I couldn't make it through this book. By the halfway mark, I had to put it away so that I could make my own art! Then, of course, I went right back to reading, because I couldn't get enough of Danielle Krysa. I loved this book so much that I'm completely freaking out. Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and mine is too.
Anyone who is anyone will get something out of this book. You don't have to be an artist. This needs to be said, because without the disclaimer, some of us will feel that we aren't allowed to read it. That's for Real Artists (TM). Not the likes of me. My constant yearning to look at art, read art books, buy or touch art supplies and materials, and hang out with Real Artists (TM) in no way indicates that there might be a shadow artist inside of me. Nuh-uh.
Every time I ever tried to sign up for an art class, it was full. I haven't had any formal training in visual arts or design since grade school. Perhaps this has helped me, because I've always thought my bad art was hilarious. I used to have a lovely roommate who had an MFA and had sold illustrations to national magazines. I showed her a sketch once and she literally laughed until she cried. I knew my drawing was naive and untutored, and I also knew that I have a certain gift for comedy, so this was a great result! I "can't" draw, just as I "can't" sing, but that doesn't stop me from drawing or singing when I feel the urge. If anything, it's a great way to troll my critics. Oh, does this bother you?? Perhaps I'll do it LOUDER!
(That, by the way, is the philosophy of my parrot when she feels she isn't getting enough attention).
Do what you want. It's harmless. Nobody but you knows a dang thing about your personal style. You are the authority on your own gift. Initiative comes from inside you, and the art wants to get out and live its life. Just let it out. You don't have to show it to anyone, or share it with anyone, or try to make money from it, and contrariwise, you have all the authority you need to put it on a billboard, declaim it from a megaphone, or put a ten million dollar price tag on it. There will always be a critic, just as there will always be a barking dog. If you can get criticized by random strangers just for existing within their field of awareness, might as well bring some of your work along, too.
I made this piece on my iPad with my index finger. I've never used it for that purpose before. (Either the device or the finger). I've also never done a work in color. It's a portrait from memory of my little cuppycake, who was unable to pose for me because she sleeps twelve hours a night. Noelie. I'm going to show it to her, and if past behavior is any indication, she'll kiss it with her beak. It's a work born of inspiration and true love, and it sucks, but I find it charming and I'll most likely do more. If you don't like it, blame it on Danielle Krysa and her partner-in-crime, illustrator Martha Rich.
Trigger warning: I am going to proceed to tell you that your problems can eventually bother you less. I am going to violate every norm and claim that no matter how deep the trauma you have undergone, it can be overcome. I'm not supposed to say this, but there is no healer. YOU are the healer. You can alter your reflex physiological responses to your emotions. You can rebuild the narrative around anything that has ever happened to you, good, bad, or neutral. Obstacle immunity can be developed.
None of this is to undercut the seriousness of what may have been a long series of devastating life events. My people tend to have three to five times more traumatic events in their timeline than the average person. Moving past trauma also has nothing to do with forgiveness, which people often think implies that we're supposed to let abusers and manipulators off the hook. Unfair things happened to you. People may have done unfair things to you that they should not have done. That does not mean that you are then trapped in a cycle of emotional pain for the rest of your life. How unfair would that be? Then anyone in the world could tap you once with the Cruelty Wand and crack you right through. Grief is the same. It's the fate of every living creature to suffer the loss of loved ones. Death is built into the system. Grief never really goes away; the love remains; yet anyone who ever loved you would want you to live. Live your life. Walk in sorrow if you have to, but do walk. If you do it right, you can live for two.
When we're stuck in trauma, we're stuck on a story. I'm damaged. I'm broken. I'm ill. It ruined my life. How dare he? Who does she think she is? Why did this have to happen to me? I can't because. We get stuck on repeat, telling the story again and again, wanting two things. We want to know WHY and we want SYMPATHY.
The first thing is that it doesn't matter why. It happened. If it hadn't happened to you, it probably would have happened to someone else, and would you wish that on anyone? The real question is, what now?
The second thing is that sympathy doesn't penetrate. We are virtually incapable of recognizing emotional validation when it's on offer. We like to cry out, "You don't know what it's like!" We can't let it in because it's never enough. But nothing external is ever enough. People will try their best to comfort you and include you, but if your heart is in a jar, it won't matter to you. Transcendence comes from the inside. You have to do the work yourself.
We start by editing the narrative. Something happened to me because I was too inexperienced to understand until it was too late. I didn't know I was in a dangerous situation. I didn't recognize the signs of this condition until the first episode. A small number of bad actors go around looking for naive people to exploit, and one of them got to me. I wasn't the first and I won't be the last. Now I know better. When I share my story, I can help other people to spot the pattern and save themselves. Whether that's a physical injury, a health problem, or an emotional wound, my story can be a useful tool.
I used to be a migraine sufferer, and every single time someone I know gets a migraine, I try to help. I want to share how I quit having migraines nearly three years ago. Same story with fibromyalgia. We can get better! We don't have to live this way! As you can imagine, people tend to find this approach extremely annoying. I can offer true sympathy, and empathy as well, because I've been bedridden by four-day migraines and I've needed help to get out of bed from chronic pain. Compassion is my motivation. The key is right here in my hand, and I'll make you a copy, and you can unlock this prison cell and walk free. Why would you slap it out of my hand? Or I guess I could repeat, "Oh, you poor dear, it's awful, it's awful" for a thousand years and maybe eventually you might feel better.
Emotional pain fits right in to a fixed mindset in the exact same way as physical pain. We believe that we're living statues, set in static positions, and once carved, that's just the way we are. At a certain age, the concrete dries, and if we try to budge, parts of us chip off. My life story absolutely determines my situation. THINGS HAPPENED TO ME! We fail to realize the most important thing, which is that we lived. We got through it. The worst things we could imagine happened, and we're still here. Now what?
How would we be living if it had never happened at all?
I've been physically attacked on the street, yet I still travel the world and walk at night. Why? Why would I do that? The answer is that now I have a cell phone with a video camera. I'm not going to let some random jerk from fifteen years ago force me to live in a cage. Also, actual people have been literally forced to live in a physical cage. What happened to me was terribly frightening, but I got away, and in my mind these incidents are nowhere near the worst that could happen. Whenever I think about unfairness, I try to focus on Things That are Unfair and put the incident in perspective. Do I really care about injustice, or only when I feel that someone has been unjust to me? I've never been murdered or kidnapped and I've never been a victim of human trafficking. If I care about injustice and unfairness, then logically I should focus my efforts on the things I think are the most unjust and the least fair. I can use my pain and fear as fuel and work to fight the forces of evil. Superhero style.
Trauma makes us feel weak even as it makes us stronger. We think we can't handle it, even as we are living proof that we could and we did. We think we can't move on, even though we're moving on every hour, every minute. It gets easier when we reinterpret what happened as a random incident that could have happened to anyone, something that has happened to others. It gets easier when we search out and find other survivors and find out who is coping the best. Think of a trauma, whether physical or emotional, and there will be a role model out there kicking its butt. Think of someone close to you, someone you love or admire, and ask yourself whether you would want this kind of thing to derail their life the way yours has been. What would I want for my best friend or my favorite teacher in this situation?
We never know until we ask, but we're surrounded by the walking wounded. It's rare that we're actually the most traumatized person in the room. It's rare that our measure of suffering is objectively the worst. The pain is real, and we're certainly entitled to it. When, though, do we decide to lay that burden down? There is never going to be any true compensation. The clock will never be turned back. We'll carry the memory forever. None of that means, though, that the story is over. We have the power to rewrite the story so that whatever happened was merely one chapter, one chapter at the very beginning.
If there's ever to be any compensation at all, it is the reward of a new day.
After a two-year hiatus, I'm ready to start running again. I ran in the rain a couple of times over Thanksgiving, but I haven't gone out again since I got home. I realized that this is because I really love the regional park by my parents' house, but I don't have a regular route in my new neighborhood yet. I thought I'd share the process of figuring out where to go after the first sidewalk square outside my front door.
That's how I mentally measured distance as a novice. I didn't think much of my cardio endurance, and I figured six sidewalk squares at a time would be within my abilities. If you'd told me I'd be running a marathon not even four years later, I would have been angry that you were making fun of me.
Every runner is different. We tend to find what works for us and then become superstitiously attached to it. I have a friend who loves to run against the display on the treadmill. Some people love running in the early morning, some love running at night. Some prefer to run in groups or with a dog, others prefer running alone. I prefer trail running, something that is hard to manage in a big city.
I start with a map app, scanning the area around my house. I walk about 15-20 miles a week, generally for errands, and I want something different for running. My ideal is a large, hilly park with trails and a public restroom. Any park with a path will do, though. A surprising number of public parks have no pathways, just parking around the entire perimeter. Enjoying them as a runner means disrupting people's frisbee games, alarming their dogs, and generally being in the grass. I'll go far out of my way for my preferred kind of park, because this is my "treat" for my weekly distance day. I can run a standard/boring/shorter route on the other days.
When I started out, I physically couldn't make it around the block. I had to walk part of the way and lie on the floor afterward. My first challenge was to find a flat section of sidewalk that measured 1/3 mile. No hills! I added just 1/10 of a mile at a time every few days. A few years down the road, my first goal is to find the steepest hill within five miles. It probably takes me a third of a mile to quit fiddling with my gear. No matter what I choose, I know it's just a sampler. I'll test it out, knowing it's possible but unlikely that these particular streets will still be on my route six months from now.
I have no problem with repeating the same route over and over again. Tolerance for monotony is an important trait for running, knitting, sitting on a couch and staring at a screen, and all sorts of other fun activities.
For short training runs, I want what I call a "big loop." That's the largest possible area in which I can run laps without having to wait at a stoplight. In my old neighborhood, the big loop went around a car lot, a community garden, a gas station, and a grocery store. My street bisected it. I could choose between a two-mile loop or two versions of a one-mile loop. Urban streets tend to be on a regular grid, and it's possible to get really close to one-mile units. The advantage of this was that I could easily determine my distance for the day by doing one or more laps around that loop. Another advantage is that it usually keeps me within a quarter-mile of my house, depending on side streets.
Within the big loop are typically smaller rectangles or circuits of quarter- or half-mile increments. I like areas with a lot of cul-de-sacs. That means I can run around them without worrying about through traffic. Sometimes there are also basketball hoop stands to hurdle. Another interesting feature is that sometimes, if you run with a GPS app, you can make patterns with your route. I inadvertently drew a waving hand one night. On a big enough grid, you can spell things.
These are the factors I can discover on a map. Quality only comes with experimentation. For instance, my old neighborhood was at virtually the epicenter of the 1996 Northridge earthquake, and it had a lot of severely buckled sidewalks. I tripped on one while running at night with my dog, and tore my knee open. I learn to plan my route to avoid barking dogs, broken streetlights, hanging tree limbs, creepy shrubbery, and those predictable blocks where the street harassment never seems to stop. I learn which side of which street has the most shade on hot days, and which routes are better in daylight or at night. I learn where other runners put in their time. One morning, I was heading back to the barn when I waited at a crosswalk with a young man in street clothes. He asked me if I was training, and within two minutes, we had picked each other's brains, for he turned out to be an ultra runner. Serendipity is out there.
As it turns out, I do in fact live near a very hilly regional park. It's a big, enticing green blob on the map. I see that one edge of this blob is almost exactly two miles from my house, a straight shot down a street I already know well. I can't tell yet whether I can get in from that side, or whether I'll encounter a fence or some such. Now that the existence of this park is within my awareness, it won't be long before I'm jogging on over there to find out more.
My library has a flyer entitled: New Donation Guidelines. It caught my attention because I'm always interested in the flow of material possessions from one use case to another. The flyer had two sections, one for "Yes, Please!" and the other for "No, Thank You!" Apparently they have to tell people not to try to donate used furniture, probably the stuff that Goodwill and the Salvation Army refused to take. They also can't use encyclopedias, multi-book sets, cassette tapes, record albums, catalogs, magazines over a year old, or textbooks or computer books over two years old. It brought home to me how little most of our unused physical possessions are worth.
We hang onto things out of anxiety over getting rid of them. This is true even when we have forgotten we ever owned or even saw the items before. It's called the sunk cost fallacy.
We go through our days, never giving a moment's thought to these old things, until they resurface and remind us that they are Worth Something. It might come in handy one day! It was expensive! They don't make them like this anymore!
These are looking-backward ideas. We just can't quit Past Self's stuff. There's never any room for anything new or better, anything more relevant to how we live today, because Past Self kept saving stuff for Future Self. What is hilarious about this is that most of us would be quite happy with nothing more than a couch and a way to get on the internet uninterrupted. The farther we go as we time-travel into the future, the less we need. Even little kids would rather play with a tablet computer than the vast majority of their toys, books, and art supplies. One day it will all be done with holograms generated out of a little finger ring.
The value of something is in its use. If it isn't useful to you, it had better be pretty to look at, because otherwise it isn't earning its keep. We pay RENT on the space where we store all this stuff. I just looked on Zillow for comps of the house we're renting, and we'd have to pay an extra $1000 a month for an additional 500 square feet. That's talking about small homes with two bedrooms and one bath. Our house is 728 square feet, smaller than the apartments of our twenty-something friends, and even the more-expensive comps I found would still be considered small by contemporary standards. Add in a storage unit, or more than one storage unit, and the cost per square foot to keep random old unused stuff can be quite high. I don't know about you, but my retirement account is not as high as I'd like it to be. I don't want to spend my old-age money putting a roof over old magazines, beat-up paperbacks, or anything else I don't use every day.
In my home visits, there are always vigorous discussions about how something is Worth Something. Now, I'm not in the habit of going around and criticizing anyone's treasured possessions. All I do is to help organize it based on the agreements I've made with the client. That means that sometimes I have to ask what something is, because there are a lot of objects in the world that have no clear purpose. This triggers the apparent need to be the object's defense lawyer. Don't explain to me why you have it - explain it to yourself! I'm not the one who has to live with it. It reminds me of the night my dog guiltily showed me the sopping-wet, muddy stuffed animal he was bringing to bed with him. It's like he was asking my permission to sleep with his toy. Spike, if you want to snuggle with that cold, wet, muddy old thing you just dragged in out of the rain, go right ahead. I'm not stopping you. Just like I'm not there to stop my clients from keeping several board feet of a certain yellow geographical magazine, twenty pounds of outdated clothes that don't fit, or boxes of old paperbacks with silverfish crawling out. Hey, knock yourself out. But don't go thinking you can put a cash value on that stuff.
I was at a used bookstore a few weeks ago, trading up for an expensive business book I wanted. There were two different people unloading what looked to be the contents of two entire wall-to-wall bookcases. I always snoop and read over the titles of the books people are selling. I noticed that, in both cases, I had read many of these books - 25 years ago. It should come as no surprise that most of the books were being rejected. Who is really going to buy bestsellers from 25 years ago, when the same authors have new books out this month? In my opinion, it's good to pass along our books shortly after we finish them, so that other people can read them while they're current. It's part of the Great Conversation. Books are just as perishable, while just as necessary, as food.
Food is another area where we spend more money than we need, buying and storing things we don't need, that are then hard to get rid of. We take a loss. We can't donate expired canned goods to the food bank, first because it's wrong, and second because they have enough to do without sorting out our old garbage. The sense of scarcity leads us to panic at the thought of letting anything go. It also leads to a tendency to over-buy, and if anything can create a true scarcity, it's that. Again, we need to be mindful of Future Self. Saving money now is the best way to make sure that Future Self will have plenty to eat.
Almost every possible consumer purchase depreciates immediately. Cars, food, entertainment media, clothes, housewares, appliances. In many cases, we can't even give the stuff away, but rather have to pay to have it hauled off. I noticed this while walking in my neighborhood recently. One house had two 1990s-era big screen TVs out front, waiting for "bulk waste pick-up." At one time, those televisions must have cost thousands of dollars. Now, not only would nobody buy one, but the family has to pay to have them taken to the dump. Once, when we were moving, we spent an entire Saturday holding a yard sale down the street from a major regional flea market. We sat out in the heat for hours, and not even a dozen people stopped by all day. Nobody is ever, ever going to think our stuff is as cool or as valuable as we do.
What's really worth something? Our relationships. The skills we contribute to the world. Our experiences. Our daily routine in the personal environment that we have created. The possessions that contribute to a pleasing atmosphere and a welcoming place for our friends. Whether anything else has any value is debatable.
The nice thing about money problems is that they can be solved with money. Not every problem can. I've had all sorts of problems that I wished I could buy my way out of. Usually they have been emotional problems, such as any heartbreak suffered by my friends. Sometimes they have been mysterious health problems. I've come to a place in my life where money problems are the best problems! Even better, money problems can usually be solved without money. That's because money is simply a form of energy transfer, a symbol, and the same energy can be transferred in other ways.
We're limited in our imaginations. We tend to think that certain things have certain defined costs. We put problems into specific categories, not realizing that we can come at them from more oblique angles. Often, we don't really know how much something might cost. We just assume that we can't afford it. What helps is to start thinking of as many possible alternative options for the problem as possible, including eliminating it, such as by canceling a service or downsizing. Another strategy is to think of as many ways to come up with the projected dollar amount as possible.
As an example, recently I needed a ride to the airport at 4:20 AM. Good luck negotiating that with a friend! I took a Lyft. It cost about $25. Incidentally, I had just made about $33 by trading in books at the used bookstore. It never would have occurred to me that "I can pay for a cab ride with used books," but essentially, that's what I did.
As another example, I've shared about my Fairy Jar, where I put all the coins I've found on the sidewalk in the past ten years. There is about $56 in there right now. Most people would not think, "I can pay my electric bill with pennies I found in the street," but personally, I could. Once, anyway. Of course, the other reason that's true is that I work to keep my power bill as low as possible. An argument can be made that this IS solving a problem with money, but the point is that I didn't technically "earn" those pennies. They're more like a natural resource. They're also something readily available that almost nobody notices or bothers to utilize.
When I was a student, I wanted a paid membership to a club, and I "could not afford" it. It was $50 a year. I made a deal with another club member that she would pay my membership, and I would work it off by cleaning her house a certain number of times. This was a nice deal for both of us, partly because it was the easiest way for us to find time in our busy schedules to hang out with each other. I know another young student who is in the same situation with a different club. I'm trying to find a way to tell him: He doesn't need $70, he needs ten people who will pay him $7 to do something. Or seven people who will pay him $10. Or two people who will pay him $35. Surely there's something he can do to earn money in those increments? Tutoring, pet sitting, grocery delivery, copy editing, yard work, juggling at a child's birthday party? Taking dares and making a video of himself going downtown in a chicken suit or hopping on one foot a thousand times? I don't know, surprise me. I know I have $7 from my penny jar. Maybe it has your name on it.
I've started over from zero a few times in my life. I know how it's done. Maybe one day I'll do it again as a thought exercise. There are several ways to trade for free rent, including care-taking, nannying, and house-sitting. Get a reputation for reliability and cleanliness, and you may find yourself staying in some very high-end homes. If I was hungry and couldn't afford food, I'd have arrangements by the end of the day. I'll cook dinner for you and wash the dishes afterward if I can eat with you. I'll even pack you a lunch for tomorrow. Throw in dessert and I'll make your breakfast too. I'm a pretty darn good cook, and it wouldn't be long before I had people quarreling over who gets me on Saturday. As long as you avoid wearing out your welcome, the majority of people are 1. Quite kind and 2. Quite tired of cooking and cleaning for themselves.
My husband and I like to keep a lot of young people in our life. Young people laugh three times as much as middle-aged people. They keep us informed about what's relevant in pop culture, and that includes a lot of hilarious memes and videos. They introduce us to new music and keep us current on slang. Also, they're all perpetually broke and looking for ways to earn more money. We help them out when we can with networking, job references, and advice. Mostly they just need cash. We're always looking for pet sitters, and it means a lot that we can trust our fluff-babies with familiar faces. If you sing to them and tell them bedtime stories, you're getting a bonus. What we do with our careful cultivation of mentoring relationships is to create something that money can't buy. That's trust. We can pay for certain services, but we can't pay for the love. Not everyone will plant a smooch on a parrot beak. If you will, you're in the club.
When I was a broke student, I made money through several different side hustles. These were simple skills I had; what I did might not work for someone else, but then that person might have skills I didn't. I had a work-study job. I had a quarter-time job off campus. I took notes for a disabled student. I did transcriptions for grad students. I did mending and tailoring. I cleaned houses, sometimes getting tipped with extra groceries as well. I dealt in a small way in consignment clothing and used books. There may well be other things I did that have faded from memory, but the point is, I was always looking for ways to contribute a skill and turn it into whatever I could. Cash, meals, rides (since I didn't have a car). I would have gladly bartered for other services, such as bike repair or a haircut. People take for granted anything that comes easily to them, even though many of these are marketable skills.
Of course, some people don't really have any skills, and this is not limited to the very young. If you don't have a resume that will get you a decent job, can't drive, can't cook, can't repair things, can't hold up to manual labor, don't know anything about gardening, and don't have any artistic ability, hey, guess what? You're me at age 18. Ahh, but there are people in my acquaintance who are older than me who fit most or all of that description. Skills can be learned. They're not genetic. If you don't have any money, learn how to do something that will earn money, and then get up and start doing it. It's much, much easier to work and earn money (or its equivalents) than it is to not work and be poor.
What are some problems I've solved without money? I traded my labor for use of a garden plot. I borrowed an expensive art history textbook for a term (and returned it in excellent condition). I learned to use the reserve library at my school so I wouldn't have to buy all my other textbooks. I was able to borrow a bike trailer for a weekend because the owner thought my planned use of it was funny. I made a home for my parrot, who is adopted, and I'm quite positive I'm giving her the best second home she could have had. I got a jar of imported curry powder as a gift for a recipe I shared. I traded a case of canning jars for some homemade fig jam, and I got a sack of plums in exchange for a jar of the plum jam. (Never pay retail for fruit spreads!). I got a watermelon for helping someone carry something. I've traded my organizing services for a bolt of fabric and a pasta maker, among other things. The easiest things to arrange are temporary lodging, transportation, meals, resume editing, introductions, recipes, and advice. What other problems are there, really?
There are two steps to solving problems without money. The first is to define the problem and the desired outcome. The second is to think of every possible way to reach the desired outcome. It's true that most petty, persistent problems go away after a certain income level, so never rule out the possibility of figuring out a way to earn more money. Also, avoid isolation. Ask other people about the problem. Chances are very high that they can either help you solve the problem or connect you with someone who can. Your need is someone else's opportunity. Whether you think so or not, you have a skill that can contribute to someone else's lifestyle upgrade. Improve the existence of others around you by making your skills available. The big question is, what would you do with yourself if you didn't have any problems at all?
Skeptics, relax. Technically, this book does not require anyone to get up early. Hal Elrod's thesis is summed up with the title and subtitle of The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8 AM. He acknowledges that not everyone keeps the same schedule. The point of the book is not when specifically we wake up, but what we do first thing in the morning, and whether we are taking initiative in our lives. We should listen to him because he clinically died, spent six days in a coma, and had a shattered pelvis, yet went on to, well, LIVE and run an ultra-marathon. If nothing else, this book is worth reading for the description of his survival after a drunk driver hit his car head-on. When someone with that many causes for complaint tells me that something is a good idea, I pay attention.
I am not a morning person. Neither is Hal Elrod. "Being a morning person" is a fixed-mindset concept, as though what we do in the morning is affected by our astrological sign or genetics. I have a major parasomnia disorder, so I know everything I want or need to know about having sleep issues and being chronically exhausted. I agree with Elrod that our attitude toward sleep deprivation has everything to do with how we react to it emotionally. We can convince ourselves that we're tired no matter how many hours of sleep we get, as Elrod demonstrates by experimenting on himself. We can also push through and get things done no matter how many hours of sleep we get. I'm here to say that we can also fix our chronic sleep problems if we decide to try. If I could beat night terrors, virtually everyone can beat other sleep issues and function in the morning.
What we need is a reason. That's what The Miracle Morning is really about. "When you delay waking up until you have to - meaning you wait until the last possible moment to get out of bed and start your day - consider that what you're actually doing is resisting your life." Hitting snooze is what we do when we don't want to get up, and we don't want to get up unless we think there's something worth getting up for, like changing the world. If the answer to that is bacon or coffee, then one would think that OMG YAY COFFEE or whatever would be one's first waking thought. (If I thought I had to get up, drink coffee, and put bacon anywhere near my mouth first thing tomorrow morning, I'd already be working on my escape plan, but that's just me). The first thing I do when I wake up is to get my parrot out of her sleeping cage, and the first thing she does is to stretch out and give me a kiss. Sometimes, when she hears me coming, she whistles or calls out "Hurry!" She's working on "Good morning!" I start my day half-dead from cute.
The Miracle Morning involves creating a routine for self-improvement. Cynicism is the knee-jerk reaction to this idea for many people who don't understand that self-improvement is world-improvement. When I direct my focus to trying to be a better listener and stop interrupting people, that makes me less annoying to others. When I work on organizing my schedule and my stuff with the specific purpose of not being the last one to get ready, especially on group backpacking trips, that makes me less annoying to others. If you want me to keep interrupting you and making you late, by all means, be a naysayer and tell me not to work on my self-improvement goals! Personal accountability is the keystone of Elrod's morning plan.
A morning plan ideally includes a routine for when to get up, what to eat and drink first thing, what to wear, and what to do before the regular workday. Meditation, inspirational reading, visualization and goal-setting, exercise, journaling, and gratitude practice are some examples from the book. Another keystone habit is the concept of "eating the frog," or getting the most important or dreaded task of the day out of the way before doing anything else.
I set my alarm to play "Sexy and I Know It" because even the first couple of notes make me laugh. What would make you start the day laughing? What could you do every morning that would make you feel, Hey, my favorite! What's on the list of things that get you out of bed with a smile even when you're really tired? What kind of morning would make other people jealous? Not everyone has a red-tailed, silver-feathered, golden-eyed Noelie to wake up to every day, but you probably have something. Or you could, if you visualize it and prioritize it.
Dedication to the discipline of Inquiry includes scrupulous honesty. We’ll lie to ourselves worse than we would ever dream of lying to anyone else. It’s human nature. I have a Dostoyevsky quote scrawled in the front of my journal, and it goes like this: “Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute.” I could profitably have rephrased it: “Keep watch on your own pie” (and maybe stopped examining it every hour; if a pie is leaving my kitchen, it’s going one forkful at a time). Lying to ourselves includes our secret motives, our true priorities, our intentions, what we eat, how much we exercise, how much money we give to charity, how much we save, and how much time we spend on various activities. If we can catch ourselves in the act even occasionally, we can start getting better results in building a life we want.
I read that women over-report how much time they spend on housework by 68%. Don’t laugh. The same study indicates that men over-report how much time they spend on housework by 150%. I know how much time I spend on housework because I use the Hours app on my phone, and I clock in and out of various activities every day. Since I work for myself, there is no built-in structure to my day other than whether it’s daylight or dark, or whether I’m hungry or not. I wanted to make sure I was really spending as much time writing as I thought I was. (It’s more). I got curious about all the other things I did during the day, including my foreign language study, pleasure reading, and sleeping. Tracking my time carefully has revolutionized several things in my life, such as dealing with my parasomnia issues. It’s also made me aware of the fact that I spend more minutes per day on “personal care” (bathing, personal hygiene, grooming) than I do on housework. That was an eye-opener. Now, rather than feeling resentment or counting brownie points against my husband, I’ve turned my chores into a game of efficiency and beating the clock.
I use a fitness tracker because I realized that I had no better idea of how much I exercise than I would have a chance of estimating the number of pennies in a jar. I’m hopeless. There are three ways of getting around this: 1. Do it every single day, 2. Develop an intensely alert self-awareness, or 3. Get a robot to track it for you. I’ve proven to myself quite conclusively that the first two are never going to happen in my life, not with an unassisted human brain, anyway. I can’t lie to my Apple Watch; it’s not impressed by being waved back and forth in the way that my first pedometer was. I have failed to impress it even by jumping up and down, doing jumping jacks, hiking 4000 feet of elevation, and jogging laps around a parking lot. If my heart rate isn’t elevated high enough for long enough, it doesn’t count. (The nice thing is knowing I can hike up 4000 feet (slowly) without my heart rate going up. Pretty fit, hey?)
I keep a food log. I have different reasons now than I did when I started two years ago. At first, I wanted to prove that there really was no reason for me to need a food log, because “I eat nothing but health food.” Then, I wanted to finish getting to my goal weight, and I realized that I needed the discipline of becoming more aware of what I ate and being meticulously honest about portion size. It turned out that the amount I ate varied wildly from day to day, making it impossible to find a trend line or to see if any changes I was making were having an effect. Scientific rigor in weighing and measuring and recording helped me learn to eyeball and guesstimate more accurately. After three months, I understood why I always tended to gain weight. After six months, I understood how much extra I could/should eat on workout days. After a year, I discovered that I was deficient in a key micronutrient, and everything changed. I started keeping the food log to make sure I was getting the right nutrition. I still keep the food log, because I find it amusing to calculate everything I ate over an entire year, measured in gallons of broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc. During my marathon training, my waffle count alone was hilarious.
I use a personal finance app, Mint, although I don’t know whether other finance apps would do an equally sufficient job. I’m not a habitual spender; I’m more of an under-buyer. I find it interesting, though, to be able to pull up data on how much we spend at particular stores, how much we spend at the movie theater or on gas, what we spend on utilities, etc. One of my financial disciplines is to try to pay everything possible with my debit card, so there is a data trail of everything. Before I started keeping a food log, the only times my weight ever dipped downward even slightly were when I was following a strict budget. Keeping track of money matters has ripple effects in other areas of life.
I’m data driven. I believe in using metrics whenever possible, because I want to know what I’m actually doing as opposed to what I’m pretty convinced I’m doing. I weigh in every day, in the same way that I use a clock, an oven timer, and a speedometer. I log my workouts. I log what I eat. I log my spending. I log the time I spend doing different things. I check off a list of various habits, and I can see my stats on those. Everywhere I have applied some basic arithmetic and some objective criteria, I have been able to measure an improvement. It’s really helpful, on days when it feels like we’re stuck in the doldrums, to look at a trend line on a spreadsheet and SEE that the change is really happening.
Not everything can be quantified, though. Can we count how often we blame other people for things we had a part in? Can we count how often we call ourselves rude names or mentally beat ourselves up? Can we – do we? – count how often we hurt other people’s feelings, rather than how often they hurt ours? Can we count how often we have been unfair or selfish or overly critical? Is there a way to count how often we’ve been there for others when they need us? Is there a way to measure how attentively we listen or how considerate we are? Would we want to see these metrics?
I want to know. If there was a Rude-o-meter, I would buy one and wear it. Every time it ticked upward, I would slap myself right in the face. Until that day, though, I have to keep watch on my own lie and just try my best to catch myself not quite living up to my own standards.
We can’t quantify our character traits, not yet, anyway. If we could, I’m guessing the first measure available would be tracking which people in the conversation spent how much time talking vs. listening. It would work like a chess clock. Maybe it could also track tone of voice and tell whether we were being gentle or mocking or defensive. We would know ourselves for the complainers and blamers we are, and we’d understand why we never feel like anyone is listening as much as we do. (Hint: probably almost nobody is listening to anyone, ourselves included). When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the story of Anubis weighing the hearts of recently dead people against a feather. I committed that I would do whatever it took to keep my heart light, lest it be eaten by the crocodile-headed demon Ammit. Whatever happens on the other side, whether there is an afterlife of any kind or not, it is often said that our lives flash before our eyes when we die. I worry that my movie will be full of embarrassing moments when I was thoughtless and inconsiderate, and I do what I can to mitigate that.
I quantify what I can quantify, because I know that inside myself is a greedy little liar. My ego always wants to be right. My ego wants what it wants, and that means dominating every conversation, making myself look good, and rendering myself blameless in every interaction. My ego wants everything that winds up ending badly; it wants to sit and eat without limits, to trade sleep for cheap entertainment, to procrastinate anything that doesn’t have chocolate in it, to shop ‘til it drops, to blather on endlessly, to ignore boundaries. Every time I turn around, there it is again, talking with its mouth full and accidentally elbowing people in the ribs. I throw numbers at it. I show it what we ate (“No I didn’t!”) and what we spent (“No I didn’t!”) and how much time we spent idly sitting around (“No I didn’t!”). The interesting thing is that my ego has its way of taking ultimate credit, no matter what I do. I reached my goal weight, so now my ego is proud of that, rather than being too proud to admit the shape we were in. I paid off my consumer debt, so my ego is proud of that, rather than demanding to buy things we couldn’t afford. I ran a marathon, and of course my ego thinks it’s responsible, rather than the self-discipline it was too proud to exert for so long. I’m trying to train it to respond to metrics in the same way that Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell.
A moral hazard is something that tends to lead us down the dark path of self-interest. It’s anything that tends to make us complacent or entitled. An example would be playing Scrabble with my Alzheimer’s-diagnosed grandmother, and helping her make a higher-point play that “coincidentally” opened up a higher-point play for me on my turn. A key part of living an ethical life is to try our best to spot moral hazards, and observe ourselves dispassionately. What do we actually do? What choices do we actually make? How do we actually spend our time? When we learn to be accurate observers of our behavior, we have the power to make informed changes. While they always redound to our own benefit, they tend to benefit everyone else around us even more.
It's been a week, so I think it's safe to say that I dodged it. I didn't get my mom's cold. She was coming down with a sore throat and a cough when I got to town a few days before Thanksgiving. We spent a week and a half together. We hugged. We sat together at meals. We sat together on the couch. I went running in the rain and cold. I came and went via two international airports and sat on four planes. I touched doorknobs. I rode several buses and trains. Every opportunity came up for me to get sick, but I didn't. Past experience has me convinced that this is because of reasons, which I will now share.
I used to come down with everything. It felt like I had a runny nose at least three months out of every year for my entire life. I had to get an inhaler once because I had a respiratory infection and wound up coughing up blood. Over the last few years, it seemed that every time I got even the most minor cold, it would go straight to bronchitis. I figured I just had "weak lungs" or something.
Then I decided to question this idea. I have an immune system, don't I? It can theoretically be weakened or strengthened, can't it? There's no cost to trying to strengthen it, is there?
There are four changes I have made, to which I attribute my stronger resistance.
Sleep. I have a parasomnia disorder, so I never felt that my sleep was within my circle of influence. Learning to sleep a solid eight hours a night has revolutionized my life. I used melatonin supplements on a timer for several years, and now I can sleep without assistance.
Vegetables. When I started tracking my micronutrient consumption, I was very surprised to discover that I was low in a couple of nutrients. How could I possibly be eating as many as 12 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and still be short on anything? The secret is that each fruit and each vegetable has a slightly different nutritional profile, and they are not interchangeable. I learned to plan meals around what I was missing with the help of the MyFitnessPal app and some careful research. (Example: foods rich in potassium) I did a ten-day juice fast last month. Oh, and I started drinking a mug of hot water with the juice of one fresh lemon in it several mornings a week.
Washing my hands a little longer. I decided to time myself washing my hands. My default wasn't as long as recommended, so I decided to spend 20% longer scrubbing with soap.
Not touching my eyes or nose. I asked a coworker once why he never seemed to get sick. He promptly responded, "I never touch my eyes." I had never thought of this as an issue before, and I started to realize that I rubbed my eyes all the time. Now I am very aware when I am in public places that this unconscious habit is a quick route for germ introduction.
The first two of these changes affect my immune system. The second two affect my exposure to the human environment.
The thing about health advice is that everyone knows what to do. We just don't like doing it. We're never going to tell ourselves, "Oh, I know I should be going to bed earlier, but I'd rather stay up playing this game and just get the cough that will last three weeks." Or, "Getting a cold is totally worth not having to eat anything green most days of the week." We accept illness as fate.
The other thing about health advice is that we aren't always aware of things that our doctors might assume we know. For instance, I never knew that the spleen plays a role in the immune system until I started researching how to get sick less often. I did know that the spleen does not like processing sugar or fat. It makes sense to me that switching more of my food intake to vegetable matter would also reduce the amount of sugar and fat that I eat. Vegetables are valuable for what they contain, and also for what they displace or drive off our plates. Cabbage, not rice; kale, not pasta; chard, not breakfast cereal; cauliflower, not bread; sweet potatoes, not bagels.
To get into the world of woo-woo a little, not everyone wants to be well all the time. Getting sick is an escape hatch. Especially for people with poor boundaries who get little privacy, a bout with a cold can be a way to be alone, catch up on sleep, and maybe do a bit of reading. Being ill gives us a chance to be waited on for once, rather than waiting on other people all the time. Being the strong one means you get stuck with more than your fair share of drudgery. I've always tried to be really conscious of this with my husband, who has only been sick a couple of times in the decade I've known him. No matter how sick I might be, I still put my clothes in the hamper, put my trash in the wastebasket, and put my dishes in the dishwasher. The worst case scenario at our house is that the bathroom doesn't get cleaned for an extra week. But then, I make my own schedule, and I see getting ill as 100% unpleasant and unnecessary.
To toss one other idea out there, I think there's more to dust than just dust. My clients tend to get sick and stay sick, with the adults and kids coughing and sniffling for three to six weeks at a time. Sometimes this happens several times each winter. There seem to be three parts to this: the "I don't feel like cooking" diet, the lack of schedule/solid sleep, and the coating of biofilm on every surface. Squalor means living with mold, mildew, dust, cardboard particles, and usually a lot of pet hair and dander. My clients tend to resist dusting or vacuuming because "it stirs up the dust!" (And "the cat hates it.") I cut back on my home visits because I would always have sneezing fits during jobs, and sometimes my eyes would get all red and puffy as well. If I'm having respiratory reactions within minutes of walking in your front door, how are you breathing in there night and day? The risk of acting on this hypothesis is quite low. If you deep-clean the entire place and still get sick, it didn't cost anything and at least the house is clean.
First, do no harm. I'm certainly no doctor. I'm just an average person who used to get sick a lot and now does not. As I get older, I feel like I'm aging in reverse. I'm healthier and more energetic than I was twenty years ago. It feels worth sharing my ideas for other people to test or to disregard. There are no real downsides to getting more sleep, eating more vegetables, washing your hands slightly longer, avoiding touching your eyes, or deep-cleaning your house. The downsides of having a cold don't necessarily feel all that bad unless you're in the midst of one. Maybe that's why so many people go out in public and cough all over the place. Here's to not being one of those people.
As of today, there are four weeks left until the first business day of 2017. While some important tasks are tied to the start or end of a calendar year, I like to think of all of them. Any household repairs or bureaucracy, anything related to my finances or my health, I like to plan so that I can know I will start the New Year with a clean slate. There is an addictively fresh feeling to lounging around on January First, knowing that all of my projects are going to be looking ahead, not looking backward or playing catch-up.
What kind of loose ends might there be?
Written list of goals and resolutions from the last New Year. I now have just over three weeks to knock out any that are left.
Financial goals. Do I need to move any money from one account to another? Do I have any fines or fees to pay? Am I in debt? (Evidently I owe 90 cents to the public library, and I'd feel dumb carrying that debt into the New Year).
Household perimeter check. I walk the boundaries of our yard, looking for stray racquetballs or anything out of order. I do the circuit of the garage. I go through each room of the house, which is easier when it's only 728 square feet, and look in every closet, cupboard, and drawer. I'm looking for anything broken, leaking, stained, or out of order. I'm looking for anything we haven't used since I did this a year ago. I'm strategically reconsidering how our furniture is arranged and how much we have of various things.
Emergency preparedness. It's time to check our go bags and our emergency supplies. I see that we need a fresh case of water jugs. It's time to cycle through the emergency rations in our go bags, eating them and replacing them with fresh packages. It's time to check the expiration dates on our first aid credentials, and I see that I need to do mine again. (I like to be certified in pediatric first aid and CPR, because hey, you never know).
Food supply. I tend to be something of a food hoarder, and our fridge, freezer, and pantry can get a bit excessive. I've taken up the goal of starting out New Year's Day with an empty fridge, so that I know there's never anything more than a year old in my fridge. I mean, a year old is ridiculous, but I've seen too many items in too many kitchen clear-outs among my clients to think that it's that uncommon. What I do in December is to plan meals around consuming the leftovers in our freezer, using up what's in the pantry, and trying to figure out why we still have five bottles of salad dressing.
Fitness. I've managed my physical fitness quite well over the last three years. I've stayed in one clothing size and I've kept my weight within a healthy range, as defined by science. This really helps if you hate shopping for pants as much as I do. The way I do this is to keep myself honest, and to make sure I know my metrics. What do I weigh? What are my measurements? If I resist this information or avoid knowing the truth about my own personal body parts, then I know there is an emotional block and that I need a reality check even more than usual. Love it or change it, but at least know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Reading material. At this time last year, I had over 1200 articles in my news queue. My stack of unread books was taller than me. I've done really well in getting on top of this and not adding to it. At this time of year, I look around for any books with place markers, meaning I started something and didn't finish it. If I don't want to finish it this month, then I probably never will. It's fine to quit on a book. Opening the cover of something does not automatically obligate you to read the entire thing, or if it did, then we need to never touch any phone books. If I did, however, enjoy something and then got distracted by something else, now is my time to finish enjoying it. Anything I'm reading this month should be finished by December 30, so I can spend the 31st working on my resolutions and the 1st opening a new book.
Files. All our household files fit in one cardboard file box. I spent a lot of time this year digitizing records, mostly my writing notebooks. Not everything needs to be digitized, though. A lot of it can simply be shredded or recycled. I also make sure not to make decisions on my husband's records, because they're his. I drag the box out and ask him to go through it. He's very decisive about papers and it never takes him more than twenty minutes. In fact, he's been my teacher and role model about what to keep and what to destroy. This file-purging process usually reminds us of household bureaucracy that we need to initiate at some point in the following year, such as updating the dog's rabies tags.
Special occasions. Is there anything special to do this month? I just found out last night that our town has a temporary ice skating rink for a few weeks. The last time I went ice-skating was in 1987, when I fractured my wrist, but my husband plays hockey and maybe he'll teach me to skate. What do we want to do on the holiday? I'm thinking of cinnamon rolls and cocoa for Christmas morning, and I always make Hoppin' John for New Year's. What kind of menu do I want to do for Christmas and New Year's Eve? Are we setting up the Festivus pole?
Planning the garden. In our climate, we can only grow vegetables and herbs in the fall, winter, and spring. There are several things we plant in February, and January is a legitimate time to put in soil amendments. We talk over what we over-planted and whether certain crops might do better in a different part of the yard. In the cold and rain, it's a fun way to spend time fantasizing about warmer weather.
There are a lot of advantages to anchoring certain tasks and events to a specific date. It helps us to get things done without trying to "remember" them all. We can usually figure out how long it's been since the last time we did or used certain things. "That's been sitting there since we moved in." "I haven't used this platter since Thanksgiving two years ago." "We went to the beach three times this year; is that too much or not enough?" Maybe the day of mark doesn't have to be New Year's Day, but if not, what day would it be?
Christmas is exactly like a wedding in several ways. Both supposedly last only one day, yet planning can go on for months. Both can involve extravagant outfits and special headgear. Both involve color combinations never seen in ordinary contexts. Both can incur vast debt, because entire industries are built around both. This last is why we've been trained to believe, in our hearts of hearts, that gifts equal love. Who came up with this idea that an engagement ring is "supposed" to cost two months of a man's salary? Marketing geniuses, that's who. Who came up with this idea that family togetherness means nothing without piles of gifts, decorations, and food? I'll give you three guesses, one for each Wise Man.
My family doesn't do wild and crazy gift exchanges anymore, or at least not any that I'm involved in. Part of this is out of necessity. I live about a thousand miles away, and anything we gave or received would either have to be put in our luggage or shipped. It's not practical, not to mention the grim thought of a TSA agent tearing off all the wrapping paper. There's also the matter of our frequent moves. We aren't in a position in life to collect any extra material objects, no matter how cool they are. In fact, the more personal the gift, the harder it is, because eventually we'd be surrounded by nothing but hand-crafted presents that would be impossible to cull.
My work with hoarding has made me skeptical about gift-giving. In every home visit I've ever done, we've found at least one out-of-season gift bag that was never unwrapped. Often there are several years' worth. Another guaranteed find is a stack of expired gift cards. Not everyone is like my clients, but most of us can honestly say that we don't want for anything, that there's nothing we truly need. Not stuff-wise, at any rate. What we need is the company of our friends and some kind of occasional ceremony to mark the passing of the years. We need a reason to get together, hug, and make eye contact. There are no rules that say these get-togethers require a gift exchange.
My favorite type of gift exchange is the white elephant. Here, the idea is to give something absurd and watch as people swap to get something equally absurd that actually appeals to them. If you ever want to see a group of people laughing until their shoulders shake, a white elephant party is the place. The memories that come from a white elephant party will last longer than the memories of yet another sweater or bath set. As an example, I went to one of these parties at work, and someone wrapped up another employee's framed family portrait from his desk. He had quite a time swapping to get that picture back, and nobody laughed harder than he did. We still talk about it years later.
I tried and failed to get my family to adopt the white elephant theme. I'll try again, eventually. What I did get everyone to agree to was a dollar limit on our gift exchange. The kids would have a normal holiday, with the normally extravagant gift-giving. The adults would put our names in a hat, then be matched up anonymously by one of the kids. We would each buy a special gift (or gifts) not to exceed the predetermined price cap. Everyone in the family makes a wish list with multiple items, so there's no real way to know what you're getting. The anonymity means you also don't know who is buying your gift. This worked out well. Everyone started out with ideas of what to buy, everyone got something truly useful or exciting, and the focus stayed on the kids, where we all wanted it.
How do you bring it up? Go to the family member who seems most likely to buy in to your idea. Say, "What do you think of just drawing names this year?" Suggest a family activity that you know will generate real enthusiasm. If there are young kids in the family, it should be child-oriented. One year, for instance, we went downtown to look at the big tree and the animated department store window displays. We've also played a lot of holiday-themed games that work over Skype, including copying a drawing while blindfolded and gift-wrapping an empty box using only one hand. These activities make for fantastic photos, they're free, and the kids have a blast. It's been a big improvement on the over-stimulated shrieks and wails of an over-gifted, overheated, over-sugared, over-tired toddler who just wants to play with the bows and ribbons anyway.
Our family has always made wish lists, and they have certain rules. There should be enough items on the list that you know you won't get everything, and thus you won't know what's in any given package. The price range should cover a wide range, from grocery-store level to something that would require several people pooling their resources. Sometimes a gift will cover more than one holiday. Some gifts, like new interior doors, also include an offer to install the item. Tech support is another non-material gift that would be appreciated by anyone who tends to be overwhelmed by new gadgets.
We forget how much we have to offer one another throughout the year, not just when the cookies come out. I know I'd rather go on a camping trip with my family in the summer than get stranded in an airport in the snow, as has happened. If I'm spending five extra hours in an airport, I fully expect the equivalent five hours in board game play the next time we see each other in person.
What my family is trying to do, now that we're older and caught up in our own careers and homes, is to spend time together. Cook together. Go out to dinner together. Hang out and play with our pets together. Play games together. Tell stories and come up with new inside jokes together. In our family, someone is always working on a holiday, so we're more likely to do these things on more ordinary days. What is precious is not the date, not what can be stuffed in a box or a bag, but the simple act of sharing our attention and physical presence.
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.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies