Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness // Susannah Cahalan

I haven’t posted in a week largely due to the fact that I’ve been moving house and starting school. That said, I will still be posting, just not every one to two days. I’ll post once or twice a week.

I know that when life gets busy some people begin to feel this inner tension. They start to wonder “can I afford to do X or not?” Honestly, answering that question is really up to the person and activity. With “personal reading” (reading that I don’t do for school), however, I’ve determined that I can’t afford NOT to read. Sometimes my eyes need a break though so I listen to more audiobooks during the school-year.

If I need to think before I speak, then I believe I ought to read/listen before I think.

The most recent book I’ve read has been Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan and I almost (read as: basically) had an existential tailspin halfway through the book.

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned my interest in Stoicism. Stoics believe that the only thing a person has full control over is their reasoned choice. This perspective sounds all logical, well, and good….. except Cahalan’s experience battling anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare auto-immune disease that presents symptoms close to schizophrenia and manic depression, demonstrates that the Stoics have made a huge assumption. They’ve assumed that the mind can be(come) this inviolable sanctum santorum that we are capable of developing to almost near complete control over if we try hard enough.

I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t aspire to have/exercise greater control over their minds. In fact. I find Stoicism pretty appealing. The problem is that the mind is so closely linked to the health of our physical body, which we don’t have/cannot develop full control over, that it begs the question of whether or not Stoicism is as attainable as the Stoics have presented it to be.

Cahalan’s story vividly domonstrates just how fragile and untenable the body and mind connection is and I was truly frightened reading Cahalan’s descent into madness. Her words begin to escape her. Her mind begins to escape her. I’m not a journalist, but as someone who also reveres words, I was horrified by the thought of such a sudden and significant loss.

So now, after finishing this book, I’d like to openly say: Dear internet folks, I am so grateful to be writing this blog post right now. I’ve truly taken the ability to form words, mold sentences, and share thoughts for granted.

If Cahalan’s story sounds interesting, check out her book. You can also watch her interviews. Other books/movies that I’ve read and watched in a similar vein have been the book Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We “Catch” Mental Illness by Harriet A. Washington and the movie Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die. 

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? // Seth Godin

I’ve thought pretty extensively about how much I want to edit myself when I write book reviews. Verbally and written-word wise I think I can come across as quite blunt…. brutally honest if I have to be blunt.

To get to the point, the only good thing about Linchpin was that it was formatted with nice bold print for topics I wanted to skip. I skimmed the sections I did want to read and even within these sections I didn’t find anything interesting.

If I have to be generous, maybe I didn’t find this book interesting at all because:

A) I read a lot of personal development books and nothing in Linchpin came as particularly new (or even well thought out and executed… I’ll explain why later)

B) I double majored in economics and sociology during my undergraduate years concentrating most of my sociological studies in the sociology of economics. Godin pulls from a lot of sociological readings that I’ve already read (Weber, Marx, Hoschild) but not in a way that’s particularly clever. He tries to use their work to support his argument except that he doesn’t really have an argument. At some point in the book, he basically draws a quadrant that he calls the “quadrants of discernment”. I looked at it and laughed. The quadrant is essentially Godin’s rebrand of Robert Merton’s strain theory.

Godin’s Arguments or Lack Thereof: 

  • Don’t be a cog in the machine.
    • At least he gives credit to Marx for this one. The problem is that he keeps writing this phrase over and over every couple of pages. I thought he would stop repeating it as if it were his new, grand idea after 40 pages or so but I kept seeing it every 2 pages. If you want to get “classy” drunk, read the book after noon with some cabernet sauvignon….. but to be honest you’re better off just enjoying the cab sauv.
  • A linchpin is someone who adds value to the work their doing. You can become a linchpin by being an artist.
    • I checked when the book was written when I came across this argument because it’s quite a dated argument. The book was written in 2010. I’m trying to think back to what the internet was like 8 years ago and can’t really recall because I’m not a big technology person. The fact that I have a blog now makes me want to scream “Look Ma! No hands!”. Now with social media businesses heavily based on the cult of personality of internet superstars, being a non-conformist who creates content that adds value to those who are willing to buy what you’re offering isn’t revolutionary.
  • There’s no “map” to becoming a linchpin
    • It’s a cop out. I don’t even know what to say really to this one except facepalm. Books that try to tell me something along the lines of “live your life better” but that fail to tell me how to do so annoy me. It’s the same internal itch I get when I see “Keep calm and Carry on” posters. Linchpin is a 230 page rash. I can’t really learn and internalize a lesson if there’s nothing actionable.

The crux of why I didn’t like Linchpin: 

The book is a paradox and not in a good way. For a book that urges you to become a linchpin who creates value, this book didn’t create any value in my life at all. Godin doesn’t claim to be a linchpin, but the fact that he’s written a book on how to be one (…..and he doesn’t even do that because there’s no “map”)   certainly seems to suggest that he thinks he knows something about it.

Is Godin a linchpin? I don’t know. I haven’t read any of his other books. To avoid the risk of sounding just as redundant as he does, however, I’m sure you can already guess what I think.

To-Do List Formula // Damon Zahariades

2017 isn’t over but I’d like to share the best thing I’ve learned this year so far:

Don’t invest in success. Invest in the system that makes you successful.

As long as you invest in the system that makes you successful, success becomes something less abstract and more replicable.

So I’m curretly recovering from some extensor tendonitis which I’ve developed because I’m on my feet a lot. (It’s funny how I can sit and write for a long time but can’t if I’m not doing one of these two things.)

I picked up this e-book on a whim while making a to-do list of things that don’t require too much feet time and began thinking about how I can streamline my to-do list even more.

Overall, as the type A list-maker who’s always interested in trying better life-organizing systems, I have to be honest and say that this book wasn’t really a game-changer for me.

HOWEVER, if you are someone who is suffering from too many thoughts, to-do lists that are too long, and guilt over not finishing your to-do lists, I recommend this book. (I know these people exist because I’ve had enough art student friends who’ve asked me to tag along during studio to “shame” them into doing work).

If you need some help in the productivity area don’t have a pocket Stella to guilt-trip you into doing work, pick-up this book! It’s 95 pages long, 3 bucks, and easy to read. (Zahariades also has a personal website: artofproductivity.com — I haven’t checked it out yet but you can if you’re interested)

Below, I’ve also attached a picture of my personal task list system for each day. It’s how the inside of my planner looks. I just didn’t want to take a picture of my actual planner because each page is very full and probably too distracting as a TL;DR photo.

Untitled picture.png

Brief Explanation

I make a list of the things I want to accomplish either the night before or the morning of the day I’m planning.

My usual page doesn’t look this neat because I will brain dump everything that I want to do (usually a list of 13-15 items). Afterwards, I’ll go through and prioritize the list by labeling it with an A, B, or C.

  • A-list items, which I limit to three, are things I must complete.
  • B-list and C-list items are things that I would like to complete. The difference between a B-list item and a C-list item is the amount of time that I think the task will take.

I like this system because it allows me to do two things depending on the day.

  1. If I’m having a really productive/inspired day and the A-list items are super engrossing, I still need to remember to take breaks during the day. A-list items for me usually involve deep work and I need to remember to take mental breaks (Usually every 30-45 minutes or so) to prevent burn-out.

During my breaks, I’ll complete a B-list item, such as fold the laundry while listening to a podcast).

  1. If I’m having an unproductive/uninspired day, I’ll start with some B/C level items just to accomplish some things, get momentum going, so that I feel less mental resistance when I move on to A list tasks.

On the side, you see that I have a time tracker. I’ve really been trying to prioritize my sleep lately and now especially with my injury. Marking the times when I wake-up and go to sleep allows me to track my sleep so that I can see at a glance how long I’ve been sleeping over the week. Furthermore, marking off the sleep/wake times allows me to set a hard cut-off for the day so that I plan the rest of the day accordingly around these times.

During the day, as I complete tasks, I match the task with the time (start and stop times). This allows me to more accurately gauge how long certain tasks take me so I can plan better in the future. I try to batch similar tasks together.

Taking the example from earlier, if folding laundry was my B-level task and it only took 10 minutes, leaving me 5 minutes before going back to my A-level task, I’ll move onto a C-level task, like empty the trash. In the list portion, I check off these two items. When I write this into my time tracker, I label the side next to the start and stop time with “Cleaned” (something that’s preferably one word long so that I’m not just rewriting my to-do list).

I suppose a con of keeping a time tracker with my to-do list is the fact that it’s more work. But, the weekly feedback that I get through this system is worth it in my opinion. At the end of the week, I review the time tracker with different colored highlighters, breaking down my time tracker by maintenance, work, personal, and random (random usually means twiddling my thumbs and playing too much poker…). I know what color to mark each hour of the time tracker with since I’ve given the time “context” on the side. When I look at the overview of the week, I know at a glance based on the colors, which areas of my life I’ve been spending the most time and energy.

If I’m happy with how things look, I continue with whatever I’m doing. If I’m not happy, I figure out why so that I can resolve whatever issue(s) are preventing me from having the days that I want.

 

August Auuumish Mmm… Ahhs…

I know that I shouldn’t label non-tech Mmm… Ahhs… out there as Amish, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.

There were too many things to feel lovely about in August so I divided my monthly Mmm.. Ahh… post into a tech/app one and this one, which is non-tech/app.

Foldable Shooting Earmuffs: 

If anyone is interested, here is the pair that I got.

This one may sound weird since I don’t actually know how to shoot a gun… and given the fact that I have terrible eyesight, I probably shouldn’t learn how.

I like to work in public spaces when I read or write because it lets me feel like I’m being more social than I am. I can very easily go for days just reading and writing without actually remembering to talk to people or respond to texts so I guess people who try to keep in contact with me in real life sometimes feel like they’re talking to a girl who falls down a well every couple of weeks. The upshot of hanging out with someone like me is the fact that I’ll usually come back bearing the gift of esoteric facts.

Considering the reality that reading and writing will be my life for the next three years at law school, these earmuffs are great. They look like normal headphones so I don’t stand out in a coffee shop and they block noise. I used to use earplugs but they would hurt my ears after a couple of hours and aren’t very good for ear health in general. I also used to just wear noise blocking headphones without any sound on, but they don’t block noise as well as these shooting earmuffs do and they hurt after an hour or so of wear from my experience.

Neil Degrasse Aloe and Legos: 

I got a plant. The last plant that I every owned now resides in Rhode Island with a friend’s mom because taking care of it was too overwhelming for me. cactus.png

That was four or five years ago but I’m still not sure if I can keep a plant alive. Since the last plant I got was a bamboo plant, I decided to stay in the low-maintenance range of plant-keeping(?) gardening (?) What do you call it when you try to urban farm a single plant (?) and got an aloe. I named him Neil Degrasse Aloe.

Neil Degrasse Aloe.png

Since my plant-keeping skills are dubious at best, I decided to design a self-irrigating planter that would take the guess work out of watering. It’s not done yet but I wanted to design something in the MC Escher theme and came up with this design using Legos

Lego Box.png

Bear with me. I want to pour quickrete into this Lego mold that I built, so the negative space will be the actual box. Then I will build two more molds of stairs built out of Legos that will also have quickrete poured into them. I’m going to use the stairs to balance the potted plant and the bottom of the box will be filled with water. That way, when I string a piece of twine through the bottom of the potted plant, the system will basically self-irrigate until it runs out of water.

Let me know if anything I’ve just written sounds like a horrible plan.

Hopefully if my grand design works, I’ll be urban farming more single potted plants soon.

Packing:

I keep referring to the fact that I’m moving, and I promise I am. I just like to start things really early and packing was no exception. Here’s my plan: I think I’ll unpack what I REALLY need when I get to my new home but will kepe everything else packed. At the end of the year, I’ll evaluate what I didn’t unpack and get a sense of what I really need to live and hopefully thrive.

Baby Buddhist Monks: 

Meet Nongkorn, he along with Loca the Special Pug and Milos Raonic’s mid-game faces are my favorite things on the internet. I have a list of pictures/videos on the internet that I go to when I need a life pick-me-up.

nongkorn.png

Anyways, I’m trying to read The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington but am having a really hard time. For three consecutive days, I’ve managed to fall asleep 30 minutes into reading so I’m either very suggestible or I need to sleep more. Regardless, this baby buddhist monk is basically my spirit guide:

Watch this video and you’ll see why. I’ve definitely remember helicopteoring like this mid-lectures in college.

 

Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War // Helen Thorpe

In my last post titled Hack Your Life, I mentioned the book Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven, who is a former US Navy admiral. I thought the anecdotes about his SEAL training days were really interesting so I did some more digging into SEAL training and found that there are no female SEALs… yet.

Based on my internet research (so if anyone knows more than me on this, please let me know, I’m super interested) the US military officially opened up all combat roles to women in December of 2016. As of July 2017, there are only two female SEAL candidates but no official female SEAL. A major justification that I saw for not letting women enlist for certain combat roles in the past was that they would have to enter hostile environments where people are already hostile towards women and treat them as second-class citizens.

To be completely honest, the question that immediately popped into my mind after finding out was this: By preventing women from more active roles in the military where they might be more exposed and “seen”, what audience was the restriction really intended to protect? The female soldiers? Or the people who are threatened by the idea of women in active combat roles (both internally within the hierarchy of the US military and externally in foreign countries)?

Before you get the wrong impression of my reaction, I did not think this question in a “F*ck the patriarchy” kind of way, I was just genuinely curious. The US is one of the safest and most egalitarian places I’ve ever felt as a woman. Sure there are still things that I hear that make me uncomfortable but comparatively I’ve had fewer of those moments here. Most of my travels have been in Asia which has a far stronger misogynistic socio-cultural language. I grew up with an Asian upbringing but in many ways I’m still a “stranger” to Asian culture due to the fact that I grew up in the US.

During conversations I’ve had while traveling, I’d often experience points of tension when the American inside of me would be irked by a certain comment while the Asian inside of me would understand the cultural context from which it came from. I haven’t found a good way to respond to these moments yet and usually don’t say anything or change the subject. If I haven’t internally sorted out my reaction to a situation, I’d rather not say something that I might regret later.

Anyways, going back to actually giving a book review, I started Soldier Girls with two questions in mind:

  • What kind of women become female soldiers?
  • How are they treated in the US military?

….And ended the book with even more things to think about:

  • If women are now allowed into more combat roles, how will the US army deal with femininity? The military strips a recruit of their identity so that it can turn them into soldiers. Will femininity be an aspect of the individual that will be brushed aside/ignored/”removed” as part of personal identity or acknowledged?
  • What is the soldier’s conception of choice? All of the people coming back from war in this book become overwhelmed by the amount of choices thrust upon them once they get back to civilian life. Choices that we are accustomed to making on a daily basis like which shirt to wear or which brand of X product to buy don’t even register in our brains because we are so habituated to these trivial decision-making situations. If you live a year without having to make so many of these decisions, however, they can be overwhelming.
    • To gain even more perspective on this issue, I started watching youtube videos posted by veterans describing what life is like coming back from combat. One channel that I found really interesting was the Nomedic, so if you’re interested, go check him out. 
  • Besides the number of lives lost and money spent, what are the internal, hidden costs of war? When soldiers leave, they leave a hole in the lives of their families. Culturally, the US is stil a country where women are the main care-givers for children,  so will the social cost of war increase by letting women who might potentially become mothers or who are mothers into more direct combat roles?
    • Two of the three women Soldier Girls focuses on are mothers. One has adult children and the other has younger, dependent children. Reading about their stories impressed upon me that besides providing financial support, it is very hard to parent when you live overseas while your children are at home.

As you may be able to tell, I’m still digesting this book. It has clearly given me plenty to think about. I’ve never really had contact with people from the US military before so reading these last two books has been a really eye-opening experience. I do know friends and acquaintences who have military backgrounds in other countries, however, and have been “comparing notes” with stories that they’ve told about their own military experiences.

 

Hack Your Life

The bullet journal is probably the hot button planner system that everyone seems to be using these days. I don’t use it. I used to but gave it up due to my perfectionist tendencies. Since straight lines cause me mental anguish and take me too long to draw out, I ended up avoiding updating until I had access to all the “tools” I needed… which just meant that I never updated my journal.

That said, I’m a firm believer that you can’t improve the things you don’t track, so here’s what I do: (If you’ll do the honor of flattering me, just think of me as the better dressed, less cool, Asian, female version of Tim Ferriss)

These days I use a generic daily agenda with a yearly calendar. It has everything lined out for me. I think I picked this up for 5ish USD at CVS.

I make a list a To-Do list every day, usually after I’ve worked out because my mind often wants to plan the day when I’m jumping rope. The indexing system that I use is basically the bullet journal system.

20624254_1807283969299160_648079950_n

I mark the page I am on with a sticky and a piece of paper that has a calendar on one side that I printed off the internet for free and three lists on the other side. (Scroll down for picture). For those who have a hard time reading my handwriting, the lists are labeled with: What Worked, What didn’t work, and What will be put in place next month (next month being the month of the calendar on the other side of the page).

As someone who loves experimenting with things I think will optimize my health, happiness, and productivity, I try to see how small tweaks to my routine or how new habits affect me. To quote James McCrae, author of Shit Your Ego Says: Change is natural. Being stuck is unnatural.

Before the start of each month, I take time to reflect on the month before with some thoughts. Sometimes, I find that my new tweak didn’t work but had a positive affect on me when I was able to stick to it, so I make adjustments that I think will make it easier for me to stick to the tweak in the upcoming month.

Using the following picture for example:

In the case of OMAD, I liked the way my body felt when I was eating one meal a day and it wasn’t really an issue for me mentally when I was cutting. The problem is I’ve started bulking again and started feeling a “hoarding” mentality at the end of the week when I felt like I needed food but didn’t have time to grocery shop. Since I’m vegetarian and need to make sure I’m in a slight calorie surplus to build muscle, I go through a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit so I found myself worrying about not having enough food around all the time. To relieve this mental tension, my new habit to put into place for the month is to be more consistent with groceries and to meal prep for 2/3 days in advance.

Rather than giving up on something completely, I reflect on what benefits and costs a change brought me. This gives me a chance to assess if the change is something I will abandon completely or try to keep through making some kind of additional change that will make it easier for me to stick to the change.

The back of this planner also comes with some extra pages for notes. I keep a couple of lists in this section:

  • I keep a list of goals for the year. Under each goal, I list three actionable steps that I need to take to achieve said goal.
  • I keep a list of “rants”. Before you think I just go completely Ove, (Watch/read A Man Called Ove if you haven’t and enjoy dry, deadpan Swedish humor) this is a list of little things that cause me enough frustration that I want to address them.
    • Sometimes, it’s something that can be addressed with money. For instance, I plan on buying a better bicycle seat since my current one hurts enough that it makes my butt go numb.
    • Other things can be addressed through an action. If you feel like you’re constantly picking up after people and it bothers you, “ranting” it on paper makes you realize what’s causing you daily tension so you can voice the problem rather than exploding which usually just results in all-round anger and isn’t conducive to problem-solving.

If you’re interested in hacking your life too, check out Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven. The one liner Tl;dr version of the book is: If you can’t even do the little things in life right, don’t complain about not succeeding in the big things you want to achieve. The book is very short and easy to read in an hour or two during the afternoon. Overall, I’d say the book is very “practical” in the sense that McRaven writes in a very direct language with military anecdotes that are both interesting and kind of relatable for the common civilian.

If you’re interested in a more flowery, philosophical approach to the subject of change, read Shit Your Ego Says by James McCrae, who has been called the Eckhart Tolle of the internet age. When I read the first page, I could definitely see why.

Personality-wise, you can tell McCrae and McRaven are two very different people. If you read their bios, you can also figure out that they have vastly different backgrounds and lives. Strangely, the main takeaways from their books are similar so you can probably read one or the other if you don’t want to read both.

 

 

August Mmmm… Ahhs

There are lots fo Mmmm… Ahhs for this month so to cut down on the amount I have to write/that you have to read at this moment, I’m only listing some apps that I’ve really been enjoying . There will be another post later with other things that have been making me onomatopeia.

Apps: 

Reigns (game): I’m not one for games. Besides my Chinese poker app that I play religiously pretty much everyday, I don’t have any other games on my phone… until now that is. As a lover of text-based games, this game is right up my alley. You play as a king who has to make decisions about his kingdom. Scenarios are presented to you and you either swipe left or right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to your council. You get overthrown and die a lot but you never truly “restart”. You become the next king and your previous decisions do have an affect on the gameplay of your next life.

 Sidenote: A friend of mine once tried to show me how Tinder works since I can pretty much come up with a pick-up line for any subject you throw at me…. I apparently can’t figure out which direction is swiping left and which is right though. He had to stop his explanation of emojis and spend a good 5 minutes just teaching me how to swipe. Baby steps… or I can just date someone Amish.

Focus Now (productivity): If you’re like me and kill everything (that is a plant), this is for you. It’s basically like setting a Pomodoro for yourself, but you’re held accountable by the fact that if you switch apps, you kill the plant on your screen, leaving you with a big ugly dead patch on your “garden” of plants/streaks for the day. Twiddle your thumbs if you must, just not on your phone.

I use the app when I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that I’m going to struggle with checking the phone for a task. An analog alternative that I use actually comes from a life-hack(?) I learned while studying for the LSAT. Use a cheapo analog wrist watch with a large watch face and just set it to 12:00. When you’re ready to start your task, push the pin back in. When the smaller hand reaches 6, you know 30 minutes have passed (which in LSAT speak is either “Oh SH*T! Time to hustle out the last logic game” or “Ok, time to go back and check setups”. For the longest time I couldn’t look at my watch without resenting it but now we’re on good terms. I recommend this method for when you need to be time concious while doing “deep work” that you can easily lose your mind to but don’t use this method if you’re on a schedule that is too tight.

Scannable+Onenote (productivity): If you haven’t been able to tell already, I’m not very tech-oriented. I prefer to write my notes, especially when I’m reading because it forces me to stop and reflect on what I’ve learned rather than word-vomiting everything I see.

Here’s how I read to learn: I read a chapter while highlighting if it’s digital ink or marking the margin of the book with a single line using a pencil if it’s an actual paper book. I do not use a highlighter for books since I find the colors distracting — In fact, I used to write all of my book annotations in highschool (that my lit teachers would actually check) in neon gel pens and highlighters because I knew that the colors would soon give them vertigo and they wouldn’t check what I had actually written very closely.

Anyways… Since I like to read outside and do my work basically anywhere other than at home, it’s cumbersome to carry around notebooks of notes that I want to refer to. Using scannable, I scan my written notes and send them to Onenote, which I have access to at all times through the app on my phone. Technically, the process of sending the scanned copy to a note-taking app would be even easier if I used Evernote, but I already have Onenote on my computer.

Pocket: One of the challenges I’ve chosen this month was to delay computer usage until 10 am. Given that I wake up at 5 am, I think that’s plenty of time to go without the big screen. If you’re interested in my list of challenges, look up my post titled: Library of lists and Challenges. I failed this challenge today, but that was because I needed to register for classes.  I technically started two days ago and the challenge hasn’t been hard so far since besides my morning routine, there are plenty of things to do. Sometimes I do find myself with down-time, however, so I open Pocket on the phone to read all of the “leisure” articles that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to read the day before. If you don’t do this already, save all of your “leisure” reading articles to read at one time rather than letting yourself get sucked in Buzzfeed-style.

 

Library of Lists and Challenges

I was on my run this morning and came up with this list of “experiments” that I’d like to try this year. Each experiment will last a month and I may choose more than one challenge to do each month. If I feel like it enriches my life, I will stick to the challenge for longer.

I try to do hard things so hard things don’t seem as hard over time. 

I will keep a Jerry Seinfeld-esque habit tracker for each challenge that I will post at the end of the month with my reflections about the challenge. Feel free to use this list if you’re interested in any of the challenges I’ve listed below.

Edit to the list: Challenge 2 should read ‘Delay computer usage until 10 am rather than 10 pm’ — I get up at 5 am so I think that’s a decent amount of time to go without a computer.

Developing a Sense of Self

In one of my earlier posts, I made a reference to developing a sense of self. If you’re interested in doing so, just humor the list-loving me and make a list of three answers you would use to describe yourself.

If any of the responses that you’ve listed include an occupation or family relationship, I’m sorry to inform you that those are just social roles. That may be fine if you’re particularly proud of these roles; personally, I don’t want to be defined by my responsibilities and obligations to someone else. Before I can be anyone to anyone else, I need to take care of myself first: this means knowing who I am so that I can be who I want to be.

Now make another list of three, this time with who you want to be. It doesn’t necessarily need to be verbally thought out, an image of who you want to be or the traits that you want to have works too. (If you own a bullet journal, this is an exercise that’s great to include in your journal so that you can revisit it when you need to re-center yourself).

If the list of who you are aligns with your list for your ideal self, congratulations! If your two lists do not coincide, make a new list of three actionable things you can do to become the person you want to be under each of the desired traits you currently don’t posess.

Hopefully, this process has given you an idea of goals to work towards and the things that you can do (in theory, right now if you can) to achieve them.

If you enjoyed this post so far, check out The Mushin Way to Peak Performance by Michael Veltri. If you’ve ever been in a fight/sparred you know that if you panic and freeze while fists are coming at you, you’ll only take a beating. Life can give you the same feeling. To stand a chance, you need to remain cool and clear-headed.

Veltri doesn’t talk about this, so here is pure adulterated me: sometimes you need to take a hit in order to find an opening in your opponent so you can go on offense. It’s ok to take a hit as long as it doesn’t knock you out. In more tangible real-life terms, many addicts need to hit “rock-bottom” before they realize a change in their habits is necessary to make their lives better.)

I  go through this process about every month or so. In the knowledge economy that we live in today, the concept of time management becomes more and more obsolete. Sorry Marx; fewer of us are cogs in the machine getting paid at a fixed rate of production.

If you’re getting paid for the quality of your work rather than the quantity of your work, it is more important to manage your focus and energy. Not all hours are made equal. If you’re trying to get work done while you’re tired as opposed to when you’re energized, you know what I mean.

We can’t control when the sun comes up or down. Time, like money, is fictitious. These concepts only have power over us because we give power to what we believe. If you don’t believe me, be like me and ask the person living in rural China how much further it is to his herd as he’s leading you up the mountainside. Chances are, he’ll say something along the lines of “Oh it won’t be long now….”, and two hours later you’re still stumbling everywhere trying not to revert to a five year old by asking “Are we there yet” every time you slip on a new set of stones.

We can’t all be Honey Boo Boo and just have boundless energy all the time. Limitation means that we have to be decisive about how we expend our energy and focus.

The upside of limitation is that it forces us to come up with “creative” solutions to life’s problems. If you value making healthy meals at home but grocery shopping takes too much of your energy, get them delivered with apps like Instacart. For products that you’re always using, you can automate the purchasing process through Amazon dash buttons.

The downside of limitation is that it requires saying ‘no’ to some things so that we can say ‘yes’ to other things. If you value your family and wish you could spend more quality time with them, you may need to say “no” to the poker game calling to you from your phone so that you can actually listen to your dad tell you that story for the about how he once stole a three-wheeled cart and skipped school….. for the umpteenth time.

Throughout this post, I’ve refrained from using the word minimalism because some people are turned off by the word. Often, they associate it with extreme millenial asceticism, but to me, it’s more about finding your personal point of balance. Too few possessions/relationships/commitments and we feel deprived. To much of all these things and we feel stretched thin. If you’re looking for your point of balance, it is important to have a clear sense of self, who you are, what your values are, so that you can make decisions intentionally. Everyday, we make decisions with regards to what to fuel our bodies, minds, and soul. Each decision results in a gain or loss, so choose to make everyday a net gain rather than a net loss.

If you’re interested in minimalism as a concept, check out The More of Less by Joshua Becker. 

Blood, Bones, and Butter // Gabrielle Hamilton

A former acquaintance of mine once asked me: “Why do you workout? Why do you want to be strong?…. You know that your muscles make you unattractive because you don’t seem vulnerable enough to take care for as a woman right?”

Rather than having an explosive, nuclear Fat Man, I ran through a whole string of multi-lingual explicatives mentally before calmly informing him that I was glad that he found me unattractive. I left it at that and didn’t finish the conversation with what I was really thinking: That I could never respect anyone who is so insecure that they are threatened by rather than appreciative of someone else’s strengths. Some battles are not worth fighting. 

Most people have their “Plato’s horse” idea of who they want to be/who they want to be with. Unless said ideas prove damaging for anyone other than themselves, I’m in no authority to change anyone other than myself. 

For the last two days, I’ve been savoring Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, best-selling author, NYC chef, and restaurant owner of Prune. By savoring, what I really mean is binging. Listening to Hamilton’s life story and inner voice is slightly eerie for me because it so closely resembles my own. 

Like her, my (perspective of) family also imploded around my early teens. I put perspective of in quotes because not everyone shares the same family life even if they are living in the same family. Unlike her, however, I skipped adolescent rebellion because I recognized that the only person I could really rely on was myself. Voicing what I wanted, what I really wanted, was usually met with either explosive anger or a “Not now… I’m just so busy” response voiced in an almost I’m so disappointed in you for asking tone of voice.

Perhaps because I’m an only child, I never really had anyone to bounce ideas off of or to trust with the inner sanctum of my mind, so rather than going 13 on 23, I went 13 on 30 and tried to emotionally mother myself. 

Besides just feeling a sense of kinship over our parallel family lives, I also feel a sense of kinship with Hamilton as a woman working in a male-dominated occupation. I’m currently not working, but when I was working at law firm internships, I took note of every woman senior partner and how they treated the women underneath them. I can count on one hand how many female senior partners I saw and basically all of them were much harder on the women, compared to the men, underneath them. 

Even though I bristled at having freshly printed documents literally thrown in my face at 10:30 pm at night after being in the office since 9:00am, I could understand why my female superior(s) were so hard on me. 

Respect isn’t freely given. It’s earned. When you’re a woman trying to make a home, a name, for yourself in a male-dominated habitat, you have to work extra hard to prove not only to yourself but also to the people around you that you deserve to be treated seriously. I learned that if you want to be successful, stop fantasizing about it. Just put your head down and do the f*cking work. Consequently, women in male-dominated industries often believe they need to prod themselves harder with the internal cattle prod than everyone around them. Some see younger female mentees as threats, others see younger versions of themselves who need to be prodded just as hard as they have done themselves. 

Despite all of this, I truly enjoy working in a firm and do plan on working in a firm again after law school… at least for a couple of years until I get it out of my system. Hamilton’s identity as a female restaurant owner and chef illuminates what kind of future I might have. Like being a chef, a lawyer also needs to be detail-oriented, attentive towards the needs of her clients, and good at working with strict deadlines/timers. Just as you wouldn’t go to a nice restaurant expecting a half-cooked bird, you don’t go to a lawyer expecting a half-assed contract. 

If you like my pragmatic, sassy, and almost (probably definitely) irreverent way of writing, pick a copy of this book up. Filled with hilarious anecdotes that give you a glimpse into the grit and grime that is restaurant life, Blood, Bones, and Butter is an absolute gem that doesn’t try to maraschino cherry anything about life and food.