Tired mommies would get a lot from this book. It has something to offer anyone who is having trouble juggling work and personal life; it's just that, as Laura Vanderkam points out, women find everything more tiring than men do. Work, commute, housework, even relaxation - everything leaves women more tired. Why is that? Nobody knows yet. (I suspect that women have a biological need for more sleep than men, and we aren't prioritizing it). The premise of I Know How She Does It is that objective data about how we use our time can help us take back control of our lives. If we so choose, we may find that we can also pursue more challenging positions in our careers, without sacrificing as much personal time as we have been taught to fear.
One of the most interesting things I learned from this book is that people who claim to work unusually long hours tend to inflate their estimates, often by quite a lot. People who believe they work 75-hour weeks are overestimating that time by as much as 25 hours! Keeping an accurate time log can be fussy, but it reveals more detail than "Work: 7 AM to 7 PM." Certain workplaces valorize long hours, and it pays to be seen staying late or sending email late at night. That doesn't necessarily mean that personal time isn't being fit into the cracks, and it also doesn't mean that this kind of office culture is an inescapable prison.
Moms especially seem to fall for the trap of evaluating their "performance" as moms (and therefore, humans) according to what they think everyone else is doing. We develop internal standards of housekeeping, parenting, fitness, hostessing, and scheduling that are based at least as much on our perceptions as on reality. We feel constantly judged and found wanting. The reality is that there are a million billion ways to define a life, and nobody else has the power to come in and tell us how to decorate or whether to bring homemade versus store-bought cupcakes. We can say, "This is how I roll," to ourselves anyway, and maybe we'll find that nobody else even questions us. We can make the rules in life, set our own standards, and decide for ourselves whether we are living up to them.
I Know How She Does It is a solution-oriented book. It offers practical strategies for adjusting workplace schedules, negotiating household tasks and errands with a partner, and planning around the demands of tiny kids. Vanderkam is a mommy and wife who knows her way around the corporate world. She interviews other women in similar situations and shares their methods of involvement in both career and family at a high level. For most families, earning more money would ease more stress than cutting back on hours would. For everyone, more planning and prioritizing has the potential to return a sense of fun and relaxation to daily life.
The aspirational nature of books is undeniable. We display books we haven’t read because we believe the appearance of these unread books says something about us. (It does: our desire to present ourselves in a certain light). We leave certain books out where they are visible, while hiding others, which is much easier now that we can read electronically. We’re reluctant to cull books that have sat unopened on our shelves for years. We buy magazines, which mostly symbolize high-quality leisure time, and genuinely believe we’re going to read them one day. In my case, I tend to accumulate books of a similar type when I’m trying to get my head around something. The books symbolize an intention that may remain unfulfilled for years.
I keep digital records of books I’ve read. I started doing it ten years ago, and when I started, I put in a lot of mental effort to include everything I’d read up to that point. I don’t need physical or electronic copies of the books I’ve read to remind myself that I read them; I can check LibraryThing or Goodreads. I don’t re-read books as a general rule, because a second read almost always replaces my initial impression with a less favorable one. Most of my reading comes from library books. If physical books are hanging around my house, it’s because I felt a strong impulse to buy them, but haven’t read them yet. Since I read over 200 books a year, I have to assume that I had plenty of time to read everything in the house. Why haven’t I?
I have a two-volume novel, The Man Without Qualities, that I bought because I wanted to read it and the local library didn’t have it. It’s gone through five moves with me and it’s still sitting there. I had this idea that I’d save it for the plane when I finally went to Europe. When I did “finally go to Europe,” I was backpacking, and I didn’t really want to carry nearly four pounds of printed matter. When am I going to read this 1800-page epic? What am I trying to prove? The cover prices total $50 (probably not what I spent), so do I think I won’t have wasted money if I ever finally read the darn thing? If someone came over and was impressed by the fact that I own this unread book, it would mean nothing. If that person had read the book and enthusiastically wanted to discuss it with me, I’d be busted. Hopefully it’s just aspirational and not completely pretentious.
I have a couple of books on writing screenplays. I bought them when we first moved to Southern California. I can look out my window and see palm trees; I don’t need books to remind me that I am indeed near an entertainment wonderland. If I really did have solid intentions to write a screenplay, I’m sure I could have found some manuals at that time. Maybe they’d even be up to date.
I have a few dozen cookbooks, down from over a hundred a few years ago. Cookbooks used to be an impulse purchase for me. I was powerless in my desire for more. I bought and assembled an entire bookcase to house them. When I finally started to learn to cook, the pressure started to relax. I discovered that not all cookbooks were created equal. Gradually, I tried enough recipes in certain volumes that I was sure I didn’t want to try more! What happened after a couple of years was that I started confidently throwing things into pots and knowing it would work. I often found that what I called “Freezer Surprise” turned out better than other people’s recipes. I haven’t bought a new cookbook in about two years now. The books stood for an unformed desire. I wanted to eat delicious meals, but it took longer than it should have for me to realize that they wouldn’t spring out of the illustrations without a little help.
I have a stack of running manuals and fitness books. I ran a marathon and I am a pretty fit person, fit for a middle-aged suburbanite anyway. I bought them as a stand-in when I injured my ankle. Then I found that reading them upset me too much. It was like reading a romance novel after a bad breakup. I used to buy fitness books in the same way I bought cookbooks; I had no idea what I was doing, but being in that aisle of the bookstore would give me a fleeting burst of motivation that fled by morning.
I have a few German-language novels that I found at various used bookstores. I’m at A1 level in German, barely able to ask for a glass of water. Those were moments of FoMO and bargain hunting. I saw something I believed at the time to be scarce, I thought I was getting a deal, and I whipped out my wallet. Apparently I could have waited at least three years, because I can’t even read a child’s picture book yet.
We won’t talk about the various other foreign language dictionaries and textbooks I have hanging around.
There is a small folding bookshelf in our office. It’s full of textbooks. They’re not mine, as would be abundantly clear to you if you read the titles. They’re my husband’s books from engineering school. He actually uses them. Periodically, a few of them will disappear for a while, and eventually return. There are too many to keep near his desk at work, and he’s just as likely to refer to them here at the house. Once or twice a year, he’ll order a textbook or software manual online. Do you know what he does? I still have trouble believing it even though I’ve seen him do it. He opens the box, starts reading the book, goes through it cover to cover, and finishes it! He’s over there reading a robotics manual and I’m over here with my unread, cliché screenwriting manuals. He can demonstrably build a robot. Can I write a screenplay? Like every waiter in my region? Nobody knows. Nobody will ever know because evidently I’ve committed myself to read a two-volume, 1800-page novel first. Maybe I’ll adapt it.
I have a history of resolving certain intentions and letting go of the books. I’m down to maybe 20% of what I had ten years ago. I used to buy books of knitting and crochet patterns; I worked through many of them and gave the results away as gifts. I used to chain-read metric buttloads of true crime books, and now I rarely do because I figured out why I read them. If I get ahold of a mystery or thriller, especially by certain authors, I’ll read it right away. When I was in a book club (three times), I would actually read the book before we met. Occasionally, I’ll buy a book of poetry at an independent bookstore, because THAT IS WHAT I DO, SO SUE ME, and work through it a little at a time. I bought a couple of ukulele songbooks and spent hours learning a dozen or so simple songs. (Then I realized that my level of playing was designed to accompany singing, and that kind of fizzled out, but come on over if you like to sing the Everly Brothers). We read graphic novels as a family (Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim), and those go like popcorn. Books go through our house at a significantly faster rate than loaves of bread. Why is it, then, that some go when they’re still fresh and others hang around when they’ve gone stale?
It’s different in every house. A lot of people hang on to old textbooks and academic notebooks. There are so many hundreds of thousands of collections of old National Geographic magazines that we could use them to decoupage the Statue of Liberty. A surprising number of people have every book from their childhood bookcase. I know I’m not the only person who buys novels and leaves them unread. What I don’t do is to put them back on the shelf only partially finished, though I think that is another common habit. Probably the most common unresolved intention is when people save every book they ever liked, believing they will go back and reread them all one day. The math on this is discouraging.
As much as I’ve always lived my life surrounded by books, my feelings about this have started to change. Moving 27 times in 20 years may have had something to do with this. When I want the comfort of walls of books around me, I can go to a bookstore or the public library. Being surrounded by books I haven’t read, despite a stated intention, is becoming stressful. I’ve started seeing them as one long centipede of a volume, thousands of pages long, that I’ll have to get through before I can bring home anything new. As a writer, I’ve started to feel dirty about buying used books, knowing the author doesn’t get any of the proceeds. As a reader, I’ve gotten sucked into the delight of buying books with my fingerprint and being able to read them 10 seconds later. My shelves have gradually diminished over the last few years. I’ve been reading through them and letting them go. I keep telling myself that “the next time I move, they’ll all be gone,” and maybe one day that will actually be true.
I walked into the gym ready to get a membership. It's been over five years since I belonged to a gym; they kept playing Teenage Dream over and over and it never occurred to me to ask them to stop. As a restless person, I'll work out indoors or outdoors, with or without company, at any time of day, doing any of half a dozen types of activity. I can't not exercise. My options are to move my body or to feel like I'm crawling out of my own skin. When I decided to join a gym again, it was a gift; my husband asked me to be his accountability partner. I hadn't planned to be upsold into a training package. There's a price break for new members, though, and he encouraged me to go for it.
Working with a personal trainer has certain expectations assigned to it. Trainers tend to be people who have always loved physical exertion. Many are quite young and have been fit their entire lives. The dynamic tends to be a buff guy in his twenties, pushing the physical and emotional limits of a middle-aged person with chronic neck and back pain (and possibly knee pain and even more). We can't walk down a flight of stairs afterward, and many of us quit.
My husband had an experience like this. His trainer was a Navy man. My hubby has been hit-and-miss on exercise over the last few years because of persistent knee pain. An MRI revealed that his knees aren't shaped quite right. The first thing the trainer wanted to work on was: lunges. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you're a trainer, everything looks like a problem of willpower, persistence, and strength training. They aren't working together anymore.
He warned me. "The first thing they'll have you do is lunges. Just tell them you have a bad knee."
My perspective was, If I'm going to work with an expert, I'm going to do precisely what I'm told. I'll read whatever is recommended. I'll watch documentaries. I'll take classes and quizzes. I'll get my nose down to the carpet and do planks for an hour a day. If my trainer says to DO LUNGES, then lunges I will do. I'm smart enough to be humble, listen, and take the directions I'm paying to be given. I have zero problems with knee pain, willpower, persistence, grit, determination, or accountability.
I have had a bit of a problem with obedience. This is a growth area!
The gym manager asked me about my fitness goals. I explained in about a minute that I had run a marathon, over-trained, and developed an overuse injury in my ankle. I wanted to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday, and I wanted to make sure I was cross-training properly to avoid reinjuring myself. He took me straight to a man who is exactly my age and who specializes in recovery. I told him that I had gone to physical therapy for tendinitis of the anterior tibialis. He immediately listed off the issues that would lead to this problem: hip instability, weak core, weak glutes, weak quads. Not ten minutes after I had walked in the door, I was deep in conversation with a man who knew everything my physical therapist did after six months of appointments. The difference was that he hadn't seen my MRIs or done a physical exam.
How was this possible?
I had religiously made all my PT appointments. I had spent countless hours doing my prescribed exercises. I had frozen myself with the ice massage cups. I had tormented myself with the foam roller. (Foam rollers are pleasant unless you have a hot, fresh injury). I had eaten anti-inflammatories until I rattled. I had tolerated experimental electrical treatments. After six months, my PT had no explanation for why I still had pain. Then I meet this personal trainer, and he quickly demonstrates how everything in the body is related to posture. My ankle is stressed because my pelvis is tilted because my shoulders slouch. He knows the names of every muscle and tendon. Everything he says matches my diagnosis, except that he proposes a different root cause and a broader range of solutions. I'm sold.
I wait for a couple of minutes before my first session. My new trainer is finishing up with his previous appointment. She's in her sixties and she can't stand up straight. From the waist up, she walks at a fifteen-degree angle. Her arms dangle down. I can't imagine the pain. Bless you, honey, you need this time more than I do. You are who I could be in twenty years.
He has me stand in different positions while he takes pictures. He shows me how one shoulder is higher than the other. He draws ink spots on my kneecaps and shows me how one knee rolls in at a different angle than the other. He shows me how my lower back arches (and next time, he says it could develop into lordosis). I'm standing up straight, but without doing power poses for the camera, I can see there are issues. I look a decade older. He has me roll my arm and feel the impingements in my shoulder and back. Then he pokes and prods a couple of spots in my back that make my muscles spasm. Bad on one side but not the other. "Does it hurt when I do this?" "AAAAAAH!" Now I can feel it, I can see it, and I believe he knows what he's talking about. I'm ready to learn.
At my second session, he teaches me some basic exercises and takes pictures of me doing each one. They are deceptively simple, yet profoundly tiring. One is that I just have to sit on the floor with my back against the wall and my toes pointing up. That does not sound like an exercise. It feels like one! My shoulder blades want to stick out and poke the wall. I have to roll my shoulders back and point my chin toward my chest. The backs of my knees are supposed to touch the floor, but my hamstrings are so tight that I can't do it.
We find tightness in my ribs and chest and calves that I had no idea was there. I do Triangle Pose against the wall, and I can reach a full foot farther on one side than the other. I'm crooked!
I went in feeling like a fit person. My plan was to start doing strength training, maybe get some more muscle definition in time for our anniversary weekend. Now, I feel like I've gone in just in time to avoid becoming a wilted, frail elderly person. "Pain is the very last sign," says my trainer, and I don't want to think about the kind of neck and back pain I would be in for if I hadn't addressed my posture.
The most unexpected thing about working with a personal trainer is what he's advising me not to do. I'm walking too much and it's exacerbating the tightness in my calves and hamstrings. I definitely shouldn't start running again yet. Lunges are a no-no. (Squats, yes; lunges, no). I'm not even supposed to go to yoga for at least another week. The initial stretching workout I've been given burns about twenty calories.
If I'd simply joined the gym to work out with my husband, I would have gone straight to the elliptical machine. I would have done a circuit of weight machines, forgetting that the last time I quit doing that was because I kept wrenching my neck and shoulder. I wouldn't have realized that I was creating yet more chronic pain and overuse issues for myself. This new path is the path of reeducation. I'm already learning so much I didn't know about anatomy and physiology. AaI'm becoming aware of my body in a different way, one that unfortunately involves some crunching sounds. I've been humbled about my physical age and my actual versus perceived fitness level. I'm starting from the place of beginner's mind, and that's exactly where I wanted to be.
We keep stuff we don’t need or use for many reasons. Some of it is for sentimental reasons. Some of it is because we think we got a great bargain at the Stuff You Don’t Need sale. Some of it is because it somehow got left behind by someone, and we’re not even sure what’s in that pile. Some of it, of course, is inextricably linked to procrastination. This happens in both obvious and less obvious ways.
Obvious ways procrastination creates clutter:
Donation bags we keep meaning to drop off
Items to return that are waiting for the deadline to pass so we’ll never see that money again
Coupons we laboriously clipped that will likewise expire without being used
Produce we bought with the intention to “eat better” that instead created a gross extra chore
“Skinny jeans” that don’t fit “yet”
Craft supplies, yarn, and/or fabric for projects we haven’t started
Magazines we haven’t read in the years they’ve been sitting there, but we totally, totally will
Boxes we never unpacked after our last move – or our first move
“Yard sale” stuff that will still be here three years from now
The garage/storage unit/spare bedroom/closet that’s on every to-do list we’ve ever written
These elements of clutter are nearly universal. They’re so well known that they’ve been staples of comic strips for nearly a century. I don’t know if anyone has ever written a sitcom episode based around cleaning out a refrigerator, but there’s probably one about cleaning the garage from every show ever. We don’t even realize we’re living in a comedy because only the studio audience can hear the marimba music in the background.
We won’t realize how many subtle ways procrastination creates clutter until we change our lives. We finally decide to start living in the moment. We let go of the past and firmly shut the cellar door on it. We look at the likely future we’re creating with our present habits, we come to some educated conclusions about how well that will work out, and maybe we shift course in a few areas. At that point, we start looking at our stuff and wondering, “What did I ever want with this old junk?”
If I had never bought any of the things I actually did buy and didn’t need, the money would go pretty far. I could buy a guitar and pay for several months’ worth of lessons. I could replace my funky old laptop. I could have a weekend in Paris in a luxury hotel. I could hire a personal trainer and do a full 90-day fitness makeover. I could get a professional massage every night for a month. I don’t even know all the stuff I could have had instead, because all I can do is estimate all the stuff I bought for 20 years that I no longer have.
All the clothes that fit my old, obese body. All the books and magazines I read once and didn’t want anymore. All the old CDs that I played until I didn’t care to hear them again. All the kitchen gadgets I just had to have that got culled in one of my last four kitchen downsizings. All the many, many bags of cookies and pints of frozen desserts and six-packs of soda and chocolate-covered-pretzel bars that I wish I hadn’t consumed.
Why do I associate these things with procrastination?
What I was doing was putting my focus on impulse purchases. I was trading in what I thought of as my “real” life, the one for the “real” me, for the “just for now” me. I was going to learn to play guitar SOME DAY. I was going to go to Paris SOME DAY. I was going to really live the way I deserved to SOME DAY.
For tonight, I was going to plunk down on the couch, read for several hours, and eat me some desserts.
When I started running, it was a match made in heaven. I could do my two favorite things, eat and read, with total abandon. Running was custom-made for me, one of the most high-strung creatures who ever walked the earth. I could go out and run until I felt “like a human again.” I could listen to hours of podcasts and audiobooks guilt-free. I could start the day with four waffles, eat two lunches, and stuff Nutter Butters in my little chipmunk cheeks as fast as I could chew.
Two things happened. 1. I lost my taste for sweets, which seems a bit unfair, and 2. I lost 25 pounds before finishing the two-headed sweater I had spent about 40 hours knitting.
Frog-stitching a project can be a weepy, painful experience. All that work! Ruined! In this case, I had to laugh while I did it. Not only had I lost 25 pounds, but my husband, who was supposed to fit in the other half of the enormous sweater, had lost 30. Goodbye, half-finished sweater! Buh-bye! I traded it for three finisher’s medals and a stack of race t-shirts, which I wear during my workouts. I got rid of my “skinny jeans” because they were four sizes too big. Then I realized that I was really done with knitting and I gave away all my knitting stuff.
Yeah, all of it.
I don’t miss it. If I really, desperately need to knit something, I can go out tomorrow and buy all the supplies. If it was a true crafting emergency I could probably ask all my crafty friends to lend me some needles and maybe, perhaps, spare a few feet of yarn. I still know what to do. In that sense, I’m still “a knitter.” I could competently teach a class and have them knit up a sock, a hat, or a children’s toy. In the more practical sense, I’m not “a knitter” anymore. I don’t define myself by this ability in the same way that I no longer think of myself as “a nanny” or “a receptionist” either.
I don’t need supplies, tools, or materials to prove I can knit.
I don’t need books or old class notes to prove I’m “a smart person.”
I don’t need photo albums to prove I have a family or a past.
I don’t even need those finisher’s medals. They always bong me in the forehead when I run.
What interests me now is the potential I have to create what’s going to happen in my life next week, next month, and next year. Where am I going to be in three years?
Am I going to be sitting in the same spot, with the same dirty sink full of greasy dishes, the same piles of unfolded laundry, and the same dusty bookshelves?
Am I going to be carrying balances on the same credit cards?
Am I going to be facing the same lifestyle-related health issues? Having the same kink in my neck? Getting headaches at the same frequency?
What interests me now is how much muscle I can build, how much I can increase my agility and flexibility, how much farther I can go on foot, how much of a load I can carry. What interests me now is how much money I can sock away for my old age and how much I can increase my income before I lose interest in working anymore. I’d rather quit out of a sense of fulfillment and triumph than because I just ran out of steam.
There is never going to be a shortage of interesting books to read, movies to watch, or music to enjoy. In fact, in just a few years I’ll laugh at how dated these songs and storylines seem to me. There is never going to be a shortage of clothes to wear or 75%-off sales to raid; in fact, in just a few years I’ll laugh at those clothes and maybe cry over what they cost. There is certainly never going to be a shortage of shopping malls, craft stores, kitchen gadgets, or storage units they can fill. I can always start accumulating stuff again, and there will always be someone willing to take my money every month to stash it all in a little room I never visit. I’m putting that off for now.
What I’m not putting off is saving for my old age. I’m not putting off any necessary medical or dental appointments. I’m not putting off my chores. I eat healthy food every day, partly because I took the time to learn how to cook it. I try not to put off telling people I love them and I’m thinking about them. I certainly never put off snuggling my pets. If there’s a backlog in my life, it’s a backlog of gratitude, for all the fantastic things in the world that I didn’t bother to notice back when I was surrounded by stuff.
Every relationship has a perpetual problem. Sometimes there are many. We can get hung up on finances, how to divide household chores, boundaries with friends and family, parenting, whether to get more pets, whose turn it is to wear the prize concert t-shirt, where to spend the holidays, whether one of us actually snores or not, and a billion other things. Sometimes what used to feel like a romantic relationship starts to feel more like having an extra sibling. "You started it!" "Who ate the last of the ice cream?" "It's your turn to unload the dishwasher!" "Nuh-uh!" The longer we're together, the harder it can be to initiate a discussion about relational economics. Done right, it can be fun. It can even make being together more like having your best friend over for a slumber party.
What is up for negotiation? High Quality Leisure Time. (HQLT). The goal is for everyone involved to have the biggest possible block of time for total relaxation and fun. This is a win for everyone. You get to do what you want, other people in the household get to do what they want, nobody wastes time squabbling, and you all start to see each other as natural allies.
What would the McBickersons do? Do the opposite of that.
As an example, I love seeing my husband stretch out to take a nap on the couch. The dog jumps up next to him, and they'll sleep for an hour. I have a whole album of adorable nap photos. I can't take naps because of my sleep management, but I don't begrudge him (or Spike). While they're napping, I can do whatever I want, guilt-free. I can read, go for a walk, play Words With Friends, maybe even watch a movie if it looks like a long nap. I also like seeing him in the middle of an 800-page book, because I like to read monster-huge books, too. Neither of us would dream of interrupting the other under these circumstances.
What gets in the way of HQLT for all is when we want ours, but we have "reasons" for them not to get theirs. I can read my new book, but you need to clean out the garage. I can do it later, but you need to do it right now. I'm holding my end up, but you are abdicating. We let resentment accumulate. Many a relationship has died a slow death because we hoard up these grudges and resentments, rather than risk a confrontation, until they choke off what used to be love. Anyone who starts keeping a dossier of private resentments is the villain here. Be honest, let it go, or move on. Don't be the accountant of grievances. The only way that will work is if you keep a tally of your own personal failings and try to be kinder and more generous in consequence.
That's what this is all about, after all. Kindness and generosity. Respect and dignity. Love and friendship. If one of my best girlfriends came over for the weekend, I'd want her to have such a good time that neither of us could wait for our next visit. I would have run around cleaning before she got there, because I'd want her to feel welcome and to see that I'd made an effort. She's my friend, and I want her to feel special. Why should it be any different with the man I married? If we share a roof, a bank account, and a bed, "honored guest" should be the absolute bare minimum standard of courtesy that I show toward him.
The reverse is true, of course. I share my life with the man I love because he's worth it. If not, I would have carried on living alone. I'm a great roommate to myself, and anyone who lives with me had better be a value-add.
As a matter of policy, I like to be ahead of the curve on spontaneous acts of hilarity. My husband laughed until he nearly cried when I walked half a mile home with a 15-pound watermelon for him. Always go first when there's a chance to surprise and delight. The internal ledger should be aligned toward banking extra bliss credits. It gets to be a game, trying to astound the other person or make him collapse with laughter. The giver probably gets more entertainment value out of this game than the recipient. It does tend to motivate the other player to reciprocate.
This is how to open negotiations for more High Quality Leisure Time.
1.Respect a window of time for homecoming. When someone walks in the door, there should be at least ten minutes for using the bathroom, putting things away, flipping through the mail, checking messages, changing clothes, and sharing any news from the day. It is rude and unfair to barrage someone with complaints or negativity the moment they open the door. You have no idea what kind of day they've had until they tell you.
2.Pull back your own demands first. Go first, always go first. Demonstrate the respect and courtesy you wish to receive.
3.Do that thing you keep not doing. If you've been slacking on a chore, be a real samurai and get it done. Do it in secret. Do it without expecting a ticker tape parade. Be impeccable in your agreements and commitments. Hold your end up.
4.Apologize. The appropriate format for a sincere apology goes like this: "I am sorry that I [was rude to you] [was unfair] [was selfish] when I [did the thing I wouldn't want you to do to me]." An apology that begins with "I'm sorry if" or "I'm sorry but" is incorrect. Start over. "I'm sorry I slammed you with complaints about my job the minute you walked in the door." "I'm sorry I interrupted you during your game."
5.Offer suggestions. Most likely, one or both of you has given up an activity you used to do when you first met. Make a list of those things and offer to facilitate your partner starting them up again. There's no earthly reason why someone should quit doing an honest, wholesome leisure activity. Usually this is something that could be even more fun with the participation of a child. Adults need adults-only time, too, and if you're parents, trade off alone time. "I was thinking about when you used to play league hockey. I found out there's a local team that meets Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'll cook on those nights if you want to go."
6.Explain the concept of High Quality Leisure Time and what you're trying to accomplish. "I want to make sure you're having fun and doing stuff you want to do. Also, there's a class I'd like to take."
7.Remind your partner of memory highlights. This is especially important if you now have children. "I loved it when we..." "You made me laugh until I snorted that time you..." "I really liked when you introduced me to..."
8.Set up a formal appointment for household business. We have a breakfast meeting on Saturdays, and it's become one of our favorite times of the week. We save up any conversations about finances, travel plans, insurance, bills, family visits, equipment upgrades, household maintenance, errands, or adjustments to our chore schedule. We don't have to talk about this stuff on weeknights. It's become easier for both of us to introduce awkward topics, because we have a system for resolving them. The goal is to do root cause analysis, make a systematic change, and never have that particular issue again. No blaming or fault-finding. We spend more of our time expressing appreciation that the other person's proposed solution worked for the last problem.
9.Reinforce your partner's fun time. Bring him a pillow. Make snacks. Wear your headphones. Religiously tiptoe around and do your utmost to avoid interrupting or distracting him. Set the boundaries that you want for yourself.
10.Up your game. What would a level-up look like in your relationship? What if your daily routine was as fun as you usually have on vacation? What would vacation have to be like to be an improvement on that?
Imagine passing out from exhaustion and breaking your face on your desk. Arianna Huffington famously collapsed and broke her cheekbone after a string of eighteen-hour days. This was her moment of clarity, and she started taking her need for rest more seriously. Since publicizing her story, she has met other women to whom the exact same thing happened. There is something seriously wrong with a culture that promotes overwork to the extent that 'work until you break your face' becomes some sort of micro-trend. The Sleep Revolution aims to expose this and encourage all of us to get the sleep we need.
Most sleep manuals spend the majority of the text focused on the personal impacts of sleep issues. I know, because I read most of them as I sought a solution for my little "run through the house screaming in my sleep" problem. Even one night of sleep deprivation is enough to make it hard to think about much else besides crawling under a fluffy comforter. Or a desk. Or a park bench. Or anything, really, if I could just lie down for a few minutes... We don't realize the societal impact of hundreds of millions of people staggering through their days, exhausted, burned-out, distracted, and driving in the lane next to us. The statistics on how many drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel are terrifying. That alone should scare us all into going to bed earlier.
Speaking from experience, getting enough sleep really is revolutionary. It makes me a little crazy when I hear people talking about their sleep procrastination habits. You mean you could fall asleep whenever you want, and you're tired because you chose to stay up late?? No movie or book is that good. No game is that much fun. Nothing on social media is going to disappear before tomorrow. I was 34 before I started to be able to sleep as much as I needed every night. Do not throw that gift away! If you do have insomnia or parasomnia issues like I did, I promise, if someone like me could overcome something like pavor nocturnus, there is a solution for your sleep problems too. Nothing else you could do in life would provide as much of a lifestyle upgrade as being able to sleep peacefully every night.
Sleep is the best! It's free, it feels fantastic, and it makes your skin look great. It puts you in a good mood and makes you more patient and fun to be around. It strengthens your immune system. Sleeping eight hours a night is like being on vacation every day. I highly encourage everyone to read The Sleep Revolution and start looking at sleep as a hip new hobby.
Euphemisms can be fun. In our household, an “opportunity to succeed” is the term for when the parrot needs a potty break. That’s about once every ten minutes. Not to get too graphic, but if she’s sitting with you and you’re wearing something labeled “dry clean only,” don’t startle her. Aside from her role as catalyst of many wardrobe changes, some due to flinging food or snagging with her nails, she’s a delightful companion. Part of it is her sweet nature. Part of it is that we’ve set up her environment in a way that makes it easy to live with her. This is where pet training can teach us a lot about habit formation.
I’ve always been described as “good with animals.” My husband is more like Dr. Doolittle. When we got married, our pets got married, too, in their own way. The 18-year-old Noelle and 8-year-old Spike treat each other much as you’d expect a human teenage girl with a decade-younger little brother to treat each other. They share food and toys, they try to get each other into trouble, they annoy each other sometimes, they ignore each other most of the time, and occasionally we catch them being affectionate when they think nobody is looking. He licks her on the beak and she touches his snout and makes smooch sounds.
Why does this work? Why can our ¾-lb bird climb on our vigilant 21-lb terrier, with her terrible scratchy talons, and not get bit or shaken to death? How have they managed to live together for 7 years without injuring each other? That’s a story in itself. The keys are that we respect their natures and their biological needs, that we create a living environment that makes it easy for them, and that we’ve introduced changes very gradually. We supervised them extremely closely. We didn’t leave them alone in a room together for years. Plenty of dogs and parrots bite, ruin furniture, bark or scream monotonously, and are aggressive toward humans and other animals. Ours are nice because we set them up to be nice. We give them that “opportunity to succeed.”
What does this have to do with humans?
First, when we want to change our habits, it helps to do at least a bit of research in psychology. We have to understand what tends to work for our breed and what tends not to work. Going back to the pet training example, birds are flock animals and dogs are pack animals. They both have an inherent need to understand where they fit in the “pecking order” and who is the alpha of the group. (NB: a human, not a pet!) We established very firmly, when he was only 10 weeks old, that Spike is “gamma dog” and he has to let the bird boss him around. She bribes him with food rewards, reinforcing the relationship. When we want to change our habits, we need to know how habits work, and we also need to pay attention to our social surroundings. Is there someone in the pack who is going to throw us treats? Are someone else’s rules influencing our behavior?
The physical home environment is paramount, both for habit change and for pet training. We have clearly defined areas where our pets are allowed to relax and be themselves. They each have a private sleep area (crate for him, cage for her). She has plenty of things she is allowed to use for her biological need to chew. They have their own toys, their own food, and their own water bowls, although sometimes she drinks out of his. He has a special blanket and a couch he’s allowed to sit on. This helps assuage his hurt feelings due to being banned from our bed. In the human parts of the house, we have designated areas for our stuff and our activities. I set up the medicine cabinet so that just glancing at what is in there reminds me to floss at night and put on sunblock in the morning. I set up the fridge so that the vegetables are at eye level. We keep our desks, table, and kitchen counters clear so they’re always ready to use for their intended purpose. Keeping the house clutter-free also makes it easier to do housework; research shows a cluttered house takes 40% longer to clean. That’s a big deal when you have as many loose feathers, dog hairs, shredded bits of plywood, and muddy paw prints coming through as we do.
A schedule is helpful. Getting enough rest is a big deal for all of us. Noelle beeps if she’s under her cover too late in the morning. Then she starts imitating the travel alarm clock. Then she starts imitating the backup alarm of a garbage truck. At this point, the dog starts howling, rather than simply running out of the room. Next, they both get louder. Birds need about 12 hours of sleep a night, and a sleep-deprived bird is a crabby, biting sort of a bird. Mealtimes are the other major one. If any member of the house is eating, the other three expect to get a bite also. It makes life easier when we all eat together. If there is any single thing that makes habit change easier, it is letting the schedule pull you through the day. The important thing is to move from one activity to another without pausing to decide whether to do it or not. Do one thing, then the next thing, then the next thing. Stop to think and make decisions later in the day or evening, when most of the mandatory activities of the day are done.
The fascinating thing about living with animals is that they have their own interior agendas. The dog has developed a thing lately of jumping up around 9:30 PM, standing on his hind legs to sniff at his leash, and barking at us and the front door. That’s not walking time, but for some reason, he feels this sudden interest in the leash and the door. It’s interesting to see when either of them decides to play with toys, stretch, or ask for attention. They definitely never let us forget munch time. What they don’t do is worry the way humans do. As far as we know, they spend zero time wondering what other people or animals think of them, stewing over old grudges, or browbeating themselves for their flaws. Noelle picks her nose with her toe and Spike licks his nether regions. They both have pretty high self-esteem. Whenever she sees her reflection in the mirror, she leans forward to kiss herself. When we call him “good boy” he actually believes it.
One of the things about training pets is that we have rules. They can only understand what we want from them if we’re very clear about what exactly we want, if we communicate it in a way they can understand, and if we’re really, really, really consistent. It doesn’t help when Mother has one set of rules and Dad has a conflicting set of rules. We don’t steal food off someone else’s plate. We don’t grab people with our face. We don’t jump up. When we misbehave, we are instantly corrected and removed. There is a constant expectation that we will behave in certain ways, which are positively reinforced with affection and soothing words. We know what can be expected of us, given our inherent tendencies, and most of the time, we’re allowed to do what comes naturally.
Pets lack the skills to survive in the wild. Our dog is a 20th-century breed, and he may even lack the physical ability to survive in the wild. It’s our job to look after them. We have to take care not to overfeed them or give them inappropriate foods, because they don’t know how to say no. They can’t read health articles or have a conversation with their vet about fatty liver disease. They aren’t moral agents; in a very real way, they can’t make decisions. (We have to remember this when the bird chews foam from the underside of the ottoman, and the dog keeps digging up my basil seedlings). We read that fat people have fat pets. We’ve lost 100 pounds between us, so we have to watch our tendency to be “feeders” and find amusement in giving our animals lots of yummy treats. We also have to recognize our tendency to give ourselves lots of yummy treats. Caring for them has almost all of the same requirements as caring for ourselves. As they’ve both put on extra grams (or pounds) and we’ve been chewed out by the vet, the solution has been to switch to “weight management” chow and measure scoops of food at each meal. Same for us.
When we don’t want our animals to chew something up, we keep it out of reach. When we catch them doing something dangerous, we rush to their rescue and then make sure the dangerous thing can’t happen again. When they do something naughty, we correct them, as many times as it takes. We feed them what is healthy for them and restrict things they shouldn’t have. (Avocado could kill her; a lot of things are toxic for him, like raisins or tomatoes). We set them up so that they follow a natural rhythm of life every day, with plenty of time for rest, play, grooming, exercise, and affection. They enjoy simple things much more than we do, and that helps us feel like shower time or shoelaces are more interesting than we would otherwise notice.
We have a lot to learn from animals. They never overthink anything. They both fulfill their complete agenda every day, from grooming to napping to shredding things to exercising, whether that means chasing one’s tail or hanging upside down and face-punching a bell. They seem reasonably satisfied to eat the same number of calories every day. They both place a high priority on cuddle time. They don’t keep clutter, they don’t over-pack, they don’t berate themselves for lacking willpower or motivation, they’re ready to go when it’s time to go somewhere. They have no body image issues, even though her wings are trimmed and his tail was docked in puppyhood. They both walk around shamelessly naked. They are utterly perfect, each in their own way, a clearly recognizable African Gray Parrot and a classic American Rat Terrier. They lead successful lives.
Perhaps it’s from training pets that I have developed a comfort level with using behavioral psychology on myself. It’s pretty easy and straightforward for me to adopt new habits. I recognize that I have an innate drive to do both positive and negative things, and that I have to incentivize the right impulses and repress the undesired ones. I can’t let my parrot destroy people’s earrings, I can’t let my dog chase the mailman, and I can’t let myself do things like procrastinating on my taxes. I have to respect my biological needs for sleep, water, and appropriate foods, because if I treated my pets as badly as I might treat myself, I’d be cited for animal abuse. I don’t expect my critters to learn new tricks on the first attempt, and I teach myself to do new things the same way: patiently, slowly, incrementally. The best trick I could ever learn is to love the way they do, fully and unconditionally.
I'm the early tech adopter in our household; it took me nearly three years to sell my husband on the delights of a smartphone. Thus it came as something of a surprise when he came home the other night and told me about the new Pokemon Go app. I hadn't heard of it and it had already been out for a week! I'm the wrong age for Pokemon. It has nostalgia for him, though, because his stepson was about seven when the game originally came out. Later, his daughter fell in love with the game, too, although she had grown out of it by the time we met. I saw how he lit up as he was telling me about this new phone app, and it was awfully cute.
I smiled to myself, because I could see it coming a mile away. (See what I did there?). This game was going to be much more fun on foot than it was in our living room. I wasn't sure how long he would hold out, but I figured it was three days, max. I casually offered to go with him if he wanted to go out and catch some pocket monsters. The very next night, we did.
Most days, I get my target miles in by making up tasks and errands to do around town. I might stop in any of five cafés, two grocery stores, a post office, two library branches, or three movie theaters. Every now and then, my ambit expands, and I'll make a special trip to see a movie that isn't available any nearer, or pick up a book at a more distant library outpost. I might add an extra three or four miles on a day like that. Gamifying exercise works, and I know it. After a while, your legs simply demand to MOVE and sitting still isn't an option. The trick is getting past the first three weeks, when your legs still demand to SIT.
We hadn't made it to the first intersection before we spotted a child who looked like she might be playing the same game we were. With her was a teenaged girl walking a dog. We passed a training center, but my husband hadn't leveled up enough to use it yet. We walked through a business park, where we saw our first confirmed case of a fellow adult playing Pokemon Go. He was at least thirty and dressed like a security guard. As we made it to the large shopping center that appeared to have the most virtual activity, we started seeing a LOT of other people with the game clearly visible on their screens. Literally a couple dozen.
As far as we could tell, in our neighborhood, it was about three adults to every child. There were a daddy with two sons, a mommy with two daughters, young couples, gaming buddies, and even a young guy with a cane. Most players were over thirty. Almost everyone appeared to be, shall I say, an exercise novice. Sitting a lot in our world of technology tends to cause the shoulders to slump and roll forward. Driving, sitting in front of a computer, hunching over a phone or tablet, sewing, reading, and watching TV all tend to create this slouchy posture. It leads to chronic neck and shoulder tension. That's the main reason I walk at least three miles a day; I type too much and walking helps roll my shoulders back where they belong.
The way the game works, every player can see the same virtual features laid over the same real world locations. The training centers are the same for everyone in town, and the same creatures and prizes appear in the same spots. What this does is to build an instant Nerd-o-Rama, with small crowds of t-shirt-clad gamers gathered around what are normally deserted public plazas. These are nice spots, and it's a bit uncanny how well the game world corresponds with places that are worth going. Public art, benches, fountains, murals, well-lit areas that were already designed for casual social contact and relaxation. People were shyly smiling at each other as we all realized we were there for the same reason - a non-competitive, non-zero-sum reason. Unlimited numbers of players can all catch the same Pokemon at the same time, and nobody loses.
You know what would happen if everyone played this game? Every neighborhood would be safe. Dozens of people out and about, equipped with phones, video cameras, first aid triage apps, etc. What I mean by that is: witnesses. In this game, there would be few scarily isolated areas left in the real world.
On the way home, we passed a tiny park, a monument to the town founder. I pass this park twice a day, nearly every day of the week, and I think I've only seen anyone there once. All it has is a statue, a big flag, a couple of benches, and a dog bag dispenser. Now, though, it's a Pokemon Go training center. There were nearly a dozen people gathered around, and it was 9 PM on a weeknight.
We had a great night. It felt like a date, with a festival air reminiscent of Halloween. Spike had the time of his life, with all sorts of people cooing at him, and a convertible full of four cute young women making smooching sounds at him. I made the Overlord happy and got my Apple Watch exercise quota for the day. My husband caught fifteen Pokemon and found ten potions, eleven revive, thee incense, and six eggs, although a rare Onix escaped after he caught it. He gained two levels, and we were able to stop at the training center on the way home.
We wound up walking over three miles.
I have always thought that gamers could be the most physically fit people who ever lived, given the right incentives and the right technology. Imagine having to hurdle fences, climb ladders, run endlessly, and fight avatars by moving your actual biological self! It would be like an esoteric monastic discipline, requiring many hours of meditation and physical conditioning. This may still happen; watching the Dance Dance Revolution console at any arcade should give a convincing image. What I never thought of was that gaming could bring so many introverts and shy people out into public places. The next step is obviously a social feature that has people reaching out to talk to one another. Maybe a setting could indicate whether a player was up for interaction. I like where this is going, and I hope the trend continues.
Procrastination means worry. There are all kinds of things I could be doing today that are irrelevant to my interests. I could be learning to play the tuba; I’d make new friends and have an exciting new way to troll people who annoy me. It’s not on my agenda though. If I wanted to learn both guitar and piano, and I chose guitar, would I then be procrastinating on playing piano? No. Almost every possible activity, conversation, or consumer item is irrelevant to my life in this moment. The only way I can have a meaningful or happy life is to consciously set intentions, choose specific acts, and focus on one purpose at a time. This is where it can help to distinguish rational and irrational procrastination.
Economists can’t account for procrastination. Why do it? (In some cultures, people don’t really procrastinate, just as some cultures don’t have clutter problems). If I’ve decided that a particular action is the most valuable way to spend my time and the most important thing I could be doing, why on earth would I not do it? There are two reasons. 1. Anxiety and 2. Discounting. In the first case, we are paralyzed. We feel uncertain about what to do or what might happen, and the longer we remain in indecision, the more fraught the act becomes with potential unanticipated ramifications. In the second case, we miscalculate how valuable an action would be, how much effort might be involved, or how long it will take us to complete the action. We weigh what we’re doing right now against the benefit of doing the Most Important Thing, and we decide we’re better off saving That Thing for later. When we’re wrong, it’s a result of inaccurate discounting. We guessed wrong. Our estimates were off.
I procrastinated on something stupid once. I tell this story all the time because it still mystifies me. What on earth was I thinking? I had a weird problem with this constant tickle in my throat. I couldn’t speak when I lay on my back. My chiropractor told me that my thyroid gland was visibly enlarged and I needed to see a doctor right away. I had just had my annual physical two months before, but I went back. My doctor diagnosed a goiter and said it hadn’t been there at my previous appointment. Whatever it was, it was moving fast, and I needed to see an endocrinologist. She told me I needed to get it scanned, which I did, though swallowing radioactive iodine is not a cheerful thing to do. The scan came back with a scary nodule that could well be cancerous. Next step: biopsy. Needle biopsy.
What did I do? I went to the public library and read two books on the thyroid, cover to cover. I finally made the biopsy appointment 14 months later.
As it turns out, people do this kind of stupid thing all the time. Anyone in the health profession will tell you that patient compliance is one of the toughest clinical issues. We don’t fill our prescriptions, we don’t take our medications as directed, we don’t change our dressings, we don’t do our physical therapy, we don’t come to appointments, we use limbs we were ordered to rest, and we certainly, certainly don’t make the lifestyle changes that could save our lives or keep us out of the surgical theater. Probably our feeble human brains (speaking for myself here) aren’t fully capable of understanding future threats in the same way we might understand the attack of a predator. I’m convinced that a certain portion of us (again speaking for myself) would stand stock-still and scream rather than take any evasive action, even in that primal scenario.
Taking care of our health and saving for retirement are the two most commonly procrastinated acts. We just don’t identify with Future Self. We have trouble imagining Future Self: Tomorrow, much less Future Self: Next Year or Future Self: Age 73. It seems more rational to worry about Present Self: Wants Cookie while trying to deal with Past Self’s mess of postponed chores and unpaid bills. Gee, Past Self, thanks for the dirty sink, you lazy slob.
This is where clutter intersects with procrastination. It’s perfectly rational to put aside unimportant things in favor of more urgent concerns. Sorting junk mail should not be a thing in the first place. Why is it opt-out instead of opt-in? (Answer: lobbyists). Maybe we will need that stuff later. Discounting comes in when we don’t realize how much it costs us to maintain a storage unit, or the fact that it takes 40% more work to clean a cluttered house. I used to have a storage unit, and I no longer own a single item that I paid to store. Even at $20 a month for several years, I could have flown to Paris for a week. There are 168 hours in a week, and I know I’ve spent that long sorting, stacking, and searching through all that clutter. Yeah, so, instead of the week in Paris I sat around sorting old junk I paid to store. Fun.
One day I decided that I didn’t want my story to be about chronic procrastination. Around 20% of us fall into this category. We run around with unfinished projects, unsorted clutter, calls we don’t want to make, email we don’t want to read, mail we don’t want to open, gifts and cards we haven’t sent, and invitations to events we don’t want to attend. We can’t take any time for strategic thinking because we’re continually preoccupied. We feel like failures. We feel like losers. We’re always late and leaking papers. I wanted to be the opposite of whatever I was.
What’s the opposite of ‘loser’? It turns out there are infinite varieties of success. I chose health and became an athlete. I chose love and became a wife. I chose minimalism and got organized. I chose a profession and became a writer. I still struggle so much with punctuality that I simply arranged my life in a way that rarely requires me to be in a specific place at a specific time. If you want to be my friend, drop by any time, but let’s not make it about a designated individual minute. Far be it from me to stress you out. Like I said, I’m still working on it. I need to choose contributions I know are within my capabilities. Anything else is either a stretch goal or a non-starter.
This is where rational procrastination comes in. I’m learning that everything works better when I focus on doing only one thing at a time. When I went back to school and finished my degree, that was what I did. I lived in a different city and I missed a lot of family gatherings, parties, and events. When I decided to get fit, that was what I did. I went to the gym at least five days a week, often for 90 minutes at a time, although I didn’t miss much because I read the same books on the elliptical that I would have read on my couch. When I decided to lose weight, I let go of the idea that it was going to happen through exercise (because it doesn’t), and for three depressing months I “missed” a lot of “treats” and snacks. When I chose minimalism, I spent a lot of time sorting and discarding stuff and missed a lot of leisure activities. I closed the loop. I got the degree and resumed an ordinary schedule. I reached my goal weight and raised the bar for my daily activity level. I created a streamlined space and more mental clarity. Each time, I derailed my routine for concentrated periods, emerging with a “new normal.” I put aside a lot of activities I would normally do, procrastinating on them until I finished something specific.
The key to minimalism is this rational procrastination. Almost every possibility is recognized as a distraction or non-starter. For instance, I have ideas for three different series of books. I can only write one at a time. I want to complete a triathlon, and that means swim, bike, run, in that order. If I want to train for that event, I have to choose all the other activities I won’t be doing all season. I prioritize longevity, and that includes earning and saving money as well as strengthening my body. Specific savings goals mean I have to choose not to buy an infinite amount of attractive things and experiences I might really, really desire. Not buying all the soda, cookies, frozen desserts, and snacks I used to use to keep myself fat has freed up a not insignificant amount I can save for the future. I let go of crafting, and that freed up space, time, and money. Instead of cross stitch, knitting, and crochet, I write, and I pay rent on a smaller house.
I procrastinate every day. Maybe I’ll get around to binge-watching TV one day, but not today. Maybe I’ll get around to playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds one day, but not today. Maybe I’ll find the secret to perfect hair one day, but not today. I’m curious about all these limited edition flavors of Oreos, and maybe I’ll taste them, but not today. I can put it off for tomorrow. I can read the comments tomorrow, I can argue about politics tomorrow, I can gossip tomorrow, I can complain tomorrow. Today, I’m going to do specific things. I’m going to put away my laundry. I already worked out and I already sorted my mail. Maybe if it’s still warm enough I’ll take my pets outside and sit on the porch. I’m going to floss my teeth. Anything I can think of that will set Future Self up with a better starting point, I’ll do that, today. Anything else can wait.
In this uncertain world, it’s comforting to know one thing for sure. You can be as unhappy as you want to be, for as long as you like. Autonomy and authenticity are underrated. You’re just as entitled to your emotions as anyone else. Your irritation is real. You’ll always be able to find someone who will validate that. Venting is a surefire way to find people who won’t expect you to fake a positive attitude when you don’t feel it. That can be never, if you want. You never have to feel happy, positive, cheerful, or satisfied. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. There is only one way to feel, and that’s the default that was programmed into everyone at birth.
People only come in certain types. Some people are born with certain dispositions, and others are born with different ones. That’s the first thing you have to understand if you want to maintain a steady level of realistic, pragmatic unhappiness. Everyone gets a fate. It’s unchangeable. Just as you can’t change your personality or your “habits” (same thing, duh), you can’t change the events that happen to you. It is important to realize this before you begin the process of social comparison. Always compare yourself to others. You can tell at a glance everything about another person. Happy people get everything. It really is unfair because it’s obvious they don’t deserve the love, friendship, career, or fitness level that they keep showing off. The least they could do is to have the grace to hide themselves, so you don’t have to look at them. Envy is uncomfortable, and that’s a kind of unhappiness that you’d rather not feel as often as the other kinds, but what can you do?
The most annoying thing is when supposedly happy people insist on handing out advice. They’re always congratulating themselves on how they swallowed the Kool-Aid and bought into this stupid claptrap. Ooh, gratitude this, optimism that. Blah blah blah, kumbaya. “Do something nice for someone else.” It’s a pyramid scheme. Don’t fall for it. The only reason it works is because they all decided those were the rules. They fake it until they recruit you, and then they lobotomize you and send you out to recruit others. If you want a job, you’re supposed to follow their rules about communication and collaboration. If you want to date, you’re supposed to make up some BS profile and pretend you enjoy a bunch of stuff. If only you could be honest and just say up front that you don’t want to be happy together, you want to be unhappy together. Or not. Unhappy and alone is okay, too. It’s better than lying or trying to pretend to have a different personality.
The trouble is that everything anyone would really want, other than a clear-eyed, accurate view of the world, falls from the sky. It’s irrational. Certain people get a soulmate. Other people get dream jobs. Other people are born athletic. They like to humble-brag about how they “worked on themselves” or spent however much time training or going back to school or “building a business.” Like the same thing would work for anyone else. Come on. If you listen to them, you’ll just get your hopes up. How much time are you going to waste trying to copy someone else’s plan? You might as well just give up and start writing out New Year’s Resolutions or some such garbage.
Always assume the worst. It’s documentable that you’ll be right more often. Optimists live longer, but who would want that anyway in this dumb old world? That’s like having a longer-lasting marriage by pretending the other person isn’t a total pain in the neck. Or not being first on the layoff list at work by keeping your grievances to yourself. Why shouldn’t you be able to speak up as often as you like about your dissatisfactions? Break the ice. Create an atmosphere in which everyone feels free to voice even the most trivial complaint. How else will anything get done? Negativity is necessary. Just because people don’t like hearing criticism and contempt doesn’t mean they should get their way, especially if it’s legitimate. What are they, babies? “You suck; deal with it.” There, doesn’t that feel better?
Take everything personally. Everything other people do has a private message for you if you pay attention. If someone says something that hurts your feelings, it probably was deliberate. Other people most likely feel just as much hostility, defensiveness, and scorn as you do. Maybe they’re even holding back and it’s worse than you had guessed.
There are other ways to nail down your unhappiness level, and you should really focus on them, because it takes vigilance to keep this outlook from being polluted by supposedly altered perspectives. Let your personal environment reflect your interests, which should include dim lighting and as much sedentary behavior as possible. Anyone who comes over should be able to see how little value you place on such deranged ideals as comfort, hospitality, cleanliness, or interior design. “Organized,” pfft. Tell them to call back when they’re done alphabetizing their socks. Or not. Eat whatever you want; it doesn’t really matter anyway, because it’s not like learning to cook would be any less dissatisfying than any other meal. Eat what you want, do what you want, wear what you want, and definitely say what you want. Always do what comes naturally, because obviously that’s worked out according to plan.
Best of luck on your quest for permanent unhappiness. That’s a paradox, isn’t it? Everyone knows that everything in life is awarded according to some inscrutable system of luck, fate, and mystical forces. Yet on the other hand, it’s possible to be unhappy if you work on it. It’s like the loophole that proves free will. The one area where you can dictate what happens to you, the one and only time in life, is when you’re somehow allowed to exert your independence and feel as unhappy as you think you deserve to be.
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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.