Obligation Vacation

I was listening to episode 71 of the Happier in Hollywood podcast today and they beautifully described the situation I find myself in this past week.

It turns out that I’m on an Obligation Vacation.

To be fair, I rather think I’m in the midst of it’s darker cousin, the Obligation Rebellion.

It’s been a long year in the Oh Waily household and there are still three months to go! Unfortunately I seem to have finally found that point where tiredness, personal expectations, external obligations and reality have all collided and resulted in a mass gathering of tweety birds circling my head.

Truth be told I’m kind of like the human equivalent of Wile E. Coyote at the moment; lots of grand plans that have ended in me hitting the dust.  Repeatedly. And it isn’t pretty.

Unlike Wile E., who displays persistent-to-the-point-of-painful-optimism, I have the ability to tell when reality is saying enough is enough and the time has come to stop ordering things from Acme Corporation.  

For me that time arrived this past week when my brain finally decided, all on it’s subconscious own, to take me on a surprise Obligation Vacation.  I had no idea where we were going and that such a detour might even have a name, until tonight; but I like it.  It suggests a positive outlook and a healthy response to maintaining a balance between obligations and your own sanity.  And it’s definitely more upbeat than Obligation Rebellion which is, truthfully, what overcame me.

For close on a week now I have looked at my rather huge list of obligations and other people’s expectations and have thought, “Nah. Not today. I think I will stare at that blank wall for a while.” 

My rebellious, wall watching holiday has absolutely nothing to do with those folk patiently waiting for me to email, phone, organise or otherwise contribute.  It has everything to do with my tightrope walking act of balancing everyone’s needs, especially my own.  Just like Wile E. Coyote I started out looking and feeling like I’ve got it all under control and then…


Here I am, on my impromptu rebellion vacation.

And it’s a bittersweet one.  I dislike seeming to be disorganised, rude, uncooperative or otherwise “just not getting the job done”.  It goes strongly against the grain. But, oh the freedom from doing the drudgery !!  I could almost slip in to not Adulting as a full time gig, if it were not for the fact that I am often the only adult in the house.

And that raises the issue of the end of my Obligation Vacation.  There has been another adult in the house during my rebellious vacation – in case you were concerned – but that is soon to change again for a few weeks.  I suspect that my sly and cunning subconscious took the opportunity of another adult being around to sneak in a much needed rest.
Well done Brain, well done.  But next time a bit of warning would be good, or pre-planning at the very least.  I’m not big on unwelcome surprises, as you really ought to know.

That leaves me with the question of how to work Obligation Vacations in to my life rather than have my brain spring them upon me.  It’s one that I will have to take time to ponder.  For now I will remain, mostly, on Vacation. 

At least until Mr Oh Waily’s next trip away.

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
― Maya Angelou


No Endorsement Included

For those of you who are locals, you may recognise which political party this catchphrase belongs to. Let me be clear right off the bat, I am not publicly endorsing any political party, and I never will.

My personal political views are kept strictly between me and my voting paper – and perhaps the long-suffering Mr Oh Waily.  I have many reasons for this and most centre around my desire NOT to live in a bubble of politically similar people.  I do not want to drive people out my ‘friends list’ simply because they DO wish to live in their own personal political bubble.  I actually like the diversity of opinion, even when I wonder to myself where some folk get their ideas from.  I don’t feel like I need to agree with them or have them agree with me. That strikes me as quite arrogant – the “I know best” worldview, better suited to those who want to be an actual politician.

Politics is tribal enough without my help in pushing the ‘us and them’ agenda by arguing the case for my point of view.  It’s a well-known fact (yes, a scientifically studied thing) that pushing harder against ingrained views makes those views even more ingrained. And I most certainly wouldn’t indulge in a discussion online about it, with all the missing body language cues and subtlety that can come from a live conversation on a topic.

So what am I doing with a political party’s slogan attached to my blog?

Simple.  I agree with it.

In its entirety.

No matter what your political persuasion, viewpoint or whatnot, the key to our society being a vibrant one is to have a voter base that “Cares”, “Thinks” and “Votes”.

The scary thing about this slogan is that it asks you to ‘think’.  It’s easy to care and relatively easy to vote.
I care enough to want good things for my family, my friends, my fellow country folk. The hard part is to think through what that looks like in practice and then to assess the plans to get us there that are being ‘sold’ by political parties. Will the policies actually deliver the society that you are envisaging? And make no mistake – they are ‘selling’ you stuff… and often only the pretty side of their stuff, not the dark side.  And please don’t imagine there isn’t a dark side to anyone’s stuff – because there is.  We do not, and can not, live in a Utopia.  Someone somewhere will be negatively affected by most policies offered by all the parties and we shouldn’t forget that when making our decisions. Those people matter too.

There are plenty of observations about the political scene and what seems to drive the voting public that I could make, but for today my message is a simple one… please don’t be a sheep.

It doesn’t matter if you are a blue sheep, red sheep, green sheep, black sheep, yellow sheep, or rainbow sheep… please don’t just stay stuck in your tribal rut because you think it matches your world view or your internal picture of ‘who you are’.  Take time to reassess the validity of your tribe’s plans and actually read the other tribes’ plans too… not with the intent to tear them to pieces, but to examine them and think about where they might lead.  Mindless voting, by routine tribal identification, is like putting your ladder up against a tall wall without even looking up to see where that’s taking you or our country.
Just because an idea may have worked five years ago, or ten years ago, or twenty years ago doesn’t mean it will work in the next five or ten or twenty years.  The world changes. Circumstances change. Society changes. The ways to reach your ‘ideal society’ may need to change now, too.  It may even involve some self-sacrifice… a concept that has seemingly gone out of fashion. But that’s another story.
Anyway, please take the time to do the “thinking” part, don’t brush over it.

And then, do the important final step – go Vote !

On Habits, part one

Like a lot of people, I struggle to cultivate good habits and break unwanted ones.  And like a lot of people I’ve often thought that my willpower just sucked. Nowadays though I don’t really subscribe to that idea. I came to this conclusion after a lot of reading about how the brain works and how other people approach habit formation.  It’s not my character failing me, but it is my brain’s default behaviour that means habits are hard to make and break. Armed with this idea and a few favourite books I’ve been planning something of a personal overhaul.

The older I have become the more concerned I am that if I don’t address areas of my life that have ‘fallen through the gaps’ in the course of everyday living, the less likely I will be to spend my precious energy on them at all.  This is the ‘I’ve had one cupcake already so the damage is already done’ or the ‘I’m too old to change now’ approach to life. Neither of which I want to indulge in.

I’ve been paring back on a few life-energy grabbing areas and activities in preparation for this rearrangement of priorities. Even as I do so, I feel a modicum of guilt about it. I love the things that are now drifting into the distance and the people I’ve been doing them with.  But it’s time to move on and put me and other areas of life closer to the top of my priority list.  So something has to go.
There, that’s the salve to my conscience about leaving others to do some hard, often underappreciated hard work on behalf of an entire community.

Step One is under way:- Create space by decluttering my time & attention.

The next step, after beginning a re-read of Better than Before and reminding myself of a couple of basics, is to start with some foundations.  The one that I am currently focusing on is Monitoring.

Have you ever wondered why groups like Weight Watchers have you record what passes into your mouth? It’s because of Monitoring. If you record it, you have to face the choice you are about to make.  There is no hiding or ‘forgetting’. It gives you a chance to pause before proceeding. A cooling off period, albeit a short one, that allows you an opportunity to override a possible emotional response with a more considered decision.

In conjunction with monitoring acting as a brake on poor decision-making, it can also provide you with a picture of your behaviour that you were completely unconscious of.  That’s why recording and analysing your spending is a great way to get a handle on all those ‘small’, ‘inconsequential’ purchases that over time add up to a horrible looking credit card bill and awful debt spiral.

In short, Monitoring acts both to inform you of and curtail impulsive and automatic behaviours.

I have always used varying forms of monitoring because I like numbers, statistics and benchmarking. It’s my personality – don’t judge! But usually, the monitoring is for a short-term and with information gathering as its key purpose.  This time I intend to use it to reinforce changes I want to make, as well as stimulate more positive choices.

I already have a regular monitoring practice set up for my morning routine in my bullet journal – a monthly habit tracker spread.

Not only is this a retrospective on how I’ve been doing with keeping to my intended habits, it’s also an encouragement to follow through.  Four Tendency Alert: Obliger in the house.
I know I will be faced with recording my actions each day and the tracker gives me a visual ‘break the chain’ model, which was supposedly conceived by Jerry Seinfield.

I have recently added a Sleep Log to my Monitoring system because I wanted to see just how bad my sleep routine was getting, but at the moment it is just based on an approximation of when I am likely to have fallen asleep as well as the time when I wake up and check the clock.  I’m hoping to improve this approximation with an activity tracker in the near future.  As I’m sure we all know now, good quality and length of sleep is a rather large box to check on the health front, so I want to see what I can do to make an improvement in this aspect of my life.

The other biggie on my hitlist is the twins of healthy eating and exercise.  Due to injury and innumerable well thought out excuses, I have let both of these areas slack off and drop through the gaps of my daily life. September is the start of me chipping away at both of these.  I have booked an appointment with a personal trainer as part of my aim to build accountability into my effort to change these habits, and I have begun to log what passes my lips. I’ve always had an exercise line on my habit tracker, but usually, it’s been the sole uncoloured line.

At this point, starting out, I don’t know if I will be successful in changing the key areas that impact most on my health and wellbeing, but I am going to try. I will use my better understanding of myself and the habit reinforcing techniques I’ll write about here to improve my chances.

If you’re working through a habit change I’d love to hear how you approached it and how it is going.

Thanks for reading.


Hell in a Handbasket

I don’t know about any of you, but lately I’ve been feeling like the world has started to go to hell in a handbasket.

In fairness, this could be because I have recently started to read Twitter again after a long absence, but I suspect that does not adequately explain my feelings.
I feel like I am watching the splitting of social bonds and the norms that held them together; but I worry about overstating it and appearing to be that person wearing a “the end of the world is nigh” board on a bright summer’s day.

The culprit that is blighting my sense of community stability? The internet and social media.

Is it ironic that I am making this observation on the internet and this blog posts to social media?  Why yes, it is.

So what’s my gripe with it then?

Well, it seems to me that social media is to our deteriorating social bonds as human industry is to global warming. Both add to the heating up of things and do almost as much damage to human society as they do good.

Let me be clear, I am not a Luddite, but I have begun to fear the power of the social media and internet echo chamber.  This article by Birender Ahluwalia lays out a number of the key points of how echo chambers came to be, thanks to human nature, and how they are now even more self-selecting in the social media age.  The most worrying statement in the article, I think, is:

…presenting any contrarian information leads to a further entrenching of beliefs.

It’s this accelerated echo chamber of social media that has shone through as underpinning the recent lurches to “illiberal democracy” in long-time “liberal democracies”.  Realising this has made me shudder and, after the two most notable examples of Brexit and the US election, I have been spending a large amount of my free time reading about how that came about.  This New York Times article would be a good starting point if you wanted an overview.

Prior to these events I would have said that I was relatively apolitical.  Not apathetic, just not as aware or engaged in learning and thinking.
The more I have read, the more my existing feelings about what sort of society I want to live in have crystallised.   I most certainly do not want to live in an illiberal democracy.  I do not want to see a widening gap between the most wealthy and the least.  I do not want to see my kids priced out of their own homes, should they choose ownership as an option.  I do not want to look at my neighbours in Asia, the Americas or anywhere else as a “threat” to my livelihood.  (After all, they have a livelihood to earn too!)
I want our country to face this without ideology, as this statement from the NY Times article, states:

We need better systems for buffering people against disruption, even as we recognize that disruption is inevitable.

Ideology and rhetoric do not work out those ‘better systems’ – pragmatism does. And a willingness amongst the greater population to feel that their fellow citizens (both within the country and within the world) deserve a fair shake at things.

This may, in fact, require a bit of sacrifice.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t great at, it’s personal sacrifice for the good of others.
They may be willing to give up stuff for their own greater good – if they’ve figured out that delayed gratification works – but that guy over there?  Hmm, that’s a toughie.  Is he a good guy?  Does he share my values?  My faith? (Or non-faith?) Is he inclined to be a bit lazy? Uhhmmm, not so sure about giving up my little bit of paradise for that lazy one!  And I made it up from a poor start, so can they!  (Only your poor start was forty or fifty years ago when it was still, just, possible to live and save on a single income.)

You get the idea.

But there’s reasonable proof that self-sacrifice for the wider societal good benefits everyone.  Lower levels of inequality impact positively on everyone – not just the poorest folk.  Check out the list here for some insight.

It turns out I’m still apolitical – but only in regards to not being ideologically connected to any specific political party.

What a political party needs to offer me this election year is evidence based, pragmatic solutions to inequality; not ideological platitudes, not bribes to line my own pocket, not excuses, not “them or us” rhetoric (*lazy* folk or foreigners alike), but an actual answer that will go some way to stalling and reversing the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.  I want it for the ‘have nots’ and I want it for myself.  I want to live in a liberal democracy that gives a damn about everyone, and has no truck with the divisive echo chamber politics that have reared their ugly head overseas.

And I will no longer sit by silently thinking this to myself but not saying it out loud for fear of offending people or losing friends.