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Post image for Why There’s Never Enough Time

I have this dream, and maybe you do too, of one day having enough time. It always feels like I’m in a particularly time-squeezed period of the year, or of my life.

The state of having enough time seems like a real place but we but never seem to be there. Once I finish this project, once Christmas is over, once the move is done, I’ll have time. But right now, there’s not enough time to do everything.

Quite a bit gets done, but something is always falling behind: emails, bookkeeping, self-improvement promises, things I said I’d do. Am I still learning French? I’m not sure.

Sometimes I wonder if having enough time is achievable at all, or if it’s like trying to reach light speed. We can approach it, if we have vast amounts of energy, but the laws of reality prevent us from quite getting there.

That doesn’t make much sense though. You always get some things done, and if those things were all you felt you needed to do, you’d have enough time. If you had another couple of hours a day, you would have kept up with Spanish lessons, you would have culled your sock drawer, you would have finished the 30-day yoga challenge. Read More

Post image for Goodbye Booze, For Now

Happy New Year everyone. So I’m starting 2017 by not drinking any alcohol for four months.

The decision wasn’t made in the throes of a January 1st hangover. I had committed to an extended teetotaling break a few weeks before, the morning after attending the staff Christmas party of my former employer.

It was a rather restrained night, as far as get-togethers at the pub go. But the next day I remembered a detail that made me realize I’ve been making a huge miscalculation the entire eighteen years I’ve been drinking.

There seem to be three basic relationships a person can have with drinking. There are drinkers, dabblers and teetotalers.

Teetotalers never touch the stuff. Dabblers may have a glass of wine or a beer now and then, or even regularly, but they only occasionally have enough that they’d have to call a cab. They see drunkenness as an accident, a morally salient line one should avoid crossing. Drinkers get drunk on purpose, and obviously believe it’s worthwhile.

I have always been in the drinker category. Throughout my adult life, I’ve regularly gone out with the intention of having six or more drinks, sometimes many more. This is socially acceptable where I come from, but only recently has that begun to seem strange to me.  Read More

Post image for Maybe You Don’t Have a Problem

For a grown man who writes for a living, I read very slowly and I’m self-conscious about it. Finishing a novel in less than two weeks feels like an accomplishment. If I love it from the start I’ll fly through it in a week or less, but usually that means I’m spending several hours a day on it.

Yet there are people who read two or three or seven or eight books a week. I have always wanted to be one of these people, and two months ago I decided to become one. My philosophy was simple: whatever they do, I will do that.

It seemed obvious that people who read five or ten times as many books as I do must be going about it completely differently. They’re not just reading—as I know it—more quickly. They must be using their eyes and minds in ways I never learned to.

So I dove into the dubious world of speedreading. I bought the best-reviewed instructional book on the topic, and promised myself I’d work through the program.

The technique was indeed very different from how I normally read. Zip your finger across the lines as a pacing device. Don’t say the words in your head. Don’t stop to reread anything you didn’t quite get—just allow the important words to come through and the natural redundancy of the material to fill in gaps in your comprehension.

And these instructions did do something. I found I was able to plow through non-fiction at more than double the speed right away, and actually comprehend most (I think) of the ideas presented. With words coming into my head that quickly, there was no time for daydreaming or distraction.

But it wasn’t pleasant. It felt like I was on a game show on the Food Network, scrambling to cook something presentable while a clock ticked down. My reading was quick, and not so quick as to be useless, but it was sloppy and completely devoid of joy. I don’t believe I was absorbing the material in the way the author intended. There’s no way would I read a novel that way.

When I investigated the topic of speedreading itself, I learned that it isn’t really a faster method of reading. It’s a kind of pragmatic skimming, very useful for consuming large volumes of material for school or work, or otherwise extracting vital information from anything you don’t actually want to read. But by most accounts it’s not a way to finally enjoy Proust.  Read More

cookies

Over the entire calendar year I probably eat a little more than I should. But it only becomes a crisis in December, when every semblance of moderation goes out the window, for a number of reasons.

The biggest problem is holiday get-togethers—for Christmas, or certain sports events, or just because a lot of people are off work. Usually each person brings 15,000 calories in a casserole dish for everyone to share. Most of these recipes call for one or more bricks of cream cheese, or bacon wrappings for foods that are normally not wrapped in anything.

There are always dainty little desserts that could be eaten in sets of two or three, each piece smaller than a deck of cards but somehow containing 350 calories. There are little bowls of nuts beside wherever you happen to sit, and you eat them for the same reason George Mallory climbed Everest. (He died.)

Egg nog reappears, which would be a shame to miss even though it contains eight thousand calories per glass. While you’re finishing your main pile of food, someone’s aunt is circulating, telling people to “Eat more, there’s lots!” and you want to help them out so you do.

And because you know defending against this festive onslaught is futile, you give yourself an official hall pass for the evening, and double down on your consumption to take advantage. You have a few drinks to dull the guilt. During the second round of Apples to Apples you decide you will take a cab home, which means you must have three or four more drinks. And because everybody brought five or ten times as much food as they eat, you get sent home with several pounds of leftovers, and end up eating crab dip and carrot cake for breakfast.  Read More

Post image for Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News

I grew up believing that following the news makes you a better citizen. Eight years after having quit, that idea now seems ridiculous—that consuming a particularly unimaginative information product on a daily basis somehow makes you thoughtful and informed in a way that benefits society.

But I still encounter people who balk at the possibility of a smart, engaged adult quitting the daily news.

To be clear, I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here. This post isn’t an indictment of journalism as a whole. There’s a big difference between watching a half hour of CNN’s refugee crisis coverage (not that they cover it anymore) versus spending that time reading a 5,000-word article on the same topic.

If you quit, even for just a month or so, the news-watching habit might start to look quite ugly and unnecessary to you, not unlike how a smoker only notices how bad tobacco makes things smell once he stops lighting up.

A few things you might notice, if you take a break:  Read More

Post image for How to Become Less Uptight in Two Minutes

The classic advice for public speaking nerves is to picture the crowd in their underwear.

I wonder if the person who invented that ever tried it. I find it immediately increases the tension of a speaking situation. It makes you more aware of what’s at stake—the possibility of embarrassment, for the audience too.

What does work is to picture the room around you as it was at 4 am. Empty and silent. Nobody there to need any particular thing to happen, or not happen.

This simple thought makes it clear that the room itself is harmless, and so is speaking into it. Filling it with people changes that sense a little, but not so much that it feels dangerous.

The mental image of an inert room shrinks the prospect of speaking from a frantic story in your mind down to its bare bones again—people in a room, one of them talking. It becomes obvious that however the talk goes, life will continue afterward. The room will be quiet again, with no trace of your forgotten lines or botched intro, if they even happened.

Even if you never speak to a roomful of people, this ability to shift your view of a particular scene in this way is quite useful. You can reduce the stressful effect of queues, crowds, busy subway platforms and family gatherings just by imagining that same space as it might feel with no people in it—either the previous night at 4am, or a century from now, when it’s a dusty ruin. Back in the present, suddenly the place isn’t so threatening or intolerable. It’s just what it is to the senses alone—a space with people in it—and the mind is only adding commentary.

This remarkable little exercise works because our feelings towards the moment we’re in typically have little to do with the scene itself. Instead, we’re wrapped up in our own internal narrative around it.  Read More

Post image for Clarity Comes From Stepping Away

I’m home again after spending a week and a half in Ecuador, plus an election Tuesday in Miami and three days visiting in Toronto. That two weeks away felt like much longer, which is always a good feeling to have about a trip, because it usually means you learned something.

The time in Ecuador in particular was unforgettable, full of new friends and personal catharses. I was there as a presenter at a kind of retreat called a chautauqua, alongside J.D. Roth from Money Boss, Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, and Cheryl Reed, the retreat’s organizer. (I wrote more about the trip here.)

Essentially, a chautauqua is a get-together for purpose of exchanging ideas about how to live. A group of about twenty-five of us spent a week in a small mountainside resort in Ecuador’s cloud forest, reflecting on big-picture topics like lifestyle choices, personal habits, career moves and general well-being. There were day trips and activities, and a ton of conversations. We all sat in random spots at dinner every night so that every single person got to know everyone else.

We got to know each other so quickly that saying goodbye on the final Sunday was almost heartbreaking. I felt like I had known these people for years. By then, everyone had shared so much of what matters to them with everyone else: what moves us, what we love, what we fear, what we want to change about ourselves. We had gone from total strangers to a tight-knit tribe in which every member would do just about anything for anyone else. In seven days.

This is the magic of the chautauqua format. Everyone brings their own wisdom and experience to the group with a kind of generosity and acceptance I’ve never experienced in any other setting. Everyone is away from home and the superficial distractions of their normal schedules, so we were all very present for each other. We were constantly in conversation, constantly offering help with anything we can, constantly looking out for the whole group.  Read More

Post image for Life Gets Real When the TV Goes Off

I don’t remember when they changed it, but Netflix no longer asks you if you want to watch another episode. Instead, it tells you you are going to unless you take immediate action. You have the option, if your drive to get on with your life is strong enough at that moment, to spring to your feet and stop the countdown before it’s too late.

Back in 2008 I quit putting the news on first thing in the morning. I had noticed that I didn’t really watch it, it was just comforting to have on, and that made me suspicious. So I stopped. The effect was strangely jarring—my breakfast-making routine seemed unnervingly quiet. Suddenly it was just me, my kitchen, and creeping thoughts about my job and my boss and whatever troublesome project we were on at the time.

For some reason just having the TV on seemed to soften the reality of those mornings, and turning it off seemed to intensify my problems. It was like life finally had room to square up and confront me directly, whereas with the TV on it could only make glancing contact.

You might have noticed this phenomenon too. Even when the TV has only been on in the background, life and all its responsibilities suddenly become a lot more vivid the instant it plunks off. And that can be a strangely uncomfortable moment, to be in a quiet room once again, suddenly quite aware that the rest of your day and the rest of your life is undecided, and you’re at the helm.

Often we already have an impending obligation somewhere else, and that’s why we turn it off in the first place. But without another vine to grasp the moment we let go of the TV, shutting it off reintroduces a certain existential weight to our experience.

One of the least-acknowledged peculiarities about human beings is that we can scarcely bear being in the moment we’re already in. It’s rare for us to truly be at ease in an ordinary present moment, if we’re not being entertained, gratified or otherwise occupied by something. We’re always planning better moments than this current one, or at least trying to soften or improve it with entertainment or food, or anything else that delivers some predictability to our experience.

Just letting life flow by, without adding anything to it, distracting ourselves from it, or fixating on the future, is strangely excruciating for us. It should be the easiest thing in the world to do, just to let time unfold at its own pace, but we’re so uncomfortable with that.

The present moment is seldom good enough. We’ll do anything to avoid experiencing the moment unadulterated, even useless things like biting our lip, reading the sides of cereal boxes, or thumbing the seams of our jeans.  Read More

movie cinema

It took me years to discover this, but I become really uptight in movie theaters. Usually I’m pretty easygoing, but whenever I enter a room with rows of seats and a large screen, I have an incredibly difficult time relaxing.

It’s as though I develop certain mild mental illnesses as soon as I walk in. Suddenly I have misophonia—I can’t bear the sound of people eating anything, or crinkling packages, even though everyone is eating something, and has every right to. I feel paranoid and persecuted, as though my precious public movie experience will inevitably be ruined one or more persistently clumsy, noisy, or smelly moviegoers.

Even when nobody is doing anything annoying yet, my mind is poised for judgment, almost waiting for a reason to get mad. Undoubtedly, someone is going to talk through the whole thing, explaining to their partner all the references they catch, or asking plot questions the movie itself hasn’t answered yet. Every movie experience begins with a sense of impending loss.

I may be overstating this effect a little—describing the private emotional convulsions of your mind always makes you sound crazy, because we so seldom do it—but there’s no question that my capacity for judgment and indignation mushrooms at the cinema, regardless of what’s actually happening around me on any particular visit.  Read More

Post image for A Question for Regular Readers

Hi everyone. Tomorrow I’ll be going to San Diego for FinCon, and staying there for most of the week. With that, the upcoming Ecuador retreat, and the current season of Camp Calm, my normal daily work routine is upside down, and much of the blog-writing time has been squeezed out of it.

I’ll be publishing probably every other week until I’m back from Ecuador in mid-November. Then things will return to normal, with a renewed focus on blog posts.

In the meantime I could use your help with something. Part of the problem with writing for Raptitude is that the topic of “human well-being” is extremely broad. There are a thousand subtopics and nobody’s interested in all of them. I can write about personal productivity one week, future societies the next week, and existential rumination the week after that.

Surely different readers want different things, and I spend a lot of time wondering whether to write about Topic A because it’s the most interesting to me, Topic B because people seem to like it most, or Topic C because I haven’t written about it in a while.

This leads to a lot of second-guessing, and a lot of articles abandoned halfway through. I begin three or four articles for each one I publish. This has led to fewer articles overall, which I don’t like.

I’ve been trying to please everyone (or rather, not displease anyone) and that’s impossible. I didn’t use to see it like that—I would just write and publish. So I’m going to go back to that less conservative approach, no longer worrying about balancing things between the different branches of Raptitude’s overall topic.  Read More

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