Archive for the 'Self-improvement' Category


Aug 17 2011 Published by under Self-improvement

"Rub by belly" by tambako on Flickr

"Rub by belly" by tambako on Flickr

I lack self-discipline.

There are many reasons for this, none of them important now. The fact remains: I don’t need to discipline myself, besides basic practices like going to work in the morning. I can buy whatever I want, exercise if I want, and watch movies if I want.

We all know that, but what about the subtler cases? I don’t actually buy anything I want. I don’t eat McDonald’s at every meal.

But I do eat very few vegetables. I know the sorts of healthy foods I should be eating; I just don’t buy them. Meditation can only take a few minutes, but I never seem to get it done.


Yesterday, I read a bunch of online articles on self-discipline. Buried amongst the useless self-help blogs, one helpful article from a Hindu perspective pointed out the power of saying “No” to yourself. Even in little ways. As a practice.

It can be very temporary. If I have an urge to check my email–and I checked my email a few hours ago–I’ll say “No.” I may check it again later. That’s okay. I’ll say “No” for now, just to practice.

I’ve been practicing this today, and it’s an amazing experience. It feels like a muscle. Feels strange at first, then normal, then powerful. I have an inkling this will change my life.

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A Personal Plea From Me To You

Jul 05 2011 Published by under Self-improvement

I’ve been reading personal improvement books lately. They’ve inspired me to pass along a recommendation that I hope you–yes, you, reader–will take to heart, think about, and implement.

Stop watching TV.


Give your TV(s) away, if you can.

“But there’s good stuff on TV,” some proclaim. Yes, there is. There’s also good stuff in books and in movies. The problem is not the content; it’s the method of delivery.

You know all this. This sounds stupid. But this one stupid thing will suddenly give you the time to do all those things you want to do. Seriously.

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Why I just canceled my NetFlix account

May 28 2011 Published by under Self-improvement

Some Hot Chick Typing in Her Underwear

Thanks to Merlin Mann for pointing out this ridiculous image

Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer.

(Queue 5-minute reverie about Goodfellas, which is exactly what I want to talk about. The reverie, not the movie.)

When I was a kid, I’d read a great book and think, Man, I’d love to be a writer. Just sit there at my desk and write. Mug of tea next to me, open window with the breeze gently blowing the curtains.

Even when I started writing seriously in my teens, and I realized that the process is nothing like that, I was always drawn to it. I always liked at least the feeling of clicking the “Count Words” menu item at the end of an hour-long session and seeing that I’d added a thousand words to a story.

I’ve written sporadically ever since my teenage years. I’ve had plenty of other interests, of course, but that’s not really the reason. The reason is that I haven’t made time for writing.

Moreover, I’ve let other things slide into that time.

Now, yes, one has to set aside time for the activities one finds important. But there’s also something to be said for removing distractions, even voluntary ones.

For example, last year I created a calendar item called “Media Fast.” From sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, I would consume no broadcast media. No DVDs, no YouTube, no blogs, no newspapers, no books, no magazines.

When I attempted my first Media Fasts, the initial experience felt awkward, off-balance. If I was tired or needed a break, I couldn’t think of anything to do other than watch a DVD or fire up YouTube or check my news feeds.

Then I felt free. As overwrought, California, New Age, crystal-staring as that sounds, I suddenly realized that I had huge amounts of time. I could write, or play around on my guitar, or putter around in the garden, or fix that hole in my studio wall.

About ten years ago, I gave away my TV. (Yeah, this is jumping all around. Hang with me for a minute.) I just wasn’t following any shows, and when I did turn on the TV, I’d invariably spend half an hour channel-surfing. I just didn’t need that distraction.

Predictably, my productivity flourished, and I spent my downtime on things I enjoyed more deeply.


Then along came NetFlix, and particularly the Roku. With this, I could choose only the movies or series I really wanted to watch. Perfect.

Except that I spent much of this week watching most of The Kids in the Hall.

That’s a well-written show. Nothing against it. I’m glad I found it again. But why did I watch the better part of the entire show’s run? Because it was there.

Meanwhile, I own over a hundred DVDs that I haven’t watched yet.

A huge pile of unread books and magazines teeter precariously next to my bed.

This is not an adult way to behave.

Moreover, I’m not writing. Sure, I need down time. But I also need up time.

As I showered this morning, I realized I faced a stark choice: I can either be a guy who watches movies and doesn’t write, or a guy who doesn’t watch movies and writes. I want to be the latter. Much as I wish I could do both, it’s not happening.

So. I canceled my NetFlix account.

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Brother, can you spare a dime?

Oct 26 2010 Published by under Self-improvement

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m broke. Almost literally. Lots of assets, no cash.

This was driven home to me yesterday evening, after work.  I stopped by a gas station on my way home to fill up my truck with gas. My debit card didn’t work, and neither did any of my credit cards. All denied.

To be fair, several of those cards I paid over the weekend just as their due date came up, so I think they’re just locked until those payments go through.

Still. Embarrassing. I called my Dad, and he suggested that I run back to work and see if I could borrow some cash. Brilliant! I did, and all was well.

Then I returned home to check my bank account balance.


I’m fine, really. I transferred some cash from savings, and my paycheck comes through this Friday. I just have to live frugally for a little while, and use a spare credit card for this week’s expenses.

I’m just shocked, to be honest. I knew I was low on funds, but I didn’t realize it was this bad. I’m usually good at keeping my finances in shape.

To be brutally honest with myself, I haven’t been paying enough attention. I ignored a few bills. I kept ordering anime and manga online even when I was low on funds, justifying that I needed it to keep up with Otaku, No Video. I’ve been foolish.

So, I’m facing up to it. I’ve stopped making any entertainment purchases. I’m eating frugally (inexpensive meals at home and leftovers at work; no restaurant meals). I’ve identified a paid service I can cancel and a few gadgets I can sell.

And I’m re-establishing my budget, which laid out how much I could spend each month on movies, manga/anime, my garden, etc. Very simple. It’ll need to be updated, but it helps.

Come to think of it, I should also establish an entertainment purchasing plan: what books/movies/etc. I plan to buy each month. Hmmmmm.

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What should my contribution be?

Sep 17 2010 Published by under Self-improvement

"Happy Birthday Lil guy...:O)))" by Kevin Law on Flickr

"Happy Birthday Lil guy...:O)))" by Kevin Law on Flickr

Read this today in Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself:

Throughout history, the great majority of people never had to ask the question, What should I contribute? They were told what to contribute, and their tasks were dictated either by the work itself—as it was for the peasant or artisan—or by a master or a mistress—as it was for domestic servants. And until very recently, it was taken for granted that most people were subordinates who did as they were told. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, the new knowledge workers (the so-called organization men) looked to their company’s personnel department to plan their careers.

Then in the late 1960s, no one wanted to be told what to do any longer. Young men and women began to ask, What do I want to do? And what they heard was that the way to contribute was to â€œdo your own thing.” But this solution was as wrong as the organization men’s had been. Very few of the people who believed that doing one’s own thing would lead to contribution, self-fulfillment, and success achieved any of the three.

But still, there is no return to the old answer of doing what you are told or assigned to do. Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference?

Indeed. To quote Fight Club, “Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”

My generation, and the generation now growing into adulthood, must discern the right and the good. My parents’ generation rejected it, and previous generations knew it through osmosis.

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Suburban Self-Sufficiency: The Backyard Homestead

Sep 13 2010 Published by under Reviews,Self-improvement

Cover of The Backyard Homestead

Cover of The Backyard Homestead

I may be moving soon.

My new job at NASA (squeeee!) requires a minimum 75-minute commute twice daily, usually in heavy traffic. While I’m okay with the drive itself–having grown up in this area, I have to be–I’m losing too much time. Even with audio books, three hours a day on the road is too much.

So I’ve been looking at houses near Goddard. One is a small house on 3/4 of an acre. That sounds small as I type it, but when I walked the property it felt huge.

Coincidentally, a few days ago I bought The Backyard Homestead, which purports to be a primer on self-sufficiency within a small urban or suburban plot of land.

It’s fantastic. With clear, concise language the authors describe a wide range of activities, from canning and preserving to owning chickens, goats, and cattle.

This is not a complete encyclopedia to caring for goats, of course. Instead, it’s a solid foundation in self-sufficiency. It’s a perfect balance of breadth and depth.

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Technological Manic Depression

Aug 27 2010 Published by under Self-improvement,Technology

"wallpaper — The ISLAND" by balt-arts on Flickr

"wallpaper — The ISLAND" by balt-arts on Flickr

Some days, I seek hyper-technology. I want to engage folks on Twitter, post on my blogs, and clean up every broken link on my websites. The online world feels so vibrant and interesting.

On other days, I want to give up everything more advanced than a clock/radio. I want to sit down with a big stack of books and a hot mug of tea, or throw wide my kitchen cabinet doors and fire up the stove. The online world feels so shallow and pointless.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps, in my passion, I spend too much time in one world, overdosing on its pleasures.

In any event, I’ve learned to take advantage of both moods. When I’m diving into cyberspace–and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the experience really did mirror early science fiction portrayals of descent into a neon wonderland?–I write blog posts and clean up my sites. During down times, I let that content dribble out.

This has been easiest with Otaku, No Video. When excited, I record lots of videos, then I release them on a strict schedule. I usually have between one and two weeks’ worth of videos completely finished sitting on my hard drive, ready to be released on schedule.

Some days, I wish I could be less extreme in my approach. Nevertheless, it works.

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Homemade Stuff

Jul 06 2010 Published by under Cooking,Self-improvement

"Cooking" by HilaryQuinn on Flickr

"Cooking" by HilaryQuinn on Flickr

I like to make my own stuff. I’d love to make my own furniture, clothes, etc., and I’m starting with food and daily household items.

Here’s what I currently make myself:

  • Food (very little homemade in the past few weeks, as I focus on finishing up my RPG materials for the month)
  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener — I use 1/4 cup of baking soda in the basin and 1/4 cup of vinegar in the dispenser.
  • Dishwasher detergent — Unfortunately, it leaves spots. Big, obvious spots. Haven’t found a solution.
  • Vegetable wash — Vinegar and water, I think in a 1:4 ratio.

Things I’d like to make myself:

  • Granola bars — Done it before, and I’d like to replace the Clif bars I eat every morning.
  • Cookies — I like to take tea in the afternoon at work, and homemade chocolate chip cookies are the perfect accompaniment.  Used to do this a lot; haven’t done it in months.
  • Yogurt — To replace the  yogurt I always eat in the morning. I actually already made this; I’ll try to remember to blog about it shortly.

None of this is difficult, or consumes large amounts of time. It’s just easier, quicker, more expensive, and less satisfying to grab a box off a grocery store shelf.

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Your Focus Needs More Focus

Jun 29 2010 Published by under Self-improvement


by Niffty.. on Flickr

This line from the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid (“Your focus needs more focus”) has been spinning about my head lately, as I went through another round of reducing my active projects.

Great things come through focus. Demonic focus, as Tom Peters calls it.

But focus doesn’t mean 18 hours of work every day. It means concentrating on one and only one thing at a time.

Now, I’d be the last person to suggest that you should only do one thing forever. I love accomplishing many different creative projects over time.

But I’ve found that I need to be able to put aside all projects but one, and focus on the next deliverable, and concentrate on that until it’s done. Then move on to something else.

And this doesn’t mean that I spend every waking hour working on that one project. I’ll also read, and watch movies, and work in the garden, and play RPGs on Google Wave.  I’ll still very much take care of the little things.

The big things take focus.

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Mar 19 2010 Published by under Self-improvement

over the sun, by mindfulness on Flickr

A personal proposal:

Physical Energy Maintenance:

Every night: 5 minutes of Tai Chi, a 30-second push-up, a 30-second sit-up, and a few minutes of strength training with an infinite resistance machine.

Three times a week: 20 minutes of running.

Emotional Energy Maintenance:

Every morning: 5 minutes of journaling.

Spiritual Energy Maintenance:

Every week: Church attendance, and helping out with church youth group

Mental Energy Maintenance:

Every night: Read a book for 30 minutes.

Every week: Read magazines for 1 hour.

Every two weeks: Research something in detail, beyond just jumping around Google.

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