In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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My Best Brain Hack

This is my fourth entry in a series of posts about things I do to improve – or at least preserve – brain function. Until I started writing these posts, I didn’t realize how much I actually had to say on the topic! And still do, apparently. This post was supposed to contain random “leftover” tips and tricks, but one element in particular grew into a post of its own. So there are still two posts left after this one: a summary of other odds ends that I do (post 1) or won’t do (post 2) for my brain.

Here is my big secret, and probably the single most important thing I do now for brain function. Yes, more than exercising and supplements and sleep. (Although sleep and exercise have benefits beyond just brain function.) I say “now” because I only started it recently, and the results have been amazing. Not only is my brain working better, but I know exactly how well it is performing.

It’s simple. I write down every creative idea I have.

It doesn’t have to be a good idea, but if it has any creativity, problem solving, or new idea-ness (to me anyway) at all, I grab a piece of paper and jot it down.

Why so old-fashioned? I write faster on paper than on my phone, and if I pick up my phone AT ALL I will get derailed by social media notifications; or seeing my grocery list app will remind me of something I need to add to the list; and heaven help me if I accidentally open Pinterest – the rest of the day will be lost! That creative idea will vanish in a puff of smoke and disappear into the recesses of my mind. I periodically transfer the ideas from paper to Evernote where they can be searched or organized into related notes and notebooks as needed. Some may need more research and definition before I can act on them and some may be complete dead ends, but at least they are all there.

This leads to two amazing outcomes. One: I can see just how many ideas I actually come up with over time. Some days are full of creativity, and others not so much … or not at all! But recording them means I can watch them pile up and realize just how much creativity still bubbles around in my noggin.

The second outcome is even more important. By getting the ideas onto the paper, they get out of my head, and new ideas pop into my head.

Crazy right? Who knew it could be so simple?

Oh, right. A lot of people, actually. I am building on a lot of other ideas from authors I have been exposed to over the years. When I thought back on how many years in fact, I was mildly horrified. If you would like to read on, I will go into detail about the different techniques I’ve learned which have lead up to this new compulsion to write everything down. If you don’t care so much about the backstory, grab a pen and paper and prepare to be amazed.

This creative approach has several key components that make it so effective (at least for me): writing down everything as it comes, without judging; exercising your brain’s creative and problem solving capacity; and deliberate daydreaming.

Writing Down Everything

The first time I was exposed to the idea of always having a way to write down ideas was in Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, by Gerald M. Weinberg.  I read this book (mumble) years ago. Mind you, I didn’t actually start carrying writing tools with me all the time at that stage – although I probably should have, who knows how many more ideas I would have collected by now! In Weinberg’s methodology, these flittering thoughts I capture are the “fieldstones” in his method. The approach, in brief, is to collect these fieldstones (ideas) as you find them, regardless of whether or not they pertain to whatever writing project you are working on. You then store them where you can easily retrieve them, and then when you have enough fieldstones that fit together, you can build a wall… er, write an article or a book. This is actually the approach I’ve used to write many of my recent blog posts – I just keep capturing ideas until I have enough related ideas to string together into an actual post. While this is taking longer – because I am waiting on ideas instead of forcing words onto a computer screen – I have NO shortage of future blog post topics because they gush into my brain faster than I can keep up with writing them.

Popular productivity management approaches such as Getting Things Done and Zen to Done also advocate being able to get ideas out of your head onto a piece of paper, but those are more focused on to do lists and projects rather than creativity.

The most recent time I found this advice was in Get It Done, by Sam Bennett, which I listened to a few months ago. (Yes, I have started reading/listening to self-help books again… don’t judge!)

She calls it “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” (aka somewhere to capture ideas as they come to us). She uses index cards, similar to Weinberg’s approach, to write down the ideas as they come and then sort them into envelopes. I always have a paper to-do list with me, and jot my ideas on the corners or back of the paper. It’s not fancy, but it still works!

Without Judging

This technique works so well for me, in part, because it gets the old ideas out of my head. I can’t generate new ideas because the current ideas play on endless repeat – even when they don’t appear to be useful or relevant to any of my creative endeavors.

This aspect is similar to the techniques of freewriting and brainstorming. I don’t remember the original book I read on freewriting, but the idea is just to get everything out without regard for complete sentences, grammar or punctuation. Usually freewriting is done for a specific amount of time, and helps overcome writer’s block. I often use the technique as a way to get “unstuck” when struggling with various issues. Once I start getting the endless-playback-words out of my head, additional ideas start flowing out as well. (In my case, this may be more like “freejournaling” rather than true freewriting.) Since I cannot share the specific book title, here is a Wikipedia article about it.

This is also related to classic brainstorming, which has the goal of generating as much content as possible, usually as a problem solving technique. For example I don’t always judge the ideas that pop into my head, I just diligently capture them to store for future analysis. Brainstorming is generally done as a group, whereas I am just dreaming up ideas on my own… although maybe there are multiple people in here. It sure feels like it sometimes anyway! Here is the Wikipedia article, if you somehow have never heard of brainstorming.

Exercising the Brain

Another reason this technique works is by exercising your brain’s creativity and problem-solving capabilities. I first saw this idea articulated about a year ago, when I read (most of) Tools of the Titans, by Tim Ferriss. One of the “titans”, James Altucher, suggested the habit of writing down ten ideas every morning, to strengthen your “idea muscle”. Even coming up with bad ideas, says Altucher, exercises the brain’s capabilities.

I wrote “ten daily” lists for about a month after reading those pages, before my attention was hijacked by something else. While I don’t write down strictly ten ideas every day, I definitely experience how writing them down – whenever they come to me – reinforces the capacity to come up with more ideas.

(Altucher also describes a second part of this habit: writing down a “first step” for the idea, which is something I need to start doing myself. I am wayyyyy to inclined to just dream up ideas which is OK when they are ideas about things to write, but not sufficient for things to do.)

Deliberate Daydreaming

With all these super smart people advocating writing everything down, why did I only just doing it?

Blame – or rather thank – Sam Bennett. Yes, the same Sam Bennett I mentioned earlier, in the same book.

It was the combination of “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” and “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 3: Allot Fifteen Minutes a Day for Deliberate Daydreaming.”

The idea is to keep your hands busy on purpose and allow your mind to wander. If you are up on trendy self-help techniques, you might notice this is the exact opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to focus your attention on whatever you are doing, and when your mind drifts off, to gently bring it back to fully experience the here, the now, the task at hand. Deliberate daydreaming encourages your mind to wander. How crazy is that?

Deliberate daydreaming turns chores into an amazing opportunity to come up with new ideas: gardening, washing dishes, driving, even exercising. Although it gets complicated jotting the ideas down when your hands are covered in hot soapy water, or if you are driving!

Of course everyone has experienced this before. It’s why great ideas always pop into your head in the shower. Deliberate daydreaming differs because you seek out these hands-busy, brain-idle times intentionally (I now tolerate hand washing dishes, only for this reason), with pen and paper at the ready.

By the way, this makes me a bore in the car. The radio is always turned off when I’m driving – any sound, podcasts, audiobooks, or even music, renders me incapable of having my own creative thoughts. It entirely kills the deliberate daydreaming thing. Although sometimes it doesn’t happen anyway, which makes for a really, really, really long car ride. And for the record, earworms are just as detrimental to the deliberate daydreaming as actual songs on the radio!

There you have it – the whys and wherefores of my current idea capturing habit. Now go try it for yourself and watch your creativity soar!


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A Supplemental Mind

This is the second post in a series (of undetermined length) on techniques I have tried to improve my brain power. The first post focused on one of the easiest and cost effective approaches – physical activity and exercise. Today I’m going to talk about one of the more complicated options. Nutritional supplements. (Queue dramatic music.)

For the record, if I participated in an affiliate marketing program, this would be a profitable post for me because I’m talking about a LOT of products. But my goal is to share what I’ve personally tried, and what made a big enough difference to me to keep using. For this reason, I am NOT including hyperlinks to every single product listed in this message. If you are interested in learning more, you are very capable of looking them up on Amazon.com yourself!

(Also, if I ever permit on this site it will only be for causes or organizations I personally support as well.)

The supplement issue is especially challenging for me now, since in 2019 I am actively pursuing a lower-energy, less-industrialized, less-consumerist lifestyle.

And nutritional supplements are the poster children for industrial processed products.

But I, like so many other Americans, am seduced by the carefully crafted promises, the half truths, and my own desperate wish that fixing all my problems was as easy as popping a pill.

Especially mental problems!

Early in 2017 – before I started my ‘book diet’ – I acquired a copy of Dave Asprey’s Head Strong. I’d heard of lifehacking of course (who hasn’t) and even biohacking, but this was the first systematic treatise I’d read on the subject of deliberately hacking your brain chemistry.

Among all the other suggestions, there was (surprise, surprise) a section for nutritional supplements. After reading the whole book, I decided to give some of them a try… and if a few supplements were good, then MANY supplements must be even better. I carefully crafted a detailed schedule for which supplement, in what quantity, to take exactly when, to maximize my brain benefits.

Unfortunately, all those brain benefits failed to inspire me to put that schedule somewhere for posterity, so I could share the exact details with you almost two years later.

Here are the fragments I could reconstruct from memory and re-reading the relevant chapter of Head Strong.

  • Morning, with my Bullet Proof Coffee: COQ10 (p. 259), Magnesium citrate (p. 260 – 261), Krill Oil (p. 264 – 265), one packet of Jeunesse Reserve Antioxident Fruit Blend.
    BTW, I was already drinking my own personal variation of Bullet Proof Coffee years before this book came out.
  • During the day: I am pretty sure I took vitamin B12 and Folinic Acid in the afternoon (p.260), and I think I took them both twice a day although I cannot now recall why. Perhaps because the dosage I could find was only half of what the book called for. I also took Creatine throughout the day (p. 263) in pretty high doses for the “loading phase” described in the book. I didn’t stick with it long enough to actually get out of the loading phase! I know at some point during the day I also took “Sprout Extract” (p. 266 – 267) but I can’t remember when I took it because it is supposed to be taken on an empty stomach. At that stage of my life, I pretty much ate around the clock! …yes, I realize that wasn’t even two years ago. A lot can change in two years!
  • Evening: Calcium with Vitamin D3 (I don’t recall taking a separate, dedicated Vitamin D3 supplement, but Calcium with Vitamin D3 was already part of my routine) (p. 2261-262)
  • Bedtime: I experimented a few times with taking Magnesium at bed time to help with sleep
  • As needed: Activated Charcoal after eating any especially inflammatory foods (p. 262 – 263)

I also took BCAAs (p. 259) though I don’t recall what time of day. I do however remember distinctly feeling like a poser when I did it, because the supplement is intended for body builders!

I tried one bottle of the Brain Octane MCT in my morning Bullet Proof coffee, and it seemed to make a difference the first few cups. (I only drank one a day, I swear!) But I switched back to regular MCT oil because by the end of the bottle, the effects didn’t seem sufficiently dramatic to justify the expense. That was the only one of Asprey’s own brand of supplements I tried. The Ketoprime, Glutathione, and ActivePQQ looked interesting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to even more money, on top of everything else! At least most of the other supplements I could procure locally.

This whole experiment lasted only a few weeks. It was ridiculously expensive and the epitome of unsustainable in my world. My entire day revolved around ensuring I took various supplements on schedule! More tellingly, I personally did not notice much improvement in my mental performance … probably because I was so flustered and scatterbrained trying to stay on track with taking so many different supplements on a schedule! I still take a few, though – more on that below.

After reading The 4 Hour Body in early 2018, I added a few additional supplements to my daily brain health line up, mostly focused around sleep. I don’t have a copy of the book handy (this was *after* my book diet started), but going from my Amazon.com order history, I added N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) and Phosphatidylserine (aka PS) right before bed to help me fall and stay asleep. If I recall correctly, Tim Ferriss also mentioned magnesium in The 4 Hour Body, possibly also in context of sleep. My memory is faint because I was already taking magnesium at that point, so it was more of a reinforcement for an existing behavior, rather than a new one.

I have also experimented with the lion’s mane tea from Four Sigmatic. Unfortunately, the cost of the tea is high enough that I save the tea for “special occasions” (when my brain needs a hug, like the box says!) and I have read in online forums that lion’s mane is more effective when you take it regularly to keep levels consistent in your body. And drinking the tea daily is not in my budget right now!

Now in early 2019, these are the only brain specific supplements I still take:

  • COQ10: in the morning with my Bullet Proof coffee because allegedly the fat helps absorb the COQ10.
  • Magnesium: one in the morning and one at night. I can actually tell when I take them at night because my dreams are especially vivid and intense when I do.
  • PS: because I actually feel (or think i feel, anyway) a difference in my mental function when I am taking PS. The PS I take also has gingko, gotu kola, rosemary and dimethylethanolamine (DMAE) in it. I take this in the evening, again to help with sleep. I cycle off the PS for a week or so in between bottles.

I have also noticed I fall asleep faster and harder when I take NAC as well in the evenings. However there are plenty of other contributing factors for sleep quality (that’s another post of its own!), so I stopped taking NAC a few months ago. Although after researching NAC benefits while writing this post (namely reading articles like this one), I may reintroduce it!

Of course, the real question is how much do supplements really make a difference, versus just causing a placebo effect? After all, if you’re spending money on all these supplements, and all the smart lifehackers out there say they work, then they have to… right? But there have been numerous studies both about whether supplements are effective at all, and extensive debates over whether they even contain the ingredients labeled on the bottle. Additionally, I lost a lot of faith after listening to the audiobook version of Suggestible You by Erik Vance September of last year.  (If you take maintenance prescriptions or even over the counter medication on a frequent basis, you might want to skip this one. You’ll be happier not knowing.)

On the other hand, if the medicine or supplement works through the power of suggestion … it still works! So maybe that isn’t such a bad thing!

Off to the local vitamin store I go. Oh wait. Never mind. Off to research more natural ways to enhance brain function. Stay tuned!


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Tiny Steps

You might’ve noticed, I’m a bit of a self-help junkie.
While I haven’t read any self-help books recently – so I can use the time spent “fixing” myself through exercises to write instead – I’m still getting emails from a few self-help guru-types, and well, they’re just emails so they don’t take that long to read. And they usually don’t include exercises. (I might’ve snuck in an audiobook or two, but shhhhhhhh don’t tell.)
Recently there was an email from Courtney at Be More with Less about toasting “tiny steps”. She discussed her own life experiences, the tiny steps she’s taken, and how long it took to transition from where she started to where she is today. I found the article particularly inspiring because so often it feels like we’re not doing enough. Like we’ll never get to wherever it is we want to be. Like you feel as though you’re getting nowhere, so why even bother? Particularly if your tiny steps are focused on transitioning to a lower energy lifestyle, consuming less, and eating more naturally. The overwhelming majority of your friends and neighbors aren’t bothering, and you find yourself wondering what’s the point.
Well, here is a list of tiny steps I’ve taken over the last year(ish). As I was trying to recall exactly how long it has been, I remembered … I have written about tiny steps before! It’s fascinating to see what I meant to do, compared to what I have actually done. This list may have to become an annual tradition!
Consuming stuff:
  • Using fewer single-use disposable items. We rarely use paper plates anymore; I reach for a sponge or cloth towel before a paper towel. Not always successful, but again, this is about tiny steps.
  • Not using plastic produce bags at the grocery store for fruits or veggies that have their own wrapping (sweet potatoes, lemons, limes, etc … although the cashiers hate finding that one extra lime in my order because they weren’t all bagged together)
  • Reusing single-use disposable items wherever feasible. For instance, when I do end up with plastic produce bags, I save them to store veggies I harvest from my garden. The plastic containers that hold deli meat get reused to pack lunches.
  • Compost what paper napkins and paper towels we do use, so at least they aren’t cluttering up landfills.
  • Started a ‘deep pantry’ so I can buy food staples when they are on sale, rather than when we run out.
  • Figuring out ways to use possessions we already have in new ways to solve problems, rather than immediately purchasing a solution.
  • Reading books through the library and free ebook services rather than purchasing books. Not always 100% successful … trying to buy used books when I simply can no longer resist.
  • Mending clothing, which says a lot because I hate mending.
  • Simplifying my wardrobe… I even tried Project 333, but it really didn’t work for me. (Sorry, Courtney!)
Still working on…
  • Phasing out paper napkins… even though they are teens, my kids are still really messy
  • Shopping less. I’ve tried, but the results are inconsistent at best.
  • Watching less TV.
  • Spending less time on my cell phone.
Eating:
  • Reducing food waste through ninja meal planning skillz.
  • Eating out less often, particularly at fast food restaurants.
  • Eating more produce from my own garden. I had wanted to join a CSA, but I can’t even properly use everything from my own garden before it rots. It didn’t seem responsible to buy even more produce I would struggle to use.
  • Incorporating more wild foods into our diet.
  • Eating more food in season and local to the area. I mean, there is nothing sadder than a grocery store tomato in Maryland in February!
  • Using more permaculture techniques (like intercropping and polyculture) in my garden to improve overall health and reduce the need for energy-intensive human interventions.
Still working on…
  • Preparing at least one vegetarian meal per week
  • Preserving or sharing garden produce rather than letting it go to waste
  • Finding innovative ways to feed my family whatever I can harvest yes, really, one more time. Ask my kids how sick they are of green beans!
  • Actually listening to my body and putting the fork down when I’m full even if it’s wasteful to stop, or so delicious I don’t want to.
Energy Consumption:
  • Sewed light-blocking curtains for the full-length windows flanking our front door. The summer sun streaming into the foyer made the whole house an oven, and the AC worked overtime. In the winter, cold radiated from them. The curtains let us control the temperature better on the main level of our house.
  • Installed a new attic fan and skylight. OK these were big steps, but we needed to redo our roof anyway so both attic fan and skylight got upgraded as well. The skylight has a remote control which allows you to open and close the curtain to allow or block the sun as needed, or open the skylight to allow hot air to escape. The attic fan has also kept the temperature upstairs more comfortable.
  • Trying to combine errands to use less gas… or better yet, just not go out!
Still working on…
  • Finding and completing more projects to insulate and weatherproof our home. For example, I bought foam to insulate hot water pipes after reading Green Wizardry last year, and they are still just piled all over our basement floor.
  • Line drying more clothing.
Friends and Family:
  • Making time to actually listen to the kids.
  • Spending time with friends and family, sharing a home-cooked meal rather than going out to a restaurant.
  • Sharing experiences instead of exchanging store-bought gifts.
Still working on…
  • Working to connect with other people locally who share my interests and values.
  • Learning to enjoy what the local environment has to offer rather than going on fancy vacations; there’s lots of local opportunities for hiking and camping, for instance.
I am sure to many people these tiny steps seem like self-deprivation and misery. (Although people who feel that way probably aren’t reading my blog in the first place.)
But putting one more plate in the dishwasher is no more work than throwing out the paper plate.
Cooking at home from scratch is more work, but allows my husband and I time together while we prep the meal; we enjoy the meal together as a family, and we’re all healthier as well.
Instead of shopping as a past-time with the kids, we’re actually having conversations and trying to cook together, while the money saved has helped us better cope with a few financial crises.
Hanging laundry up to dry is actually better for the clothes as well as the environment.
And even though I still abhor mending, it brings with it the quiet satisfaction of fixing a problem myself, and returning a loved garment to my wardrobe rather than scouring the malls or internet hoping I can find *and* afford its replacement.
Last but not least, I find joy in knowing that in even small ways I am cutting back on waste and reducing the degree of variation between my values and the life I’m actually living. And that’s worth more to me than any minor inconvenience which may be caused by these tiny steps.


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Resistance Is Utile

(No, that’s not a typo. Here, let me Google that for you.)

I recently finished listening to The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. His writing style is challenging for me to follow on audio, because each section is only loosely connected to its neighbors – like a sitcom where the episodes are only generally related the others, by the same characters and place setting. It was especially difficult for me to keep up since I was navigating my commute as well.

But I am glad I stuck with it, because he makes several excellent points throughout the book. The one which struck me most is that “resistance has meaning”. Which should have been a refresher for me rather than a revelation, because I did read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which was the foil for this particular idea.

To sum it up rather poorly: the most important work you have to do (“art” as Godin calls it) is what your lizard brain least wants you to do. Creating art makes you vulnerable. Opening up to connections with others through you art also opens you up to the possibility of rejection. Maybe as bad or worse: the possibility of realizing no one cares about your art.

So when you realize you are procrastinating on taking action, it’s helpful to inspect the underlying motives. Maybe it’s truly something you don’t want to do. (Me when I have to make phone calls. Always.) But maybe it’s the voice of the resistance, the lizard brain trying to protect you from the ultimate terror, a fate worse even than death: public humiliation. At least death (in this world) is final; shame hovers over you for the rest of your life, even if only in your own scarred, tattered memories.

If you listen intently, you’ll recognize the voice of the resistance trembles like a frightened child on the brink of tears.

Instead of resisting resistance, we should strive to recognize it and embrace it as a sign we are on the verge of creating art.

When I don’t have (make) the time to write… when my to-do list is SO LONG it even includes folding laundry… that is the voice of resistance. Rather than fight it, I should embrace it, maybe offer it a cup of tea, and go write, origami-folded laundry be damned. (I’m sorry, KonMari!)

When I stick to the safe topics – recipes, plant identification, garden updates – that is the voice of resistance.

When I have to read just a few more articles or blog posts or books, so I really know my stuff before I write – that is the voice of the resistance.

When I feel like there is no point because no one reads my blog anyway (except my three regulars – thank you!) – that is not only resistance, but evidence that I need to write more so I get better. Because as Godin explains, if your art isn’t connecting, you don’t give up – you make better art.

What art are you resisting?


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Terrible Names for Good Ideas

I’m listening to the audiobook version of How to be Alive by Colin Beavan. So far it has been enjoyable with lots of interesting perspectives and insights. And the book is read by the author, which I definitely prefer.

[Side note – the audio is free through hoopladigital.com in partnership with my local library, and it does NOT include all the “enhanced digital content” that would have been on the actual disks if I had purchased them in the store.]

Anyway, while I like a lot of Mr. Beavan’s ideas, I find his names for them, um, less than inspiring. Take for example, the “Ukulele Approach”. This is his term for small, easy actions that one can take to help bring your life more in line with your values. Even if you can’t solve big issues like world hunger or universal clean drinking water, anyone can smile more, help an elderly person carry their groceries, etc. He provides a list of 19 examples and they are all great suggestions. Just … the name for them … hmmmmm …

[Side note 2 – I finally know how to spell ukulele after writing this post.]

But the point is, Mr. Beavan’s list inspired me to compose my own. Some of the items are on his list as well, because I liked them so much. Without further ado, my own list of 19 easy small steps I can take to live a life better aligned to my values:

  1. Pick up litter while walking
  2. Eat a more plant-based diet
  3. Feed my family more locally sourced food
  4. Forage more to learn about my local ecology
  5. Drink less booze
  6. Eat less sugar
  7. Eat more fermented / cultured foods
  8. Buy more clothes used
  9. Shift what clothing I do buy to be more natural fibers rather than synthetic
  10. Improve the energy efficiency of my home through insulation foam, caulking and weather stripping
  11. Watch TV less
  12. Buy less stuff, especially things which are ‘labor saving’ gadgets or ‘convenience’ devices, or only serve one highly specialized purpose
  13. Spend my dollars at local and / or ethically and socially conscious businesses
  14. Give more complements
  15. Smile more
  16. Support my daughters’ unique personalities and individual traits and empower them to be strong women
  17. Buy seeds evolved for my climate so the garden needs less energy to support
  18. Participate in seed exchanges
  19. If given the choice, use and buy things that can be ‘returned to the soil’ at the end of their functional life

How will it go? Only time will tell, BUT I can definitely say, it has been a while since I last composed a list that made me feel excited, rather than anxious!


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A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.


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Meditations on Myths

Lately on my evening commute, I’ve been listening to a book called Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Though not immediately clear from the title, this book covers marketing communications and advertising, and the role advertising has played in shaping our society – how, in the vacuum of relevant cultural myths to help us cope with our ever-changing world, advertising has stepped in to fill that gap by creating new myths.

I’m not done with the book yet, but it has already inspired a lot of navel gazing on my part.

As he explains the history of advertising in the US over the past century, the author, Jonas Sachs, breaks the “traditional” advertising model down into its most basic two components: cause anxiety in the consumer – aimed at our shortcomings in status, sex, and safety – and then show how all our fears are assuaged by buying the right product.

Oh, I’m smarter than that, says I. No silly magazine or TV ad is going to scare me into spending my hard-earned money!

And yet… and yet… in quiet moments, in alone moments, I am starting to realize the anxiety which advertisers count on has become part of the fabric of my very being.

I’m not smart enough. Not witty or funny enough.

The anxiety is everywhere

See, isn’t this scary? No, that’s not a real link!

I like to think of myself as a well-adjusted, high functioning, productive adult. But on any given day, the anxiety hums on in the back of my mind, like a soundtrack to my life played so softly in the background you can barely make out the tune.  Everything is great!  …but if I could just earn more …accomplish more … BE more…. all thoughts trickling from my subconscious like a persistent drip, drip, drip of self doubt.

Not talented enough.  Not successful enough. Not popular enough.

Even links to blogs follow the anxiety model!

Not “in the know” enough.

The anxiety is everywhere!

And how do we deal with the constant undercurrent of anxiety that’s not inspired by a single, specific ad?

Retail therapy, of course!

Although sometimes retail therapy opens our eyes in ways no one could have predicted.  We sometimes see just how bad the situation has deteriorated.

A year ago, I stood in a department store changing room, sobbing as I beheld my bikini-clad self in a full length mirror. I wasn’t overweight. Well, I was carrying a few extra pounds but isn’t everyone? But that day, I had to admit that I hated how I looked in that bikini. That I hated my body for failing my self image.

As much as I decry how the mass media has damaged women’s ability to love themselves and their bodies – resist the false image of the perfect figure on the magazine covers, cries I – I was just as much a victim as anyone else.

Not thin enough. Not pretty enough.

But I didn’t turn to retail therapy, an erstwhile gym membership and diet pills for a quick fix. (And I certainly didn’t buy the bikini hoping I’d “get there” someday!)

I did what I do best: I researched!  I uncovered a set of lifestyle changes that made sense to me, particularly in the context of human evolution, which I thought would work for me.  While there were a few purchases along the way – a few books, a blank calendar for tracking, and my ever present FitBit – those were driven by my own interest, not marketing. (Well, ok, except for the FitBit!)

And even if I can (allow myself to) wear a bikini in public now (without tears), I won’t. Because it’s not me that cares how I feel about myself in a bikini, it’s the advertisers who hope I feel inadequate doing so. It’s my itsy bitsy teensy weensy act of defiance!