I LOVED this book! This is a keeper. The Desire Map is a perfect book for goal setting, one that I will use when I do my planning at the New Year. What I like so much about Danielle LaPorte's book is her twist on the usual visioning process. How do we want to feel when we've reached this goal?
The Desire Map is divided into two sections: The Theory and The Workbook. The theory section is all about the difference between external and internal goals and how to make more empowered choices. Anyone who has trouble figuring out such questions as "what do I actually want?" or "what is my purpose?" or "do I even have any goals?" can find some clarity here.
The question of desire itself is addressed. LaPorte goes so far as to write a letter to a Tibetan Buddhist lama, asking, "What is the "right" energy of desiring enlightenment?" Can we desire anything without attachment or clinging? Should we try? Basically, are we allowed to want things? It's a nuanced, thought-provoking discussion. The section on feelings and emotions is also intriguing and clarifying.
What I've learned from coaching is that many people are very poor at making wishes or allowing themselves to want things. Even wishing for something like restful sleep, more energy, or better communication feels like too much. It's impossible to have a better life without feeling like such a thing is possible. It's impossible to reach a goal if you have none. If you don't know what you want, how would you recognize it when you had it? LaPorte's insight about aiming for particular emotional states rather than specific achievements is a powerful one. One person might want contentment, another might want vigor, and these will turn into different approaches toward life. The Desire Map includes lists of random answers from various workshop participants, which include a dazzling array of possibilities. At least some of them may trigger a desire for the same for ourselves. "Free spiders"? "Get just the right font spacing"? Why not?
"You can make your life better. Daily. Practically." This is a slogan I can get behind.
I'm working through the workbook section of The Desire Map meticulously. It feels significant. I'm enjoying the process; it makes me feel like I'm getting an extra New Year! I can't get enough out of this book right now.
There are really only two kinds of problems: the one you're having right now, and the one you're not. For instance, I don't have a problem with my cat clawing my couch because I don't have a cat. When I do have a problem, such as my neighbor backing over my mailbox with a moving van, I tend to forget all about the problems I don't have and focus on the one that I do. The worst problems are the perpetual kind, the problems that won't go away for years on end, if they ever do.
Some problems go away on their own. Teeth, for example. Ignore them and eventually they go away.
Other problems are situational and of brief duration. Aggressive drivers, neighbors setting off fireworks during all of July, that person whose fragrance has just filled the elevator - these are temporary. Better to wait them out and not let them disrupt your equilibrium. When I feel stuck in a frustrating scenario, I think about... sand. Just sand, nothing but sand all the way to the horizon. By the time I'm done picturing the sand, the situation has usually resolved itself.
Perpetual problems are worth study. If nothing changes, then nothing changes, and then nothing changes. Right? The pattern has to be disrupted. Somehow, something about the problem has to change. What is it? As soon as the perpetual problem is recognized for what it is, the pattern tends to reveal itself. That is the secret behind how to kill off the problem.
Relationships. I used to have a cheating boyfriend. I tortured myself about it. It was nauseous. I mean I would feel physically ill when I thought about him with another woman. I couldn't stop asking myself what I could do differently to keep his attention and get him to stop. Then one day, I had finally had enough, and I broke up with him. He cried. I realized that his behavior had nothing to do with me; he would have acted the same way no matter whom he was with. After that, I started communicating my expectations about fidelity at the very beginning of new relationships. That is reassuring to people who feel the same way.
Money. I used to be in debt. Right after graduation, I had so many payments on various debts that I had exactly $30 in spending money at the end of each month. That debt was all I could think about. I had a spreadsheet. I checked all my account balances each and every day. I worked really hard, scrimped and saved, and paid everything off. Now, I don't have to think about debt anymore.
Health. I used to get migraines. It runs in the family, and I always figured I was stuck with them. I had a long list of triggers, a list that kept getting longer, as the migraines got longer in duration. Four days of not fun. Somehow, I stumbled across variables that affected my migraines, none of which were what I thought they were. (1. Body weight and 2. Micronutrients). Suddenly, I can eat spicy food, go to high altitudes, and even be dehydrated or sleep deprived without getting one. It's been almost three years now. I still carry Aleve in my purse everywhere I go, as insurance, only now I offer them to other people.
I don't believe in problems anymore. That is because I believe in challenge, not difficulty. There is always a way to reframe a situation, communicate differently, change my behavior, or get out of the situation. Usually there are ten thousand ways. It starts with the belief that I DON'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS. I don't have to have a perpetual problem in my life.
I have to wait in line sometimes, but I don't care. I don't care at all. I just play with my phone or think about sand.
I have to listen to one half of someone else's cell phone conversation sometimes, and that's distracting, but I don't really care. I'm learning to tune it out. I can't in fairness judge anyone for doing something that I myself have done.
I don't mind being polite or tolerating other people's foibles, because I like it when others return the favor to me. These are very, very minor problems in the grand scheme of things.
What I don't have to do is to engage in relationships that are exploitive, fake, emotionally damaging, or otherwise not to my liking. There are seven billion people in the outermost circle, and the few who get through the next five layers are a statical anomaly. Everyone may have my benign regard and occasional altruistic acts. Almost nobody may have my trust or my confidences. This includes lovers, obviously, but also friends and family. If you don't want people in your business, stop keeping them informed.
I also don't have to stay in an unfulfilling job. I never did. In my twenties, I was a temp, and I changed jobs whenever I felt like it. If nothing else in my life works out, I can always fall back on my trade, which is administrative support. When you're a secretary, one job is as good as another. Live beneath your means, save like mad, have a cushion, and feel free. It's much easier to contribute at your highest level when you feel that you are participating voluntarily.
I don't have to have money problems because I can always earn more money and/or renegotiate terms.
I don't have to have health problems. By that I mean chronic health problems. The more I research, the more I read medical journal articles, the more I work on optimizing my own behaviors, the less I have any health issues at all. Common cold, food poisoning, migraines? Nah, not really problems for me. In the last few years, my biggest problems have been stinging nettle, fire ants, mosquitos, skinning my knee, and tendinitis. My cancer scare at age 23 set me on the path to REFUSING TO ACCEPT a "diagnosis." Diagnose me with whatever you want, doc, I'm hitting the books and I'm beating this thing. There is no reason to believe that everything possible is known about a particular condition. That is unscientific. It is a wrong thought. I'll die one day, but I'll pass knowing that I always did whatever I could to take care of myself.
It's amazing how much the background noise of PROBLEMS fades when the focus turns to prevention. Being organized, being kind to people, saving money, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, being personally accountable, and avoiding bogus situations will eliminate the vast majority of perpetual problems.
What's left? The problems we can't seem to step away from. WHY does this person act this way?? (Doesn't matter. Once you know that this is the way the person acts, you have all the information you need to make a decision). I'VE TRIED EVERYTHING. No, no you haven't. Unless it's a problem for literally everyone, such as gravity or the loss of loved ones, then there is something different about what you're doing compared to those who do not have the problem. WHY CAN'T...? Because. That's why. As a general rule, get out of the situation first, and examine what used to be a perpetual problem at leisure.
Paradoxically, refusal to accept that a situation IS WHAT IT IS tends to perpetuate the situation. We can't stop thinking about it and obsessing over it, we can't detach emotionally, we can't let it go, and therefore we are stuck with it. As soon as we have a clear vision of something better, it's much easier to realize that the perpetual problem is really an illusion. I don't have to go out with this guy. I don't have to work here anymore. I won't be in debt forever. I can change my body. I can learn new things. I can socialize with people who share my value system. I can improve my communication and my behavior. I expect better from myself, and I also expect better FOR myself.
Every so often, it happens. I find myself stuck in a negative habit pattern, and, despite the fact that I know I am annoying myself, I can't seem to turn it around. This is when I do a "reset." I make a firm decision that enough is enough. Then I go through a brief, concerted period of focus until I'm back where I want to be. This particular time, I needed to reset my sleep habits.
I identify as a night owl. I started having insomnia problems at age seven. It's always been a struggle for me to wake up early, and I'm slow and dopey for the first couple of hours after I wake up. Still, sleeping during the day is not a viable lifestyle for me, even though I set my own schedule. It's hotter and brighter, and the leaf blowers and lawn mowers start up early. At my current house, I live across the street from a school. When my natural tendency to stay up late starts creeping up on me again, I wind up sleeping about three fewer hours per night. Enough to get by, but not enough to make me sleepy enough to go to bed earlier. Hence, the need for the reset.
I had been up until 4 AM and hadn't been able to fall asleep easily. My husband wakes up at 5, so clearly it was high time for me to do the reset. I set the alarm for 8:30 AM and made myself get up. The priority at this point is to STAY AWAKE until at least 8 PM. Taking even a brief nap spoils the reset, meaning I have to try it again.
Note that a reset for any habit will only work when you are fully convinced that you are DONE with the self-annoying habit. This is not a willpower thing. It's a decision thing. Gradual transitions don't work well for me; I get too impatient. I'd much rather push myself hard and get something over with quickly, like ripping off a bandage.
When my alarm went off, I was so tired I felt nauseated. This seems to be a blood sugar thing for me; I started having it when I was maybe six years old. I know it goes away, though, so I got up and had some tea. I was fine for a few hours.
There are two methods to fight drowsiness: physical activity and natural sunlight. I have been known to walk as much as seven miles on a reset day, just to keep moving and be out in daylight. For a sleep pattern reset, outdoor natural lighting is a major factor in regulating sleep and wake hormones. Given adequate nutrition and hydration, hormones will get the job done, unless, like me, you are a Type A workaholic who has trouble deciding to shut down at the end of the day.
As far as physical activity, I always use a reset day to do low-level tasks. This includes regular housework, but also nitpicky details like wiping down baseboards, dusting the tops of door frames, and wiping down cabinets. The common reaction is to believe (not just say, but believe) that I Am Too Tired For That. I look at it from the contrarian perspective that I Will Not Waste a High Energy Day on Scutwork. I do at least minimal housework even when I have the flu. No matter how sick or tired I am, I can still drop clothes in the hamper, I can still put a dish in the dishwasher, and I can still put things in the recycling bin or trash can. On days when I'm feeling great and bursting with creativity, I can put all my focus on that and have fun, because nothing else needs to get done. Why on earth would I spoil a day when I'm feeling good with a backlog of chores?
Part of this involves differentiating between System One and System Two types of tasks. My work is almost entirely System Two, needing to concentrate hard and not being able to work with distractions. I need to beat back the System One tasks so they don't drain my mental bandwidth. System One includes all housework, most mending and repair work, almost all mail, most filing, some phone calls, and a surprising amount of computer work. In my case that means skimming email, updating spreadsheets, organizing photos, formatting images, loading stuff on my blog, bookmarking news articles, and several other routine tasks. If I can listen to a podcast and do the task effectively at the same time, it's System One.
The great thing about a reset is the day after. I wake up well rested at a reasonable hour. That's reason enough to do the reset. Ah, but then there are the bonus externalities. My house is gleaming. The weird little tasks on my 101 List are caught up. I've even blasted through my podcast queue. I've chosen one of two possibilities.
What comes naturally. Fall into a rut and get stuck there. Feel a very, very low level of energy. Be distracted by things I wish didn't annoy me, but they do. Feel like every day is like yesterday and that tomorrow will be more of the same. Start to doubt my ability to do anything in life. Feel sorry for myself. Wish I hadn't been "born this way" or that this hadn't "happened to me." Ah, me, what am I to do?? This is the fixed mindset trying to hypnotize me into a lesser life.
Bias toward action. Know that nobody but me can do anything about this situation. Probably nobody other than me cares, either. Get up and move my body. Take even the tiniest actions that will improve mine or anyone else's life in even the smallest way. Feel convinced that I have the power to control my attitude, my behavior, and my personal environment. Feel proud of my stamina and drive, both of which I am strengthening by facing challenges. Give thanks to my mentors for all the memoirs and biographies from which I have drawn examples. Look for the "level-up." I didn't "feel like it" and I wasn't "in the mood" - but I DID IT. I got through it. I've done it before, in fact I've been through worse, and I can do it again if I need to.
Resets can be useful in many situations. Another sleep-related one is taking NyQuil during a cold; I have trouble sleeping for two or three days after using NyQuil for even one night. Other reset opportunities include overeating (skip breakfast, drink water, eat vegetables); stomach bug (take probiotics for ten days); jet lag; messy house (turn on radio, clean all day); clearing out a storage unit; or breaking a dependency on a pharmaceutical (nasal spray, maybe?). Not all resets can be done in one day, but many can. A short reset can be good psychological preparation for a longer reset. (Weight loss, demolishing debt, remodeling a room).
The point of a reset is that I feel like I need one. A secondary benefit is that a reset reminds me that I don't need perpetual problems in my life. Almost all problems can be dealt with cleanly and quickly. Tolerating a lower quality of life means that I GET a lower quality of life. I won't settle for annoying myself or disappointing myself. Let's get started and get this over with quickly.
Every clutter story is different, just like almost all organized homes are alike. One thing my people tend to have in common is that they box up their favorite, most valuable possessions and leave them hidden away. This includes family heirlooms, artwork, and sometimes tools or art supplies. There is a tendency not to wear one's nicest clothes, use one's nicest dishes, or display one's finest belongings. We save "the good stuff" for later. We don't want it to get ruined. Meanwhile, we surround ourselves with cheap or free stuff that often feels like it just showed up somehow.
For our entire marriage, we've had two boxes of my husband's grandmother's gorgeous glass dishes. I love them. I've only been allowed to look at them a couple of times, to check that they didn't get damaged in one of our many moves. The rest of the time, they remain stowed in cardboard boxes in the back of a deep kitchen cabinet. They survived the 1996 Northridge Earthquake. My grandmother-in-law was by no means a fussy person. I doubt she would have been fazed if these dishes had gotten damaged at some point. They're heirlooms now, though, and they'll probably still be in their boxes ten years from now. The insight here is that they represent family connection and the aesthetics of a vanished world. Our futuristic daily life, where we routinely use robots and artificial intelligence, doesn't really match these pre-television artifacts. We're so nomadic that these boxes of glassware are the only roots we really have to the old family farm.
What other insights can be gleaned from boxes?
A rushed move. The majority of the time, unpacked boxes come from a move in which someone outside the household helped pack. Items were just thrown in at random. This happens for a mix of reasons. The home was disorderly before the move, and 'KITCHEN' or 'LIVING ROOM' are not fully accurate labels. There weren't enough boxes because it was too hard to estimate how many would be needed. (I know from experience that we need one hundred, but most people don't move as often as we do). There are many small-to-tiny objects that get tossed into any box that still has space. There are a lot of possessions that are not necessary to daily life, so they can be left in a box for years or decades without being missed. There isn't enough storage space in the new home to put everything away, because there's no 'away' to put them. There's a lot of MISC. These types of boxes show that the household can call upon friends for help as needed, but also that they tend to be chronically disorganized and indecisive.
"Yard sale." Another thing my people have in common is the belief that all this stuff is "worth something." Even when they got it for free or bought it at someone else's yard sale, they can't let go until someone has agreed to pay for it what they think it's worth. This signifies an inexpert relationship with frugality. If you can "earn" hundreds of dollars holding a yard sale, this generally means you've been overspending on things you didn't need for many years. The last time we had a yard sale was the last time we had a yard sale. We gave up an entire summer Saturday and earned significantly less than minimum wage for our time. We might have earned more by setting up a lemonade stand. The real problem with "yard sale" items, though, is that once they're set aside in a box they can be forgotten. It's a way of pretending to get rid of things we are really still emotionally attached to. The perpetual yard sale box tends to signify a person who hangs onto objects for their perceived cash value rather than their usefulness to the household.
Scoop and Stuff. When people come over and the disorder might be seen, the household goes into panic mode. Anyone who can be enlisted to sweep up clutter will run around trying to hide it. This may happen at different speeds, from shuffle to full-blown freak-out. The Scoop and Stuff habit tends to result in boxes full of bags full of stuff. Usually, the contents are about 80% junk mail, 15% pocket litter (receipts, napkins, gooey breath mints or oozing pill blister packs), and 5% truly important things. Scoop and Stuff boxes tend to include coins, gift cards, and uncashed checks, because that's how much of a hurry was going on. This kind of box reveals that the owner cares deeply about reputation and public perception, worries about approval from others, is a people pleaser, is also chronically disorganized, and has issues with time management.
Unsorted papers. Papers are thoughts. Even people who don't have any other kind of clutter often have paper clutter. Paper is the hardest to process because almost all of it is visually identical to every other piece: 8.5" x 11" white paper with black print, or notebook paper with handwriting, or unopened envelopes, or receipts. There's no way to process it without using System Two thinking to analyze and assess the contents. Boxes of paper clutter offer the insight that this person is overwhelmed, anxious, at least somewhat disorganized, does not have much mental bandwidth to spare, and is probably worried about money.
Grief clutter. The boxes were inherited after someone passed away. I like to think I'm pretty good at what I do, but I've never once managed to get anyone to touch grief clutter. As likely as not, it will be passed down intact to yet another generation. Grief clutter has a half-life. Opening the lid of one of these boxes is to let out a howling hurricane of sobs. We believe that material objects carry memories and that they retain the spirits of the departed. Donating or throwing away something that belonged to a loved one is erasing their mortal existence. If I throw away your dear hairbrush or your old pajamas, it's like you never lived at all. Our culture sorely needs a ritual for letting go of emotionally radioactive grief clutter. It's like these objects have souls of their own, trapped and wandering the earth like hungry ghosts.
My belief is that if something is stored in a box, it isn't necessary. Almost anything important can be replaced, including passports, social security cards, bank cards, and of course every common household object. The stuff we tend to keep is either unsorted or loaded with memories. If we truly hate sorting stuff, we can just take each box, flip it upside down, and shake it into the curbside garbage can. It's when we believe that Stuff Is Memories that we get into trouble. When that's the case, every bottle cap and candy wrapper can potentially masquerade as valuable, irreplaceable, and priceless. It's not the stuff we need to sort, so much as our thoughts and feelings.
Frugality tends to involve a lot of policy decisions. We tightwads have a lot of systems and guidelines we follow, and while they seem self-explanatory to us, they aren't quite so obvious to newbies. One of the things I routinely do when contemplating a new purchase is to estimate the cost per use. For clothing, that's cost per wear. This calculation can really help in making decisions, saving money, and also saving closet space.
For simplicity's sake, I don't include externalities like laundry soap, water and electricity, square footage for storage, or other costs that pertain to the purchase. I would definitely include dry cleaning, but I don't buy clothes that require dry cleaning as a rule. There are other "dingers" involved besides associated expenses and storage requirements; the big one is maintenance. I don't buy clothes that need ironing, either, and I avoid anything that needs hand-washing. All anyone has to do is glance around. Do you have a pile of ironing? A pile of dry cleaning? A pile of high-maintenance stuff that needs hand-washing? If it's piling up, that's a sign that you don't dig spending your spare time taking care of your clothes. Pay attention to that because your time is worth a lot more money than your clothes are. Liberate yourself and donate the whole stack.
Clothing, like any other purchase, should be a value-add. Owning it should level up your life, rather than complicating it. Debt and chaos are not on this list.
Back to the number-crunching. I've been using the guideline of "one dollar per wear" for twenty years. My husband says it's time to change this, because of inflation, but it's easier for me to mentally calculate the $1/wear figure. Say I'm looking at a pair of jeans. They're $50. I can say, would I wear this pair of jeans fifty times? That's not quite once a week for a year. Yeah, they'll probably last that long. I do wear jeans that often. In actual fact, I don't wear jeans six months out of the year because it's too hot where I live. But, the last time I bought jeans, they were still in good shape two years later. I know because I'm wearing them right now.
If I'm also looking at a $100 pair of jeans, I can ask three questions. 1. Would I wear them 100 times? 2. Are they really twice as good as the $50 jeans? 3. Would they last twice as long as the $50 jeans?
There is a bottom threshold below which we don't want to go. If I'm looking at a $5 t-shirt, I really have to ask whether it would hold up for five washings. I have to ask whether the garment quality is so poor that this item may ruin some of my other clothes. This happened to me this summer. I had bought a cheap swimsuit cover-up, and I threw it in a drawer in a hotel with my other dirty clothes. (I use the bottom drawer of a hotel dresser as a temporary laundry bag). The dye on the swimsuit cover-up stained this cute pair of capris I bought retail. I tried every stain removal technique I've ever used, and those dye spots are not coming out. Blue on pink. Is it irony that the dye won't stay where it belongs but it will stay where it doesn't? This is not the first time that an inexpensive garment has caused a laundry disaster. I swear, one of these days I'm switching to togas. Universally flattering and no dye transfer.
There are a lot of high-maintenance clothing features that I avoid, because I want my clothes to continue to look at least somewhat acceptable. Sequins tend to rip off and bend, scratch up my dining chairs, and catch on other clothing. Eventually, the metal finish wears off. Beads always come off. Lace tends to run and tear. I'm not paying extra for something that creates extra labor for me and looks shabby that quickly. That's what accessories are for. If I want to be blinged out, I'm doing it with jewelry, not with something that takes half an hour to clean. Fashion designers know better than to market this stuff to men.
The dollar-per-wear rubric can help to clarify decisions in a closet purge. I can hold up something well-worn and ask myself, have I gotten fair value out of this purchase? It can be really emotional for me to let go of favorite items, like my old size XL running shorts, even after I started wearing an XS and the old shorts wouldn't even stay on my body anymore. It's probably more common for people to want to hang onto things they've rarely or never worn. We tend to feel that we haven't gotten our money's worth. That very well might be true! The prime purpose of many purchases - and all impulse buys - is the act of shopping itself. Shopping makes many of us feel lit up with sensory delight, excitement, astute bargain-getting, and the thrill of the hunt. The moment the item goes in the bag, it loses its value. I've never done a clearing job in which we didn't uncover unused items with the tags still on, still in the original shopping bag. It's okay. We're building awareness, attention, and focus. We're planning more purposefully and we're getting more out of the things we buy. Moving forward includes letting go.
Another way to calculate value is to ask, would I buy this again right now? As we assess our belongings, we can see that certain items were a real steal, and others were more of a meh. For example, our bed, couch, phones, sunglasses, and toothpaste get used every single day. Cost per use is going to be far lower than a dollar per day. Will I use my expedition backpack a total of one hundred and fifty days? Possibly. Not there yet, even though it's six years old. I would definitely buy it again, but I have to accept that certain hobbies are more expensive than others.
Possibly the best way to calculate value is to ask, would owning this provide the leverage necessary to improve something else in my life? I hemmed (see what I did there) and hawed over buying a discount $80 suit for a job interview. Went back to the store no fewer than three times before I bought it. Got the job. Got a promotion and two raises, and made Employee of the Quarter. That suit paid for itself many times over. Another way to look at it is that I could have spent the same $80 buying four $20 items, or eight $10 items. None of those cheaper pieces would have been likely to help me level up at an important job interview. They would also bulk up my closet with 4-8x greater volume.
The more items I have, the lower the chances that I'm getting full use or full value out of all of them.
Calculating cost per use has tended to help me ease into buying better-quality items that I would normally consider outside of my comfort zone. Spending money does not come naturally to me. I've been known to walk six miles to save $1.50 on bus fare. Cost per use helps remind me that buying cheap, fall-apart clothing can cost more in the long run. It gives me permission to buy nicer things that don't bleed dye in the wash. It also helps to keep my closet under control, as I buy fewer, more durable things. The end result is easier on the wallet, lower maintenance, and tends not to result in closet rods snapping under the weight of too much fabric.
I'm kicking myself for not having read this book sooner. It has got to be one of the best self-help books of all time. After finishing it, I immediately felt this surge of energy that I wanted to direct toward every scary thing I could think of. Start a new business! Learn to snorkel! Wrestle a bear! Well, maybe not wrestle a bear. You know what they say: Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, except for bears. Bears will just kill you. So if something scary happens, just think, at least it's not a bear.
Susan Jeffers' book Feel the Fear... and Do It Anyway is motivational, sure. There's a lot more to it than that, though. Confronting fear means going to some dark places. One of the exercises involves listing all the payoffs we get from stuck situations in our lives. For instance, when I still got migraines, which I wouldn't wish on anyone, I had a built-in alarm system telling me that I occasionally needed to spend a day resting in bed. I haven't had a migraine in nearly three years, but I can give myself permission to lounge around without that as my reason.
My husband and I almost decided against our backpacking trip to Iceland because we were both afraid I wouldn't be physically able to handle living in a tent for three weeks. Fear would have kept us from one of the best experiences of our lives. We did the trip, and I didn't get a migraine, and I was fine, and then we went to Spain for two weeks, and I was fine then too. Now neither of us worries about what we used to consider a significant problem.
This book does a terrific job in discussing grief, loss, pain, and resentment as well as fear. One of the key messages is that what we are really afraid of, in most situations, is 'not being able to handle it.' "I'm afraid I'll get a migraine while we're traveling in a foreign country, and I won't be able to handle it." Recognizing that tends to lead to the realization that I probably CAN in fact handle the situation.
Some quotes that stood out to me:
"OUTTALK YOUR NEGATIVITY"
On waiting for someone who is always late: "It gives me a rare opportunity to do nothing without feeling guilty!"
"Think about this: If you see that your purpose in life is to give, then it's almost impossible to be conned. If someone takes, they are simply fulfilling your life's purpose, and they deserve your thanks."
"If you have no concept of how the world can look without fear, it is hard to know what you are striving for."
I loved this book, and I wish I'd read it sooner. The message that "I can handle it" is going to stick with me. This is something that should be taught to everyone, starting with the tiniest kids.
I can't remember a time when my life didn't revolve around books. There's a picture of me at a family gathering, sitting alone on the couch with an oversized book in my lap, at the tender age of two. My mom used to drop whatever she was doing to read to me, because I would interrupt her with a book in my hand. Often I would ask her to read the same book again. We read The Party That Grew four times in a row one day. When I was seven, I tried to teach myself to read one book with each eye. Not much has changed; I just checked my phone and I am carrying no fewer than six audiobooks, forty-one e-books (with sixteen more on my tablet), and about a thousand news articles. Not to mention a physical library book. I hope books aren't the very meaning and substance of my life, but it's starting to look that way.
I'm not an introvert, but I play one on TV. I'm a shy extrovert, and I'm awkward in many social settings. I like meeting people and being in groups as long as I feel like I understand the group dynamic. I absolutely understand the innate preference for the company of a good book rather than some random stranger. The known versus the unknown. The comfort of sitting in the GO AWAY I'M READING bubble. The inherent attraction of the book itself. The book, I can choose. The stranger, not so much. I don't have to read annoying books, but I do sometimes have to interact with annoying people.
What I've started to realize is that everything I love about books is something to love about other people, as well. Unimpressive cover art may be hiding a fascinating story underneath. I might be swept away by a story that didn't seem all that interesting at first. This may be my first encounter with a singular voice unlike any I've known before. I'm going to learn something I never knew. For a short while, I can slip into another perspective and learn about life from another point of view.
Books are each the unique product of another human being's experience. This was brought home to me recently on a plane flight. The woman next to me asked me what I did, and when I told her I was a writer, she immediately asked me if I knew any ghostwriters. "That's the question of someone with a story to tell," I said. Sure enough, she had, and if she sold it, it could be a blockbuster. She had grown up in the world of boxing, had a picture of herself as a young girl with Muhammad Ali, knew some mafia figures, had traveled all around the world, and now judged dog shows. I asked her if she had ever ridden a camel, as a random guess, and she said yes! To think, my plan for that flight had been to finish a true crime book I was reading. Nothing whatsoever about my seat-mate's external appearance would have led me to guess any of the wild stories she carried inside.
Reading is like listening. We passively sit back and absorb the story, asking only that it hold our attention. Listening can be like reading. We can actively seek out a listening experience, anticipating that it will be interesting and worth our time. Maybe it will be fascinating. Maybe it will be so totally absorbing that we forget the passage of time. Maybe listening to this story can change our lives.
As a budding novelist, I've started to see listening to strangers as a supremely valuable opportunity. The better I get at my quest to be a world-class listener, the better I get at drawing great stories from unlikely sources. I'm not a naturally confident networker. I'd far, far rather stand at the sidelines and observe the proceedings. What I've started to try to do is to see myself as a rescuer of fellow shy people. If I see someone else who looks as uncomfortable as I feel, I will go over and try to break the ice. As long as we're both stuck there, we can spend a few minutes together. Maybe we can each get a book recommendation out of the conversation. Maybe this person is one of the roughly forty percent of introverts in our society, and a one-on-one conversation would be preferable to trying to mingle with a dozen strangers. Maybe this fellow shy person is an extrovert like me, who only needs a bit of encouragement to open up. Maybe we have all sorts of things in common, and maybe we can make friends.
When I say that books are people, I mean that they are mere artifacts of another human mind. Getting to know a book is inextricably linked to getting to know another person's perspective and manner of expression. Anything we can enjoy from reading can also be extracted from conversation, with enough imagination and skill. What I'm really saying is that people are books, waiting to be discovered and read attentively.
People work out for different reasons. Some do it because they're training for a sport. Some do it for stress relief. Some do it for physical therapy. Some do it for status. Some do it for mood repair. Some do it for the social opportunities. I have my own reasons, and one of them is that my husband asked me to go to the gym with him. He's an Upholder and I'm a Questioner. I thought I'd explore our different takes on the gym and physical fitness in general.
He's been an athlete since before he can really remember. He thinks he started at age 4. He has a big box of medals, ribbons, and trophies that he keeps trying to throw away, because of course those things are just silly byproducts of something he does for its own sake. He's an Eagle Scout, naturally, and he has played on at least seven different sports teams that I know of, some as an adult. Upholder motivations include following through on your commitments, doing things because that's just what one does, believing something is the right thing to do and then doing it, finishing what you start, and never letting anyone down. Sports are just one area where he commits to excellence. Show up, work hard, do what you said you'd do, and win. Other options? What other options?
I can only wish that anything, at any time, had ever appeared to me with such perfect clarity.
We're total opposites in many ways. He's tall, I'm short. He has a big frame, I have a small frame. (My wrists are 5 1/4"). He has a high pain threshold, I have a low pain threshold. He's fascinated by sports, I find them confusing. He can learn any new motion or dance step after seeing it done for a few seconds. I had to have my own teacher in step aerobics, fell off the step, and almost blacked out from pure exhaustion. I accidentally slapped someone once during ballroom dancing, and I fell during the polka and my skirt flipped up to my waist. I once sent my bowling ball backward, where it bounced onto the ball rack. Proprioception exists, I've seen it, but I don't seem to have much of it.
To give myself some credit, part of the reason I do so many ridiculous things is that I'm always ready to try something new. Questioners are easily bored. I have no emotional problems with being a complete novice and making a spectacle out of myself. This is my way of controlling a situation. If I'm going to be the focus of attention whether I like it or not, I'm going to get some comedic value out of it, for my private amusement if not for others. "It's for my blog." One of the things I like about the gym is learning to use all the multifarious contraptions.
We were working in, and as I was waiting my turn I saw a guy pushing a big red sled with weights on it. He pushed it all the way across the gym, and then he pushed it back. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I knew it was inevitable that I would one day push this sled. I pointed it out to my husband, who grimaced. "That's hard." "I know, it looks hard!" Rational assessment on his part, foolish enchantment on mine. I like running uphill in the mud. What can I say? "What did Santa bring you?" "Heavy stuff."
I don't need accountability to exercise. I used to be fat, sedentary, and chronically ill. I accidentally cured myself of thyroid disease through exercise, bicycling to be precise, and the lightbulb went on. I have the power to control my body in ways that doctors tried to convince me I could not. I unlocked an access panel with a bunch of switches, levers, dials, lights, knobs, and ports, many of which I don't yet understand, because there's no instruction manual. Part of the attraction for me in going to the gym is in seeing other people at higher fitness levels, doing awesome things. I see people older than me who have more muscle definition, and I think "Aha." The more I learn about physiology, nutrition, and fitness, the more I realize how little I know, and the more interesting it gets. Action-oriented people are temperamentally very different from the more cerebral or artistic people with whom I usually associated, so the athletic mindset was yet another new thing to learn.
As a Questioner, I work out because it satisfies my curiosity, it involves lots of mysterious tools and buzzwords and classes forever just outside my skill set, and because it's proven to be a terrific outlet for my high energy level. I dig it. I tried it thinking I would hate it, I was wrong, and now it's sold itself to me. When I can't work out, I feel progressively more cruddy, and I long to get started again the minute I can.
The Upholder jam seems to be different. Upholders have a sort of checklist of things they do. If it's on the checklist, they will do it or they will show you the missing limb that prevented them from doing it (for a while). If it's not on the checklist, well, it doesn't count. For this reason I think Upholders are a bit more vulnerable to loopholes. If an Upholder's priority is career, exercise may not be on the checklist, along with sleep or regular meals. We'd like to suggest that the priority be 'rational self-care.' Caring for your body makes you more productive. But then that's Questioner logic...
We like different stuff. My Upholder husband likes the weight machines, because they're efficient and he can get in a full workout in 20 minutes. He has outsized stamina and he's physically fearless. I've known him to crank out a 90-minute workout that would have taken me a month. The intensity can be an obstacle, though, because he isn't as comfortable with a 'drop in the bucket' approach. He doesn't always want to be bothered if he doesn't have the time or the energy level to meet his own standards for a "real" workout. That's why I'm there, because if we have a gym date, we'll both go. I like lifting weights because TOYS, and I like yoga because there are a million postures, and I like running because I can catch up on podcasts. Sometimes lifting weights interferes with my desire to engage in my other exercise preferences. Right now, there's this fascinating feature of my dear hubby, teaching me how to use all the machines.
It could quickly fall apart. We've had memberships at the same gym during two other times in our lives. Each time, I quit, and then he quit going. The first time, I felt like I had reached my goal and I believed I wouldn't need to go to the gym anymore. (Pfft). The second time, I had just discovered trail running, and our gym kept playing "Teenage Dream," and it didn't make sense to me to pay for a membership when I would run in the rain and cold regardless. I "feel like working out" at various times of day, and I've done a workout every minute between 6 AM and midnight at one time or another. Following a routine in the same place, at the same time, doing the same workout, will eventually break me. Knowing this, I know I need to either do my own, separate workouts on my own recognizance, or I need to keep upping the ante and training for a specific goal on a deadline. I'm not at the gym for myself, I'm there for my mate. Solidarity.
My husband taught me everything I know about developing an athletic mindset and training like a champion. He made a parasomniac with chronic pain issues into a marathon runner. Without him as my coach, I'm not sure I ever would have freed myself from illness or become an athlete. Probably not. It was my desire to know his heart that helped me open myself to the idea. What would it be like to enjoy exercise? What would it be like to hone my body the way I always tried to hone my mind? Could I hold myself physically to the same standards of excellence that I esteemed in other areas? I found answers to all these questions. I owe him.
My mother-in-law was also an Upholder. There's a chain of at least three generations of them in that family, and I think Upholders train one another into that tendency. She taught me that exercise is just like any other chore. I understood that this advice came from a sincere wish to reach me in a way that would make sense to me, and I realized what a sweet gift that was. She got me. A motivational speech about fitness from her would probably have been different if I were anyone else. After all, she had coached weight loss for forty years and she knew what she was doing.
That's what it comes down to. We do what we do because it makes sense and because it works for us. Or at least we think it does. I was perfectly convinced that illness was something that just happened to me, and I believed my doctors when they said there were no lifestyle inputs. Others will be convinced that their personality is not compatible with this kind of activity, or that they somehow genetically lack willpower or motivation. What is needed is some compelling reason that feels convincing. Why would someone like me do something like this? Answer: Because.
Dear Future Self, what are you wearing? What is in your closet?
Also, what's your phone like? Just asking.
In ten years, I'll be ten years older. Yeah, duh, you might be thinking. Obvious things can often be more revealing to think about than non-obvious things, though. I'm 41 today, and in ten years I'll be 51. Assuming all the clothes I have today could somehow survive another ten years of washing and wearing, would I still want to wear them as a fifty-one-year-old?
The first question is one of size. What size will I be in ten years? There are three distinct types of answers to this question.
I have no idea - how could I possibly know that?
Same size I am right now, obviously, because I am a marble statue
I will have reached the fitness goal for which I am currently on track.
Ten years ago, I was 31. Yes, yes, you can count too. Past Self: Age 31 was coming down from our top weight at age 29. At that time, we had at least four different sizes of clothes in the closet. Our goal weight was 18 pounds heavier than I am today. We hadn't yet bought into the concept that there is a method of being at Healthy Weight for My Height and deviating only over a small range. We were still caught in this idea that body weight is either genetically determined, or a function of the weather. It just happened.
I've worn eight different clothing sizes in my adult life, and spent at least a year at each of those sizes. Now I've been the same size for three years. I have a solid understanding of exactly what behavior patterns on my part will eventually result in physical changes that are reflected in each of those clothing sizes. Size 14 involved a lot of fried food. The Pepsi and Pringles Diet worked for me! I didn't get below a size 6 until I learned to cook vegetables. (NB: and eat them)
I can look around my yoga class at the gym, see that there are ladies present in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, and surmise that if I keep doing what I'm doing today, I will probably look a lot like them when I reach that age. In ten years, I will probably be very similar to the size I am today, only with better posture.
The second question is one of style. Will I still like the same stuff in ten years? Will it still be somewhat fashionable?
If I have one wish as I get older, it is that I will care progressively less and less what other people think of me. That includes clothes. If I want to wear something woefully out of sync with the trends of the day, I most likely will. That's never been anything that stopped me before.
On the other hand, I've already started to feel sad when I find myself contemplating clothes meant for younger women. At my size, dignified, professional clothing is vanishingly rare. Everything is meant for going to the beach, hanging out at the mall, or going to high school. That's my impression anyway. If I change my mind ten years from now and want to dress like a teenager, I can always go to those shops and find something. For today, when I look at what's in my closet, I can ask myself, Does this look like something 51-Year-Old Future Me would want to wear?
The third question is a simple one of climate. Will I still be living here? Am I likely to move north and need warmer clothes? That's possible, and that's an issue I can resolve if I decide to make that change. In the meantime, I have only to ask myself how often I wear what I have now. I only need to dress for extreme cold for a few days a year, so I don't have to keep as many coats and scarves as I used to when I lived in Oregon. Other people may find that they don't need nearly as many pairs of shorts, tank tops, etc.
The fourth question is one of use. Are these clothes going to be usable in ten years?
I loathe shopping. Always did, and I loathe it even more now that it's so hard to find smaller clothes. When I find something I like, I now wear it into a rag. When I split the back seam of my favorite jeans, I seriously contemplated trying to patch them before acknowledging that they were a lost cause. There is no way any of the clothes I have now will survive another ten years of use. Not the socks, not the pajamas, not even those rarely worn winter clothes.
The fifth question is a bit more complex. If I am so emotionally attached to a particular item that I intend to hang onto it for another ten years, no matter what, will it still work with anything else I have? Certain garments only wind up being worn in combination with certain others. That includes jewelry, shoes, specialty undergarments, and anything else that makes it feel like an 'outfit.' If any elements of the prize outfit aren't going to make it, does that reflect on the wearability of the treasured piece?
The purpose of this exercise is to reexamine our wardrobes in terms of our future needs. We tend to want to keep things because we feel that we made a commitment to them in the past. We invested money. We liked being that size, or at least, we liked it better than the size we are now. We are alienated by the trends we currently see in the mall, and we're alarmed at having to let go of the familiar in favor of the disconcerting. (I'm from a generation that believes Tights Are Not Pants). We find ourselves with closets, drawers, and piles of unwearable clothing, things that Present Self can't use and doesn't need. Present Self often misses Past Self, even though Past Self is the same lazy, selfish brat who spent all our money and kept leaving us all those stacks of messy papers and dirty dishes. It can really help to look forward and imagine what Future Self is going to want.
Not sure about you, but whenever my Future Self calls me, she always asks for more money. She always gives me an earful about any annoying chores I've put off and saved for her to do. She often picks on me about my fashion choices, hairstyle, dietary habits, etc. I recognize the same things I complain about to Past Self. One of the few thing I can do for Future Self today is to do a bit of culling and let go of clothes neither of us will ever wear.
One thing is guaranteed to lead to money problems, and that is a feeling of deprivation. Budgets are a psychological issue for most people in the exact same way that diets are. Yes, they absolutely do work, in both cases, with the stipulation that the time is spent examining one's default state and looking for the holes. The trouble is that we're only human. Analyzing our behavior and looking for our personal flaws is not something we want to do with our free time. We'd much rather talk about other people's behavior and THEIR flaws. Think about other people and their money problems. Discuss weird celebrities and their dysfunctional eating/drinking/drugging patterns. Where is Future Self in all this? The goal is to live intentionally in such a way that we are meeting our own standards. Where we spend money is where we spend our life energy, and if anything should match our values, that should.
The ultimate goal is contentment in daily life. When I think about my perfect day, I'm very close to it. I spend time with my favorite people (and critters) doing work I enjoy in an area where I like to live. I'm in the fabled state of feeling comfortable in my own skin. I worked for the body I want to have, one that is free of chronic illness. My surroundings are structured for comfort. If I were going to change anything about my most boringly ordinary day, it would be to add maybe a little more art. There are two tricks here. One is to extract the utmost enjoyment from activities that don't cost anything. The other is to know how much it costs every month to live this way. When your perfect day costs less than your income, you can rest easy and know you won't have financial worries.
Oh, great. Easy for you to say, sitting where you're sitting. That's what I would have thought of this advice ten years ago. Definitely twenty years ago. It would have been so aggravating to listen to someone who was financially comfortable talking about how great it is not to worry about money. The truth is that you don't have to worry about money at any level of income or debt. You just have to work at it until you have it where you want it. Worry is not required. It's just a default emotional reaction. If you trust that your true physical needs will be taken care of, if you believe that you're working toward the asymptote of financial freedom, then you can relax. Keep plugging away at the routine and the time will pass before you know it.
The time will pass before you know it anyway.
Getting out of debt is exactly like losing weight. First there's the extreme reluctance to look at the numbers. Numbers are freedom. Data, nothing more. Hug the data. Love the data. Data can get you where you want to be. Getting an accurate number for your monthly dinger shouldn't be any more emotional than stepping on a scale, and maybe less so. Figuring out exactly what you owe in every area shouldn't have to be any harder than looking at lab results of your blood work. Here am I today, facing reality. Is that the reality I would have chosen, or not? What is free will for, other than that? I have the power to change my attitude and I have the power to influence my circumstances. The sooner I start, the easier it will be.
Debt snowballs and adds to itself at a very rapid rate. Every month that I tremble under the blankets, afraid of that monster in the closet, is another month that it's eating Miracle Grow and lifting weights, sharpening its claws, waiting to jump out at me. Better to get a big flashlight and a crowbar and go in after it while it's still smaller than me.
I lost 15 of the 35 pounds I've taken off by going on a very strict calorie-restriction diet for three months. I cried. "I just want a chimichanga!" I wailed. But I succeeded in losing the weight, and nearly three years later, it's still gone. In retrospect, not only was it totally worth it, but I wish I'd been much stricter. I could have lost another of the 5 pounds that took another month to get off. Getting out of consumer debt in my early 30s was much the same, except that it was psychologically easier for me. In fact, I lost a little weight during that time as a natural result of saving money, and I never thought twice about it. Deprivation again.
During my debt-reduction period, I built my life around wiping out the debt. Aside from my two student loans, I had two maxed-out credit cards, an auto loan, and personal debt to, I think, four people. I spent all my free time either at the gym or the public library, doing a side hustle, reading, or watching library DVDs. Any time I got extra money it went toward the credit card balance. I paid off the personal loans as quickly as I could, starting with the smallest. I wound up selling my car and paying off the loan. After that, I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I paid for my share of our wedding in cash. All I've had in the last seven years has been the remainder of my student loan at 3.22%. That time of my life wasn't so much about budgeting as about restructuring my time for a brief period. It took not quite two years to pay off all my personal and consumer debt. If I'd knuckled down and continued to live that way, I could have finished paying off the student loan in another couple of years, too.
Lots of people would love to feel financially secure, but not at the price that it actually costs. Move to a smaller place. Sell one or more of your vehicles. Get rid of your storage unit. Cancel cable. Quit drinking your signature beverage(s) until you're debt-free. Do your own beauty treatments. Stay away from stores that trigger you to buy things you didn't know existed. Read every book you own. Finish every project for which you've bought materials. If any of this sounds harsh, maybe you don't want it badly enough. Financial security creates an emotional state in which splurging on these things seems silly and self-sabotaging. Financial insecurity creates an emotional state of scarcity in which splurging on these things feels like the only way to get through life. The end results are completely different. Again, it's not budgeting that's involved. It's making personal decisions about your daily behavior, and weighing whether each recurring choice matters as much to you as the knowledge that your future financial needs are being met.
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.