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Practicing Micro-Changes

This morning, in the midst of grumping about a lot of things that really didn’t need grumping about, my phone was brightened by a photo from a reader of this blog. The title of the photo was “Gray-induced Micro-Changes” and it looked like this:

Gray-Induced Micro-Changes

Confused? I was. She quickly explained: “First visible parking spot. Even if it’s a walk. Cause walks are good for you.

Which is, in fact, something that I’ve espoused for a long while (with more than a little tip of the hat to that Icon of Personal Development, Leo Babauta). It’s something I practice, too, helped along by things like The Walk and a partner who works a convenient mile from our apartment.

I really enjoyed seeing this one tiny change that she made. It falls in well with the first of Leo’s “best practices” for sticking with habits:

  1. Start small. Keep the habit very small. As small as possible, until it becomes your new “normal”. Just floss one tooth. Just run for a few minutes, or get your shoes on and get out the door. Just meditate for 2 minutes.

Micro-Change for Macro Effect

Another reason I was immensely grateful for this kind of feedback is because of an ongoing frustration I have as I teach one of my classes, The Performative Body. In it I talk to older performers and recent movement-arts enthusiasts – many of whom lead otherwise sedentary lives and then suddenly jump into a hobby of stage-combat or aerial acrobatics.

As you might expect, this can lead to injuries. Worse, for males especially it can increase the risk of heart-related incidents up to 270% or more. I lay it out for the participants of the class, putting up statistics and flashy Keynote presentations and they nod as I present the case. They smile as I say “So, now I’d like to see you write down one thing – just one change – that you’re going to make right now to better your health.”

They smile. They wait for me to continue. Generally, about one in eight actually writes something down.

 

It’s frustrating. I have met people who have suffered from precisely the situation I am warning the classes about. And yet…there is very little action taken.

 

Or is there? I got another email this morning, not from someone who attended my class this weekend but from their wife. She wanted to thank me because he was doing all kinds of searches now for yoga and stretching, motivated by hearing it from me. Of course, she also rather dryly commented that she’d been telling him that for years…but that’s an entirely different issue.

 

I talk to hundreds of people, thousands if you include this blog and my podcast. Perhaps I need to apply some of that micro-thinking to this as well. If only one or two from every post or class actually makes that micro-change that can lead to better health – well, that needs to just be enough.

 

And here’s the question you knew was coming: what’s the micro-change you’re going to commit to, before you close this browser window, that will help improve your life?

If you want an idea, how about supporting this blog?

Either by patronage or one-time-donation,

every little bit helps!


 

We’re happy to start this episode with an edited interview with Traeonna from Hoop Currents! She talks about flow, integrating your passion with your practice, the benefits of hooping, and much more. You can hear the entire interview by becoming a Patron of Love Life Practice or making a one-time donation in any amount via cash.me/$graymiller.

This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast also contains readings of the following posts:

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

Send feedback, questions, or suggestions for guests I might interview to gray@lovelifepractice.com.

 

If you like this podcast, would you please recommend it to your friends? Send them a link to iTunes or a link to the podcast feed – or tweet about it!

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

The Art of the Rapturist

My daughter Danica with her hoop (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Astro)

My daughter Danica with her hoop (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Astro)

In case you’ve been looking for an excuse to listen to the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast (next episode coming out tomorrow), let me whet your appetite. Aside from the normal reading of the last few posts, I will also include an interview with Traeonna from HoopCurrents, where she talks about many things. How to start hula hooping, why we need flow, how the world can sometimes force you to do what you love instead of what you think you have to do…

But one of her stories in particular stood out to me. It was when I asked her about the “weirdest” place that she ever hula-hooped. The answer was: a gas station. That might not seem weird to you, but the circumstances were, shall we say, sub-optimal. It was one of those hot, muggy days when everyone wants to go out and play in the sun – but first that requires a full gas tank, and for whatever reason, the local gas station was pumping really slowly.

Traeonna explained:

“…everybody was in line, trying to get gas, and just really frustrated…really tense. They were all just wondering WHY is the PUMP going so SLOW? So I just put down the little latch and let it go, reached into my back seat and took out my hoop and started hooping…”

Hooping? Why would someone do that? Would she fear that they would get angry at her not caring about their tension? Traeonna says no:

…I figured at worst they would just laugh at me, and hey, if they can get a laugh and feel a little bit lighter then, I’ve done my job in the world. Everybody just kind of clicked off their things and said ‘We were just really entertained watching you!’

One of the things we discussed, though, was the motivation. It wasn’t that she set out to entertain people – that idea that people might laugh was her worst case scenario. In other words, it was part of the evaluation of What Might Go Wrong. The actual motivation for taking out the hoop? “Well, what else are you going to do?” was the way she put it.

The Rapturist Mentality

One of the nicest presents my Eldest Daughter ever gave me.

From “Off the Wall at Callahan’s” by Spider Robinson

Personally, I think of this as kind of a side corollary of one of my favorite mantras: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. In this case, the corollary would be something along the lines of If you can’t do something productive, do something fun. There was nothing that Traeonna could do to make the pump go faster, or the day cooler, or the people less grumpy…so she did something fun, instead.

The result was turning a grumpy crowd into a grinning, laughing, and talking group of people. What if that hadn’t worked? Well, she still brightened her own day, in a way that took nothing away from anyone else’s.

The author Spider Robinson speculated that this idea of random acts of joy would be the opposite of terrorism – he liked the word “rapture” and encouraged people to be “rapturists”. This is different than “paying it forward” or any kind of karmic balancing – that’s a quid pro quo. A rapturist does the act for the sake of doing it. I think of Banksy as a good example of a rapturist, along with many other street artists and musicians. YouTube and Pinterest and other social sharing sites (especially the ones with fuzzy animals) are great playgrounds for beginning rapturists.

What do you think? Has a rapturist ever made your day better? Are there ways you can rapturize your own environment?

Yesterday while doing some studying with Middle Daughter I was trying to adjust some electronics into what I had hoped would be my Road Warrior Writer’s kit. It consisted of an Anker portable battery which was charging my iPhone 6+ (in a very low-tech stand hack) via the Nomad ChargeCard while I typed using Daedalus on a full-size Anker keyboard.

Those links are provided for gearheads like me. What you really need to know is that it looked like this:

Note that even three days after the start of Spring you still need gloves in WI.

Note the clever use of gloves to provide the right angle for the battery pack…

The problem was that the usb connector on the ChargeCard is cleverly designed to be flexible…which means a not-always adequate connection to my iPhone for power. I did the usual wiggling and adjusting which illustrated the limitations of my stand hack, as the iPhone tilted or fell over. It was a mini-version of the Keystone Cops there on the table, and my daughter was pretty amused. She made some comment about doing it “right”, and I blurted out:

I don’t want to do it right; I want to do it MY way!

There was a pause. Then my daughter said, “Well. That’s an interesting little commentary on life, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is. Simply an illustration of the Buddhist proverb: The sum total of your suffering is the difference between the way your life is and the way you want it to be. Of course, it’s possible to change either of those factors and become happier. But the question is, which do you really have more control over?

Eventually – through things like journaling, meditation, and other self-awareness exercises – I think people who do it long enough eventually discover that it’s easier to control one’s own mindset than to control the rest of the world. Not easy, mind you (ha!) – but easier. Or, to put it another way, the old saw of “Think globally, act locally” may be a lot more “local” than we realized.

Speaking of globally, there are now two ways to support Love Life Practice!
One is the usual Patreon site where you can become a monthly patron.
You can also make a one-time donation through http://cash.me/$graymiller .
Thanks for reading!


Like many other writers in the personal development field, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better Than BeforeIn fact, purchasing it was basically tax-deductible for me; I write every Monday about practices and habits, so a book all about how they’re formed would be essential to my work…right?

Even better, I recently had some minor surgery on my ankle which seems to benefit from clean, dry dressings and elevation which means I am basically chairbound for a while. The perfect excuse to do what I call “deep reading” and spend some uninterrupted time inside Gretchen’s amazing mind.

Or…Not.

Well, I can’t say that I’ve sat down and read it cover to cover. Nor can I say that I’m terribly good at the whole “taking it easy” thing with my ankle – I mean, when you’ve gone from a full wrap down to basically a big band-aid it feels silly to keep sitting there. After all, surely the Doctors were talking about “most” people who have this procedure, not all people, and I’m not the rest of those people, right?

As it happens, the parts of the book I have read also talk about what “type” of person you are in terms of maintaining your practices. She divides them into four groups:

  1. Upholders: People who maintain habits purely for their own sake, both those expected of them by others and those generated internally.
  2. Obligers: People who want to do what is expected of them socially, but may not really be motivated intrinsically. For example, blogging on your own may not be important, but if you have a writing buddy to work with every week, you show up and write because they expect you to.
  3. Questioners: The other side of the coin from Obligers, the Questioners will only maintain the habits that internally make sense to them. If they go along with the crowd, that’s fine – but there has to be a reason. The fastest way to get a questioner to not do a thing is to answer their “Why?” with “Because that’s how it’s always been done.
  4. Rebels: These are the contrarians; the ones who will avoid doing things simply because it’s what’s expected, whether it makes sense or not.

If it seems that I’m writing these with some value judgment attached, please disregard the tone; all four have their advantages and disadvantages. Gretchen Rubin states in her book that she addresses many different techniques and methods for habit change, and it’s not all connected to this “sorting hat” of habit development.

I found myself musing, as I changed my ankle bandage, as to where I fit in. I think I’m more of a questioner, because I have proven that I can develop habits when motivated by what I consider hard data. But I also have been known to deliberately burn my bridges when I get to them simply because I see everyone else going across them. If everyone’s doing a thing, I’m usually suspicious that it’s more a matter of conformity than a good idea – even though this has proven to be a ridiculous personal flaw on more than one occasion.

So perhaps I am more rebellious…but if I wasn’t really just questioning, would I have dedicated a third of my blog to the question of how to develop practices?

About that time Natasha walked into the bedroom, saw the discarded cotton ankle wraps from the hospital and, being the helpful partner she is, picked them up to throw them away so I would have less walking to do. I smiled, because once again she had been my muse. For that moment, at least, clearly –

  • I was a rebel without a gauze.

For the record, I blame my father, my grandfather, my daughters, and my best friends for the direction this blog entry took. “Better Than Before is turning out to be an excellent read, and I heartily recommend it. Also, this week’s podcast will include an interview with HoopCurrents owner Traeonna, talking about flow, family, entrepreneurship, and all kinds of other neat things. Get the full interview by becoming a patron of Love Life Practice!

This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast contains readings of the following posts:

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

You can help support the blog and this podcast by becoming a Patron of for as little as $1/month and getting bonus content as well!

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

Send feedback, questions, or suggestions for guests I might interview to gray@lovelifepractice.com.

 

If you like this podcast, would you please recommend it to your friends? Send them a link to iTunes or a link to the podcast feed – or tweet about it!

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

This is usually what the inside of my brain looks like.

Not a weeping angel. A workaholic ADD angel.

No, this is not another “Should you do what you love?” post. I promised that I’d said the last word I would say on that. Rather, consider this a cautionary tale.

The last few days as I’ve been working at home I’ve had a few of my long-time hobby projects turn into full-fledged moneymakers. Suddenly things are much more busy, and I’m planning out videos and laying out books and making scheduled plans for things – it’s downright exhilarating, especially when it’s backed up by a bottom line that is getting further and further into the black.

The Problem

Thing is, I get to the end of a morning, for example, and realize that yes, it’s time for lunch – but I don’t feel like I’ve done any real work. I’ve been writing and recording and editing and such, but not for a “real” boss – no, I’ve been doing it for myself. And therefore I don’t deserve a lunch break, because I haven’t gotten “work” done.

I literally have to stop and go over, step by step, what I’ve been doing as well as the concrete ways it is profitable in order to feel justified in taking a break.

It’s worse at the end of the day, when Natasha asks me if I’m going to “keep working.” I’m having fun with what I’m doing; is it really work? I think perhaps I would benefit to recall my days working at Montessori schools, where they used the following definition:

Work:
Purposeful activity is called work. Montessori observed that children learn by engaging in purposeful activity of their own choosing. When children can choose what they do, they do not differentiate between work and play.

But what I need to remember is that this activity was within a “work cycle“:

A basic work cycle begins with choosing an activity, doing that activity, returning the activity to order, and then experiencing a sense of satisfaction…This sense of satisfaction, which may last a few seconds to a few minutes, helps motivate the child (and adult) to choose the next activity, thus creating another cycle of work…

Is it really ever too late to benefit from this kind of a mindset? Can we create our own purposeful environments to get that “sense of satisfaction”? What happens when “work is play for mortal stakes“, as Frost would put it? Do we all just keep working until we collapse of exhaustion?

Because that’s the direction I’m headed…

It’s easy to dismiss the idea of “lifestyle design” as a recent fad, the unholy godchild of the “get rich quick” schemes and self-help. “How to Dress Like a Man” “How to Brew Coffee Like a Real Woman” “How to Program with your Inner Child” – there seems to be a positively schizophrenic aspect to some of these kinds of guides. One of the biggest problems with many of these is what I think of as the “One True Way” approach. That is to say, you have someone who has managed to “succeeded” in designing their life, and therefore they are going to show you the steps to design your own life.

I mentioned that one of the reasons I enjoyed Nora Dunn’s book  was that she didn’t present it in that way. Instead, she said “Ok, I did this thing. And if you want to do it, you probably can – but better.” And then not only did she highlight her own lessons learned but then goes on to show many other examples of how people have done it.

Why is this valuable? Why can’t we just find one way to do things, and do it, and let that be enough? Are we all so unable to focus and be happy with what we’ve got that we just keep trying out new things because we can’t settle? As I mentioned last week, to some extent we are built that way. We are just designed to mess with our lives. It’s spawned the entire industry of “lifestyle design”, with both good and bad elements (I try to stay in the former cadre).

Choosing Your Wardrobe

To some extent I like to think of lifestyle design with a clothing metaphor.

  • You can certainly let someone else pick out your clothes.
  • Sometimes hand-me-downs fit; sometimes they don’t.
  • When you wear something long enough, it begins to “feel” normal and comfortable.
  • Some people like to change outfits a lot; some prefer to wear the same thing.
  • Nothing feels quite as good as something that was tailored specifically for you.
  • Not everyone cares about every piece of clothing they wear.

There are certainly more analogies, but I’d like to focus on the last one, because it’s the analogy that can liberate and make our lives happier. While I know it’s possible that you agonize over every piece of clothing you chose to wear today, I’m betting that there’s at least something that you just grabbed and threw on. Maybe it’s your socks. Perhaps you just thought “I need a t-shirt!” and grabbed the one on the top of the stack. Whatever it was, that one was good enough. You didn’t think about it.

Until now. Until I brought it up. Now you’re thinking about it. Hopefully it’s not stressing you out, but it might be if I started talking about all the better socks you could get. Sock Dreams is a real place, after all! And you’re settling for just those you have on? Honestly, they cause 33% more strain to your back, and these other pair wick the sweat away from your soles (a leading cause of hali-toe-sis) 13% faster than cotton or blends!

And thus internet commerce is born…

That’s the problem with lifestyle design. You can get far too caught up in the details, in the marginalia, and you forget that you only put on socks so that you could put on shoes so you could go out for a walk. When you started the day, that piece of clothing that you didn’t think about was just fine. It was good enough, and you didn’t give it attention because it didn’t need attending. You could focus on more important choices, like coffee.

Good-Enough Design

As it turns out, the more people focus on “good enough” – as opposed to “the best” – the happier they are. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choicehas this to say:

We found that people who are satisficers are generally more optimistic, happier, and less regretful than people who are maximizers. We did a study of college seniors looking for jobs and found that maximizers got better jobs but felt worse about the jobs they got than satisficers did. People who score as maximizers score as borderline clinically depressed.

What is a “satisfier”? Someone who can identify when something is close enough. There’s a lot more on the subject around the interwebs – I particularly liked the Barking Up the Wrong Tree article – but here’s a quick test to see if you need to work on your satisficing skills: when you’re going to park in a lot, do you drive around for a while, hoping to find the closest spot, praying to the Parking Gods the whole way? Or do you just park in the first open spot, knowing that a little extra walking is good for you and that you drove there for a reason but that reason is probably not to drive around the parking lot?

It’s a simple little adjustment, but it’s a good idea to think about: maybe put a little more satisficing into your day, and save the maximizing for things that really matter.

I’ve been a frequent traveler for a few years now, but since last October things have been ramping up a bit as I try to make my presenting and teaching into a significant income stream.

One thing I’m very wary of is self-care while on the road. A couple of years back I had quite a burnout after a six-week junket that manifest as physical illness as well as muscle and back strain. Add on to this a general malaise and it was the world telling me without any doubt that I was doing it wrong.

What ended up happening was not just one thing, but several lifestyle changes including moving to Madison, WI and a more serious investigation into the meaning of “home” and health. It’s also meant looking at ways to make the travel that I do take part in be more sustainable.

One single over-arching principle keeps on re-appearing both in my research and in my own practice of self-care during travel: minimalism. Now, I’m not the one in the family who writes books on the subject, but here’s my top five minimalist travel tips:

  1. Pack Smart: I fell in love with this packing technique right after I saw the video, and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to limit myself to one suitcase.

    Combine it with some of these and you’ve got more room than you know what to do with. Just remember:  this cuts down on volume, but not on weight.
  2. Stay Connected with a Select Few: It’s fine to tweet and instagram and such – but instead of chatting with everyone, have a few people – or even just one – who you stay in contact with as your support team. It can be chosen family, it can be penpals – but don’t spread your digital self too thin.
  3. Bring Nuts: For me, the best “emergency” food is almonds and cranberries. For others, it might be something like a Spirulina Energy Bar. I guarantee you one thing: your best emergency food is not a Snickers. I the ingredients and processing of the foods I have handy really simple (dried apricots? Heaven) you save the hassle of lines, of futzing with money, and your body will thank you.
  4. Customize Your Environment: This is a trick I learned from an old friend who used to travel more than me: when you get in the hotel room, change one thing. Move a chair, put the table by the window, maybe even cover the TV with a sheet. But do something  that makes it not just the same old hotel room as the rest of the place.
  5. Travel Slow: Yes, I got this straight from the Professional Hobo herself, Nora Dunn. I was putting it into practice subconsciously before reading her book, but now that it’s a deliberate practice it’s even more useful. The thing is, it doesn’t just apply to things like trains and buses; when you’re “traveling slow” suddenly the queue for security is not as bad, nor is the wait for a hostess at a restaurant. All those little annoyances that can be the difference between a good trip and a bad one? You’d be amazed at how they disappear if you just slow the @#$! down.

Bonus tip: Hydration. I invested about a year ago in a Vapur Element Bottle and it’s both improved my personal hydration and also been a great money-saver. I don’t buy bottled water, I fill up at the fountains or taps (which are cleaner than most of the world’s water, you knew that, right?) and just clip the thing onto my bag (or on the pocket on the back of the airplane seat, which is handy). Then when it’s empty, I don’t have to look for a trash can or carry it around with me – I fold it up and it goes in my bag till the next refill.

I call this one a “bonus” because the dirty little secret is that it actually applies to life in general, not just travel. Whether you are driving across the country, flying across the ocean, or walking downstairs to study (you know who you are) you should have a water bottle with you.

That’s what I’ve got. What are your best simple and minimalist travel tips?

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This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast contains readings of the following posts:

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

You can help support the blog and this podcast by becoming a Patron of both like superstar Evan Page!

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

Send feedback, questions, or suggestions for guests I might interview to gray@lovelifepractice.com.

 

If you like this podcast, would you please recommend it to your friends? Send them a link to iTunes or a link to the podcast feed – or tweet about it!

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

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