Purging books

Today, I’m acknowledging three things. #1, I am not going to live forever. (What?!?) #2, I am never going to live in an English country manor with an enormous library with shelves to the ceiling. #3, my daughter and granddaughters are not going to see it as a positive thing if they inherit thousands of books. Okay, four things: #4, my paperback Soylent Greencopy of Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room with the movie tie-in picture from Soylent Green, cover price 95 cents, whose glue has disintegrated so the cover is just a holder for the loose pages, isn’t worth any money now and never will be.

So I’m purging my shelves

The Marie Kondo approach didn’t work for me. You know – take all your books out of the shelves and touch each one, and only give shelf space to the ones that spark joy. I’m not the exact same person every day, and I don’t trust myself to guess what will spark joy for Future Me.

Deciding if you can safely purge

The best advice I found online is The Booklover’s Guide to Purging Books, which recommends using Google to help figure out what to get rid of:

  • Can you get it digitally for free?
  • Is it obsolete? This applies mostly to nonfiction.
  • Is it worth something?
  • Is it still in print? I would add, is it available as a paid ebook?

Once you’ve done your research, you can decide:

  • Would you absolutely love reading it again?
  • Is it a book you cherish and want to keep? (Ah, there’s that spark of joy!)

And I would add to that:

  • Is it cited often? I like being able to pull my Modern Library edition of Poe Poeoff the shelf to read The Raven when I come across a reference to it. Same with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and Shakespeare’s plays. I know I can easily find these things online but what if the internet’s down?

Which brings me to the zombie apocalypse. Or, if you prefer, the lingering illness or debilitating injury. I can easily imagine a scenario in which I’m trapped at home and have no internet or even have no electricity, so couldn’t charge up my Kindle. (And by the way, I’m on my fourth Kindle; they don’t last forever.) This is the real reason I’ve accumulated so many books – the fear of having nothing to read (Twitter calls this abibliophobia).

I’m pretty sure that once I’ve finished my purge, there will still be plenty of things to read in my house. So I’m making a start today with the top shelf of my science fiction paperback bookcase – Aldiss through Bova, with a smattering of others that snuck in because their own shelves were full.

How do you manage to keep your bookshelves under control? I have a feeling I’ll be working on this for a long time. Any tips gladly appreciated.

Living better the Nashville way

I went to an all-day seminar last weekend with my friend Maureen and a group of people from my old office. We got a great group price on tickets. As it turns out, some elements of the conference weren’t exactly my cup of tea (like the woman who planted herself in our friend Tanya’s seat during the morning break and refused to budge – we got the last laugh, though, because after lunch the venue moved our group to a VIP suite), but with 9 speakers, I came away with a bucket full of ideas for making life better.

Intentionality (Dave Ramsey)

  • You become what you think about. Be intentional about what you think about.
  • Decide to change, then change. Set goals that are specific, measurable, have a time limit, are your own, and are in writing.
  • You’re not failing if you don’t quit – you’re experimenting. Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • When choosing between options, think about where you want to be in 10 years.

Priorities (Christy Wright)

  • Spend your time on what’s important to you. Cut out what doesn’t matter, and do more of what you love.
  • Be 100% present. If you tend to get caught by social media (who doesn’t?) think about two questions: 1 – is it more important to know what the rest of the world is doing than to experience what I’m doing? 2 – it is more important for the rest of the world to know what I’m doing than for me to experience it myself?
  • Say yes to your own priorities, not everyone else’s. For people-pleasers: there’s a difference between doing something to be loving and doing it to be loved.

Gratitude and generosity (Chris Brown)

  • You can be resentful or you can be grateful. Gratitude makes you want to give to others.
  • You don’t have to feel rich to act rich – the magic number for feeling rich is always double whatever you have. Be generous.
  • Gratitude breeds contentment and generosity. Try this: every morning when you wake up, think about two things you’re grateful for. Write them down on a running list.

Money (Rachel Cruze and Chris Hogan)

  • Don’t compare yourself to other people. (You’re probably only seeing their highlight reel, anyway.)
  • Stay out of debt, have a plan for your money (a budget), and think before you spend. Rachel Cruze recommends the everydollar app for budgeting.
  • Save for emergencies, then to have 3-6 months of living expenses, and then for the future.
  • Give a little until you can give a lot.
  • Talk about money with your partner and your kids, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Plan for retirement so you don’t have to worry about money.
  • Talk about your retirement dreams with your partner. Make the dreams vivid and specific, so you know where you’re going.

Relationships (Les Parrott)

  • The four horsemen that ruin relationships are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
  • In contrast to the world of work where the “praise sandwich” has a bad reputation – poor performers may not get the message, and be surprised when they lose their jobs – in a personal relationship, wrapping a negative between two positives makes the message go down easier.
  • Marriage doesn’t make you happy; you make your marriage happy.

Parenting (Meg Meeker)

  • Kids need to know they’re important to their parents. Spend time with them.
  • Don’t take teenager behavior personally.
  • Model great character – integrity, patience, courage, and perseverance.
  • Praise for character, not just for achievements.

Growing up (Anthony O’Neal)

  • Be determined to be the best you can.
  • Be uncomfortable. Don’t let comfort kill your dreams.
  • Mistakes in the past don’t define us, they refine us.

The presenters are headquartered in Nashville, and several of the speakers had that passionate bible-belt presentation style that got the crowd on its feet. They all have books and podcasts. The ones I plan to check out myself are from Christy WrightRachel Cruze, Anthony O’Neal, and the star of the show, Dave Ramsey.

Happiness

There’s something about being human that makes us less happy than we ought to be. I grew up on A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and knew a lot of the poems by heart when I was little. One little poem has bounced around in my head all these years:

The world is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Research has shown that the benefits of an optimistic outlook include flexible thinking, creativity, longevity, and better health. What better way to solve the problems of the world, then, than to cultivate happiness in ourselves?

According to Dr. Lamees Khorshid, about 40% of our happiness comes from our genetic preset, our predisposition towards being sunny or gloomy. That means over half can be influenced by “happiness habits.”

Happiness and Mindfulness

  • Cultivate positive emotions and work on countering the natural negativity bias (a survival trait when it was important to remember the lion attack). Rewire your brain through practice:
    • Choose to see problems as challenges and opportunities. This will increase your sense of control.
    • Reverse the tendency to blame others when they make mistakes – we tend to blame the environment when we mess up, but think other people cut us off in traffic on purpose. Let it go.
    • Change the channel – choose to forget negative things after they happen.
    • Think happy thoughts.
  • Practice gratitude.
    • Make a list of what you’re grateful for. Keep going past the obvious first few things.
    • Pick one of the people you’re grateful for and write a paragraph about why. Read it to them. It will be good for both of you.
  • Engage in life. Plan your time so you include the things that give you pleasure.
    • Figure out the things that take you to a flow state where you lose track of time, and plan your day to include those things.
    • Identify your time thieves and the things that replenish you. Schedule time for the things that nourish you. Things that give you short-term happiness, like watching tv, can detract from your long-term happiness.
  • Get adequate sleep. Without it, it’s harder to regulate your emotions. You function better and your memory’s better when you have good sleep. A lot of people have trouble sleeping. If you do:
    • Create a sleep climate about an hour before. Dim the lights, do relaxing things. Don’t eat for 2-3 hours before bed, don’t exercise for 4-5 hours before, and avoid stimulants after 2 p.m.
    • Keep a regular schedule, even on weekends.
    • Don’t have a tv, phone, etc. in the bedroom. Keep the lights off.
    • If you’ve been trying to get to sleep (or get back to sleep) for 30 minutes, get up and go do something boring. If you still can’t sleep, do it again. Don’t just lie there and worry about how you ought to be sleeping.
    • Naps reverse your sleep drive. If you have insomnia, skip the naps.
  • Movement and music. If you can only do one thing to improve your mental well-being, make it exercise. A brisk 10-minute walk is better for mild to moderate anxiety and depression than medication. If you have to choose between 30 minutes of sleep and 30 minutes of exercise, you’ll get more benefits from exercise.
    • Don’t schedule exercise for your most tired time of day.
    • Morning workouts give you a stress buffer that lasts through the day, and your schedule’s less likely to be interrupted by things that come up during the day – but if you aren’t a morning person, you won’t stick with it.
    • Make it a routine, not dependent on whether you feel like it. You still get the benefits of doing it even if you don’t want to.
  • Nutrition. A low glycemic diet is best for your mood; it keeps your blood sugar on an even keel. Frequent small meals are better than a couple of large ones. Avoid sugar, which lights up a part of your brain that makes you want more and more – this is even true of sugar you don’t taste that’s been added to non-sweet foods.
  • Manage stress. Identify your stress triggers so you can avoid them or prepare for them. Having a baseline level of energy and physical health (sleep, exercise, nutrition) will help. Use relaxation techniques like deep breathing and rely on your social supports and relationships. If your stress comes from all the unfinished tasks on your to-do list, start with the one thing on the list that will make the greatest difference today.
  • Practice mindfulness. We recycle 95% of the same thoughts every day. Mindfulness keeps us in the here and now. Use meditation, which will improve your ability to process emotions and be less reactive.
    • Non-judging awareness: notice your wandering thought, name it, and then come back to the here and now.
    • Beginner’s mind: don’t expect a life-changing epiphany every time you sit.
  • Take care of relationships. Other people can be a major source of both happiness and stress.
    • The 4 horsemen of broken relationships are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. This applies to friends  and coworkers just as much as it does to couples and families.
    • Check out the Seattle Love Lab for tons of information on this topic.
    • If you have gridlock problems that you can never fix – like your and your uncle’s opposite views on politics – it’s actually healthier not to talk about them.
    • Practice the art of the start: the way you introduce a topic predicts how the discussion will end.
    • Support the other person’s goals, hopes, and dreams. Ask their opinion. Look for moments of connection.
    • Learn the other person’s “love language” – what makes them feel loved. It could be gifts, acts of service (doing things for them), physical touch, words of affirmation, or quality time spent together. This works both ways: you can give the other person what they need, and you can also recognize the ways they’re trying to show you their feelings.
  • Find your purpose. Not having a purpose or mission is as bad for your health as smoking. When you’re doing things that align with your values, you’re happier. Figure out your own top values, and set goals that align with them. Dr. John Izzo studied end-of-life reflections and identified being true to yourself and following your heart and dreams as two important factors in a well-lived life.
  • Simplify. Forgive and let go, don’t make social comparisons, and spend on experiences instead of things.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago when I talked about Mike Robbins’ class. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.
  • Use humor and laughter! Learn to appreciate the ironies in life. Bring funny stuff into your life – photos, videos, comics, comedy shows, that coffee mug showing nervous little dogs preparing for their day by making espresso. Laughter is contagious. It induces a relaxation response and it benefits the immune system.

Read more

In Dr. Lamees Khorshid‘s book, I Want to Be Happy, which provides a 21-day plan for forming happy habits. Her class at my office inspired this post.

In Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s books, like Wherever You Go, There You Are, to learn more about mindfulness and meditation, and to find video guides.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (and on her website & podcasts).

On Eric Barker’s blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree (he writes about this topic often!):

Mike Robbins on Authenticity

I had the good fortune to participate in a Mike Robbins workshop on authenticity a few weeks ago. Mike is a Stanford graduate and a former pro baseball player who injured his pitching arm in his first year in the Kansas City Royals’ farm team. He turned his bad luck into good luck for the rest of us. Now, he’s an author and an inspiring, energizing speaker. His website has loads of resources, including a blog, a podcast, and links to other things like a free meditation audio and a 4-part class on authenticity.

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Emotional intelligence and the growth mindset

We all know by now that emotional intelligence is just as important as intellect in determining success. It involves self-awareness and social awareness; the ability to manage relationships with other people.

  • One component is the growth mindset that Carol Dweck identified and wrote about: when faced with a problem or challenge, you are curious and engaged and work hard to figure it out (as opposed to a fixed mindset where you want to get the answer fast, and if it’s hard you assume you just weren’t born with the right abilities). Dweck recently updated her 2006 book on the subject because she found people were misusing the concept; see this Dec. 2016 Atlantic article on the difference between a true growth mindset and praise for effort as a consolation prize.
  • When bad things happen, our first reaction might be to ask “why is this happening to me?” This is a dangerous, insidious question that makes us a victim. Mike says a better question is “why is this happening for me?” which shifts your perspective and gives you more power. In other words, what can I learn from this? How will this make me better and stronger?
  • Accept things the way they are. It’s the first step in having the power to change. When you argue with reality, you lose.
  • Communication is the bedrock of relationships. Each person in a conversation may be having a different kind of conversation. Listening is harder than you think – Mike had us pair up and just listen to each other without interruption or comment or thinking about how we’d respond; it was really difficult. But if you can figure out how to pay attention it makes the other person communicate better – those people who just ramble on are usually doing it because no one is actually listening to them.
    • Be present – the first level is attention to what’s being said, the information. Notice when you check out of the conversation; you’ll be surprised at how often you get distracted and miss part of it. Try admitting it to the other person.
    • Look for and feel underlying emotion with empathy – the second level is listening to what’s not being said, like how the other person is feeling, where they’re coming from. Notice the triggers that get you to stop paying attention.
    • Let go of negative judgments – the third level is noticing your own filters and upgrading them. We all have filters we listen through. To upgrade your filter, deal with the issue directly until it gets resolved, or let it go – really let it go, don’t just act that way.

Authenticity

It takes trust and courage to be authentic. Mike views it as a continuum, from being a complete phony at one end, through honesty in the middle, with authentic at the far end beyond honesty:

honest – self-righteous + vulnerable = authentic

Inauthenticity shows up because of social norms, or when we don’t know or understand something (but we pretend we do), and when we’re having a difficult conversation. Often, what stands between you and authenticity is a 10-minute sweaty palmed conversation. It takes mental gymnastics to be inauthentic, because you have to keep remembering what level of honesty you have with each person.

Self-righteousness is having opinions and knowing you’re right; thinking your opinions are facts. It fundamentally separates you from other people. We react to others’ self-righteousness with defensiveness. You might win the argument, but you damage the relationship. There may be other ways to see things.

A key driver in human relationships is trust, which requires vulnerability. The natural human response to vulnerability is empathy. A growth mindset requires vulnerability: you have to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Ask for help! Everyone loves to help, although nobody likes to ask. If you compare yourself to an iceberg, with the greater part hidden from public view, it turns out that the further down you go on the iceberg, the more universal the experience.

Mike said at one point in his life when he was down, one of his mentors told him:

“You live your life like you want to survive it, but nobody ever has.” 

Summing up: Ways to practice authenticity

  • When something happens that you don’t like, ask why is this happening for me?
  • Focus on the things you can control (your attitude, perspective, and effort)
  • Give people your undivided attention – don’t multitask
  • Use email, text, etc. for idea/info sharing, not conflict resolution and problem solving
  • Admit when you don’t know something, need help, or make a mistake – be real
  • Ask for support from others in a genuine way
  • Address challenges directly; don’t let things fester
  • Challenge yourself to take yourself out of your comfort zone and take bold action
  • Lower the waterline on your iceberg – allow yourself to be vulnerable to others

A lot of things about this workshop resonated with me, but the one thing I want to make a priority is that idea of self-righteousness. Especially now, after the divisive election season and with everything that’s going on with the new president, I see things several times a day that push my buttons. I intend to do better at examining my own opinions and reactions, and work harder to find common ground with the people who, for one reason or another, see things differently than I do. As Mike put it in a blog post on his website, “The challenge I’m sitting with personally at the moment is how to speak up for what I believe to be true and important, and at the same time do so in a way that brings me closer to those who may disagree with me?”

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

New Year, New Goals

Well, 2016 was not my favorite year.

It reminded me of another year that lives in infamy in my memory: 1968. At the beginning of 1968, I was halfway through my first year as a boarding student at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School in Salt Lake City, still adjusting to the change from Cedar City Junior High. The classes were harder, the other kids were smarter, the world was bigger and more present in our lives, and it was our job to make the world better, more peaceful, and more just. But then… Martin Luther King was assassinated in April, and riots followed in cities across the country. Bobby Kennedy offered new hope, but he was assassinated in June. There was chaos everywhere, with violent police clashing with protestors in Chicago, student protests in France, and the war on tv every day. With body counts. And don’t get me started on George Wallace’s third party presidential campaign: the politics of rage weren’t invented in 2016. On the positive side, I became an aunt in November of that year when my amazing nephew Joey was born. Even so, I was glad when the year was over.

365 Day Writing Challenge

This year, I’ve signed up for a challenge and committed to write every day. My goal is 1,000 words a day, and I plan to accomplish that through a mix of:

  • Editing the novel I finally finished last year. It’s a mystery of the amateur sleuth variety. It’s way too long. It’s lumpy. I wrote part of it during NaNoWriMo or in word sprints with writer friends, so there are scenes in there whose only function is to bump up my word count, not to mention things like unnecessary dialogue tags (“he said”). I’ve been getting feedback on it from my critique group a few pages at a time, and I’ve sent it to my two nephews who volunteered to try to read the whole thing. I figure I can write 1,000 words an hour if I’m not trying to make them good, so I’m going to count an hour of editing as meeting my daily goal.
  • Blog posts. I want to finish my self-imposed task of taking notes on Brandon Sanderson’s BYU class and writing them up here. My granddaughter Lorisa pointed out that I don’t have many blog posts that aren’t writing related, so once I’m finished with the Sanderson class I might write a bit more about learning to play the banjo, traveling, and other stuff. One idea I’ve had is to try to compile a one-stop place to find out about all the live theatre that’s happening in the Phoenix area on any given day, with links to the different theatre companies and links to newspaper reviews.
  • New stories. In Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, he described his approach to writing when he was young. He’d write a new story on Monday, revise and polish through the week, and by the end of the week he’d have sent it off. Elsewhere I’ve read that he recommended writing a story a week because it’s impossible to write 52 bad stories a year – it’s bound to improve your writing. I have a couple of books that I’ll use to help me generate ideas.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that if I don’t write every day, it’s harder to write. I lose the thread of the plot, I forget who the characters are, I don’t know where I’m going. Rachel Aaron‘s first step in going to 10,000 words a day (!!!) was to know what she’s writing before she starts, and you can’t do that if you don’t write every day. At least I can’t.

Health and fitness personal challenge 

The Monday before Christmas, I started Weight Watchers with my friend Lois. You could call the timing insane, but I call it brilliant. I lost almost two pounds during the week of Christmas, which I figure is equivalent to losing seven based on my past history of gaining five every year.  I succeeded on their program 22 years ago, but gradually crept up to where I started. I calculate that if the same pattern holds, I’ll be over 85 by the time I see that number on the scale again. I love the new Weight Watchers program, which encourages healthy eating by making all fruits and most vegetables zero points and encourages healthy activity by setting a weekly goal. If I stay on the program, I’ll be where I want to be way before the end of 2017.

Two years ago, I started walking my dogs every day. I’ve only missed a few days since July 2015. In July 2016, I added yoga twice a week at Floating Lotus, and I still work out once a week with Jeremy at Funktional Fitness. In 2017, I plan to add another workout to the weekly mix. I’m going to start by trying out some other yoga classes, and I’ll probably drop in occasionally at the Biltmore Studio, the hot yoga studio Lois goes to. I went with her to a hot barre class last week. Or while it’s still cool out, I can play racquetball and climb A Mountain and hike South Mountain. I’m going to keep that fourth workout flexible to start with, but if I find I’m not keeping up with it, I’ll make a firmer schedule.

I’m also going to continue trying to get more sleep. There’s a great iPhone app called Positivity that’s a great help in getting to sleep some nights, and I’ll keep using the Bedtime app that comes with the latest operating system.

Happiness Project

I’m continuing my goals from last year to follow some of the advice in Gretchen Rubin’s book. In addition to the ones that overlap with my health and fitness goals, she recommends:

  • Good marriage practices like adjusting your own attitude and expectations and managing your own behavior, which is really all you can control. This is still a work in progress after 24 years.
  • Keep happy memories alive by doing things like looking at pictures, telling stories, and keeping up traditions.
  • Master a new skill like photography or bookbinding. Or writing! I think I’ve written before that I somehow came out of school with the mistaken idea that because I read fiction, I could write it without consciously studying it. Boy, was I wrong.
  • Emulate people I admire. I think this is going to be more than ever important in the coming years. Courage and the willingness to stand up for what’s right, take action against what’s wrong, and defend people and the environment. I don’t need to be Gandhi but if I can be a little more like my friends Kim, Ned, and Lucy, the world will be a little bit better.
  • Make time for friends.

Goals around the house and so on

Another goal that overlaps with the Happiness Project recommendations is tackling a nagging task. Last month I finally cleared some boxes out of my home office – these were boxes of papers and things that have been sitting there since my mom died in 2012. Even though I didn’t finish the task, I got a tremendous boost from making progress on something that’s been hanging over my head for years. 2017 is going to be the year I get that office into shape.

In 2017, I’m going to design and adopt a daily routine. I retired in 2013, removing the structure of having to be somewhere every day within defined hours. It’s been nice having the freedom to schedule travel whenever I want, stay up late and sleep in, and spend whole days reading the new Stephen King. But now it’s time to develop my own structure, so I can accomplish all the things I want to do. My mornings tend to get away from me because I don’t have to go to the office – I used to get up at 5:30 so I’d have a couple of hours to read the paper, read my book, do the Sudoku, maybe have a hot bath before I had to leave. Now, I don’t have that natural end point, and there’s really no reason I have to do those things early to set my mood for the day.

I don’t think I need to set a goal to keep tracking the books I read and the movies I see – it’s finally a habit I can count on. I am going to tweak my journal to track my banjo practice more effectively and a couple of other things, though.

I think that’s about it. Do you write goals or resolutions? Tell me about them in the comments if you dare.  Happy New Year!