jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

Yesterday's Infomagical challenge was to have a conversation at least seven minutes long with someone about a topic important to you, either over the phone or in person. So...how was it? Was it harder than you thought it would be? Easier? What did you talk about? And did you learn anything from the conversation?

I had planned to chat with my husband about his Dresden Files tabletop role-playing game yesterday, but we ended up talking about Warcraft with my husband and my best friend after seeing the movie. They were both not fans, to put it mildly. Which put me in the position of being the film's sole defender -- and even on a good night's sleep with a bit of hindsight I have to say that it's not as bad as everyone has been saying. I think Duncan Jones worked hard to ground an inherently cartoonish world and mostly succeeded; it wasn't perfect, it might not even be good, but I liked it anyway. If you've ever had a long period where you were a die-hard Warcraft fan, you should see this movie on the big screen. It is made for you, to put yourself as immersively as possible in the world of Azeroth.

One of the things I came away from the conversation with is the idea that disagreement doesn't have to be a personal attack. Even though I think a lot of the criticisms that have been lobbed at the movie (yes, even from my husband and best friend) are a bit unfair, I see where they're coming from. And hey, just because I like -- or even love -- something doesn't mean I can't at least recognize its flaws, or the points where it leaves people cold, right? So yeah, good talk guys. I can't wait to talk movies with you again sometime.

Today is the last day of our Infomagical week. If you joined me for these last five days of challenges, thanks! I hope that you've learned a bit more about how you interact with technology and where your relationship with it can improve. If you've just been reading these posts, thanks to you too! I hope you've gained something from reading about my experience. Or at least found it interesting.

The challenge for today is to take what we've learned about ourselves, how we consume information and that feeling we get when we're chasing our goal and wrap it all up in one wonderful burrito of purpose. (I really want a burrito for lunch, you guys.) Today, we think about the lessons we've learned this past week and figure out how to apply it to the rest of our lives moving forward. What is the one big thing that we want to change in our lives as the result of this experience?

For me, the big lesson is the value of focus and prioritization. I have this tendency to say "yes" to way too much stuff, and even discounting the chronic depression, ADHD and poor time management skills there's simply no way I'll be able to get to everything in a timely fashion. Focusing squarely on single-tasking Monday gave me a window into a world in which I sit down with one project until it is finished, working hard on a single thing to make it the best thing it can be. That felt good! I want more of that in my life.

So, from now on, I'm going to shrink my focus down to the most important things to me. If there isn't time for other things that are distractions anyway, so be it. I'll read less Cracked articles, or spend less time on Facebook. I'll stop reading articles on professional wrestling. (Well, maybe not, but I'll read fewer of them.) What I do with my time and my technology will hopefully push me towards becoming a better and more complete storyteller, someone who knows the value and transformative potential of stories, someone who uses them for a very real and tangible benefit.

The Infomagical podcast for today is definitely worth a listen if you have about 15 minutes; it talks about the value of priority in your life and the cold reality that you must make conscious, difficult choices about where you choose to spend your time and energy. Tech, it's mentioned at one point, makes a wonderful servant but a poor master.

So if you're bouncing from Facebook to Twitter to blog to blog to blog -- stop. That's allowing yourself to be mastered by technology. Instead, make a conscious choice when you sit down at the computer, or take out your phone. Every moment brings a new choice; what is the best one to make? That's something only you can decide, and if you want your tech to be a tool instead of a tyrant, it's worth it to spend some time thinking about your decision.

Here's the full list of blog posts and Infomagical challenges this week. I'm not sure if the page will be up next Monday, but if it is you can sign up to take the challenge here. Thanks so much for following me on this experience.

Day 1: A Magical Day / Zen and the Art of Single-Tasking
Day 2: A Magical Phone / The Minimalist Phone
Day 3: A Magical Brain / You Shall Not Pass, Meme!
Day 4: A Magical Connection / The Art of Conversation
Day 5: A Magical Life / One Priority

jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

Yesterday's challenge was to avoid any meme, article, video or other link that didn't take you closer to your information goal. For me, that was making sure that any content I consumed online made me a better and more focused storyteller. I'm not going to lie, this was the hardest challenge this week; I didn't realize just how much I liked reading stuff online until I placed a restriction on myself.

I can't say I did all that great, though I definitely gave it my best shot. There's just too much great stuff out there you guys -- and especially with the news being what it is and this election cycle being as outrageous as it is, the desire to keep on top of what everyone else is talking about is a lot stronger than I thought it would be. Chances are I'll be trying to master this challenge again in the coming days and weeks, restricting my attention to the things that will make me a better writer.

How did you folks do? Did you find restricting your attention to just a few things as hard as I did, or did you have an easier time with it?

Today's challenge is a little different; instead of honing our focus to one task or one wonderful minimalist screen or one topic of interest, we'll be reaching out to someone else to have a meaningful conversation about something we care about. In person or over the phone, the goal today is to have a conversation at least seven minutes long about a piece of information you learned sometime this week. It could be about an article that helped you be more creative, or something you learned that made you a little more knowledgeable about the topic you wanted to know about this week, or simply...catching up on the life of someone you haven't spoken to in a while. The topic is yours to decide, but you have to draft a friend to talk about it with for at least seven minutes.

I'm not going to lie -- this actually sounds kind of hard. For those of us who are shy around people or have gotten used to superficial conversations, really digging in to a topic and exploring all sides of it won't come easy. But it's worth it; just think of how much closer you'll feel with your conversation partner, having gone on this adventure together!

He doesn't know this, but I plan on having a seven-minute conversation with my husband about storytelling through role-playing games tonight before going to see Warcraft. He just leveled a doozy of a twist last night in our Dresden Files game, and I'm itching to pick his brain about how he came up with it and planted seeds for it in previous sessions. Fun stuff!

Our week of challenges designed to combat information overload is almost over, but don't worry -- it's not too late to join in! You can go back and read previous posts this week and take any challenge you'd like today. If you'd like, I'd appreciate a note or two about your experience so I can compare.

Day 1: Zen and the Art of Single-Tasking
Day 2: The Minimalist Phone
Day 3: You Shall Not Pass, Meme!

If you're curious about what this is all about, head on over to Note to Self's Infomagical page to get up to speed.

See you tomorrow, folks. Consume mindfully.

jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

Yesterday's Infomagical Challenge centered around the joy of tidying up your phone. The idea was to take a look at every app on your smartphone and think about whether or not it made you happy and productive. If it didn't, see ya! The app is gone and your home screen is a little less cluttered. The remaining apps were then all placed into a single folder that made your phone a sparkling monument to minimalism.

The first time I took the challenge, I couldn't bring myself to stuff all of my apps into one folder -- but I did bring it down to six: iPhone Apps, Google Apps, Self-Improvement, Entertainment, Capitalism, Other. And it wasn't a bad system. I pared down so many of my apps and seriously cut down on the number of times I got an app just to try out for something. But still, I couldn't quite understand how much pushing my phone to its bare minimum would change my experience with it.

Now, I have to search for every app that I want to open. I have an iPhone, so there's a Spotlight-type feature that brings up a search bar, my most recently opened apps, and a few other "suggested" items from Siri. It actually works quite well -- if I'm dipping into Twitter or Telegram via my phone it's right there, but if I want to play a game or dig up a utility app it forces me to engage the experience with intention and purpose. Which is great. It cuts down on the ease with which I can distract myself through my phone, which makes me pay attention to not only how often I have that impulse, but how often I act on that impulse.

Kondo PhoneHere's my home screen now. Beautiful, simple, with just the cutest face staring back at me reminding me to "Be mindful." I may not keep my phone like this forever, but I'll definitely aim to cut down on the clutter.

Now that I've conquered my phone, I'm thinking about doing the same with my tablet and desktop -- minimalism for all of my devices! Making sure that there's only one application open at a time will help with single-tasking, and getting rid of the 'default' apps on my taskbar will help remove distraction and cut down on automatic behavior...which is the whole point of the Infomagical Challenge. For someone like me, this is a godsend.

Which brings us to today. The challenge is to avoid memes, articles, videos and anything else online that does not get you closer to your information goal. If your goal is to be more creative, anything that stirs the muse within you is fair game -- but nothing else. If your goal is to become more knowledgeable on a topic, read or watch to your heart's content...as long as it's about the topic you're trying to learn about. Everything else? Resist it. Imagine there's a little Gandalf holding the bridge to your attention. And the Big Bad Balrog of Distraction is trying to consume your precious synapses. Will Gandalf let that slide? HELL NO. And neither will you. Engage with the Internet mindfully today. With a single-minded productive purpose. See how it feels to confront your fear of missing out. It might not be so bad!

If you're just learning about the Infomagical Challenge, here are a couple of links that will get you up to speed really well:

Day 0: The Case for Infomagical
Day 1: Single-Tasking
Day 2: A Magical Phone

Also, shout out to Note to Self (a wonderful podcast) for organizing the Infomagical Challenge as well as their previous project, Bored and Brilliant.

See you lovely folks tomorrow! Did you minimalize your phone or desktop? Share a picture with me. :)

jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

Yesterday for the Infomagical Challenge we were supposed to single-task: throughout the day, we choose ONE thing to do and carry out that task to completion. For those of us who are really used to bouncing around from webpage to Word to chat program, it might have been pretty difficult. How did you do? What did you notice? What was the most difficult part of trying out doing one thing at a time until it was done?

Since the first Infomagical challenge way back in February, the feedback that the Note to Self team has gotten seems to indicate that single-tasking was the hardest -- but most beneficial -- exercise of the whole week. And I'd be inclined to agree; yesterday, as the afternoon wore on, I found myself self-interrupting more and more as my focus waned. I had to remind myself to stay on target with a deep breath and a reminder to "stop interrupting myself". I'm so used to reflexively clicking on every blinking icon or making sure there are no red numbers on any of my phone apps that it was really easy to slip back into that behavior. But it was so worth it to resist the impulse.

My biggest take-away on the benefits of single-tasking is this: training your brain to finish what you start. When we're "multi-tasking", what we're really doing is training our brain to drop whatever we're doing for the new or more immediate thing. It doesn't matter if this new thing is less important, or can wait until you're done with your current thing. It's new, and it's demanding our attention, so that's what matters. When you train yourself to satisfy that instant curiosity, you're also training yourself to abandon the things you're working on -- no matter how important they are to you.

But by staying focused until the thing you're working on is done -- or by setting a goal to get one step closer to completing it and not stopping until that's achieved -- you're training your brain to do something far more productive: finish your shit. There is a really great feeling associated with knowing that you're working towards a goal you've set out before-hand, and actually achieving that goal before you move on to something else. By building the expectation that you'll work on something until a goal is met, it becomes easier to actually see yourself finishing all the things on your to-do list. And that's a wonderful world I would like to live in.

Today's challenge: tidying up your phone. So this is actually pretty cool, and it's based on the organization method thought up by Marie Kondo in her book The Magical Art of Tidying Up. Take some time to look through the apps on your smartphone. If it helps, touch until all of the icons shake (iPhone) or open it up. Then, right then and there, decide if this app brings you joy. Does it help you become your best self? Is it a huge distraction and time-sink? If it doesn't bring you joy or is more hindrance than help, thank the app for its service and delete the sucker. Once you've gone through every app on your phone, put them all into one folder on your home screen.

This simplifies the home screen on your phone something fierce; you can actually SEE that gorgeous phone background you're so proud of. And by putting all of your apps into one folder, it becomes easier to simply search for the app you want when you pick up your phone -- one subtle way that using your device becomes a more mindful action. It's not a matter of swiping and tapping to get that quick fix of what you want. If you want to play a game for five minutes, you're going to have to make the decision to type in the name of that game and open it.

You might find that the work involved in opening those time sinks is all that's needed to break the habit of messing around with them. Maybe the extra moment or two it takes to type in the app you want is enough pause for you to realize you'd rather, I don't know, open up the Word app and type up some flash fiction instead. Or maybe not. It's your choice -- that's the whole point. Yes, you're sacrificing a little convenience. But you're regaining conscious action in return.

If you've joined Infomagical, I'm glad you're on this journey with me! If you haven't, it's not too late to sign up here. Be sure to listen to the Case For Infomagical, and if you can double back to the Day 1 Challenge.

That's it for me, folks. See you tomorrow. May you live mindfully today.

jakebe: (Meditation)
The dragon and I had a pretty spirited debate about the best way for people to help the environment in their daily lives. The conversation had grown up around my long-standing (and often-thwarted) desire to be vegetarian, and Tube argued that it actually didn't do that much to stop the slaughter of innocent animals or actually mitigate any of the other harmful things attributed to our meat industry. From there, he went on to say that most of the things we do in the name of environmentalism actually doesn't do all that much.

It stung to hear that buying a Prius, shopping with reusable bags, getting local and/or organic produce and staying away from meat is questionable and misguided at best, more harmful at worst. It always rankles me when people say that well-meaning, environmentally-conscious people are wrong. Oh yeah, wise guy? Well, what the hell are you supposed to do instead? Where's the alternative that actually helps things the way we want to believe we're helping?

That's when Tube stopped me short. It's a simple thing, it turns out. You just need to stop buying so much shit.

When you think about it, so many of our problems could be solved this way. Are you in debt? Can't find a way to make your savings grow? Stop buying so much shit. Are you looking to lose weight? Learn to eat less food. (And in doing that, you'll quickly realize that the food you eat has to do *more* to get you through the day. That's when you get really interested in nutrition.) Worried about all of the trash we produce, the energy we consume, the rampant, crass materialism that our country is plagued by? Consume less. Consume less. Consume less.

This is a very simple idea that is monstrously difficult to put into action. In the United States we're pretty much capitalism in action. Our entire society runs, not just on making sure we buy things, but on making sure we buy MORE things than we did a year before. It's never enough to keep up with the Joneses at this point. In order to help our economy run, we have to outspend the Joneses -- and ourselves -- year over year.

Everything is geared towards getting us to buy things. Television ratings only matter because it's a guarantee of visibility for advertising campaigns. Movie theatres, websites, park and bus benches -- they're all flush with advertizing for products and services that get us to part with our money. And these ads always try to convince us that there's a need to spend the money, that we won't be happy or successful or reach our potential until we have it.

I don't want to go on a big anti-consumerist screed with this. I'm just saying that if you stop to think about it, the ultimate solution for many problems -- to learn to get by with less -- runs in direct counter-point to everything that's thrown at us. Even weight loss and environmental causes are about us buying this or getting that. And it's always up for debate whether or not these things actually help. Meanwhile, it's all but certain that consuming less will get you where you need to go.

So, thinking about it, I've decided that I'll start taking baby steps in the direction of consuming less. Before buying just about anything, I'll ask myself why I'm buying it. If I need it, I'll buy it. If I just want it, well...I might still buy it, but I'll examine what itch I'm trying to scratch and whether or not I can do that without having to spend money. And there'll be days -- like most of this week -- where I'll simply resolve not to spend any money at all. Perhaps for one week out of every month I'll aim for absolutely no spending. Which, honestly, is a lot harder than it sounds.

I've always been in love with the idea of simplicity and minimalism, and the aesthetic it points towards. You only buy what you need. What you do buy, you get with an eye towards making it last as long as possible. Your focus shifts from getting what's new to getting what's great. I love that idea, that you buy only a few things of lasting quality.

What this means for now is simply focusing on getting less stuff, and making sure what I have is enough to last me. Hopefully over the next few weeks I can go over my things, determine what's needed and start giving away all the rest. Nothing major mind you; just a few little jaunts here and there to get into the right mindset.

Of course, like most of my grandiose, high-concept ideas it'll be long, slow progress with infrequent updates. But this is the idea that I find most exciting today.
jakebe: (Meditation)
The beginning of September will mark my fifth year of living in the great state of California. The end of the month will mark my third year of being happily married to my husband, [livejournal.com profile] toob. I'm not sure which part is more incredible; it's taken me a while to get to this point, and I don't think I ever would have seen myself here ten years ago. At the beginning of the last decade, I had just moved to Arkansas as a college dropout, and I was trying to make a poly-amorous relationship work. One of my boyfriends was long-distance, even.

Now that I'm moving away from my time in Arkansas, I'm trying to process that time in my life. A lot of painful stuff happened to me back there -- I was molested twice, I had a couple of painful breakups, there was a crazy Internet 'friend' who crashed with me and a boyfriend for a while. I had a terrible job, and one that I'll always remember fondly. I lived in total shitholes and helped to build NARFA from the ground up. During much of that time in Arkansas, I was an asshole. I was unhappy and immature, and I was still trying to work out what the hell happened to me. It was the painful transition period from being a shy, hard-working Jehovah's Witness to being...whoever I am today.

There's a lot of great stuff that happened in Arkansas, too. I have a score of friends there, each of whom taught me how to be a better person. [livejournal.com profile] stickypawz uses the term "Soul-forge" quite a bit to describe this process, and in so many ways he's right. I was under a lot of pressure. Things got pretty hot. But in a lot of ways I feel like everyone there helped to burn away my impurities and leave me better for it. Even though there's a lot of bad memories, I can't help but think of just about everyone there fondly. I don't stay in touch often enough, and I don't say this often enough, but I thank each and every one of them. I think of them often, and I miss being with them. Even the crazier ones. :) Honestly and true.

Now, though, things are more stable than they've ever been in my life. I'm in a permanent, committed relationship with a man I love. I'm working in a job that gives me skills to better myself either at my current employer or a potential future one. I'm learning all the things that I've struggled to get a handle on up until now -- fiscal discipline, a work ethic, a personal set of standards...all sorts of things. I've taken care of just about everything else in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so now I'm focusing on -- for lack of a better word -- self-actualization.

It hit me a few days ago, when I was preparing for a trip with friends. My life is pretty soft. I used to worry about being able to pay for the things I needed to. Now I have to worry about not spending all the money I have. I used to wonder about how and where I would get food at one point. Now so much of my time and thought is taken up about being more selective about what I eat. Most of my problems are first-world ones: which cover is best for my iPad? How can I get a replacement guard for my electric razor? When I'm ready to buy a car, should I get a low-end new model, or a mid-grade used one? When I buy clothes, how much should I be willing to pay for something with a classical, timeless style that will last me a long time? So forth and so on.

It's strange, but I feel like I'm coming back from an extreme of excess...even though my lifestyle isn't one of conspicuous consumption. I've had very little, and now I look around me and it feels like I might have a little too much. My focus isn't so much on getting more, it's on getting things that will serve me better, longer. I want things that I'll be comfortable with having over the long haul.

This realization makes me feel incredibly fortunate. I'm lucky enough to be choosy about how I engage with our capitalist culture, to decide when and where I'll buy what I need. I didn't necessarily have that power five years ago. I definitely didn't have it ten years ago. Fifteen years ago? I was eating school lunches in high school. Being able to buy plastic bags full of penny candies was a special occasion.

Remembering where I've come from in a cultural and economic sense brings me a sense of perspective that might have gotten away from me for the past few years. I might use the person I am now as a target for self-deprecation, but I'm happy with where I am. And even though I might not be as powerful or influential as a great deal of people in Silicon Valley -- or even many of my friends -- I do have a measure of power. And with that power, a responsibility to be wise with it. I've worked, and with a few lucky breaks I've managed a pretty soft life. What am I doing with it? Am I using it to soften the lives of those who have it harder?

How can I even begin to do that?

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