“Don’t die with your gifts still inside.” Amber Rae’s book starts here, and for me at least, it was like a mallet ringing a huge gong. Whatever else we’re worried about, it should be drowned out by that imperative, that we fulfill our purpose during the time we have in this world. What is it about worry that it always manages to claim our attention? Choose Wonder Over Worry invites us to explore other ways of relating to our anxieties, ways that made me feel like someone had been reading my own personal diary. I couldn’t get enough of it.
First, Rae differentiates between toxic worry and useful worry. Useful worry helps us to figure out how to solve our problems, strategize, and make plans. Obviously keep doing that. Toxic worry, on the other hand, creates resistance and blocks us from living a full life. We tell ourselves stories about events and react based on negative feelings like shame and envy. While this may seem self-evident, it’s here that the book really starts to take off.
Some of the best elements of Choose Wonder Over Worry are the artwork and the journal prompts. There were a couple of these that I could really use in a poster format! For example, page 77 in its entirety. I do quite a lot of journaling, and even with that background, there were several prompts that made me nod, wince, jump up in my seat, or otherwise physically react to their strength and insight.
I didn’t know anything about Amber Rae’s work when I discovered this book. Choose Wonder Over Worry made me into a fan. This is a book to savor, to engage with care and attention. I’m still mulling over questions from these pages, and it’s very much on my mind. This book is on my top ten for the year so far.
“Worry is useful only when it’s within our control and empowers us to act.”
Where in your life do you not feel ready yet? What small step can you take today?
You need to learn how to start saying no to things you DO want.
If criticism and judgment didn’t matter, what would you do? Say? Focus on?
Make a wish. Why not?
Whenever there’s something you want, ask yourself, Why not? Why shouldn’t it happen? Why shouldn’t I get it?
Almost always, the answer is, Go right on ahead. Nothing is stopping you. There really aren’t any reasons why you shouldn’t have something.
Wishing feels selfish to many people. They ask, Why SHOULD it happen? Why SHOULD I get it? Why me? There are lots of great answers to these questions.
Say you wish for a job, and you get it. If you get the job, it means you were the best applicant. People more experienced than you interviewed several people, so if they chose you, then you can feel confident that they knew what they were doing. You’re the best. You’ll be the one who commits and does the best job. That makes your boss’s life easier, helps the company to run more smoothly, helps your coworkers to get their work done, and ultimately helps your customers. When you wish for a better job, you’re really wishing to give more to more people.
Say you wish for a nicer place to live. You apply for an apartment or you buy a house, and you get it. You’re the best tenant and the best neighbor. You’re happier there than you were at your old place, and because of this, your very presence improves the neighborhood. You take care of your home and the area around it, and you look out for everyone around you. When you wish for a nicer place to live, you’re making the world a better place just by being there.
Say you wish for romance. You meet someone and you’re irresistibly drawn to one another. You get to know each other, and you realize that everything is just better when you’re together. Your appreciation of this person, your delight in their presence, makes them feel loved and wanted. They can’t believe their luck, that they would meet someone like you who would be so pleased to be with them. When you wish for romance, you’re beaming more love into the world.
Where are the flaws in these examples?
It doesn’t work if you want the results without giving back.
If you wish for a job where you get a lot of money for complaining, procrastinating, being rude and impatient with customers, and spreading negative gossip about your coworkers, well, good luck with that.
If you wish for a nicer place to live, but then you pay your rent late, don’t do routine maintenance or communicate with the property manager, make a lot of noise, leave a bunch of junk and trash around your yard, and fight with your neighbors, well, then it isn’t really a nicer place to live anymore, is it?
If you wish for romance, but what that means to you is that someone nicer than you in every way waits on you hand and foot while you criticize everything they do, well, we shall see.
What makes it work is that you are ready to give. Give first and give lavishly.
Wish for a career that challenges you to live up to your full potential, something that brings out more in you than you realized you had. What would it feel like to have a job that you didn’t hate, that wasn’t drudgery, that you didn’t dread morning and night? What would it feel like to actually love what you do and feel fascinated with it? Bring that feeling to work with you. When you do, doors magically start to open, because this attitude makes you a dream employee.
Wish for a home where you feel safe and comfortable, a place where you love to come home and spend your time. When you really love where you live, you’re inspired to make it beautiful and welcoming, to yourself and others. This adds charm to your street and inspires other people to carry that feeling back to their own homes.
Wish for a relationship filled with mutual delight and appreciation. When you find someone you simply enjoy, someone you like and respect, you show it. Your positive regard comes through when you’re a good listener and a good friend, when you demonstrate your affection by doing nice things and being emotionally present. The conversation flows and you develop into companions. There’s a certain peace in being with someone, when you trust and understand one another. It helps you both to be better friends to other people whom you know more casually. It can also help you both to provide a sense of solidity to family and others in the community. Show them how it’s done.
Wait, it can’t be that easy. It can’t! I can’t just have all my wishes come true, can I? That doesn’t even make sense! What about my selfish wishes?
Why not? Why wouldn’t you be willing to step up and be the best employee or the best boss, the best tenant or the best neighbor, the best wife or husband or boyfriend or girlfriend? Ask yourself that first.
What about the selfish wishes, though? I have so many!
It isn’t wrong to wish for things. It’s neutral.
If I wish for a stack of pancakes, I can make them, which doesn’t bother anyone, or I can suggest it and someone else in the house can make them, which I can receive as a gift of love that I then gratefully reciprocate at a later point. (Maybe by cleaning the kitchen afterward). I can also go out and buy a stack of pancakes, which provides someone else an opportunity to make a living selling those pancakes. (I hear they’re selling like hotcakes). I could perhaps also steal someone else’s pancakes, which would cause trouble for me, pointlessly. If I was really that hungry, I could offer to make the pancakes for someone else: You supply the kitchen and the ingredients, I’ll do the cooking and the cleanup. Maybe my obsessive desire for hot fresh pancakes turns into a beloved breakfast cafe and I can be surrounded by them all day long.
It’s really hard to make a true wish that doesn’t benefit multiple people along the way.
Wishes have a way of rippling outward, turning into bigger wishes that then trigger yet more wishes. Along the way, these wishes ignite new relationships and generate economic activity. Why not? Why not wish for anything you want?
Functional fitness is my thing. I don’t give a rat’s [censored] what I look like or what other people think about my body. Ha, if you have a problem with how I look, then wait until you hear me talk! All I want is to be able to do awesome stuff and not be distracted by my creaky, wheezing, lumpy old physical vessel. This is why I find myself making extremely specific fitness goals.
Sometimes what I want is something crazy, something I didn’t even know was possible for a human body until I saw someone else doing it. The first time I felt this way was when I saw another kid doing a backflip. The second time was when an older gentleman came to our middle school to do a martial arts demo, and he chopped a board in half with his hand. The third time was when my brother casually mentioned that he had gone for a five-mile run. After that it was a show at the Oregon Country Fair with ribbon aerials and a genuine contortionist.
Tell you what, if I could wake up tomorrow and do any of those things I’d laugh the entire rest of the day. Then I’d go out the door and stop everyone I saw and demonstrate all my stupid human tricks.
Why would I NOT want to be able to do contortions or chop through a board??
The other night, I read about an elderly man who does “wall push-ups.” Oh, that’s kinda sad, I thought, just wall presses? What I was visualizing was something I’ve taught, where you stand facing a wall, put your arms in push-up position, and push back and forth with the wall for resistance. Sure, it works for someone who is building up from chronic fatigue, recovering from surgery, or in physical therapy. Ah, but then I kept reading. What he actually meant when he said “wall push-ups” was that he would do a hand stand against the wall, and then push himself up and down with just his hands. Like an upside-down human pogo stick! OH MY DOG do I need to do this. If this older fella who is in fact older than my own father can do this, then why can’t I? I’ve always wanted to do a handstand.
Then it occurred to me that I have a mental bucket list of extremely specific fitness goals, but they’ve always floated around as unformed pseudo-intentions. Not even a wish, much less a goal. I’m very very good at wishing and goal-setting and making my goals into reality. Why, then, had I never made a real list of these extremely specific fitness goals?
I enrolled in a martial arts academy as my personal challenge for 2018. The warmups wipe me out. I’m already at the point, though, where I’m doing things I never believed I could. Thirty push-ups! Planks for a minute or more! One-armed push-ups! Roundhouse kicks! Box jumps! Using an ab roller without falling on my face! More than one burpee! I appear to have put on ten pounds of muscle already, and my goal for the year was fifteen. As I sit here, I am realizing that any extremely specific fitness goal is within my reach, definitely One Day, probably by the end of the year, possibly by the end of the month, and MAYBE something I could just do later today!
Stuff I’ve never done but always wanted to do:
Riding a unicycle
Juggling six balls
Walking on my hands with my legs in the air
Push-ups with a clap in between
Completing a triathlon (except I kinda can’t swim)
Two pull-ups in a row
A muscle-up (something my parrot does many times a day)
Getting electrocuted and swimming in ice water in the Spartan Race, cuz YOLO
Wrestling an alligator (which my husband has expressly forbidden so I should probably wrestle him first)
There are some other things that petrify me, but that I would immediately do if I ever woke up and Felt No Fear:
Breaking a board with my hand
Kicking down a door
Learning to sail and then sailing to Hawaii
Hmm. Why am I more afraid of snorkeling than I am of wrestling an alligator? Probably because I know quite a lot about animal behavior and circus tricks, more than I do about swimming? I also think of knife fighting as within my reach because they teach a little in the advanced classes at my martial arts school. Eh, I’ll get to that next year.
I don’t need to do any of my extremely specific fitness goals. In fact, most of them I would probably have to keep private, either because they would scare my mom or because everyone loves to bag on people for sharing their workouts. (Quit trying to tell me about TV commercials all the time and it’s a done deal). I’ve found, though, that goals make life more interesting. My goals make me notice what other people are up to and they make me more genuinely curious and attentive in conversations. It turns out that most people are up to all kinds of crazy stuff that they don’t think to mention.
Forty-two is that cliche midlife crisis age, and I’m totally there. I’ve decided to give myself my dream childhood. Why shouldn’t I? I’m not hurting anybody, or at least if you’ve had a problem with my hula hoop then you were in the way. I’m out earning ribbons for public speaking and stripes on my belts in martial arts and medals for running footraces at a very slow pace. Maybe soon I’ll be cartwheeling and backflipping across the grass.
If you ever hear about me wrestling an alligator, look for me at the marina, because I’m going to be needing that sailboat to Hawaii once my husband finds out.
One of the consistently humorous moments in my work with chronically disorganized people is when they find stuff in their homes, and they can’t figure out how it got there. Whose is it? How long has it been here? Where did it come from?
Sometimes they don’t even know what it is!
We’ve been in situations where there is an entire box full of random items to redistribute. Whose are they? Former roommates? Friends from gaming night? Gremlins? The best we can do is to put that box by the front door and try to remember to ask people to check inside the next time they come over.
This issue of infiltration by random items comes from a lack of situational awareness. It’s cute and charming and funny, but it can also be... a little dangerous?
Not noticing your surroundings can lead to all sorts of problems, from spilling coffee to tripping and falling downstairs. I had a client who couldn’t find an actual dead rat for several days! It’s worse than that. The rat was in plain view. In the living room. And the pet dogs didn’t notice it, either. I’m like, your dogs are fired. But then, my personal dog is a rat terrier, so maybe it’s unfair to compare other dogs to him in that regard.
The simplest way to grow into greater situational awareness is with a focusing exercise that I call Perimeter Check.
Simply put, Perimeter Check means walking through each room and looking around. Many people learn to do this at work, using a checklist and doing routine tasks like closing out the till, taking out the trash, or setting the security system. There are few things more common than my people using a skill at a high level on the job, and then failing to use that same skill once they get home. That’s because there is no built-in accountability, no negative consequence for not doing it. We try to see Perimeter Check as a quick, easy thing we do for ourselves and our friends and family.
Perimeter Check can be done in mere seconds. Every time you get up, whether it’s on a bus seat, leaving work for the day, or at the movies, just glance around and make sure you have all your stuff. My hubby and I are both notorious for having to go back for stuff. I made up a little rhyme to try to make this something funny, rather than annoying:
Wallet, phone, glasses, keys / I don’t like mac and cheese
In a hotel room, Perimeter Check can be done in about a minute. I’ve been conditioning my hubby to perform it with me as a redundantly duplicate act of redundancy. We both open and shut every drawer, look in the closet, and check the shower and the bathroom counter. Before we started doing this, we had something of a track record of losing things in hotels, including the earrings I wore to our wedding. It would be nice to live in a perfect world where these left behind items are returned to Lost and Found, but in practice that has virtually never happened. It’s our responsibility to look after our own belongings, and with a sixty-second Perimeter Check, we do.
Around the house, Perimeter Check depends entirely on how many rooms there are and how much stuff is in each room.
We live in a studio apartment (technically a “junior one-bedroom” but it does not have a bedroom door, or a wall, or... a dishwasher or a washer or dryer or air conditioning or... ). Optimally, a Perimeter Check should only take us a couple of minutes. Due to the nature of living in two rooms, almost every single thing we own is in open view at all times. Even the closet doesn’t have its own door, so you can stand in the bathroom and see all our clothes, luggage, sheets, towels, shoes, laundry soap, etc. Obviously we can’t have a huge amount of personal items in a 600-square-foot apartment, but there is that issue of dozens of things in multiple colors and shapes and sizes. It’s like a “find the hidden object” puzzle. Without systems in place, it could be challenging.
What are the systems?
Everything has to justify its existence in our home
One in, one or two out
A place for everything and everything in its place
Never put something big in front of or on top of something small
Clear surfaces except when in use
Paper-free whenever possible
Basically what this means is that the kitchen counter, bathroom counter, floor, couch, and desktops need to be kept clear. If something is sitting on one of these clear, flat surfaces, that means it’s an intentional signal to do something. (Mail it, replace it, repair it, bring it with you).
Perimeter Check happens as a routine a few times a day. My hubby does it every morning when he leaves for work: Feed dog, walk dog, put dog in crate, grab backpack, grab bike, lock door. After that process, the only objects left on view in those areas should be things that belong there, like the dog leash. I do almost the identical routine when I leave, and then we both reverse it when we get home. This gives us ample opportunity to notice when the dog food bag is getting low or when he needs his prescription filled at the vet. The vitally important area around the front door is constantly being checked and cleared. At bedtime, it takes just a few seconds to check the locks, turn out lights, and gauge the levels of the laundry basket, toothpaste tube, dental floss, etc. There are a thousand tiny cogs in the machinery of daily life, and it can be a lot, but doing the routine Perimeter Check is a way of keeping everything running smoothly without a lot of extra mental energy.
Our home is for us, not our stuff. A house should serve the people and animals who live there. We should be able to sit on the couch, eat at the table, cook in the kitchen, sleep on the bed, and get ready in the bathroom. If there are any mysterious objects floating around, how did they get there and why didn’t we notice them? A stray tennis ball wound up in our yard one day, and believe me, our dog noticed within hours, if not minutes. A Perimeter Check is a way of fully inhabiting our home and, even more, our mental space.
As long as I’m making a contrarian stand, I might as well toss out there that a house most likely isn’t an asset, either, but that’s a topic for another day. An “asset” is an economic resource, something valuable that produces income. If a thing generates expenses, then it is not an asset, it is a liability. The concept that a car may actually be costing someone money, that it might not qualify as an asset, is something that can really be upsetting. Let’s explore it, though. At the end of the thought experiment, anyone who owns a car will still own it, and nothing has changed except for a bit of a brain workout. Let’s go. Why is a car not an asset?
When I owned a car, I was utterly shocked to realize that it was costing me a quarter of my net income. A friend of mine who drives a low-mileage pickup truck disputed my figures. Look, I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a very high income at the time. Almost everything I earned went to the three categories of rent for my cruddy apartment, my car, and my student loans. There are probably a lot of people in my situation, who have never thought about how much it costs to have a car in their life but who could technically be getting to work by other means.
Note: Driving your car to your workplace to earn an income does not make the car an asset. The job is the asset.
There are only three ways that a car could ultimately be an asset, which I would define as bringing in more money than it costs. That would have to be more than a break-even rate, too. I imagine a car could be an asset if it 1. Earned its own income, such as a classic car being used in commercials, but does this even happen? Would that income actually exceed the total cost of the car, including purchase price and lifetime carrying costs? 2. Sold for far more than its original purchase price plus lifetime carrying costs, but does this ever happen, either? Like a, um, what do you call them, a Maybach or something? 3. Enables the owner to earn more money than could be earned through other means. I don’t think this is true of 80% of ride-share drivers, for instance, because it looks like most of them aren’t calculating externalities such as depreciation of their vehicle. They also aren’t paying themselves for the time they spend waiting or driving the unpaid legs of their trips.
The reason most people think of their vehicles as assets is that the thought of trying to get through life without one just seems hopeless or extremely annoying. Never put people in a position where they feel that they are going to lose something or have something taken from them. It’s the same with personal finance or fitness - people feel that “giving up” an inefficient habit is not worth the gain of being debt-free or more agile. It’s hard for us as humans to realize that letting go of one thing can be a significant upgrade, a tradeoff for something better.
I claimed that a car is not an asset, because it depreciates in value and because it incurs significant carrying costs. I also claimed that a bicycle is an asset. Let me back that up.
When I was 22, I got a windfall at my $9/hour job, a retroactive pay increase of $400. I sat on that money for about two months as I decided what to do with it. Then a sale came up at a local bicycle warehouse. I bought the new bike that I still own 20 years later. I had been paying between $30-$35/month for a bus pass, and I wanted to cut that expense from my budget. At just $30/month, the cost of the bike would be fully amortized in 13 months. That bike was my main source of transportation for the next three years, and sporadically in the following years, depending on where I was living. My bike became an asset because it allowed me to save money I had previously been spending.
There are other reasons why I regarded my bike as an asset:
At that time in my life, on $9/hour, I could not afford to own a car. I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying to join a gym. My bike, which paid for itself, was a major life upgrade. I felt stronger and safer, and I had more time and slightly more discretionary income.
After I originally sold my car in - I think it was 2007? - I got my old bike tuned up and started riding it around again. I paid off my credit card balances. I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I bought a new couch. Then I went on vacation to Cancun. I’ve remained free of consumer debt for over a decade now, and I’ve gone on yet more vacations, just longer, more often, to more interesting places, in much nicer hotels. Car ownership was draining a quarter of my income, and after I eliminated that expense, I was finally able to start saving for retirement in earnest.
I got married in 2009, paying for my share of our wedding in cash, and we both drove my husband’s pickup until it died a little after 200,000 miles. We switched to a sedan and got a great rate on the loan, because my credit score is over 800. It was still a loan, though. We sold it back to the dealership after the big emissions scandal, and due to that weird situation, we essentially drove it for two years for just the cost of the gas. The improvement in our cash flow since we’ve been car-free has meant an escalation in our retirement planning. We save and invest 35% of our income, a number we couldn’t pull off while our practical, economy car was bleeding off $700/month in total costs.
I got my old bike tuned up again. My hubby and I have started riding around and exploring our neighborhood together. It feels like we’re dating. More than that, it feels like we’re on a date on a vacation! There’s just something indisputably romantic about riding bikes on a bike path together. I can’t say I ever felt that way when we were spending our weekends driving through freeway traffic to go to the warehouse store. I know neither of us ever felt that way when we were commuting in freeway traffic to get to work. Riding our bikes is helping us to save thousands of dollars for our retirement, stay fit and mobile as we get older, avoid the worst annoyances of standard commuting, and even feel more connected and affectionate with each other. For all these reasons, I continue to claim that a car is not an asset but a bicycle is.
It’s been over a dozen years since I was on the dating market, so when I read dating manuals, it’s always with the question, Would this work? Often that’s followed by the question, Would I even want it to? I distinctly recall reading The Rules and throwing it across the room. I also followed my husband around a bookstore, reading sections of Fascinating Womanhood aloud and making him shudder all over. It’s in this context that I say I think The Love Gap is an excellent, very smart book that could really lead to a strong marriage, a win for both partners.
For context, I’m the sort that author Jenna Birch refers to as an “End Goal” woman. I’m a Mensan with a degree in History. As a bachelorette, I had already paid off my consumer debt, and I had a really cute apartment where I did a lot of recipe testing. I knew where my life was going, and after an early divorce, I was in no hurry to remarry. My current husband had only been divorced for a year when we met, and he was still in the midst of a custody battle. Simply put, when we met, we were on different tracks and not in the same emotional reality. The Love Gap makes a lot of sense for anyone trying to evaluate the potential of a romantic prospect in a challenging situation.
What does Birch mean by the “Love Gap”? It’s the reason why men don’t always pursue the women they claim to want, namely the smart, independent, successful ones. There’s a gap between their desires and their actions. What sets The Love Gap apart from earlier generations of romantic advice is that it holds these men accountable for their cognitive dissonance, immaturity, and poor behavior, rather than burdening women with doing the emotional homework for both sides. The major lesson of the book is in how to evaluate a man’s readiness for a relationship, and then plan accordingly. Read: avoid all the heartbreaking nonsense.
The Love Gap includes research and profiles of relationships from all levels of commitment and long- or short-term results. The premise is that a smart, independent, successful woman can be herself, live a full life, and still build a relationship without compromising, settling, or selling herself short. A marriage of equals is possible, and it’s a lot more likely when we’re not wasting our time tolerating shabby treatment. I recommend buying several copies and using them to replace any old copies of The Rules that might be lurking on a shelf somewhere.
You’re settling if you feel like you are.
...love is the most idealistic of all our goals.
If you never see a flaw, it’s not real.
If you live and die by the health of your relationship you’re not in the best position to be in one.
Least favorite quote:
“...no matter a woman’s level of physical attractiveness, the researchers found men rated optimal intelligence level to be right around 7 out of 10.” [Though I can’t blame the author for this].
There are two obstacles to finding love: Not being emotionally available, and locking yourself up in a non-loving relationship with the wrong person. That’s it. Both are equally likely to lead to long-term loneliness. Not being open to love harms two people: yourself, and your potential mate who lies awake at night in a state of longing. Being in the wrong relationship harms at least four people! You, the person you should be with, the person you are with incorrectly, and the person your wrong partner ought to be with. It may also ripple outward, teaching a lot of bad lessons to anyone who sees how wrong you are together. This is why it’s a good idea to consider falsification of your relationship.
Falsification is the process of proving yourself wrong. For instance, if I see my husband talking to another woman, I could have several reactions. I could think, “That cad! I married a womanizer.” I could think, “That man-eating wench! She is trying to steal my husband.” I could think, “That must be his new intern.” Or I could think, “My husband is having an interesting conversation; I bet I’d like her.” I need more information about the situation before I automatically assume that I understand what I think I’m seeing.
Who are you going to believe, me, or your own lying eyes?
I look at my marriage as a blood oath. I took this man, and that day, I took his family as my family. Anyone who belongs to him belongs to me. As such, if anyone in my new extended family needs me, I’ll do anything I can, in any way, to be there for them. ‘Wife’ is a job, just like ‘husband’ or ‘parent’ is a job. It’s my mission to be the best wife I can be, to be supportive and to further his interests and back him up in every way. I’m on his side and he’s on mine.
However. If the contract is ever broken, then all bets are off.
I would instantly break off a relationship with any man who scared me, threatened me, or physically attacked me. Once. That’s a 100% dealbreaker. I would also break off a relationship with a man who lied. If I don’t have total honesty then I don’t have a relationship, I have an association. I’d stay with him if he went to prison, but only if he was innocent; if he committed a crime I’d drop him like a hot rock. My love is based on the belief that I’ve chosen and married a good and honest man. If he lied, attacked me, or committed a crime, any of these actions would falsify my belief in his fundamental character.
As a rational person, I have to accept the statistics. A marriage between two people who have both been divorced previously is statistically unlikely to last. A second marriage between divorced people over a certain age is even less likely to last. Our chances are low. Knowing that going in, we have to be more careful. In the back of our minds, we both have this little closet of All the Bad Thoughts. Cheater. Liar. Betrayer. Spendthrift. Screamer. We both had our series of little tests that we put each other through, up to and including blood tests and credit reports. Are you worthy of my love? Can I trust you?
The sad truth is that a lot of people are not trustworthy at all. They may wish they were. They may have made a bunch of promises to themselves. When it comes down to it, though, they revert to type. Over and over again, they’ll hurt different people in the same way that they’ve done before. Cheaters cheat. Liars lie. Most people do neither. I mean, who needs that kind of drama? Tell the truth and you don’t have to keep your story straight. Be honest and faithful and you don’t have to explain where you were the other night. Integrity is just easier.
What are some ideas about romance that we should attempt to falsify?
Nobody will ever love me/Nobody except this person will ever love me.
Not only is that a ludicrous thought, but if you’re with someone because you think that nobody else will ever love you, then you don’t love that person. That “reason” has nothing to do with this partner’s qualities as a human. It’s a selfish thought based on insecurity and scarcity mindset. I need to cling to this person so I won’t be alone? Don’t do them any favors.
I missed my chance.
As we get older, it’s true that we’ll never look like Romeo or Juliet again. Thank goodness! In my late twenties, I got down on my knees and prayed that I would never feel infatuated with anyone ever again. I wanted a mature love, not a teenage crush. I wouldn’t want to have to go through my teenage skin, my teenage cluelessness, or my general teenage incompetence ever again. Give me an adult and a practical, long-term love! I’ve always looked forward to the sweetness of elderly romance, and I hope my hubby and I make it to our fiftieth anniversary, even though we’ll be well into our eighties when it happens. I’ve met a few couples who fell in love and married in their sixties and seventies, and if anything, the romance is much stronger later in life. People of every age are single and looking to mingle.
I “always” wind up with [a cheater, someone who can’t commit, whatever].
This kind of thought makes us emotionally unavailable. What, some kind of fate sends us only people from the Cheater Store? What happens is that we communicate with other people based on our expectations of how other people behave. We may close ourselves to certain types of relationship; we may even provoke people into uncharacteristic behavior based on our own words, beliefs, and actions. When we fixate on how someone is inevitably going to mistreat us, that is cruel and unfair to that person, an honest bystander who probably started out with genuine attraction and pure intentions. It’s like starting an exciting new job and constantly having your supervisor accuse you of embezzling from the company.
What I have to expect from myself is that I have a loving heart which is sometimes fogged in by my personal, idiosyncratic history and beliefs about romance. I may be reacting to fantasies and images of my own creation, then projecting them and overlaying them onto an innocent person who has no idea what’s going through my head. I need to be aware of how this person is actually behaving, not falsely blaming them for my anxieties, and also not giving them undeserved credit for being a great partner based on wishful thinking.
What has this person actually claimed about our commitment?
What has this person done to demonstrate caring, affection, and reliability?
What are the reasons I find this person to be endearing, fascinating, and irreplaceable?
If we broke up, would I be sad? Scared? Angry? Relieved?
Do my friends and family like this person? If not, do people who don’t know each other have the same issue with this person?
Is it possible that this person is something of a con artist?
Do I trust this person enough that I feel safe to be fully honest about my life?
When I think about us being together ten years from now, how does that feel?
A funny coincidence came up the other day. Someone I’ve known socially for about a year asked what gym I go to, and then told me that he went to the same place for three years. Wow, really? It’s a martial arts school with a couple hundred students, not exactly a huge 24-hour commodity gym. He said he was in the best shape of his life at that time, and then added ruefully that he should get back on that. I paid attention to that, because he is at least ten years older than I am, and the older I get, the more I realize that matters.
Then I thought: What exactly does “best shape of my life” mean? When would that be?
Am I already there, was I there at some point in childhood, or is there still a “better” “shape” somewhere in my future?
I should throw in there that using the term “shape” is a bit ambiguous. It seems to refer to externalities like physical appearance, and that inevitably touches on What Other People Think. It’s much harder to discuss an internal sensation or overall experience of... what? Strength, agility, speed, power, peace of mind, potentiality...? Harder still when trying to get our heads around internal physical feelings that we may never have felt, like trying to explain a flavor or a musical genre without comparing it to other things.
I can easily imagine a few time periods that could compete for “worst” shape of my life. Crawling on the floor with the flu. Walking around during finals with my eyelid twitching from stress. The first time I ran down a flight of stairs and suddenly felt my back jiggle. The first time I walked up a flight of stairs and my vision started to go black. Swallowing radioactive iodine for my thyroid scan, and then struggling not to cough for an hour even though the enlarged gland caused a constant tickle in my throat. Being strapped to the table for my first nerve conductivity study. Et cetera. Hard times, scary times, sad times.
It’s because of this background of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, though, that I’m so ready to embrace anything better. This is why I can’t give a care whether other people approve of my external physical appearance. Go ahead and fit-shame me; you won’t be the first. My health is somewhat fragile and I can’t live a conventional lifestyle in a conventionally relaxed, standard physique. I do what I have to do and that tends to result in certain external physical signs.
The body changes tend to be a mix of good, bad, and neutral.
When I was training for my marathon, my feet looked kinda terrible. They wound up growing a half size bigger and I had to get rid of every. Single. Last. Pair. Of shoes I had owned before.
Then I got more into backpacking and I wound up losing the nails on my two big toes. Took six months to heal.
As a cyclist, I learned that I always sweat out the crotch of my clothes first.
Now I’m boxing and doing martial arts, and I’ve had at least one visible bruise at all times since January. I’ve also scraped off my knuckles and broken off a chunk of toenail. Sexy stuff. I get teased because I have yet to find a successful method of controlling my frizzy hair during class, and I’ve resorted to wearing a dorky bandanna as a sweatband.
Athletic me: Frizzy, sweaty, bruised, muddy, looking like a laundry basket.
Ah, but then there’s the inner experience. It starts when the scary stuff gradually fades away. My thyroid nodule disappears and never comes back. I realize I haven’t had a migraine in a year, then two years, then three years, then four years. My shoulder quits spasming. I stop feeling like a human trainwreck.
Then I start to be able to keep up. I can keep up with the other students in class, I can do moves that would have left me quivering on the floor a month earlier, I can ride my bike or run at the same pace as my friend.
Then I start to notice that I’m doing weird things, like opening the pickle jar in one try, or running up a flight of stairs two at a time without losing my breath.
Then I start feeling very, very strange feelings, such as the desire to do core exercises. I read that an Olympian athlete does 700 sit-ups a day and I feel curiosity. Oh? How long does that take? All in one set or throughout the day? What else does she do?
In spite of all the evidence that my body is changing, because my experience of being in my body is undeniably different, it still surprises me when these changes show up on the outside. Brushing my teeth, I suddenly see the new definition in my triceps. Leaning forward, I’m surprised by the roll of my trapezius muscles. Getting dressed, I see the shadow marking my hamstrings. Whoa, what’s going on there?
Arguably, I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m about to turn 43. I can do stupid human tricks today that I couldn’t manage as an 8-year-old child. I still feel slow and ungainly in class, and I work out next to women and men who are as many as 35 years older than I am now. I can only assume that I’ll continue to improve, especially because I’m due to switch to advanced classes this summer. This makes me feel about 10% scared, 25% excited, and the rest just nonchalant, because it’s inevitable. What’s going to happen, though?
What will the best shape of my life look like, and when will it happen? How will I know?
The hardest thing to do is to make decisions. Action is easy. Take action toward something that you know is important and valuable to your life, and you’ll find it satisfying and absorbing. Most likely, you’ll also find that it’s a fairly automatic process. Almost everything we need to do in life is routine once the decisions have been made. I always say that we’ll do anything if we want to and we know how. When we’re stuck, it’s either because we don’t really know what to do next, or we’re not really committed because we haven’t really decided whether we want it. Once we have all that figured out, all that’s left is turning the crank.
Turning the crank is doing a rote task over and over again.
Turning the crank is doing something relatively mindless that needs doing.
Turning the crank is executing on something with a consistent level of quality and output.
Turning the crank is production, rather than design or strategy.
The great thing about turning the crank is that it leaves the mind free to focus on other things. Something is getting done almost without your realizing it. Sometimes it feels like the work does itself.
Everyone knows the feeling of turning the crank. We just don’t always realize that that’s what we’re doing. Driving a familiar route is turning the crank. Playing an addictive game is turning the crank. Binge-watching TV is turning the crank. Eating favored snack foods is turning the crank. Ordering the same drink over and over is turning the crank. We’re absolutely fantastic at turning cranks! We just don’t always turn the cranks that can move life forward. We prefer the cranks that keep us running in place on a treadmill, exhausted, burned out, but doing something predictable that doesn’t use extra decision power.
I turn the crank on my laundry system because I accept that I will want to wear clean clothes most days for the rest of my life.
I turn the crank on my personal hygiene system because the alternative is repugnant to me.
I turn the crank on my meal system because I’ve got it going on. I know what to do to cook stuff I like to eat, that my husband likes to eat, that we can eat every day without weight gain or health problems. (Example: he has a sensitivity to limes, of all things).
I turn the crank on our mail system because it keeps the desk clear, and because it prevents predictable crises. (Example: some of my airline reward points will expire soon if I don’t use them).
About 80% of life is maintenance. This can be unutterably boring and stultifying. It can feel too unfair for words. You mean I have to fold laundry EVERY DAY??? UGHHHHHH! The stuff that makes the maintenance list is the stuff that gets worse when it’s ignored. We do the maintenance because when we abdicate and avoid it, it winds up taking longer. It’s usually also stickier, greasier, smellier, dustier, more depressing and annoying in every way if it gets put off. Future Me, you’d better appreciate this.
The point of turning the crank is to free up mental bandwidth. Automate every possible thing. Anything that can be put on a System 1 basis, where it can be done without conscious thought, frees up focus and awareness for more interesting things. The most important of these is strategy, and after that are creative output and entertainment. It’s also possible to turn the crank in an emotional or spiritual state such as gratitude, satisfaction, awe, compassion meditation, harmony with nature, ecstatic musical appreciation, or all sorts of other mindsets. Just because there’s a toilet brush in my hand / doesn’t mean that this isn’t my jam.
We tend to miss these rarefied states because we’re usually boiling with resentment, steaming with annoyance and frustration, trudging in dejection, or maybe even fuming with rage that we have to waste our precious time doing these horrible tasks. SO UNFAIR! It’s only when we accept that spending 80% of our time on boring, unfulfilling chores is the lot of humanity that we’re able to tune in to other frequencies.
I turned the crank today. I woke up and wrote, formatted, and posted an article for this blog before I had even had breakfast. That’s one of the main cranks that I turn, and I haven’t missed a business day in over three years. Then I read and reviewed a book, which I also formatted and scheduled. Turn the crank. I went to the gym, coached my clients, and caught up on email. Turn the crank. Listened to eight podcast episodes, or another way to put that would be that I changed the sheets, washed three loads of clothes, cleaned the bathroom, ran the dishwasher, vacuumed the bedroom, sorted the mail, cleaned the birdcage, and walked the dog. Turn the crank. Did two tasks for my volunteer position. Turn the crank. Wrote out my strategic plan for the next 13 weeks. That’s the crank that turns all the other cranks.
Turning the crank feels like competence. It’s a game, if you want it to be. When I was a kid, I hated washing dishes because I “had” to do it. Now I just shrug and do it, because it’s my kitchen, my home, and my rules. I hated cleaning my room, quite frankly because I didn’t know how to do it and I had stuff I had no authority to discard. Now I just shrug and do it, or more accurately, there isn’t really anything to clean.
I turn the crank because it’s a major part of how I do what I want, almost all the time. I choose. I choose to have a certain emotional state and a certain energy level. I choose to have a certain amount of mental bandwidth, which I then apply to various interesting projects, also of my choosing. It’s not acceptable to me to live in chaos and entropy, and neither is it acceptable to me to put my attention and precious mental focus on rote tasks. I let my hands do the tasks while my mind is free. It’s because I turn the crank every day that my mind is released from duty.
“I could never do that” is most people’s automatic response when hearing about an alternative of some kind, whether that’s getting rid of their TV, waking up at 5 AM (same), or not eating dairy products. Nobody is asking; generally people are just talking about something that they do, not campaigning for other people to do it. Living without a car is definitely, definitely on that list. For those who are curious, it’s not really all that complicated. Resolve how you’re going to get to work, and that’s almost all of your trips. Shopping and errands take different strategies than the work commute. This can be an interesting game in its own right.
The first secret behind car-free errands is to realize that many errands are really just excuses for something to do. Going straight home every night can feel boring and restrictive. Errands can be set up to include fun stops, like picking up some ice cream. In fact, I think the majority of the time we’re looking for reasons to swing by the drive-thru. Guess what? They don’t let you through the drive-thru unless you are, in fact, driving thru. Gotta go inside. If the treats and fun side trips are a hidden motive behind errands, those can be rewards for using an alternative mode of transport, whether that’s a bike, unicycle, donkey cart, or the city bus.
The second secret behind car-free shopping is that so much of it can be either eliminated or delegated. For instance, I refuse to buy any garments that are dry-clean only, so we never have to go to a dry cleaner. We order a lot of things online and have them delivered. Judging by how many different delivery services come through our apartment complex, more and more people are doing this, and it seems pretty efficient. It’s also possible to special-order various products, from groceries to books, that a conveniently located store doesn’t currently have in stock. Occasionally, we’ve been known to have groceries delivered. This feels like a true luxury, and it’s definitely cheaper than the carrying costs we were paying when we still owned a car.
The idea here is that we’re only making side trips when it’s fun, when we want to. We refuse to be daily freeway commuters, and we also refuse to spend our precious free time on evenings and weekends circling around looking for parking. When we go out, it’s an excursion.
Another very important strategy behind car-free shopping and errands is to consolidate them. We have various hubs where we group errands together, and most of these trips can be delayed until we have enough of them to make a real outing of it. Examples:
Movie theater/favorite casual restaurant
Movie theater/mall/chain bookstore
Independent bookstore/nicer restaurant/specialty dessert place
Grocery store/pharmacy/haircuts/UPS Store
Bike shop/bookstore/REI/nicer restaurant/indie movie theater
For many errands, there are multiple options. We may be going to one place because we’ve always gone there, because it was close to our old apartment or our old job, or because it’s close to our hidden destination of frozen yogurt or whatever. We can often find an equivalent, or a different location of the very same chain, that’s closer to another stop we need to make. Finding these places is a big part of the fun. Often we run across hidden gems, expanding our sense of possibility and enjoyment of where we live.
Another aspect of car-free shopping and errands is to choose what type of car-free option to use. My husband and I go places on foot, by bike, on the bus, and using ride-share services. We choose which way to travel based on what we’re trying to do and what time of day it is. For example, we rode our bikes together to get breakfast on Saturday at the cafe near my gym. On Sunday, we took the bus to the movie theater, walked to a restaurant to get dinner afterward, and caught a Lyft for the trip home. The local bus is cheaper, but it only runs once an hour at that time of night. We’ll eventually ride our bikes for more of our trips, as we get fitter, because our increasing physical strength will start to redefine what we consider to be “biking distance.”
A bicycle is the most efficient way to get around for anything within a 7-mile radius. I confirmed this for myself when I first bought my bike twenty years ago. Not only could I beat the bus home, but I sometimes made it home before my evening bus would have made it to the stop by my work. Almost all errands involve items that can easily be carried in a backpack or panniers (which are special bags designed to hang off a rack on the back of your bike). An easy pace on a bike is about double a fast walking speed; I can speed-walk to my gym in a sweaty 35 minutes, or bike it in 15-20, including the time messing with my lock and helmet. There are only a few occasions when a bike is less efficient: When picking up very bulky or unwieldy items, like a garden rake; when combining a trip with bus travel, if the rack on the front of the bus already has two bikes on it; and, for us, if we’re trying to bring our dog somewhere. The existence of affordable delivery services and ride-sharing make these anomalies something of a moot point.
If you want to cut back on how much you drive, because driving is really a very annoying chore when you think about it, you can do it gradually. Test out one errand or one trip through an alternative method. If that didn’t work out so well, try the same errand a different way, or try something else. Then start keeping track in your mind of every time someone cut you off, honked at you, or stole your parking spot. Remind yourself every time you have to clean out your car, buy new tires, or send in your quarterly insurance payment that these are just part of the price you pay for car ownership. Or you can look at some of my vacation photos and see where else that money could be going!
See you at the beach. There’s plenty of room for you to lock your bike at the rack right next to mine.
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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.