Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Gaining Clarity in the Midst of Chaos

 

 I have a confession to make. It's bizarre. in November of 2019, while I was standing in the guest cottage I was struck out of nowhere by the thought, "how could I get out of doing all the things I've gotten myself into?" Just like that. In a flash. 

You might assume that I'd gotten myself into a lot of terrible things like I'd accidentally joined a Mexican drug cartel or I'd become addicted to gambling and owed a ton of money to loan sharks or something else equally nefarious. 

Nope. 

I was questioning how I could untangle myself from a pretty great bunch of things I'd said yes to over the past few years.  A few years ago my motto for the year was "Let the opportunity reveal the path." In that year and to some extent since then, I have been working on saying yes to new or challenging things. My introverted nature is to say no and I was working to overcome that. 

Old things that I had prioritized like serious reading and spending time each day in deep thought were edged out of my schedule by all the new things I was doing, all of which were challenging and enjoyable. I was having a lot of fun and hanging out with really cool and interesting people. At the same time, I was feeling ever more scattered and disconnected. While doing any activity I felt like there were 5 other things I should be doing. I was busier than I've ever been and definitely more social. I was having the time of my life but also wondering why I couldn't gain any clarity and constantly felt so restless. 

Sometimes my husband would say "You're doing too much." To which I would reply that I was not and reaffirm to myself that all I needed was to be more organized or something and go on to the next task. I loved every single thing I was doing! But as an introvert part of what makes life bearable is the time to process what's happening. I'd come to a point where one activity, many that involved other people flowed into the next and it felt like a pressure relief valve was clogged somewhere. But the fun kept me going and who wants to quit doing the fun stuff? 

Not this girl, that's for sure! 

Cue the pandemic: Within the first couple of weeks I knocked out every project I'd been trying to get to for a while. I was in a rush because "15 days to flatten the curve" right? 

Projects completed and lockdown extended (but hey only six weeks!) I turned my attention to the collection of books that lay around unread. I started with Marcus Aurelius and a few pages in I could feel my mind calm. I moved on to Churchill's History of English Speaking Peoples-The Birth of Britain. Thoughtful reading takes time to settle into and I couldn't do that while flitting from one thing to another. 

I also stopped writing on the blog and slowly extricated myself from social media. Instead of writing about, photographing, and sharing the garden on social media I was tending it and what's more, just being in it.  I worked in the garden because it needed tending not because something would make a beautiful photo. The joy of gardening returned. And beekeeping. And learning things quietly by myself. 

My extroverts are getting nervous just reading about it, I know. Stay with me. 

New projects are happening. But priorities have shifted, and many things that were valued in the past have been replaced with a sense of purposeful joy. 

More about that in a future post. 







Sunday, January 31, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

 

The past few years have been fun and a bit out of character for me. I've done less reading and deep thinking and more projects and getting to know new people. All of those are good things but as there are only so many hours in the day everything is a trade-off. I had a teacher in high school who told us that one day in class and it might be the truest thing anyone ever said in a classroom. 

Everything you choose to do comes at the cost of some other thing. 

So while working and meeting new people wasn't much of an option in 2020 and I had time to finish the main projects I'd been putting off, The desire to read along with the time to absorb and connect with what I was reading returned. I can only tolerate enthralling fiction. My preferred reading material has always been non-fiction. In particular personal development but also, history and biographies. 

2020 

I revisited Marcus Aurelius and began Churchill's History of English Speaking Peoples: The Birth of Britain which I'm still working on. It's a book that I often put down to do online research about a place or person mentioned because Churchill assumed a lot of knowledge about English history on the part of his reader. Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life was a game-changer when it came to getting myself in order and sorting out what my priorities should be. Candace Owen's Blackout was enlightening. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich made me grateful for even the simplest pleasure. Reading The Fourth Turning gave me a fresh new view of history and changed my perspective about what looks like chaos. 

2021 

The first quarter of this year is dedicated to reclaiming mental and physical strength and energy. My current reading list reflects that. 

 January: 

Atomic Habits might be the best book on improving habits and hacking your own brain I've ever read and trust me, I've read a ton of these kinds of books. Backed up with plenty of science and research, heavily footnoted, and easy to read you can use this book to change your behavior and your life. I'll be keeping it around as a reference tool and rereading it as well. 

Becoming Bulletproof is about how to overcome fear, learn to read people, and gain situational awareness. Written by Evy Pompouras a former Secret Service agent it's full of practical tips and things everyone should know. The lessons she teaches, if put into practice, can help you feel more powerful and less likely to be a potential victim. 

Loserthink. I like everything Scott Adams does. This book is no exception though his best book is actually How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. In Loserthink he's working on getting the reader to look for flaws in their own thinking and to see how little credence we should really give our thoughts and opinions and those of others until we evaluate them. 

Essentialism is exactly what it sounds like. A book about determining what's essential and how to let the rest of it go. The author, Greg McKeown, has written this helpful book so that it's beneficial whether you are using it to make career decisions or use it to evaluate and enhance your personal life.  For instance, what's the most important thing now? 

For something other than personal development I'm reading A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology. It's a subject I'm interested in, my vision board has quite a few pictures of Egypt on it. This book is a detailed account that starts with Napoleon and ends with Carter. The pages in between are filled with people who changed Egypt and Egyptology that you've never heard of. 

I'm currently building the list for February. You'll notice that I've linked to Amazon so you can see the books and get more information about them, but please purchase from your independent local bookseller. 

What's on your reading list right now? 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Who I'm Listening To Right Now

 

In the midst of the chaos of 2020, I went searching for depth. Around June when I awakened from my Netflix stupor I began with Marcus Aurelius. But I'm weird that way. Don't do that. Unless you know, you are a big fan of reading ancient common sense from brilliant dead Romans. 

To be completely honest I did my share of arguing and trolling on social media last fall. It's how I learned that if you are debating communists or college kids who think they're communists, they'll always tell you whatever failed state you want to name with death tolls in the millions weren't "real communism."  It's their universal answer.  They also think having tax-funded roads we all use is the same thing as socialism. 

In my quest over the past few months to put all that is happening in perspective and gain a better understanding, I discovered a lot of helpful resources. It may be worth noting that what I consider helpful is generally going to be rational and not given to being over-emotional or one-sided. Overall this list has a liberal, scientific, and/or academic slant. When emotions are so ramped up choosing the calmest voice in the storm seems like the best option. 

News

 Scott Adams. Don't know that name right off? How about Dilbert? So yes, at the moment the majority of news I'm consuming is from a cartoonist. But a cartoonist who also happens to have a degree in economics and is a trained hypnotist and expert in persuasion. There's no better way to get your information than from a guy who can point out all the ways the media is using brainwashing techniques instead of reporting the news. He's also a liberal which means that even though he was a Trump supporter you are getting a very unbiased, not to mention entertaining, view of what's happening. His daily (even on Christmas!) Youtube live stream is like having coffee with a really smart friend and discussing the events of the day. 

Real Coffee with Scott Adams

Tim Pool: Another classical liberal, Tim made a name for himself covering the Occupy Wallstreet Protests. He gives the news citing several different sources including social media and his commentary is especially interesting because he's a Millenial. I like to see things from that perspective. He posts multiple times a day and has a live podcast in the evenings generally with other Millenials as his guests. 

Timcast News

Podcasts/Youtube

Jordan Peterson: Dr. Peterson is a clinical psychologist with decades of practical experience. He's a professor at the University of Toronto. He's the author of 12 Rules for Life and the upcoming sequel, 12 More Rules for Life. He has over 500 hours of lectures available on Youtube. More than anyone else I'd say Peterson has helped me to gain some clarity recently and get myself in order. 

Bret Weinstein: Dr. Weinstein is a biologist and evolutionary theorist. He gained notoriety during the Evergreen State College protests in 2017. Among other subjects, he talks about the current war against free speech on college campuses. More recently I've discovered his brother, Eric Weinstein, the head of Thiel Capital, and physicist. This pair of brothers coined the term intellectual dark web. 

Gad Saad: Professor Saad is an behavioral scientist and author. His podcast, The Saad Truth has the best title of any podcast. He's the author of The Consuming Effect and The Parasitic Mind. 

Jonathan Haidt: Author of The Coddling of the American Mind, The Righteous Mind, and The Happiness Hypothesis. He's a professor at New York University. He's challenging us all to overcome our confirmation bias and listen in a deep way we might not have done before. He researches the effects of overprotective parenting and social media access on kids. 

Joe Rogan: The number one rated podcast in the world. He's interviewed pretty much everyone at this point and his podcast is a fantastic resource for being introduced to free thinkers and influencers you may not have heard about. 

My friends on the right are going to think this looks like a list of mostly atheistic professors and people who occasionally use some pretty bad language and are too far left. My friends on the left are going to think these people are dangerous with their words that could hurt people's feelings and contain a seeming lack of sensitivity. 

Yes. 

It's called the rational center and it's a place that if the majority of citizens had time to give ideas deep thought and were willing to escape from their information silos and echo chambers we could all meet to construct solutions that work and change that would be worth the effort instead of just a campaign slogan. 

Remember when there was news (who, what, when, where, why) instead of a narrative? 

What do all these people have in common?  They are advocates for free speech and are loudly sounding the alarm about the very real danger we are in of the First Amendment as we know it becoming a thing of the past. There's plenty to agree and disagree with from all of them, but isn't only listening to people we agree with all the time kind of how we got here? 







 



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

2021:Daring to Make a Vision Board

                                    

Did your vision board for last year end up in the trash? I'll be honest there was one day in particular when I wanted to take mine out to the yard and set fire to it. My 2020 vision board was so powerful it caused a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown so I could stay at home and get all my projects done. 


Sorry world. I didn't know my own strength. 

My word of the year was Fika, a Swedish word meaning to slow down and enjoy the good things in life and I wanted to "make time for wellness." 

It had a picture on it of a woman with beautiful gray hair but I didn't plan on stopping coloring mine until I was 60 because there's always a trip planned or an event to attend. 

If only no one would see me while it grew out, I'd do it, I thought. 

You can see why I put extra thought into my action board for 2021. You can feel safe in knowing that there is nothing on this year's board about staying at home or slowing down. 

Now, you might be saying, "Michelle, what about all that's going on right now? How do we make a plan with so much uncertainty?" To which I say, any certainty we ever have in this life is an illusion. Especially when it concerns other people. 

But what we have is control over ourselves.

“Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, ‘He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.‘”

~Jordan Peterson

With that in mind, I gave a lot of thought to what should be on my vision board when I made it over the holidays. To be honest, as I've covered in a previous post, I let 2020 be an excuse to become soft and weak and slovenly. I gained extra weight. I spent too much time on social media. I read less and watched more television than I have in years. I wasn't my best self in the past 12 months. 

Read my post Straight Talk for the New Year. 

Setting ourselves in order doesn't get any more basic than getting our bodies in shape. So I've started there. In fact, that is the only real aim of the first 75 days of 2021. The overarching priority of the year is family. We aren't best serving our families if we are tired and unmotivated.  Following closely behind is a return to serious reading, something that was at the center of my day for a quarter of a century but was edged out in the past few years by other things.

Here's how it looks applied to a vision or as I prefer to call it most of the time an ACTION board. You'll  notice the entire bottom half is dedicated to travel. We have to have hope, right? 


Half of the board is about health and habits. In future posts I'll be sharing more about my actual plan. 



The other half of the board is dedicated to family, community, and embracing this particular part of life.

Last year's board was filled with beekeeping and gardening and home projects. You can see that there are casual nods to them this year because they are built into life and don't need special concentrated effort. 


We need some hope, right? Make sure you put some on your board! 


And after a year in which millions of people have lived in fear, struggled with depression and lack of motivation, and all the (insert your favorite expletive here) rest of it we need to focus on living beyond fear and focusing on our mental health. Again, getting ourselves in order. 


How are you going about planning your year? What was your biggest struggle in 2020? What did you learn about yourself and how is that going to affect how you live in this fledgling new year? 





Sunday, January 3, 2021

Straight Talk for the New Year


I hope you don't know the people in this photo. I took it at the beach a few years back but I couldn't find anything else that better represented how 2020 made me feel. 

 Let me start by saying that this post is mostly about me and where I am and what I think I need to change. But there's a pretty good chance coming out of 2020 that someone else needs to hear this.

This post is not for you if: you are the caregiver for another person. God bless you, you probably aren't even asking for all the help you really need. If you are sick or getting over an illness. I'm a big fan of proper rest. Especially if you are recovering from Covid. Our experience was that the fatigue lasted far longer and was more powerful than anyone was talking about.  Today's post isn't for you if you know deep down you are at your limit and are doing your best or if you feel at all like you are just hanging on. If any of that sounds like you, then please take care of yourself in the best way you know how. It isn't for you if you are depressed, have lost your business, or are grieving. 

But...

The rest of us need a little straight talk. 

I love the self help world of vision boards and affirmations. It's comforting. It was especially comforting when I've been watching Netflix like it was my full time job and eating cookies on the sofa since March. You can want things to change, but the underlying attitude is that you should just accept yourself and keep telling yourself you're awesome. Lots of people need this message. If you have low self-esteem or have spent years or even decades beating yourself up. We need those voices. 

But do we need them endlessly? 

A lot of the messaging is so supportive, empathetic, and focused on self-love that it can fairly easily slide into a lack of discipline. A pass for every weakness. An excuse for every failure. I know this because I've fallen pretty deep into this trap myself in 2020. 

Yes, Netflix. I'm still watching. What's your point? 

In the self-help/motivational arena the pendulum has swung too far toward the overly compassionate self-care biased view of what's good for people.  We're starting to see repercussions of it in society. 

We've been lounging around making vision boards and saying affirmations when we should have been at local town halls, prying ourselves off the couch to go for a walk, and skipping junk food. We've been expecting so little of ourselves because, you know, the struggle is real and all, that we've become ineffective and slothful. Feckless: my anti word for the year. Our quest for happiness and bliss has caused us to steer away from telling ourselves the truth. 

I'm pretty mad to learn that the 2020 calories ended up counting. 

On social media, I've been watching a blowback campaign against a celebrity who posted that she was doing a cleanse to focus on her health. She's being called all kinds of names and accused of being intolerant of fat people. We have entered territory where instead of rude people cruelly fat-shaming, other rude people are now shaming people who are taking responsibility for their own health. We are watching the human crabs pull their own back down into the bucket.  

The best way to fight against all of this is to get our own house in order. Be responsible for ourselves. Tend our own health and wellbeing. Stop acting like life is hard. Read a history book. We are living the easiest, most luxurious, safest lives in the history of mankind, all the while whining about the struggle. 

I still made a vision board for 2021 (It's awesome) and I still think affirmations are great. But I also recognize I've been coddling myself. Anyone else lost touch with their inner adult? I've said "But we're in a pandemic!" for the last time. I'm turning off the TV and brushing the crumbs off my shirt. 

I'm getting myself in order. Who's with me? 

If you need to start slow because you lost momentum in 2020 (and who didn't?) start here with some simple steps anyone can do to get going.  Fresh Start Field Guide: 31 Simple Steps for Improving Simply.