The Paradox of Routine and Freedom

Routine works. Establishing one does not make life boring or formulaic, but it does set up guide posts where true freedom and excitement can take place.

A routine I recently established was getting up at 6 a.m. This guide post has given my days structure. It has established a time where I can write this.

With the responsibility of fatherhood, I have had to change my focus from myself to my family. And having a family is a sure way to confuse and throw a wrench into any established order or normalcy in life.

However, I established this routine months after my son was born. It opened up the possibilities of being a great dad while still caring for my own needs.

The last several mornings now I woke up two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Each time I glanced at my phone, and it showed 5:58. It’s only been a few weeks since I started, but already the routine is freeing me from the annoying buzz of the alarm.

Before I started working on this I’d be sleeping deeply and when my alarm would sound, I’d hit the snooze button two or three times. The idea, of course was that “10 more minutes and I’ll be rested and ready for the day.” But snoozing three times adds up to a half hour of frequently interrupted sleep.

On the other hand, getting up and getting going shakes off the sleepiness much faster than laying awake in bed between pressing the snooze button.

Routine has given my day something new–a beginning. Rather than drifting into the day from a haze of sleep and snoozing, establishing a routine has created a clear delineation between night time and day time.

Also, my wife and I have been working to establish a routine for our baby. We’re starting to see the first fruits of our efforts. The last several nights now, he’s slept soundly from when we laid him in the crib until after I got up.

These routines do not diminish the freedom and spontaneity of a day. It is exactly the opposite, yet still a paradox. Fixed and strictly adhered-to routines create more freedom in a day than an open schedule.

I haven’t established strict guidelines for what I’ll do when I first get up. I try to read, write, or exercise, but sometimes I surf around on the web, play with the baby if he’s awake, or spend some time in prayer.

However, no matter what I decide to spend the time doing, it is something I wouldn’t be able to do if I didn’t have the routine established to get started.

By setting up a few starting guide posts, I was able to establish much greater freedom in my day. And now I’m searching for similar opportunities in other possible routines.

‘Better’ is between where you are now and perfect

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re not perfect. Being less than perfect admits a shortcoming, a failure. It’s humbling.

A common cliché used to make someone feel better after a failure is to remind them that no one is perfect. However, this condolence provides little or no consolation. That’s probably because it doesn’t take a perfect person to avoid the particular screw up that’s getting you down. It only takes a better person.

It is accepted that perfection is impossible, and it is. That being the case, the proposition also needs to be acceptable. However, it can be so difficult to accept not being perfect, that we sometimes forget perfect’s younger sibling: ‘better’.

It’s okay to not be perfect. However, this cannot be cause for complacency. The premise that nobody is perfect does not justify not trying. ‘Better’ is a great alternative to perfect because it’s situated directly between where you are now and where you’d like to be.

Also, each time you take a step to be better, you’re that much closer to perfect, and there’s another ‘better’ in close proximity for you to move towards.

Small steps in the right direction are acceptable. They are not preferable to lasting radical overnight changes, but they’re a good start. Besides, for most, they are far more realistic.

Some people are are able to make drastic changes overnight, or even over the course of a year. Here I use the word ‘some’ to describe a very small minority of very special and talented or very weird and crazy individuals.

For the rest of us, the walk towards perfection will be a long one. It will take a superhuman perseverance. This will mean committing to a daily goal with clear action items to become a better person, to change bad habits, to start good ones, to develop the way you think about things, and to inspire those around you by your actions.

And if perseverance, commitment, desire, endurance, and patience are not traits that you either possess or can develop, then it will be better to look for some quick overnight fixes. Unless you’re part of that ‘some’, they won’t work, but even a quick fix is better than no fix.

Can a husband and father be a radical lifestyle designer?

Consciously or not, I’ve found myself drawn to a number of lifestyle design blogs over the past few weeks. They’re filled with stories about individuals actively pursuing unconventional ways of thinking and living.

Part of this desire may stem from feeling that my life is becoming to ordinary, too formulaic. I want something drastic, something radical to break up the mundane. There shouldn’t be anything ordinary about life.
However, if I’m going to jump on this lifestyle design bandwagon, I’m going to have to come at it from a very different angle. First, I have a family who I am very much in love with and committed to, so I am , to a small degree, limited in the radical lifestyle choices I can make. My lifestyle affects others, and I must always keep them in mind.

Spending time with my baby and being a good husband are the most important things to me. This involves time and support that I must provide.

Also, I work full time in a conventional setting. I’m not as adventurous as I’d like to be and do not have a strong enough desire to be an entrepreneur to strike out on my own. Actually, I still consider myself an entrepreneur, but I only have one client: the company I work with.

Despite all these factors that seem to point to the conventional life, I think I’ll still be able to participate in extreme lifestyle design during bit of time I have left over. And that may be what makes this journey and set of experiments unique.

Can I be an unconventional thinker and passionately pursue my ideal day and life while still fulfilling my duty in what is most important in my life: loving my wife and baby?

This is a difficult question to ask. As a husband and father, there are sacrifices I must make to care well for my family. However, I have ‘me’ time in the cracks, and I don’t think that I am, right now, the best possible version of my self. And this is because I am not making full use of the cracks.

So, my goal and mission will be to use that extra time to become the best possible version of myself. I know that writing this, and the fact the my wife reads it, will mean that I’ll have at least one person to hold me accountable and to be able to witness my progress.

Photo by Ben Zvan

Encouragement available

There seems to be no shortage of encouragement available if you look for it hard enough.

However, words from other can be, at times, in short supply. This can lead to one desperately fishing for encouragement from friends and family, which can cheapen what is caught.

I am fortunate that when I am uncertain of myself or lack the full confidence in what I am doing, there always seems to be well timed words of encouragement from my wife or co-workers, or at least some external signs that I am on the right track.

However, when encouragement is not readily available in the form of words from others, there are plenty of places to find it or create it in yourself as needed.

You can look for encouragement in past accomplishments. The current failure does not negate the good things you’ve accomplished before. Be encouraged by what you know you can do, and what you have done. This is more indicative of what you’ll be able to do in the future than any one setback.

Remember the obstacles you’ve overcome in the past and recognize that you’ll be able to overcome others in the future. What encouraged you to overcome those obstacles? It may be possible to rediscover those past encouragements and apply them to the present.

However, don’t always look back for encouragement. Also think about the ways the current difficulty will help you to learn and grow. People develop through their experience, and the experience of difficulties and hardships can be the most effective teachers. Try to recognize, in the present, how what is happening now will help you grow as a person, and be encouraged by it.

Also, you can look for encouragement in what others have done. There is no shortage of stories of people accomplishing incredible feats. But what do the great people behind those stories and I have in common? We’re all human. We work with the same limitations and potentials.

Be encouraged by what what you know you can do well, and don’t allow things that you’re bad at to get you down. You can find encouragement in your own talents, understanding that even if you’re having difficulty in your current endeavor that you still have the things that you’re good at.

I am a lucky man. Never lacking in my family cheering on all that I do. I also have very supportive co-workers, who are equally invested in my success. This is a great benefit to me. If it’s not something that you have in your life. I highly recommend it.

Find a few people who can light up your day. Invest yourself heavily in those relationships. Reap the rewards, and enjoy them for their own sake. Not much else is important when a few people close to you are able to fulfill you social needs for love.

I am so fortunate to have the support I enjoy both at home and at work. It makes me thankful to know that there are people who are there for me when I need it. I hope that I can be there for them too, to be for them what they are to me.

But I am also thankful that I am able to encourage myself, when I find myself alone.

Issues with unfinished business

I have a problem with unfinished business. 

I had some issues with my computer a few weeks ago. It was late but instead of letting it go, calling it a night and saving the trouble shooting until morning, I felt an uncontrollable urge to fix the problem. Nothing could distract me from my desire to fix the problem and make things right again. 

I can see how this trait could be harmful. Stubbornness can easily distract me from what may really be important. 

Could this be good?

When I have a problem, all my energies go into fixing it. This is only true when something was fine but then broke or stopped working. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case for things that are wrong, that have always, or at least for a long time have been wrong. It seems like the urge is more crisis control or a desperation to maintain the status quo.

If only I was able to harness that “I have to fix it now” energy into changing bad habits and developing new behaviors. It really could be a powerful force for good in my life.

Converting bad habits into good ones

How do you take a bad habit and focus those negative energies into something positive? I feel like I try to do this. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of distractions. Distractions, a bad habit and a weakness, can provide the needed brain break for me to accomplish real work. An uncontrollable fixing urge, could, I suppose, be applied to something that was broken long ago, rather than just the recent break-downs.

But the energy just isn’t there for the long cherished faults the way it is for the newly discovered broken parts. I want to learn to deal with both with the same vigor and passion, but one is by nature easier than the other. Why is it that we learn to accept our faults, just because we’ve had them for a while?

Feeling ready to take control

I do feel ready for radical changes. It’s about time for some internal ones to keep up with the break-neck speed that everything else has been subject to. I live in an ordinary time, where many things are familiar to the universal experience, but I think it is time to make a clean break from my own linear motion and take real control over my life, actions, and outcomes.

I am a man, and I have control over my life. Each day I am offered so many choices, so many opportunities to act, and act with the brain. Just writing this probably brings me a step closer. Publishing it here does provide some level of accountability. I wouldn’t want anyone to read this and six months down the road see me and realize that I still have not grown up and that I still have not taken control of my actions and choices.

I have a lot of potential, as does everyone my age. There are still years and years worth of things to learn and do. I’m starting now so that I won’t miss out on a single chance to find what I’m looking for. It’s getting late, but tomorrow will have more for me, so I can wait. 

Besides, the computer problem I mentioned at the beginning is resolved, so I’ll be able to sleep easy. The momentary crisis is averted. 

However, I’m still not sure how I can rest so well knowing about my other issues

Not yet a writer

I understand I have a lot of work to do to become the writer I want to be. Words and pages are not enough. Although, that would be a good start. No, thoughts and well expressed ideas are what I’m after. I am not sure that I am prepared to think like a writer. I know I don’t have the habits developed yet. One step at a time, I know. But I have in mind what I want to be: I want to be able to sit quietly and think to myself about my subject and then open up a blank document and write what I think. 

Right now, I don’t think much or write, but I am actively trying to change that. You see, I believe the world’s greatest thinkers were skilled writers, and the greatest writers were deep thinkers. It may be a chicken and egg situation, but my plan is to attack both fronts at once to make myself into what I want to be.

Parts of these first few posts are going to come across like pages from a journal, which is not what this site will become. However, I also want my writing to come across naturally, without forcing too much onto the page. And if I’m currently an immature thinker, then that will be what comes out until my mind grows up.

I’ll develop a mature voice, I’m sure, as I write more regularly and think more deeply before and during my process. Until then I’ll have to put up with the silly kid that thinks he has something to say. My hope, though, is that this site will provide that linear path of a voice maturing. 

How to develop a healthy information diet

I’m feeling fat, so I think it’s time to go on a diet.
Not literally. I feel I’ve made great progress over the past several months in my eating habits, but with my consumption of food under much greater control, it’s becoming time to take the reins and get my information consumption under control.
Apparently, we now live in the information age, and each day there is an overwhelming amount to consume. It is becoming clear that I need work on developing a healthy information diet. 
I have a tendency to go through cycles where I binge on the Internet, and then try to cut back drastically. It doesn’t seems to be the most effective method constantly flip flopping between reading and looking at everything in sight and trying to radically reduce my inbox and RSS feed subscriptions.
I’m thinking now I need to find a better and more sustainable balance between the extremes of binging and anorexia.
Where this will lead is the big question: What is information for?

You don’t have to starve yourself

First, this doesn’t have to be unpleasant. I’m not prepared to come out and advocate for myself or you a low information diet. This is partly because of how much I enjoy most of what I read and watch, but also because I think a lot of the information I consume does have its place in my day and value for me.
However, there is also the fries and burgers of my daily dose that I can probably do without. I have no plans to ever give up burger and fries completely, but they work well for the point I’m illustrating. Some foods are not as good for you as others. 
Finding the good ones that agree with you and denying yourself the pleasures of the others is difficult but possible. To be healthy, it is not necessary to outlaw the good tasting foods that are bad for you. It is over the top to only select fat free, low carb, low sodium, high fiber fare for each meal, but developing a healthy balance is just the ticket. 
There’s no right amount
There really is no clean cut answer as to how much information is the right amount of information. Again, this is very similar to any diet of food. The correct amount of information to consume depends entirely on the situation and the individuals’ desired outcomes. 
Michael Phelps has to consume thousands of calories per day while in training to be able to perform as he does. Models, such as Filippa Hamilton, don’t have the same luxury. They are after something else entirely.  
I’m sure the editors at Lifehacker have to have a very different level of information consumption to produce their massive site of useful information than that Leo Babauta needs to write his insightful posts for Mnmlist
The input for both of these examples is, I’m sure, in direct proportion to the desired output. One is not superior to the other. They are just different and are tailored to meet the specific needs. 
Balance is the key
The most important thing to find in developing a healthy information diet is the right balance. 
Information consumption is no different than eating in this respect. Everything that goes in must come in and be digested. Then, it will either be used or discarded. 
The correct balance is entirely dependent upon what you want to do with the information. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to consume everything you can about your subject so that you can write on it competently. If you’re an athlete, you’ll want to know about your sport so you can find your edge. 
Consuming too much information without proper digestion will lead to indigestion or waste. Neither is good. 
Three stages of an information diet:
1. Input: This is everything you read, see, watch, or listen to. This can be controlled by deciding what books you read, what shows you watch, which RSS feeds you subscribe to, and the music you listen to. This is also the part we only have partial control of. There are thousands of voices fighting for our attention each day. It is impossible to tune in to them all. It is also impossible to tune them all out. But it is possible to filter and highlight the things you want while blocking what you don’t.
2. Reflection: This is the step where you digest everything that comes in. This can include a song getting stuck in you head, a topic that inspired another idea or project or the simple enjoyment of remembering what you watched or read. It doesn’t have to be anything too deep. This stage of reflection is just the internalizing of what came in your mind.
3. Output: This is the final component of a balanced information diet. Everything that goes in will come out one way or the other. There is three possibilities in this stage. It can either come out in a productive and enriching way, go to your thighs, or it can simply be forgotten and wasted. Athletes use the food they eat to drive their performance. Couch potatoes don’t, and the end results are visible. Some information can also just be forgotten and lost forever. Hopefully it was enjoyable the first time around, other it was kind of pointless.
You are what you eat
Since everything that comes in will eventually come out, it is important to remember that you are what you eat. The information that you consume becomes a part of you. This can make you better or it can make you worse, depending on what you let in and how you use it. 
You can have a significant impact on your outcomes by wisely discerning and using what you consume. To do this you need to: 
  1. Know what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Decide what you need to know to achieve it, and ignore the rest.
  3. Learn to determine how to best use the information you receive.
  4. Adequately reflect on the information before acting on it.
  5. Act on what you learn.
Have fun
A healthy information diet does not have to be austere and boring. Some of what we eat can still be just for fun: a bowl of ice cream, a scoop of cookie dough. It’s the same thing with an information diet. It can be for it’s own sake, but too much will make you fat.  

5k Run: Weakness Accomplishes Nothing

So, I ended up doing much better than I expected in my 5k run on Thursday. I was so nervous going into it. I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I haven’t engaged in any competition at all this year, and also because I was convinced that I would embarrass myself in front of my co-workers, who were all expecting fantastic times.

As it turned out, I came in first at my company, and 20th out of 150 some men. It was quite a shock to me, but in the process I learned a lot about myself and my body.
Running a race is not like other sports. It’s almost impossible to size up the competition. In basketball you can make assumptions based on height, in wrestling, based on build. But good runners come in all shapes and sizes, and when you’re lined up with 300 other people, there’s no telling a head of time where you stand.

And once you start it doesn’t matter. Once the gun goes off, it’s not a competition against anyone except yourself. It’s a contest between your body which is telling you to slow down and your mind which is saying, “Speed up!” Or at least it should. It seemed like half the time my mind was working against me as well.

This went on through out the whole race. I could look at people up ahead and tell myself that I was going to try to keep pace with them and try to catch up. However, the only time I was really able to gain any ground was when–instead of looking at other around me–I pushed aside my own negative thoughts and pushed aside the discomforts of running for the sake of a faster stride that I was able to gain any ground.

Throughout the race, I knew that I would have to overlook my own shortcomings if I was to succeed. I learned at the one mile marker that my weaknesses were not going to help me at all during the next two miles. Weaknesses were of no use. They would accomplish nothing. Only my strengths would be of use in trying to finish this race.

I have many weaknesses and shortcomings. These have no benefit in any circumstance. However, understanding my weaknesses is one of the first steps to take to corner and nurture my strengths. And that was how the second mile went. I found my pace and my stride. I focused on the energy moving me forward and not on the fatigue that would only slow me down. With this I was able to hold my position and even gain ground on the pack ahead.

In the third mile, my weaknesses were apparent. I had been sweating profusely throughout the second mile, and now my arms were becoming heavy. I would have thought that swinging them at my sides in the nearly frictionless air would be the easiest movement. My back also was becoming tired. I didn’t even know that my back was an active participant in this run. My legs kept going even though breathing became more of a challenge.

The most difficult part of the end of this race was not knowing where the finish line was. The first two miles were clearly marked, but the final stretch had many twists and turns, cutting back and across the path. In addition to that, a 5k is 3.2 miles, and each mile became increasingly difficult so I had an impossible time judging how close I was to the finish.

Many times, tasks and challenges are like that. It gets more difficult when the end of a task or challenge is near, and it’s most difficult when the end is not in site. This was no different. I wanted to keep up my pace and run steadily to the end, but with no end in sight, doubts crept in, voices saying, “You can’t do it, the finish line is still far off, you’ll have to slow down if you plan to finish.”

But, just as I was getting ready to give in and slow down, I rounded the final corner, and out of nowhere, the finish line was in front of me. The excitement of seeing the finish line gave me an extra boost of strength that I used to transition from a run to sprint. I felt light, like I was just starting out…for the first 20 yards.

Then the previous three miles shouted: “Slow down!” But I didn’t listen, and I ran as hard as I could across the finish line, passing one unsuspecting competitor as I finished.

I finished exhausted. But that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. If I had anything left in me after I finished I would have been disappointed that I didn’t use it on the course.

At the end of the race, I knew my weaknesses played no part in my success. Only my strengths mattered. I’m now going to be looking for other ways to apply this thinking. I can, I think, be aware of my weaknesses without letting them interfere with my strengths or goals.

The challenge will be to figure out how.

What goes in will come out

My struggle is the beginning, middle, and end. I have a hard time coming up with what I’m going to write about. Once I’ve figured that part out, I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words. And after I have something down on paper, I have a difficult time accepting that what I have written is of any value.

However, this is my only obstacle to becoming a writer. It doesn’t take as much time as I once thought because, it seems, no one is out there trying to write the next Moby
 Dick. It no longer takes 1,000 pages to tell a story or to make a philosophical point about the human condition. I don’t know that it ever did, but the way most readers consume information now has changed, and writing has had to change to keep up.

I’m thankful. I have a difficult enough time settling on a topic for a 1,000 word post that will take me less than an hour to complete. I don’t know how I would ever be able to commit to a project whose end goal would be a five-pound tome.

This, however, does not provide an excuse for a decline in quality, even though I would be hard pressed to find someone who could argue convincingly that the quality of writing and thought in one of the new releases at Barns and Nobel or one of the books on Amazon’s top 100 could even begin to rival one of the classics in its command of the English language.

It would seem that if the scope of the work I am trying to accomplish is so much narrower, and so much shorter, that I’d be able to make up some of the ground in quality. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

How does a writer of a classic think during their writing process? How do they go about developing their story or crafting their sentences? It can’t be that much different than today. However, I suppose, garbage in garbage out. I’m sure the classic writers and thinkers had a much healthier diet of reading and information than I have today.

This is an external factor that I feel like I can do something about. There are a lot of messages thrown at me every day. Many marketers are fighting for my attention, and I’ve subscribed myself to many things that I find interesting and enjoyable, but, if this information diet is turning my stomach, polluting my mind, and hindering my writing, it may be time for some changes.

It isn’t realistic, practical, or helpful to pull the plug entirely. There is still the needed flow of input needed for processing, digestion, and good quality out put, but if so much time is taken at the top of the funnel, the second two stages suffer. 

What I need to develop is a more steady flow of information in, time to process and reflect, and written output at the other end. I need to turn this funnel into a cylinder with a fat middle. I actually believe that the middle, right now, is the narrowest part of the process.

Several of my writing, including this one, have begun without proper digestion in the middle. Fortunately, this one has developed into some well formed thought and reflections, and has led me to a few other ideas for posts that I will have to write: How to develop a healthy diet of information; How to develop a good balance between input, reflection, and output; and How to achieve the desired output by controlling inputs.