-up is the minimum threshold for a long-term relationship.
It’s different when you’re a student. When you’re young, you expect that almost anyone you meet is going to be flat broke. They probably have at least one roommate, or maybe they’ve never lived on their own. They may not have a vehicle or even know how to drive, although that’s not really a problem now that we have ride-sharing. City people might not even know whether their partner has a license. It’s fairly common for people in their twenties to still be learning how to cook, manage money, and do basic home maintenance. You can focus more on your mutual passions for music, cinema, road trips, sleeping in, and pizza for breakfast.
As time goes by, though, your standards start to change. You start to notice that there’s a dividing line between “person” and “young person.”
This really started to become clear to me as a returning student living in a dorm at age twenty-six. I dated a few younger guys here and there, and there were certain things they all had in common. They all still thought it sounded fun to pull all-nighters just to binge-watch cartoons. They spent their money (when they had any) on collectibles and special-edition t-shirts. They would want to play video games while talking to me on the phone. And, sure, there’s no age limit on any of that stuff. Couple these habits with a general lack of awareness of current events, though, or questions such as When is Tax Time or What City Will I Live in Next Year, and it got complicated. Dating a young person is sort of like going to Brigadoon, a time warp where you never have to think about such future concerns as what’s for dinner or do we have a future together.
Dating a grown-up is a completely different situation. You’ve both accepted the necessity of managing the boring parts of life. You’ve been through the wringer, having roommates move out without paying their rent, getting laid off, being in car accidents, waking up with sick little kids, getting hit with extreme vet bills, ending long-term relationships, and all those other youth-crushers. The fantasy of endless summer is gone. You know that when you see the Bat Signal in the clouds, it’s for you. Time to suit up and go deal with another mess.
The main difference between a grown-up and a young person is accountability. A kid’s instinct is to cry out “NOT ME!” A grown-up grudgingly accepts that just because it’s not my fault doesn’t mean it’s not my problem. We’re not going to try to get out of it, we’re just going to get through it.
Dating a grown-up means someone who shows up when he says he will. Someone who understands what level of emotional availability he has and what commitment means. Someone who plans ahead and has agency over her career, her finances, and her overall life strategy. Someone who generally knows what to do. Someone who is willing to trade off and do a little extra sometimes.
Age doesn’t have as much to do with being a grown-up as it probably should. Certainly I’ve met women my age who have managed to avoid learning anything about personal finance and have never set aside a single nickel toward retirement. I’ve also met men my age who never learned to cook a meal. I had a friend who made it to thirty-six without learning how (or how often) to clean his own bathroom. Not a good look.
I asked my husband if he had anything to add about dating a grown-up. “Drama,” he said. Good point! Drama tends to come from a mix of poor boundaries and emotional volatility. It’s to be distinguished from difficulty; everyone has horrible things happen in life sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be dramatic. Drama can come out of thin air, from outsized emotional reactions to fairly predictable, commonplace events. For instance, dating a grown-up doesn’t tend to involve hours-long conversations about whether we’re breaking up, especially not on a work night. Sometimes you just... break up. Not everybody was destined to be together.
When I think in the abstract about dating a younger guy, I imagine someone who has few practical skills, no real direction in life, no awareness of current events, few opinions, and is ambivalent about commitment in general. A younger guy, in my mind, would have no money and wouldn’t know how to cook. He’d probably have embarrassing taste in music and would still be going through the rogue facial hair stage. Meh. What would we talk about? How would I explain him to my friends and family?
A man my age who was dating a younger woman would be... kind of a cliche. Same issues though! A young person with no established career who might have no idea what part of the country she wants to live in, whether she wants kids, or what she’ll be doing in ten years. You’re either on one side of the river or the other. It’s hard to think long-term with someone who cognitively has no long term yet.
Give me a grown-up. Give me a man who knows what to do in a crisis. Give me someone I can count on to hold his end up, to understand and accept his responsibilities. Give me a complex person with nuanced opinions and a developed career. Save me from ever having to deal with a young person’s drama and confusion, other than as a patient yet distanced role model. Give me a grown-up, someone who knows how to be a true partner.
He kicked me in the stomach. Then he did it again. It was part of the exercise, after all. I put on the belly pad, which I have to strap over my hips to keep it in place because it’s so big. Or, rather, because I’m so small, which is what most people would conclude after seeing my husband partnered with me to practice push kicks. Nowhere, in no martial art, would you see us paired off in a ring together, several rungs apart in weight class.
We’re paired off in rings together, but they call that one a “marital” art.
It was one thing when my lawfully wedded spouse joined my martial arts school. It was quite another when he leveled up and joined my advanced class, doing in six weeks what took me six months.
At first it was cute. I knew all the instructors and their training styles, I got to introduce him around to my friends, give him a tour, and teach him about the different equipment. For the first time in our thirteen-year friendship, I was the experienced one in the trainer role. I admit I was digging it.
Then he started catching up to me, as I expected he would. I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. In recovery from herniated disks, we both assumed he would proceed slowly, with perhaps some setbacks and a lot of ice. Much to both our surprise, the strenuous warmups seemed to speed his progress. He still avoids Krav Maga, due to the bending and twisting, but I anticipate he’ll be in there within the year.
Picture a sine wave. Now overlay a cosine. That would be our physical states. I spent the first half of the year getting stronger and stronger, only to get sick just after I joined advanced classes. I’ve been struggling to get back in action, since the class is about three times harder than the beginner class. Every time I would feel well enough to start training again, I would push too hard too soon and find myself coughing in bed again. Meanwhile my hubby, who had been out of commission for nearly a year with severe back pain, was regaining mobility and strength by the day and feeling very pleased about it.
He started doing double-ups. Morning and evening classes on Fridays followed by Saturday morning class. He’d ride his bike home and bring hot tea for me to drink in my nest of blankets.
The balance of power shifted.
“You have the baton,” I said. We have a joke about this. For whatever reason, we rarely seem to be in sync on our fitness goals. Recall the months I spent training for my marathon while he went on a diet, and I resorted to hiding Nutter Butters in my office closet. I’m half his size and that summer I was eating twice his daily calories. I had the token ring, and I passed it off after I developed a repetitive stress injury in my ankle.
If we waited for a time when neither of us was hobbling around, we might as well just give up, climb into a pair of recliners, and float out to sea.
By some miracle, we found ourselves synchronized, in the same class at the same time and doing the same thing.
I wasn’t feeling all that great. I really only showed up because I’d promised to bring my man a clean workout shirt. I’d also hurriedly scarfed my thousand-calorie dinner right before jumping on my bike. In my boxing gloves and belly pad, I felt like a potato volcano about to happen. Just my luck that we’d be taking turns kicking our partners in the navel tonight.
“Turn down the heat, would you,” I asked plaintively. Calibrating is a challenge. It’s like when you feed each other the wedding cake and half your family wants you to smear it all over each other’s faces the way they did back in the Seventies. (The Steve Martin/Gallagher wedding). We were both going to wind up covered in... um... potato if this kept up.
The teacher wandered over to see what we were doing. We had a substitute instructor that night, a visitor from the other school, and he didn’t know either of us. “We’re married,” I explained, and he nodded. Ahh, that explains it.
Two alphas, face to face and sparring. Again, in no other sport would we be paired off, a lightweight and a super heavyweight. Here we were, and I had to remind myself that this whole thing was my idea.
That’s right! This WAS my idea! This is MY school! This is MY sport! I OUTRANK YOU!
It was my turn to kick.
I had no compunctions, knowing that 1. My husband likes this sort of thing; 2. He is physically massive and fights like a locomotive; 3. Laws of physics apply; 4. I wasn’t exactly at my peak strength; and 5. He signed the waiver. I started putting my hip into it.
“THIS is for making me bring you your shirt! And THIS is because I had to do laundry today! And THIS is for making your dinner! And THIS is because there’s still a dirty pan on the stove!”
At this point he was laughing so hard he could barely stand upright.
I chased him around the mat room, kicking out a litany of minor and stupid grievances. He snickered and snorted, utterly unable to keep a straight face.
When in doubt, resort to comedy.
At the end of the session, all the students lined up. My husband and I faced each other and bowed. We rode our bikes home together, along the beach under the moonlight, our little bit of romance, two kickboxers in love.
It wasn’t until I nearly missed my flight home for Thanksgiving that I realized something important, something deep in my character. “You call yourself organized,” I lectured myself, looking at my textbook-sized day planner, “and you almost missed your flight.” My desire to feel “organized” often leads me to do things that actually CAUSE the problems that make me feel DISorganized. I was missing something fundamental and obvious, something that other people seemed to do effortlessly. This is when I had my bright idea.
The very next day, I pulled out my return tickets and my calendar, and I told myself a story.
The story itself doesn’t matter so much as the format. “You’re going to [DO THIS] because [OF THIS REASON] and then [THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN].”
I walked myself backward, step by step, through my upcoming Monday morning. Vivid in my mind was the major ramification of being late: MISSING MY FLIGHT! Pain! Sorrow! Long lines! Wasted money! I needed to estimate the time each segment of my trip would take: to the gate from security, through security from drop-off, to drop-off from my parents’ house. How long would it take me to get ready?
Hang on, this is relevant to tasks as well as event planning. Do you see why yet? Because you shouldn’t be doing tasks unless they are useful to you in some way. If something is useful for you to do for yourself, then you’ll want to do it by a specific time. If it isn’t time-bound, then you’ll want to do it in relation to some result that matters to you. This is why we work backward. We want the intended result to happen and we want to do the things that lead to that result. Often, when we start with an “organized” “to-do list,” we wind up doing things efficiently that have nothing to do with our intended results.
That’s why I was able to feel so “organized” even as I arrived at the airport forty minutes late and nearly missed my flight.
My careful one-bag packing, checking the weather report, coordinating my clothes and footwear, selecting books to read, menu-planning with four other people, doing laundry, clearing my desk, and cleaning house were all great things to do. They all tragically missed the real point, which was to GET ON THE PLANE ON TIME.
I caught my flight (read: made my cherished goal) by accident, unfairly and undeservedly. This was a negative result because it had the potential to teach incorrect lessons and reinforce destructive behaviors. Namely: being a derpy derp.
A flaw is a flaw everywhere. My tendency to space out and ignore important details, losing track of the main point, is a flaw in everything I do. That’s why this matters. It hurts me, myself. It also usually ripples out and annoys other people, damaging their trust and staining my reputation. Ultimately, though, why would I annoy my own self? Why would I keep doing things to myself that I hate?
This, then, is the bedrock, the foundation of the problem. Being “disorganized” means perpetually annoying myself. “Getting organized” means doing the relentless root cause analysis and taking the corrective action. Find the flaw and shake it until all its withered little poison fruits shake loose.
When I look at a clock time, say: 10:10, it means nothing to me. It’s just a series of numbers and punctuation marks. I can’t possibly care less. I’ve tried both analog and digital clocks with the same effects. I don’t work well in the time dimension. Those symbols are not real to me.
When I arrange it as a story problem, suddenly it clicks into place. “Once upon a time there was a charming young derpy derp who got to the airport late and missed her flight. Because it was a busy holiday weekend, she was not able to get another seat until Saturday. She missed Thanksgiving dinner. It was her only chance all year to see her nephew, and by the time she arrived, he had already gone home. Instead of the nine-person dinner party she’d anticipated for months, her favorite people in all the world, only three were still free to get together. And all the pie was gone.”
Now, when I do my planning, I see the face of my sweet nephew, surrounded by my family, arranged at the table one by one. This is my motivation. My reason for spending an extra ten minutes making my schedule is a human reason. I want to be with someone who is important to me, and I don’t want to let him down. Or any of the others. Or let myself down.
This is how to turn an ordinary to-do list into a story problem. Who will be affected by my inaction or procrastination? Who will be disappointed if I don’t follow through? Who will have to cover for me, even with everything else that’s going on in their life right now? Conversely, how will they feel if I pull through? How will everyone react if I do everything I said I would do, on time or early?
My next-level planning revolves around a more familiar face, derpy though it is, and that face is my own. What expression will I have when I realize that, despite my planning, I’m still so late that I won’t get any breakfast? That I’ll have to wait four hours to have anything to eat? SAD FACE! I estimate how long it will take me to order food and plug that into my story.
That’s the personal level of the story problem. How will I myself feel if I screw this up? What will I miss out on if I skate through with only the vaguest of intentions and no specifics? How embarrassed will I be if I put in a significant amount of effort on something, only to blow it at the last minute because I forgot a major detail?
I wrote a story to myself and put it in my reminders. First, I set an alarm with the label: “Order a Lyft by 8:00 or you won’t get any breakfast!” Bone-chilling. Then, I set an alert for my reminder story. It went like this: “This morning you’re going to go to PDX and get breakfast. You’ll land in Sacramento and have about an hour to get a burrito. Then you’ll fly to LAX and head home.” Following were two more sentences about what I had to do after I got home, reminding me of some preparations I could take during my flight and while I hung around at the airport.
It worked! I ordered the Lyft on time, I got to the airport on time, I had quite a nice breakfast, and three hours later I also had quite a nice lunch. I didn’t have to sprint, not even once. Not only that, I helped two different people by noticing something they had dropped and picking it up for them. My attention was where it needed to be.
There’s a productivity technique called “interstitial journaling.” It involves pausing between tasks and meetings to write notes about what you are thinking, what decisions you need to make, and why you are doing what you are doing. Something like “I need to eat dinner early tonight if I want to make it to class on time” or “I’m going to get a nagging email if I don’t submit this report by Tuesday.” This is similar to the narrative to-do list that I’m describing. If clock times and schedules don’t work well for you, as they don’t for me, then maybe this will help. If to-do lists never seem to get you anywhere, again, maybe this will work better for you.
“Once upon a time there was a faithful reader who saw a great blog post. A big lightbulb went on. Suddenly it was so obvious that a bunch of things on that musty, dusty old to-do list could just be removed and never thought of again! Suddenly it was so clear and simple: what to do next and why.”
As a longtime frugalite, I use a lot of techniques to keep my spending aligned with my future plans. It often amazes me to shop with friends who have swirly eyes. Most people don’t seem to have many defenses against the onslaughts of consumer culture. As a result, debt is rampant, retirement plans go unfunded, and financial anxiety stalks the earth. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can control our behaviors and our emotional reactions. Let’s look at some ways to slow down a shopping habit.
Avoid stores. This sounds dumb, or impossible, but really it’s key to the whole enterprise. Just do other stuff instead. Go to the park one day a week, go to the public library one day, do your laundry and clean house one day, catch up on email and phone calls one day, go to bed super-early one night a week, do some bulk cooking one night, and have a card party one night. All of a sudden, your free time is full of interesting things to do every night of the week. Shopping becomes a necessary annoyance that requires shuffling your schedule around.
Don’t buy anything until you’ve used everything else you’ve bought at least once. This might also sound dumb. However, every single one of my clutter clients has had a problem with shopping bags and gift bags that were never opened. There also tends to be a problem with unworn clothes in the closet that still have their tags. How much value can you possibly be getting out of buying things if you don’t use them?
Don’t order anything if you are waiting for other items to show up. This not only slows down your shopping, but it also helps to keep track of orders that may be lost or incorrect.
Don’t go to the store if you’re waiting on a package, either. Except for the grocery store.
Don’t keep a “pantry.” Food hoarding tends to happen on accident, because it’s technologically possible and affordable. People in the past could not go out and buy fifty cans of green beans on sale. They had to grow them, preserve them, and then eat them during the winter, when not much other food was available. Accumulating a lot of food packages leads inevitably to food waste, because it’s impossible to keep track of expiration dates. That’s where the brown sludge in most people’s vegetable crispers comes from.
Take an inventory of everything you own. Haha, mostly kidding! Nobody does this, but maybe we should. Pausing to examine and analyze all of your possessions will shed a light on what you buy and why you buy it. Nothing better to do, therefore wandering around looking for excuses to buy things, therefore unused items with ‘sale’ stickers on them. Tons of ‘beauty’ products, self-image problems. Tons of clothes, indecisive. Tons of books, procrastinator. Not saying anything here is true, mind you! I don’t know your life. Just guessing.
Balance your bank statements. This is another thing that many people don’t do, and it’s part of how we get into trouble with debt. If you haven’t done it in a few years, it can certainly fill up several days or weeks. If you’ve never done it at all, you can wander down to your local bank branch and ask one of the tellers to help you.
Deep clean your house. This is an opportunity to, among other things, realize how many duplicate gallons of cleansers have been reproducing under your sink. Of course it will also reveal how many weeks of food supplies are filling your cabinets, how many weeks of complete wardrobe changes are filling your closets, how many months of entertainment options are stacked up on your shelves, and all that sort of thing. Maybe during the process, you can get a sense of what it will take for you to feel the domestic comforts and tranquility you have been lacking.
Change sizes. When you’re in size transition, it’s really challenging to guess what you’re going to be wearing three months from now. I had been hanging onto my size 8s for many years, only to blip past that size in only a couple of weeks on my way to my goal weight. Now I only have one size in my closet, instead of six sizes.
Get into the metrics. Nothing will slow down your shopping quite as much as having a strong financial goal. Just like most people won’t eat a whole pizza an hour before Thanksgiving dinner, it’s possible to use the desire for a big purchase like a vacation or a motorcycle to put some restraints on your recreational shopping.
Use a time limit when shopping in stores that you find irresistible or problematic. For instance, I categorically do not “go shopping” for clothes as a pastime. I hate it and I find it deeply annoying and frustrating. I will set out to buy a specific item, like a pair of boots or a cardigan, with a 20-minute time limit. The way I do this is to have my husband buy movie tickets, and then get to the mall just a little early. Often, I can’t find anything tolerable in the store I’ve chosen, and we go to our show without my purchasing anything. Twenty minutes is enough time to try on a pair of shoes in two sizes, or to try on three or four sweaters.
Try on everything you buy and inspect it carefully. I typically try on five or six items for every one that I buy. I’m not just looking at the label for the care instructions, I’m also inspecting the garment for quality. Are the seams well sewn? Are all the buttons present and accounted for? Are there any spots, stains, or threadbare spots? I can fix most of that stuff, but it isn’t worth my time in most cases.
Only buy items that rate a four or five out of five. This is part of a personal rating system. For instance, I wear a size 7.5 shoe, and I learned through stupid experience that I can’t wear a size 5 shoe, even if I can somehow cram my foot inside it. Those shoes should have rated a one out of five for not fitting, no matter what they look like. Clothes should fit well today, look attractive, go with at least three other items, and work for your climate.
What if you had only one of everything? One frying pan, one place setting, one pair of jeans? What parts of your life would be easier? (Dishes yes, laundry...maybe?).
Ultimately, anyone who is into recreational shopping might be better off becoming a stylist, designer, or personal shopper for others. Earn money and build a career off something that might otherwise become a constant source of debt. Remind yourself of what you want out of your life. Is your life’s purpose and meaning really to buy things, eat things, stare at screens, and poke your phone? Maybe? Guaranteed, there are more interesting things to be doing with your time than shopping, if you’ll give yourself enough time to discover what they are. With the money you save, you can put yourself through school, start a business, or make all sorts of other dreams come true.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.