What better way to start the New Year than by reading The Perfection Detox? In fact, I’m going to tell you now that you should plan to start it, dip into it a chapter at a time, and give yourself permission not to finish it until, like, March. The whole point of this exercise is to practice self-forgiveness and to focus more on learning and growing than on a stale, useless perfectionism.
This book places perfection on the opposite end of the spectrum from ambition. I love this formulation because it really speaks to a tightly wound, Type A personality such as myself. The only way to really loosen the grasp of perfectionism is to learn to hold it in disdain, as something inferior to a more desirable quality. Petra Kolber reminds us that our perfectionism may have become entangled with other attributes such as a strong work ethic, reliability, and organizational skills. It’s harder to eliminate when we perceive any kind of moral hazard in reevaluating this trait.
Another useful concept of The Perfection Detox is that there is more than one type of perfectionist. A self-oriented perfectionist has high internal standards, a socially oriented perfectionist is concerned about impressing other people, and an other-oriented perfectionist tries to control other people’s behavior when she thinks it reflects on her reputation. I hear the self-oriented perfectionist in myself when I think how painful and distracting it must be for the socially oriented perfectionist - “just quit caring and you can get so much more done!”
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book based on quite a bit of research. I learned a lot about rumination, for example, and that the brain perceives negative words as a physical threat. Kolber advocates replacing the negative self-talk and rigid thinking of perfectionism with self-forgiveness and a paradigm shift to wonder, curiosity, and the flow state. The book has a compelling argument in favor of imagination and upgraded goals rather than unrealistic expectations. The discussion of positivity in general is rich and nuanced, aimed at the skeptic rather than the enthusiast. Don’t simply force yourself into socially mandated “positivity” but instead learn to be a “benefit seeker.” It’s more of a neutral cognitive skill than an emotional state.
I enjoyed the exercises in The Perfection Detox, especially the exercises about procrastination and goal-setting. I particularly enjoyed learning the Diamond Rule: speak to yourself as you speak to others. Ooh, a tough one! But then how do we deal with the self-conscious emotions of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and pride? We accept and revel in our imperfection, because it means we’re alive, we’re human, and we’re growing.
Would you feel comfortable with others seeing how you talk to yourself?
The all-or-nothing mindset can lead to nothing.
I stopped striving to be perfect and concentrated instead on being effective.
When you learn to live bravely you give other women permission to do the same.
How much can a person do in three years? I’d like to present a study in transformation that involves overcoming a phobia, learning a new art form, and racking up credentials.
I had an intense fear of public speaking. It was so bad that simply walking into a room where I knew I would have to stand up and say something would make me break into a sweat. People who have met me refuse to believe this. That’s because I’m a shy extrovert, and talking to people I already know in a social setting does not provoke this phobia.
Now, when I speak or perform, people will come up and exclaim over how great I was. They say, “You sound so natural up there.” How dare you? How dare you say such a cruel and heartless thing? I want to ask. Nothing was more unnatural than this! Of course there’s no way for them to know how hard I worked over the course of three years to battle one of the biggest issues in my life.
I can honestly say that getting punched in the mouth is easier for me than the work I did to get over my fear of public speaking. I can say that because I set a personal goal every year to overcome something that scares me, and after I did public speaking, I went on to martial arts. I promoted up a belt level in two different forms in one year, and that’s another example of how much is possible in a given time period.
All it takes, all it takes to reach any goal, is to show up over and over and over again. Chip away at it in small, measurable increments. Usually these increments are one hour in length.
I made a public commitment in December of 2015 that I would confront my phobic reaction to public speaking by joining Toastmasters. It took me three weeks to force myself to go to an actual meeting. My membership was officially processed on February 1, 2016.
I planned to go to meetings for a few weeks or months or millennia and sit by as a wallflower, watching and listening and learning. Instead, I walked in and several people came up to introduce themselves and shake my hand. Then, moments after the gavel, I was asked to stand up, give my name, and explain how I heard about the club.
I THOUGHT I WOULD DIE. PHYSICALLY DIE.
That inner feeling of panic is a purely physical sensation. It is the secretion of adrenalin by the adrenal gland, a little bean that sits on top of the kidneys. It is not the boss of me. Further, it is the same little bean that sends excitement when I get a check in the mail or open a gift. My job is to use my left brain and verbalize thoughts in reaction to these physical sensations. “You are not dying, body of mine, you dumbass. Stay put.”
I joined Toastmasters, not realizing that I had stumbled into one of the very best clubs in the known world. I wasn’t to know that most of the people in the room that day would still be there three years later, my good friends and colleagues and lunch buddies.
I shook like a leaf when I got up to speak. It would start with my hands, rattle down my arms, and spread through my torso until I felt like I straddled a tectonic fault. One afternoon I went up there, gave a one-minute speech, and almost collapsed on the way back to my seat, as my legs gave out. I’ve run a marathon and I was very disappointed in my hamstrings that day.
Toastmasters is designed to teach leadership and communication skills. Everyone in the club has fought the same problems: being nervous, forgetting chunks of a speech, stammering, flubbing a punchline, losing the point, organizing thoughts poorly. We’re encouraging and compassionate because we’ve all taken our turn to fade at the lectern. We physically know how it feels.
The weirdest thing is that it’s almost impossible to tell, as an audience member, when the speaker is nervous. I’ve said it and I’ve heard it, but the truth is that it’s really hard to tell when someone’s hands are shaking, or even if they’re dripping sweat up there. It never looks even 1% as bad as it feels on the inside. People are listening for the message, that’s all. They’d care if you told them someone’s lights were on in the parking lot, and they’ll care when you share something else with them, whether it’s your life story or a few minutes about golf.
Usually all we’re asking is five minutes of someone’s time, and that’s not much to ask.
It took four months for me to force myself to give my first speech. It was predictably awful. My remit was to give an ice breaker, or talk about myself for four minutes. I ran out of material at about two and a half.
Anyone else would have quit.
I kept showing up, though. I forced myself. There are two me’s, the me that you see and the phantom me, walking behind me with a firm grasp on the back of my neck, frog-marching me hither and yon. When I’ve made a public commitment I follow through.
I gave ten speeches that first year. I took on a club office.
The next year, I earned my Competent Communicator and Competent Leader. I joined a second club.
In 2018, I earned my ACB, ALB, ACS, and a Triple Crown. I served as Area Director and Club Coach.
In the course of three years, I’ve earned five educational awards, held two offices, entered two competitions, been a test speaker, and won a bunch of ribbons for Best Speaker, Best Evaluator, and Best Table Topics. I keep them in a paper lunch sack because they outgrew an envelope.
If all goes according to plan, I’ll be a Distinguished Toastmaster next year, not quite three and a half years after joining as a knock-kneed stress case.
I know I can hold a room. I know that when I walk up to the lectern, people are atingle with anticipation. I look around and I can see their eyes glitter. I can make them all suck in their breath at once. I can make them laugh on command. They’re mine. I’m not a quivering jelly of panic and terror anymore. I’m a star. Not a superstar, just a small one, but I’m sparkling nonetheless.
It wasn’t me, it was the program. It was the support of my club members, who encouraged me and led me by the hand and cheered and hugged me - and convinced me that I’m funny, that I should go out and do improv comedy. I never knew. I never knew I could do all of this.
I did know that I could stay the course, that I have it within me to force myself to do things. I knew I could hold steady and complete three years of work on one goal.
As I near the ultimate goal, I have my eye on that little gold DTM pin. After that, though, what’s next? What will be my next three-year goal?
How about yours?
This is a story about a cosmic joke. It’s a detective story. It’s a story about self-awareness. Most of all, it’s a story about why I got the common cold eight times in 2018 and what I did about it.
Every year, I go through a really elaborate goal-setting process at the New Year. I publish it on my blog and then I post quarterly check-ins. Part of my annual review has included choosing a mantra or theme for the upcoming year, and last year it was ‘PAUSE AND BREATHE.’ I’ve been regretting this.
What I intended was that I would spend more time in deliberation, making sure I was using strategy to plan how I spent my time. I thought this would help me to be both better rested and more productive. Maybe I’d also get into meditation, something that has eluded me in the past.
What actually happened was that I kept getting sick, and getting sick, and getting sick. I had more time to pause (on bed rest) and focus on my breathing (or lack thereof) than I ever have in my life.
After the eighth go-round, I was understandably pretty frustrated with this. I called the advice nurse, who put me on with a physician, who ordered some labs and suggested that I get a physical. I managed to see a doctor in person the very next day, and this is how it went.
I tend to see doctors as peers. That’s because we’re typically both Type A alpha nerds. We might have been study partners if we had known each other in school. Most of my doctors have been women. We wind up being about the same age (mid-forties), fit, ambitious, brainy, reality-based, and dealing with the same problems of trying to turn a 24-hour day into 36 or 48. Often my doctor of the moment will wind up taking advice from ME, like one who started doing century bike rides, another who got into triathlon, and another who signed up for kickboxing. This particular one will most likely be going home to talk FIRE (financial independence, retire early) with her husband.
“I’ve had the common cold eight times this year, five times just since August, and I’m starting to be concerned that it’s more than just a cold.” I went on to catalog some of my alternate hypotheses: immune system problems, allergies, asthma, an abnormal sinus? That’s the problem with common symptoms like coughing, headache, or a skin rash. Is it a fungus, bacterial, viral, tuberculosis, mold, cancer, did I inhale a LEGO brick in 1979? I go in with the understanding that a diagnosis starts with guesswork and thrives on data. I bring the verifiable, testable, quantifiable metrics that I know how to track.
The blood tests indicate that my immune system is functioning normally. That’s great news in one sense and a bummer in another. If there’s nothing WRONG-wrong with me, then it must be something common, and if my real problem is the common cold, I’m hosed.
The doctor goes on to rule out allergies and asthma. Also good news, especially because like most people I’d rather not have to choose between my health, my sanity, and my pets.
We spend a few minutes talking about hygiene and hand-washing. Fifteen seconds, right? I mention that I want to make sure I’m not somehow skipping a step, like everyone else is using an extra soap nobody told me about. Nope. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, don’t touch your face, got it.
“What kind of work do you do?” That’s a fair question. It stands to reason that a hermit in a cave won’t have the same exposure risk as the couriers for the clinical laboratory where I used to work, or a kindergarten teacher, or a janitor at the airport.
I mention that I work at home, but I do ride the bus and travel a lot. I read that people who ride mass transit have a six times greater chance of getting the common cold. My doctor finds this impressive, and I can tell that she’s going to check this out in the literature at her first opportunity. We talk out the idea of wearing a surgical mask on the bus, and she suggests maybe gloves as well. She says that when someone coughs, it can spread over 25 feet, and hang in the air for a few minutes. “Someone could cough, and you could walk around the corner and never even see them, and you could pick it up.”
That means every bus coach, every airplane, every train car, every escalator...
Then she asks about my stress level. Um. Well. My husband has been traveling, and I only see him three days a week, and my dog just got diagnosed with a liver tumor... and I haven’t really been sleeping well all year...
I share about my diet, that we make an effort to eat significant amounts of cruciferous vegetables. We’ll eat an entire head of cauliflower or broccoli, for example. “In one sitting?” she asks, incredulous. Yup, in one sitting. My previous lab work is exemplary for lipids, glucose, etc.
The doctor tells me about a colleague who got sick twice a month for nine months. She worked in the hospital, she had two little kids, and she wasn’t getting enough rest. She thought there was something seriously wrong with her, but it was just her exposure to sick people combined with stress and lack of sleep.
What it comes down to is that no matter how healthy my diet is, how scrupulous I am in washing my hands and avoiding touching my face, how big our home air filter is, I’m still vulnerable to the common cold. I’m vulnerable because I don’t get enough sleep, because my stress level is too high, and because I regularly place myself in major transit hubs.
A quarter-million people a day go through the LA Metro, and around 600,000 a day go through LAX, an airport through which I travel maybe a dozen times a year. All those people are breathing and touching things. The bus I ride the most often happens to be the airport route, compounding the problem.
I suggest a full-body sneeze guard, then realize that this would be more like a phone booth or a giant hamster ball. This helps me to realize that wearing a paper mask (and maybe gloves) might be slightly less weird.
The thing about wearing a surgical mask in public is that it changes everything. People can and will sit down right next to you and cough, yeah. Other than that, it’s almost like dressing as a nun. You don’t get panhandled, you don’t get catcalled, street harassers ignore you for once. People won’t even ask you what time it is. It’s the closest thing I’ve found for a universal symbol that says “please leave me alone.” In other words, it suits me.
This is what I’ve learned in my quest to understand that dastardly curse known as the common cold. If you have a moist (runny, sniffling) nose, it makes you more vulnerable to the cold virus. A supplement with B6 and zinc really does seem to shorten cold duration and help with the draggy, flu-ey feeling, as backed up by research from Oregon State University. Hand-washing is extremely important but it won’t protect you from inhaling other people’s coughed and sneezed airborne germs. Sleep really does matter. It may be the key component of a functional immune system.
I’ve done what I always do when faced with a frustrating health problem. I go to the research. I read as much as I can. I track my own symptoms and try to analyze my behaviors, assuming that I am doing something incorrectly or that there is a factor within my control. When I go to the doctor, I tend not to get the “final answer,” but I do have an opportunity to check my hunches with the cutting edge of professional opinion. Talking to doctors has honed my analytical methods. It wasn’t a doctor’s specific advice that helped me beat my thyroid nodule, or migraine, or night terrors, but it was learning from the way that doctors search for clues and speculate as to a diagnosis. The difference is that I have 24 hours a day to analyze myself and my health metrics, and nobody other than me does. Nobody else has the motivation that I do to change my behaviors and work toward better health.
Now we’re going into 2019. I’ll pause and breathe as I work on my annual review and my plans for the upcoming year. I’ll go through the winter with my new knowledge. If you see me in a surgical mask, wave hello, but please don’t give me a high five.
Can a book change your life? Does it matter whether you believe that a book can change your life or not? There is some serious magic going on in Jen Sincero’s books, and most likely in the lady herself. I pre-ordered You are a Badass Every Day and read it as soon as it came out. Let me share a couple of moments of magic involved in that relatively mundane event.
Kismet! Kismet, I tell you!
Also, I found a $20 bill a few feet outside my front door earlier today, just as I was thinking, “I’m finally going to upgrade my computer the first week of January.”
The thing about manifesting is that you can only really believe it works after you’ve experienced it in action. Otherwise it sounds kinda dumb. For those who know, this will be a delightful and very useful book to keep handy. For those who don’t know, um, it might be better to start with one of her other books. Which, I mean, you’re going to want to read them all anyway, obviously. There’s a reason why you keep seeing so many cool-looking people reading You are a Badass everywhere you go.
I loved this book. I loved it so much that it actually occurred to me to make some cross-stitch samplers out of some of my favorite quotes. As with her previous books, You are a Badass Every Day has sections that feel like they were written specifically for me, directed at my exact issues. I bookmarked the heck out of it. This is magnificent to do with a digital copy, because you can look at just your notes and bookmarks, and it’s like a custom manifesto!
There is so much in this book, so much in each of Jen Sincero’s books, that I feel all fluttery and wound up when I think about what I want to say. Maybe I’ll write a concordance, 800 pages that will finally organize my commentary. Until then, just read the book. You know you want to.
An excuse is simply a challenge that you’ve decided has power over you.
When you succumb to fear, you are under the illusion that you can predict the future.
If you keep waiting for the right time, you’ll keep living the wrong life.
I do not deserve to be on this flight. The fact that I am sitting in my seat at all is a sort of perverse incentive for my worst habits. I’ve already burst out laughing twice, when reality has popped up and confronted me with its realness yet again.
The thing about dumb mistakes is that they tend to cascade into more mistakes. I’ve started with a doozy.
I booked my ticket, I put the flight in my calendar, I told everyone I was coming, I checked into my flight a day ahead, I checked the weather forecast, I packed my single suitcase carefully.
Then I kinda sorta roughly memorized what time I needed to be at the airport and estimated from there.
I’ve started to learn how my inherent way of doing things (travel among several others) differs profoundly from that of a more punctual person. Let me compare my husband’s train of thought to mine.
“What time is your flight, 10:50?” he asked me. “Uh, yeah,” I responded, not checking, continuing a perfect track record since the moment I booked the ticket two weeks earlier. Immediately he started working backward. I’d need an hour to get through security and find my gate, and it would take at least 45 minutes to get to the airport, but we’d better add a buffer because this would be the roughest travel day of the year. It would be hard to make it through traffic to the airport itself. So I’d need to leave at 8:50.
Shrug, went my brain. Yah yah, sounds good.
He was right about the traffic, and he was right that it would take longer than usual to get through security, partly because the pre-check line was closed.
In my mind, I think I thought “10:50” meant boarding at 10:50, which meant I should probably leave the house around 9:30 PM. We had this discussion just before 8:00.
Well, hang on, let me hang onto the punchline for a while more. Imagine, if you will, a pure mind unclouded by troubled thoughts, filled with contentment and blind optimism. La la, la la, la la...
My hubby walked me out to the street, the only place near our apartment complex where we can get enough cell service to order a Lyft. The last time we took a ride share together, it took almost 15 minutes to arrive, and I know he was mentally pacing in worry.
OHO! My Lyft was due to arrive in ONE MINUTE, because... the driver was already in our driveway, dropping off another passenger. All he had to do was to turn around. He helped me with my suitcase.
It took us about twice as long to get to the airport as it does on an ordinary day. Forty minutes just to go the last mile and a half. I had to pay an extra $15 because of how long the trip took. Shrug.
I whimsically told the driver, who was getting concerned about the timeline, that I didn’t even care if I had to sprint for my flight, because it isn’t worth it to me to be the kind of person who throws fits or gets worked up over inconsequential things like that. I shared a story about a woman at Starbucks who demanded that her four drinks be remade because the whipped cream wasn’t squirted through the entire length of each straw. “I don’t ever want that to be me,” I said.
We finally made it through traffic to the drop-off point, having passed at least a dozen people dragging their suitcases along the road. Apparently a lot of people were worried about missing their flights! Wow, huh, what must that be like?
My driver helped me with my suitcase and we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. I tried to go through a door that had been locked closed, shrugged again, and turned back to find a proper entrance. I went into a restroom, ready to get my head together and find my gate.
As I was washing up, I pulled up my boarding pass on my phone.
My flight leaves at 10:10! But it’s... 10:00 right now!
They’ve been boarding since 9:40!
I still have to go through security!
Uh oh, I think to myself, this isn’t good. I hustle down the hallway and start pulling my bag through what I think is the Pre-Check line. Nope, the ladies say, it’s closed, unless you want to sign up for Clear? “My flight leaves in ten minutes,” I say, heading toward the regular line. Oh dear. They tell me I can keep my boots on but that I’ll have to remove my electronics.
This is where I compensate in my utter failure to cope with the Time Dimension through my other organizing skills. I’ve been through airport security, I dunno, surely more than a hundred times. I always put the same objects in the same pockets. I think well in categories. As soon as I hear the word “electronics,” my 3D mental map of all my gear starts swirling around and highlights: my AirPods, my watch, my tablet, and my phone. I grab a bin and separate those things out, meanwhile feeling a very heavy, sinking feeling in my heart that there are two dozen slow people in front of me.
We experience a logjam on the conveyor belt, as the herd of young adults in front of me seem confounded by the process of finding and removing their things. All of them without fail leave the tubs on the belt, causing them to start colliding into each other and popping out of position. It’s a mess, a mess that is blocking my own stuff inside the metal detector.
Meanwhile THE CLOCK IS TICKING and my flight is about to take off without me. I try to reassure myself that even this disaster of a line will still take maybe three or four minutes, and that even if I have to get a patdown, I might still have a chance.
I start grabbing bins and stacking them on top of the metal detector, and amazingly, my stuff rolls out just as I finish. I make an effort to clean up after myself and stack my own tubs.
THEN, THE SPRINT.
I grab my bag and run up a flight of stairs, realizing it will be slower to wait for the escalator. This is another of my many organizational skills, the many times I’ve slapped the handle down into my bag and grabbed the straps and darted up the steps.
I sprint along the concourse, relieved that my gate is in fact the first one around the corner. I still have four minutes to spare!
I run up, laughing at myself, because it looks like the plane has not yet taxied off. There are three agents standing in conversation. I ask them about my flight, and they say it’s been moved... six gates away.
I sprint off again, planning my path between slow-moving bodies at least twenty feet ahead, another necessary skill of the time-incompetent.
I roll up to my gate THREE MINUTES BEFORE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DEPART. Twenty-seven minutes after boarding time.
Everyone is still there. Something has happened, probably to do with moving gates, and nobody has boarded yet. Not only do I have time to catch this flight, this flight that I don’t deserve to be on, but I have to hang around and wait for it.
In the greatest comedy moment of all, this flight that I vaguely, obliviously thought of as leaving at “10:50” - actually DOES leave at 10:50. Either I have major psychic powers or I’m a daffy space cadet.
This is the main difference between a punctual lark like my husband and a wandering flower such as myself. He is pessimistic about everything that could go wrong; he’s an engineer and he’s literally paid to think that way. Therefore, he correctly anticipates problems. I had to tell him that he was right about every single concern he had: the traffic, the delays at security, his estimate of transit time, all of it.
On the other hand, I am optimistic, partly because I’m reinforced in my sloppy behavior by unbelievable serendipity over and over again. What shouldn’t have worked often does. Minimalism, experience, physical fitness, kindness, flexibility, keeping my wits about me when the situation warrants a crying jag. Drop any of these and the picture changes.
The Lyft driver who was already in our driveway when I called? He got a new pickup just as he was dropping me off, pointing to a strange efficiency in this holiday travel method. My joke about not caring if I sprinted to my gate? True, and I could make that joke because I’ve been in that gate so many times that I know exactly where everything is. I’ve been flying for 35 years, and I have a pretty good mental database of airport reality vs. ticket reality. When I realized my flight was supposedly already boarding, and I had yet to get through security on the busiest travel night of the year, I felt 10% UHOH and 90% okey-dokey. As an expert one-bag traveler, I can get away with things that should not be considered within the realm of possibility.
This is what possibility thinking is all about. What are all the many manifold options from this point in time and space? How many ways are there to solve my problem?
Being better prepared prevents most of those problems, and I’ll go back to the drawing board on that process. In the meantime, I’ll continue blithely expecting most things to work out in my favor, fool that I am.
Scarcity mindset actively blocks financial security in a lot of ways. This is something I have worked on with all of my clients, without fail, although they are all over the map when it comes to actual income, career, wealth, education, age, gender, and family background. It makes perfect sense to me. Chronic disorganization exists in a feedback loop with stress and financial problems. This is part of how and why financial anxiety feeds on itself.
When I start a job with a new client, especially during home visits, I explain what to expect. I lay out the rules, which are that I’m there to sort and help make decisions, but that I’ll never throw anything away, not even the tiniest scrap of paper. That’s the client’s job. I also say that a couple of the side benefits are finding unexpected money, and weight loss. They react to the latter with surprise and curiosity, but to the former with firm conviction. Will I lose weight? Neat! Will I find money? HA, not likely. I know it will happen, though, because it always happens. The more insistent the client is that if they had any missing money, they would certainly have found it by now, the more likely there is to be some.
A root cause of this problem is learned helplessness. In response to stress, my people resort to pessimism and hopeless certainty. OH WELL, they think, HERE WE GO AGAIN. They also think THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS. They tend to retreat and isolate themselves, rather than reach out to anyone, ask for advice or help, do research, brainstorm multiple new approaches, find innovative ways to get around the problem or raise money, or especially to take any kind of action. This is why they can get hit with an unexpected expense and somehow forget that they have uncashed checks sitting on their desk, or nice green cash dollars in a pocket.
More obviously, my people will receive cash, checks, refunds, and gift cards... and set them down somewhere. They will go on to stack random stuff on top of that money, burying it under junk mail, flyers, and newspapers. (What the more frantic type of broke person will do is clutch that check or cash as tightly as possible and sprint directly to the bank, beating on the window if that branch is closed).
One of the most visible indicators of my people is that they leave coins strewn all over the place. There will be coins on the dashboard and floor of their vehicle. There will be coins shaking loose in the bottom of their numerous plastic grocery bags. There will be coins on the kitchen counter, on the bathroom sink, on the nightstand and dresser, on bookshelves, on the desk and on top of the microwave and TV. There will be coins in the windowsill. Usually there will be coins on the carpet as well. Coins, coins, coins. One penny at a time, it doesn’t seem like much, but I have a one-cup jar with over ninety dollars in it, all from pennies and other coins I’ve found in the street since 2005. Coins are cash, too.
There are other indicators of lack of focus and awareness around money. It’s not just common, it is UNIVERSAL that my people will find uncashed checks after they have expired. Sometimes I am able to convince them to contact the sender to have the check reissued. (Sometimes it doesn’t work, but usually it does). More commonly, they dig their heels in and refuse, feeling actively affronted that someone might suggest they are entitled to their own earnings.
The links between chronic disorganization, stress, anxiety, and financial problems become more clearly defined and easily recognizable.
My people, as a rule, do NOT trust electronic banking. They may sometimes accept direct deposit, if it’s required by Social Security or if someone very nice helped them to set it up. Usually, though, they’ll hold out until their dying breath because they are afraid of fraud and bank errors. Automatic payments are another story. If receiving money in an instant is scary, then having it withdrawn is among their worst nightmares. From my perspective, my people’s insistence on paper-based, snail-mail banking makes their organization problems an order of magnitude more difficult.
Snowdrifts of papers, sealed envelopes, unopened bank statements, and a total lack of filing system contribute to the impossible conundrum of finding all those lost checks and gift cards. Nobody, but nobody, can find anything if there are more than about ten sheets of paper on a surface.
Distrust of electronic banking is one thing. My people also resist setting up automatic transfers or payments because they have a justifiable fear of being overdrawn. Banks are not helpful here, as they have been known to deliberately process deposits and payments in a way to generate the maximum fees. Being one day or one dollar off in your calculations can potentially result in hundreds of dollars of overdraft or over-limit fees. Been there, done that, sold the t-shirt at the consignment shop to try to pay my overdraft.
Behind this same fear is tolerance of a system in which every payment is due on a different date. This is what broke people do when we’re afraid we’ll have to pay several bills on the same day, a day when our accounts are empty. At least having stuff due on different dates means we have more time to come up with the money? Here we are seeing the way that financial anxiety shortens our timeframe and erodes our ability to plan into the future. We don’t even notice that we’re, say, 10% over limit every month, or that our income and expenses are really pretty predictable. We just build up a sense of dread and learn to sputter along that way.
Looking back at my own broke days, back before e-banking and before we could withdraw cash at the grocery store without an ATM fee, I was maybe $25 from peace of mind. I needed only a very small buffer at the bottom of my bank account. It could have been quite literally the identical $25 from one year to the next. If I’d understood that, I would easily have raised that money and left it there, and it would be there today (which, now, it is). At the time, I constantly felt the danger of being overdrawn, of having to put groceries back, of having insufficient funds or having my card declined. It was real, yet also an illusion, realistic, yet also unnecessary.
I can identify my people on sight, or even from part of a photo. Papers everywhere, unopened shopping bags, lots and lots of STUFF of every description, coins here and there, and a general lack of ease or prosperity. I recognize it because I work with it and because I also used to live that life.
On the other side, it really is easy. I’ve had all my payments automatically deposited for, what? Fifteen or twenty years now? I’ve never once had a problem with a deposit. Not once. My husband and I also pay all our bills electronically. If the service provider doesn’t have automatic billing, then we set it up with our bank. We get our statements electronically. It takes about one minute to pay the few bills that require our attention. The result is that we’re never late, we never pay extra fees, and we both have credit scores over 800. This makes us eligible for lower interest rates, reward programs, upgrades, and the ability to set up new accounts without paying a deposit. In other words, the more you have, the more you get. Unfair it may be, but games have rules, and I was broke long enough that I’m not exactly going to fight off free goodies.
Financial anxiety feeds on itself. Disorganization leads to more disorganization, as entropy takes over. Anxiety and disorganization eat away at mental bandwidth, replacing focus and concentration with stress and emotional flooding. It goes from bad to worse. The same person with the same finances, though, can use mental clarity to create order from chaos. It’s possible to dig out, find those lost checks and cash and gift cards, sell off extra stuff, lower your expenses, renegotiate contracts, increase your income, and one day, look back at what has become just one sad chapter in a longer, more interesting story.
I’ve been following James Clear for about five years, so I was thrilled when I heard he had a book coming out. I pre-ordered it and read it as fast as I could! Atomic Habits is everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Learning about habit formation from James Clear has changed my life. New readers can pick up in one handy volume what the rest of us have had to learn in small bits over the last few years.
Pop culture has a lot to say about habits, and most of it is wrong. For instance, we think it takes 21 days to form a habit and we usually believe that successful people have unusual amounts of passion, motivation, and willpower. No wonder it’s so hard to make changes!
Atomic Habits is based on extensive research. One of Clear’s major strengths is that he will chase down a reference until he can either document it or... well... not. An example would be the oft-mentioned Seinfeld rule “don’t break the chain,” from a conversation with a fan of his standup comedy. I read recently that Seinfeld himself said he couldn’t figure out where that anecdote came from. Then James Clear references a documentary. He remains the only writer, among at least a dozen I’ve read, who has cited a specific reference to back up that particular claim. If he uses an example or a quote, he has found the citation. That’s his standard.
Another strength of Clear’s work that appears in Atomic Habits is the beautiful simplicity of his illustrations. I particularly love the DECISIVE MOMENTS diagram showing how small choices can add up to make the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Although I have been reading James Clear’s newsletter and taking his webinars for several years, I still received some surprising and valuable new insights from Atomic Habits. One of these is the concept of the “decision journal,” something that I am going to implement immediately. Another is the habit contract; I’ve seen this idea before, but Clear’s example suddenly made it relatable. I also glommed onto the concept of “resetting the room,” and I’m going to steal it and use it all the time.
If you have tried and failed to change your habits, don’t despair. Atomic Habits is here to help. This research-based book will entertain, inform, and probably surprise you as much as it did me. James Clear is changing habits, and if he keeps it up he’s going to change the world.
Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.
Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.
...I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.
Just thought I’d put that out there. I’m so inspired by the idea that There are No Overachievers that I just want to sing it right out. WOO!
WOO stands for ‘windows of opportunity.’ Brian D. Biro teaches how to recognize WOO and create more. This type of possibility thinking is uncommon, something that most people aren’t taught and do not naturally revert to. As a default state, it makes a massive difference between one person’s results and another’s. Why do some people seem to have it so easy? Because they understand the WOO.
There are a million things to love about this book. One that stood out to me is the concept of the ‘eager meter.’ What if, rather than being willing to do things, we actually felt eager to do them? I’m writing this one on my hand so I can see it all day.
Another concept that clicked with me was that Biro refers to ‘breakthrough targets’ where most of us would say ‘problems’ or ‘issues’ or ‘obstacles’ or ‘personal failings.’ One of mine is failing to respond to social connections. This has been making me feel like a bad person and a bad friend. When I thought of it in the sense of a breakthrough target, it was like the sun burst through the clouds. This could be a goal rather than a flaw! Goals I know how to handle, my personal failings not so much.
The premise that There are No Overachievers is that we’re all actually underachievers, that we have so much more potential within us. It’s only that we’re so tired and uninspired and conditioned to look for the risks and reasons to avoid things, that we don’t realize we could be living out our dreams. It’s terrifically motivating, a very upbeat book, and I won’t hesitate to say that I loved it.
You never know if the next idea that pops into your head or the next choice you make may change your life.
...Look for the WOO instead of the woe.
Be easy to impress and hard to offend.
Self-discipline has a bad rap. For one thing, it’s boring. There’s just nothing sexy about saving money, eating healthy, being organized, or going to bed early. (Well, maybe that last one). We tend to feel constrained by these external expectations, that the outside world is constantly pressuring us to quit having fun and give up our independence. There isn’t really a model showing self-discipline as an active, creative choice. We can choose self-discipline as a powerful means of personal and artistic expression. We can choose self-discipline as an endlessly regenerating act of love. Self-discipline is kindness, both to self and others.
It doesn’t take much time in the company of small children to realize that discipline usually comes in when kids are either doing something dangerous, or being mean to each other. Hey, no biting! Stop grabbing stuff from other people. Don’t chase the cat. Look out! I’ve had to run full speed after little kids who were about to walk into traffic, toddle into the ring during sports matches, or nearly stumble into a swimming pool or fire pit. Lack of discipline is hard to do without annoying other people or stressing them out. That’s because our actions don’t occur in a vacuum.
This is where we start to realize that our own lack of self-discipline and self-control makes life difficult for others around us. When we’re late and our coworkers have to cover for us. When we don’t pack lunch or a snack, and then get hangry and start snapping at people who have done nothing to deserve it - again. When we allow our standards to slip and drive distracted, endangering everyone around us.
Then there are people like the guy in my building who likes to get drunk in the afternoon, week after week, and sing along to the same The Police Greatest Hits album off his balcony. Live your best life, my dude, but could you do that maybe in the shower instead? Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for an uncredited appearance on my podcast.
I’ve had many, many roommates and neighbors over the years. Some of them have been legends for all the right reasons, and others for all the wrong ones. The ones who steal your leftovers or your laundry quarters. The ones who leave giant wads of hair in the shower drain. The ones who run up your phone bill, and then move out with no notice and no forwarding address. The ones who never, ever do a fair share of housekeeping, the ones who can’t seem to live a single hour with a dish-free kitchen sink. It all comes down to a basic disagreement about where the line ends between our behavior and other people’s rights. When my freedom interferes with yours, then it’s not my freedom any more; it’s my unfairness.
There are also all the ways that my lack of self-discipline is unfair to me, myself. Sometimes Today Me is very selfish and works hard to create problems for Future Me. Tomorrow Me is constantly being expected to pay my debts, sort my papers, and wash my dishes. Past Me, why you so lazy?? It takes a while to realize that if I take action right now, it’s faster and easier and costs less than if I dump it all on Future Me. I do all my housework on weekdays so that Saturday Me can lounge around, sleep late, and do nothing. I do forty pushups so that Next Month Me can do fifty, and so that Summer Me can have awesome-looking biceps. Gifts for Future Me, a Future Me who is hopefully feeling very smug right now.
When I look back at Twenties Me, I usually feel very aggravated. Twenties Me had almost every possible bad habit. She was late everywhere she went. Her bag always weighed ten pounds and she always had neck and shoulder pain because of it. Her desk was always covered with papers and unopened mail. She was always flat broke and devastated by money worries. She didn’t know how to cook, she was as much as thirty-five pounds overweight, and she had constant problems with migraines and chronic pain and fatigue. Forties Me sees almost all of these issues as a lack of self-discipline (although, more charitably, it was a lack of knowledge).
When I get plenty of sleep, it helps me to show up on time, keep my commitments, and treat others with patience and respect.
When I nourish my body with healthy food and plenty of exercise, it helps me to have a high energy level and physical strength and stamina. I’m able to contribute when it’s time to move furniture and do the heavy lifting. I’m more likely to help others in a crisis, when in the past I might have *been* the crisis.
When I’m organized, I meet my deadlines and fulfill expectations. I even have a chance to exceed them, set higher standards, and build my reputation. I don’t waste other people’s time by being late, asking for extensions, needing other people to cover for me, or failing to follow through on what I said I would do. I can take my time and create something amazing.
When I feel like I am accountable for my life, it helps me to manage my commitments. I can pledge my time and attention, knowing I will show up and keep my agreements. I can rely on my resources and energy level because I know what I’m capable of. I never have to inflict my panic or burnout on others.
When I am in charge of myself, when I use self-discipline skillfully, then I know I can be fully present for others. I take care of my own needs and I have responsibility for my own enjoyment of life. Also, I have the room and the means to listen wisely and well. I have space in my life and my heart for those I care about the most. When others need me, I know I can be there. Self-discipline is kindness, to myself and others.
There are roughly a hundred days until the New Year, and I stumbled across this book while making my year-end plans. What a great idea! Let’s find out. Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?
Dmitry Golubnichy designed this book as a challenge. It includes a hundred perfectly valid, often unexpected ideas. They should be regarded as a jumping-off place, with plenty of room to revamp and customize.
The happiness prompts in the book are occasionally weather-related, meaning that they might be challenging to do in order, depending on when someone started the book. It’s definitely worth skimming through it first to see what’s coming up in the schedule.
I just posted my own list of things to do for the last hundred days of the year. Mine included quite a lot of organizing tasks and ordinary household chores, as well as meal plans that we rarely cook. As such, my personal list could probably use less planning and more fun.
What do we mean by happiness, though? This is another area of customization, I think, because what will lead one person to happiness may be a bit more of one thing than another. Domestic contentment is where I put much of my focus, because without it, it can be very hard to maintain any other type of happiness. Joy, celebration, companionship, anticipation, awe, curiosity, adventure, tranquility, wonder, delight, and laughter can be attained as well. Notice that different types of happy feelings may arise from totally different types of activities, often without much overlap. The happy feelings that come from doing something kind are different, for example, than the happy feelings that come from learning something new.
Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row? Yep! It takes a little planning and remembrance that there can still be happy moments, even when most of life is totally routine and ordinary.
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.
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