Saturday, January 15, 2022

On Creating My Own Newsfeed

 On a lark at the beginning of the year and through a link at Rural Revolution, I started following a blog called Home Living .  It is this very nice, old fashioned sort of blog run by a Miss Lydia who writes about (and puts out regular Video Blog entries) the home and home making.  It is, as I as say, a sort of old fashioned sort of blog where people like me feel about at ease as a rhinoceros keeper coming in from the pen into a tea room:  slightly out of my element, thinking I should have at least wiped my feet and (probably) changed before I entered, and pretty sure I am going to be asked to leave any minute now.  (Full disclosure:  She spends a fair amount of time speaking about making a good home (in the 18th-19th England way), Christian Living, and a cornucopia of other topics. Your mileage may vary.)

As it turns out, the video blog is just at the right level of mental involvement to allow one to do a second activity (say, Weight Training) while one listens, and so when the music is not the Heart-Stopping Pulse-Pounding "Life More Weights, You Fools!" that I prefer, I listen to her (admittedly, quite a variation).

In an episode from this week, she mentioned the idea of controlling the input of information and media when we first get up in the morning, the "flow of news" that at one time used to be characterized by flipping open the newspaper or flicking on the television or radio for the morning news.  Her point was that our intake often set our mood for the day and what we do with it.  Instead, she suggested that we "create our own news" by selecting the inputs that we read and listen to in this time, whether they be other blogs, readings, podcasts - whatever.  

Said another way, create your own newsfeed.

Interesting thought, I pondered as I struggled to get the safety squat bar back into the holder before I moved to my next exercise (stupid heavy piece of steel!), when I realized that accidentally, I had been doing the exact same thing all week.

This week our church, as they have done for many years, is doing a fast and pray event as part of the New Year.  A week of fasting, to someone who is weight training, is pretty much anathema (and not being Catholic or Orthodox, not a specific requirement), so I fasted from something I have fasted from before: media.  For the past week I have confined myself to the blogs I follow and a single board.

The results, I realized when I heard her comment and pondered, were staggering.

For the past five days, beyond my usual Pray/Read/Exercise/Walk/Write practices, I have eschewed any media (as I have during the day as well).  I have kept myself to reading the blogs that I follow and perhaps exploring one or two more.  For walks, I either find a podcast (non-media or current events) or listen to music from Two Steps From Hell (Heroic, Video Game sort of music).

The results?  I am literally less stressed - not only in the morning, but throughout the day.  I suddenly have time I did not used to have, both from not checking the news not only in the morning but throughout the day.  My "InterWeb" wandering - when I am bored and just clicking - has ceased as well:  after all, unless I am actually looking something up, I am already up to date on most of the blogs I follow - why look at what I have already seen?  Suddenly, I have time to start doing some of the things that I have said I very much want to do:  memorizing the names of the heads of my sword school, finishing Quintillian - you know, the sorts of things that get pushed to the side when you are agitated about the news.

Funny how all that works.

I might recommend it to your attention.  It is easy enough to do:  just choose consciously what you will read and listen to in the morning.  Maybe yours will involve media (mine does not) - but no matter what it is, make it a conscious choice instead of a habit or an accident.  And try it for a week, or as much time as you feel you need to judge results.

At least for me, again a fairly stark reminder of how a seemingly small change can create a big difference in my life.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Of Routines And Schedules

 One of the things I find I grapple with mightily is a change in routine.  Needs to have a well developed schedule to contrary, I inherently do not like change - even when it works out better for me.

Since I started training in Iaijutsu in 2009, we have had a variety of class times.  For 5 to 6 years we trained once a week, then we moved to twice a week - Tuesday and Thursday.  This turned out to be very convenient for me personally as it meant that I could perform my weight training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (3 training days).  It was splendid.  Every evening had a training and the days I did not have Iaijustu class, I would practice and weightlift.  Nirvana.

Then, we moved to a new dojo.

The move itself was amazing:  larger space and more classes (almost doubling our time to train).  However, after a bit our schedule changed from Tuesday/Thursday to Monday/Wednesday (and Saturday).  My happy little schedule of training was put into a tailspin.

I tried the option of working out at other times during the day - but I am not a morning workout person (kudos to those who are:  I am just not limbered up out of bed) and lunch workouts always left me feeling rushed (and a rushed workout is not an effective workout).  So I came up with an alternative: Tuesday/Thursdays/Fridays for workouts.

While better, this did not really resolve the issue either.  One really needs a full recovery day between workouts - or maybe a more fair statement is that I do - and if I was not feeling up to it, I would let is slip to Saturday (another day of Iaijustsu training, so often it did not happen).  And, as I am at The Ranch one week a month, by default I either had to work all of that training in or "miss" a session (which would always be deadlifts, which is maybe my favorite lift).

And then last week, the rather unusual thought came into my mind:  What if I worked out on Sunday?

Every Sunday that I am in town, I volunteer at the rabbit shelter.  I literally drive past the gym to go to the rabbit shelter.  Every week.  There and back.  One turn, 300 yards and I am there.  Week at The Ranch?  Conveniently I travel from Saturday to Saturday so my first day "back" is Sunday, so I could effectively finish out that cycle (I do have a body weight set The Berserker supplies me with at The Ranch which is ever bit as fearful as my regular training).  So there as well, I lose nothing?

Sunday as a rest day?  I am already in attendance at church (and very occasionally serving at the coffee bar), cleaning the Mob here, volunteering at the rabbit shelter, and taking care of other things here - so it is not like I am already living this proto-Protestant "Sit in Your Chair All Sunday And Meditate" sort of life.

The single biggest reason, I think, is that it is not what my routine is.

Routines are hard to adjust.  Routines can be schedules, but they can also be beyond schedule, just the way that I go about my life.  I have activities I do in the morning, but they are always in a specific order:  Pray, then Bible, then journal, then on to other things.  If I do it out of order it feels wrong or unnatural.

To my mind, of course, a simple thing like adjusting my workouts in a way that 1) Regularly schedules them; 2) Allows me to not "lose" a workout once every 4 weeks; 3) Actually probably saves me a little money in that it is one less trip I am taking; and 4) Does not stress me out or "guilt" me out when I do not do the workout - all seem like wins.  And yet - even as I write this - there is a certain reluctance in committing to it.

Why?  Because that is not the routine, argues my brain.  And if you do that, you will have to readjust other things (not really as true as my brain says, but it has been known to fudge the truth).  

How odd, that a simple change in order of operation or timing in a non-critical task creates such angst in my mind.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kits, Cats, Sacks, Wives

I would suspect that most of us growing up remember the old riddle of someone going to St. Ives:

"As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?"

The answer, of course, is one (Spoiler alert!): the speaker.  Apparently wherever everyone else was headed it was not to St. Ives (although to be fair, the riddle is somewhat vague about this - perhaps they were just taking the long route).

As a child, I bet most of us were both puzzled and then amazed by the answer and likely we immediately ran out and tried it on our family and friends.  Our family, no doubt, humored us by guessing; our friends either had to guess or blurted out "That riddle?  It is so childish.  I knew it years ago" (children often being the nadir of tact).  And so perhaps we learned where St. Ives was (there are two in England:  one in Cornwall and one in Cambridgeshire), perhaps learned that people carried things to market, and maybe learned to do math in our head (I get 2801, as corrected from original answer by Eaton Rapids Joe:  1 man, 7 wives, 49 sacks, 343 cats, and 2401 kits). 

But I wonder if we really missed the point of the riddle.

The crux of the riddle, of course, is in the first and last lines:  I was going to St. Ives, how many were going to St. Ives.  Everything else - the bulk of the riddle - is superfluous information not related to actually solving the problem.  In fact, in confuses the issue: people get lost in adding up how many peoples/items/animals are there, without realizing the fact that (per the riddle) none of them are going to St. Ives, only the speaker of the riddle. 

All that calculation and higher math and geography, wasted because it simply has no value to the actual answer that is needed.

I (and perhaps you) will laugh at this simple riddle as perhaps a happy memory.  What struck me as I was out walking Poppy The Brave this morning is how little I actually learned from this.

I could make a strong argument that for many years, I learned precisely the wrong lesson:  when asked a question, I  often get wrapped up in the minutiae and the details, in things that while interesting have no bearing on the actual question to be resolved.  Ask me how my garden is doing (not well, by the way this year - nasty cold snap) and I will get into the minutiae of the soil and water and amount of sunlight - all relevant to the potential for the garden, but you asked a different question:  "How is your garden doing", not "What are the contributing factors that adding to the fact that your garden is not doing well?". 

All of a sudden, the fact that I struggle with or have not resolved issues for many years - sometimes 40 or more - is not from a lack of trying or getting resources of thinking deeply on the subject, it is that I have not being solving for the right thing. "A = B+C" is the equation, but I am out looking for F, H, and Z because - well you know - I need to account for those kits, cats, sacks and wives.

I do not really need them to answer your question - oh, it is interesting and sometimes explains why the thing has turned out to be the way that it is (so for example, my garden would do better in Winter if I moved it 10 feet over), but that is the answer to a separate question:  "Why is garden not doing well in Winter"?

In dealing with one of one our senior executives at work (the sort of person that one would say "They would be a great mentor" if they had the time to do it [except I know they do not]) they presented a very simple response to any question/request/puzzle:  "The Ask, The Task, and The Timeline".  I am pondering this a great deal (It is simple and I think as we all know here, I am a simple man) as a paradigm, but it points out exactly the problem I have noticed:  If I do not understand the Ask correctly, of course everything else (The Task And The Timeline) will be completely wrong.

Or said another way, if I am not careful I will find myself traveling with man, wives, sacks, cats, and kits to an unknown destination - when really I wanted to go to St. Ives.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The 10 Year Challenge

 For those of you who do not frequent Social Media (and who, probably, are the better for it). you may not be aware that currently there is a thing called the "10 Year Challenge" making its way through postings.

The concept is pretty simple: post a picture from 10 years ago and post a picture from 2022. Maybe make a brief comment on the state of your life then and now.  Await the "likes" or "hearts" that will come in (because, of course, who will "dislike" a personal story, even if they could?).

The postings really end up in three categories:  young people who grew up, people that were in a bad way physically/financially/personally that conquered their issues, and people that just look older.  There are some sorts of permutations of course, but really those are the options.

On a lark, I was paging through my Book of Face entries for a picture from 10 years ago from curiosity as much as anything else (One curious fact I discovered is there are not a lot of pictures from 10 years ago).  My explorations, based purely one what was posted, are pretty much the ones listed above:  Na Clann were much younger, I was much younger with less gray, I had just started throwing in the Highland Games (weight training was still years away),  and my Iai technique needed a lot of work (it still does, of course).  I was also apparently "on the cusp" of a brilliant publishing career (which pretty much has turned into this blog).

However, in my intellectual and gentle mockery of myself and what I thought the next 10 years would have looked like, it did give me pause to think about what the future next 10 years would look like.

This is where these considerations always break down.  It is good to have a retrospective from time to time, even if it just to poke fun at one's self and see one's shallowness displayed for the world to see.  And yet none of us live in the past: it is a known country, but a country that we can no longer visit except in pictures, memories, songs, and dreams.  The future is the unknown country that is hurtling towards at the breakneck speed of 24 hours a day.  

What might interesting - although I doubt it will ever happen - would be for people to post their future 10 year challenge.  Not so much pictures of course (if someone wants to use that aging software, great: I can assure you based on experience none of us will be nearly that attractive), as what we will be and what we will have done.  Committing themselves - perhaps recklessly or foolishly as the future, as that sage Yoda would say, is "always in motion" - but to a potential course or courses of action and outcome.

Some could argue that this is what planning and goals and life strategies are, and I suspect they are right.  But how many of them are willing to publicly say what they are privately striving for?  Yes, there are likely to be gaps and failures and unexpected twists and turns - that is life and no-one I know of faults you if, say, you have to move halfway across the country to a new state because you cannot find a job anywhere else (a total random example, of course) or you have a significant change in health (like our friend STxAR did). But acknowledging that is different from not talking about the future at all.

The past is history, one that we can regal and digest and laugh about.  The future - ah, that should interest us greatly, as that is where we will be spending the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Dearth Of Ownership II

 One thing that I think I can be legitimately accused of is that while I have some ability (debatable as to what level, I suppose) of being able to point out a problem or issue, I am not very good at pointing out solutions.  Or at least practical, applicable solutions.  It is one thing to say "The system (name your system) needs to be fixed".  It is another thing to say "This is what I can do to fix the system".

And so with the question of ownership of policies and issues.  It is not enough for me to complain that there is an issue and we are living through the results of this, which I argue we are.  I need to propose and practice a solution.

Unfortunately, I am rather bad at starting mass movements and any potential political career is not going to happen due to the fact that, were I actually to run, I would manage to offend everyone by my opinions as I really belong to no party or movement and thus am equally offensive to all parties and movements.

The only way I know to do things is start with me and be an example.

So how does one go about promoting Ownership of issues?

An important point to clarify, at least in my own mind, is the difference between ownership and accountability.  Ownership is internally generated:  I choose or am made responsible for a thing.  Accountability is externally generated:  Others hold me to complete, do, or stay within the bounds of the thing.  I can certainly choose to be accountable for things I do not own, even as I can own things which I am arguably not accountable for because I have no ability to complete them.  But for the purposes of this solution, I am discussing only ownership: my responsibility to see a thing through to completion and be responsible for the results.

Oddly enough, I already practice this in small ways with swords and rabbits.

For my swords - the shinken, or live blades with edges - I am 100% responsible for them.  Not only for the location of them and management of them, but the care of them.  If any rust appears on the blade (it can happen), it happened because I failed to clean it properly.  I own the blade, therefore I own the rust.

With our rabbits, they are 100% mine.  I am responsible for making sure they get fed, watered, changed, interacted with, and exercised.  If I do not do it, it will not get done to the level that I would expect of myself (and the rabbits prefer, rabbits being rather focused on themselves, of course).

Certainly there are circumstances where another Iaidoka may use my blade or I am gone and my family takes over caring for the rabbits.  But those interruptions do not change the fact that ultimately, I own the responsibility for the outcome (even if I am not physically there).

Fair enough.  But these things - shinken, rabbits - are personal things.  How do I push the envelope to include an example which will be more publicly an example?  The only solution, I suppose, is do things more publicly.

This can be small, I suppose - selecting a piece of roadway to keep clean or choosing some portion of a group or activity to be responsible for, like always making sure the dojo is clean or coffee things put away or a host of other seemingly small items.  If something is out of place, I make it my responsibility to make it right.

I am sure that from there, of course, the argument could be made that from such small seedlings, great movements could start:  larger people could take ownership of larger pieces of road or stewarding larger pieces of land or being responsible for making sure that charity cases do not remain charity cases by helping them to succeed in society.  Those are certainly worthy goals; I will leave them to those with the organizational abilities and social interaction abilities to make them happen.  

My job - my only job in this case - is to be a part of the solution by being an example, even if a small one. In that sense, I am owning both the small issue I am dealing with and the larger one around us.

That does not mean the larger one gets solved, of course.  But I can at least rest easy knowing that rather than just complaining (again), I have both proposed and enacted a resolution.

Which may, I suppose, looks a lot like ownership.

Monday, January 10, 2022

A Dearth Of Ownership

One of the things that I have been grappling with at the start of the year is Ownership.

Originally, of course, it started with work.  "Ownership of your work" is a big thing nowadays, the concept being that you (the individual) own the responsibility of the project's success or failure. Ideally of course, the concept is that you will 100% buy in to the idea that you, and you alone, are responsible for the success or failure of the work. It can be a useful thing but at the same time is not always productive - in my case as a project manager, now matter how much I "own" the project, the decisions about it are not mine to make in most cases.  And I question if one can have 100% ownership of one does not have the ability to direct the outcome (my job as a project manager is mostly to enable the work getting done and see the project through to its conclusion, no matter what the twists and turns).

But then it got me to thinking of Ownership on the larger level.  And how, frankly, it is often preached but seldom does.

The place it seems most likely to be done is in the personal realm.  One can have 100% ownership of one's life or one's choices, because one has 100% control of yourself.  I can choose to do something or not do something.  If I want the results, I will do whatever it takes to get those results.  If I try something and it fails, the responsibility for the failure may not be on me, but understanding why the failure happened so that it does not happen again (and trying again) are 100% up to me.

But expand that to those that make policy.

In publicly held companies this is possibly the most practiced:  come up with enough unsuccessful business choices and leadership will find itself out on its duff (I have seen it happen personally more than once).  In professional sports as well:  coaches and players that do not find themselves sufficiently interested or responsible for victory will eventually find themselves transferred to other teams or doing B-grade commercials for sports drinks or pet insurance.

But in the most important areas - policy initiatives, be they economic, social, foreign, military, religious, or anything else - there seems to be zero ownership by those who are making them.

It is an odd thing, is it not?  When these policies are being put in place, there is no end to the amount of people that will fight for and publicly declaim on the issue.  Yet once the issue is voted or decided on and made into law or policy, it passes into the hands of bureaucracies and committees and study groups - and there, in the process of being executed, ownership dies.

On the off chance of a success of course, there is no end of people taking credit - as someone quoted once on this blog "Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan".  But when it fails and fails miserably, no one suddenly has any ownership for how it got to that to that point.  The committee points to the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy points to the policy makers, the policy makers point to the public that demanded the action, the public points to the policy makers that demanded it.  The failure exists, the resources of time and money to make the failure have been expended; no-one claims ownership for how it got there.  And more often than not there is no accountability:  perhaps a discussion about not meeting the "goal", one or two underlings get lectured or make public mea culpas, but nothing more.

Viewing it this way, suddenly it is of no surprise to me why we find ourselves in the situation we do on so many fronts.  This is not a political party or industry or specific religion issue:   we seem to have created a society where on the whole, individuals own their results but anything beyond the individual does not.

Such a situation cannot last forever, of course:  nothing - a personal life, a company, an organization, a government, a state, even a nation - cannot stand a consistent and unmitigated string of failures without anyone owning them.  Eventually someone or some group will begin taking ownership for the results that they desire; many others will sit and complain or deny that it is the right action, but they have lost that right.  Having surrendered the opportunity to own the results of their own proposals, they lose the ability to criticize those who have owned them and seen their results through to a conclusion.