Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fly Through the Resolution Revisited

I posted this back in mid-January, but thought that it was still relevant. For those of you considering making New Year's Resolutions, this is as accurate as it was last year.

On Last New Years Day, I caught a really amusing news segment on resolutions already broken. People on the street who confessed that their resolution was to stop smoking while holding a cigarette or to eat better though they had doughnuts for breakfast. Of course this should come as no surprise as the media has also been filled with the encouraging statistic that only 8% of Americans who make resolutions achieve them. Since only 45% of Americans make them in the first place, that implies that only 3.6% of all Americans can keep a resolution that they make (though there may be people who don't make New Year's resolutions who can very easily keep what resolutions they do make, the anecdotal evidence is that the vast majority of people can't).

As people who use magic (by whatever title), we should be in that 3.6%. After all, the application of Will is supposed to be what we're all about. But I'm guessing that a lot of you, like me, have resolved plenty that we have then not accomplished (sometimes we're them).

I'm going to make the argument that the problem are resolutions themselves.

The word resolve has two distinct meanings:
: to find an answer or solution to (something) : to settle or solve (something)
: to make a definite and serious decision to do something : to make a formal decision about something usually by a vote
-- Merriam-Webster online

The term resolution also contains this definition, which is what people are thinking when they make New Year's resolutions:
: a formal expression of will, opinion, or intent...

So, resolutions can be both decisions (and the expression of those decisions) AND solutions.

Well, no wonder we can't keep our resolutions! First of all, just deciding to do something (or stop doing something) isn't actionable. Decisions alone don't get you anyplace. You need a concrete goal, a feasible plan, and doable tasks that you can accomplish. This is a planning problem and you know how I feel about that sort of thing. But I'm not immune to it. There was a time, in this century, but before the kid was born, where I seriously had a resolution that I made like three years running, but never reached, to go to the dentist. And I'd like to nominate that as the most pathetic resolution, let alone resolution that you don't accomplish. After all, I had dental insurance at the time. And it takes all of 15 minute to find a dentist, call them, and make an appointment. But while "look up dentist on insurance list" and "make dental appointment" are both highly actionable, "go to the dentist" isn't. So I didn't do anything about it, for several years. Pathetic.

But even for more important or meaty resolutions, a solution to a problem isn't something you just decide to have. It's not starting point, it's a destination. You have to work your way to the solution. You have to find it and then implement it. If the problem is that you feel like crap, you can't just resolve to be healthier. Because "be healthier" isn't a solution to anything and even if it was, deciding to be healthier doesn't implement the solution. This is a temporal problem (jumping ahead to the result). Smoking is a great example of this. People resolve to quit smoking all the time. The problem is that quit is not an instant state, it's a process by which you work through the challenges and cravings and fail and restart, hopefully to end up at non-smoker status sometime in the future. Instead of "quit smoking" -- an effort that will fail at the first weakening of will -- a better resolution is "become a non-smoker." This is a decision you can make to implement a solution to a problem. Of course, you still have to come up with a plan. Will you go to the doctor, get on the patch, quit cold turkey with a carrot stick in hand and then forgive your inevitable failures? Until you know, you won't be able to do much.

Before any smokers complain, I should point out that in my early 20s, I was a pack a day smoker myself. But at this point I am a non-smoker and haven't had a cigarette for probably close to 20 years*. If you're curious, my process to become a non-smoker was a spatial one. First, I stopped smoking in the car (in winter, which made it easier because I didn't want the window open). Then I quit during my workday, which involved finding people to chat with who didn't take smoke breaks and getting snacks instead. Then I stopped smoking in our house, in summer when it was really hot outside (which meant that my boyfriend also had to stop). Then I stopped smoking in anyone else's house (which was easy, because most people don't like that anyway). Then I stopped smoking while drinking. Each of those steps took time and willpower. But eventually, there were only a few places and times where I could smoke. At other times, I'd promise myself I could have a cigarette later (I accidentally stumbled on this now well-researched trick). Then, at the end, I concentrated all my willpower on the few times left... and then I didn't smoke anymore. The whole process took, well, over a year I think. It was as far from a one-time declaration as possible.

* Yes, this means I'm older than you.

Below are 5 of the top 6 New Year's Resolutions in 2016 (according to some survey that is probably pretty unscientific). If this is what people are resolving, I'm not at all surprised that like 92% of people fail. Accurate or not, I'm going to take these in reverse order, explain why they're undoable, and then suggest alternatives. Now, I'm aware, that resolutions are traditionally short statements or declarations. It might be that behind the scenes, people are actually doing all the good goal definition or planning. But if they were, we'd probably see a better success rate, so assume that the resolution we have here is all that there is.

Don't do this.

Pay down debt
This is probably the most doable of the resolutions in the list, though it's still missing key aspects. I'm not going to complain that this isn't a good idea, in fact it's a very good idea that has all kinds of positive repercussions. The problem is that this is not yet a goal and there's no plan for achieving it. Before anything else, you need to start by understanding how much debt you have and what interest it's charging. And then you need to do a budget to see where your money is going. This activity could take you a couple of weeks or more, depending on how nebulous your finances currently are to you. And that's only the first step.

After that, we need to make the goal more concrete:
  • pay down $10,000 in debt
  • pay off high interest credit card
  • pay off car loan early
  • pay extra on the mortgage
All these goals require sending more money to the debt than you have been. So where will that money come from? Maybe your goal is really "make more money and use it to pay down $10k in debt." That's better, but even better is including how you will make that money. Or maybe instead of making more money, you want to re-purpose the money you have. So now your resolutions look like this:
  • take a weekend job and use the money to pay down $10,000 in debt
  • cancel the cable and use the money to pay off high interest credit card
  • sell comic collection on ebay and pay off car loan
  • stop buying Starbucks and pay extra on the mortgage
Finally we should include a time frame that depends on the means and the size of the debt:
  • take a weekend job and use the money to pay down $10,000 in debt by the end of the year
  • cancel the cable and use the money to pay off high interest credit card by August 2017
  • sell comic collection on ebay and pay off car loan six months early
  • stop buying Starbucks and pay $50 a month extra on the mortgage
From this longer, but much more actionable resolution, you can easily create a list of tasks you need to do go accomplish this goal, from applying at the coffee shop to buying coffee to make at home, or photographing your comics or calling the cable company. Things you can actually do.

Spend more time with family and friends
Human connection is something that's really necessary for health and happiness. When people make this resolution, they are probably feeling lonely and disconnected. We're fundamentally social animals after all.

This is a somewhat concrete goal, but what's missing is the HOW and WHY. First, how much time are you actually spending with your network and how much would you like to? This is your gap to fill. And how do you see these people now? Do you have breakfast together, watch movies, play poker? The next question is why don't you see them more? Are you working too much? Are they? Are your kids massively over-scheduled? Are you disorganized and don't return calls or reach out as much as you want? This is an exercise in understanding and scoping the problem.

Once you have a better grip on the problem, you need to clearly identify whether this issue is even in your control. You can't resolve to spend more time with friends and family if THEY'RE the ones who are too busy/distracted/disorganized. It's not within your control to change people. At best, you can reach out and encourage them into your cause (let's spend more time together). And if it's your family, you will obviously need to all cooperate to make it happen. If you're really craving connection and your friends and family aren't, then the best you can do is replace them or, more likely, subsidize them with additional people who are. You can only make resolutions for yourself on things that you have some control over. So change your behavior (reach out, work less, schedule stuff) but don't expect to change others'.

Maybe the result is a resolution that's more like:
  • work with my family to get support for having supper together 5 nights a week
  • make some new friends who have more time to get together
  • cut back on work and hobbies to make time to see the people who love me
  • make a point of reaching out to people twice a week
Save more, spend less
This is similar to number five above. A good idea, but needs more specificity (how much savings, what type of spending). Even more importantly, if you can't point to exactly what you are spending and what you are saving every month now, you aren't going to make much headway with this. And once you do know where the dollars are going, this is all about priorities. What will you spend less on? Where will you cut? Fundamentally, this is an exercise in what you value. No wonder it's hard to accomplish this sort of goal! If your resolution was "understand all my expenses and then determine and document my values and priorities in order to cut costs so that I can improve my savings" you wouldn't expect to be able to flip a switch and have that change happen starting January 1st, right?

Lose weight
This seems like a good idea, but it's actually not. First of all, why do you even want to lose weight? To have more energy (exercise is a better goal)? To avoid a health issue (don't diet, change your diet)? Or to look hot in a bikini (a combination of eating less/better and exercising more is a good start, but you may also need to look at skin care, cosmetic procedures, and so on)? The plan will differ greatly depending on the reason.

Next up, how much weight and how fast? People are terrible at being realistic about this sort of thing. If you gained 10 lbs in the past year, then losing that 10 in the coming year is the sort of sane goal you may actually be able both accomplish and maintain.

Finally, how will you lose weight? Eating less and being hungry has all sorts of repercussions, which is why the consensus is that calorie restrictive diets don't work. There are reasons that this is the actually the worst of all goals, but we'll be getting to that in my willpower post soon. My recommendation is to avoid this resolution altogether and exchange it for concrete exercise goals and concrete nutrition goals. You'll feel better and be healthier and may lose some weight in the process (bonus!).

Live a healthier lifestyle
Please. This is the perfect example of an undoable goal. In fact, this is really about six undoable goals rolled into some kind of undefined meta goal. There's no way someone will resolve this and then be able to wake up the next day and actually do... what exactly? Situps? Eat kale? Stop drinking a fifth of Jack for breakfast? What does this mean!?

One of the primary pieces of advice for making resolutions is to pick one goal and work on it. So, of all the ways you can live possibly mythical "healthier lifestyle" pick one. Then turn that into a real resolution like:
  • Go to the gym three times a week and work out for 30 minutes
  • Replace soda with water and have a veggie-based lunch or dinner five days a week
  • Stop drinking a fifth of Jack for breakfast (this is actually a really good idea, if it applies to you... though you might need some help)
Now even these aren't enough to actually accomplish the goal, but at least they are concrete and measurable and you can make a plan to do them.

How meta... my resolution is to remember to resolve to follow through with my resolutions.

And what was the sixth resolution on that list? The number one resolution from that survey is to Live Life to the Fullest. And I think you can see how undoable that is. If you want to be one of the 8%, you need to choose goals that are definable and doable and not just nebulous woo-woo. You need to define the goal in detail, work out a plan for getting there, come up with detailed tasks, and forgive your inevitable failures.

So if you are considering making resolutions this New Years Eve, start now to help ensure you end up in the 8%.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Longest Night

Lots of magic going on. Deipnon (after the new moon and as Saturn prepared to enter Capricorn), Solstice night offerings, Decan rite for the moment of the Solstice. Tomorrow I'll be doing some Saturn work, in the spirit of the new boss (all the cool kids are talking about it!). Christmas eve has its own kind of magic, one deeply rooted in a very haunted, Germanic view of the holiday that comes from my childhood and has more to do with the Kris Kindle than Kris Kringle).

As I did then, we'll be celebrating on Sunday night. And as always, Monday is the start of a very busy interstitial period based on the idea that where you are on New Year's is where you will be the rest of the year. That means cleaning up, catching up on laundry, taking down the tree, etc. Plus a whole batch of magic and planning ... and magical planning. All culminating in an astrologically auspicious New Year's Day working.

I'm also going to revisit my tool kit for the next phase of the EBER project. I'm not going to jettison anything necessarily (sigils aren't going anywhere) but I am tweaking a bit. For example, based on what I think the theme will be for the coming year, I think I'll be de-emphasizing tarot in favor of the I Ching. I'll also be doing more magical potion making, including my blended oils. In any long project, your emphasis will naturally evolve over the course of the project, but making those trends conscious helps keep things on track.

We're all very happy to see the end of Mercury retrograde as well. This one was glitchy. For example, I broke a measuring cup, the spouse broke a large glass, and the kid broke the towel rack... all in the space of about 2 hours. But more interesting was how it interacted with Saturn's ingress into Capricorn. The moment it did our heads spun around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. We've spent the last couple of days looking back, talking about the past, reexamining things that were difficult or challenging -- it has been frankly quite annoying. I even had to deal with some work (during my vacation!) that was basically a clean up effort from last year stuff. But that feeling is starting to ease up now.

Which is good, because it's time to face forward and get a move on 2018. 


Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 It's a Wrap

I'm going to avoid talking about the negative parts of 2017. Like many people, I'll be looking forward to having this year in the rear-view, but I'm going to focus on the good stuff because, really, what else you gonna do? And honestly, there was plenty of good stuff at the House of Perpetual Indulgence*.

* Nickname given by an old friend and that we've embraced.

I don't really talk too personal around here, but I believe I mentioned that we dealt with a serious accident some years back that had a huge impact on us in several different areas. Since that time, a significant portion of our physical, emotional, financial, and magical energy have been getting us on solid footing again. We were very fortunate and I'm incredibly grateful as things could have been so much worse (memento mori, remember?).

I share this not for sympathy (shit does, indeed, happen). I'm just sensitive to sounding like our recent successes are all there is (the "blog my perfect life" syndrome), or that nothing bad has ever happened to us, so of course things are going well. So if you take a lesson from the following, it's that organized project planning and a big dose of magic can change even the most fucked up situation and that planning ahead can make the shit easier to deal with when it hits.

First of all, the household made major progress on all three of the Early to Bed, Early to Rise (EBER) project priorities: to be healthy, wealthy, and wise...

  • On the health front, there were very interesting results from the Decan work I've been doing. Also the 9 nights of Hecate devotional, which lead me through some amazing dreams to a potential solve for long-term health concern (and now mushrooms talk to me!). Couple this with some serious focus on self-care, and everyone in our household has benefited in different ways.
  • From a sustainability / prosperity standpoint (which is how I interpret "wealth" since the risk in our capitalist society is of viewing it as purely materialist and income based) we have sorted out some vexing problems that have increased our optionality significantly. We eliminated debt. We dealt with some deferred maintenance. We invested in some areas with solid household ROI. Think buying a side of beef and setting up a shop in the garage.
  • I feel like the information gathering phase of the project went especially well -- the right data has just been falling in my lap through the year. This includes mundane and magical information related to both the goals above and other areas moving forward. And the latest, in case you haven't seen it yet, is Austin Coppock on the Rune Soup podcast. That one is really honing the direction for the rest of the EBER project. So much so that I'll be kicking off phase two just before the Winter Solstice, earlier than I expected.

Second, there's the expansion of my consulting business. I really enjoy this work and am looking to connect with more people who need help with their project goals in 2018. This includes some surprises I'll be rolling out in the first quarter. My own podcast on Rune Soup was a game changer. I'd never done one before, but it was really fun and it was wonderful to get feedback from people. I'm absolutely looking to do more of these next year (suggestions / invitations welcome).

Finally, I'm at the same place I was career-wise a couple of years ago. A lot of magic moved me into a spot with many more opportunities and I've been working my ass off ever since. In order to manifest my big next-step career goal, I'm going to have to be on point for the next couple of years.

Over the next two weeks, I'll be setting the stage for 2018 with familiar themes (resolutions anyone?) and new stuff too.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

The Year of Being Agile -- Agile Risk Management, Entanglement (Office Space Edition)

Bet you thought I forgot about this series, didn't you? I admit I got distracted by the EBER project but 2017 is still the year of being agile.

One of the things that bugs me about traditional risk management is that you have a "risk register" where all your individual risks go to live and are then mitigated, one by one, through your risk process. This makes no sense to me.

Risks aren't discrete and independent units. In fact, risks come in interrelated webs, with dependencies that impact each other's likelihood and potential severity. Let me give you an example:

Randolph has been dealing with chronic stress-related health issues. They come from his job, which is 12 kinds of shit in a shit box. He can't afford to quit his job, first because they don't pay enough to build up a cushion of savings and second, because they pay his health insurance. He also can't find a new job because, hello? health issues again. So his health is a risk, his job is a risk, his very livelihood is a risk. And those risks are entangled like the tentacles of a horrifying monster from the depths -- Riskthulhu.

https://disse86.deviantart.com/ -- go buy his stuff or this guy will get you

Let me be blunt. There's no easy, safe solution to this kind of situation. In fact, there's not a single solution at all. How you sail past this bastard is going to depend on the specific details of your life. However, here are some approaches that may prove useful:

Dwell on the Worst Case Scenario
This is a stoic technique -- Memento Mori, remember that you will die. You contemplate the bad things that could happen in order to make the bad things that do happen less horrible. It fosters gratitude and reduces stress. Both good results. But in addition, in this situation it gives perspective needed to make hard choices. Our friend Randolph might be terrified of doing anything for fear that it will upset the situation and make things worse. "How can I take a new job," he thinks "when I'm sick so often?" But let's be honest, if he does nothing he's already on the way to worst. His health isn't going to get any better and most likely neither will his job. Eventually he'll lose it and by the time he does he really may be too sick to ever work again.

Yeah, I know it sounds depressing but it's really not. Here's a personal anecdote. My father and I have had a sometimes challenging relationship. He's a decent guy who has the ability to piss me off like no one else. And when he got cancer I started having panic attacks. The best therapist ever told me to go and write, in detail, the worst case scenario. Of course the worst case scenario was that he'd die. But you know what, that's going to happen at some point anyway. And since I'm his kid, odds are that I'll be around to experience it. And if he drives me crazy in the mean time, so what? And along with biofeedback training, I felt tons better. No more panic attacks.

In fact, he didn't die and is alive to this day. Eventually he will though, just like everyone does. But in the mean time he drives me a lot less crazy. Cause it just doesn't seem worth getting pissed off so much anymore.

Look for the Wiggle Room
Randy probably feels trapped by his situation and that sure doesn't help his stress. In order to find a way out, he needs to see where he might have some wiggle room. For example, there are known proven methods for reducing stress. Sure it doesn't make his job better, but it might make him feel better. As usual with stuff that's good for you, the ways all sound boring and prosaic and we all known them already. Still much of this stuff is free and can be started incrementally: sleep, exercise, vegetables, meditation. And do magic for a peaceful house and calm mind or even a paid break from work (I once did this and there was a power outage that had me paid to hang out at home for a few days). Or alternately, maybe there's a chance to tweak the job slightly. A transfer to a different department or location? A temporary assignment under a different manager? It's not an escape, but it is a change. Enchant for the opportunity and then when it comes, take it. Randy needs to remember that by doing nothing, the worst case scenario could still happen, so he needs to find the wiggle room and, well, wiggle the fuck out of it.

Get the Word Out
Lots of people hate their jobs. They may even bitch about it. But what people sometimes don't do is get the word out in a positive way about what they want instead. Randy needs to start telling everyone - that he's a) looking for suggestions for health b) looking for new opportunities. He needs to make it positive, about what he wants (energy improvement, better work/life balance, to have his talents appreciated) and not how terrible everything is and how bad he feels. And I mean everyone. People on the bus, at the store, online, his family, his friends. Sure, he may not feel up to actually launching a job hunt or trying every medical idea in the world. But by stating his intent, he's opening the door for those things to come to him.

And needless to say he should be "saying" those things magically too. Put the call out. Demand the kind of job you deserve. Ask for what you want. And when the universe obliges, don't balk. Remember how much worse things can get by doing nothing at all.

Stop Trying So Hard (Where It Doesn't Fucking Matter)
OK, it's absolutely not in my nature to tell anyone to stop trying. Proactive striving is kind of my MO, to the point that you should filter all my advice through your own tolerance for foot to the floor action. But if you are stressed and sick and short on energy / time / money then the best thing you can do is pull back, stop giving so many fucks (save them for when you really need them), and don't try so hard. For Randy, he needs to remember that if he expends less energy on work, works less, cares less, and decides that he just doesn't care anymore... well the worst that can happen is he gets fired eventually (though that could just be the best thing that happens to him). But in the mean time he stresses less and has more time and energy to implement some of the other strategies here to make things better.

I know a few people are reading and saying to themselves "well, I just can't do a bad job at work or I couldn't live with myself." To that I ask:

  • You're perfectly capable of doing a bad job at other things (like taking care of your health) so why not branch out?
  • You are probably already doing a bad job because of the stress and illness, so why not lean into it (probably not what Sandberg meant)?
  • Did you ever think that a good job might not even be possible to do at that shit hole? 
Oh, and don't tell me it's unfair to your coworkers. You'll be setting a good example of self-care and sanity and maybe encourage them to start fighting their own Riskthulhus.

Work is a big part of people's lives, but it's not the only part. Even if your job sucks, it doesn't mean it has to suck the life out of you. You need things in your life that aren't about striving and goals. You need stuff that makes you feel happy and better. And not in an escapist, I just ate a quart of ice cream and spend 7 hours click-bait surfing kind of way. Find things that bring you joy and a sense of fulfillment. Find things that make you happy. They may be small things, but don't discount their importance.

I actually had to make this meme, since I couldn't find an image or quote from that scene in the movie online. Now think about how fucking sad that is.
Randy needs to make sure he's got other good things and people in his life. Those things aren't optional. They are critically important.

Blow this Shit Up
Let's say that none of the previous stuff has helped at all (though I would argue that taking walks outside and eating kale is bound to do something good). It's time for the nuclear option. This is the riskiest and most aggressive technique.

I've written about this in detail before (including a divination technique to help figure out if it's a good idea) but here's the TL;DR version:

Randy's job is an area of his life where he is very fragile. Think of a fragile teacup. It doesn't like shocks or changes. It prefers to be coddled and babied. It's likely to break at the least bit of stress. Sometimes fragile things are worth babying, but other times it's just not worth it. Randy knows, from his Memento Mori practice that doing nothing is as big a risk in the mid to long-term as anything else he might try. So he decides to take the teacup and smash it.

  1. He creates a list of magic he will do for improved health, financial stability, and a better job. He outlines in detail what kind of enchantments he will do for these areas.
  2. He performs divination to see what will happen if he does these things and then smashes his teacup. With luck the signs are good. This step is optional actually. Sometimes you just gotta throw shit down.
  3. He does the magic (important, he needs to do everything on his list and with feeling).
  4. He walks into work on Monday and QUITS. Just like that. He may consider saying "take this job and shove it!" he might decide to burn fewer bridges and even give notice. But he's taking the shitty job and smashing it. BAM!

I know it's easy for me to talk. I love my job. But I've had bad jobs in the past. Ones that gave me so many migraines that I was completely debilitated. Ones that put my life at risk (think late night gas station weirdos and climbing a two story wet ladder in the dark with no safety equipment). Ones that were so bland and soul-sucking that I felt like a Shawn Of the Dead zombie. Those weren't good places to be, in my job or in my life.

There comes a point where you have to do something. Maybe you get on the phone and demand that your paycheck arrive on time from now on (and get a round of applause from the whole store). Maybe you come in on the weekend and move your desk to an entirely different part of the building, leaving no trace of your whereabouts. Maybe you tell HR that you will not sign their bullshit review and that you want four months severance and for them not to contest unemployment or you will sue them. Maybe you change all the printer status messages on the day you leave and no one can figure out how to change them back for months. Maybe you get better and better jobs so that you can live well as the best revenge.

This is a time of risk. Doing nothing is a risk. The status quo is a huge risk. Job security is a lie and a risk. It's the year of being agile and we all need to learn to deal with risk.

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