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  • Max's Notes: Better Than Before

    Max's Notes are my personal takeaways. No background at all, just the standout usable bits I want to remember from my reading. If I write about a book here, you can know that I found it sane and useful - and most likely it made me laugh.

    Use at will! Take what you need, leave the rest.

    Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin

    "Every time you break the law, you pay, and every time you obey the law, you pay." -John Gardner [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

    "Identify the problem" [suck list, 5 why's]

    Bedmaking correlates with wellbeing

    Foundation! First things first - and we decide what's first.

    "Obligers" really do want accountabilitiy

    Therapists teach you to be accountable to yourself. Coaches keep you accountable to the coach. [MAYBE.]

    People will pay more to get less of a desirably bad thing (Halloween candy)

    Nuclear option: Donate to terrorists if you don't keep your commitment. UGH.

    "Starting is harder than continuing."

    "'NOW' is a an unpopular time to take a first step."

    If asked to commit to something far in the future, imagine it's happening next week - or tomorrow - to get your real answer

    No finish line

    Abstainers and moderators are VERY DIFFERENT [People Vary] - and very judgemental of each other

    Make it EASY to do what's good

    Make it HARD to do what's bad

    Inconvenience strategies:

    • Increase energy required (put things away)
    • Hide cues
    • Delay (expl: email only after 11am)
    • incompatible activity / distraction
    • raise cost (tax)
    • block altogether (expl: toss tv)

    PLAN FOR STUMBLES (use if/then rules)

    A stumble is not a reason to give up

    It's VERY hard to get up. Try to avoid stumbling AMAP even tho you can't avoid them completely.

    Rather than "starting tomorrow" maybe think about morning, midday, afternoon and evening. If you "blow it" in the morning, you can still reset today.

    Consumption snobbery is a GOOD HABIT

    Wait 15 minutes / distractions

    Pairing: When I do X, I do Y also (physical therapy and podcasts; mascara and meds)

    Get clear about what you REALLY want (i.e., identify the problem). Do you want to spend $$$ on couples therapy? Or could you just spend $ on hiring a cleaner?

    Identity: "I'm FUSSY. I'm the FUSSY one."

    Takeaway, or One Thing I Will Do Different Now

    • Cook a fresh pot of brown rice on Sunday evenings, so it's ready to go for weekday lunch base (make it EASY to do what's good)

  • Introducing Max's Notes: 10% Happier, by Dan Harris

    Have you ever looked at CliffsNotes? I've never actually used them for academic purposes, but I glanced into one in the shop one day. My impression was one of very thoughtful analysis. Masterful summing-up. Solid, if somewhat neutral, discussion of the text. A thoroughly reliable background for anyone needing the fundamentals. 

    This ain't that. Max's Notes are my personal takeaways. No background at all, just the standout usable bits that I want to remember. If I write about a book here, you can know that I found it sane, useful, and quite funny.

    Use at will! Take what you need, leave the rest.

    10% Happier, by Dan Harris

    Harris's shrink's addiction recovery Rx: "Care for yourself as you would a thoroughbred"

    The mind's activity is like the waterfall; meditation gives you access to the space behind the waterfall

    Tara Brach's RAIN method:

    • Recognise
    • Allow
    • Investigate [bodily sensations]
    • Non-identification

    HHDL: Compassion benefits itself. Be wise selfish, not foolish selfish.

    Yale study of default mode network (DMN) [Damn!] (The part of the brain that ruminates about past, fantasizes, obsesses about self, projects future.) This is deactivated in meditation, but also in meditators NOT meditating. "In other words, meditation created a new default network," i.e., being here now, all of which = neuroplasticity, or retraining the brain.

    "Suffering" is a bad translation. We should say "ultimately unreliable or dissatisfying because nothing is permanent" or "stressful."

    Military personnel describe that under stress, their "training kicks in." THAT'S WHAT I WANT: THOROUGHBRED training, tho - not killer training.

    Multitasking is something a computer with multiprocessors can do. We have ONE processor.

    Epiphany engineering: Think hard, focus, research, then DROP IT

    "Most Americans didn't brush their teeth until WWII" - soldiers had the habit imposed, and then spread it. "Public health revolutions can happen quite rapidly."

    Takeaway, or One Thing I Will Do Different Now

    • Write out a "thoroughbred" Rx, from Dr Max to Patient Max

  • Shut up, clothes! I'll do the talking.

    After cookbooks, the biggest category on my bookshelf is personal style. I really can’t get too much. I will buy and study almost anything from Victoria Beckham and Kimora Lee Simmons to Jamie Cat Callan and Amanda Brooks. Brooklyn Street Style came in the mail today. (Excited!)

    And I also enjoyed Danielle LaPorte’s Style Statement. Up to a point. 

    Style Statement is about identifying your style, based on your inner world and preferences, and distilling that style into two words (with an 80/20 rule behind them). Example: Chain-Wallet Barbie. (I made that up, but it is not my style statement.) This reminder allows you to make consistent style choices, which in turn makes life easier. Everything’s aligned, purposeful and integrated, inside and out. (That is very Danielle LaPorte. ADMIRE!)

    I love style but I kind of dislike statements, and most style manuals and blogs are very concerned with making a “statement” in a way that just seems dreary to me. Figuring out your style for the purpose of “expressing” who you are. So that your externals send a clear “message.” So that your style “represents” your personality. 

    Sounds like… work.  

    I also see this language in the phrase “statement” piece, as in the classic wardrobe malfunction of I have no basics, I only have statement pieces. Aka fashion victim. The opposite, of course, is the “basic” woman, as in the even more classic problem of not asserting your own preferences at all, aka conformity.

    The idea that the purpose of a curated wardrobe is to externalize our personality goes mostly unquestioned. Which is silly. You can’t even evaluate the state of a person’s finances based on their style choices, let alone their humanity. That can all, literally, be put on. 

    Me, I find it amusing sometimes to play with outfits that might say something like, Hey look at me, I’m 17th in line to the throne! or Hey don’t look at me, I’m a cat burglar on my lunch hour. But that’s just for fun. I don’t want my clothes to externalize anything about my “personality” that I wouldn’t want to use words to express. (If asked.) The unalloyed pleasure of dressing is what stops me trying to broadcast a consistent “message” with my appearance.

    There is really only one thing I want to convey to the world pre-verbally, and that is dignity. Self-respect. I would find it hard to do that naked, for sure. 

    But clothes as sandwich board for my personality? Ugh. Sounds like… work. Demeaning work. And as Tom Ford is my witness, I don't need more work before breakfast.

  • Year of Yes and No [Apology]

    This week in my newsletter I recommend Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes. I read it on the plane last week. As always I had booked an aisle seat and as ALWAYS, every time a woman to my inside needed to get out or in - even when she was just boarding - she would say I’m sorry. Instead of please, excuse me, may I, or I’m in there. 

    <scream> The MEN do not say that. 

    This is well-trod ground, I know. And I’ve trucked in Not Sorry before but those were flings. Stolen weekends. Between my excruciatingly apologetic seat mates and Shonda, I decided to try out a Year of No Apology. Without fanfare, without a big announcement (it’s just between us; I don’t need to get on the intercom). But WITH commitment. 

    COMMITMENT to a Year of No Apology. I can only imagine it fuzzily. My imagination includes a lot of half-apologies and full, quickly retracted apologies.

    Of course I will want to apologize for harming someone, should that happen. This is not a Year of Pugnacity and Belligerence. Not a Year of Loud Aggressive Swagger. Definitely not a Year of the Sore Winner. (At least, not for me. You may notice some other sore winners out there.)

    I just don’t want to say I’m sorry sooner than I say Good morning. Or, as if my accident of birth is less legitimate than anyone else's, to apologize for occupying space on the planet. <<The important part.

    I am off to a good start by not apologizing for moving my body on an airplane. I hope to graduate to not making myself small anywhere else. And that is hard for a formerly fat person who was accustomed in every way to apologizing for her existence, so wrong. (Not that one should be a formerly fat person to take up space; you can be currently fat and you're welcome to take up space in my world.)

    But I’ve noticed I never get any positive points for shrinking. I might avoid some aggression but I might not. Maybe making yourself small works in the forest or the jungle, but in real life: It just makes you small. There are times when, as a woman, it's smart to get small. But I don’t want shrinking to be my thoughtless go-to.

    Shonda also writes about learning to say Thank you to any compliment (instead of covering her face with her hands because OH THE EMBARRASSMENT).

    That’s what my male seat mate said to me when I stood up to let him in on this current flight back to Boston. THANK YOU, not I’m sorry.

    So, yeah! Year of Not Sorry to Take Up Space. Year of No Uncalled-for Appeasement or Automatic Attempts to Pacify for NO REASON. Patroness Saint: DUH, Beyoncé. Theme song: Sorry. 

    via GIPHY

  • Manifesto #2: Success! or, The Worst Year of My Life

    From the vault, because 1. I'm busy working on some rad stuff for you for September and 2. I'm revisiting old manifestos while writing the new one and 3. I'm contemplating relaunching a sort of post-Wayfinder thing.

    It'll be a tumblr. It won't be about tryna make anything happen. It will be about everything that's beautiful and fabulous and unexpected in life. Spontaneous unasked-for upgrades, and the like. Just because it gives me so much more pleasure to notice just how good my life is, even when it's fucking terrible. Know what I mean?

    Anyway, here's this again, because 4. I am proud of it:


    Standing in a tree, contemplating the view, trying not to get towed.

    Friends, this is the final entry in my Wayfinder's blog series. Just like with all things Wayfinding, you can choose your own adventure. I have a short version, a medium version, and a long version for you. 

    1. It worked! (short version)

    I started this series in 2011 with a long list of things I wanted and didn't have. I wasn't troubled by a vague sense of dissatisfaction; I was missing some very specific things. 

    I just wanted to see if I could create a life I liked better. I wanted more friends, more free time, more money, more mystery, less toil, less tedium, less weight, less duty.

    More pleasure. Less pain. Nice things. Thrilling adventures. Hot sex and hot springs.

    I also felt the only problems I had were the kind that money couldn't solve, lucky me! But that wasn't really true. The truth was that money would have bought most of what I lacked.

    That's how I felt when I started the experiment. That, plus the enjoyable feeling of starting something I thought I was in control of. Lots of lovely boxes to tick on the way to perfect happiness.

    You will no doubt guess that that's when everything blew up. Me, I was surprised. You know that joke about God? God takes his family for a drive in the mountains, in his convertible, top down, sunny day, dry roads, everyone laughing and feeling free. Suddenly God comes at them from the other direction, dead drunk at the wheel, driving all over the road. God hits the convertible, killing God and his whole family.

    My life was like that last year. Incomprehensible. Screams. Twisted wreckage. 

    And then I kinda won the lottery. 


    2. The Worst Year of My Life.

    Change the inside, not the outside. I've heard that almost my whole life.

    As you will know, because I am insufferably, unreasonably proud (proud! for no reason!) of it and can't stop telling you, I am from Boulder. This is to say, I come from a mix of traditions built on the idea that the only locus for effecting real change is in our mind, not in our circumstances. These traditions include Buddhism, 12-Step programs, and hundreds of self-development philosophies.

    In all, I've devoted myself to awareness practices for over 30 years. Yet - and you may find this shocking!, or not - I remained unhappy with my circumstances. So not long ago I decided to turn my attention less to self-awareness and more to circumstance-tinkering. 

    I just wanted to see if I could create a life I liked better. I wanted more friends, more free time, more money, more mystery, less toil, less tedium, less weight, less duty. 

    More pleasure. Less pain. Nice things. Thrilling adventures. Hot sex and hot springs.

    So I set out with only my desire, 30 years of meditation, and an inadequate laptop. That was the Wayfinding experiment I started on this blog.

    What followed was the worst year of my life.

    (Well, I mean, you know: the worst so far. But we are talking about a field of some ass-kicking also-ran years.)

    Nevertheless, I am closing the experiment feeling it was a success, because I have sort of broken the circumstance barrier. I seem to have lost interest in improving my circumstances - though many of them were improved, some by a huge margin. Neither do I want to change my thinking. In fact, I'm a little bored with changing, fixing and improving things altogether.

    Circumstances change on their own. The mind changes itself. I really don't need to force anything. I have seen almost all of my tools and practices fall away like dead skin.

    I've completely dropped hobbies that were once obsessions. On the other hand, I've not lost an ounce of interest in clothes and makeup and outré cocktails.

    It's going all around the world for a bottle of milk. Everything's changed. Nothing's changed. Executive summary for the very busy: It worked; The End.

    Now if you're not very busy, and would like to know more, read on.


    3. Some Things I Have Found Out.

    I. Money: You can have enough

    I acquired some money. A couple years ago, I would have thought of this much money as "enough." A "we're there!" amount. (Of course, it's all relative. I know people who could barely get to Rome and back on this amount of money.) 

    But the amount's not the important part. What's important is that this money was "enough" when I got it and it has stayed enough. For over a year now I have been experiencing continued feelings of enough. 

    I can just about guarantee that if I'd received that money a couple years ago, I would have enjoyed it for 72 hours and then woken up disgruntled and said, OMG! Ya know, I thought X was going to be enough, but now I see that really I need 3x to have enough!" Or 5x or 12x or howevermuch. "I thought we were there, but actually we're NOT!" is what I would have said. 

    Instead, I got there and stayed there. 

    We're not flying first class. Not buying a holiday house. I've not even ordered personalized stationery. And yet: Enough. 

    Here's another thing I learnt about money: It might not buy happiness, but it sure the fuck won't make you miserable.

    II. Urgency

    Things used to seem really urgent to me. My china pattern is on sale? I better get over there now and snatch those shelves bald! Do we have "a very full flight today"?! I better jockey for position so I can stow my rollie!!!

    Everything that used to make me break into a sweat, all of it coming under the general heading of "Getting Mine" - none of that seems like a good use of life to me. For what? Why would I manage anything? Because something is better than something else, and I have some insight into that? Because sooner is better than later? Man, I just don't seem to have convictions about that anymore.

    I have seriously slowed down.

    III. All the things that used to matter so much hardly matter at all now

    The number and scope of things I have lost interest in are blowing my wig back. Here are some:

    I am kind of bored with self-help. Self-help used to be my life and my lifeline, to say nothing of most of my shelf space and discretionary spending. The neighbors have all that now. 

    I seem to have lost interest in using tools, techniques and practices. Has it got steps? Then I don't want it. Anything that previously I would have used to improve myself or my situation is off the menu. I even seem to be largely uninterested in improving my mood. 

    I now feel about tools, techniques and practices the way I felt when I first read - attempted to read - a translation o f a Tibetan Buddhist text, which was this: "uh-oh if enlightenment can only be found in the pages of a book like this, we're all totally fucked." If salvation is only to be reached by keeping track of what I weigh, eat, lift at the gym, getting things done, discerning the size shape location and color of my current emotion, visualizing myself as an anchor dropping into the ocean depths, all of that, well I accept that I AM FUCKED. Because I seem to have no willingness at all for that stuff. 

    I think I may have lost interest in salvation of any kind. I don't think I need it. It seems like I'm having a very persistent experience of "everything is actually ok." Even family things - by any measure a big important life circumstance - in a condition that would previously have caused me to scream "Holy shit! Danger; not ok! These are unacceptable life circumstances!!!" are causing me to say "Holy shit, look at me accommodating even that."

    I've lost interest in thinking about, discussing, or paying any attention whatsoever to what is "healthy" to eat. I cannot find any part of me that I want to spend time with that believes in "healthy eating." 

    I likewise have no detectable worries about "germs." (Except for foot fungus. Let's avoid that.)

    I seem to have lost all interest in what "good" people do altogether. The rules I received say that "good" people don't cuss, drink, use drugs, eat the heads off shrimp, buy coffee without ascertaining the "fairness" of its trade, buy meat without ascertaining the quality of its living conditions while alive, spend money on themselves, throw food away, cut in line, etc. Well I don't actually find myself needing to cut in line, because what for?! (Unless I'm trying to get overhead bin space on the plane, then yes, bit lately, see above, even suitcase panic has fallen away! UNBELIEVABLE.) The rest of that stuff: GOD WHO CARES.

    I don't need people to like me. I don't need to change myself to be liked. I don't need to pretend I'm well liked when I'm not. I don't need to make any of that about me. I quit a group recently that wasn't fun because the people in it really didn't like me, and I lost the will to mold myself into a likable form. Not a fit! It's why they have chocolate and vanilla (and for the sophisticated and discerning: rum raisin). I didn't need to go looking for evidence that they kinda sort did like me a little. People don't need to like me! Turns out: it is VERY OK not to like me.
        
    I no longer have a to-do list. I am doing things because I am somehow moved to do them, not because I wrote them on a list.

    I've lost interest in meditation, I've lost interest in pretending to be interested in meditation, and I've stopped meditating. Or "meditating," if you're one of those folks who have strenuous standards for the definition. I know I did. Hahahahaha.

    I've lost interest in my "longtime student of buddhism" personal mythology. You know, everybody and their hippie uncle who went to Burma that one time claims to be a buddhist, but I actually took vows with Chögyam Trungpa himself, more than 30 years ago. How many life coaches can say that? OMG I thought that was True Cred, and I was super invested in it and impressed with myself. Proud! Like anybody but me ever cared.

    My profiles used to read, under Religion, "You know how people always say 'Running is my meditation' or 'Yoga is my meditation'? Well, my meditation is meditation." Friendable, right?! If I met the Buddha in the road, I'm pretty sure even he wouldn't have wanted to friend me.

    And you know, I no longer really care much about credentials altogether.

    Oh! This: I have lost interest in any projects to do with changing, fixing, optimizing or otherwise improving Mr Jones. Like money, my husband is another area of satisfaction. I made a choice a dozen years ago, and My GOD! I am still happy with my choice.

    An example: I have stopped trying to get him to put the toilet seat down. 

    My husband does put the toilet seat down, a lot, but I used to lose my shit if he ever forgot. This seems so insane to me now. Like, if it's so important, why don't I just check? That way, I can adjust the seat myself before falling in. Me! The person to whom it's important. Which I do, utterly without resentment. My husband doesn't need to be involved at all. I mean, people! This is a very different me.

    I'm much less critical lately altogether. Mr Jones and I binge-watched Girls. I found that show perfect in every respect. There was not one single fucking thing I would have changed about it. I was in awe of its creatrix and creators, and I just watched in appreciation. Not even a "yeah, but..." there.

    Hear ye! I don't seem to want to flex my muscles or apply my will to 
         •     change 
         •     fix 
         •     improve 
         •     persuade
         •     convince
         •     control 
         •     influence 
         •     produce 
         •     achieve 
         •     excel 
         •     optimize 
         •     approve 
         •     disapprove 
         •     decide 
         •     choose 
         •     plan 
         •     manifest
         •     or target
    much of anything. 

    Caveat: I'm still really keen on shoes (Nicholas Kirkwood til I die!) and dresses and makeup and going out for cocktails though. Boy, have I ever not lost interest in that stuff.

    IV. Reality hahahahaha

    Not only do many things not seem urgent or important to me anymore, a lot of them don't even seem real. For example, we got audited by the IRS last year because of my business. This started out being quite the ass-chapper, part of My Frognado Year. Shit escalated continuously for many months until the day it fizzled out with no explanation and zero consequences. 

    I'm not sure if I can believe in the IRS after this experience. That whole organization might be JUST ONE GUY.

    Another thing that is not real: I have seen through the illusion that I have any measure of control over my children. I have no ability to persuade, manipulate, coerce, direct, cajole, blackmail, bribe or otherwise influence any of these children. Parental control of children is a fiction; I accept this.

    Also not real: Good. Bad. THERE IS NO GOOD AND BAD. There is only what I like and what I don't like. And I am possibly the only person who cares about that, which is fine.

    And the really not real: "life purpose." PLEASE. Seriously.

    V. The End

    So where does this leave me? Just living my life, sans "Purpose." Feeling good. Except when I'm not, which is also perfectly fine. It's PERFECT. And I must say, not trying to change how I feel feels really, really good.

    If you like this sort of thing, you would probably enjoy my weekly newsletter. I write about weight loss and ending compulsive eating from a shame-free, anti-diet, feminist perspective.