Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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On goals, expectations, and what happens before 9 AM

Pocket, LinkedIn, and Google like to push self-improvement articles at me. The habits you need to adopt to succeed in your career. Change this about your outlook to become a happier person. 10 things these successful women do daily.

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Most of these articles, I ignore. Some I do click through to in genuine interest—often to end up disappointed. Others, I hate-read: Dive in with full knowledge that I’m going to strenuously disagree with the dispensed advice. For example, the ones that insistthat  for success, you must do activities x, y, and z early in the morning—no other time of day will do!—that I only read with scorn.

Like this gem from Benjamin B. Hardy, PhD: 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M. #3 on his list is “Hard Physical Activity”.

Of course regular exercise is a fine idea, but why before 8 A.M.? This is a recipe for failure for night people who can’t possibly get motivated to do physical activity at that time. I’ve been following a fitness regime for some 30 years now, but without engaging in a single exercise session before 10 A.M.

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This is about all I manage to do in the early morning (before 9 A.M.):

  • Get out of bed
  • Groom myself (bathe, brush teeth, style hair, makeup)
  • Dress myself
  • Feed the cats
  • Prepare and eat breakfast (including coffee, of course)
  • Charge my phone
  • Listen to CBC radio
  • Read (mostly news, from various sources)

And yet somehow (I can’t even explain this), this takes me some 2+ hours. I don’t see any of these activities as optional, but they don’t leave me with time to do much else at that particular time of day.

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I don’t even want to talk about his insane concept of taking cold showers. #TeamWarmWater

Then there are these general, life-affirming items:

  • Review your life vision
    and
  • Do at least one thing towards long-term goals

But, like, what if I don’t really have a life vision or any long-term goals?

Well, there are a billion self-improvement articles out there telling me why that’s a tragedy that will turn me into a sad failure.

So I must admit I found this one article by Jason Fried really refreshing: I’ve never had a goal

I can’t remember having a goal. An actual goal.

I do things, I try things, I build things, I want to make progress, I want to make things better for me, my company, my family, my neighborhood, etc. But I’ve never set a goal. It’s just not how I approach things.

A goal is something that goes away when you hit it. Once you’ve reached it, it’s gone. You could always set another one, but I just don’t function in steps like that.

I just worked at whatever I was working on and ended up wherever I am. I continue to approach work and life that same way today.

To which I say, yeah, that. I do things, but not toward a goal. I’m not exercising to lose 10 pounds, or to run a marathon, or to win a weightlifting competition. (This lack of goal always puzzled gym people I talked to. “What are your fitness goals?” “Just to stay healthy.” “Hmm, that’s not an option on my list here…”)

I try to blog regularly, but not to gain a certain number of followers, or to make money, and certainly not to change the world. I just like to do it, so try to make time. I’ll work on a piano piece if I like the song enough to want to play it smoothly, but not with the aim of performing it for anyone else.

Is that weird? It seems to be weird. But I don’t know. All this focusing your activities toward some future goal—doesn’t that make it harder to enjoy the present? And in the end, isn’t the present all we have?

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But that’s threatening to make this into some sort of life advice column, and the world doesn’t need more of those. If you need goals, set goals. Review your life vision to your heart’s content. Do it at 6 AM if that floats your boat.

Me, I’m considering this other article by Jason Fried, Living without expectations. Unlike my apparently natural ability to work on things without any particular goal in mind, I don’t relate to this at all. I am not good at not having expectations of things. I can’t seem to help picturing future events in a certain way.

And yet, I think he has a point that having high expectations of how something will be is a recipe for disappointment. The movie was just fine, but because it didn’t quite live up to that great review, you can’t appreciate it. It might an attitude worth trying to cultivate, though that hardly seems easy.

For instance,  maybe I did actually get something of value from Dr. Hardy’s article—his point about getting 7+ hours sleep. It was bolstered by this Popular Science article on How many hours of sleep do you actually need? To which the answer, for almost everyone, is 8 hours, ideally. Those people who think they can manage on only 6 hours or so? They just don’t realize that fatigue is affecting their performance, but testing proves it:

The less sleep you get each night, the less cognitively aware you are the next day, the day after, and every day after that. Simple.

I was never deluded enough to think I could manage on only 5 to 6 hours sleep, but I definitely tend to delay bed time in order to fit in more evening activities, then end up dragging my butt in morning. So I’m seeing if I can curtail that a bit. Try to head to bed 15 minutes earlier than before, set the alarm 10 minutes later (and chuck you, 8 tiny ways to make your life better, and your asinine advice to set it 30 minutes earlier).

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Yep, even sleep can be turned into a life-improving, goal-setting exercise

Results so far are mixed. Some days I literally don’t get home in time to make the new 15 minutes earlier bed time. And going to bed does not always equal sleeping; some nights are restless, leaving me still dozing past the new alarm time. (The Popular Science article suggests an afternoon nap to fix that, but I’ve never been a good napper, and I don’t if work would approve of that sort of coffee break.)

Still, it seems worth continuing the experiment, to see what happens. I have no particular expectations.


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Hidden Figures

In my continuing series of trying to find movies Jean will like, we went to see Hidden Figures, the story of three African-American women whose mathematical and engineering skills contributed greatly to NASA’s space program, during a time of segregation.

While I have not seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, based on those I have, I agree with the assessment that this was the most conventionally filmed. While its based on true stories, you can just feel how reality has been condensed and combined to make for a better narrative arc. Like, as Jean pointed out, the “convenient” fact that the three women whose achievements were most impressive in the end happened to all commute to work together in the beginning. And every moment of victory is signalled with a soundtrack of another inspiring, uplifting song.

But hey, if a formula works, it works, and we both really liked this movie. (It also did the best box office of all the Oscar-nominated films.) Most of us did not know this history before this movie was made, and it is pretty amazing one. NASA felt so much urgency to catch up with the Russians on space exploration, they didn’t have the time to waste the talents of brilliant women just because of their skin tone.

But that didn’t mean any of it was easy, and the movie shows the challenges of trying to succeed in a segregated world. Having to run three-quarters of a mile to use “your” restroom. Seeing your coworkers flinch when you touch “their” coffee pot. Having to steal the FORTRAN book from the white section of the library, because they won’t let you borrow it. Doing the work of a supervisor, without the pay or the title.

These women earned each of their inspiring, uplifting songs!

Hidden Figures is on DVD and on-demand now, as well as still on some art cinemas (where we saw it). Definitely worth a view.

 


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Stand and deliver

Since the flurry of stories about how sitting too long at your job can, basically, kill you, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about that short of, you know, quitting my sedentary job to become a waitress or something. Articles on the subject sometimes recommended things like walking around while talking on the phone, but this was not useful to me. What with meetings, email, messaging, and talking in person, I clock maybe 5 minutes a week on the phone. Not near enough to reduce my death risk through pacing.

No, I really needed a way to type standing up.

With all these stories you’d think the options for “stand-up” desks would be multiple and easily purchased, but I did not find it to be so. I saw nothing along these lines at local office furniture stores. Web research led me to an American company that had some options, but these were not cheap to start with, and the shipping from there added something like $130 to the price.

I was nevertheless considering it when the site added a link to a Canadian distributor. Prices weren’t any cheaper (but also not much more expensive—not always true in Canada), but the shipping was way less. This was http://www.ergocanada.com.

But trying to figure out what products would work with the desk setup I have was not the easiest thing. It was often not too clear what accessories you needed with what, and what the measurements meant… Even what everything did. Fortunately, they were really responsive to questions by email and phone, even steering me to cheaper options than I had been considering.

In the end, I bought a dual-monitor stand:

Dual-wing LCD arm

And a keyboard tray raiser. Despite all this effort to get the right stuff, though, the monitor stand ended up being too low to use standing up. I would have had to crouch down to work on it, which didn’t seem that healthy. So that meant another call, another order, and another installation of an extender for the monitor arm.

Now, finally, it works. The monitor arms holds both my 19″ monitors at the height of my choosing, moving pretty easily between sitting and standing height. The keyboard also moves up and down quite well. It would be too low for a tall person, I think, but is fine for me. I have an extra-wide tray, so it does get a bit wobbly at the edges in upright position. I’m not finding that much of a problem so far, with a centered keyboard.

It also arrived at a time when I’m having this irritating pain in my ribs on the right side (from coughing? I have no idea) that is very much aggravated by sitting too long. So whether or not I actually live longer because of sitting less, I’m definitely benefiting now.

Too bad it’s all so complicated and expensive, though. Lots of office workers out there, with little choice but to sit 6+ hours a day…

PS And apparently you can about double the number of calories you burn just by standing instead of sitting to work. Huh. I didn’t even know that part…