On NPR

I heard this story on NPR recently, about a woman who found herself in a case of mistaken identity. Here’s a link to the story. To sum, someone else in the same town had the same name as her, and she would often get the other Katie’s emails or membership benefits to grocery stores and so forth. This is like the epitome of an NPR story.

Katie talks through the emotional turmoil of having her identity mistaken as the other Katie and vice versa – The other Katie publishes a book that her friends mistake as being written by her. She tries multiple times  to reach out to Katie 2 – to get some form of closure over this uncertainty in her life, I suppose. For one reason or another, these two Katies never meet up, until an encounter is brokered by the radio program to have them both talk through their experiences.

It’s a pretty mundane story, but it feels like the events are given a ton of unearned emotional weight. My favorite part of the story is when the second Katie finally reaches out by sending a Facebook friend request to OG Katie after having previously established radio silence, and OG Katie notes, “This is shocking, because being friends on Facebook is pretty much the opposite of ignoring someone.” I don’t personally know Katie, so I don’t have the context on the importance of this event, but it’s risible to ascribe such importance to a friend request on Facebook. That’s NPR for you.

On Enjoyment

One thing I try to work on is focusing on the moment. There’s a lot of focus nowadays on being mindfulness and being in the moment. One aspect that I work on is savoring my food. When I eat, I try to pay attention to what I’m eating. What this means in practice is using all of my senses to enjoy the food – the taste, obviously, the aroma, the sensation of the texture in my mouth, taking in the food visually, and even listening to how the food sounds when I’m eating it or breaking it up or whatever. This is really hard to do.

Something I ran into when meditating was having my mind wander constantly. The mindful eating process, for lack a better term, hits some of the same mental muscles. I start wandering within seconds when trying to focus on food. I’ll taste the food, mash it in my mouth a bit, then start daydreaming about some random crap. It’s a hard process to break out of.

Normally, I’d talk about how to work towards improvement to get out of the rut I’d be in, but this is really something that’s going to get solved by practicing more. So I guess I’ll try to keep at it.

On Pipelines

One idea I had for keeping up daily blog posts was to build up a pipeline of shovel-ready topics in case I didn’t have any topics to write about that day. Right now, I have 10 unpublished drafts that could be picked up and expounded upon. In theory, this sounds great – in reality, I haven’t picked up those drafts since originally starting them.

My current workflow is to start writing if I come up with an idea. I don’t even bother to log into my blog if I can’t think of anything to write about. When I do look at my blog, I don’t ever feel like working on already drafted ideas. I want to write about something I already happen to have in mind. I think the problem here might be that I my current pipeline is too limited – the topics I do have in mind are pretty similar. It’s about 3-4 actual topics, with variations on that theme for each topic. I think I can ignore this for now; I should revisit this problem in the future if I do have a bigger pipeline (I’m thinking 35+ drafts) and I’m still struggling to pick something up. Another problem is actually building out that pipeline: I don’t really have a process for coming up with new ideas; I usually write up extra blog ideas if I’ve already written my post for the day and I happen to have extra ideas. This is an area that can be massively improved.

I was thinking of carrying a memo pad around to write up any blog ideas that happened to strike at any time. This one’s a bit hard because I forget easily. If I do decide to do this, I’d need to make this a habit to write things down. I’m currently thinknig of other ways to implement this.

On Incremental Deliverables

I mentioned this early on in starting this blog, but I thought that one of the things that would keep me blogging was the satisfaction of small victories. Each blog post I finished would be a complete deliverable, giving me regularly scheduled wins. That would build internal motivation to continue, because I’d get get inherent satisfaction from writing more and more blog posts. While I do think this satisfaction has helped me to continue the process of blogging,  it hasn’t helped with doing it on a regular schedule.

I know for me, I have problems building consistent habits. I’ll do things for a few months, then burn out. I won’t necessarily drop it forever, but I’ll do it at inconsistent intervals. That’s fine for recreation, like hobbies or movie watching, but for things like building up skills or relationship improvement, these things suffer immensely from lack of consistent participation.

I took an online course about metalearning, called Learning How to Learn. The general concept is that learning is a skill that varies from person to person, that can be improved in various ways. The course walks through the theory and some general techniques that participants can take away from the course to improve their learning abilities:

Theory:

  • Daily consistent practice is better for learning than doing large batches inconsistently. That is, cramming for a test is much less effective for long term learning than if you’d spent five minutes every day going through the material. I believe the course calls this concept “chunking”.
  • There are two modes of focus: wide open focus, and narrow focus. I can’t remember the terms the course uses, but these two modes have different applications. (Looking it up, it’s called the “focused” and “diffused” modes of thinking. Learn how to apply both of them to improve overall learning.

Application:

  • Use the Pomodoro technique: set a timer and focus entirely on your task for the duration. After you complete a session, give yourself a reward.
  • In regards to giving yourself a reward, this is the same concept as the incremental deliverable: getting a small bursts of satisfaction regularly encourages you to keep going at it.
  • Don’t cut out sleep. Sleep deprivation affects your ability to learn.
  • If you’re stuck on a problem, take some time off and go for a walk on something. This lets you think about the problem in a different way.

I kind of lost track of the point of this post, but at least it reminded me of that online learning course – it’s pretty interesting, even if it feels slow at times..

On Moods

Man, I’ve been really wistful recently. I’ve been thinking about the relationships in my life how I’ve done a half assed job of maintaining them. Maintaining and establishing relationships is hard. I’ve heard it’s a pretty common phenomenon for post college grads to struggle somewhat with relationships after losing the training wheels of school, which makes sense.

School is an incredibly conducive environment to build and maintain relationships, because you’re forced to interact with other people on a regular schedule and have pre-planned activities with them. Once you’re out of school, the only people you see regularly are your coworkers. Everything else takes planned work on your own part. Assuming you don’t live with your parents, it will require work to maintain that relationship – calls to your parents, visits to home, etc. If you have a hobby or activity like volunteering that requires interacting with the outside world, you might meet some people who also regularly participate in that hobby. But that also requires work on your part to attend regularly. Besides that, other friends in your life will require effort to contact them, agree on an activity to do, and try to fit in a time slot that works for both of you.  It’s a ton of work to keep this up consistently.

It’s one more aspect of solo living that I find interesting and challenging. You have freedom to build any relationship you want, but that same freedom means you can neglect your relationships. Life really opens up after school – you can do anything you want, but this freedom isn’t necessarily good – it means you have an infinite amount of rope with which to hang yourself.

On the Burden of Caretakers

I’m watching this movie called Heart of the Dragon. Jackie Chan plays a Hong Kong cop who’s also the sole caretaker of mentally disabled brother. It’s a pretty weird movie, but I thought it was interesting how much the movie focused on the how difficult it is to care for someone who’s unable to be responsible for their own well being. It affects your relationships, your career, and your own goals in life. You have to sacrifice a lot to live for someone else.

One things I liked in particular about the movie was how the different aspects  mental disability was handled by society. Jackie’s friends give him shit for wanting to abandon his brother, but they don’t really help take care of him. His lover resents him for spending so much time with his brother. His friends also give him shit when he tries to marry his girlfriend, because she’s going to have to pick up his baggage. Also, strangers don’t understand his struggles. People give him shit for not keeping an eye on his brother at all times,  but even when outsiders realize the brother has problems, they basically abuse him. Why? because society at large is uncaring. That’s pretty much a fact of life. Things are probably different in rural communities when everyone knows each other and are forced to relate by dint of not knowing anyone else, but when we get to cities, it becomes impossible for an individual to know everyone living there. We’re forced to compartmentalize and essentially write off a large portion of our neighbors. If I were living in a town of like twenty people, I’d obviously pay more attention to the struggles of Jeff, the one homeless guy in town. But living in NYC, I’ll pass by tens of homeless people and pay no never mind. Pros and Cons to everything.

 

On Growing and Changing Perspectives

One thing I think about is how your perspective changes at different points in your life. It’s not just the case that you have a different perspective, but as you age, the amount of life experiences that you’ve had only increases. I’d imagine  your parents divorcing when you’re thirteen is probably devastating, but if the same happened at forty, you’d probably cope much better. Having a major life event at thirteen is one of very few major impacts in your life, whereas by the time you’re forty, you’ve lived through way more and probably learned how to cope with better with major life changes.

I’m currently going through a phase where I’m learning to appreciate my connections with others. I think I’ve hit the twilight of my life about fifty years too early, because I feel about ready to keel over in a retirement home, as I reflect on all my missed connections and regrets in life. It’s a bit premature to declare my life completed, but I also kind of feel like at this point in my life, I’m pretty set in my ways, and even though I might have more major life changes like marriage and kids and career changes etc, my fundamental personality is probably fully formed now. When I was younger, I would think about exploring the endless different paths available to me in life and what kind of person I’d be.  Now, I don’t really think about who I’m going to be anymore – I think about what I’m going to do with my life.

Februrary Update

I’ve really been lagging on my output recently – I guess after losing my initial burst of motivation, I dropped my posting habit as soon as something interrupted my daily routine. I don’t think there’s any point in assigning blame in skipping my posts, but I do think there’s merit in looking at what I can do in the future to build on this habit and to minimize this kind of damage in the future.

Obstacle one: A need for a post with content. At this point, I’ll settle for anything that comes to mind. From now on, I’m going to keep a strict word count minimum of 200 words. That’s a small enough amount that I can write whatever without having to bother to pad out a post, but it’s enough to expound on a single idea.

Obstacle two: I tend to write these posts right before bed. This makes it really easy for me to skip my post if I’m feeling too sleepy. I’m thinking I should commit to posting before or after dinner.

Obstacle three: Possibly too lofty of a goal? I committed to one post a day, but occasionally I’ll have things come up that keep me occupied the whole day. I might go out to some event or have some life problem get in the way. I’m thinking a commitment to multiple posts a week, but less than seven and more than one.

There are probably more things I can do to improve the process, but for now these have the most immediate impact. Let’s see if I can follow through.