Rallying Rally!

Rally!? (The exclamation mark is part of the name) What is this Rally!?

A thing! In Portland (Oregon). On Alberta Street, which sounds like the funnest hippster street in the world.

Or maybe Rally! is more of an event, like a retreat. And you work on stuff and sometimes you silent retreat. There’s yoga and crayons and coloring books. Butt-monsters are waiting for you to squeeze their butts and you can nap on your project.

Project? What project? Well, anything can be a project. A work project, like a book you are writing, or a life project, like playing with the idea of where you want to live. The sneaky thing is that you’re never just working on your project, but also on your relationship to it. It fractals into all kinds of aspects of your life.

Of course there is also yoga, which is why I’ve been explaining Rally! as a yoga retreat to many people, which it most definitely is. Head yoga and being mindful, but also moving your body yoga. Maybe we will even sing.

And then there is Portland itself…

Can you tell that I am excited? I am because I’ll be going on Friday. And then Rally will start on Monday.

Excited! (With extra exclamation marks !!!!!!)

I’ll be telling you all about it.

There Is No Future

Or is there?

So often we are told to do, or not to do something based on how it will affect our future. These pronouncements are often made with a sense of utter certainty. “Don’t write about your ideal work place online, what if a potential employer reads it and won’t hire you?”, “Study a semester abroad it will be good for your CV.” (Goodness how I hate the idea of doing something to plump your CV.)

“Suck it up now and reap the rewards in the future.”

What is ignored, is that the rewards are uncertain and that living a sucky life will make you that much worse at actually succeeding in your venture (See also “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work” by Shawn Achor) But above that, do you really want to live a sucky life now and wait for some undetermined point in the future when you are allowed to be happy?

Mindfulness practices, like Yoga and meditation, encourage you to stay in the now, to experience the moment now and not worry about the moment after. You don’t necessarily need to sit silently for hours to do this, instead integrate mindfulness into your everyday. When you are sitting in the bus, look at the people around you, listen into yourself; how do you feel, what are your reactions to the people around you. If you make mindfulness a part of your everyday life you will see that you are calmer and more focused.

But even more than practicing mindfulness; how much sense does it make to speculate about someone in some situation, a person you do not know and might never know in a situation that might never happen and adjust your actions according to what you project that this person might want of you? Would it not make more sense to do what you think is right and pleasurable now?

I’m not totally against preparing for future occurrences, it makes a lot of sense in many situations, but it can not be our only guide to action. I am against thinking all actions and plans part of preparing and making yourself more palatable to an employer, or an entrepreneurial future, but that’s because I am against making the way we earn money the measure against which we are deemed successful and thus happy.

Whatever you do, do engage the drama.

Have opinions
Even if it has no impact on you.
Keep talking.
Keep talking, even if you’ve been asked to go.
Speak insults of third parties.
Make sure to pass on all the things said about them,
Just for their information.
Feel superior.
Demand that things go your way.
Feel hurt at someone being angry.
List all the ways you are sooo accommodating.
Even if you are accommodating out of spite.
Forget the ways they are accommodating.
Insist that you are indeed willing to compromise
Even if what you really want is to negotiate the shit out of it.
Be in a huff.
Threaten to cry.
Make sure they know your woe.
Take the bait.
Send midnight messages.
Ask the same thing again
Even if you know the answer.
Distrust on principle.
Make sure to tweet how great you are doing.
Don’t forget to facebook.

And above all, never forget to engage the drama.

When things change

Go within you.
Explore self-care.
Give yourself permission.
Cry all the tears.
Laugh with friends.
Get a hug, or snuggle your favorite stuffy.
Move your body.
Listen to a new favorite song.
Eat breakfast.
Finally visit your mom.
Let someone cut your hair with exquisite care.
Take pictures that delight you.
Whine all the whines and then let it go.
Surrender to the truth that sometimes things need to change.
Say hi to all the dogs and babies.
Trust that everything is fine.
Learn something new.
Know that all timing is right timing.
Come out the other side being youer than before.

Scientist are also people

The other day someone asked me about biophotons and quantum healing, arguing that scientists had developed ways to measure these and had developed theories to explain them. I called bullshit. Either photons are photons and then measuring them is standard and doesn’t require special apparatuses, or it’s bullshit. Someone else then argued that these are scientists and this trustworthy.

The thing is, scientists are also only people, with their own idiosyncrasies and false beliefs. Sometimes they are blind to some obvious truth, just like other people. Science uses peer-review to ensure that published research and theories are plausible, by letting other scientists check the research. Of course sometimes quakery and lies still make it through, but most is caught.

Pseudoscience on the other hand often circumvents this process and even goes on to say that the establishment tries to suppress the truth. Then of course they sell stuff, like special equipment to measure special biophotons and I go on to call bullshit.

Experimenting mindfully

The other day I was in a seminar hosted by the wonderful Kerstin of Prinzessin Häberle, she teaches advertising to women entrepreneurs, and the topic was markers of a successful entrepreneur. My suggestion was a willingness to experiment. This was promptly met with resistance. It is more important, I was told, to act strategically and stick to what works.

This shows to me a fundamental misunderstanding about what experimenting in a scientific context actually means. Let me clarify this, because I talk about experimenting a lot and I would like us to be on the same page.

noun |ikˈsperəmənt|
• a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact: laboratory experiments on guinea pigs | I have tested this by experiment.
• a course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the eventual outcome: the previous experiment in liberal democracy had ended in disaster.

verb |ikˈsperəˌment| [ no obj. ]
• perform a scientific procedure, esp. in a laboratory, to determine something: she experimented on chickens as well as mice.
• try out new concepts or ways of doing things: the designers experimented with new ideas in lighting.

So that’s the official definition of my Mac-dictionary. Important is that an experiment tests something and has an outcome that is quantifiable, or at least qualifiable. This something you test is a hypothesis. Say in a marketing context “If I post on facebook x times a week I will increase my sales by y%” or in a more personal context “If I paint my lips red each day, my behaviour will be more guarded.” Then of course you have to track what you do and what happens. This gives you numbers and data and lets you make more knowledgeable decisions in the future.

Try to think of experimenting not as “randomly trying shit”, but as conscious process of “forming a hypothesis and doing an experiment that gives measurable/observable results.” Of course, you don’t know the result of your experiment in advance, but you’ve observed events that lead you to assume this course “tentatively” as a good option. Another example; I knew tea influences my sleep, but I didn’t know how, so I tracked it for a month and found that it is not the amount of tea, but the time of day that I switch to something without caffeine that makes a difference.

The time to start experimenting isn’t when things are going horribly wrong already, but before when you’re cruising along just fine. There is your space to get curious and say ” I wonder what happens if…” I feel strongly that cultivating an attitude of experiment and curiosity can do wonders, both for your personal life and for your business space. And if you make testing a habit, you have real data to back up your actions and counter monster beliefs.

Observing A System

The thing about systems is that we all have them, even people who believe they are the absolute worst at systems. What these people lack is an honest look at their systems.

An Example: Laundry

Each day I go out of the house with clean clothes. This is a desired effect, so obviously there is a system that works here. (Yay me) If I were asked to describe my system I would name my laundry basket, the washing machine, my drying rack and the closet. Yet if I look closely, sometimes there is dry laundry on the line for days, or it sits folded in a basket, or there are piles of already worn but undirty clothes on the chair in my bedroom, mixed in with stuff that belongs in the laundry basket. These elements also belong in my description of the laundry system, though they are undesired.

In reality my system is this clean clothes come out of the closet or a basket, I wear them and when I get undressed at night I throw them over the chair, sometimes I also put clothes that need to be washed into the laundry basket. When my planner tells me it is laundry day sometimes I collect all dirty clothes from the chair and the laundry basket and sort them into light and dark. The still to be worn clothes go into the closet, or stay on the chair. Sometimes I wait until “I have nothing to wear”. I wash a load. Sometime that day I also hang the laundry. It needs about a day to dry, depending on time of year. At some point, Friday evening or on the weekend when the drying rack is in my way I fold laundry and put it into a basket which I put in the bedroom next to the dresser. Sometimes I sort all the things into their places in the closet.

It’s a lot messier and not my ideal system, but it is a system and it works to do what it should, give me clean clothes. Optimizing it so that it is less messy and includes more desired behaviors is another matter.

Science Of You

In “Fully Present” Sue Smalley and Diana Winston explore the science of Mindful Awareness Practices, like meditation and yoga. They present research of the effect of meditation on concentration, stress, illness, emotional resilience, addiction and the structure of our brain.

They touch on the idea of using scientific method on your internal world to understand it better. From the introduction:

“Mindfulness meditation is itself a tool for discovering more about ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. This inward investigation, using the tool of mindfulness meditation, may help us understand more about ourselves from a first-person viewpoint just as science has done using a third-person lens of investigation.”

Science establishes an objective, shared, reality. Through science we learn universal truths and also within those truths how to form the world to our ideals. Mindfulness practices on the other hand, turning inward, establish a subjective, unshared, reality. They help us learn about our internal world, or stories, truths and parts and, within the constraints of our being, how to form our world to our particular ideals.

Chemistry was the lens through which I chose to study the objective world, the science with which I strove to discern universal truth and with which I sought to from, a very teeny tiny bit of, the world. Yoga is the lens through which I am choosing to study my subjective world, the “science” with which I strive to discern my personal truth and with which I seek to form my internal world. My experience with the former informs the way I approach the later. I try to bring the same scientific rigor to my internal experiments that I brought to my laboratory experiments.

When I write about my experiments here, or about systems, I want to spark in you ideas of where you can go. I want to give you methods to become your own internal scientist, cartographer, or engineer. Why? For one, I’m a huge nerd and doing things in a structured, scientific method makes me happy. I also adore teaching, especially things that make me really happy, like science and yoga and knitting. I also strongly believe that understanding yourself and how you work, building systems with these understandings in mind makes for a life of less friction and living with less friction makes for a better world. That’s my little dent, see also the title of this blog.

Defining System

A system is composed of parts these relate to each other in a structure or through behaviors. A structure can be a physical space, or a time space. Dates in a calendar relate to each other in time. Underwear in a drawer relate to each other spatially in containers. A behavior is a process that transforms input to output. When putting socks and bras into your underwear drawer (input) you might put all the socks in one basket and all the bras in another (output), the behavior sorts underwear according to type.

Most systems interact with their environment in some way, they are open. Scientists often like to pretend that their systems are closed, that no exchange happens with the environment. This is usually a gross simplification that makes observations easier to explain. For non-scientists looking at their systems it is important to remember that systems live in a context. Looking at underwear again; my system works in the context of my life. I share my space with one non-bra wearing person, which in this case means the bra process can process any bra into my bra-drawer. In another household there might be more bra-ed people and the process needs to include a behavior to determine which bra-drawer a bra goes to.

Anything outside the system, the surroundings, can be ignored. That my neighbor also wears bras and processes them while doing laundry is irrelevant, so is the cute bra with polka dots in the store. You don’t need to account for it in your process.

What is important to remember about systems, in a personal context, is that we all have them. Even if you can’t see them, or they aren’t doing the things you want them to do. Next steps are making the systems visible and then changing them to better do what you want.

The Art of Noticing

All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” – Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Once you decide not to throw your hands in the air and accept that you just are the way you are with all your harmful stories of lack and monsters that keep you petrified; once you stop believing that your psyche and body are these mysterious things outside your influence, with you being relegated to useless railing against them; when instead you decide to get curious, to get to know how you work and where there might be space to breathe and gently shift, that is when the art of noticing becomes important.

Noticing is a gentle art, full of loving curiosity. Hm, it says, interesting. It reserves judgment, instead tracking behaviors and counting clues. It doesn’t construct a story out of what it finds, neither a story of lack, nor one of heroic effort, all it does is observe and note, for some future date when your internal scientist is ready to look at all the data and form a hypothesis.

Just noticing.

It takes practice and patience. See if for a few minutes a day you can switch from judgement to noticing, from “What an idiot” to “Hm, interesting.”