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Love Slack

Leave room – for no good reason.

– from Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Can Mean So Much

"I said SLACK! SLACK HARDER!"

“I said SLACK! SLACK HARDER!”

Finished the book! And I have to say that it is one of the most influential and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. In fact, while I really enjoyed the audio book, I’m going to be going back and getting the text version so that I can highlight things (seriously, they need to come up with a way to highlight – and annotate – audio books). With an entire book about scarcity, though, you might ask if there was anything in there about abundance? And how to cultivate it?

There is, a little, but the authors point out that in their research one of the indicators is that abundance itself is one of the prime instigators of scarcity. Like the Cornucopia from The Hunger Games, abundance is dangerous. It is during times of plenty that we lose sight of the things that we will need later on. We spend rather than save, we procrastinate rather than do. Without a deadline, students tend to put things off forever – and even when given the opportunity to set their own deadlines, they tend to misjudge or simply schedule badly the time they need to get their work done.

The studies are in, and they overwhelmingly show that humans in general tend to “undervalue the effect of shocks” as the authors put it. It’s not terribly likely that I’ll get in a car accident; or that I’ll get sick; or that I’ll suddenly lose a client. None of those things individually is likely to happen, so I don’t feel the need to plan for it terribly much. What I might lose track of is the fact that while the odds of any one thing happening can be low, the odds of something happening is actually pretty good – and any one of those things has the potential to derail my sweet serene life, if I don’t have the slack to handle the shock.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I know, it’s Friday, and you’re wondering when I’m going to get around to talking about Love. I’m getting there, I promise!

Remember that scarcity as a phenomenon is not limited by class, wealth, health, or anything – if you’re human, then at some point you’ve felt the pressure and the need for something. The big difference lies in how much slack you have to deal with the stress, as well as what kind of “buffer” you’ve built to shield you from the consequences of failure. If I have a flat tire and don’t have AAA or the money for a tow, I’m going to likely get a ticket, possibly have to borrow money, as well as figure out how to pay for the car to be taken out of impound (and then fixed). If, on the other hand, I have AAA or comprehensive insurance, a flat tire is nothing more than a delay in wherever I was going – and even then I may have built in the “slack” of leaving early enough to account for accidents.

When you’re in a loving relationship, you’re going to have “shocks” like the flat tire. Bumps that will happen. It may be something directly related to your relationship – a misunderstanding, a disagreement, jealousy – or it may be a side effect of scarcity somewhere else in life. Stressed about the bills, you snap at your spouse. Trying to finish a report for the boss, you tell the kid “Not now! I don’t have time!” That’s where you find out if you have enough love slack.

Because if you don’t, then that disagreement can very easily turn into a fight, or a grudge that’s held forever. That agitated Not now! becomes an internalized valuation that the child carries with them. On the other hand, if you’ve put enough slack and buffers into your love, when this kind of thing happens it is understood for what it is: a momentary blip in an otherwise strong and caring relationship.

What does slack in a relationship look like? It looks like having a conversation over dinner instead of watching TV. It looks like getting someone a card, or bringing them their favorite candy just because you value them. It looks like creating space for the two (or more) of you for no good reason.

It also looks like learning communication skills, like how to apologize, how to rephrase what you hear and what you say to get to mutual understanding, and to respond rather than react. These are the buffers that will get you through the shocks. If you don’t have them, you’re putting your relationship in danger. Because the shocks will come. What remains after they’ve passed is up to you.

Dancing the Pauses

Please pause this moment
and we can dance between the
seconds on the clock.

– Daily Haiku on Love
by Tyler Knott Greggson

As I’ve been examining the various places in my life where I don’t have slack, I keep coming back to time. Namely, I have a tendency to over-schedule – either putting things too close together or simply putting too many things there. It’s understandable, as someone with a fetish for productivity. There’s millions like me, trying to wring the most…the most…the most something out of every second. We begrudge sleep and long for the ability to multitask regardless of how many studies show it just isn’t possible, and we really only like the 4-Hour Work Week  because it means we can have TEN JOBS!

AnaDiegoBut I did still come up with that mantra: Dance, don’t scramble. And in terms of time, what is the difference between dancing and scrambling? One of my prime definitions when explaining dance to people is that dance is intentional movement whereas “scrambling” is simply reactive. There’s a key ingredient in relation to time that is also a difference between dancing and scrambling:

When you dance, you can pause.

What Dreams May Come

What is the use of a pause, you might ask? Certainly that’s what productivity experts used to say. In business, the practice of “kanban” makes many executives and managers cringe because of it’s emphasis on stopping and thinking about where you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.

They mentally write off the whole concept of Kanban because “they don’t want anyone sitting idle.” What skeptics call “sitting idle” is often referred to as slack in the system.” – Julia Wester, everydaykanban.com

Ms. Wester goes on to describe how in those “pauses” great things can happen – and she names them: swarm, maintain, think, and innovate. Taking them out of the business context, here’s what these things can add to your life:

  • Swarm: That project that you’ve been putting off – or that list of little things that keep not getting done – or maybe just the clutter on your desk or the chaos of a bookshelf. In the pause you can attack that unsuspecting task or obstacle and overwhelm it with the power of your sudden free time.
  • Maintain: One of the main reason things like oil changes and catboxes and recycling is so annoying is not so much because they are hard or even terribly unpleasant – it’s because they interrupt the rest of your life and the Important Stuff. In the pauses, the Important Stuff gets out of the way and you can mindfully take care of the base chores of life.
  • Think: This is the big one, to me. Just a little bit more thought, a little bit more planning, a little reflection on actions can have huge effects when you decide to un-pause your life and start up again with the Important Stuff. It’s easy to let the Next Thing just take over. Instead, take a dramatic pause, and use the time to make your Next Action the most effective it can be.
  • Innovate: If you’re busy playing catch-up, you don’t have the time to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Daily work, routine, and putting out fires are great distractions from coming up with new ideas, better methodologies, or interesting experiments. Even if the ideas aren’t ever brought to fruition, it’s better to get in the practice of having them.

Here’s the secret, though: to be most effective at these things, you have to be unintentional. I’m just giving you these words so that if someone accuses you of wasting (or worse, killing) time, you can feed them one of those buzzwords so they leave you alone.

Really, the pause is all about the potential energy that is within it. Watch this tango, and you’ll see how the power of the pause is essential to the dance, especially at 1:55-2:10:

Practicing Slack

There's another key concept from the Scarcity book I'm listening to that is the second “game changer” in terms of how I look at the overall concept of meeting needs. It's the idea of slack.

The first thing to realize is that this is nothing to do with the term “slacker”; instead, think about having a lot of rope, both the stuff you're using and “slack” – i.e., the extra rope that you have on hand in case you need it.

According to the authors, one of the biggest reasons scarcity causes stress is because there is a lack of slack. Not that you don't actually have enough to meet your needs – rather, you don't have enough in the event that your needs change.

Sure, you could think about this as rich and poor – certainly a flat tire can be a minor annoyance to the wealthy but a possible eviction for the impoverished. But remember that scarcity applies to any resource you have feelings about – so time can have a lack of slack, or energy. The whole concept of “not having enough spoons” comes from the idea that some people have more slack available in terms of interacting with others.

Getting a Bigger Suitcase

The authors do a good job of describing the idea of slack in terms of suitcases. If I'm going on a trip with Natasha, we may be going the same place and doing the same things. She packs her small carry-on, and she's very careful with the choice of shoes, the way the clothes are folded around the toiletries, and whether or not to bring that extra sweater to fight the Baltimore chill.

 

Meanwhile, I'm packing my bigger suitcase, and while I may have the same items, I don't have to be as careful – I don't have to pay attention to how things are packed, and rather than being forced to choose between shoes I can just say Heck with it, I'll bring both. That's slack.

 

And it's what I'm working on right now as I fight the scarcity mindset. Where in my life do I feel scarcity? How can I build more slack into that area? Also, where in my everyday practice don't I feel the pressure, and how can I remember those places and be more grateful?

 

I'd be interested in knowing what kind of slack you have in your life – especially if you only just now realized it, like I did.

 

“Remember you can't have everything. Where would you put it?” – Stephen Wright

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

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

This interview and podcast is made possible by support from my patrons. You can be as cool as them by becoming a Patron of Love Life Practice .Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

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! 

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

 

 

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

Hot Fudge for Habit Change

It’s not often that I get to come to this blog with a clear-cut “Hey, this worked exactly the way I expected!” anecdote. But this is one of those times.

I have a weakness for hot fudge brownie sundaes. When I say weakness, I mean that the bowl of gooey yumminess is more than just tastiness, more than just a sugar high, more than even “comfort food.” When I was a kid, it was a symbol of accomplishment – my crafty parents, wanting me to look out the window on our long car trips, used it as a reward for me spotting a deer. The rest of the time, when we would go to the ice cream shop, they (the adults) would have an “FB” – “fudge brownie” – while we children had to settle for plain ol’ sundaes.

That simple sundae – brownies covered in a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, slathered with hot fudge – became a symbol to me. When I became independent, it was that mark of rebellion: I can eat an FB any time I want! It was a mark of resourcefulness: I can buy my own FB, regardless of whether I see a deer! And, of course, as I grew to understand more about habits and diets and such, it became a weakness: I must resist the craving for FB’s, because they are Bad For Me.

The Search for the Right Reward

Yay!

Yay!

Yay?

Yay…?

Shifting gears a bit: part of my group coaching process I’ve been participating in is coming up with concrete rewards for accomplishing the three tasks I would set for myself each week. Coming up with the tasks was never a problem; coming up with a reward was always a struggle. Mainly because if the reward involved money, it became a stressor, and if the reward was about an experience, well, that’s an area that I’m rich in already; there aren’t a lot of experiences that I deny myself if I want to have them.

Even when I would come up with a reward, it didn’t always feel like one. For example, I treated myself to something from my Amazon Wish List as a reward – a book on the handwriting, called “The Missing Ink”. I set the tasks, I did the tasks, I paid the $5 for a used copy which should arrive sometime next week. Guess how that makes me feel?

Meh.

On the other hand, last week in the middle of busy work, I got my advance readers copy of Kameron Hurley’s new book. Thrills! I shook my fist at the heavens, both in thanks for such a treasure delivered and in despairing frustration at my lack of free time to indulge in that kind of deep reading. You see the problem? The thing I’d set for my reward was only vaguely satisfying, whereas something I’d totally forgotten about felt like Christmas in July.

Weakness into Strength

One day, at the end of the group coaching session, one of my fellow coachees mentioned that they were going to have ice cream as their reward. I was inspired: I was already primed to think of a fudge brownie sundae as a reward – in fact, I had to devote a measure of willpower to resist it. What if I made that the prize at the end of performing my tasks? Time to experiment!

Natasha (who enjoys baking) was more than happy to help, getting brownie mix and the other essentials together, and asking me several times in the course of a week if I’d gotten my tasks done. When I did, and the moment came…that was possibly the best fudge brownie sundae I’ve ever had. Guilt-free, using my pre-existing conditioning (three decades worth!) to reinforce the habits I was wanting to cultivate. Even the tiny voice of But it’s bad for you! So many calories! was easily drowned out by an understanding of the benefits of relaxing, of not needing to resist, of channeling that weakness into the development of resilience.

Success.

I hope, as the weekend comes, you can take a look at one or two things you love to do but maybe resist…and see if you can channel them into a positive force in your life. I can tell you from experience: it tastes great.

Wow. When I decided, a few weeks ago, that I needed to know more about the general concept of scarcity, I didn’t know where to start. But Scarcity: Why Having So Little Can Mean So Much seemed like a pretty good place. Written by Ivy-League researchers, it promised a broad scope:

Drawing on cutting-edge research from behavioral science and economics, Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before. Once we start thinking in terms of scarcity and the strategies it imposes, the problems of modern life come into sharper focus.

Almost right away the book gave me a new insight into the idea of scarcity, and it’s one that I suspect might surprise you, as well. We’re used to thinking of scarcity in purely economic terms, i.e., not having enough resources for your needs. We already know, though, that homo economicus is a myth; even economists don’t behave in a logically economical way. Thus the science of behavioral economics was created, to examine the way humans actually act as they acquire, allocate, and exchange resources. When the authors talk about scarcity, therefore, it’s not about the resources people actually have; instead, scarcity is defined as “the feeling that your resources are not enough for your needs.” The entire book is about what effect that feeling has on everyone.

Does It Help?

I’ve been listening to Scarcity via audiobook, and it’s something like listening to a horror story where you gradually realize that you, the reader, are the protagonist. That initial definition was the first game-changer for me; there’s a huge difference between “There’s never enough!” and “I feel like there’s never enough!” I have a limited capacity to fix the former, but I theoretically have complete control over the latter – assuming I can develop the skills to notice it.

My Sketchnotes for a section on the "Bandwidth Tax"

My Sketchnotes for a section on the “Bandwidth Tax”

For me, the book is both exquisite and frustrating. Exquisite because it’s helping me give a context to behaviors and habits that I’ve had for decades but never really understood. Unfortunately it’s also put one of the skills I pride myself on – the ability to accomplish a lot with very little – into the framework of yet another symptom of a disease I really was only vaguely aware of. And it’s frustrating because there’s no indication that by the end of the book there will be any strategies for overcoming the challenges presented by a scarcity mindset.

I’ve become a bit of an evangelist on scarcity as I listen to the book – complete with sketchnotes and the like – and while talking with my Middle Daughter about my growing understanding what scarcity does to the mind, she suddenly asked me: “Does it help?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does it help you to know about it?”

It was a good question. My answer at first was no; I’d had a bout with financial scarcity the weekend before, and even understanding concepts like “tunneling” (hyperfocus on the scarce resource) and “diminished executive control” (lack of self-discipline) I still reached a point where I wasn’t good for much more than sitting on the couch watching bad movies and eating ice cream.

However, in the midst of another “Scarcity Squall” right now, I have to revise my answer. It does help, a little. I still feel the hyperfocus, I still get the urge to binge, I still frenetically come up with “ways out of this” – but it’s more distant, like I’m observing myself doing these things. It still sucks, mind you – but yes, I have to say that knowing helps. I’m not falling into the G.I. Joe Fallacy – knowing is nowhere near half the battle – but at least I realize finally where the battle is, and what the enemy looks like.

It’s a start. I recommend the book regardless of whether you have a problem with scarcity or not; it deals with much more than money, and can give you perspective on a lot of the behaviors of your fellow humans.

 

Jar System Update

So, Gray, how’s your attempt to kickstart money management?

I’m glad you asked.

The first time around I tried using the Jar System virtually – even used a particular budgeting app called Lumen Trails to track the spending. Total failure. Not only was there not enough room for fluctuating expenses in my “necessities” budget, the rest just seemed to get mish-mashed together.

That’s why I contacted the folks over at Land of Oos and acquired seven actual jars, labeled cleverly to make use of some old press-on letters I had laying around for correspondence. Here’s what it looks like:

FullSizeRender-5

 

I decided to take a baby step, and divide up $20 according to the jar system using actual cash. Here’s what it looked like:

  1. NEC: Necessities, 55%=$11
  2. pi: Passive Income, 10%=$2
  3. Edu: Education, 10%=$2
  4. LtSs: Long-Term Savings for Spending, 10%=$2
  5. JIC: Just In Case, 5%=$1
  6. g: Giving, 5%=$1
  7. P: Play, 5%=$1

I’ve had the money up there for about a week now. As you can see, there’s a problem.

The $2 Passive Income

As you can see, the NEC jar is empty. We had laundry to do today, and so that was no problem to put the $11 towards.

The rest of them, though, I’m having a hard time working out. Just In Case: that can stay there. Likewise the Long-Term Savings for Spending; Natasha and I have decided it’s long past time to get a new couch, and that’s a big goal.

“Give” is easy, too: The next time I’m going for a walk, I can put the $1 into my pocket for anyone on the street who asks for it. I can probably pretty easily find a $2 book on Amazon that will give me some insight or worthwhile ideas (or audiobook; this one on Morning Routines is in my queue to review). And Play? Well, to be honest, that one also is troublesome, just because I’m not sure what counts as “play”. But maybe it means a comic book or something similar. A 99¢ movie rental.

That PI, though. Passive Income. What can you do with $2 that contributes to “Passive Income”? According to 6Jars.com:

The money that you put into this jar is used for investments and building your passive income streams. You never spend this money. The only time you would spend this money is once you become financially free. Even then you would only spend the returns on your investment. Never spend the principal.

There’s a whole lot of things that don’t make sense to me there. It seems like it means to put it into savings (or a CD or something with a higher return rate). Other sites have mentioned Real Estate. At first I thought it meant invest in my own business, but that You never spend this money part rules that out.

What do you think? Is it possible to spend only $2 on something that is clearly passive income? What I’ve ended up doing is putting it into a mutual funds account I have (via the lovely Acorns app). It has a variable rate of return, but it’s been better than just plain savings, and it’s actually kind of fun to see the graphs that I don’t really understand.

Incidentally, I’m aware that physical money sitting in jars is wasting potential. That’s why I’m only using $20 this first time round – this is not a daily living, this is an exercise to re-route some neural pathways that have long been going pretty weirdly. Stay tuned for another “thinking about money” experiment that Natasha and I are putting into practice tomorrow!

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

This podcast was produced by Gray Miller Creative LLC.

This interview and podcast is made possible by support from my patrons. You can be as cool as them by becoming a Patron of Love Life Practice or making a one-time donation in any amount via cash.me/$graymiller.

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

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! 

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

 

 

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

The Power of Blue

I have a friend named Blue (yes, we’re all named after colors, didn’t you know that?) who is a legend within the small movement arts community that I travel in. He is known not only for his ability with aerial performance but also for his mastery of multiple-person choreography and staging.

But that’s not what makes him legendary. Sure, he can teach a class on rigging or lead a group through a centering ritual to increase their mindfulness, but he steps beyond expertise and into epic when the classes are done and he begins to dance.

Blue in Action

Blue in Action

In the open spaces of improvised aerial and floor work, Blue will find a partner (or partners) and create a space of amazing passion and ephemeral beauty. Then he will smile, thank them, and move on to find another partner. He will dance and move in an entirely different way, playing off of the particulars of physicality and mood and space and materials, and again create something amazing…and thank them, and find another person to dance with.

And another. And another. I have literally found him contemplating his phone at dinner, trying to find someone to meet at 4:30am, because he planned on playing all night long and into the dawn. It’s not just the joy of the dance that draws him; it’s part of his own personal quest to be the best version of himself he can possibly be.

At one point he kept moving at an event through 26 hours straight of dancing, teaching, and performing. The question I had for him was: how does he find the energy to keep going?

The 30-Minute Energy Window

It’s not the heady thrill of youth, nor is he some fitness addict into marathon performances (well, he kind of is, but not in a regimented way). He has two secrets that keep him going:

The first is a matter of timing. “After I get done with a scene, a dance, whatever, I have about 30 minutes to find another one,” he told me. “If I can find something to engage my skills and passion in that time, then I’m good. I can just keep on going.” If not, he admits, it all catches up with him and he will be asleep almost before his head hits the pillow.

The second, though, is the real key: “I can do this because I love what I do.” At the risk of incurring the wrath of Huey Lewis, it’s the power of his love for his art that keeps him going.

And going. And going. And going.

I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone else to channel their passion for their work or their art quite in the way that my friend Blue does. But it occurs to me that when my energy is flagging that instead of reaching for another cup of coffee or even trying to do a workout, the thing that might keep me going would be to either switch to some activity that I’m truly passionate about…or else take a moment to reflect on why I care about whatever it is I am doing.

Because frankly, if I could harness even a fraction of the power of Blue, I’d be good for a long time.

One of the bloggers that I faithfully read is Mark Manson. While he might use a little too much profanity for some tastes, I really enjoy (and, let’s be honest, emulate) his style of writing and I almost always take away something useful (or at least insightful) from his posts.

procrastination_by_silverstormblackfang-d4ntrcpWhen his newsletter announced that his new blog was about procrastination, my Personal Development Senses tingled: that is a subject I can talk about forever. In fact, a great deal of my posting about “practice” has to do with the idea of how to get past putting things off and into getting things done – whups, I mean “getting things accomplished” since I don’t want to infringe on any GTD copyrights.

Wait, GTA is already taken as well…I’ll have to figure out a better acronym for productivity. Someday. First I have to finish this post, right? And right there is my own tragic flaw: I have so many ideas that they are like squirrels running around the tree of my brain, and every one of them could be the one! so I have to keep chasing them. As a result, my back burners have back burners and my “someday” file is stuffed to overflowing.

Or it will be, whenever I get around to creating it. What were we talking about? Oh, yes! Procrastination! As I was saying before the squirrels invaded, most of my writings about overcoming procrastination are rooted in tactics – as Mark Manson called them, band-aids – that treated the symptom well enough, but not the root cause.

Mark Manson’s Law of Avoidance

I’m not quite as confident as Mark; I’ve only coined a Miller’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law, Everything that can possibly go wrong already has. You just don’t know it yet. However, while he stipulates that it comes out of self-verification theory, he makes no apology for turning it into a law:

The more something threatens your identity,
the more you will avoid doing it.

Simple as that. It’s all about how the story you can write for yourself can threaten the story you have written for yourself. Maybe “fear of jumping the shark” would be an appropriate way to do it. The sneaky thing about the human psyche is that it likes the status quo, right up until the point where it doesn’t. So whether things are good or bad, if they’re relatively comfortable, your subconscious will invent reasons not to change. Hence, procrastination. It’s not about laziness, it’s not lack of ambition – it’s fear.

Mark talks about a lot more in the post – I’m deliberately keeping this one short so that you will be motivated to go off and read it for yourself. There’s even some great stuff in there that corroborates my own dislike of affirmations. You should make some time to read it. And hey, let him know Gray sent you (not that he knows me from Adam, but I enjoy sowing confusion where I can).

Don’t put it off, ok?

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