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My Visual Thinking EDC

I realized that I had crossed a kind of Rubicon the other day while watching a TV cop show. The assassin was in custody, but she had pulled the classic “steal a piece of pen to pick the lock on the cuffs” trick. The cop found out as soon as he tried to click the pen, and rushed to the elevator – only to see the empty cuffs and and the improvised pick.

“Sloppy production,” I thought. “That’s not the kind of cartridge that goes in that pen…” Yep. I’d become one of those people, in the same way another expert I know shakes her head at the naming of plants, or the way another shakes her head at the way witches are portrayed. But that’s what happens when you dive into the deep end of something like visual thinking – you end up becoming very intimately familiar with the instruments of your craft.

Reducing the Barrier to Habit

Another aspect of this personal change has been to try and eliminate any obstacles to doing more visual work. No excuses! One of the easiest ways to do this was to create a “Visual Thinking Every Day Carry.” That is, making sure that the tools to do the work are always right at hand (or, in my case, left at hand). Over the months I’ve tried a few different things, and at the moment this is what I try to have with me at any given moment (links are affiliate where possible):

  1. MEKO Stylus: I confess, this is the least-used part of the EDC. I have it in case I want to sketch something directly into my phone – the weight of it and sturdy construction make it feel really good in the hand. It also has the round nub on one end and a more “fine point” under the cap. The idea was that if my iPad wasn’t around, I could still sketch digitally…but as you can see, I’m more likely to sketch on actual paper and then simply take a picture.
  2. SketchOne Pens: I remember seeing these particular sets of pens branded as “sketchnote” sets on Neuland.com and scoffing. “Any pen can be used for sketchnoting!” And that’s true, but when I was given one free at the end of my Bikablo training I realized: these are, in fact, what I wanted to use for sketchnoting. I have them in .1, .3, .5, and .7mm widths, and they are reliable, don’t bleed, and just plain work
  3. FineOne Brush Pen: In spite of the resemblance to dreaded “chart junk” I do find that highlights and drop shadows work well in sketchnoting. This was also a freebie to try, and it’s the perfect companion to the SketchOne set. Bonus: it is refillable and has a replaceable nib. 
  4. Pokka Pen: This is the poor man’s Fisher Space Pen (because I keep misplacing those). It’s a two-piece container that fits easily in a front pocket that you re-assemble into a full-size pen. It’s plastic, but not cheap plastic, and while I would prefer a more smooth roller ball ink cartridge it does in a pinch. Think of this as the “pen of last resort.”
  5. Pilot Parallel Pen: One of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten! This comes across as a calligraphy pen (with a wedge tip) but you can use it for fine lines as well. As you can see from the illustration, I have been using it to learn the Fraktur hand (well, kind of a calligraffiti style) and absolutely loving it. Practicing a hand (way of writing) is one of those things that you can do instead of checking your phone, by the way, and I find it remarkably relaxing.
  6. “Preppy” Fountain Pen: I love fountain pens, and they get very fancy and beautiful and also are touchy and finicky and you often feel bad about risking taking them into the wild. This pen, though, gives you the joy of a reliable fountain nib along with durability and economy (get it and two cartridges for less than $10US). While I use many different pens at my desk, this is one I carry with me everywhere as my default writing instrument.
  7. Baron Fig Pocket Confidant: I’ve written before about my addiction to notebooks.  This particular choice was based on seeing Mike Rohde (the creator of sketchnotes as a practice) talk about his on the Lettering with the Masters course. It’s got a hard back which makes it easier for me to sketch things out, and the paper quality and such are unparalleled. It costs about the same as a moleskine (which I also love) or a Field Notes 3-pack (same) but just edges them both out in terms of size, quality, and ease of carry. I love the other brands (my family knows of my addiction and it makes holiday shopping easy) but this ultimately wins out.

YMMV & Planned Iterations

One of the biggest things I would do over if I could is to get blank pages in the notebook, not the dot grid. That choice was entirely based on me not feeling confident in my abilities as an artist. Now that I’m doing more sketching, I find those dots distracting and limiting.

Having so many pens also offends my inner minimalist, and there’s a part of me that wishes I could get away with one. Theoretically one good brush pen would be capable of doing pretty much everything I have, and I’ve had my eye on the Tombow Fudenosuke Dual Tip. However, at this point that would be simply feeding my pen addiction. It’s kind of like a greased rabbit hole; easy to fall down and keep on falling.

Let me know if you try any of these recommendations, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!


Why I Think the Flips Bracelet is Brilliant

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you know that I’m interested in personal development. How do we develop habits? How do we change them?

I’m a freelancer, an entrepreneur, and a fanatical autodidact. Trying to fit everything I want into a day is impossible; there are always So Many Projects as well as So Many Things to Learn. It’s easy for the rituals of self care to be overlooked: meditation, journaling, yoga (ugh! Yoga!).

Also, I’m an early adopter and frequent user of technology, and like many who struggle through the bugs and bloat of the latest apps & devices I have a love affair with “lotek” – things that don’t require obvious technology, such as notebooks and pens and yoga mats (ugh!) and nice desk chairs and such.

I get two or three emails a week from people who are pitching their own personal improvement apps or products to me, asking that I share it here on the blog. This may surprise you, because I don’t do it very much. So when I tell you that I am enthusiastically recommending the Flips Bracelet, you can understand: I’m really excited about this.

Also, full disclosure: while I was granted access to the press kit, I am not in any way being compensated for what I say and share here on this post.

Flips Bracelet, The Bracelet with a Hidden Agenda to Create a Better You

Its brilliance lies in its simplicity.

It’s a string of flat wooden beads around your wrist. Each bead has a tiny symbol burned on it that represents something you want to remember to do during your day – a pen for writing, a barbell for exercise, a heart for telling someone you care for that you love them. At the start of your day, all the beads are facing out.

Note: first bit of joy for me is the way this incorporates visual thinking and iconographic power into the everyday. Our brains respond to symbols more readily than text; plus, the icons are burned into the beads by a Pyrographer, and that’s just gotta be one of the coolest job titles ever.

During the day, the bead is a constant reminder that there are things you want to do, daily, and because you can see the icon, you haven’t done them yet. So eventually you say Fine, already, I’ll do my (ugh) yoga!

And after the asanas are done, you flip the bead. On the other side, burned into the wood, is a viscerally satisfying checkmark.

No batteries. No weekly review. No updates needed. Compatible with all future updates of your personal OS. Ok, maybe we should let the press kit speak for itself:

“Ideal for adults seeking a way to better themselves and children to create good lifelong habits. It is also perfect for helping autistic and down syndrome children to remember their daily tasks. Even the elderly can benefit from it as a reminder bracelet.”

Personally, I like what Kim Ghindea, the creatFounder of Flips Bracelet, explains, “I wanted a piece of jewelry that was beautiful, natural and served a purpose. I love all creations that have more than one function. Why wear just any bracelet, when you can wear one that actually triggers you to be a better?”

Kim is the aforementioned “pyrographer”, and she hand-makes the beads (for now – she’s resistant to the idea of manufacturing, but if demand got too big she has said she likes the idea of outsourcing to other artists to help them make an income from their craft). 

I couldn’t agree more. My partner Natasha does already, a pretty little device called the Leaf, and I do too, a slightly less pretty device called the Apple Watch (series 1, for you tech nerds who were wondering). And we both love our little devices.

But this will never need charging, will never need to sync, will never be like my favorite meditation app, Mind, which no longer works anywhere. 

Launching on Kickstarter TOMORROW, October 9.

Kim is launching her project with an early-bird special, where you can get your own bracelet (in several beautiful finishes) with your own customized set of icon beads for only $24. That’s the advantage of working with an artist; you can talk directly with her and if an icon doesn’t quite work for you, she will come up with something that does. For example, the Sanskrit that she used on the “yoga” bead doesn’t quite work for me, and so I’ve been brainstorming a little stick figure doing downward dog, or tree pose, or maybe just “Ugh!”

Whatever. The point is, it will be personal to me. And that, I think, is a brilliant. 

“How you like me now?” – How I Sit

In the “How you like me now?” Series, I take a blog post from the very beginning of Love Life Practice seven years ago and see how well things have held up. This post comes from November of 2011 (so it’s not quite exactly a year) but it is the earliest “practice” post I have on the site.

How I Sit

I’m a bad Buddhist.

And I can prove it, because if I were a good Buddhist, I wouldn’t say I was bad, because one of the more confusing parts of Buddhism is the idea that you are fine just as you are, wherever that is on your journey of personal development. HA! Paradox!

No, really, the idea is not too hard to embrace – many sects of Christianity include a similar idea with the unconditional love that God and Jesus have for humanity. Having a deity to accept you is much easier than accepting yourself, and even that often requires going to a beautiful church at least once a week just to remind yourself of that fact: “God be with you.”

For me, it takes sitting for fifteen minutes every morning to remind myself that life is a process, not a product, and it’s ok not to quite have the hang of it yet. I began sitting when I was a Marine Corps recruit, trying to reconcile my creative artsy side with the lean green fighting machine that the government was turning me into. At the time, it was the writings of Charlotte Joko Beck that gave me something to hang onto. A few years later it was Cheri Huber who helped keep me going, and most recently I’ve been very encouraged by the writings, both in book form and online, of Brad Warner, author of “Sex, Sin, and Zen” (affiliate link) among others.

All of these teachers come from the Soto Zen tradition, of which I know very litte. What I do know, though, is how they sit. Some would call it meditation, but that polysyllabic word has a lot of connotations attached to it from other spiritual practices, with things like chanting and getting all floaty and at one with the universe.

That’s not what sitting is. Sitting is when you sit. You get into a specific position – legs crossed, spine straight, left hand palm up in your lap and right hand palm up in your right. You focus your eyes on an invisible spot in the air somewhere in front of you and down towards the floor.

A waterfall in a lush tropical setting

CC photo by Grey Sky Morning (flickr)

And you. Just. Sit. There.

No breathing exercises (though Cheri Huber has said you might count breaths, five at a time, if you need to cheat a bit). No closing eyes, no relaxing into ethereal bliss. You just sit and deal with the world as it is, right then, right there.

Sometimes I cheat and put one hand on each knee, palm down. The tripod formed by my spine and my two arms somehow feels right. Often I have to remind myself to straighten my spine, discovering I’ve slumped. But most of my time is spent trying to get my brain to stop spinning. To bring my attention away from what I did yesterday, what I need to do tomorrow, this afternoon, in the next fifteen minutes. To bring it back, over and over and goddamn it over again, to the moment as it is.

The mind is an amazing traveler. It is usually anywhere but where you are. I’ll snap back to the moment after spending who knows how long thinking about computer equipment, having entire conversations in my head with my clients, speculating about friends and lovers and techniques for brewing coffee. It’s sometimes absurd to see where my mind goes. It may be depressed about the state of my bank account, it may be ecstatic about the email I got from my lover, it may be planning on the toppings for oatmeal that morning. I come back to the moment, often wondering what the hell made me go off on that particular tangent.

And that’s sort of the point: to remind myself of how easy it is to not pay attention to the world as it is, and to pay attention instead to the world as I think it should, could, might be. You’d think, since the former is concrete and real and the latter is completely nonexistent, it would be easier to pay attention to the world as it is.

You’d be wrong, though, which neatly proves the point

.

Sitting is hard. I can only handle about fifteen minutes a day right now, though I’m thinking of adding another fifteen minutes in the evening just to see if I can do it. As it is, I count it a victory if I am able to be “in the moment” when the alarm goes off at the end of fifteen minutes. I count it a failure (Bad Buddhist warning, again!) if I succumb to the temptation to look at my phone to see how much longer I have to sit there, because damn it, I’ve got things to do! I read about “sesshin” – where an entire day, or several days, are spent with hours of just sitting – in much the way a person who has taken up walking reads about marathon runners: with envy and admiration and a distinct feeling of “Wow, I don’t think I could ever handle that.

I’d invite you to try it out. Not just for one day, though that’s a start. But commit to, say, a week, with five minutes of sitting in the morning right when you get up. It’s simple: you hear the alarm, you get out of bed, you sit on the floor, and set the timer.

That’s it. If you have to move to some pretty view, or put on some chimey soft sounds, or have to close your eyes, well, that’s fine, but you’re cheating yourself out of Life As It Is. It’s not something we get to see all that often, and sitting only gives most of us a glimpse, here and there. I’m not talking about any kind of satori or enlightenment. I’m talking about just being ok, for just a bit, with the way things are, as opposed to the way you think they should be.

Then the doubts will crash in, the baby will start crying, the cat will start puking up a hairball and your boss will text you reminding you that today is when that report you forgot about is due. All part of the busy beauty that is life. Sitting just gives you a chance to stay in touch with reality, and takes away your excuses to avoid it – i.e., your “to-do” and “wish” list. As another zen writer put it:

Before studying Zen, mountains are mountains.

While studying Zen, things become confused.

After studying Zen, mountains are mountains.

– D.T. Suzuki

Don’t just do something. Sit there.

How you like me now?

I confess to feeling a bit of pride, because this post definitely holds up. Not only is it still accurate (as far as it can be from a layman’s perspective) it is also a practice I still engage in – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, occasionally a half hour a day. I have, since writing it, even done as long as (gasp) 45 minutes at a stretch (though to be fair, that was because the person I’d trusted to tell me when 30 minutes was up fell asleep).

It’s still an invaluable tool – and no, I haven’t been completely disciplined in my Practice. There was a period of a few months where I fell off the wagon, but I noticed the difference (and so did my partner). Now, every morning, we both do our own meditations (she’s more the “mindfulness” type).

It’s a relief to see that this post holds up, as well, because if it didn’t, I’d have to do some quick editing – this is a key chapter in my book The Meditation Manual. If you like what I have here, you will probably like the manual, as well. And if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

I’m also available for coaching and online meditation sessions now, thanks to the magic of online video conferencing. Not because I think I have anything special to offer – I mean, I’m basically going to tell you to sit there with your thoughts. No bliss, no transcendence, not even really any peace.

Just…things get better. Incrementally. Sometimes almost infinitesimally.

Sit with me?

SitRep: Two Months of Handwriting Practice

A little more than two months ago I began working towards acquiring the skills of a Graphic Recorder. That’s a big project; it’s both internalizing principles and strategies as well as actual physical practice of the craft.

I do say “craft” rather than “art” because one of the principles is “Ideas, not art.” There’s also a lot of pushback in our culture about being an artist (my own mother, upon taking a look at my Instagram feed, called me with a worried tone “Are you…becoming…an artist or something? 

But more to the point, a Graphic Recorder’s job is to help others recall and understand information, usually that they’ve already received in one format such as text or voice. When I did a skills assessment at the start of this project I took a look at past flip charts I’d used in my public speaking, and recognized something very obvious.

My handwriting sucked. It was hard to read, was full of misspellings, and had no real consistency much less visual heirarchy, and it was a shortcoming that stretched beyond the flip charts into my own journals and sketch notes.

Jumping in the Deep End

Luckily, handwriting is both something that you can improve as well as something that you can measure. I began looking around for instructional treatises on handwriting, especially as it applied to graphic recording, and was quickly drawn to the work of Heather Martinez. Aside from a wealth of free video and online content, she also had a course online of “Lettering with the Masters” which looked like exactly what I needed: direct training from people who were graphic recorders, people whose work I already admired (like Mike Rohde).

Have you spotted the flaw in my plan?

I didn’t, until Heather herself pointed it out to me in the 1:1 lettering session she provided gratis to help me with the natural disadvantage of being a left-handed letterer. “You really jumped in the deep end,” she said. “This was a course designed for hand letterers who had already done it all and were looking for something different. It’s called Lettering with the Masters, after all…

Yep. I’d been struggling with hands (you might want to call them fonts, but you shouldn’t, because that’s what machines use) and cursing myself for a lack of progress, when the whole time it was like being frustrated at being on a football team when you hadn’t really ever played or watched the game before.  

(I’ve had that experience, too, by the way. Why do I keep finding myself in these situations?)

Here’s the other thing about it, though: when I was practicing the lettering, or learning about the hands and the strokes and such, I was almost immediately in a state of Flow. Doing this stuff totally engages me, in a way that very few other things ever have. And looking at my past notes from the decades, even during the Marines or High School, I’ve always been drawn to this.

So I Quit My Job to Follow My Passion…

Not.

Nope, in fact, I didn’t even do what I would have told anyone else to do, namely: Set up a time every day where you can practice, and a different time when you can learn more about it. Enjoy the process of learning, the gradual improvement from regular practice, and leave the product to itself.”

That’s not to say I haven’t practiced. I’ve spent hours with brush pens and papers learning new fun words like majuscule and exemplar and tittle. I’ve learned pangrams – phrases containing every word in the alphabet – to practice with, as it’s better to write the letters as they will be used rather than in rote repetition. “Waltz, bad nymphs, for slow jigs vex” is one of my favorites, though there are times when I’m in more of a “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs” kind of mood.

It has not, however, been a consistent practice.  This is not so much a “here’s how you do it” post as a “Here’s how I’ve been doing it, and what I think I could have done better” post. 

Despite Self Sabotage

I could hold up something like “I’ve been traveling a lot” as a contributing factor to my lack of a consistent practice, but if I were being honest it has more to do with that whole process – product dichotomy. When I’m spending time practicing a hand, it feels great – and that must mean that it’s play, right? And therefore it’s not work, and therefore not profitable, and I’m still in the freelance/entrepreneurial world so that means I gotta hustle 24/7, and if I’m not being productive I’m losing cash and going to end up a failure and a shame in the eyes of my family and loved ones…

OK, so maybe the brain goes a little overboard. But you get the idea – any time I am practicing it feels like I am wasting time that should be spent whittling away at the ever-increasing to-do list. 

It feels that way. It’s not really that way, of course. Because here’s the thing: in spite of that particular self-sabotaging voice trying to draw me away from the practice, my handwriting is getting better.

Comparing where I was two months ago to where I am now is almost like night and day. I recently spent two days as an impromptu graphic recorder for a movement workshop I was assisting with, and again, it was like jumping in the deep end (turns out that drawing knots and rigging in specific detail is a pretty challenging thing) but I did it. And at the end, I got the reward that every G.R. hopes for: people stuck around to take pictures of the posters so they could remember things better later.

It’s a happy milestone in my process, and it’s a reminder: if I can get this good with intermittent practice, how good could I be with a deliberate practice?

I think we should find out. I’ll keep you posted, in another two months. In the meantime: what could you be practicing?

https://amzn.to/2Q6cg0z

The Time Substitute

In line with the series of subtle little tricks to try out new things, here’s a really simple one.

Often, when someone like me suggests that you try out that hobby, that trip, that whatever-it-is that you’re interested in but you’re not doing, the default answer is I would – but I just don’t have time.

That’s fair. I’m a big proponent of the idea that you can’t “make” time, you can’t even “find” time, you have to simply “prioritize” time – and that means giving up something else.

That’s hard. We have busy lives, and we generally fill our time with a mix of things we like to do and things we have to do. Giving up any of those is a pretty tall order.

Send Some of Your Time On Vacation

The only reason that excuse – I don’t have time – works is because you are imagining giving up something else forever. 

What if, instead, you gave it up for a week? Kind of like when a teacher goes of vacation, you know they’re coming back, but meanwhile there’s a substitute there. If the substitute is not fun, you grit your teeth but you can bear it because the cool teacher is coming back. 

On the other hand, if the substitute is fun, you get to see if maybe there’s some other position for them there on the staff…ok, the metaphor is stretching a bit. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Find something you habitually do – a hobby, a show, a regular exercise, anything that takes somewhere between five minutes and an hour of your time.
  2. Pick out something you wish you had time to do.
  3. For one week – and only one week – do that instead of the the usual thing.

It may mean your morning yoga is replaced with learning to stab-bind books. It may mean that instead of watching The Late Show you are writing three more sentences in your novel. It may mean you read Proust instead of X-men on your bus ride (or vice versa).

Doesn’t matter what you choose. Doesn’t have to be useful, or productive, or anything except something you wish you had the time to do

Because for one week, you can. And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what that’s like?

“There Ain’t No Gonna.”

Lately I’ve been in kind of a “maker frenzy”; for some reason, I’ll see something online like “Build your own screen printing press out of scraps” and the next thing you know I’m raiding my girlfriend’s basement for lumber and buying springs…and that leads down a rabbit hole of finding squeegees and ink and transparencies on CraigsList and eventually to selling bandanas and notebooks and t-shirts that I printed.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. When I was printing the covers of the moleskine notebooks, I was thinking “Hmm, I wonder how hard it would be to make my own notebooks…” Which leads to learning stab-binding and then poof, I’m making an orange glittery cover for my friends’ daughter because she saw mine and wanted her own.

And then the thought came…”Y’know, this is cool and all, but wouldn’t it be cooler to screen print my own logo on a stab-bound book I made out of paper that I also made…”

Which is a long way to explain why last night I was in my girlfriend’s basement again, making a deckle. (Side note: one of the fun things about making is all the new words you learn. “Majuscule”, “deckle”, and “dottle” are all words! Scrabble will never be the same).

How do you find time for it all?

That’s the question, right? This is where, as a good upstanding Personal Development Blogger, I’m supposed to tell you that you need to give up your favorite TV show, or get up an hour earlier, or somehow adopt some fancy scheduling system guaranteed to put 43 more minutes into your day!

Nope. Sorry.

Another person very dear to me pointed out what my “secret” is, in a text message (profanity warning: she is delightfully verbose, including swear words):

Can I tell you something I like about you?
I’ve been meaning to do screen printing for over a decade. Probably 15 years. I love it!! Want to do it!! So cool!!
Haven’t.
You? You’re all like “hey!” This is cool. Let’s do it.” 
And you’re printing.
That’s fucking awesome.
No excuses. Just done.
Fuck yeah!!

Now, I don’t want to pretend this is really a secret; that’s why I put it in quotes above. But there is a kind of philosophy behind it – one that Nike put into an ad campaign, but which I like to reframe by improving a classic Star Wars adage.

“Try Not!
Do. Or do not.
There is no try.”

Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

And this is where I look back at the kid and even young adult that I was, who loved this saying, and want to shake some sense into him:

Of course there is “try!” You don’t have to be assured of success in any endeavor before you benefit from it. Life is nothing but trying, and failing, and trying again. If you’re lucky, one of those “tries” succeeds – but the ratio of attempts-to-successes will always be skewed to the former.

No, what Yoda meant to say was that you can’t really hesitate. You can’t let the uncertainty of the outcome keep you from trying, nor can you let the failures of the past discourage you from trying something different.

Most of all, to me, this was a battle cry against procrastination, against the idea that “someday, I’m gonna try this thing.” That’s where there is motivation. You’re either doing the thing – and yes, preparing and researching and learning counts – or you’re still keeping it in the future, and therefore not doing it. 

Ready, Fire, Aim

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Currently I’m drowning in projects, and there are some that are going to need to be moved from the “do” to the “do not” pile. And both of those piles are fine.

But what I wish Yoda had said was this: “Do. Or do not. There ain’t no ‘gonna.”  It’s not “I’m gonna try this.” It’s “Yep, I’m trying this.” which really is the same as “I’m doing this!” right up until the point where it’s “I’ve done this.” Remember, time is what keeps everything from happening at once, and sometimes the reason we’re not “trying” is simply because the time has not yet come.

But often the thing that holds you back is the fear of the “try”. Whether that’s for fear of comparison to others, or to some idealized version of yourself, or simply the unknown…we hold back. We “do not.” And we try to make ourselves feel better by saying “I’m gonna do this…later.” 

That’s where the characteristic in me seems to come to the fore: Sure, why not? Let’s do it! And I’m scrounging and adapting and usually finding myself in over my head. My first attempt at screen printing, which I decided should be a silly little pin-up because I was sure it would be pretty bad? Turned out perfectly. My second try? Not perfect at all. Not horrible – but that’s the one where I learned all the lessons, and I’m still learning. 

Why? Because I’m trying. I simply start my hands and body and brain moving in a direction, and I continue until something makes me stop.

It’s not a secret technique. It’s not even that hard; any idiot can say “Ok, let’s just do it.” And it does mean shutting down that abstract part of your brain that wants to put things into the future. “I’m gonna do it…later.

Nope. You either do it, or you don’t. There ain’t no “gonna”.

Old Man Yoga: My Top Five

I don’t make much secret of the fact that I don’t enjoy yoga. I enjoy the effects that yoga has on my body (such as being able to walk up the flight of stairs to my apartment) but the act itself is still kind of…ugh.

I know there are people who say “give it time” and while I’m not one to prognosticate* I’m actually ok with yoga being something that I do not because the act is enjoyable, but because the results are.

There are a lot of “great yoga video lists” out there, but I’m not sure that any quite fall under the mantra of “Top Five for Middle-Aged Guys Who Hate Yoga“. But if you’re looking to start your own practice – and you know you should – here’s some that I have found helpful.

Super Hero Strong Flow with Tara Stiles

The Flow That Got Me Back Into Yoga

For a long time Tara Stiles was the only yoga teacher I watched, and in particular this flow was one that I memorized and then took with me on the road for years. It’s still my “go-to” flow when I need to do a quick workout. However, the emphasis is on “quick”, so while it’s a good one, you tend to hurry, and also don’t get some of the benefits of the slower or longer videos.

Morning Yin Yoga with Kassandra

Featuring Cleo the Cat

“Yin Yoga” is a kind of yoga that holds various poses for a long time – 2-5 minutes – letting the body settle into stretches in a way that allows gravity to do the work, rather than your muscles pushing. When I was recovering from pneumonia, I did a lot of yin yoga to build myself back up (it also is a great place for breathing deeply, which helped my recovery). 

It’s also an easier way to wake up if you want yoga to be part of your regular morning practice, and this particular workout is one that I come back to again and again. Kassandra is very low-key and forgiving in her videos, and both Natasha and I like her stuff

Yin Yoga to Restore & Reboot 

Yep, that’s Kassandra again.

This is another Yin Yoga video that I come back to repeatedly, usually after traveling or after a very frustrating day. It does exactly what it says: it kind of “resets” my brain by focusing on some long-form and, to be honest, kind of painful stretches (you don’t realize how heavy your legs are until you try to hold them in the air for three minutes). 

“Better Than the Gym”: Boho Beautiful

Yep. That’s exactly what I look like when I’m doing Plow Pose.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Boho Beautiful yoga videos. They are produced by a young couple that really should irritate all the curmudgeonly buttons in my Old Man Yoga brain…but somehow her cheerful, relaxed, confident manner of teaching falls short of the threshold of annoyance.

The other thing I actually like about the videos is that while she’s happily telling you what’s next (and effortlessly doing it) the actual workouts kick your ass. More than once I’ve seen a new one come out, and it says “beginner” and “15 minutes” and I’ve said “sure, I’ll try it – how bad could it be?” And then I’m really grateful that it’s video, because I would hate to swear that much at a yoga instructor in real life as I am grunting and sweating and trying to keep up. What I’m saying is: she would be a fantastic drill instructor.

Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Relief

Yep, there’s targeted yoga like you wouldn’t believe.

I pretty much unreservedly recommend any of the Yoga with Adriene videos. She has a wide variety both in terms of focus, level, and time, and has several series that work really well for short-term practice goals (such as the upcoming “Yoga for All” series). This video, in particular, helped me during a time that I was waking up with severe neck and shoulder pain for several weeks. I’d do it every morning to improve my mobility and it was spot-on. Lately I’ve been biking more, and her Yoga for Cyclists is useful to keep things stretched out.

What About Guy Yoga, Gray?

That’s right: not one male yoga instructor made my top five YouTube list. That’s not because I don’t try the channels like “Yoga with Tim” or Sean Vigue’s videos (which give truth to the whole “I’m gonna WIN this yoga!” joke). I did repeat Rodney Yee’s “Power Yoga” DVD for years, but at the point that he got involved in his own “#MeToo” type scandal I was just turned off by his presence, even on TV.

And basically none of the male-led YouTube yoga instructors have worked well for my middle-aged somewhat battered body. The demographic they are aimed at are, I believe, the more young and (to be frank) “DudeBro” set. I’ll still try the occasional video led by a man, and if I find one that feels worth mentioning, I’ll certainly write it up – but the videos above are the best Old Man Yoga clips I’ve done.

How about you? Have a favorite loved/hated Yoga Instructor online? If there’s one you think I should try, put the link in the comments; I’ll give it a shot, and let you know the results!

Three Ways to Motivate Your Practice

Long-term goals are wonderful things, and some of them are shiny enough to be enough, in and of themselves, to inspire a regular practice.

Other times the goals are more nebulous, and the temptations of the GravyHose are far more present and close. So rather than pull up the word processor you pull up Facebook, and rather than laying out the yoga mat you turn on Netflix. Hey, it happens, and there are times when an episode of Arrow is what you need more than writing an entry in your journal. And there’s a neat secret (that I’ll mention later) that is yet another reason not to beat yourself up when you just don’t feel like it.

But at the same time, I would like to share three things that help me reach the “Don’t Wanna – Did It Anyway” state of mind.

Check the Box!

I understand a lot of the ways evolutionary behaviorist explain things, but one that I don’t quite get is why humans like checking off things in lists. There’s something about that blank box or circle that makes you want to put a big green check mark or red X or Please fill in the circle completely when the time is right.

Has anyone tried selling books that are nothing but blank test forms, along with No. 2 pencils? Kind of like a cross between bubble wrap and a coloring book? Seems like that’s a missed opportunity…

Anyway, you can make your own. I’ve got a little row of seven circles each week in my bullet journal for my Morning Rituals of journaling and yoga, as well as my goals of drinking enough water each day and reminding a weekly Master Mind partner to move further towards their goals.

Does it always work? Nope. Notice that picture? That should be starting today, Monday, and you’ll notice that I haven’t checked anything off yet. But that’s just it: I’m motivated to do so. I’m about 65% on the water so far, I just sent the reminder (check!) and the yoga and journaling still has time to happen. Assuming I don’t let things distract me, the unchecked boxes will nag at me until I can fill them.

Sometimes a Bullet Journal isn’t obvious enough; my partner Natasha uses a dry-erase board on the refrigerator to use the same method for her goals. It really doesn’t matter if it’s written in sharpie on your arm or painted on your lawn in chalk; if you want to give yourself an easy nudge towards your practice, make an empty space that only the practice can fill.

Guilt By Association

The second method requires that you not be a sociopath. Simply put, tell people you care about that you’re going to do it. I mentioned that I started up this blog again because someone told me it helped them; I’ve heard that from others, and even have been given support via my patreon when I wasn’t writing. There are particular people who I know will read this, and I care about them, and that makes me write.

I asked my MasterMind partner to encourage me to do more drawing practice, preferably with an eye towards process instead of product, because I need to develop skills, not sellable materials. I will swear, and grumble, and come just short of pouting as I pull out the sketchbook and the pens to draw things that I don’t think are good at all – but I know that when they remind me next, I can triumphantly say Yes, I have drawn! I did the thing!.

Natasha and I even do weekly meetings just to set short goals and hold each other accountable for them. I should note that when I say that “guilt” is the motivating factor, it is not that she lays a guilt trip on me. That’s not her job. It’s the job of my own internal voice to be useful for a change and make me feel guilty if I haven’t done what I told her I would do.

Your kid. Your cat. Your future self. All four billion people on Twitter. Pick one, and let them know you’re going to do the practice. And then, when you’re feeling like it’s just too much, think about them being disappointed, because you have denied them the unique pleasure of knowing that they helped you get closer to what you want. Think of the sad eyes. The shake of the head, the slump of the shoulders.

Then do it.

The Improbable Life of Kathryn Joost

This is not my story to tell. Read the thread on twitter. And remember that the only way to get anywhere is step by step…and the next step is your next practice session doing whatever it is you need to practice.

Oh, and that neat secret? Well, it’s kind of related to those empty boxes in my Bullet Journal (aka “BuJo”). See, normally I don’t have trouble checking those off, because I do them first thing in the morning.

Today, though, we had to get on the road early for an 8-hour road trip. And that meant that I missed that window this morning. But that’s the secret:

There’s always another window.

When we get home, my yoga mat will be waiting there for me. My journal and a pen and a neat new chair to write in. And those boxes will be filled. So even though I’ve been spending most of the trip driving and singing along to musicals and reading sci-fi books, the practice will wait until the motivation catches up with me.

What’s your secret technique to Do The Thing when you Don’t Want To? These work for me, but the point is: whatever it is that kicks your tuchis into gear, do more of it.

Practice makes progress.

Finding the Time for Deliberate Practice

Along with the lovely delusion that reading about a skill is the equivalent of learning it, there is the idea that any practice is better than no practice. Need to work on writing? Carry around a notebook and write a paragraph while you’re waiting for the elevator! Want to learn to sing? Put on the music in the car on the way to work! Need to exercise more? Do squats while you’re in line at Starbucks! 

Aside from the fact that people may start looking at you funny, if your goal is deliberate practice, though, doing nothing can, in fact, be better than doing something. That’s because Deliberate Practice has to be mindful. You have to be entirely present – not thinking about work, not driving, not trying to figure out how to pronounce muffiacialatte. 

It’s why Deliberate practice works – because you are paying attention to what you are doing. Not that it means that you’re doing it right, of course – but rather, there’s nothing to distract you from all the things you are doing wrong (remember, deliberate practice is also Not Fun). 

When you’re “practicing” (quotes intentional) without paying attention to what you’re doing, you are letting all the bad habits and mistakes slip through, letting yourself zone out in the pleasure of the act. And hey, we’re all about pleasure here at Love Life Practice, but if you are trying to get better at a skill, letting yourself zone out is a pleasant kind of self-sabotage.

You’re better off finding other things to enjoy and do while you’re waiting. Try some mild creative exercises, like word puzzles or doodles or just letting your mind wander. Save the squats for when you can pay attention to the form, save the writing for when you can give the story the attention it deserves, and save the singing of the song you’re trying to get better at for when you can really hear and pay attention to the notes (On the other hand, go ahead and sing something else. The world needs more singing.

But Where Do I Find the Time, Gray?

Well, that’s the bad news.

You find it in the same place you find the time to do anything else you do: in the same pool of hours you and everyone else has.

And this is where I’m going to diverge from most personal development bloggers. I am not going to “just” you, or “simply” at you. You don’t just find more time. You don’t simply give something up easily so that you can do the practice time. You certainly can’t make more time.

You can only prioritize it.

The word prioritize literally means “make more important.” Which is pretty difficult when you’re a mother of three, or a single parent with a professional job, or struggling with illness or injury. There is a popular misconception that we all have lots of spare time that we are “wasting” on things like TV and social media – but for some, it is the brief respite that playing Two Dots gives us from the rest of the world that lets us get up and face our tasks later on. 

No, you don’t “just simply” do anything. You agonize, you deliberate, you weigh, you consider, you feel guilty, and maybe you are able to claw a few minutes – or, by the grace of All That’s Sacred, a blessed few hours – to actually do the work of Deliberate Practice on the thing you are working towards. 

Which, let’s remember, is Not Fun.

It is not easy for everyone to find the time to do Deliberate Practice. The stories you hear about people who have written books on gum wrappers and made fine art out of their children’s used popsicle sticks are the outliers, the rare exceptions, and while it’s fine to point out their dedication and tenacity it’s important to also acknowledge that they were the lucky ones.

So if you can’t find that time, please give yourself a break. Because this is where the good news comes in:

Promptum Est

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. – Hamlet

Or, if you want a slightly more modern version, there’s the Beatles: Let it be. Or maybe even more contemporary Bart Simpson: Dude. Chill.

The fact is that if you absolutely cannot brutally carve out the time for Deliberate Practice at some skill right now…it’s because you have more important things to do. Seriously, whether it’s working on your own health, caring for your partners, or doing some kind of other work, it’s entirely possible that you simply don’t have time for it.

Yet.

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once – Ray Cummings

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it? – Stephen Wright

Those are two very important concepts to remember. The thing you are doing now? You will not be doing it forever. Time never stops, and that means that If it be not now, yet it will come. Trust that the thing that you want to do will either be waiting for you by the time you get to the point where you can do it – or you will have something else you want to do more. 

Personally, it’s that last part of the quote from Shakespeare that I keep in mind: the readiness is all. What’s important is to be mindful of where you are now, and what you are doing. The rest of the quote explains why:

Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.

It’s another version of the “best laid plans” principle, or the simple fact that we are really bad at predicting what is going to happen, much less what’s going to make us happy.

That’s ok. The fun secret of mindfulness is that it is a pretty nifty experience, though I’m not sure I’d call it “happiness”. But that’s another post.

If you are tempted to try doing some deliberate practice, I wish you all the luck in the world. If you’re too busy, though, that’s ok too – as another philosopher-poet has pointed out.

It’s alright,

You can afford to lose a day or two.

Why don’t you realize?

Vienna waits for you? 

– Billy Joel

Embracing the Pain of Deliberate Practice

There’s a profession I have to learn: graphic recording.

Like any profession, it’s practice is done by the application of specific skillsets in combination to achieve a certain goal – oftentimes set by a client. The ability to figure out what a client wants and then deliver it to them by deploying those skillsets in an efficient combination is what I think of as business.

I’m pretty good at that part of things.

Unfortunately, this is a new profession for me, and that means what I don’t have is the skillsets. Even worse, I can’t do what I usually do and read a book about the subject and then be competent (much like my reading a book about basketball – which none of my elementary school classmates ever did – did NOT make me King of the Court).

Nope, graphic recording skillsets – basics like lettering, mid-level like information design, and advanced level like facilitation and coaching – all require not just the book knowledge but also the doing of the thing.

And not just the doing: the doing repetitively.

Or so I thought. I began filling pages with repeated letters, aaaaaaa, bbbbbbb, cccccc…. And then, luckily, I listened to the book Peak by Anders Ericcson, and realized I was doing it wrong.

It’s Gotta Hurt, Buddy

Think of it: sitting down with a nice pen, a clean notebook, putting on some good music, making sure your Earl Grey is hot, and then letting the ink fill the paper with curves and lines of beautiful letters, letting your mind relax into the flow of the repetitive…

Nope.

That vision of “practice” is a recipe for getting worse, not better. It’s a way to reinforce mistakes, learn poor technique, and minimize muscle memory (unless you’re Stephen King, you probably don’t write “Aaaaaaaaaa!!” very often).

In order to get the skills, I need to do deliberate practice. That’s different than what we usually call “practice”, or certainly what my piano teacher thought of as practice (You will sit there for an hour a day until you get better! Spoiler: I didn’t get better).

So great, I need to not “zone out”, I need to be focusing on writing letters in combinations, writing words, on my hand position and posture and learning the form of the stroke of a letter before thinking of the rhythm…

Except I can’t really do that, either, yet, because those are all things I don’t know. That’s where Mr. Ericsson really threw me for a loop: Get a mentor.

Whoa. What? I’m a 49-year old man. Whose gonna want to mentor me?

But that’s what it takes. If you want to get good at something, you have to let go of the myth of the “self-made man”, the reclusive inventor/artisan/genius who locks themselves up and emerges with a masterful set of skills.

Nope, deliberate practice is a collaboration. Which means I need to find teachers who do the thing I want to do, and do it well, and learn from them.

That’s a hard thing for a solopreneur like myself.

But it gets worse.

Feet First, Over My Head

My general practice in most things (aside from actual firearms) is something like “fire, aim, ready.” If I’m going to do something, I will read all about it…and then just go do it. The steps that I get impatient with are the “learning” steps – the plans, the exercises, the drills, the slow and incremental improvements. Drives me bonkers.

But there’s no way to rush lettering. There’s no way to “book learn” how to turn a person’s idea into a clear infographic. Instead, you have to set up a clear practice schedule, with measurable qualitative feedback (preferably from people smarter than you – see “mentor” above) and then go out of your way to fix whatever errors were made.

Worse, when you get something right, you need to leave it there and push for something harder. Only the practice that is on the edge of your current skill will actually improve that skill. That’s why, when asked if they enjoyed practicing, most top performers in any discipline said “no, not really. Not at all.” When I get a font right, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, revel in that particular new skill…but I need to deliberately look for the next font or technique, the one that scares me, that I have a difficult time with.

I need to suck at it, in other words, and if I’m not working at something I suck at, I’m not getting better.

Time is Inescapable. Comfort is not.

It’s a slow process, in other words, and for someone like me, used to “instant gratification” in terms of skills, it sounds awful. I’m not quite at the pouty lip/stompy foot/“I want it NOW! whine, but close.

Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. – “Peak”

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

It gets worse. If I get into a thing – a hobby, a book, an essay, a hike, a workout – I tend to push myself. I want to do it all the time. I want to immerse myself in it, and believe me, just google “hand lettering” and you’ll see there’s a lot of water in that particular ocean – and that’s just one skillset. It would be really easy to go “ALL GRAPHIC RECORDING ALL THE TIME. And that would be the quickest way to expertise, right?

Turns out, not so much. Mr. Ericsson’s research indicates that you need to break up your focused, uncomfortable with periodic breaks to recover. That’s right. Are you a workaholic? Are you proud of doing That Thing for eight hours straight? Are you living on caffeine and obsession?

You’re doing it wrong. Well, let’s take the value judgement out of it: you’re doing it (brace yourself)…inefficiently.

Ouch. That stings. Suddenly not only do you have to consistently schedule time to do things you aren’t good at, but you have to schedule time not to do those things if you want to get better at them.

Didn’t Wanna. Did It Anyway.

Thankfully, there is plenty of the very first element that Mr. Ericsson says is required for Deliberate Practice: motivation. I look at the work of people like Sam Bradd, Kelvy Bird, Brandy Agerbeck, Mike Rohde, and I think: I want to do that. They have a way of combining art with communication with information synthesis that is as thrilling to me as Baryshnikov dancing or Kameron Hurley writing.

I want to do that.

So I will schedule, I will letter and sketch and suck at it and suffer through the painful awkwardness of the deliberate practice…because they did, and that means there’s a path to that future me that is doing it too.