Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Back In The Saddle

As I expected, December is a bad time for keeping up with goals. All of my ambitions got crowded out with getting ready for Christmas, or more accurately, keeping up with my wife’s getting ready for Christmas.

New Years, however, is ALL about the personal renewal (if you made a drinking game over every magazine you saw that said “New Year New You.” January would be the new Festive Season, and February would be Liver Health Awareness Month). However, it’s become a running gag about how New Year’s Resolutions are discarded by January 15th.

My own goals in November kind of unraveled in the last ten days. There was no attention given to the Facebook posts, and the accountability wasn’t there. But I have a different motivation in January.

For a couple years, I went into a winter funk in January and February. Last year, I was able to keep it in check, partially with regular exercise, limiting the junk food intake, and keeping my entertainment light.

A lot of attention has been given to clinical depression in the last few years, especially since the untimely death of Robin Williams. However, I don’t believe that all instances of low moods are a clinical condition. The problem with these causes is that it becomes almost fashionable to be depressed. “You know that thing that everyone’s talking about? It’s ME!” This was true before the Social Media Narcissism age, and it seems to have gotten worse.

As for me, I don’t have a diagnosed condition, but my funks can get pretty severe. Last year, I found that the diet and exercise changes helped a LOT. I look forward to trying it again.

I hope that someone wants to jump on board with me. Want to do better? Want to BE better? Want to be the hero that you look up to? All of our heroes worked their asses off to get where they are, and I, for one, want to be someone worthy of my respect. I know that such things are easier with a team-mate, so if you’re looking for someone to help keep you on track, then you’ve come to the right place! Leave a comment or a message on the Facebook page, and let’s work the upward spiral!

Monday, 30 November 2015

November Summary

Should I call it a success? Meh.

My goals were to exercise every other day, and to journal four times a week, while keeping up with a blog.

My exercising was better than average, though I didn’t make it to every other day consistently. For a couple weeks, I journaled four times, but more often three. I did, however, get up some decent blog posts.

So, I didn’t meet my goals, but I had marked improvement. However, there was a bit of a cost. In my efforts to add virtues to my life, other things got neglected. Changing my routine caused some memory lapses, most notably in sending the wrong medication to daycare (I had some quality shitting-on-myself time over that one, but no harm done). So I learned a thing or two about stretching myself too thin, and adopted a morning checklist to keep my duties straight. I did learn something about motivation, though.

At the local bookstore, I found a book about Navy SEALs. Holy crap, those guys are intense! The devotion to excellence is truly inspiring, not to mention their eagerness to keep learning, no matter the source. As right and proper as it is to take issue with the politics & economics of war, I have to say, these gents lit a fire under my ass!

For my next step, I have an appointment on Dec. 1 for a quit-smoking program. I’ve done it before, but it didn’t last more than a few months. I wasn’t planning to do that until the New Year, but hey, never a bad time for that, eh?

I think that that will be quite enough goal for December, but I plan to have a Back In The Saddle month in January. After all of the holiday craziness, it will be a good time to refocus. Let’s be accountable to be better!  

Friday, 20 November 2015

Respect, How Sesame Street Got It Wrong.

One of the challenges I’ve found with having kids is that simple questions can be harder than they seem at first. Defining “uncle” to a three-year-old mind, with a three-year-Old’s attention span can be tricky, and a parent can see the language through fresh eyes, and a teeth-grinding headache.

One definition that I wrestled with for years is ‘Respect.” Try it; it shouldn’t surprise you that it’s a slippery one.

This changed one morning when Sesame Street was on, and ‘respect’ was the word of the day. Naturally, I was tickled pink; Sesame Street usually has some pretty solid educational chops, so I thought that my long dilemma was over.

Their definition was this: “Treating other people how they want to be treated.”

Nope. No no no hot-water-burn-baby NO! (hope you caught the Rainman reference, or I’m going to seem like one sick fuck) And here’s why:

How does a bully want to be treated? Full submission and humiliation for their amusement. Submitting to that would be indulgent and self-erasing psychic suicide.

Or the extremely drunk girl who tried to drag me into the ladies room of a pub for a few minutes of sweaty affection. Treating her how she wanted to be treated would be exploitative, and scummy on my part. It’s not hard to see that it would be more respectful to check-in with her affections after she had slept it off (I did, and she was over it).

So in a moment of inspiration, I told my child what ‘respect’ meant: treating people as though they were smart and responsible. That night, I updated it to “kind, smart and responsible.”

By Jove, I think I got it!

“Kind” is pretty self-explanatory; engaging in conversation without attack, and honestly trying to understand the perspective of the other. By “responsible,” I mean taking ownership of our own words and actions. No blaming, and no making excuses.

“Smart” is a little trickier. Not everyone is born with the same mental horsepower, and only so much can be learned. Likewise, there are lots of people who are gifted in academic smarts, but are bloomin’ morons in other areas. When I say “smart,” I’m thinking of someone who is reasonably aware of the consequences of actions, can keep their observations in their context, and above all, know what they don’t know.

But here is where the crash-test-of-ideas is important. Back when I was young, single, chronic, and spending a lot of time by myself, I thought these insights made me a freaking genius. When I sobered up, I got quite a humbled, and I learned the value of peer review. I think that peer reviewing in a blog would be better than casual conversation, because it gives people time to digest and formulate a better response than a right-now reply. At the same time, nothing beats the dynamics of real flesh-and-blood conversation after the brains have had time to digest individually

I find this one to be particularly important to nail down. A lot of people are talking about respecting others; a lot of people with authority positions (schools and employers), are demanding that you respect your peers, on pain of banishment. However, their “respect” seems more indulgent than anything resembling equality.

I think that this definition can solve a lot of problems. If people keep this definition at the front of our minds during difficult conversations, we could get a lot further, a lot faster.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Now, I’d like to take a moment to address a problem that affects us all, infecting nearly every workplace, and many other organizations.

The MicroManager.

You will know these people be their tendency to give you detailed instructions on every aspect of your job. They have more “good advice” than Oprah, and they rarely have an actual management position or title (actual managers don’t have time for the fiddly-bits of your job).

They also have a virtually unassailable defense mechanism, developed over years of pissing people off: “I was just trying to be helpful..,” making their assailants feel like turds for not appreciating their good intentions and un-asked-for assistance.

But their charitable contributions always just feel wrong, and I think I’ve figured out why. A truly helpful person will give you the respect and credit of assuming that you already know things. A helpful person isn’t so damn condescending!

So why am I writing about this on the ManCrafting blog? Well, firstly, because I hate them so fucking much! But like all things that stir such an emotional reaction, it reflects something of myself that I find disdainful. We all want to be the Wise Counselor – the resident Gandalf – without having lived the hard life of significant accomplishment that we see in those with genuine wisdom. As for myself, I couldn’t help but notice that people (myself included) didn’t like to hear advice. This is how, as a young man, I learned to keep my “wisdom” to myself.

Now that I’m a little more seasoned (if cranking a 30-years-old hard rock hit from a minivan is seasoned…Nailed it!), I may offer a different perspective to people in a conversation with friends, but that’s about it.

But how is the ManCrafting blog different from this? Well, I’m not offering this to anyone who didn’t ask for it, and I’m trying not to say what someone ‘should’ do (I just cringe at any sentence that starts with “You should…”). But in my long search for The Answer (nothing yet, but if I find It, I’ll be sure to post It here), I’ve come across some good ideas. I’ve found others with a fondness for good ideas, and I want to weigh and measure our good ideas against one another, so I don’t leave these ideas unchallenged. Let’s have an idea crash-test together!

And when some micromanager starts in on us, I think it’s time we stopped suffering these fools lightly; a polite reminder of their rudeness may be in order.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Limit of Willpower

So, after saying that I wanted to “Go boot camp on this shit,” my goals may seem a little weak. I’m going to journal four times a week, and exercise every other day. No weight loss goal. No rep-increase goal, just having the routine.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it’s the consistency that’s the goal. I started exercising in the New Year, and sometimes, I could keep it to every other day, more often, once or twice a week. On occasion, there were 10-day gaps. This is the problem I’m trying to solve.

Also, I am 41. Trying to push myself too hard is likely to lead to injury. Not only is it more important to keep functioning for my job, but also to be able to play with (and pick up) my kids.

It’s also smarter to implement goals gradually. While some people can change their habits on a dime, most people don’t. One of the causes of this is what some researchers have found about the limits of willpower. Roy Baumeister did a study where participants were asked to eat radishes, and not the fresh-baked cookies (Roy, you sick FUCK!). These poor souls gave up on the following puzzle long before the ones who were told “Radishes? Pfft! Have a cookie!”

In fact, Dr Baumeister has done a lot of study, and found that not only can willpower be depleted, but it can be strengthened with effort and practice. I have yet to read his book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” but it sounds promising!

As for me, there was a time a few years ago when I found that my patience with my kid was less than ideal. Upon reflection, I found that I had been spending a lot of my patience at work, mostly on a particularly odious shit-wit. I decided that my family was WAY more important than this turd, so I started letting him know when he was pissing on my nerves (I totally mis-typed this, but on re-read, I like how it sounds, so it’s staying as “pissing on my nerves!”) I later found that this was consistent with Mark Murovan’s (University of Albany) finding that the self-motivated & self-regulated got less drained than people-pleasers. I didn’t make him look like an idiot, but I sure made it clear when he was making himself look like an idiot. It was a public service that was more popular before the age of participation trophies. (Anyone remember when “he didn’t suffer fools lightly” was a complement?) But I digress…

Asides from these factors, I expect to spend a fair amount of time maintaining the blog and FB page. Not to mention my family, and a full-time job. So, if my exercise and journaling goals seem a little weak, it’s all part of a bigger picture.



Tuesday, 27 October 2015

What It Is, Jive Turkey

So what’s wrong with the world?

Ask just about anyone and they’ll have a list and a sermon that they are eager to share. And I’ll bet that “Stupid People” will be in the top-three of most people’s rants. Trouble is, LOTS of people use this to describe others when they don’t understand why they do what they do, as in “Just what is that moron thinking?” Sadly, we’ve all been on both ends of those comments. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it isn’t.

However, a problem that is rarely discussed is that men are terrible at making & keeping friends. Back in the day (look at me, all urban n’shit), men had groups like Freemasons, Elks, and the Grand Lodge of the Water Buffalo. Trouble is, they were religiously inclined, and more and more people are relying on evidence and reason, ahead of faith.

So here’s what I propose: ManCrafting. Men meeting regularly to discuss issues. If it’s personal, he’s in a safe place where can let his machismo down. If it’s social, he can get some feedback, perspective, and information.

I think that a lot of us would like to see an antithesis of the Entitlement Mentality. Somewhere along the line, “I’m OK you’re OK” mutated into “You can’t judge me!” (And not cool-mutated, like Wolverine, but more like some gasping blob from a first-year Hogwarts student, begging you to kill it) I sure as shit know that my “Genuine Me” needs some work and refinement, and I’ll bet that yours does too. Let’s focus on our growth and responsibilities; you know those things we forget when we’re chirping-off about our rights?

Let’s educate ourselves, and learn to measure things with reason and evidence so we’re not swept along by habit, hoopla and herd-mentality.

Let’s get together to spur each other into an upward spiral!  Let’s be virtuous, and show the world that we’re not just a bunch of grown boys who can’t see any further than the next game, or teasing inches of cleavage.  

For months, I’ve been wondering how to start such a thing. Then, inspiration hit from another group: NaNoWriMo. In November, writers around the world come together, online and in various coffee houses and pubs, for National Novel Writing Month. Each sets a goal to crank out 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s not about great writing, it’s about goal-realization and camaraderie and support.

I propose to take that idea, but modify the goal. In fact, each participant modifies the goal for themselves. These goals can fit under the headings of physical, mental, or emotional. If you’ve got and exercise routine, amp it up over a month (with the input of a doctor or trainer if needs be). If not, start one (ease into it; don’t be an idiot and go all gung-ho-mo-fo right off the hop). Mental is pretty self-explanatory; learn something outside of your comfort zone, enhance yourself in your profession, or better yet, find the best ways to gather and filter information.

But the emotional, there’s the ambiguous, sticky shit. I’m thinking of the core philosophical maxim: Know Thyself. Self-knowledge, that’s fucking MONEY right there. Your perspectives and your biases shape how you experience EVERYTHING. To not be aware of this is to be just pulled along by currents and tides.

So let’s take November and go Boot Camp on ourselves. Let’s get some good habits that will start the journey of Self Mastery.