The Walkaway Point

Into every life some rain must fall, and every project must have a certain level of irritation. Sorry not my rule, the universe it’s self seems to have come up with that one…

There comes a time where you have to ask yourself “Is it really worth working on this?” Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is “not right now!” It can be difficult to tell which is which some times. It can also be rather important. Making the right choice can mean doing something really good and/or worthwhile. Making the wrong choice can mean a waste of time and materials, or just end in a plain old disaster.

Sometimes the project is worth doing, but you are at a mental or physical place where you end up doing more harm than good. And, sometimes the project is worth doing, but something else is more important, or more worth doing. This is what I call the ‘walkaway point’; that point where, yes the project is good, but you need to walk a way from it for a while.

Walking away can be good. You can come back with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. You can gain some distance and perspective. You can get rid of other things that might overshadow and/or bias the work. However, walking away can also mean more time getting started again, and it means you have to make sure to come back and start again; the world is littered with incomplete projects.

Ultimately you have to know yourself and your project and make the best choice. I can assure you even projects that are really worth it can torque you off occasionally, and when they do you have to decide whether taking a break or ‘playing through the pain’ is the best option. The point is to know your options and choose the best one, even if it’s walking away for a while.

That’s it for today dear reader…

Till next time, make your own choices.

P.S. I probably will not be posting next week as I have several publishing deadlines, a parent in the hospital,  and some in-laws that really want to see us… Hmm… Choices…

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Writers Block, Depression and Credit Cards

Every life has it’s ups and downs; every project has it’s speed bumps.

It’s not the normal ups and downs and speed bumps we need to worry about (well, we have to worry about and deal with them sometimes, but there are bigger issues). A nastier problem is when we get into a destructive cycle. A classic example of this is what finance people refer to as perma-debt.

How the credit cards bite you

Perma-debt is what happens when you consistently pay your nearly maxed out credit card and then put a bunch of stuff on the credit card leaving you right back where you were in the first place. You now have to pay the interest on all the debt you haven’t paid off, and on all the new stuff. You’re stuck with another high interest payment. And, you get to do the whole thing again next month. The only way out of this is to cut back (or cut off) putting things on the credit card and pay down the bill, or try to file bankruptcy (which is really a last resort and can cause bigger problems). The way out of the problem is often painful, so a lot of people don’t do it. Not taking the way out means you’re stuck in the cycle. Credit cards aren’t the only place this happens.

Writers Block (you can make it or break it)

There are times that I really can’t wrap my mind around what I’m working on. There are times that I really can’t seem to get words on the page. This can easily turn into a cycle if you let it. If you keep pushing, or worse stop pushing, and get stuck on the idea ‘I have writers block’ you won’t get any where at all writing. You’re now focused on being unable to write. Getting out of this cycle can be less and more painful than with the credit card. It is easier because you have a wider range of options on what you can do to get out. It is harder (for me at least) because writing is both a source of income (money) and gratification (a good story and/or the feeling of achievement from finishing something). So, yes there are more ways around, but there is real pressure to break through and do. The answer is  to find a different option and being willing to take it, even though it isn’t necessarily fun. One of the things that works best for me is to change tactics on what part of the project I’m working on, or just change projects. Not finding a solution makes me depressed.

Depression

One of the symptoms of clinical depression is a lack of interest in things that you have previously found pleasurable. When you’re not interested in something you tend not to do it. When you tend not to do things you find pleasurable your choices shrink to neutral or unpleasurable. So, you’ve cut off the positive end of the spectrum and your best choice is to do something that won’t be depressing. This is a kind of logic, but it’s bad logic. Bad in that you’re not improving anything (getting deeper into depression isn’t really improving…).

Depression really is cyclical, because you lose interest in the pleasurable, and don’t do it you don’t do anything to pull yourself out of the depression. Your ‘only’ choices are things that will pull you deeper into depression or things that seem like there neutral. The ‘neutral’ things don’t satisfy and tend to lead you deeper into depression. The hard choice, the one your depression doesn’t want you to see, is to choose to do something  that will lead to getting out of the depression. You have to be aware of your situation and make a conscious positive choice. The first one will make the second one easier, but like  paying off the debt or getting the words flowing, making and following through with the first choice may not be much fun.

What do we do?

As the Dog Whisperer points out the trick in dealing with (correcting) a problem behavior, like getting stuck in a cycle, is to take corrective action early. It is a lot easier to pay off the credit card, change tactics on writing, find something that isn’t depressing early on, before you’re really upset, dug in and thinking poorly.

Breaking or avoiding negative cycles requires being aware and honest with yourself. It also requires actively choosing to do something to break the cycle. Maybe, maybe, someone will wander along and offer to help you get out of the cycle, but even then it’s not magic. You have to do something.

Other people can help, but more likely than not you will have to seek out the help (which is choosing to do something for yourself). And, other people can’t really cure your behavioral (or thinking) cycles for you.They can’t do it for you but they can  help you to do it. The most powerful person in helping you is you.

Change doesn’t usually happen all at once. Change can happen fast, but usually not all at once. By being aware of your situation and making good choices you are taking steps to break yourself out of negative cycles, or better yet preventing them in the first place.

That’s it for this time dear reader.

Till next time: you can make ’em, you can break ’em. The choice is up to you.

Sometimes You Win…

In my little corner of the universe yesterday kind of started out in the ‘less than desirable’ vein. When I woke up my knee was screaming at me (old soccer injury); my wife was irritable (old “it’s morning” injury); and I really didn’t want to get up (bad sign for a morning person). Things did not improve as the toaster didn’t work right; traffic was… less than intelligent; and my schedule was rapidly sliding off track.

By the time I was working on the bike project I had run out of swear words and was inventing new ones just for the occasion. Then it happened… I figured out not only what the last owner had done to the breaks, but how to fix them. There were a few more oaths to the gods of war and research before I was done, but I did it. My bike was a bike again!

I lost a little ground when I discovered that I had forgotten to give my doctor a key piece of information. I chose to take positive action and sent him the information and rephrased my question a little better. He sent back the very best answer I could hope for. I could be done with insulin injections as early as next Tuesday. (Note… I’ve still got the diabetes diagnosis going. I’m just reaching a point that I can (hopefully) control it with diet, exercise and oral meds rather than stabbing myself repeatedly…)

By then it is after lunch and I’m sitting down to do some corrections and office work type writing stuff (Joy…). Actually, it really turned out to be a joy as: 1) I got the numbers/publishing end part of a book squared away, 2) found the answer to an annoying software problem, and 3) found I had a multi page section of new material that was actually error free after the first pass!

Today’s message is simply this: even if your day really sucks don’t give up. Keep working. Keep fighting. Stay in the game of life and stay alive. Because, sometimes you win.

That’s it for today dear reader. Till next time I’m wishing you all the best.

On Tips and Tipping

Earlier this week I was reading the news paper (I know I know…reading a paper instead of believing what ever happens to be on the front page of Yahoo? How dare I???). I read that tipping in restaurants is dieing out. The author blamed the rising minimum wage and increasing prices. Maybe, maybe not…

The reality is that the author missed something. It isn’t necessarily tipping that is dieing out. At least in some areas it’s customer service that is dieing out, and that leads to lower or no tips. The reality is, I know a number of people who tip and are willing to tip well, for good service and good attitudes.

I’ve worked in restaurants and I understand what busy is. if the restaurant is slammed I understand that; but, if there are more servers than customers I shouldn’t have to be looking at an empty soda glass for half an hour. The same thing goes for the ‘pick up your order at the counter’ class of restaurants. If the person at the counter has a positive attitude and gives good service, no problem I’ll punk some cash into the tip jar. But, if he she gives me the ‘why are you bothering me?’ look when I’m the only customer in the place I’m not sure I want to order, much less give him/her extra money. I like tipping. Tipping makes me feel like a big shot, but tips are for good service and good attitudes.

Sadly I think the customer service issue goes past tipping and restaurants. I should not have to walk into my bank to deposit a check and have the teller look at me like I’m speaking Norwegian (unless I’m in Norway, then it’s alright). I think a lot of us have been or will be providers of customer service at some point. Treating people well generally makes things better for you (yes, there are sociopaths…but the other 99.x% of people react well).

This goes for you customers too. Stand up for yourself when you need to, but you don’t need to be an jerk. If you are calm and positive (maybe even nice…) it makes other people willing to do things for you. It honestly helps.

That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time (as my grandmother in law would say): Be nice; Be kind; Be good.

A link between physical and mental fitness…

So, I’ve been out of the hospital and dealing with this diabetes thing for about two months now. About a month ago my doctor advised me that since I was done with certain other meds that were causing complications it was probably time to experiment with stepping down the insulin. This was both good, I had a goal to step down and, if possible too get off the insulin. It’s something I want to do, but it’s also scary… this is something that I’m depending on for my health and now the doctor is saying get rid of it if you can.  In the past for weeks I’ve cut the dosage of long acting insulin in half and cut out the short acting (bolus) insulin altogether (except for one day where someone really, really torqued me off and I had a major stress reaction…). Tonight I’m dropping another three units and if things go well I can see the day that I’m just on oral meds in the near future… Unfortunately the easy part of cutting down the insulin is also over… I’m at the point that I actually have to work. Specifically I have to work on losing weight and doing more exercise. Now, what does this all have to do with writing and all the other stuff I put in the tags section? Well, funny thing… When you’re increasing blood flow and operating efficiency in your body, you’re also improving conditions for your brain… Actual physical improvement of mental fitness. The overly high blood sugar (and often blood pressure…) associated with diabetes are actually toxic to your body in addition to physical (mechanical) damage they can cause. By getting more exercise you not only help your body lose weight, which cuts down on the insulin resistance associated with type two diabetes, but actually can help the cells pull in the sugar and clear it out of the system. Controlling your diet can help with the same things. In practice the exercise component doesn’t even have to be that strenuous. I’ve found that spending a half hour walking around (like a trip to Lowes or a good sporting goods store…) can drop my blood sugar by twenty points give or take. I moved my food storage around yesterday and had the same effect (not a doomsday preper, but it is nice to be able to eat when there’s a snow storm on…). It doesn’t have to be that hard, you just have to do enough and do it regularly… Improving sugar (energy) intake and reducing the damaging effects of sugar are far from the only (or even the most important) effects of diet and exercise.

Effects that even non diabetics can enjoy!

One of today’s projects was working on fixing up a cheap used bike I picked up. In spite of a few inventive four letter words, I do count this as a benefit of working on the exercise thing, and one that a lot of people can enjoy. Working on the bike provides me something I can do that provides me with a goal I can accomplish that is also a break from actively (directly) working on writing). It can lead to a sense of accomplishment which (as I’ve said before) can help to speed you into accomplishing other, harder seeming, goals. Working on a different project (that’s a clean break from my regular work) also lets my subconscious mind solve problems without my conscious mind getting in the way. This is the same thing that happens when people get good ideas in the shower…). Working on a different project also creates an opportunity to find thoughts that you might not have had otherwise; like this next one…

Back to the physiological stuff…

Today while working on the bike I realized that exercise can increase blood flow to the brain. That means that doing physical exercise can actually improve my writing and researching by giving my brain more air and fuel to work with!

Exercising causes physical stress. This is actually a benefit… it is different physical stress from what is usually happening in the work I do. Essentially causing one kind of stress gives the body a chance to relieve other kinds of physical and mental stress. And, after you exercise you can relieve the exercise stress… Stress relief is well known to be a physical and mental good thing. Relieving stress  (or managing your stress) can help you be healthier, and think better. Yes, my work and my major interests are about words, ideas, and the human mind. Yes, those are all things that can be explored without a daily five mile run (for which I am grateful!!!), but the reality I’m learning is that taking a little time out to do some physical exercise, and change my perspective, actually helps me to write and research better. It doesn’t have to be about who can do the most pushups and you don’t have to be an expert in (insert sport here); if you get out and do something that gets the blood flowing and the energy burning for your body you are also helping your brain.

Getting out to do some physical exercise can have very real physical and mental benefits that actually do make a difference. So, go ahead: Learn, create, discover and write good stuff! And take care of your body too. It really will help.

That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time… where did I put that !@@$@#$@$@!!! pedal wrench?

A sad observation…

Note…this post may come perilously close to being political, but I am not backing any party or candidate; nor is it intended to be on any particular side of any known political issue. As Tree Beard said, “Side? I’m not on anyone’s side because no one is on my side.” As usual this post is about making choices, learning and being/thinking/doing the best you as an individual can.

At lunch lately I’ve been watching a lot of Peoples court, and because my wife is on summer hours and getting home early we’ve been watching Judge Judy. Last night my wife made the comment that “I think these people are getting stupider” referring to the litigants. Sadly I have to agree.

This observation has nothing to do with physiological or psychological damage or defect. People are just as capable of thinking and behaving well as they used to be. Maybe more so if you take into account the increase in information available to people these days (what with that ‘interweb’ thing and all…). I am referring to a definition of stupid a very smart man gave me many years ago…Stupid meaning willfully ignorant. I think this has been happening for a number of reasons. Three main ones (the one’s I’m going to talk about at least) are education, laziness, and confirmatory bias.

Education

(This is an area that inherently does get political… so step carefully) There has been a push for a number of years to try to cram “facts” into peoples heads. Unfortunately, a casualty of this push has been teaching how to use those facts.

Right now we are in a world that’s awash with information. You can look things up on your pc, tv, tablet, phone or (god help us all) in a book or magazine. This is good because we have more information available than ever before. Unfortunately having more information means we have to be more proficient and efficient in using that information. People need to learn to think, analyze and make decisions. Just reading and accepting the first internet head line or blog post you run into is a bad idea (even if it’s mine!). People need to learn to evaluate and decide, not just be told.

I think people aren’t learning how to use information well. Without the right skills using information well isn’t easy. So, people choose not to try…

Lazyness

In fairness people may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information out there (which is why we need to teach them how to use it…). This, along with time pressure, a human desire to do things the ‘easy way’ and other factors lead people to just ‘grab and go’ with their information. They read a headline or abstract and react without digging deeper. They hear a sound bite and react without understanding the context. One problem with this is that surface information is easy to manipulate. Also, even simple things are never as simple as people want to think. You have to understand even simple things in context.

When we dig deeper we may learn things that change what we think, feel and/or believe. We can find more information that helps us make better decisions. This can be a valuable thing, but it takes effort.

Unfortunately, a lot of people today don’t value good information, or they make a surface assessment and miss the value of something being presented to them. So, they don’t put the effort into getting good information. They put that effort into something they value more (which would be a good thing, except, have you seen some of the things people will put effort into?). We need to learn to value information. We also need to learn to be selective about the information we choose to listen to and be conscious and purposeful in how we select that information.

Confirmatory bias.

Confirmatory bias is a natural process of the human mind, and a can be a form of laziness. It is also something that can get you into a lot of trouble if you’re not aware of it.

Confirmatory bias means that you selectively choose the information that supports the opinion that you’ve already formed and reject contrary information. This can get you into a lot of trouble if you choose to accept the directions from your navigation system and ignore the fact that the bridge right in front of you is washed out!

Confirmatory bias is also dangerous in less obvious situations. People may choose to just read the articles and watch the stories that they know come from ‘their side’. This does simplify choosing information and reduces necessary effort, but it makes for really poor decision making (especially when the sources on ‘your side’ start making statements like all “Xs are Ys” or “We must protect the theory at all costs!”).

The reality is you don’t need to be afraid of information from any side. If you have the truth on your side, and you learn to make good evaluations and choices on information, then you can look at the information from any side and pick out the valid parts (not necessarily ‘good’ (if you’re just picking out the ‘good’ parts you may be driving off that washed out bridge…)).

The take home message

For those of you who may have missed it… Don’t be stupid, meaning don’t be willfully ignorant. Learn to use information well. Put your energy into getting valid and accurate information and making informed decisions with it. Don’t just accept information from one side. If you take the time to learn and think you can make good decisions for yourself.

For those of us who are people of faith (and anyone else willing to listen)… God has faith in your ability to make decisions, that’s part of his gift to us and part of why we’re here. The God I know doesn’t ask us to put blind faith in anyone or anything (Faith yes. Blind faith no.)

For everyone… I’d much rather you trust your own decision making ability than some politician with an agenda!

Well this is it for today dear reader. Hopefully not too much of a rant.

Till next time… Learn well and choose well!