An interesting chart relating how we feel when confronted with difficult work in relation to how much skill and ability we have to meet it. Not sure exactly how it relates to what I’m thinking about, but it probably does somehow.
An interesting chart relating how we feel when confronted with difficult work in relation to how much skill and ability we have to meet it. Not sure exactly how it relates to what I’m thinking about, but it probably does somehow.
Now I’m back at the very top. I started by thinking about emotions, then backed up to self-medications, then backed up to routines and habits and good behavior, then backed up to responsibilities and roles, and now I’m at the top thinking of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues that he tracked and thought about from age 20 til at least 79 when he wrote about them.
While these virtues are “good”, they don’t really resonate with me very much. They’re too bound in moderation and a mild temperament.
I’ve been working on my own list of “virtues” or general beliefs of self-conduct for a few years now. I’ve tried expanding on them a few times, but always return to the simple sentences and limited number in the end.
Here’s what I have:
Slightly different category of things than BF’s, and I don’t really see how I could create a journal that required me to make note of when I failed to follow these virtues. So maybe I have some more work to do to simplify them, or rephrase them to be a bit more actionable. I don’t know.
I’m concocting this crazy system of ideas in my head, and before I get too carried away with it I have to let you know that I’m doing this and it’ll most likely collapse under its own weight soon and disappear forever. Until then, it’s this big knot in my head. In some ways this is just an attempt to say that it existed at one point, even if it never ever sees light of day.
Each of us has a bunch of roles that we play in life. Me, I’m a citizen, an worker, a friend, a husband, a son, a brother, and a private self to myself.
Each of these roles that I play have an ever-changing list of goals and responsibilities of varying importance. Take my worker role. I have a responsibility to commit a certain amount of time to that work. In my case, I’ve found that committing myself to being in a state of “work” by 10am (that doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to be at my desk typing code, it just means that I have to be engaged in my work at that time). On the other hand, simply being at a desk and “working” doesn’t necessarily fulfill the responsibility of the role. My work needs to be meaningful, creative, and sustaining. This means, in my case, that I should take a few minutes to ground myself by thinking about my energy, focus, enjoyment, and stress levels, my plan for the day, etc.
And then there’s the shifting importance of roles depending on the day.
In each of my roles, I live a day at a time, and every day those roles have different weights. For example, today is Friday, and it could be said that because I am working and because it is also Friday (where social pressure to go out is higher), I am 25% husband, 33% worker, 17% friend, and 8% citizen, son/brother, and private self. These percentages represent my dedication to fulfilling those roles, and while a work day might have a standard breakdown of commitment to roles, they could also shift slightly or drastically at times.
Some activities are responsibilities that have to be done, while others are goals that you would like to get done, and yet others still are things that might help improve the emotional, mental or physical state that you’re currently in.
Every day, then, there is my physical, mental, and emotional states to take into account. Even though I come in to work and want to work, unless a few core vital signs are stable, a few of my loftier goals should necessarily give way to the more core responsibilities. “Be in a state of work by 10am” is a responsibility I have to myself (I have to do it) while “writing down an aphorism” is a goal that, should my level of focus be too low, might move aside so that something more useful like “go on a walk” can take precedence.
Some activities are things that need to happen daily, others weekly or monthly.
All of these factors can be handled in a couple different ways. The default way is to handle them intuitively. I have a mechanism in my brain that keeps track of how long it has been since I showered. I have to shower, pretty much daily, and when I don’t the importance of that activity goes up. Same with doing the bills, or getting meaningful work done. Then, there are the things we like to do when we’ve got extra time: catch up on a tv show, download a new iPhone game, get a drink. Then, there are the things we do to help us control our mental states like exercising, eating a snack, taking a walk.
The default way of handling all of this, intuitively, is a pretty great system. It works. It’s a little rough around the edges, things fall through the cracks, etc.
Why would I try to replace this system with a complex algorithm? One that was like:
All activities/goals/responsibilties in the system * day of week default role weights * optional changes to default role weights * current emotional/mental/physical state weights * any supplementary weights due to neglected responsibilities = ordered list of activities, goals, and responsibilities for the day with invisible point values that turn living life into an incredibly complex game.
Why indeed. It’s difficult to write software that works better than intuition. It’s why we all sometimes want to make a list of goals or to-dos for the day but most of the time we are perfectly fine simply remembering them.
I have to admit that I love the over-complicated nature of this system. It reminds me of Leonardo da Vince’s drawing of the first helicopter. Way wrong, totally impractical, but also sort of beautiful in its crudeness.
And, to be honest, I’m more interested in this system as a stunt than this system as a true improvement of the complexity of human motivation, emotions, and productivity. I guess I like feeling like I can sort of take the system apart, see the pieces, etc, rather than worrying about trying to put it all back together. But when I do put it back together, the Frankenstein’s monster-esque feel of it has a place in my aesthetic.
That felt good to get out.
July increased about 11% over June, though was still 36% down from May. My goal of making my expenses drop by 50% is still significantly far off. This month, however, had a 14-year old staying with us for two weeks, as well as Kellianne’s mother, so we did try to go out and entertain a bit more than usual. I guess it’s one month at a time with this, so we’ll try harder this month to keep spending down.
This is the 3rd post of my continued brainstorm on the idea of building a set of standards to run your life with (inspired by Jake Lodwick’s similar pursuit). By designing, executing, reviewing and revising these standards, the goal would be to eventually end up with a workable and, importantly, custom, plan for long-term happiness. Forgive me if it’s long-winded while I continue to figure out what I’m trying to say.
As of right now, I think this is the scale and the dimensions that I want to track of my emotional state as it relates to productivity, happiness, and living a life that I feel in some amount of control over.
Energy refers to my physical state. Feeling healthy, rested, strong, etc all contribute to a sense of having energy. I think it captures both the long term and short term benefits of daily living and such. Big fluctuations in energy could mean that I’m over-self-medicating. Long periods of low energy could pinpoint bad habits. And long periods of high energy can be appreciated for what they are.
Focus refers to my mental state. Being able to control my attention seems to be the best indicator (and an easy thing to introspect about myself) of having not let myself be taken on every whimsical distraction that the day produces. It allows me to know what I want, why I want it, and how I can go about getting it. It provides direction, while energy provides the motivation.
Enjoyment refers to my general state of happiness and ability to appreciate the moment. Knowing what I want and having the energy to get it is useless unless I also have the ability to appreciate and enjoy what I do have. But simply enjoying what I have would slowly become more difficult unless I stayed on track with focus and energy so that I could continue to pursue the rewards of life.
Stress is different from the other three. Unlike the others, you aren’t necessarily trying to optimize it to be high. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be low either. I think stress is best when it’s got a good amount of up and down–it should be like a well-oiled lever that you can ratchet up when you are doing something important, and then pull back down when you’re done. Stress isn’t all bad–there’s a term for good stress: eustress. It’s what happens when you play a good game of poker, or watch a suspenseful movie, or have a big presentation coming up. It means that there are things that matter in your life and you care about them, and you’re doing things that challenge you. Stress is only bad when it stays high for too long, or when it is coming from sources that you can’t control, and therefore that you can’t make go away. That said, I still think it’s a really important factor in our own pursuits of happiness, and so I want to be aware of it.
The next step
I am going to record my own emotional vitality signs for a while, and also make note of a couple things: whenever one of the signs fluctuates two points or more in a single day, I want to record what caused the sudden up or down movement (to the best of my knowledge). Secondarily, I will give myself assignments that try to take on the weakest vital sign and improve it during the day… hoping that I’ll find the most effective ways of managing my energy, focus, enjoyment, and stress.
Only good things can come of this, right?
This is my continued brainstorm on the idea of building a set of standards to run your life with. By designing, executing, reviewing and revising these standards, the goal would be to eventually end up with a very workable and, importantly, custom, plan for long-term happiness. Forgive me if it’s long-winded while I continue to figure out what I’m trying to say.
When it comes to moods, morale, motivation, etc, I’ve come to believe that there are three separate struggles that all need to be addressed in order to really be happy/fulfilled.
My primary struggle is with energy–getting enough of it to continue to follow-thru on decisions and goals that I’ve made in the past. My secondary struggle is with replacing fogginess of mind with focus so that I can design those decisions and goals and edit them as they progress. And my third struggle is between positive and negative moods so I can enjoy the fruits of labor, goal-achieving, and well-made decisions as they come in. They’re all interlinked, and you need them all to both design and live a fulfilled life.
The struggles have priorities. Assuming that all three struggles are occurring at once (ie. I’m feeling weak, foggy, and unpleasant–yikes!), my first responsibility is to move from weak to strong–to cover the basics of exercise, sleep, a good diet, etc. Only once that struggle is completed is it necessary to take on my second responsibility of gaining focus–finding clarity of mind and a vision for what I want my life to be. And likewise, once that’s complete, I take on the third responsibility, which is to move from unpleasant to pleasant overall moods and states of enjoyment–a capacity to enjoy what I do have while also knowing what I want and having the energy to go try to get it. It’s my simplified version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applied to my own very specific life.
The basic premise of what I’m trying to design is that depending on how pleasant, focused, and strong I feel, I will have different activities and responsibilities that address the current weakest aspect of my mood and morale (and, therefore, not all at once, since the weakened state of morale simply isn’t capable of taking on the whole burrito at once–for example, what point is knowing the right thing to do if you don’t have the energy or will to do it?). The beauty of it is that I know that my priority is to move towards feeling pleasant, focused, and strong, and that there are different ways to get there (aka different forms of self-medication) that work better for particular situations than others.
When I start each day, I’ll attempt to select where I am along each of these three categories, and that will help shape the goals for the day:
Weak versus Strong
For the weak trait, my self-medication should focus on being physically healthy. Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, not drinking too much, etc. Once feeling healthy and strong, my responsibility is to be ambitious, to reach for something bigger and better than the current situation, and use the strength to think beyond what’s simply assumed.
Foggy versus Focused
For the foggy trait, my self-medication should focus on meditation, brainstorming, and walks. Things that help me address the mental quality of the feeling directly, getting back to a grounded, clear, state and being able to make plans, decisions, and even bigger visions (assuming I’m also feeling strong). Once focused, my responsibility is to be productive with that focus and figure out or re-affirm goals and an overall vision.
Unpleasant versus Pleasant
For the unpleasant trait, my self-medication should focus on quality time with myself, my wife, and my friends. It may or may not involve a change of scenery, since that helps reacquaint me with the huge variety of the world. The goal is to bring variety, the unexpected, the spontaneous back into my state, and mix it with the familiar, and share it with people I love. I often feel that my unpleasant feelings are often related to a very small view of the world, one where I’m at the center… and the best way to get out of it is to change the scenery and experience something outside of my own head. Once I am feeling capable of enjoyment again, I gain the responsibility of being self-expressive in some manner. Creating, building confidence, being generous and giving with my time and resources.
Given that general outline, by choosing one of each of the three paired traits, I will fall into one of 8 profiles:
The goal is to work my way up the profiles, ultimately finding a way to sustain myself in the profile of feeling pleasant, focused, and strong. The bold word is the area that deserves immediate attention in the form of some kind of self-medication. The italics word designate the areas of responsibility that I have for myself in terms of health and productivity.
All of this implies that given how I feel at my starting-point, I can begin to build a list of priorities, self-medications, and responsibilities for myself that are best suited for moving from that profile up to a higher one on the ladder to happiness.
My first draft of the 8 profiles looks something like this:
The point of the profiles…
The whole point of this is that when I’m feeling weak, I should remember to make exercise, sleep, and diet a priority over worrying about making progress on meaningful projects. There’s a direct connection between my weakest trait and the self-medications that can be applied. To give my emotional landscape a bit of respect (don’t try to brute force myself to be at 100% every single day) and in the end develop a system that is flexible enough to handle low-energy weeks and yet ambitious enough to ask a lot from myself when I’m feeling at the top of my game.
Putting it into practice
Since this is new, for now I’m just going to try to be aware of which state I’m in. The funny thing is, that in order to fully flesh out this system, I need to already feel strong, focused, and pleasant. I’ve come back to this several times over the last couple days and have not been able to make progress until I asked myself which profile I was currently in, and realized that I was unfocused, or feeling weak, etc.
After I test this out and see if it actually makes any sense, I’ll go from there. No rush, right?
The all-caps STANDARDS project is an interesting new project from the constantly re-inventing Jake Lodwick. He describes it as a self-management project, a set of rules he designs, revises, and lives by.
“STANDARDS” is a system I both live in and control. Its entire purpose is sanctioned by me, for the purpose of allowing me to consciously guide my life into a state of long-term happiness. It is a gentle system; it knows that sudden, drastic change is counterproductive. Every week is slightly different than the last; it is evolving into a progressively complex mechanism for optimizing my behavior… in a sense, it is my behavior. I think about it constantly; I judge the merit of my own actions in reference to its directives; I do what it says. It’s not enough to say we exist symbiotically; it is part of me.
The post that introduced me to his thinking best is here.
Basically, he has a set of rules which he can edit and revise once a week that he strives to follow for the following week. Some of his current rules are:
This caught my attention because I’m also obsessed with the idea of self-management. Creating meaning for your life out of your best ideas, beliefs, and goals, while also taking into account the fickle beasts of motivation, determination, and strength of will.
For me, however, the most problematic element of these rigid self-management plans is their lack of flexibility, variety, and spontaneity. Not everyone is like me, obviously, but over the years I’ve learned that I work better in environments that allow intense amounts of focus for certain projects until those projects are done and new ones can be invented or old ones can be revisited.
I get the strange feeling that a “perfect” day according to the STANDARDS would be fairly moderate or mediocre day to my gut. They assume that you can make progress on all of your goals and principles every day. That, if having a great living space is very important to you, you should then devote 10-30 minutes every day to improving your living space. It doesn’t take into account that a single burst of uninterrupted improvement once a month might actually be more effective (to me).
Now, this is just my opinion. What works for me probably wouldn’t work for anyone else, and what works for Jake probably won’t work for me, etc. And if I’m reading this correctly, the whole point of the project is to NOT adopt someone else’s standards — the whole point is to create your own system of meaning and to fully face your plan for long-term health and happiness with the amount of dedication and planning that any other serious project might.
So, given that goal, I’m going to hop in and try to come up with my own STANDARDS and see where that leads. Thanks, Jake, for inspiring me to do that.
Track Your Happiness is a project begun as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University. He’s working in Daniel Gilbert’s lab… Daniel Gilbert is famous for his book Stumbling Towards Happiness and his work on positive psychology, or the study of happiness.
Basically, Track Your Happiness works by text messaging you 3-5 times a day at random times and asking you a series of questions. Things like, “How happy are you right now?”, “Do you want to do what you’re doing?”, “Do you have to do what you’re doing?”, “Where are you?”, “Are you alone?”, “Are you talking or interacting with anyone?” etc. Some of the questions are smart too. If you say you’re interacting with someone, it’ll ask you how many people you’re interacting with.
The questionnaires are formatted for use on an iPhone, and you are asked to fill out the survey as soon as possible when you get the text message. An interesting secondary metric that they keep track of is how often you fill out the survey (my current response rate is a pretty sad 54%), and how long it takes you to respond to the survey (my median response time is 20 minutes). By showing me these statistics, I feel competitive in a weird way to try and get the best score possible (with, as you can see, only mild success).
The real payoff of the project is getting results back from the survey. Here’s my current report:
Some of the graphs show correlations, and others don’t. Both results are interesting to me… knowing that my sleep quality so far doesn’t seem to be very correlated to my happiness, for example, is surprising. On the other hand, feeling productive and focused seems to be much more directly correlated to my feelings of happiness. Also, I seem to be happiest when I’m somewhere other than home or at work, which is surprising. And, the optimal number of people to interact with seems to be 2.
The project is set up to give “conclusive” results after 50 samples. I’ve currently 48% done, having submitted 24 surveys.
I think this project is both insightful and flexible enough to grow and adapt over time. I’m definitely going to complete the 50 surveys and see if anything further emerges from the data. And then what? What will I learn about myself and what will I do with that new knowledge?
As you may know, I’ve been trying to frugalify my life in order to extend the amount of time my little company can survive on its own. My wife and I have made a bit of a game of it, trying to find ways to spend less and yet keep the standard of living at the same level. I’m a big fan of constraints when it applies to building websites and software, and it has been a pretty natural transition to also apply constraints to our spending and consumption.
I got this data from Mint, which is an amazing site, but I wish they had more flexible ways of comparing spending by month with multiple categories instead of just one at a time.
April had a couple big one-time payments related to debt from McLeod Residence, so is a little bit inflated.
In June, we tried to eat out a lot less often than in May, but our total food and dining expenses only came down by 26%, which is a bit surprising. We didn’t make any trips that saved us quite a bit of money. Entertainment expenses were cut by 79% (though we did still find ourselves highly entertained during the month… camping trips, boat rides, etc helped a lot). Spending to get my new office set up might have been a little high this month, plus I got the new iPhone. So… overall, still some big areas that can see improvement.
Overall, spending was cut by 39% in June compared to May. We’ll continue to frugalify our lives and see if we can bring July in at about 45-50% of May’s spending.
Money and spending is a really difficult thing to control so far. So many habits are tied with spending, and it’s difficult to make changes that touch on root aspects of my personality. But, one month at a time.
I’ve had an “Internet presence” since 1998, for the most part. It’s gone through several lives, starting on anonymous.diaryland.com, going to ianomalous.com, then erik.diary-x.com, then mockerybird.com, then erikbenson.com, then erik.typepad.com, then nosneb.livejournal.com, then bustermcleod.com and bustermcleod.livejournal.com, and now, over 11 years later, I’ve moved once again to busterbenson.com.
I’ve anticipated and later followed a lot of the blogging trends over the years. I supplemented comments on my hand-rolled blog at mockerybird.com way before blogger.com did. I was uploading pictures from my Nokia 6210 (I think) to my own email server that parsed the email and posted the picture to my blog way before Flickr. I was aggregating all of my RSS feeds from around the Internet into bustermcleod.com long before friendfeed.com. I think that the next movement in online presence is going to be in the direction of a stats page that provides a kind of “pulse” for your general life, while also allowing others to find you easily on other parts of the Internet.
Self-tracking is becoming a lot more popular these days, as it becomes easier for people to use their phones/shoes/key chains to track what they’re doing and share it with others. But what about all of the latent second-hand data that comes out of our wanderings around the Internet? There are now at least 38 sites that help you track your location, where you are, where you want to go, where you will be going soon, etc. The pictures we post know where they were posted from. Sometimes (as through Facebook) pictures taken by others know that you were in them and let you know.
And then, even more indirectly still, and more interesting to me, there’s information about our general activity on the Internet, and how that relates to our activity in general. And, being able to track your own interest in a particular topic over time.
For this purpose, I’ve created a way to search through all of the content I’ve added to the Internet since 1998 (a Ferret search index over my whole archived collection of text). Here are some examples:
McLeod Residence (my now-closed art gallery/bar):
Amazon (who I worked for from 1998-2004):
Cognitive biases (something I was very interested in a few years ago):
You can play around with it by typing in the search box at the top of busterbenson.com.
It may be the most interesting to myself, but I think that if other people were able to search through their content in the same way, and we could all compare our personal meme trends with each other, that some really interesting insights would results.
Next up will be more advanced text analysis. Being able to pull out statistically uncharacteristic phrases could create personal Trending Topics, ala Twitter.
Not sure what my overarching point is, other than to say that I think that this is the direction that our Internet-representation will go in the next few years. Maybe.
This is what I am thinking about as I design my ultra-minimalist highly-frugal tech startup work space. Feel free to disagree.
What do you think?
Part of my ramp-up to a more frugal and healthy life this month will be in a change in eating habits. Up until today, a typical week involved eating out at a restaurant for lunch at least 4 times a week, and eating out at a restaurant for dinner probably closer to 5 or 6 times a week. I rarely eat breakfast.
Kellianne and I are going to try something different this month.
One, have breakfast every morning. This means we need to wake up about an hour earlier, but the opportunity to have local eggs with some asparagus or spinach the last week or so has been pretty amazing. For motivational purposes, coffee beans from a local roaster (Caffe Vita) counts as local.
Two, I plan on getting my lunches at the market’s produce counter every day. Focusing on in-season fruits and vegetables that I can eat with almost no preparation. It’ll be cheaper, healthier, and supportive of local farms.
Three, for dinner grill some local fish or sausage and steam some spinach, kale, or whatever else is in season. Simple, quick, tasty, cheap, and healthy. The fact that BBQs on the roof are pretty much an utopic setting helps encourage this as well.
Doing this at the height of spring is pretty much the easiest time of year to take the plunge. It’ll be more of a challenge to keep it up at the end of summer, I think. But that’s the future’s problem.
We aren’t going to go for 100% local, or 100% frugal, it’s more that we’re going to make a conscious effort to change base habits and see if we can make something new adhere to our habitual minds.
This is the plan. Now I just need to find a way to keep it. If anyone has any tips, precautions, or motivating tales, let me know.
When I turned 30, my birthday motto was “Higher highs and lower lows.”
When I turned 31, my birthday motto was “Double down.”
When I turned 32, my birthday motto was “No problem.”
Each year, the motto has helped me frame the upcoming year and give it some kind of direction. Those three mottos are pretty much a table of contents of my 30s so far.
Today I turn 33, and I the motto for this year is going to be “Frugal to the max.” I’m starting a new company, we’re planning to start a new family, and I think it’s time for the essentials of life to come into sharp focus.
Last night I woke up around 5am and did my usual iPhone surfing from bed, but nothing was happening (other than Dita Von Teese returning from Paris). So I sat there and had this strange realization of the shortness of life. To be able to sit in bed, with an exciting day ahead, with the love of my life right next to me, while we’re young, full of energy and ideas, hopeful, excited, and the world seems to be in sync with our goals and hopes… it’s a snapshot of time that I truly appreciate. I laid awake and savored everything that I have right now, and promised not to let it slip by without being fully appreciated.
Turning frugal is how I’m going to appreciate. And from what I can tell from people who I’ve talked with this about, it seems like we’re all interested in getting back to basics and truly savoring the essentials of life: love, friendship, health, quality time, creativity, sustainability, balance, and sense of self.
Tonight I celebrate with friends, tomorrow I start something new.
The month isn’t done yet.
Mint.com doesn’t have an easy way to export their little charts, unfortunately, so I typed in the dollar amounts for May into Google Docs and made this little pie chart.
I didn’t include dollar amounts because I’m sort of ashamed about how much I spend in an average month. And yeah, May was an average month, even though we spent 6 days traveling. Something like that seems to happen almost every month.
The main areas that I think I can make cuts are travel, food, and shopping. So, assuming that I can also make some smaller cuts in the smaller areas, I am hoping that I’ll be able to cut my spending in June by somewhere between 33-50%.