It’s that time again! Resolution time! On January 1st I overheard a woman chanting “2022, it’s coming after YOU!” In a good way, or a bad way? Then she said, “I woke up singing, and dancing,” so maybe it’ll be good after all.
I applied to grad school and now our future plans are contingent on whether I get accepted or not.
In March 2020 I predicted that the pandemic would last until January 2023. Now I think that January was the wrong month to choose and that we’ll be lingering past that point. My metric was “safe to travel internationally” and as far as coronavirus is concerned, I’m not sure I personally will ever feel that way again. Sorry to have to say that.
We had a COVID scare last month, with exposure to someone who tested positive, but we were able to get rapid tests right away. I was already coughing before we found out we were exposed and it was pretty scary. Turned out to be the common cold. Remember those? For myself I’m doubling down on my commitment to hide out and avoid people.
The goal is to find a way to somehow have fun and make the most of the next year despite how weird everything is.
Personal: In previous years, I have built my plans around a major personal challenge that I found very difficult, usually something that took a few years to accomplish. This year I’m just going to focus on having FUN for once! If I do start grad school this year, it will mean shifting into an academic gear during third quarter. Might as well goof off for the first half of the year while I still can.
Career: My career goal is to get a fellowship so I can pursue my master’s. Fellowships at my company are highly competitive, with more applicants some years than others. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s time for me to think about leveling up in some other way.
Physical: My physical goal is to focus on fun things like hula hooping and learning to roller skate. I really want a trampoline, if only I had somewhere to keep one…
Home: My home goal is to move into a bigger place with a laundry area. At this moment, we can’t really make any big decisions, because of the whole grad school thing, but I feel like our current apartment is a haunted house saturated wall to wall with sad memories. Very excited to be considering a cross-country move to an area with lower rents.
Couples: Our couples goal is to go to the final World Domination Summit this year. Although I might go wearing my bubble helmet.
Stop goal: My stop goal this year is to stop reading dumb thrillers. The trouble with thrillers is that the first 90% is suspenseful whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Only at the end do you realize that the rationale or the character motivations make no sense. For the past several years I have been going around complaining, “Why do I keep reading these things??” Only to turn right around and do it again. We decided a couple years ago only to watch movies that rate at least 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, and now I’m extending that same logic to books, specifically thrillers.
Lifestyle upgrades: Our lifestyle upgrade for the year will be to bring more art into our lives. We bought a big landscape photo in 2020 and enjoyed it to the point that it took a while to ask, Why don’t we get another one?
Do the Obvious: My Do the Obvious goal this year is to focus on sleep quality. Due to my heart problem, getting a cold, and who knows what else, my night terrors have come back in a big way. This is bad for me and also unfair to my poor husband - and possibly also our downstairs neighbors. For me, focusing on sleep quality includes not eating three hours before bed, cutting back on sugar, avoiding stressful topics in the evening, and doing as much cardio as I can handle.
Someone asked me recently to “say more” about Do the Obvious. To me this means looking at a standard list of ‘healthy habits’ like drinking plenty of fluids, going to the dentist, putting on sunscreen, wearing your seatbelt, and any other completely predictable, mainstream common-sense advice that even a little kid can rattle off. Then I have to genuinely ask myself whether I am actually carrying out these things. There is never a time when I’m doing all of them.
Ultralearning: My ultralearning goal for the year is to start grad school. I want to come out of the process thinking, researching, talking, and presenting like someone with an advanced degree.
Quest: My quest this year is to start grad school! I want a master’s and a PhD.
Wish: This is the wildest wish I’ve put out there in a long time. I wish for a parrot and a dog that are already friends. Thought I’d put it out there in case anyone knows of a cute little pair of critters that need a home.
Personal: To focus on fun for once
Career: A fellowship
Physical: Rollerskating and hula hooping
Home: A bigger place with a laundry area
Couples: Go to WDS X
Stop goal: Stop reading dumb thrillers
Lifestyle upgrades: More art
Do the Obvious: Focus on sleep quality
Ultralearning: Grad school!
Quest: Grad school!
Wish: For a parrot and a dog that are already friends
Goodbye 2021. The only thing I can really say about my 2021 is that I can’t decide if it was equally as bad as 2020, or actually worse, full of personal loss and health scares. But we lived through it, didn’t we?
Well, not all of us. My poor little parrot Noelle died. I still dream about her and I feel like all the magic has left my life. It’s been over six months and I’m still stymied about what to do, how to find something to be happy about again. The entire world is a mess and my little bright spot suddenly went dark.
This is the time of year when I review my goals and resolutions and see how I did. Annual review. First, some highlights.
We watched a pod of dolphins maybe 100 yards away from the beach
We went to the San Diego Safari Park and saw the last surviving condor who was born in the wild before the captive breeding program
We both got “Exceeds Expectations” on our performance reviews
We got our COVID vaccines and boosters
I got to see my family for the first time in a year and a half
I ran a mile and a half
There is always something we can do, even when times are hard, and it helps to appreciate what we can.
My personal challenge for the year was to expel my math anxiety. For the first time in years, I did not rise to meet my chosen personal challenge. I took a math placement test and I’m basically back in the second grade. It was too depressing to deal with, and maybe I was just having too many health issues and too much pressure at work. I did not achieve escape velocity and I did not make progress and I did not impress myself.
My career goal is to become a futurist. Futurism is officially part of my job now, I am recognized as being particularly good at it, my boss says he’ll send me to any futurism conferences or workshops I want to do, and guess what else? I applied to grad school. I’m still waiting on my last recommendation letter before my application will be processed, with less than a week to the deadline. The suspense!
My physical goal was to get back to my goal weight. While I did manage to lose the weight I gained in 2020, I put some of it back on over the holidays. So I’m down 10 pounds. I have more reason to care now because I’ve been having issues with tachycardia and SVE, which seems to have reawakened my night terrors. Maybe other people can welcome weight gain with smugness and delight, and more power to them, but for me, there are natural constraints.
My home goal was to move to a larger home. This did not happen. We are in stasis until we find out whether I get accepted to grad school, since it doesn’t make much sense to move twice in one year (again). If you find yourself in a home with a washer and dryer and/or a second bathroom, rejoice. I know I will.
Our couples goal was to start saving for a house. We are on track for this, although who knows where or when we might actually buy any real estate.
My stop goal was to stop hoarding reading material. I genuinely worked on this all year long, and for me it will probably be the stop goal of a lifetime. I read through part of my backlog, but not all of it, and realizing that I had more than a year’s worth of material stored up was daunting and mind-boggling. We’re talking bookmarks and open tabs, not my list of books to read, which it turns out includes over three thousand titles. Yeah, good luck with that, hon. I did have exciting breakthroughs in finding a few more ways to speed-read, so that was fun.
My lifestyle upgrade for the year was to get a new bed. We did actually manage to do this, finding ourselves the only customers in a local mattress store, and we have a proper bed frame for the first time in our marriage. This was one of the best decisions we have made, saying goodbye to our lumpy twelve-year-old mattress.
My Do the Obvious for 2021 was to assume another year of working from home. That turned out to be completely accurate.
My ultralearning goal was to focus on data visualization, and indeed I did a lot of that. This is an area where there is no end to the learning potential.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon when I turn 50, in 2025. I managed to run a mile and a half without stopping, and that’s not nothing, but between COVID and the supraventricular ectopy, I am not sure whether I will be able to complete this quest. I’m not even sure if I’ll still be here to turn 50. We are given neither the day nor the hour, and tomorrow is not promised. That does not, however, invalidate the desire to make the most of the time that we have.
My wish for the year was to visit my family safely. We all got our shots, and I wore my bubble helmet at the airport, and nobody got sick, and we all got to be together. Wish granted!
How was your year? How did you do?
Personal: To expel my math anxiety - NO PROGRESS
Career: Become a futurist - IN PROGRESS
Physical: Back to my goal weight - IN PROGRESS
Home: Probably move to a larger home - FAIL
Couples: Save for a house - IN PROGRESS
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material - lol
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH - SUCCESS
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. - SUCCESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025) - IN PROGRESS
Wish: To visit my family safely - SUCCESS
Aw heck. Is it April already?
I did something this month that I’ve never done before, and that is to completely forget that it was time to do my goals check-in. I blew it.
Possibly like a lot of people, I am thoroughly fed up, bored, and annoyed by isolation. I’m climbing the walls of our dinky apartment. I don’t want to do any of the things I am allowed to do, while simultaneously not feeling like doing any of the stuff I’m not allowed to do, either. It’s not like, I dunno, flying to Japan would even be fun right now.
All I do is work and clean my apartment! Blearghhhhh!
Okay, now that I have that out of my system, what have I actually done this year and what do I intend to do with the remaining three quarters of the year?
Well, one thing was that I got my first shot! Hooray! Another is that I’m coming along in my Italian lessons. And another is that I’m trying to teach Noelle how to open a La Croix can, which will either prove to be my single best or single worst idea of all time.
My personal goal was to work on my math anxiety. I don’t even care who knows that I have not started working on this yet. I’m building up to it. In fact, I think I’m close to working up a head of steam on the idea that I can Prove Something to my engineer husband, who thinks my current math skills are comical to the extreme.
My career goal is to become a futurist. I have actually made good traction on this. I found out the application deadlines for grad school are months earlier than I had assumed, so now I know that I can start applying in August for academic year 2022. (Which does give me plenty of time to study remedial math...) I’ve also discovered which universities have programs that interest me, including one where I could study both futurism and space policy. Cool, right??
My physical goal is to get back to my goal weight. I got another chiding little note from Kaiser, an action plan to lose three pounds. I am pleased to say that I finally seem to have broken the barrier on this thing that I have been actively trying to do for something like a year and a half. I am DETERMINED!!! to reach my goal by my birthday this year, or at least be well on my way.
My home goal is probably to move to a larger home. Progress on this is that we’ve started looking at listings. We reminded ourselves that in our region at this time of year, the focus is on short-term rentals and summer listings, because apparently people from all over the world will pay high prices to rent a place here for one to three months. There wasn’t a single available place we saw in our price range where we would want to live. Probably we will start to have better luck at the end of summer.
Our couples goal is to save for a house. We are making such great progress that it is positively cheering us up. Yet it will take a Hollywood-level miracle for us to buy a house here for us to live in. I wouldn’t rule it out, but if we buy a place it will probably be a rental property elsewhere.
My stop goal is to stop hoarding reading material. I am very proud of my progress in this area! This was the stop goal from Heck-Darn, which I assure you is a real place. I am not “done” yet, but I’ve got all my various reading queues down to the double digits, rather than four digits. Two orders of magnitude! I know I can nail this before the end of the year, and possibly even by the end of the quarter.
Our lifestyle upgrade is to buy a new bed. We are waiting until we can safely visit a mattress store in person and test them out. We were also thinking about swapping them out when we move, so we can be sure the new bed will fit in the new home. (A lot of beach real estate has tiny, narrow little bedrooms). This one hasn’t happened yet, but we already have the money set aside and we’re counting the days.
In the meantime, our biggest lifestyle upgrade is probably that we both got our first shot! We’re two weeks away from getting our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
My Do the Obvious was to assume another year of working from home. Well, here we are, still working at home. If I eventually turn out to be wrong, it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sticking to my original prediction, from before I personally contracted COVID, that the pandemic won’t be officially “over” until January 2023. By “over” I mean that it’s safe to travel anywhere in the world without worrying about being exposed to coronavirus. Still waiting on that.
My ultralearning goal is data visualization. I can say that sometimes it feels like all I do is look at various formats of data visualization. I’m officially taking courses in both Tableau and Excel at work, so not only am I working on this goal, I’m getting paid to do so. What I’ve learned so far is that this is a complicated topic and also something of an art form.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my 50th birthday. This will be yet another Hollywood-style miracle if I can pull it off. I have been plugging away at the elliptical several days a week, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Right now, running one mile outdoors would be pretty impressive for me.
My wish is to visit my family safely. Right now I’m pacing the floor waiting for the last few stragglers to please, please, pretty please get their vaccines. The last thing I would want to do is show up from LAX swarming with germs and get my favorite people deathly ill. Right now I guess we’re all stuck with Zoom.
I set out to write this post in a somewhat surly mood, disappointed with myself for not giving my goals much thought over the past three months. As I reviewed my progress, I started feeling gradually more excited, realizing that I really was on track in several areas. I reminded myself why I had chosen these things. Okay, I don’t really wanna sit around doing grade school math, but I think I will eventually. Everything else on my list is perfectly fine. I can see myself swanning around our new place, only to flop backward onto our new bed, satisfied with all the hard work and studying I have been doing.
How about you? How is your year going?
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Darn those pesky New Year’s Resolutions. When you pick one that will actually make a difference in your life, it’s hard to push it to the side and forget about it.
I knew it was time to confront my digital hoarding. Predictably, it was worse than I thought.
For some people it’s probably photographs and videos, and yes, I have a lot of those too, but that’s not my goal for right now. I have plenty of storage and they’re all backed up to the cloud. They don’t eat up my mental bandwidth, which is the real issue.
I have a problem. When I was a little kid, I wished I could read everything, every book in the whole world. I’ve never really figured out how to un-wish that wish, only now it’s spread to include, apparently, every article, newsletter, and blog post ever written.
The better I have gotten at sourcing and bookmarking information, the worse my digital hoarding has gotten.
I found some apps and learned to speed-read, at which point it got still worse.
I’m following that same line now, although in a new direction, and I appear to have passed Peak Bookmarks. At least so far in 2021, I’m trending downward.
What kind of hoarding are we talking about?
I don’t hoard physical books like a lot of dedicated readers. This may unsettle you, but I [whispering]... I think most books look bad! Physical bookshelves are a problem in my life for several reasons, not the least of which is my parrot, who has come by the nickname Sneaky Beaky honestly. They take up too much space in our tiny apartments, it’s a pain to have to keep unpacking them, and, finally, whenever there is a bookshelf in a room, my eyes will obsessively wander to it. Much too distracting.
It was around the time that I got my first smartphone that I started feeling able to release my physical book collection. Once I knew I would always have something to read in my pocket, my brain decoupled from the bound object and latched itself onto the digital variety like a lamprey.
A plausible formulation would be that I would eventually learn to trust that there will always be more news than I can read every single day, and that information will always come at me in waves, a sea I can never drink down.
In that formulation, I would quit bookmarking things and chill out, floating ineffably in an intellectual innertube on an endless ocean of content.
Yeah, that never happened.
Periodically, pun intended, I would skim through my various hoards, intending to delete a bunch of stuff that was no longer relevant to my interests. I don’t think I ever even deleted 0.5% that way. The experience would just leave me peevish, feeling starved for time and yet more committed to eventually reading through this backlog.
What? I can’t just... not know what is in those articles!
In some ways it got still worse when I started my tech newsletter. It is extremely stochastic what I will and won’t find on any given day. I’m at the point now where, on rare occasions, something I post will actually spark a white paper or an invention disclosure. Obviously this is super-exciting! For the first time in my life, my chronic reading habits have direct practical application to real-world results!
This has led to FoMO of the very worst kind. If I miss something, it’s not just me missing it, it’s all my readers, too, and what then??
I’m on top of it, though. The work stuff, at any rate.
I’m gradually chipping away at my personal stuff, too.
How am I doing it? Since I am apparently powerless to delete things and simply change my mind about letting things go?
I found a couple of apps that will speed-read text aloud.
It turns out this capability had existed in my all-time favorite bookmarking app, Pocket, for who knows how long. I could have been doing this for perhaps years. I just didn’t realize because the majority of my free mental bandwidth is quickly squandered on reading.
The best thing about it? Most audio apps top out at 3x, but Pocket goes to 4. I’m currently at 3.4x and it’s still crisp and clear.
Pocket is genius. I’ve been using it for years, to the point that I have gotten email from them saying I’m in their top 5% of users worldwide. I don’t know how many people have this app installed, but it is maybe a little alarming that I’m on their radar to this extent?
That being said, it can’t pick up everything. The formatting on some publications is unreadable by Pocket. It’s still possible to read in web view, but my speed-reading app Outread can’t transfer these. In the past, I would sometimes copy and paste the text from the original article into Outread, a fussy process.
Then I found Text to Speech. The same text I was copying and pasting into Outread could be dropped into Text to Speech instead. It doesn’t read as quickly as Pocket, but it was a way to listen to articles while multi-tasking.
Not long after that, I stumbled upon an ad for Elocance. I paid $35 for it, which is beyond the pale for most apps, but in the range for old-school CD-ROM software or a hardcover book. While it can only read at 1.5x, it’s able to handle almost all the weirdly formatted publications that Pocket can’t. It can also read email, newsletter subscriptions, Word docs, PDFs, and whatever other random text you want to throw in there. Another improvement it has over Text to Speech is that it lines everything up in a playlist like a podcast app, rather than one-off selections.
The way all this works, I’m listening through my news queue when I would previously have been listening to podcasts. While this has completely replaced podcasts in my life for the moment, I am actually consuming news content faster than I can bookmark it!
It’s entirely likely that the novelty of blasting through my news queue with these new toys will soon wear off, and I will replace them with a new information source that will have me right back where I started. I give myself all year to work on a resolution, though, and for now, I’m making progress and feeling proud of myself.
Skip January, I always say. I think the reason most people quit on their New Year’s Resolutions is that they feel like they need a perfect streak for it to really count. New Year’s Eve, in this formulation, is a magical portal that only exists for a few hours, and if the perfect streak is not maintained, then the spell is broken and the new habit is now forever off-limits.
I just added in a loophole that January is for getting ready, and nothing counts until February.
February is a good sampler month because it’s the shortest month, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is usually terrible, and there’s not much else to do unless you love Valentine’s Day - which I’m gathering most of you don’t?
I made a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I haven’t touched yet. Worse than that, I haven’t even finished filling out my goal planner, which is absolutely unprecedented in my life. I actually feel really bad about that because it’s a gift I give myself, and if I can’t find time once a year for something I find very fun and rewarding, then what is going on??
Scope creep and overkill?
A lot of us feel like we’re letting ourselves down in some way. We don’t like setting goals because we feel like failures when we aren’t able to crush those goals in some kind of world-record timeframe.
Slow and steady is realistic, yet too boring to be inspirational.
What I’ve found from tracking my resolutions and goals on a quarterly basis is that it’s a lot easier to achieve these goals when they’re layered. Trying to do every single thing at once basically guarantees that none of it will happen.
The first goal for everyone should probably be baseline contentment.
This is something that’s been tougher for me. I always feel like I should be strenuously Doing Something. It’s an ADHD problem. I’m not great at simply sitting. This concept of “Netflix and chill” is a little mystifying to me.
My work buddy mentioned that she binge-watched an entire series over the weekend - something on cybersecurity - and I blinked in surprise. A whole series?? But you’d have to watch three or four hours a day! Is that even possible?? What would you do, just sit there??
What did you do the rest of the weekend?
It’s actually something to think about. What can you add to your baseline habits that would be fun?
‘Habit’ always seems to be seen in the context of ‘bad.’ When we think ‘habit’ we think of removing or stopping or quitting or taking away. This is very tough on human psychology, and probably not a useful formulation for a goal.
An example would be our poor old dog Spike. When he was a young dog, we got him a laser pointer, and he reacted to it about the way that any grade-school kid would react to getting a PlayStation 5. We would try to hide it, and he would sniff out where it was, and he would stare at that spot and bark obsessively.
The day we moved from that house, we took down the wall sorter where the laser pointer had been kept. He barked at the movers and showed them the blank spot on the wall and barked some more, asking if they would play with him, even though there was nothing there anymore.
See, it’s hard to eliminate a habit!
It’s much more tempting to think of something positive that you want to add to your life, and make it as easy and appealing to do as possible. By this method, you can gradually crowd out habits that you wish would go away, and eventually, they will.
For someone like my work buddy who likes to binge-watch TV, there are a raft of habits that can be added without letting go of the binge-watching. Putting on lotion. Doing your own mani-pedi. Stretching or doing PT exercises. Folding laundry. Brushing out your pets. Using a percussion massager or a facial steamer. Mindlessly eating a large salad. Who knows what else?
It’s also possible to watch TV on fitness equipment, like a treadmill or elliptical, although personally I find that this makes both the show and the workout feel ten hours long.
As I said, I haven’t done much on my goals yet this year, because I don’t take January seriously as a goal month. I have done a few things, though, in the spirit of getting ready.
I set up my new bullet journal, which is bright yellow and which I like very much.
I lost four pounds, a great start, although a pound a week is not exactly magazine-feature material.
I started using a language app to learn to speak Italian, and according to the app, I’ve already learned 78 words, even though I can’t seem to maintain a streak.
*** I hate streaks ***
I upgraded my phone and my fitness tracker and got them both up and running.
I got a laptop charging station and organized all the cables at my desk for work.
I scheduled up my periodontist appointments.
I learned how to order grocery delivery through multiple services.
I went through my digital hoard and got numbers. Confronting the extent of a problem is the most painful part - the clarity, the wake-up call - but that cold clear reality is what helps drive change.
So... I had a thousand items in my ‘Read at Leisure’ email folder, 700 in one news queue, 1000 in another, and yet another 1000 in yet another. This is not including various library app bookshelves. Nearly four thousand articles, why??
I got some apps and started making a dent. I’m now reading through stuff faster than I’m accumulating it, which means there is hope for me yet.
While it’s still true that I haven’t done a single thing toward most of my goals and resolutions for the year, I have done *some* things to make my life easier. Many of the things I have done in January are set-up tasks that I won’t have to do again. I’ve streamlined a few areas and bought myself some time.
Now, as I do at the first of every month, it’s time to pause and look at my list of goals and resolutions, where I wrote them longhand in the front of my bullet journal. Are these things I’m still committed to doing?
Okay, then when am I going to do them?
It’s February and it’s time to get started.
The way I deal with stress is to look ahead five years into the future.
This was challenging when I was sick with COVID-19, because I wasn’t even sure I had five days in my personal future. Even at the time, though, I was positive that the pandemic would be over by then. Maybe things would end badly for me, but it was likely that my friends and family would be doing okay in five years.
A lot can happen in five years. It seems like a long time to a kid, but the older you get, the more you start to realize that what adults have always told you is true. Time passes more and more quickly, or at least our subjective, experiential sense of it.
I just had a conversation with my boss in which I mentioned possibly going back to school in academic year 2022. That seems like a minute from now, because I know from past experience that the application deadline for that year will come up so quickly that I’ll barely have a year to study for the GRE. It seems entirely likely that it will take five years or more to get my PhD, and that doesn’t even feel like a big deal. At 45, I know that I’ll either be five years older anyway... or I won’t. Might as well plan for what is the most likely future.
A lot can happen in five years. I started running as a complete amateur and non-athlete, unable to run around one block in my neighborhood without stopping to walk. Four years later I was chugging along in my first marathon. It never even occurred to me to aim for such a thing when I started. All I wanted to do was to run a two-mile loop, and I thought it would take me all year to train for it.
Five years is a long enough span of time that conditions can completely change. I met my ex-husband, moved in with him, married him, and signed the divorce papers in less time than that. I haven’t laid eyes on him in twenty years now. What was once the epic drama of my life is something that I now rarely think about at all.
What else has happened within five years? In a five-year span, I dropped five clothing sizes. Within five years, I paid off two credit cards and my Pell grant.
In five years, a new baby could be conceived, born, and grown enough to ride a bike with training wheels and write her own name.
It took our dog four years to learn to roll over. But by then, he could also do a bunny hop in a circle and play Red Light, Green Light.
I keep reminding myself of these things because sometimes, looking backward is soothing. In retrospect it’s often easier to recognize good times of relative peace and tranquility. In the moment, any kind of stress or drama feels major. Looking back makes it clear which were high mountain peaks and which were merely mild rolling hills.
Looking forward involves more guesswork. We aren’t always very good at that.
The thing about predicting the future is that some things will remain precisely the same - like my parents’ dining room table; I’m pretty sure that will be the same in another five years, just like it was five years ago. Other things will change in a radical way that we never could see coming.
Some of these changes from my own lifetime include voicemail, racecar-shaped VHS tape rewinders, refrigerators with ice makers, Wikipedia, Twitter, streaming Netflix, Crocs, the Instant Pot, and a commercial space industry.
We won’t be able to predict everything about daily life five years from now, in 2025. We can, though, do a lot to predict our own daily lives, by making decisions about how we will live them. This is why I like the five-year span, because it’s long enough to be ambitious but near enough that Future Me +5 is somewhat recognizable.
I can ask myself, what is Future Me 50 going to be like if I do this, that, or this?
If I choose to go to bed now or two hours from now, night after night? If I choose to eat more greens or more sweets? If I schedule that dentist appointment, or not? If I save this amount or if I spend it all on random stuff from Amazon?
Is Future Me +5 going to fit in these clothes I’ve been saving, or not? Is she going to want to wear them at all? Is that version of me ever going to [clear out the storage unit or keep paying for it] or [pay off that credit card or not] or [finish my degree or not] or reach Inbox Zero or go on the vacation I dreamed about in high school?
Most things happen to us when we live in default mode. I recognize this tendency in myself, to hold my phone in my hand and scroll, scroll, scroll. Fortunately, I set my algorithms to include a lot of reptile news, so I probably read more about gator-related events than a lot of people. How many hours of my life, though, am I going to fritter away getting three-minute updates?
When we’re distracted in this way, we forget to reset our strategies for all the major things in life. Are we going to keep working at the same job, train for something else, change careers? Are we going to stay at the same address or pack and move? When are we going to retire? Do we have backup plans for when our parents or kids reach a certain age? Are we ever going to finish our passion projects - or start them?
It’s a mistake to get sucked too much into current events, passive entertainment, and shopping. What I mean by that is that research shows that it doesn’t make people any happier. It also doesn’t change a single darn thing. It’s up to each of us to find interesting and constructive ways to spend our time.
My recommendation is always to look ahead five years and ask, if things keep going along like this, what is likely to happen? Is that what we want for ourselves? Or is it not? And if not, what are we prepared to do about it?
I had flashbacks when I overheard his phone conversation. “I lost the key.” Being within unintentional cellular eavesdropping range has been a feature of public life for twenty years; it just stood out more because it hasn’t been happening as much during lockdown.
My husband and I were sitting at a concrete picnic table in our local park, masks on, reading. We had both noticed the daddy with the tiny daughter, maybe three years old. He had been letting her play with his keys and now it looked like that wasn’t such a great plan. We watched as they started wandering around, looking at the grass.
This was really a high drama day at the park. Only moments after we sat down, a little boy fell out of a tree a few hundred yards away. An emergency crew came, and he eventually walked away with his arm in a temporary sling.
All this is to say that it wasn’t the best day for concentrating on a book. I kept looking up to see how it was going with No Keys Daddy. I felt for him.
I dropped my keys down an elevator shaft one night. It’s been fifteen years and I’m still scarred. See, I had locked my phone and my purse inside my car while I made a quick trip to my storage unit. (This is also part of why I hate storage units). I got someone to let me use their cell phone to call the number on the elevator, but it was after hours and nobody answered.
I tried slipping various objects under the crack in the elevator door at the bottom of the shaft, including a yardstick and my unrolled yoga mat, to no avail.
I considered walking across town to go home, but my roommate worked evenings and nobody would be there to let me in. I would still be stuck with the problem of my locked car sitting in front of my storage unit. I’d have to figure out how to get to work the next morning and then come back and figure out how to get my keys during business hours.
There was plenty of time to think just how much depended on this one small object, my keychain.
And then the succession of other important objects. My keychain, my phone, my wallet (to pay for a cab). Without my phone I didn’t even have a way to call anyone, because I quit memorizing phone numbers back around 1995.
I sat in the cold, with a full bladder, waiting to get the attention of the facility manager who had a little house onsite. I waited there for 45 minutes. But she did arrive, and she did drive right up to me to see what I needed, and she did unlock the door and help me get my keys.
After that night, I got together every object I had that resembled or would attach to a keychain, including a bottle of hand sanitizer, until my keys were about the size of a soda can. Every time I walked by a storm drain or anything else with a crack, I gripped my keys until my knuckles turned white.
Now I have them clipped to a large carabiner. I clip that to my bag. It’s convenient, I always know exactly where my keys are, and I can use the clip to punch elevator buttons.
I thought about all this while I watched the daddy wandering around looking for his key.
It was easy to see what was happening. He couldn’t get into his car, so he was waiting for his wife to finish work and come pick them up. He seemed to be taking it well... the little girl was happily romping in the grass, no stress in her young life!
I’m really good at finding things, so I discreetly got up and wandered around for a bit where these two had been playing. Maybe I could find the key?
The grass had been freshly mowed, it was quite short, and it didn’t take long to realize that if there were keys here, they would be easily visible.
Not outside the realm of possibility that a crow flew off with them?
Then I wondered. He did say ‘key,’ not ‘keys.’ Was it possible that this man just put a single key in his pocket? And left the house that way?
I saw him glancing into his backpack. He did not do what I would do, which is the method I teach my students when they can’t find their stuff.
Sit down and spread out a piece of fabric, a towel or even a shirt. This is so nothing gets lost (loose pill, earring backing) or bangs up the furniture. Then methodically take out each object in the bag, one at a time, and lay them out in a grid. Throw away any trash. When the bag is empty, turn it upside down and shake all the crumbs out.
What usually happens is that the lost object is loose in the bag. Every single time, *every* single time, my person will say, “I already looked in there twice!” Yet there is their missing ID, parking lot voucher, or whatever else they thought they had lost.
This is what I thought: I bet the key is in the bag somewhere. I also thought: He’s been a daddy long enough to realize that tiny kids are predictable in a lot of ways. If you give them scissors, they will either cut off a chunk of their hair, or someone else’s. If you give them crayons, they’ll scribble on the wall. If you give them chocolate, they will smear it. Why would you give your keys to a chaos muppet?
At the park?
I thought about dropping my keys down an elevator shaft, and how that cost me an entire evening of complications, and yet how much easier they were to find than they would be in five acres of greenery.
This is why Being Organized is so much better than the default.
Literally one single habit - keeping your keys on a clip - can prevent untold hassles over and over again.
This sort of habit is much more important for parents of young kids, who probably haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in several years and who can hardly be blamed for the full spectrum of shenanigans each day.
Ultimately, though, as adults we can keep it all in perspective. The little girl was fine, unlike the boy who fell out of the tree and wound up in a sling. They were a little family, able to call for help and know they would be taken care of. The tiny tot will probably remember nothing more than a warm fuzzy blur of going to the park with daddy, no inkling of the havoc she had wreaked.
Why let a paltry missing object disrupt all that?
(Which is why I have my keys on a clip, the end).
I’m playing around with a bit of reverse psychology right now. The idea is that I can’t have a backlog of anything anymore. If anything has been hanging around in my backlog for longer than, say, three days, I need to either deal with it or decide that I never will, and
This is something I have tested over and over again on my clients, and it makes steam come out of their ears. There’s a glinting ember of something in here that really has my attention. Why are we so bad at letting things go even when they drive us crazy?
My case is unusual in that I thought I was dying only a few months ago. I spent days in bed, too ill to sit up, too weak to hold my phone to my head. All I could think about was all the things I’d never said, the things I’d never done, and the stupid remnants of my life that my poor husband would have to sort when I was gone.
It was sad, but it was also embarrassing and annoying. I got really frustrated with myself.
This? This was going to be my dying epiphany? That I should have enjoyed life more and lived in the moment and not procrastinated so much?
When it was starting to look like I was going to make it (before the next lung infection that challenged that idea), I understood that I had a chance to use this suffering for something. I did two things. I decided to treat myself as Version 2 and act as though I had physically died and started over as a new person. I let go of anything from my “previous life.” I gave myself permission to shrug off any residual feelings about that stuff.
(Confession: I never finished reading The Aeneid in my summer Latin class, even in English, so that happened).
The second thing was that I mulled over what I wanted to do with my new chance, my second bite at the apple. That was that I wanted to get a day job again and then go to grad school.
Spirit acts fast sometimes. The opening for the job that I have now showed up in my husband’s email that same week. Everyone who has heard about my desire to get a fellowship and work on my PhD has been encouraging.
I’m very lucky in this new job. Most of the people in my department are morning people; quite a lot of them clock in at 6:30 AM. We’re on 9/80s so we work long days. I worked it out with my partner that she does mornings and I do afternoons, so I work 8-6, and then we alternate Fridays. The two of us can cover nearly twelve hours a day, five days a week. This has built in at least an hour a day, and a full day every two weeks, when almost nobody is around. I can tie up any loose ends from the day, and then from the week. I’m almost always able to start Monday with a clean slate.
It’s a nice feeling, something I’d like to get used to.
Now that I’m gradually recovering and approaching my baseline energy level, I’m steadily working on things that didn’t get done while I was ill. This is where the reset comes in.
The world shut down quite suddenly, as I’m sure you recall. Probably like most people, I had various things in progress that simply stayed that way, on hold. It’s a bit like those mystery stories where the people leave with half-eaten meals still on the table.
A bag of stuff to take to the donation center, pictures to hang, that sort of thing.
While I made a magical decision on what I thought was my deathbed, it didn’t magically whisk anything away. Everything I had thought about was still in the same condition as it had been in March. The major difference was that my email and DMs had continued to accumulate.
This is where we get to the technicalities of this whole “Do it or dump it” idea.
We start with two rough personality sorts.
There are three main phases of action: initiation, maintenance, and completion. Most people tend to prefer one of these phases and dislike another one.
There are two main moods of clutter: looking forward and looking backward. Some people prefer to anticipate the future and others cling to the past.
Put these together in various combinations and see if they remind you of anyone you know.
Are they stuck in a rut because they can’t get started, or because they don’t want something to end? (Not launching a business vs. not finishing their degree).
Do they have a thousand projects because they like starting something new, but then get bored? Or are they surrounded by heirlooms and unsorted boxes because they can’t let go of the past?
“Do it or dump it” applies to clutter like this. If you haven’t used it in the last year, ask for help and get rid of it. End of story. This applies equally to unfinished craft projects, unread books, clothes that don’t fit, broken stuff that you haven’t fixed yet, workout equipment, untested recipes, and supplies for remodeling or baking or whatever.
I sorted my physical clutter long ago. Now I’m down to digital clutter - mainly email newsletters and [checking] 45 GB of podcast episodes - and pending projects.
Here, “do it or dump it” means deleting anything over a certain age (or size, or from a certain source, or whatever works), or canceling something. I will never finish that illustrated “Bride of Godzilla” story I wanted to do because after I started the sketches, I learned about aggressive copyright protection.
What is it that makes some of us cling to old, outdated stuff for so long, even after we’ve already demonstrated that we aren’t interested enough to engage with it? What are we thinking? Why do we do this to ourselves?
I’ll share my motivations, which may or may not overlap with yours. I get attached to the potential of various future versions of myself - a version of me who can, for some reason, speak several languages while playing ukulele on a unicycle - and I don’t like admitting that some of it will never happen. Also, I have serious FOMO about anything I haven’t read but wanted to. Whenever I think about not having time to read every book in the world, my eyelid starts twitching.
There are people who are quite good at the “do it or dump it” philosophy. For instance, I once worked with a young woman who had an empty email inbox 99% of the time. She said that she found having even a single message sitting in her inbox annoying. My husband is the same way with having a packed closet. When he gets a new shirt, he - I am not making this up - immediately gets rid of an old shirt.
If you know someone like this, or even someone who has a different pattern of attachment than you do, there’s a simple solution. Go to this person and tell them about your predicament. “I can’t stop saving old receipts because I keep thinking I’m going to categorize them in my finance app one day.” The incredulous gaze of this unattached person should be very helpful in giving you the motivation to go ahead and either do it, or dump it.
Or ask them to do it for you. They’ll probably think it’s funny. Then you’ll be free to do whatever you want - as free as, in fact, you already are.
Doomscrolling is that thing where you keep flicking your phone, reading scary news, and you can’t seem to stop, even if you’re already in bed and tired and you know you’d be better off sleeping.
One of my heuristics is to ask myself what the opposite of something is. It can often be pretty funny. For instance, if my natural reaction to something is to think “I hate it here!” I can pause and ask, what would be the opposite of hating this right now? One day, the answer might be to get a burrito, while another day, the answer might be to talk to my brother.
Obviously when I think of doomscrolling, I’m going to have to ask myself, what is its opposite?
Assuming we don’t want to simply engage in another activity, what if there were another kind of ‘scrolling’ that was not full of doom and gloom and dread?
This is part of what led me to doing my tech newsletter.
There isn’t a name for it yet, although don’t worry, I may come up with one before this is done, but I guess what I’m doing is more like optimism-scrolling.
I think that for some weird reason, we have collectively decided to ignore all the fabulous things that have been happening in favor of all the crud. As an historian, this is confusing and strange. I know too much about the past and the daily lives of early people to have any interest in reverting to any of that. This is what drives my interest in futurism.
What I see is that we have vast amounts of knowledge, resources, and talent that could easily be put to work replacing our most pressing problems with amazing things -
Quick example: turn unemployed people into a (well-compensated) labor source for massive infrastructure upgrades, something I thought we would have been several years into by now -
And that doing this work would quickly return positive reinforcement, adding momentum as we start to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to sit and watch as the world falls apart, witnesses to systemic collapse. There are things that we could be doing.
Guess what? Of course it turns out that there are plenty of people doing constructive things while the rest of us are scrolling our way through the dark of night.
I get just as wound around the axle about politics and current events as anyone else. Perhaps more so, since I have that degree in history and all... I only share my bleakest projections with my nearest and dearest, because nothing says ‘I love you’ like ‘gather nigh while I proclaim my grim forecasts.’
The best way I have found to deal with this is to gradually crowd out the current events with what I think of as Future Events.
In other words, innovation.
For instance, there is an entire sub-thread about engineers donating their time to make custom prosthetics and special mobility devices for disabled children. This is beautiful stuff.
It turns out that most people will bend over absolutely backwards to do something altruistic for someone, if they know how. This is even more true if the recipient is a total stranger to them. This is another sub-thread that I follow, call it Acts of Heroism, and there is news in this category every day. A few days ago I watched a video of a man pulling an unconscious man out of a burning car on the freeway while his son watched. Everyone emerged unscathed and now the two men are entering a mentoring relationship.
Are they getting a reality TV show? No? Why not?
Passively absorbing the doom and gloom is unavoidable, sure. I mean, it’s hard to do anything constructive to help if you have no idea what the problems are that need solving. But again, letting your morale be crushed and destroyed by things you feel that you have no control over? How is that constructive in any way?
I often think of stories from my reading in Acts of Heroism when I need a boost. I think, if that man was brave enough to risk his life rescuing someone from a fire, why am I not brave enough to at least make this phone call/send this email/tell someone how I feel? It’s aspirational. I hope that if the moment ever comes, I’ll do more than stand around flapping my hands and screaming. Moral rehearsal.
Doomscrolling is an intervening opportunity. If you’re like me, you have this device with you almost every minute, and sometimes you open it and don’t even remember why, or you set out to do one thing and forgot and started doing something else. Probably you made no conscious decision to start doomscrolling. Probably it was not your intention. Yet it seems to keep happening??
We rarely set as many clear intentions as we could.
Once upon a time, I used to spend hours a day on Facebook. This was before I read the research that about 30% of people’s “friends” are people they follow because they enjoy being annoyed by them. I would post all sorts of articles that interested me, maybe 5% of my total reading, and I would then get pushback from people who would have been better off unfollowing me. I never would have known. Come on, though. Isn’t it more fun to upbraid, chastise, and admonish people who irritate you than to just focus on the people you like?
I took all that energy and put it toward something else. I had this deep desire to connect with people over all the exciting things I was reading, and quite honestly, I wasn’t going to find them anywhere on Facebook. Instead, I started putting together what became my tech newsletter, and that got me my new job, and now a bunch of people with PhDs read it and discuss it with me. For money.
Doing the opposite of whatever can be a fun thought exercise. It can also change your life.
There are an infinite number of things you can do with your time besides doomscrolling - sleep is just one of them - and if you write up a list, it may remind you that you used to do all sorts of great stuff with your time. If you do like reading on your phone for hours, though, try to target your reading time more toward your personal interests and less toward disaster, doom, and gloom. Who knows what you may find?
I ordered some breathing apparatuses and they were delivered today. As a COVID-19 survivor who is currently trying to recover from bacterial pneumonia, I want to improve my breathing. Like, a lot. I’m starting from a knowledge base of zero and trying to figure it out as I go. What are these things, how do they work, and can I actually start breathing normally again one day?
The first thing I can tell you is that if I get arrested in the near future, it will be because a police officer saw one of these things and assumed it was a weird futuristic vaping tool. I can about guarantee that an airport security guard somewhere in the world would confiscate it. I want to put a tag on it that says ‘NOT DRUG PARAPHERNALIA.’
The other thing looks and acts like a children’s toy.
Actually they both look like children’s toys, in their own way, which is great because I can use some fun in my life.
Relaxation techniques always tell you to focus on your breathing because they assume that is universally relaxing. I’m here to tell you that it would be more relaxing if I could stop focusing on my breathing for a while. It shouldn’t take this much effort. It shouldn’t be in question. I shouldn’t be wondering so much about how long I’ll be doing it or if I’ll accidentally quit while I’m asleep.
I first learned about breathing exercises as a tiny tot, when my mom was in labor with my brother. I remember I kept trying to lean over the seat and help her do her Lamaze breathing, and my dad kept snapping at me to sit down. (We didn’t have car seats in those days). I associated special breathing with the magic of a new baby popping into existence.
The next time was in kundalini class in college, but that’s a story for another time.
I had a less exciting lesson in breathing when I got the respiratory infection that followed me out of university. A nurse had me breathe into a spirometer to measure my lung capacity (52%). This memory is what gave me the idea to buy a device of my own, and that’s what triggered the idea that I could find a gadget to measure my improvement.
The device that the nurse used on me had me exhale as hard as I could into a tube. Apparently what she was measuring was Forced Vital Capacity. When I found out about incentive spirometers, this is what I thought I was getting.
The device I bought (for $9 US) has you inhale through the tube as slowly as you can while trying to keep a little ball suspended in a tube. It’s the exact opposite of what I thought.
What I was hoping for was a percentage capacity measurement like I had 16 years ago. For one, I wanted to compare it to how I measured when I was younger. For another, I wanted a baseline. I’ll admit, though, partly I wanted to show off just what bad a shape I’ve been in.
What I’ve learned, while scouring the internet, is that I would need a trained nurse to do this properly. I can’t really make any official medical claims because I don’t have the proper training and because I don’t even know where to find the correct device, which I might not be able to afford.
All I can do are three things. I can start with a baseline; I can train and compare my later results with this baseline; and I can compare myself with my friendly local husband.
(I had him test everything out before I put my mouth on it. I’m not great at reading instructions at the best of times and he happens to be an engineer).
We both tried the incentive spirometer. After we figured out how it’s supposed to work, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘he,’ we timed each other. Then he did the calculations.
He was able to keep two of the three balls in the air for 9 seconds. (The third ball isn’t supposed to go up).
I was able to keep the first ball in the air for 3 seconds on the first try, and 4 seconds on the second try. No second ball. My head was spinning afterward.
I’m super competitive about this stuff, though. Ordinarily I have the attention span of a... sorry, ran out of analogies. But when I’m fixated on something, I’m like one of those squirrels that never quits going after the supposedly ‘squirrel-proof’ bird feeder. There is now no way I will quit practicing with the incentive spirometer until I can keep the ball up for 10 seconds.
What the times supposedly mean, if we have any even remotely accurate idea of what we’re doing, is that my lung capacity is like 2400 CCs and his is like 5400. The trouble is that we have no idea what’s normal. Also, he is a tall man with a large build, a lifelong athlete who joined the swim team at age 4 and who also played the tuba. I, on the other hand, am of average height with a small frame. I had COVID-19 all through April and I’ve been fighting pneumonia for a week.
The other device that I bought is a special breathing trainer that has apparently been in use since 1980. I can tell you right now, if this was designed in the late Seventies then there’s about 100% chance it was inspired by a hash pipe.
Me: “Do you think you could make this into a bong?”
Him: [glances over] “It is a bong.”
Note: We are straight-edge people by inclination and by profession, and also we plan to retire early so we save our money. But also we live at the beach and that kind of thing is recreationally legal here.
The “Breather,” as it is known, now comes with an app and a training plan. I set it up, but for some mysterious reason it gave me today as an off day, so I don’t know what the exercises are like yet. All I know is that it believes age, height, weight, and gender are relevant. Well, that, and the positive reviews included athletes as well as people with various medical issues.
I’m a diligent person. It makes sense to me to follow medical advice, especially when I paid for it and took time out of my schedule to hear it. I’m the kind of person who carries dental floss in my purse. (Right next to the Blow Pop, the dog clicker, and whatever else I have in there...) I have the patience and the persistence to sit down with these new gadgets and test myself, day after day.
Because if the alternative is to keep being as short of breath as I am today, almost anything is worth trying.
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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