Category Archives: Self-Improvement

The Three Things #29

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks (although Gini is away, so the ever-awesome Lindsay Bell is filling in), Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

The Donut by Pat Dryburgh

Michael on Willpower and Habits: As a gentleman who is far from slender, I have a great appreciation for what Pat Dryburgh is attempting with his Hundred Down project. His podcast chronicles a one year journey to lose one hundred unwanted pounds.

In addition to the podcast, Pat occasionally shares his progress and struggles with the project on his personal website. In a recent update Pat shared how he started falling off the Paleo wagon while staying with his family. I really related as I tend to break many a habit – especially those that center around living a healthier life – while away from my routine and environment. The entire piece is an honest and enjoyable read, but his parting words are an encouraging reminder for those of us who struggle when our larger goals face little (and often tasty) challenges.

It is in Our Nature to be Self-Deficient by Scientific American

Howie on Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan and Those Delusional Haters of Help: I know I know sounds political right? Not really. Just rational. We can all debate the role of the state in our lives. Whether or not Government is the solution to certain problems. I know I have an ornery independent streak. Sometimes things fester out of pride, and then the help I end up needing is bigger than if I raised my hand at the start. We also tend to mock those we deem helpless. But this article proves we need other people. Everyone does.

If that wasn’t the case the victims in Boston would still be bandaging themselves and the suspects would be free with no police or FBI or anyone caring to find them. So fans of Ayn Rand or folks like Paul Ryan – both who benefited from massive help from many people to grow and prosper – should change the discussion from do we need help…to what kind and from whom? Because I wouldn’t be alive without family, friends, and community…and neither would you. Read and be humbled…I surely am.

Baby’s Latest: Going Diaperless by The New York Times

Lindsay on ‘elimination communication’ and…really? Just…what??: Ok, trust me when I say it’s worth a link click just to get a gander at the photo accompanying this article. Hipster New York mom, in on-trend black and white striped shirt, engaging in ‘elimination communication’ with her adorable 4 month old son. Did I mention he’s naked from the waist down? Yup. He’s using the toilet. Well, she’s holding him over the toilet, to be precise. But advocates of this latest in a long line of child-rearing trends insist that their little darlings actually respond to special ‘elimination noises’ that Mommy makes. In a nutshell: They pee and poo on cue.

I don’t know about you, but I raised a child (who by some stroke of luck or other divine intervention manages to still be alive at age 13), and I know the special hell that is diapers. Thousands of diapers. I suppose if you can eliminate most of those diapers, you’re doing yourself – and the world – a big favor. But I don’t know. This latest “thing” pained me today. I pity the poor young women of today. What with advice on attachment parenting, breastfeeding until four, sign language for infants, co-sleeping (or not), controlled crying, sleep training, permissive parenting or baby bootcamp – how any parent makes it through the first year is beyond me. What are your thoughts? Has ‘new parenting’ gone haywire? Would you aim for a diaperless life…?

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Yes, You Have A System

Talk about workflows and productivity long enough and you eventually find yourself listening to those who say that they either do not have or do not need a system. It’s a subject we touched on when Matt Alexander joined us for an episode of Mikes on Mics and it came up again on this week’s Systematic podcast with Myke Hurley (et tu, Myke?). Frequently as I hear one version of this or another, I’m not sure the assertions jive with reality.

The truth is that everyone has a way that they go about their work. Most just aren’t aware of it or don’t care about it. 

Now you’re probably expecting me to put up some fight about how this is a problem. And since we all have a system we should all be thinking about how to make our own better. Not so. There are many who don’t need to think about this at all. Their natural aptitude is either sufficient (as is the case with both Myke and Matt) or their ambitions aren’t all that lofty and they don’t require it. I envy the former and question the latter, but – much as I may envy them both – there’s nothing wrong with either one. If what you’re doing is working for you, if you’re able to achieve all that you set your mind to (ambitious or otherwise), you’d likely be wasting your time trying to figure out how to do even more.

You’re Making The Wrong Assertion

Framing the conversation as do you or don’t you have or need a system is the wrong way to look at things. It’s not an issue of the existence of the system, it’s a question of its effectiveness.

If you’re yet to really consider your system, don’t ask yourself if you need one. Don’t start by asking yourself something along the lines of “do I need to read Getting Things Done?” Instead, start by asking this: is how I’m working, working? If the answer is yes, great! Get back to work. If not, don’t worry, but start looking to understand the system you’re pretending not to use and then start figure out how to make it better.

You may not want to acknowledge or address your system (or as is the case with Myke and Matt, you may not need to), but this has nothing to do with its existence (for further proof, take a look at every bad habit you’ve been ignoring). If you start off by questioning if you need a system, you’re ignoring the fact that you already have one. 

Does This Even Matter? 

It’s easy to write this off as a semantic argument, but there’s a risk that comes along with pretending you don’t already have system. If and when you finally decide to improve the way you work, you’ll end up building upon a broken foundation. And when you start with a bad foundation, the “system” you choose will often do very little to actually improve your potential.

Do or do you not need a system is the wrong question, so stop asking it. Instead, consider the only thing that matters, is it or isn’t it working? If it is, why on earth are you still reading this? If it isn’t, there are plenty of sites, books, tips, tactics, apps and methodologies that can help you understand and improve that system you’ve been ignoring for far too long (this site is hopefully one of them, so be sure to subscribe for free by email or RSS).

You have a system. Just make sure you’re happy with it and then go make something amazing with it.

Upside Down

I was upside down last night. Sure, it was only for a few seconds and I had a spotter, but for a brief moment at my Crossfit class, I found myself inverted in front of a class full of far fitter people. Yes, handstands happen every day. No, a handstand is not a marvel of physics (although I certainly feel like I tested some of its limits…), but for a brief moment my lumbering 6’2, 250-pound frame was looking at the world from an entirely different perspective. 

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t like I did it on my own and I wasn’t like I didn’t nearly bust my ass once or twice getting there. It’s not even a given that I’ll ever be able to do a handstand on my own, but for 20 minutes of risk, the idea of something that was implausible a day earlier became a possibility. 

There are a lot of very stupid things that we tell ourselves, the dumbest of them all being: “I can’t do that”. Yesterday, I went into class thinking exactly that. When I saw that we would focus on handstand practice, I considered sprinting for the door (and not as a warmup). Thankfully I didn’t and in less than 20 minutes – thanks to the help of a good coach and a trusty spotter – I saw the world upside down.

We’re quick to eliminate things… we decide that they’re either too hard or too crazy, but with the right support system and a better mindset we have more options than we allow ourselves to believe. 

I’ve gotten a lot out of these past few months of Crossfit – most of which involve me dying a few pounds lighter and a few years later – but nothing comes close to the wealth of contradictory data about what I can and what I can’t do. Every time I walk through those doors – right after I look over at the daily “fun” – I feel myself getting ready to say “I can’t do that”. And – even though it may not be pretty and I may not always be able to do it exactly – every time I stick around, it turns out I can. 

Kind of makes me wonder what’s possible if I keep applying the same approach to more than just my regular (or in this case, irregular) workout…

The Three Things #28

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks (although Gini is away, so the ever-awesome Lindsay Bell is filling in), Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Michael on Story: Here’s something you probably wouldn’t expect… an agnostic Jewish New Yorker is about to suggest that you read a book from a Christian spirituality writer… Yeah… that just happened…

I’ve loved A Million Miles in a Thousand Years ever since Chris Brogan posted about it back in 2010. The book chronicles author Donald Miller’s experiences as he adapts his book Blue Like Jazz into a movie. As Miller learns what makes for a good movie, he is inspired to tell a better story with his life.

I’ve been rereading it this week and nothing else I’ve come across comes close. There’s a slight religious slant to the book, which may not appeal to some, but I’m as non-religious as they come and it is one of my favorites. If you’re looking to tell a better story with your life, start by reading this book. No matter what you believe, you’ll want to do better.

No News Isn’t Good News by The Economist

Howie on the News Media: This article is really a wake up call. Our Fourth Estate is in trouble but maybe finally figuring out how to rebound. When Cable TV exploded and viewers fragmented, TV production companies did less original big budget shows and more reality due to the new economics.

Who cares if instead of X-Files they made Super Nanny or Celebrity Rehab. This didn’t affect me. But without the resources for our news companies to keep government and business in check, our democracy could be in danger.

The most shocking part is the explosion of PR infiltrating the news creation process. This didn’t have to happen had digital agencies not falsely promoted online ads as a revenue replacement for subscriptions and paid content.

Sometimes people are suckers. Sometimes whole industries.

Of Mammoths and Men by National Geographic

Lindsay on Science: Anyone who knows me know I’m a total science geek. Like, spends Friday nights watching documentaries, subscribes to National Geographic science geek. While archeology fascinates me, what truly blows my tiny mind is our more recent past. How herds of prehistoric animals were still roaming this earth as recently as ten thousand years ago. Like mammoths, for example.

While scientists and others have discovered incredibly preserved mammoth specimens in the far north before, there’s a new breed of hunter trolling the frozen northern wastelands. And while they’re looking for mammoth remains, they have one goal in mind: Profit.

The trade in mammoth tusk ivory is brisk, with an estimated 60 tons a year being hauled out of Siberia. I’m not sure how I feel about this. If it saves one elephant from poachers it’s a good thing. But how many potential archeological sites are plundered for this ancient ivory? How many ancient secrets will we never discover? Read about Siberian mammoth tusk hunter Karl Gorokhov, and the five months a year he spends 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

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Spinning Plates

Like most who seek out a site like this, I keep several plates spinning at once. At times it feels like all I’m doing is running from one stick to the other to ensure that there’s enough momentum to keep any and all of my projects from crashing to the ground.

Now, as discerning readers may have noticed, the plate has been spinning a little slower here. Last week – for the first time in years – it stopped altogether. Life came on strong. I had some family issues followed by a cold that kicked my ass. My energy was spent, my mind unfocused. Rather than having one plate come crashing to the floor – which often leads to others following in its path – I decided to spin one less plate for a while.

As the week progressed, other plates came down as well. I maintained my obligations to others, I did what needed to be done at work and at home, but I was far from my best. It was all I could do to get by. Rather than doing it all poorly, I scaled back and did what I could. The remaining plates wobbled, but none fell.

Once A Plate Stops Spinning…

Hard as it may be to keep a plate spinning, it’s a terrifying thing to let them stop. Well, it’s terrifying for those of us who are prone to breaking habits (and plates for that matter…). Getting that initial momentum was hard enough. We live in fear that if the plate stops spinning, it may never start again. Difficult as this may be, it’s an opportunity. Once you’re ready to start spinning again, you have a moment to reassess, to ask the one question that really matters: Am I spinning the right plates?

I may not have chosen this moment to slow down, but I’d be been foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity. When you’re spinning, it’s difficult to see things clearly. You’re so busy maintaining momentum that you lack the clarity to properly assess your choices. Because I had to take the plates down, I found myself with a moment to really consider them.

I’ve been at this for a while now and – while I love the work I’m doing here – there was a part of me that worried it was becoming more of a habit than a desire. The time away did me some good. I won’t lie, it was nice, but I missed this. And while it may not be the easiest thing to get back into the routine, I’m really looking forward to getting the plate spinning again.

See you tomorrow.

The Three Things #27

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

5by5 | Systematic #38: Patrick Rhone on Challenges and Success

Michael on Career Paths: This week, two of my favorite thinkers – Patrick Rhone and Brett Terpstra – got together to record an episode of Brett’s always excellent Systematic Podcast. Like any good episode of Systematic, they cover a lot of ground, but I was particularly taken by Patrick’s comments on the arc of his career. While I was late to realize my writing ambitions, I connected with the way he “became a writer by way of technology by way of being a writer.” It certainly touches on my own emerging experience of looking for better ways to go about my work only to discover my own fascination about the ways we go about improving.

I need to expand on this at some point, but Patrick touches on a growing interest of mine that relates to what we do, what we care about, and what happens when they collide. That, no matter what we do to make our living, it can be shaped by our fascinations. That, when we allow our unrelated personal fascinations to infuse our work (and vice-versa), it can lead our life in unexpected directions. It’s also just a great conversation between two guys who I admire greatly.

I Never Wanted to Take Your Guns Away

Howie on Google Search: Or how a little Google will do you. Allow me to explain…

Jim Carrey did a spoof on Funny or Die, which I found through a Google search after reading this on Huffington Post. Then I thought maybe Carrey is small fry against the NRA and FOX News. But if those people had Googled, they would find he has 10 million Twitter followers versus only two and a half million for FOX News and 145,000 for the NRA.

They’d also find FOX News has more than one million viewers watching at any given time and the NRA has more than four million members, which means they have one tenth the fans of Jim Carrey. How many times do I have to say ‘a little Google would do ya’? Heck, even a Yahoo Search would have helped!

As Web Search Goes Mobile, Google Loses its Edge

Gini on Mobile Search: Because of all the writing I do every day, I spend a lot of time studying Google, search engine optimization, and other things that will help us continue to grow through content. That’s why I found this New York Times article so interesting. No longer do we go to the web on our phones and tablets to find something; we go to an app. Yelp if we need a restaurant recommendation, Amazon for goods, books, and wares, Apple to bypass the counter register, and the WeatherBug to see if what kind of wind is facing a bike ride. Soon the day of link building and first page results will be gone. Are you ready?

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

The Three Things #26

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Michael on Passion Projects: If, like me, you make any kind of an attempt to balance a job, a family, and a passion project, you must read this. Hat tip to Dan and Merlin for sharing this on the latest latest Back to Work. That’s all there is to be said about this, seriously, just go and read it.

Why the World is Losing Faith in Democracy

Howie on Democracy: This is a great timely discussion on the subject. Vermont just had a big fight against wind power. They want to build massive wind farms on mountain tops destroying the views, the ecosystem, and causing erosion problems. All in the name of going green, even though the power generated is so small it doesn’t make sense. Yet Ben and Jerry’s, Senator Bernie Sanders, and many environmental groups opposed a law giving towns the right to decide if wind comes to their mountain tops. In the United States, we all feel all politicians are owned by big business and special interests. So is our democracy in decline? Seems like it.

Long Night at Today

Gini on TV Drama: When Ann Curry left The Today Show more than a year ago, I watched with some interest, particularly because I thought she was a great replacement to Katie Couric, deserved the promotion, and was very good at delivering relevant news. But also because she never really said anything about what happened choosing, instead, to let others tell her side of the story, even if it was pure speculation. While this still doesn’t tell her side of the story, it’s a very well-researched, thoughtful, and balanced piece about what’s happening at the once most popular morning show program.

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