The Achievement Habit is a completely amazing book with the potential to change lives. It joins the exalted ranks of Books I’ve Followed My Husband Around Reading From. There is so much here about creativity, fixing persistent problems, fighting procrastination, and developing a bias toward action.
Bernard Roth is my new favorite professor-I-never-had. His book arises from decades of teaching experience. While technically his field is design, there is no limit to the applicability of the ideas here. What he considers ‘design thinking’ is a way of adopting a completely new perspective.
The first assignment Roth would give his students is to find something in their life that bothers them and fix it. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is, and how very, very few people are actually willing to live this way. My clients will tolerate persistent problems the likes of which an ordinary person can barely imagine: Living for years among a rat infestation, sleeping on a tiny strip of a mattress that is piled with clutter and food waste, breathing black mold, horrors beyond description. They will hear “do something about this” from literally every person who knows the truth, and they won’t. They always have their reasons, chief amongst which is not knowing where to start.
“Reasons” are a pet peeve of Roth’s, and they get their own entire chapter. The reason we claim for doing or not doing something is only a surface level reason, not the deeper, true reason. For instance, I have a serious phone reception issue everywhere in my apartment complex except for a small area near the entrance to the gym, and thus my voicemail asks people to text or email me because there’s no way I’ll know if they called me. My “reason” for being inaccessible is technological. A deeper reason is that while I might be able to find a fix, considering how many engineers I know, as a writer I am strongly invested in preventing interruptions while I work. “Fixing” my phone problem with additional money, devices, or software, or relocating, would give me an entire new problem. The real reason I can’t get phone calls at home is because I don’t believe I am obligated to. Right now, if someone wants to talk to me on the phone, they send me an invite and we schedule it. This is not wrong. Roth’s advice here is to use reasons externally but not internally, making sure that we are honest with ourselves about why we do or don’t do things.
The Achievement Habit is ultimately a book about high-agency thinking. We have the ability to live better than we do and we have the imagination to fix any problem, if only we decide for ourselves. Now I’m going to go look for a problem and fix it, just to keep my edge sharp.
In life, typically, the only one keeping a scorecard of your successes and failures is you, and there are ample opportunities to learn the lessons you need to learn, even if you didn’t get it right the first—or fifth—time.
It’s incredibly empowering to realize that you have the power to change your attitude toward anything.
Many reasons are simply excuses to hide the fact that we are not willing to give something a high enough priority in our lives.
You can’t know the reason for anyone’s behavior.
The best way forward is embedded in the design thinking methodology: manifest a bias toward action, and don’t be afraid of failure.
When something is a priority in your life, you have to be willing to walk away from anything that’s standing in its way.
...it is better to start to do something and fail than it is to do nothing and wait for the correct path of action to appear.
Be honest and notice the differences between your self-image and the ways you actually act.
You can make a decision right now to see yourself differently, and then to become different.
It’s a declaration of choice: instead of playing the role of passive protagonist in your life, choose to take charge of your future. Resolve to get things done, whatever it takes, and no matter how many valid “reasons” pop up.
Is it weird that when I plan to go on a trip, the first thing I think about is what I’m going to read?
I’ve always been disciplined about what clothes I pack. The main reason is that, back in the bad old days, I needed to leave enough room in my bags for all the books I wanted to bring. People would help me with my suitcase and ask, over and over again:
“What have you got in here, bricks?”
Or, sometimes: “...books?”
Now we have e-readers and I can bring literally dozens of books everywhere I go without adding extra weight.
My formula: (BxD)+2
Where B = book unit and D = number of days
So, for a five-day journey, I would need a minimum of seven books.
This policy has served me well. An example would be the day that I flew home from New Zealand and got bumped from my connecting flight five times in a row. I had an eight-hour layover. Not only did I finish an entire paperback book while I sat there, I can even tell you which book: The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne. Fabulous.
In practice, I know that I have maybe an hour a day of solid reading time on vacation. That’s maybe 60-100 pages, depending on the book. I don’t plan my reading material based on Plan A.
This is my backup plan, Plan B for Book.
This is the plan that served me while I sat on the floor in an airport in North Carolina for five hours while everything was closed.
Likewise, five hours on a snowy afternoon at Portland International.
I have a special file folder for all the vouchers we have collected after delayed flights. That folder tells me that my flights are more likely to be delayed than to be on time. Delay means reading time. That’s not even a bad thing!
The last time I flew, I had the middle seat (of course) between two people who did not bring a single thing to do for a three-hour flight. I ask of you.
What did you think you were going to do while you were crammed into two square feet of space for three hours? Count threads in the upholstery?
Apparently you thought you were going to interrupt me and regale me with the details of your family tree.
I’m not just a reader of novels, I’m a storytelling coach. I can tell you right now that even if we were closely related, I could never possibly be interested in the story of your family tree, and neither could anyone else. I don’t care if you’re a direct lineal descendant of Leif Erikson and Mata Hari, there’s no way to make that entertaining. BRING A BOOK.
I’d lend you one, but honestly, what are the chances that you’ll share my interests? I usually can’t even coordinate reading material with my husband, my brother, or my niece, much less a random stranger.
My dad likes the commercial paperback form factor. Since he works for an airline, he travels constantly, and his practice is to give away whatever he’s reading when he’s done. Then he doesn’t have to pack it home. It’s surprising how hard it can be to find a taker for a free bestselling book!
Aren’t people reading anymore?
It’s starting to become apparent why I have travel reading anxiety. Other people worry about what they’re going to wear, and what if they change their mind, and whether other people will like their outfit and want to talk to them. Obligers! I prefer to use my wardrobe as a sort of social gatekeeper. Hopefully my clothing choices will deter uninteresting people, because my reading choices tend not to.
A book in hand is a universally misunderstood symbol. The reader is saying, I so looked forward to this quiet time to enjoy my book uninterrupted. Every remaining inhabitant of the known galaxy interprets it to mean, You are lonely unto death and it is my moral obligation to talk to you every single minute of this journey.
This is part of why I like to be in the B group of flights with unassigned seating. I can walk down the aisle and look for another middle-aged lady with a book or a tablet. We can sit companionably reading side by side and protect one another’s bubble of silence.
I had to confess to my husband, early into our marriage, that I read on airplanes as a way of dealing with my white-knuckle flying phobia. If I start reading before takeoff, I can pretend more or less successfully that we are on a bus. If I have to look to either side, the jig is up.
I’m not an introvert; in fact, I think a lot of people who believe they are introverts are actually shy extroverts like me. I’m an empath. People have been plunking themselves down next to me and telling me their entire life story since I was four years old. Part of why I am such a good and sympathetic listener is my reading habit. It also sets me up to have my energy drained without fair exchange. You want my attention, you want my attention, you want my attention and sympathy (like everyone else does) but all you intend to offer in exchange is a timeline of when you had your children? Or how many cousins you have?
Can’t you just recommend a few books that I might like?
I’m more than happy to do the same. In fact, I might even offer a few titles for your children, your aunties, and your third cousins twice removed.
My next trip is weeks away, and I’m already planning my reading. Audio books for packing, for walking through the airport, for waiting on ground transport. Longform news articles to read offline at the gate. Novels and nonfiction for the flight. I’ve got a wide variety of choices for the wide variety of disruptions that might come up. The next time I’m delayed for five hours with no wifi and nothing to do, I’m ready, and I suggest that everyone else do the same.
I’ve been having some oral surgery lately, so that’s fun. You can sort of expect it as part of your standard midlife crisis package. A little fear of mortality, some financial dread, and a happy little root canal to round it all out.
Actually, it wasn’t all that bad.
I wish I’d known that going in. ‘Root canal’ is right up there with ‘audit’ and ‘summons’ on the list of Things to Avoid, definitely above ‘going to the DMV.’ Legendary. I can tell you right now, root canals are overrated.
Based on my experience, it was much like getting any other filling. You open your mouth, and then they put in a tennis racket, a toaster oven, and a monkey wrench, it smells like burning, and then you’re pretty much done.
All joking aside, I have some strategies about dentistry that I think really helped me get through a potentially rough situation with comparative ease.
My mom taught me to never annoy anyone who puts sharp things in your mouth. She believes that if you’re late to your appointments or otherwise high-maintenance, medical professionals will take it out on you during your visit. I think she has a point. My whole family went to the same dentist starting when he first graduated from dental school, with his wife as his receptionist. He’s retired now! In our world, dentist = family.
My current dentist grew up in the same small town as my husband, and they’re both hundreds of miles from home. We were quick to capitalize on that sentimental attachment. We always talk about hometown news, the scenery, the weather, etc. Therefore when he’s looking into our mouths it gives him waves of nostalgia.
If it weren’t that, it would be something else. If you’re going to spend hours with someone during your lifetime, especially if they’re wrist-deep in your face, might as well make friends.
I trade book recommendations with one of the dental hygienists and give investment advice to another, who wants to become financially independent. When I show up, at least three people pop their heads out to say hello.
A few years back, I had a different dentist in a different region, and he of course had a different staff. There, we all talked about bicycling. One of that crew regularly destroys me at Words With Friends several years later.
Okay, wait, what does all this have to do with getting a root canal again?
The point is that someone who has warm and friendly feelings toward you is going to give that extra 5% of care. ‘Care’ is their profession, but carING comes from the heart. The only way to make someone genuinely care about you is to show caring toward them first. Give what you wish to receive.
Thus, I walk into the endodontist’s office with feelings of curiosity, awe, respect, and gratitude.
Do you know much about traditional, premodern dentistry?
For that matter, do you know much about 1960’s dentistry??
I made a few observations and jokes during my exam, with the theme of “wow, this is such a fascinating and cutting-edge field.” It really was a remarkably shiny, new office full of cool tech, and as someone who hangs out with a lot of engineers, I was impressed. I follow the corollary of ‘if you don't have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” which is:
IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO SAY, SAY IT!
I commented that most people throughout history didn’t have access to dentistry, and how lucky I feel that I get to keep my beautiful precious tooth.
“In the past, you would have been standing on my chest with a pair of pliers!” (Probably true)
“Hand me that drill and let’s see what happens.”
The endodontist paused and looked at me. Then he said:
And we were friends.
During the exam, it looked like I would need a root canal in one tooth plus surgery for the resorption on that one AND a second tooth. Worst case scenario, the tooth couldn’t be fixed and I would need either an implant or a bridge.
I came back for the root canal. It turned out he was able to save the tooth AND do such a tidy job that I wouldn’t need the additional surgery.
Let’s pause on that.
This is going to save me significant pain and also a lot of money. We’re already a thousand dollars into this process, and that’s just copays. I’d rather spend that money on vacation, but when I compare it to the cost of an implant, I feel like throwing a block party with a live band.
When I compare any of that to the very vivid image of walking around with a big hole where my molar used to be, I want to kiss this man’s feet.
A 44-year-old woman at most points in the past would look and feel elderly. A big part of that would be her failing teeth. Imagine the shocking pain of gradually having your teeth rot out of your head throughout your adult life. Wild animals starve when they grow old because they lose teeth and aren’t able to chew their food. Horrors!
I feel such tenderness and adoration toward my tooth, I want it to stay with me always and be my tooth forever and ever. Also all the other ones.
Can I say this? I got a root canal, and it didn’t really hurt, not even the shots. After the Novocain wore off, it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t even take the Advil that was recommended. They warned me it would be sore, but it isn’t really.
There are always multiple ways to look at a situation. (They often say “two” but that is very lazy accounting). One way is to ask, Why does all this stuff always happen to me? Boring. Another way is to be scared and anxious, and that’s relatable. There are undoubtedly other ways. I chose my own way.
I chose to go into a scary situation, something I’d heard a lot about, and bring curiosity and a positive attitude. It worked the same way it did when I had a tax dispute with the IRS. It was totally fine and interesting, and everyone involved was nice, friendly, professional, and efficient.
I went to the endodontist and got a root canal. My positive feelings helped me relax and build mutual trust and respect with the staff. I was treated well. The experience was relatively quick and painless and had great results. I went home on time and cooked dinner for some friends, who were amused at how challenging it is to drink water when half your mouth is numb. It was fine.
Doesn’t it just make you want your own happy little root canal?
I found them after five days. My husband’s keys. First he was convinced he left them in our apartment, and I couldn’t go anywhere until he got home so I didn’t lock him out. Then, after I searched everywhere, he figured he must have left them on his desk at work. On Monday he went back to work, and his keys weren’t there after all. I helped him work out a plan of which Lost and Found numbers to call.
Then I checked his coat pocket in the bedroom closet, where they had been, of course, since Thursday morning.
This is one of the many benefits of marriage: you have someone to look after you and help you in your weak areas.
I sympathize because I also used to have a similar problem with lost objects.
I once locked my keys inside my apartment twice in the same day, once with a burner on the stove left on High. Another time I had a candle burning. I’ve dropped my keys down an elevator shaft, locked them in my car, and thrown them in the trash. I have also lost untold numbers of gloves, hats, scarves, library books, and umbrellas, most of which I never got back, and purses, day planners, checkbooks, and wallets, most of which people were kind enough to return to me.
Like I said, I’ve had issues with lost objects, as well as my other distraction issues.
I lean ADHD, and what I do has worked for me. I also teach these methods to my chronically disorganized students and clients.
Pay attention to TRANSITIONS between one scene and another, one activity and another, one time of day and another.
Pause and look around every time. Pause when you get ready to leave for work. Pause again when it’s time to come home. Pause when you stand up after a movie. Pause when your bus pulls up to your stop. Pause, and check. Pause, and check.
When it’s a habit, it only takes two seconds.
I often talk to myself while I am doing this. I have my keys, my wallet, my sunglasses. The reason I do this out loud is that it often triggers my companions to remember their own stuff.
Before we leave for a road trip, I always recite a list of stuff. Often my buddies have to get out of the car and go back inside for something. Wallets, passports, phones, chargers, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, medication, socks, underwear... I can’t wait for the day when a smartphone will remind us of these things automatically.
When I leave a hotel room, I do a perimeter check. Check the shower and the bathroom, check the closet, check each drawer. I do the same when we move, and I take a quick video of all the empty rooms. The hotel check takes two minutes, and the empty apartment check takes less than ten. Peace of mind!
Other than the transition ritual of pausing and checking, it helps to have clear surfaces in the home.
This one is almost impossible for my clients. The more I try to teach them to focus on their living space and the functions of different work surfaces, the harder they cling to their ten-times-too-many belongings. Yes, of course I’d rather have three hundred pounds of old clothes than the ability to use my tables and countertops!
Have a clear area near your front door, like a table. Never put anything on it but your significant daily objects.
Have a clear area next to your bed.
Have a clear area in your kitchen.
Have a clear area next to where you sit to relax, like an end table.
Have a clear area at your desk, if you have one.
Have a clear area in your car, like a cup holder organizer.
Carry less stuff around in general. The less you have to track, the easier it is to track it all.
When you have a clear area next to you, it’s easy to check at a single glance and make sure you have everything. It should be completely empty when you’re not using it. Completely empty 90% of the time!
A flat, clear surface makes it easy to see your phone, your pen, or whatever else you carry around.
It’s easier to keep surfaces clear when you have the right catch-all.
We have drawers in our bathroom, desk, and of course the kitchen. The purpose of the drawers is to hold important stuff that we use all the time, every single day. The purpose of the drawers is not to store stuff that we forgot was in there!
We also use small baskets. There’s one next to the front door for my keys, the garage door opener, and the laundry card. There’s one on the dog crate for his leash and treats and toys. My hubby has one for his daily objects.
I have my work bag, and it hangs on my desk chair. I often get things out of it and put them back in, several times a day. My stuff “lives” there and I simply don’t allow myself to put it anywhere else when I’m done.
Never set anything down “just for now”!
It’s either in its parking spot or you are using it.
Think of the spot for this item as a cute little cozy little house. Like a kitten in a basket or a birdie in a nest. This object likes it there. If you set it down somewhere else, it will be cold and lost and alone, shivering and crying, Why don’t you love me??
Actually don’t do that. Thinking that your stuff has emotions is one of the major reasons that my clients have so much stuff in the first place. But if it does help, then go for it.
If you have tons and tons and tons of stuff, don’t despair. It’s a lot easier to clear a single square foot and keep it clear than it is to sort everything first. Just clear the area and put the stuff that doesn’t belong there in a box. Yeah, you’ll probably still have that unsorted box three years from now, but at least you have a chance of using your nice clear flat surface.
Clear surfaces seem sterile and boring and ugly to most of my people. In reality, they are in constant use throughout the day. Our clear kitchen counters have meal prep going on in bright colors at least four times a day. Our clear bathroom counters have bright, colorful containers on them every morning and evening while we get ready. Our clear desktops are scattered with brightly colored objects while we’re working on projects.
What really fills a home? Laughter, conversations, music, the cheerful business of life. When a home is cluttered and people are always losing track of things, what could be a happy place is instead filled with stress, confusion, and harsh words.
Clear your space, make a home for all your significant daily objects, and use the time you save to read, take a nap, or hug someone.
The Renaissance Soul is a book for those of us who have so many passions we can’t pick just one. Other books always go on about the importance of finding your passion, and we’re out here thinking, “Why is that in the singular?” Margaret Lobenstine believes that a “Renaissance Soul” is a person who was born to do more than one thing. Why limit ourselves unnecessarily when there are so many advantages to being good at many different types of skills?
One reason is the negative judgments and beliefs of the other part of society. This is why we sometimes think we have ADD, or that we’re engaging in some kind of avoidance mechanism rather than “settle down” and “get a real job.” What a sad loss this is. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Lobenstine builds The Renaissance Soul around ways to create a satisfying career using multiple gifts. The book is especially strong in suggesting ways to get around common bottlenecks, such as perfectionism, anxiety, and pushback from family members. She also teaches ways of selling without selling, for those whose main stumbling block is a vehement rejection of any form of marketing or self-promotion.
The Renaissance Soul is full of case studies and examples of people who have found happy ways to combine their many interests into fascinating and satisfying careers. These might be “umbrella” careers like writing or journalism that combine many skills into one profession; a Two-For-One Approach like musician/yoga instructor; or a free agent, such as a consultant or entrepreneur.
Another way to look at career options is how they are structured over a period of time. Doing two or more things at once is not the only possibility. Seasonal shifts work for some people. Others prefer a side hustle. Still others have serial careers, doing something until it isn’t fun any more and then switching to something else. A strategy that is probably underused is to get a “J-O-B” for the purpose of the perquisites, such as a discount on computer equipment, dead time to work on personal projects, or the ability to network and pick up new skills.
Crunching numbers is a way that Lobenstine helps us find time for our passions. Choose four Focal Points that work as “sampler plates” for indulging our many interests. Then calculate how to find time for all of them. Another formula estimates how many years we have left, which in my case was in the negative. That means it will be another 25 years until I have as many years left as I’ve been alive, if that makes sense...? It’s another way of saying that we have more time left than we think we do, and that age is no reason to give up on our dreams.
The Renaissance Soul is that perfect rarity, the inspirational and motivational, yet entirely practical, handbook for a better life. Read it, and feel a bit of pity for those who only have one idea and only one plan for the rest of their lives.
When you decide to work with your Renaissance Soul nature rather than fighting it, you actually welcome distinct economic benefits into your life.
Would your work life have been more productive if your employers knew how to make the very best use of your interest in the new and the different?
This is what I know about travel. It’s easier when you don’t bring very much.
This is why I’ve been walking around with fifteen pounds of sand in my backpack.
We’re planning another adventure, this time an urban trip, and I’m buying a sub-40-liter pack because my 65-liter expedition pack is too big. I don’t need room for all the things I usually bring, like the sleeping bag and the space blanket and the double set of thermal underwear and the first aid kit and the cooking pot and the stove and the fuel and the solar lantern and the folding chair and the, I might as well just admit to it, the entire two-person sofa that I pack around.
Go ahead and laugh. My expedition pack still weighs less than the clothes, shoes, and toiletries that most people bring on trips.
I went on a weekend trip with a couple of old friends. The wife had a shower kit that was half the size of my entire suitcase, and then she had a second one! “You brought full-size bottles of shampoo?” I told her it looked like she had a “just in case” bag, and that she’d just grabbed everything from her bathroom that she thought she might need. She nodded, of course, that’s exactly what I did.
I showed her my TSA-approved shower bag, and explained that I start with that. If it doesn’t fit, then it can’t come, because I don’t check my bag. Everything I bring fits under the seat on the plane. Start with the container, not the stuff.
The way I deal with my desire for a wide selection of shower products is that I have a bunch of 2-oz bottles. You can go even smaller with a few contact-lens cases.
The other thing to keep in mind is that... they HAVE SHOWER STUFF in other countries. You can buy toothpaste and soap and deodorant and shampoo. You don’t even have to if you’re staying in a hotel. Not only is it safe to forget stuff or finish it off before you go home, but it’s a shopping opportunity to test out something that may be better quality than what you get at home.
People overpack out of insecurity, anxiety, and indecision.
This can ruin the trip.
The heavier your bag is, the more miserable you’ll be at the airport. Oops, did I say ‘bag,’ singular? I mean, the heavier your multiple unnecessary bags are. You’re doing it to yourself.
I’ve seen people travel with suitcases so big that they could crawl inside. In one case, there was nothing really in it except a set of swim fins and some stray towels, and I know that because the owners had it open on the airport floor while they frantically searched for something.
Why would someone bring towels on vacation??
The more stuff you bring, the harder it is to tell if you’ve forgotten something important.
The only truly important things to bring on a trip are your ID, because you can’t get through otherwise, and a way to pay for things. You can do the whole thing with a passport and a credit card.
Arguably the next two important things are vaccinations and a plan for the trip, although the travel arrangements can also be skipped if you feel ready for the Wing-It Method.
I utterly can’t understand why people insist on bringing so many extra duplicate redundant backup changes of clothes. Really? I’m paranoid about getting cold and even I don’t let that trick me into overpacking.
I have a points system. I lose one point for every item that I bring on a trip and don’t use. The only exceptions are the first aid kit, which I hope not to need, and extra underwear, because they’re small and lightweight.
What’s the point of bringing anything that you don’t use? If you don’t use it, then it is by definition useless. The extra stuff you insisted on dragging around is no more use to you than a fifteen-pound bag of sand.
Oh, I suppose a bag of sand could potentially be useful. You could drop it out a window and stop a robbery. You could cut it open and shake the sand out if you needed traction. You could pour it out on the airport floor if there’s a delay and invite other stranded passengers to create a meditative sand mural. You could put it in your bag to weigh it down and deter thieves.
Because if even you don’t want your stuff enough to actually use it, then why would anyone else?
I walk around with a bunch of sand in my new backpack because I’m testing it out. I’m checking how the load risers are adjusted. I’m reminding myself how tiring it is to climb a flight of stairs with an extra fifteen pounds on your hips and knees and feet. I’m also reminding myself what it felt like to weigh this much without the backpack!
I do this a lot. Now that I’m stronger and more active, I travel more, and I have more fun doing it. My husband and I typically walk or hike 8-10 miles a day, including elevation gain and many flights of stairs. We’re strong enough to see everything we want to see without being utterly wrung out and exhausted at the end of the day.
I can go three weeks with only four changes of clothes. They, um, they have laundromats.
Who cares what you’re wearing? Honestly?
You do, or at least you will if you insist on wearing hurty shoes and limping around with bleeding blisters. If you insist on wearing a sundress when it’s really too cold. If you’re so worried about looking cute that you’re late getting ready every day. I know because I made all those mistakes when I was young, and it really got in the way of enjoying travel. Not just for me, but for everyone else on my trip.
There is no adventure in bringing a bunch of stuff from your house with you everywhere you go. You already know all about your stuff. If you’re leaving the house at all, it’s to see things and have experiences and meet people. Remember why you’re packing and try not to bring fifteen pounds of sand.
Sleep is on my mind, as usual, and this time it’s because I got bad news at the dentist.
I need a root canal due to this mysterious process called ‘resorption.’ Nobody knows precisely what causes it. Don’t you love it when you’re on the cutting edge of research? Two things that could have triggered it are grinding my teeth, and inflammation in general.
Both of these things are related to sleep. Bruxism is something I do at night, especially when I’m in pain or my stress level is high. Inflammation is reduced through sleep.
Note that there are no known medical connections between lack of sleep and root canals. This is just a possibility that, for my own purposes, I want to explore.
I’m short about 2-3 hours of sleep a day on average, and sometimes it’s 4-5. Sleeping more is going to benefit me no matter what else is going on. It’s free and it doesn’t have any side effects. It won’t negatively impact anyone else, not like my upstairs neighbor running a high-powered blender over my bed at 6:00 AM.
If I never need another root canal, and I never have resorption problems on another tooth for the rest of my life, I won’t be able to prove whether my behavior impacted that in some way. That’s because this is a complex issue, because I would be an anecdote, and because I don’t even know how to submit data in the world of dentistry.
Still, I add ‘root canals’ to the list of Reasons I Should Probably Sleep More.
File Under: SleepQuest
This approach is consistent with how I approach every problem, not just health issues but problems in general.
I refuse to live with a persistent problem. I won’t accept it. I’ll find a way to work around it somehow. I’ll research it. I’ll test it. I’ll experiment on it. I’ll reframe it. I’ll read up on it. I’ll measure it and document it on a spreadsheet. I’ll ask people from other disciplines what they would do differently.
My endodontist lectured me about not wearing my night guard. He showed me on the scan exactly how he could tell from looking at my teeth that I “clench and grind.” Then he told me that AT MY AGE I couldn’t afford to ignore this and that it would definitely start wearing away my teeth.
Mmm. Love it. I’ve finally reached the point when medical professionals start using the phrase “at your age.”
Night guard. The one in the brightly colored plastic case. In the drawer where I see it at least twice a day.
You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to your dentist. I had to admit that I was not, in fact, doing 100% of every possible thing to take care of my precious teeth.
I care about this significantly more now that I have a ballpark estimate of how much preserving a single tooth costs out of pocket. Without dental insurance, ugh. I wonder if this endodontist needs some back-office help?
As these thoughts swirl about my chronic sleep deprivation, my incipient cash deprivation, and my poor middle-aged teeth, I think about the concept of “trying everything.”
Everyone says this, all the time, about everything, but it’s a scam.
There is NO WAY that anyone has ever “tried everything” because not even an expert in a given field even KNOWS everything. There is nowhere that is capped on research, human knowledge, or potential technological development.
We also tend to have mental blinders about thinking that one single input is responsible for stuff. We think that making one change will fix a problem, and if it didn’t work, then the problem is unfixable.
There are so, so many problems with this approach!
One is that we may simply not have tried long enough.
Another is that we may not be doing the thing we’re trying in the right way.
Yet another is that the thing we’re doing may only work in certain situations, but not this one.
More likely, what we’re trying is just very far down the list of Things That Work. Most people will skip the first ten items on the list of Things That Work because we desperately want it not to be that. Please, not that one!
The way I look at it, there is a paradigm or a set of behaviors that goes with a certain issue. The group of people who have the issue tend to have a group of traits in common. Then the group of people who do not have that issue have an entirely different set of traits. There tends to be very little overlap.
For instance, my clients who hoard all tend to scatter coins, save expired food, stuff clutter into plastic bags, and have a plain rock somewhere in the home. Nobody else has rocks!
When I want the results of the “other” group, I observe them, ask them, research around what they’re doing, and then try it out. This is what I did when I started running, when I learned about minimalist travel, and when I finally decided to lose weight.
Obese Me had a lot of habits that Athletic Me finds comical, or sad, depending on the day. While I can sum up the habits of Athletic Me in a brief policy statement, it would take pages to try to describe just what the heck Obese Me was doing. Example: Getting a 64-ounce Pepsi with pumps of blackberry syrup. Please, for the love of your pancreas, do not try that at home.
While attempting to figure out what was different about athletic people, I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated and impatient. I’m working so hard, I thought. I did not think “I’ve tried everything” because I knew I spent most of my time lounging around reading and eating cereal.
I’m in a similar state right now with my sleep problems, which are dominating my attention. Certainly I’m as frustrated and impatient as I’ve ever been.
What I wonder is, when I look back on this period of time, what will stand out to me? What could I be doing differently that I already know about? Have I really tried everything?
I’m doing it again. I have two obnoxious projects I don’t want to do, and each of them represents about three hours of work. One is due in a week and a half, and the other is due in six weeks. The fresh hell that is chronic procrastination! I recognize myself setting up Future Me for a rough time, and thus I’m tricking myself.
I have a Decoy Project.
Next to me is a business card representing a phone call I should really make.
There are few things I hate more than making business calls. I’d rather disinfect my trash cans or clean the oven.
This call isn’t as high a priority, though, as the big projects. That’s why I’m using it as a decoy.
The card is propped up where I keep seeing it, directly to the right of my keyboard, junking up my line of sight.
I can’t avoid looking at it.
I can, though, avoid doing anything about it!
Suddenly, the yucky projects seem a lot less aversive.
Also to my right is a big vegan chocolate chip cookie.
I am currently wearing workout clothes.
This is the order of business. 1. Start the report. 2. Nibble at the cookie. 3. Finish the report. 4. Finish the cookie. 5. Work out.
A cookie is not a decoy project. My relationship with cookies and snacks and food in general may or may not work for other people, but here’s how it looks in my world.
I don’t keep junk food at home, as a rule, because there’s no room for it in the kitchen, and I just don’t know about storing bags of chips in the fridge.
I also can’t keep it in my work bag, because whenever I have done that, my dog has found it. Not only will he steal and eat my treat, he’ll scatter torn-up packaging all over the room and pull out everything else in my bag. This is more or less the same reason why we never leave laundry on the floor.
Another reason is that my husband is in the middle of losing 45 pounds, and it would be seriously unfair to ambush him with delectable goodies, or eat them in front of him.
We both eat four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack (protein bar, fruit, or smoothie), and dinner. We find this convenient, comforting, and cost-effective.
This thing with the cookie is, therefore, a productivity exercise. I don’t generally eat recreationally but I’m not above harnessing it for work purposes.
Okay, I’m set up. I have everything I need. I have the threat of the “if you’re not writing your report, then shouldn’t you make this call?” business card. I also have the treat of the big cookie, waiting for me to finish a section before I allow myself to take a bite.
Threats and treats!
Working out is my stress relief. I like myself better when I do a lot of endurance cardio. When I come in, I feel waves of delight radiating through me, the proverbial runner’s high. I get about three hours pain-free afterward, and I sleep better. My mood is improved. Wearing my workout clothes while I do something that I don’t really want to do is my way of promising myself that good times are coming.
I can also associate a bit of that runner’s high with the negative project.
When I lived near a regional park, I would run there almost every day. It remains one of my favorite places in the world. I would sometimes go up there when I had a phone call or email that I really didn’t want to do. I’d stand at the halfway mark, get the thing done, and then run home.
The trick is that FINISHING SOMETHING feels wonderful, while procrastinating feels terrible. Associate the pleasant feeling of one thing that you really love with the different, yet also pleasant feeling of finishing a project. This reinforces the good feeling.
The eventual goal is to simply do things, quickly and easily, rather than getting into the rut of feeling stuck and dreading the task. Just get it out of the way! Spend as little time as possible avoiding the thing, which merely adds to the precious life energy that you are spending on it.
Sometimes a list of tasks that are no big deal can serve as a decoy project.
For instance, I always get ready for a shower right before I scrub the toilet. That’s not a fun job, but it only takes two minutes, including wiping down the floor between the toilet and the wall. Then I step right into a hot shower, and by the time I’ve shampooed my hair I’ve forgotten all about it.
I take out the garbage and recycling in between loads in the laundry room.
I clean out the fridge and other odd chores while unavoidably on the phone.
Getting stuck on a lot of video conferences gives me plenty of time to put myself on mute, clean out my work bag and my desk drawer, and clear out my email inbox.
As few things as possible should have even a snowball’s chance of lingering in Procrastination Station. Just hustle and bustle through the day and try to avoid leaving a backlog. Because it hurts! Having a big ugly smelly to-do list is the sort of thing that can bother you all day. It eats into your mental bandwidth.
One of my goals for the day was to write this post, because my folder was empty. I didn’t feel like I had anything to write about, and I was distracted by the presence of the two big reports that I still don’t really want to do.
This whole post was a trick on myself, with the clever use of a couple of decoy projects.
Describing my situation, I finished my most time-sensitive task in only about twenty minutes. Now to take a picture of my work area, and done!
All I have left is to start my report before this cookie gets too stale.
I won my election as Division Director in Toastmasters!
This is the first time I’ve won an elected office. Another kid encouraged me to run for class president in sixth grade, and I didn’t win. Since that time, I’ve held a number of offices in various clubs, but never in a contested election. I’m not a very competitive person; in fact, I have a distaste for competing and I tend to prefer to serve in the background.
I’m motivated mostly by two forces: curiosity, and a feeling of duty. As long as I’m interested in doing something, I feel like I might as well be helping out and contributing.
This is why you’ll often see me moving tables and chairs, picking up litter, or submitting reports. Not only do I not need to be in the spotlight, I actively avoid it. At least I used to until I decided it was time to get over my aversion to public speaking.
Did I say ‘aversion’? Another way to say it is that I began with a level of stage fright that I have only seen surpassed by three or four people.
It turns out that in an organization like Toastmasters, this willingness to work hard, coupled with the drive to push yourself past your comfort zone, is recognized and rewarded. This makes it dangerous for a shy person who wants to avoid the spotlight.
As an area director, I was asked to apply for a position as division director. Sure, I thought, if you need me, I can at least go through the motions.
Then my application was approved.
Then I did my panel interview, and I was nominated unanimously.
I wrote my candidate statement and designed my campaign poster and had it printed and mounted.
Embarrassed every step of the way! The last thing I wanted was to be putting up a big old poster with a head shot of myself on it. I moved from a desire to do a competent job.
As far as I knew, I was running uncontested.
The day of the conference arrived. I was fighting a cold and short three hours of sleep, but I arrived early for the business meeting. Let’s just get through this and then I can focus on preparing for next year’s term, right?
The way this typically works, one candidate is nominated for each of a slate of positions, and the elections are somewhat of a formality. Everyone knows each other, and everyone on the slate has just spent at least a year serving the district in one office or another. We’ve had plenty of time to form impressions.
There’s an opportunity for other members to run a “floor campaign,” in which they submit the appropriate paperwork and then have a club officer nominate them from the audience. Sometimes the candidate knows there will be a competitor months in advance. Other times, the floor campaign might be a surprise.
This is what happened.
First, there was a floor campaign for Program Quality Director, and the floor campaign won.
Then, there was a floor campaign for one of the division director positions, and the floor campaign won.
The nominated candidate for that division, having lost his election, suddenly decided to run against me and try to win my division.
This is technically perfectly legitimate, and it’s been done before, although I did not know this at the time. In practice, it rarely works.
Rationally it makes sense: games have rules.
Physically, my body reacted as though I had been attacked. My heart hammered and all the blood drained from my face. Alphabetically I’d have to go first. I understood that I had approximately one minute to prepare to give a campaign speech, walk up onto the stage, take the microphone, and speak in front of over two hundred people.
Are you kidding me with this??
Emotionally I felt one thing. BETRAYAL. What a weird and medieval word. In my mind I fully understood that this was *not personal.* In point of fact, I had helped this man with his campaign. I had noticed that he didn’t have his poster made, and I went out of my way to help him with resources. I knew he had nothing against me, that this was about him and his personal ambitions and the rules of the game.
The undeniable fact that my body was flooded with stress chemicals, and that my emotions were thoroughly activated, was irksome to me. I hardly needed the distraction of my emo, weepy inner child when I had a speech to give.
But my heart was still pounding so hard I could barely see straight. My arms were shaking, not trembling but shaking.
I took the mic and walked out, feeling utterly unprepared, with my natural hair. Yet another emotional hot button for me. If I had understood that I would be performing this morning, I would certainly have gotten out my flat iron!
I gave one of the most lackluster speeches of my speaking career.
No idea if anyone else felt that way, but I know that I did not meet my own standards. Tired, kinda ill, frumpy, shaken up, such a frazzled mess that I actually... said... ‘um.’
(I’m legendary for my almost perfectly clean speeches and lack of vocal tics).
I’d just heard my rival speak. He wore a suit, and he was so vibrant and charismatic, I knew I couldn’t match his performance on my best day.
I spelled out my platform and how glad I was to work with such fine people in such a fine district, one with such high standards.
My speech was probably too short, but I just wanted to be done and go sit down before I fell down. I felt like I might faint and I didn’t want to do it up there.
Then my opponent spoke. He looked great, he owned the stage, he sounded completely pumped. My heart sank.
Then they went off to count the ballots, and the next ten minutes felt like ten hours. My arms were still shaking.
I won. I had 39% more votes.
My rival hadn’t gained a single vote.
This basically meant that everyone who voted for him the first time voted for him the second time, which is great. He’d successfully built a base of people who knew him and respected his work.
The contest was between his clearly superior performance on stage and my carefully developed platform. His ambitious power move and my reputation. It’s entirely possible that some of the votes weren’t so much for me as they were against my opponent’s strategy.
Afterward, a number of people came up to congratulate me and, in some cases, dish about what happened. I realized that time after time, I was talking to someone I had helped in some way. We had worked together side by side and I had shown up for them, as they were showing up for me.
My rival came up during lunch to shake my hand and say, hey, no hard feelings. I reminded him that on the bright side, he was now eligible to compete in speech contests again! I told him he was twice the speaker I am, and I encouraged him to compete next year.
The reason I am not competitive is that I don’t think it proves anything. If I’m up against someone and they win, then I’m not learning by competing with them, I’m learning by watching them. If I win, then it might just be because I’m more experienced or because someone else had a headache that day. Winning doesn’t help me improve; improving helps me win. If I’m truly focused on improving, then winning one day is irrelevant for the next day.
I play the long game. When I’m in, I’m in for my own reasons. The competition is between Yesterday Me and Tomorrow Me, and Tomorrow Me had better come out ahead. The real game is building allies, working together for a common cause. I never know where I’ll be in relation to everyone else three years from now.
I do know where I’ll be next year, and that’s filling out a ballot to help choose my successor, because hey! I won my election!
The 10X Rule is the kind of motivational book to be read in cases of extreme reluctance and procrastination. It is the kind of book that can turn around someone’s entire philosophy of life. It is the kind of book to keep on your desk and flip open for a dose of tough talk on demand. You may not agree with everything Grant Cardone says, but it’s hard to argue with his overall message of dedication and drive.
Myself? I find myself nodding along with most of Cardone’s books, taking notes on certain outrageous yet wildly original ideas, and disagreeing with only a few very provocative assertions that I think he puts out there mainly to mess with people. An example of this would be Chapter 6, which I think is an extreme position that is not necessary if the goal is to teach the concept of high agency. (Read it and you’ll see what I mean). There is a difference between responsibility and accountability, and the latter is enough to get the job done.
Okay, what is the 10X Rule? Make your goals ten times bigger and go after them with ten times as much determination and energy. This is along the same lines as Peter Thiel’s statement that most ten-year goals can be completed in six months. It’s true! Why drag out the process of big goals like paying off debt, clearing clutter, or losing weight, when with intensive focus you can get it out of the way quickly and never think about it again?
(Why? Because most people aren’t very clear on what they want, they don’t have major goals, and thus they can’t summon up the fervent desire to push forward as fast as possible).
Competing is for sissies. Did you know this? This is one of Cardone’s contrarian ideas with which I agree. What would make someone want to target another person’s performance as their main goal? Why limit yourself? It makes me think of focusing on someone else’s head in yoga class for balance, only to have that person tip sideways. Better to focus over their head at a point farther across the room. Choose your own goal and keep plugging away at it. Choose something that is more worthy of obsessing over than what some other person might or might not be doing.
Cardone has a bone to pick with a lot of common ideas like “work-life balance” and “satisfaction.” He claims that the middle class isn’t all that middling, that most people’s financial goals are nowhere near sufficient to take care of themselves or their families. I only entered the middle class at age 32, and I’ve noticed that the “middle class” are the only people who rely on a single source of income, i.e. wages. Both poor people and wealthy people have multiple streams of income, the first out of sheer necessity and the second because they know how. The difference is desperation versus abundance.
The 10X Rule is already a classic of the motivational genre. That’s for good reason. Something in this book will reach out and grab someone, and it might be something different for each person. There are a couple of chapters that I feel I should have printed up as posters and hung around my apartment. I’ll definitely read this book again, so if you pick it up, let me know and we can read it together.
Almost every problem people face in their careers and other aspects of their lives—such as failed diets, marriages, and financial problems—are all the result of not taking enough action.
Average marriages, bank accounts, weight, health, businesses, products, and the like are just that—average.
No one will benefit from your failure.
Success Is Your Duty
To the degree that electing to do our personal best each and every day is ethical, then failing to do so is a violation of ethics.
Your four choices are:
1. Do nothing.
3. Take normal levels of action.
4. Take massive action.
“Small” thinking has and always will be punished in one way or another.
What are some ways you can expand that only require energy and creativity, not money?
People give their fears much more time than they deserve.
Most people have no clue what they are doing with their time but still complain that they don't have enough.
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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