Date Archives October 2015

Building Rituals: The Dilbert Guide to Managing Life

Clocks with gears coming out of them.
(Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)

Every day when I make a cup of tea in the microwave I think of my Aunt Klara.

While staying at her house in New Hampshire years ago, I dropped a tea bag into a cup of water and put it in the microwave. “No!” she (very nearly) shrieked. “You have to microwave the water without the tea bag!” And then she said why … and I think it was something to do with the microwave making my teabag radioactive or something like that. I can’t quite remember.

I keep almost looking this tea bag issue up, but I’ve enjoyed the mystery for more than a decade now. Why spoil it? There’s a small part of me that hopes one day I’ll go retrieve my tea cup from the microwave, only to find that the tea bag has grown arms and legs and a face, and is banging on the inside of the microwave door demanding to be let out.

I don’t make my mind remember that trip to Aunt Klara’s house or wonder why my tea is trying to murder me; it just happens. The act of making tea is a trigger.

Every night, I set up the coffee pot for the next morning. That way, all I have to do is come downstairs and hit the power button. I don’t have to remind myself to do this; the act of closing up the house for the night is a trigger.

Every morning when the kids are here, I get out everyone’s vitamins, the (miracle drug) Flonase, and whatever prescriptions Benjamin is on at the moment (reflux, asthma … sigh). I don’t think about getting this stuff out; the act of starting breakfast is a trigger.

When the kids aren’t here, I often forget to take my vitamins and my Flonase. If they’re gone for multiple days, I’m likely to get a sinus infection. Without the appropriate trigger, the ritual falls apart.

Triggers and thoughts. Triggers and rituals. These things are on my mind at the moment.

Dilbert Made Me Do It

I bought a secondhand edition of Tony Robbins’s Personal Power series years ago. (On cassette, no less.) In it, he talks a lot about setting yourself up for success through triggers. The idea is that you can train your brain to feel empowered or focused or virile like a young, sexually mature lion (pretend I said in a growly voice) by hooking up physical triggers. I haven’t listened to this in a while (cassettes!), but I believe he said he hooked up a trigger so that if he touches his left shoulder he immediately sprouts a cape and is able to scale tall building in a single bound.

I goofed around with the idea of creating physical triggers, but like most self-improvement techniques that require focused attention or (gawd forbid) homework, I never really followed through with it.

But I was recently reminded of a workaround for all of that self programming. I can just do what Dilbert does. Or the guy who created Dilbert anyway.

You remember Dilbert, right? Maybe, like me and half my coworkers in the late ’90s and early aughts, you had the Dilbert desk calendar, where you tear off a page a day? (Do they even still make those? Give me sec. Why yes they do. Forgive me. I’ve been out of the office world for a long time.)

Anyway, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, was recently on Tim Ferriss’s podcast (which is consistently interesting for anyone with a vastly curious mind). Adams was discussing all kinds of things I never knew that he knew about. Dilbert is just a small piece of this guy’s existence.

It turns out that Adams is very into creating systems for success. A lot of those systems are built around what are basically schedules and rituals that cut out decision making. For example, he eats the same protein bar for breakfast every day. That way he’s eating a healthy breakfast automatically.

We’ve all heard that Steve Jobs had 80 gajillion black mock turtlenecks so he didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning. There’s science supporting the idea that people suffer from decision fatigue, so removing decision making from certain parts of your day can boost your overall efficiency. That is, you only have so many smart decisions to spend in a day, so you should ration them and not burn through them standing in your closet in the morning.

This is not a new concept for me … but I just forgot about it in the daily grind of getting through my days. As a person who works from home, scheduling daily life can be really frustrating. If I’m not careful, I can find myself sitting in my PJs at 2:00.

And this year, my kids’ new school starts an hour later than their old school. So I’m starting work later … and I still want to find time to exercise, meditate, and do the kind of writing that I love on top of doing my paid work. Oh yeah, showering and all the grooming that goes along with being female should happen somewhere in there, too. That’s a lot to fit into a day.

So now I’m looking at how I can build in rituals triggered by regular daily events. For example, I was already walking the kids to the bus stop. Now I put the dog on the leash before we go, and right after the kids get on the bus the dog and I go for a two-mile walk. I break a sweat, the dog gets a walk. I’m sleeping much better at night and I feel more energetic. Wins all around. However, if I have to go back into the house for something, it’s too easy to get distracted and go do something else. The key is to make sure I have my phone, the poo bags (bleh), and my sneakers. We even go in the rain.

Now I want to work on coming back and immediately doing some light weight training. (I love 8 Minutes in the Morning by Jorge Cruise. I just do the exercise part — in 6 days, you work through all the muscle groups.) I want to do this every day. I don’t. But sometimes is better than no times. Like I said, I’m working on it.

This also works in the reverse. A few years ago I did a fast (with mixed results). But one thing I learned is that I had built a ritual of stopping for coffee nearly every time I got in my car. And then sometimes I’d get a doughnut or something to go with it. Quite an awakening.

One last thing: After listening to Scott Adams on the Tim Ferriss podcast, I bought his book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. So far it’s a pretty good read — would recommend for anyone who needs a jolt of inspiration in going for those big life goals (except that Adams will tell you not to shoot for goals, and what you should do instead; spoiler alert: the answer is above.)

Have some pointers for building productivity or health rituals? I’d love to hear them. If you know the answer to the tea bag question, though, don’t tell me. I’m enjoying not knowing.

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Life imitating art

He’ll want to use your yacht, and I don’t want this thing smelling like fish. Steve Holt! No! I was ashamed to be SEEN with you. I like being with you. Marry me. It’s called ‘taking advantage.’ It’s what gets you ahead in life. I’m a monster. Army had half a day. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

I’m afraid I just blue myself.

First place chick is hot, but has an attitude, doesn’t date magicians. Really? Did nothing cancel? Well, what do you expect, mother? Michael!

Really? Did nothing cancel? Did you enjoy your meal, Mom? You drank it fast enough. Not tricks, Michael, illusions. That’s what it said on ‘Ask Jeeves.’ Really? Did nothing cancel?

“IT’S SIMPLE UNTIL YOU MAKE IT COMPLICATED”JASON FRIED, 37SIGNALS

Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. Whoa, this guy’s straight? It’s a hug, Michael. I’m hugging you. Well, what do you expect, mother? I’m afraid I just blue myself.

Guy’s a pro. Get me a vodka rocks. And a piece of toast. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense. Did you enjoy your meal, Mom? You drank it fast enough.

It’s called ‘taking advantage.’ It’s what gets you ahead in life. I’ve opened a door here that I regret. Marry me. Guy’s a pro.

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND

Steve Holt! No, I did not kill Kitty. However, I am going to oblige and answer the nice officer’s questions because I am an honest man with no secrets to hide. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

Army had half a day. Marry me. We just call it a sausage.

Guy’s a pro. Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. He’ll want to use your yacht, and I don’t want this thing smelling like fish. We just call it a sausage. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

No! I was ashamed to be SEEN with you. I like being with you. There’s so many poorly chosen words in that sentence. No… but I’d like to be asked! Whoa, this guy’s straight?

There’s so many poorly chosen words in that sentence. Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. No… but I’d like to be asked! There’s only one man I’ve ever called a coward, and that’s Brian Doyle Murray. No, what I’m calling you is a television actor.

STAY HUNGRY, STAY FOOLISH.STEVE JOBS

Guy’s a pro. I care deeply for nature. What’s Spanish for “I know you speak English?” First place chick is hot, but has an attitude, doesn’t date magicians. Whoa, this guy’s straight? Whoa, this guy’s straight?

No, I did not kill Kitty. However, I am going to oblige and answer the nice officer’s questions because I am an honest man with no secrets to hide. Not tricks, Michael, illusions. That’s why you always leave a note!

Across from where? I’m afraid I just blue myself. No… but I’d like to be asked! Guy’s a pro. What’s Spanish for “I know you speak English?”

Hipster painter.

Oh, you’re gonna be in a coma, all right. I care deeply for nature. I care deeply for nature. I’m a monster. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

No… but I’d like to be asked! It’s a hug, Michael. I’m hugging you. There’s only one man I’ve ever called a coward, and that’s Brian Doyle Murray. No, what I’m calling you is a television actor.

You’ve swallowed a planet! Stop talking, brain thinking. Hush. It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’! No… It’s a thing; it’s like a plan, but with more greatness.

Saving the world with meals on wheels. Did I mention we have comfy chairs? I am the last of my species, and I know how that weighs on the heart so don’t lie to me! No, I’ll fix it. I’m good at fixing rot. Call me the Rotmeister. No, I’m the Doctor. Don’t call me the Rotmeister.

Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there’s an escaped fish. I hate yogurt. It’s just stuff with bits in. Aw, you’re all Mr. Grumpy Face today.

Better Readability

I hate yogurt. It’s just stuff with bits in. You’ve swallowed a planet! They’re not aliens, they’re Earth…liens! Did I mention we have comfy chairs? Father Christmas. Santa Claus. Or as I’ve always known him: Jeff.

I’m nobody’s taxi service; I’m not gonna be there to catch you every time you feel like jumping out of a spaceship. Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there’s an escaped fish. It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’!

It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’! Did I mention we have comfy chairs? Did I mention we have comfy chairs? All I’ve got to do is pass as an ordinary human being. Simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Heh-haa! Super squeaky bum time! You hit me with a cricket bat. Annihilate? No. No violence. I won’t stand for it. Not now, not ever, do you understand me?! I’m the Doctor, the Oncoming Storm – and you basically meant beat them in a football match, didn’t you?

Shopping Fest

He’ll want to use your yacht, and I don’t want this thing smelling like fish. Steve Holt! No! I was ashamed to be SEEN with you. I like being with you. Marry me. It’s called ‘taking advantage.’ It’s what gets you ahead in life. I’m a monster. Army had half a day. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

I’m afraid I just blue myself.

First place chick is hot, but has an attitude, doesn’t date magicians. Really? Did nothing cancel? Well, what do you expect, mother? Michael!

Really? Did nothing cancel? Did you enjoy your meal, Mom? You drank it fast enough. Not tricks, Michael, illusions. That’s what it said on ‘Ask Jeeves.’ Really? Did nothing cancel?

“IT’S SIMPLE UNTIL YOU MAKE IT COMPLICATED”JASON FRIED, 37SIGNALS

Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. Whoa, this guy’s straight? It’s a hug, Michael. I’m hugging you. Well, what do you expect, mother? I’m afraid I just blue myself.

Guy’s a pro. Get me a vodka rocks. And a piece of toast. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense. Did you enjoy your meal, Mom? You drank it fast enough.

It’s called ‘taking advantage.’ It’s what gets you ahead in life. I’ve opened a door here that I regret. Marry me. Guy’s a pro.

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND

Steve Holt! No, I did not kill Kitty. However, I am going to oblige and answer the nice officer’s questions because I am an honest man with no secrets to hide. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

Army had half a day. Marry me. We just call it a sausage.

Guy’s a pro. Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. He’ll want to use your yacht, and I don’t want this thing smelling like fish. We just call it a sausage. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

No! I was ashamed to be SEEN with you. I like being with you. There’s so many poorly chosen words in that sentence. No… but I’d like to be asked! Whoa, this guy’s straight?

There’s so many poorly chosen words in that sentence. Now, when you do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have more fun. No… but I’d like to be asked! There’s only one man I’ve ever called a coward, and that’s Brian Doyle Murray. No, what I’m calling you is a television actor.

STAY HUNGRY, STAY FOOLISH.STEVE JOBS

Guy’s a pro. I care deeply for nature. What’s Spanish for “I know you speak English?” First place chick is hot, but has an attitude, doesn’t date magicians. Whoa, this guy’s straight? Whoa, this guy’s straight?

No, I did not kill Kitty. However, I am going to oblige and answer the nice officer’s questions because I am an honest man with no secrets to hide. Not tricks, Michael, illusions. That’s why you always leave a note!

Across from where? I’m afraid I just blue myself. No… but I’d like to be asked! Guy’s a pro. What’s Spanish for “I know you speak English?”

Hipster painter.

Oh, you’re gonna be in a coma, all right. I care deeply for nature. I care deeply for nature. I’m a monster. I don’t criticize you! And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.

No… but I’d like to be asked! It’s a hug, Michael. I’m hugging you. There’s only one man I’ve ever called a coward, and that’s Brian Doyle Murray. No, what I’m calling you is a television actor.

You’ve swallowed a planet! Stop talking, brain thinking. Hush. It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’! No… It’s a thing; it’s like a plan, but with more greatness.

Saving the world with meals on wheels. Did I mention we have comfy chairs? I am the last of my species, and I know how that weighs on the heart so don’t lie to me! No, I’ll fix it. I’m good at fixing rot. Call me the Rotmeister. No, I’m the Doctor. Don’t call me the Rotmeister.

Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there’s an escaped fish. I hate yogurt. It’s just stuff with bits in. Aw, you’re all Mr. Grumpy Face today.

Better Readability

I hate yogurt. It’s just stuff with bits in. You’ve swallowed a planet! They’re not aliens, they’re Earth…liens! Did I mention we have comfy chairs? Father Christmas. Santa Claus. Or as I’ve always known him: Jeff.

I’m nobody’s taxi service; I’m not gonna be there to catch you every time you feel like jumping out of a spaceship. Sorry, checking all the water in this area; there’s an escaped fish. It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’!

It’s art! A statement on modern society, ‘Oh Ain’t Modern Society Awful?’! Did I mention we have comfy chairs? Did I mention we have comfy chairs? All I’ve got to do is pass as an ordinary human being. Simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Heh-haa! Super squeaky bum time! You hit me with a cricket bat. Annihilate? No. No violence. I won’t stand for it. Not now, not ever, do you understand me?! I’m the Doctor, the Oncoming Storm – and you basically meant beat them in a football match, didn’t you?

Did You Love Serial? Have You Heard the Latest? GAHHHHHHH!

If you loved the Serial podcast, maybe you’ve been listening to Undisclosed. Or more likely, you haven’t … because I’m the only a-hole I know in real life who’s been keeping up with this case. [Maybe you’ve listened to neither and have no idea what I’m talking about. If you’re one of those people, stop reading and go download Serial right now. If you’re not techy and the idea of podcasts scare you, Serial has warm and fuzzy instructions for what you need to do to listen on your phone or computer. You’re welcome.]

But enough of all that. Because guess what? There’s big news in the case! Remember all the talk about cell phone pings? Welp, it turns out that the prosecution failed to turn over a key bit of evidence to the defense. Namely, a cover page from AT&T that preceded the faxed copies of Adnan’s cell phone records. Why was that cover page so important? Oh, no big reason … except that it stated that cell phone tower pings are not reliable to determine a person’s location for incoming calls.

So yeah. That thing that the prosecution based so much of its case on? Fiction.

 

Key Witness Changes His Tune

 

The cell phone expert that testified at the trial is apparently none too happy that he was also not shown this cover page prior to trial. He just wrote an affidavit for the defense that basically discredits his testimony.

As Sarah Koenig points out in her recent blog post, pings from cell towers for incoming calls were used to place Adnan Syed in Leakin Park at the time the prosecution claims he dumped her body.

But if you haven’t been listening to Undisclosed, you’re probably also not aware of some of the other evidence that makes the prosecution’s case look pretty shady. (Deets below.)

Undisclosed, is a podcast by Rabia Chaudry, the woman who initially brought the case to Sarah Koenig’s attention. Chaudry is an attorney and friend of Adnan Syed. On the podcast she is joined by two other attorneys, Colin Miller and Susan Simpson.

Yes, Undisclosed lacks the polished storytelling of Serial. That’s understandable. Sarah Koenig and crew came from the ranks of This American Life. Undisclosed purports to go deep in the weeds of legal issues. Sometimes these expeditions are extremely gripping and other times they are extremely … not.

In any case, here are some highlights of things that Undisclosed has brought out:

  • The state’s timeline is probably bogus, as there’s very good evidence there was no wrestling match at all on the day of the murder.
  • Audio of Jay Wild’s questioning by police that pretty strongly indicates that he was coached. This episode is a jaw dropper. If you listen to no other episodes, listen to this one. (Episode 3)
  • Documented past misconduct by some of the police officers involved in the case, in which several people were released from prison after it was determined they were wrongfully convicted.
  • A very interesting (but unproven) theory that the prosecutor delayed charging Jay with accessory to murder so that Jay would be unable to exercise his right to a court-provided attorney. In the meantime, the theory goes, the prosecutor forced Jay to be a shill for the state by threatening to change the jurisdiction of his crime, making it likely that he would get the death penalty. If this turns out to be true — and I’m not saying it is — it certainly paints Jay in a different light.

At present, Adnan’s attorney is attempting to get a new trial.

Now … could someone else please get wrapped up in this case so I have someone to talk to? Much thanks.

—-

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Do You Stink at Throwing Parties? Here’s Help from Elton John’s Party Planner (For Real)

If I were to sit down and make a list of things that I’m good at, I’d probably include:

  • making dinner out of whatever is around
  • being 10 minutes late to anything that’s not a work function, wedding, or funeral, and
  • justifying why I should have cake today (there’s always a reason if you think hard enough)

What I would not include: throwing kids’ birthday parties. I’m the worst at it.

[Except for Megan’s 5th birthday party, in which I turned our house into a movie theater. The kids got play money and took turns “buying” the concessions from each other at little cardboard stands before watching a Hannah Montana movie. They loved it. But that was pretty much the only good idea I’ve ever had.]

Anyway, Benjamin has a birthday coming up. I don’t feel like dropping a gajillion bucks to endure sitting in a Chuck E. Cheese for two hours again, so I’m looking at other options for things we could do at home with just a couple of kids. Perhaps a superhero party …

But what would kids do at a superhero party? Could they fight crime? Learn new superhero skills?

I start doing a little online search when I found Matt James’s website. Hallelujah!

Mr. James is a big-time professional party planner — as in, yeah, he’s thrown parties at Sir Elton John’s estate. (That’s why I’m calling him “Mr. James” instead of Matt. Well, that and he’s British.) But guess what else? Mr. James’s website is full of tips and tricks for the sadder mortals among us who are party-challenged. His superhero ideas are fantastic, but he also has ideas for all kinds of other functions for adults, teens, and kids.

Peeps: Check him out.

You’re welcome!

 

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Things That Annoyed Me Today

Overall I had a good day. Right up until I had to wipe a few items off my to-do list. Now I’m feeling grrrrr….

Things that got on my nerves today:

  • Having to get on the phone with both my health insurer and the health insurance exchange in my THIRD attempt to get my address updated. Total time spent on this endeavor in the last 90 days: Close to two hours.
  • Having to show up in person to quit the YMCA. I LOVE the YMCA as an organization. But the Y in my new town has been a huge disappointment. My monthly membership went way up and we experienced a huge loss in available facilities.
    Here’s a list of things my old Y had that we loved and used that my new Y does not have:
    3 outdoor pools (with two water slides!), open all summer
    indoor track
    indoor racquetball  courts
    lots of open gyms to play basketball in (or at least our version of basketball)
    fitness center with Wi-Fi enabled cardio equipment
    Basically, it just turned out to be a really expensive gym membership. They told me I could freeze the membership for a few months. I said OK, figuring maybe once winter came I’d scale down and do a single-person membership. But then they dinged my credit card $15 for the courtesy of keeping my membership open but not allowing me to use anything. No thanks. And then they made me come in to the facility to cancel and wouldn’t refund the $15 that they never told me about. Bummed about the whole thing.
  • Too many passwords for ONE store. A store that I shop at wants me to have a special login and password for my credit card. Sure. No problem. Then I need separate login and email to buy stuff online. OK. THEN I need a separate login and password for my rewards card (which, of course, the app will not accept so I can’t link the accounts). Sigh.
  • Arguing over gun control with people I like. I’ll stay off my soapbox for now because I don’t feel like getting into it. But I thought this article from Vox.com was really interesting, three items in particular:
    1. A video showing simulations in which people repeatedly failed to disarm a shooter before being shot themselves. The best defense? Running away, according to this video.
    2. Data shows a pretty hard-to-deny correlation that more guns equal more shootings.
    3. This quote:  “Opponents of gun control tend to point to other factors to explain America’s unusual gun violence: mental illness, for example. Jonathan Metzl, a mental health expert at Vanderbilt University, told me that this is just not the case. People with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. And while it’s true that an extraordinary amount of mass shooters (up to 60 percent) have some kind of psychiatric or psychological symptoms, Metzl points out that other factors are much better predictors of gun violence: substance abuse, poverty, history of violence, and, yes, access to guns.”

All for now … have a great night.
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