Habit Metrics

I was sitting in the audience at TechCrunch50 in 2008 when FitBit was announced and ordered one immediately. If I had money to invest in things I would have been banging on their door – I got the concept right away and knew it would change everything. I’ve had every single model they’ve released and swear by it – just knowing how active (or not) you are, give you context that might otherwise be lost. And I saw that, one days when I’d start feeling sluggish and worn out I noticed I wasn’t moving around much. If I felt awesome and ready to take on the world, surprise surprise – I’d been moving around a lot. After doing this for a little while I could tell if I walked a certain amount each day my overall attitude and general feeling was way better. I wasn’t using it for fitness as many people do (quite successfully) but just as an extra data point of something that I knew improved things for me. My only complaint with FitBit is their charger dongles which I always lose or forget when traveling which wrecks my stats anytime it happens – otherwise I love it.

And of course, other companies and other devices followed tracking all kinds of different things to give people that kind of feedback. Above X you feel good, below X you feel bad – so here’s an easy way to know where you are so you can step things up if you need to. Hell, we even have one for our dog to know if we’ve walked her enough.

Recently, spawned by a conversation on my mailing list, several people told me they track other things in their lives as well. Not just the  physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. How much time each day or week were they spending with their family, were they spending alone, were they reading, having sex, meditating, traveling, etc.. whatever was important to them, and keeping track of it. To great success I might add. This seemed incredibly obvious to me and I didn’t know why I didn’t consider it earlier. If I know I feel better if I walk 10,000 steps in a day, and I have a device/system to remind me to do that, why couldn’t I think of other things that make me feel better and use a system to remind me of those? I’m not talking about “remember to floss!” kind of things -because while those are great for you (and me) they don’t really impact day to day mental well being. (more…)

Status 40

I was sitting on the grey metal flat files in the back room of my art gallery talking to my friend Wil, my feet half slipping off the drawer handles. He’d just gotten printed copies of his book Dancing Barefoot  -I’d helped him with a little bit of the layout and so he’d swung by to give me a copy. It looked great. I held a copy in my hands and smiled. I remembered a year or so earlier a conversation we’d had where he said more than anything he wanted to be a writer, that he was going to be a writer. And now here we were, with an actually real book that he’d written in our hands. It was pretty awesome.

Wil was telling me about an idea he was working on for his next book, what would become Just a Geek though I don’t remember if it had a name at that point, but the way he described the collection of stories reminded me of an idea I’d been chewing on for a while. See, I’d also fancied myself a writer. I’d been writing zines and columns in magazines and things like that for years, so even though I’d never written a real book I felt like I knew what I was doing to some extent. At that time I was approaching my 30th birthday, and my idea tied into that a bit. Growing up, I never thought I’d see 30 years old. Hell, I never thought I’d see 25. I wasn’t very optimistic about my future as a kid. But here I was at the end of my 20′s and looking back on what, at that point, had been a pretty interesting ride so far. And when looking at it, I thought I could identify a handful of moments where something happened – something that in a flash could have gone any number of ways – and because they went the direction they did my entire life was impacted. And if in that one quick moment things had gone a different way, everything in my life could have played out differently. I thought, if I could write about 5 of those stories and put them together info a collection, it might make an interesting book. I wanted to call it “Status: 30″

I told Wil about this idea and he said he liked it and I should do it. Why not right? What did I have to lose?

I felt pretty good about that, I respected Wil and was pretty sure if it was a crap idea he would have been honest about it and told me, and so I decided to do it. I made some rough outlines and told myself when inspiration hits I’ll plow through this and write it all in one sitting. I was pretty sure that would happen relatively soon, I mean it was a good idea and all. Definitely would be done before my 30th birthday a year later.

I turned 39 a few days ago, and recalled that conversation and realized it happened 10 years ago. And I never wrote that book. I never wrote those stories. I’m not even sure I remember which stories they were anymore, or what the thread was that I’d worked out that tied them all together. I think one of them was about a time I was in a car accident. Maybe another was about a falling out I’d had with a business partner in college. It doesn’t matter, the point is I never did it.

And I have no reason for that, other than that I just didn’t do it. Inspiration never hit. Not for that anyway. I’ve of course written other things since then, and just shy of that 10 year mark I published my first real book last year – assuming you don’t count the collections of blogposts that I’d batched and published in a single volume many years previously. I don’t anyway. But that’s beside the point, the point is – if I’d done it, it would have been done. But I didn’t, so it wasn’t.

Like anyone else I can come up with a million excuses not to do things, but I think as I’m about to cross that line into 40 I want to finish more things. I want to ship shit. Honestly, I have no reason not to.

Uphill and overwhelmed

Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 12:30 pm

There was a day about a week ago that seriously kicked my ass. I made a todo list in the morning and it was epic. So much, I didn’t even know where to begin. And on top of that every item on it was epic and required something like 20 other steps to even attempt to think about crossing it off. I stared at this list. I thought about it. I paced around the house. I went back to bed and hid under the covers. Hours later I emerged and went a looked at the list again. It was scarier than it had been before, and now I had less time to do all these things. So I made the responsible decision and walked out of the house, down the street, around the corner and kept walking until I got to the coffee shop. I sat there and drank coffee. Thinking about the list. Thinking about how I didn’t know how to do anything on it. Thinking that if I could just check off one thing that would be progress and then I’d be in motion and could keep going but nothing on the list was easy or small or accomplishable. I ate junk food. I made irresponsible and ill advised purchases. These things, the tried and true self medication of overwhelming and crushing defeat did nothing to help me. I didn’t feel better. I felt just as depressed but now with a dash of guilt on top.

I wondered how I ever got in this situation. Which choices had I made in my life that instead of having a normal job with a boss that would just tell me what to do and then I could do it I was here, lost and frustrated. Instead of working on something that was annoyingly below my skill level, but easy and mindless, I was facing all of these things that were obviously way above my ability. Far beyond what I could actually pull off – that I’d somehow fooled everyone into thinking I was much more capable than I actually am. That any moment everyone would realize what a fraud I was.

I went back home, back to bed and climbed back under the covers. The world was too scary to face.

I didn’t finish shit that day. Hell, I didn’t even start anything. Then the family came home – I think they noticed something was off but I didn’t talk about it. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, and I wasn’t even doing a good job at that, because my “you suck” voice kept getting interrupted by my “fuck that ‘you suck’ voice” voice, which usually would be reassuring, but in that case was just confusing. I couldn’t even successfully beat myself up.

I gave up and went to bed early. The next day I woke up and remembered something that had happened, or actually not happened many ears ago. And something not happening might be cause for more grey clouds, this was actually a little bit of a kick in the butt, the kick I needed. I got up and did one thing. And it felt good. I don’t know if I did anything else that day, but I did finish something and that’s what I needed to remind myself that I could finish stuff. It felt good, and that list didn’t seem so scary anymore. There was a time when that entire cycle would have taken me months to get through and sitting here a week later realizing how quickly that whole process happened and resolved itself is in itself helpful. I have a LOT on my plate for the next few months, things I’m exciting about but also nervous about, things I want to do right, but things more importantly I want to do. And even if they are all happening at once and it feels like too much, I feel like I can pull it off. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

Behavior Modification

Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 3:15 pm

If you’ve been following me online for a while you probably know that I often use the end/beginning of the year to assess some habit or practice, and challenge myself to make an improvement. My Year Of Less was one of the more popular ones. These aren’t really New Year’s resolutions so to speak, the new year just makes it easy to remember when I started it. Or something, maybe I just say that to make myself feel better.

Over the last month a few people have asked me what my plans are for 2014, perhaps looking for some inspiration of their own. I’ve been thinking about it a lot actually, largely because I didn’t have as clear of an idea as I’ve had in the past. But I’ve had a few discussions this year about what it means to try and improve yourself. How can you make yourself a better person, why would you try, and what does that even mean? After all, who even defines what a good person is?

For me, at the end of the day, I want to feel good about the things I’ve said and done. I want to be proud of my actions, and sleep well at night knowing I did what I could. I want to be happy with how I’ve spent my time, at least as much of it as I have a say in. And if I can make little changes here and there to improve these things, then all the better. And sometimes just talking about them, getting them out in the open makes you more aware of them, and thus easier to tweak. So, this year I’m looking at a handful of minor behavior modifications.

• No white lies

I feel like this deserves a whole post of it’s own as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, for a long time. The people I truly respect, whose opinions I value above all others are the ones that I know will be honest with me even when that means telling me something I don’t want to hear. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends like this and I’ve often aspired to be as direct and authentic as they are. When I need the truth, these are the people I turn to. I wouldn’t consider myself a liar by any stretch, but I’m certainly guilty of excessive simplification to get though uncomfortable situations from time to time, and I’d be lying (see what I did there) if I said I’ve never told a friend what I knew they wanted to to hear so as not to upset them. I recently read “Lying” by Sam Harris which helped me refine some of what I’d been chewing on already — namely that these tiny little white lies “to avoid awkwardness” or “to keep things simple” don’t actually accomplish that, but instead make it easier to ignore the truth and broadcast to everyone around you that you likely can’t be trusted, and might be lying at anytime. I know for certain I don’t ever want a friend to “tell me what I want to hear” so why would I do that to them? And having a kid now makes me think about this even more, I don’t want to set the example that the truth only matters sometimes. It’s important, or it isn’t. And I’m going to take the stance that it is. This requires listening better (I’ll get to that in a second) and being more thoughtful with what I say in response, but again, I think those are worthwhile efforts to make.

The flip side of this for everyone else — don’t ask me something unless you really want to know what I’m thinking.

• Listen better

A few times this year I’ve caught myself in conversations with people, just waiting for them to finish talking so I can say what I want to. I felt as if their ongoing verbage is just standing in the way of my obviously brilliant thought. Maybe I’ve done this longer than I realized, but the times when I noticed myself doing it this year I felt like shit. What kind of an asshole talks to someone and spends the whole time just waiting for them to shut up? This kind of asshole aparently, and I don’t want to be that kind of asshole. If what someone has to say isn’t interesting to me, I shouldn’t be wasting my time or theirs talking to them, and if it is interesting I should grant them the courtesy and respect of listing to what they have to say. I’d certainly want that same philosophy applied to me. So that one is obvious, going forward I’m going to actively try and be a better listener and not think about what I might have to say myself until after whoever I’m talking to has finished their thought.

• Write some fiction, every day

I’ve struggled with writing fiction for a long time —  I’ve written about that before. But I realize that what I consider my “problem” is more likely just the normal steps people need to go through that I’ve somehow convinced myself I get to skip. And perhaps I don’t actually get to do that. I think it boils down to this: As much as I want to write fiction I don’t because I’m not confident that I can do it, which stems from my personal compultion to publish everything I write, so I end up not writing fiction because I don’t think what I’d write would be publishable at this point. So I keep magically hoping I’ll just wake up one day and be good at it. Which maybe isn’t be best course of action to depend on. So this year I’m purposefully giving myself permission to write fiction and not publish it. Hell, maybe I will publish some of it, but I’m allowing myself not to, which is a big move for me. And to further spur this along and eliminate another crutch, I’m going to write something everyday. That way I can’t argue with myself that something is too big to start or too involved to work on right now. These stories can be as short as they need to be, but everyday I need to write one of them.

• Blog

And while we’re on the topic of arguing with myself, I’m making a commitment that I wont let me talk myself out of blogging. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of blog posts since I began blogging regularly back in ‘98 or so. The vast majority of those were written and posted prior to 2010. I’ve been quiet the last few years, quieter than I had previously been anyway and quieter than I’d like. This has largely been due to me convincing myself that whatever I have to write about everyone else already knows about so I’d be wasting their time by writing more about it. Or worse and more likely, no one cares in the first place. And I make a convincing argument. But on a semi-regular basis I get a comment on a post I wrote 5+ years ago, or I get an email from someone about one of those old posts. And then I have to completely reconsider my “no one gives a shit” theory, but I can usally supress that. But I don’t want to, and I want to blog again more. So I’m going to stop assuming no one cares, and stop assuming everyone’s already heard it. That doesn’t mean I’ll be blogging every day, but it does mean I want to average more than one post a month.

So that’s what I’m looking at for 2014. If I can move myself a few steps in a direction I’m happy about for all of them, that’ll be a success. It’s about habits and behavior modification, but I feel like these things are worth the effort and I’ll be happier if I can push through them. What do you think? What habits could you create that would make you a better person?

What are we so afraid of?

Communication & relationships,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 6:00 pm

Why are we so sure we know, and why do we care what everyone else thinks of us?

Road Closed

 

I’ve been noticing this come up again and again recently. It’s entirely possible it’s been a common topic before I noticed it but since I started paying attention, I see it everywhere. Last January I wrote a blog post/confession coming clean to the notion that I assume everyone around me has it all figured out and by some stroke of chance no one has realized that I’m just making it all up as I go. Yet. And the subtle back of your mind stress that goes along with such a thing. I number of people reached out to me and thanked me saying they were so happy they weren’t the only ones who felt that way. These were all people I respected and looked up to in ways, and people I knew had it all figured out— something didn’t add up.

Some people told me to look up impostor syndrome which I’d never heard of before but haven’t gone a day without hearing about it since. Remember in 2007 or whenever when every single person you met claimed to have ADD and that was the excuse for some weird personality fluke of theirs? I feel like impostor syndrome is the ADD of 2013.It keeps coming up in conversations, conferences, podcasts and blog posts. Everyone is an impostor it seems, or are they?

There is a terrific episode of WTF with Marc Maron where he’s chatting with Dan Savage, and they discuss that— at least in the US— only in-the-closet gay guys and straight dudes are constantly worried what other people think about their sexuality. Constantly worried that some action, some comment or some ill perceived glance will make everyone around them think they are gay. (Or in the case of the closeted ones, something will give away their secret) He added that women don’t generally have this concern because society is largely cool with a little girl/girl action without any assumption that either girl must be a lesbian for this to happen. And similarly no gay guys are worried about being accused of being straight, regardless of wether they ever had a straight sexual/romantic relationship. A gay guy can admit to dating women in college and not have their sexuality questioned, yet some straight guys are worried if they sit too close to another dude everyone will assume they are gay.

Tara just wrote a heartfelt post here on Medium about being afraid of turning 40. About thinking her age somehow reflects her usefulness, and the assumption that people are constantly judging her because of it. She points out that she never considers other peoples age, but is sure everyone is thinking about hers and afraid that they will assume she’s too old and thus must be out of touch. Of course she’s amazing and talented and has a line of people fighting for her time and attention. That’s not something that will suddenly change when she has one more candle to blow out on her birthday cake — but that doesn’t play into her fears.

I think with all of these examples, what it boils down to insecurity, but why are we as a society so insecure? Why do we care what anyone else thinks? It’s as if we can’t be comfortable with ourselves without someone else’s approval? Do we really think that lowly of ourselves?

I like to think that heavy doses of punk rock growing up was something of a don’t-give-a-fuck vaccination and I now have a healthy immunity to a lot of this. And I also feel fortunate to be able to quickly suss out what I can control and what I can’t, and then not stress much about things that are outside of my hands— what someone else thinks of me is planted firmly in the latter category. But even then I occasionally find myself wondering what people actually think of me. And I’d be lying to suggest I wouldn’t prefer that those opinions are positive, but I’m also not willing to compromise myself in hope of that. Perhaps that’s a different conversation but it took me many years to be comfortable in my own skin, as a kid I certainly wasn’t. I wish I could point to a single thing that helped me turn that corner but I can’t really put my finger on it. I don’t know what advice to give people, I don’t know what advice I would want to hear. Or would listen to now or then.

I think the main the thing is— we have to be comfortable with who we are. If we like ourselves then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because we know we have value, we know we’re worthy. If we don’t like ourselves, we’ve been listening to the wrong people and need to tell those people to GTFO of our lives. Or change the channel. For me, I think I’m just going to try and be more vocal about telling my friends and people I care about that I like them, not what they can do, or what they can do for me. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can start with my circle of friends.

(cross posted to Medium too)

Rule 34 for Creatives

Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 11:24 am

Salton Sea Detour
[Originally published on Medium]

If you create it, there’s someone who will like it.

As citizens of the internet, we all know about The Rules, most referenced of course is Rule 34If you can think of it, there is porn of it.

Some things are just such universally understood facts that there’s no point in arguing about them. Rule 34 is one such fact. But it’s easy to read at face value and then move on thinking it’s just a joke, but in fact there’s a much more important lesson here especially for anyone creative. I say creative but I should note that I think there are very few people who aren’t creative — maybe no one. Not everyone is a writer or an artist or a composer or a crafter or a hardware designer or whatever else you can think of, but as a people we enjoy making things and at some point you have to admit that requires creativity. Anyway, that’s another rant all together — back to the rule 34 discussion.

If you can think of it: Well that’s pretty much anything, because duh.

There is porn of it: This is the moneyshot of this statement, so to speak. Keeping things a bit abstract here, porn doesn’t just exist. Someone has to create it. But more than that, someone has to not only care enough to make it but also believe that someone out there in the world would also enjoy it. If you haven’t spent much time on 4chan you might not really be grasping the scope of what we’re talking about here, but seriously, anything you can think of, it’s out there, and someone enjoys it.

The way this relates to you, as a creative — that thing you’ve been thinking of… that thing you want to write, that thing you want to paint, that thing you want to sing, that thing you want to design, that thing you want to build — whatever it is, someone will dig it. Traditionally, producing things is scary. Will it be good enough? Will anyone like it? Will everyone laugh at you? Rule 34 applies to you.

If you follow through and actually do this (I don’t want to keep contextualizing this, but you know what I mean, whatever it is you are hesitating to do. For me it’s writing, for you it might be publishing some photos or starting a sketchbook) someone out there will like it. And that’s really all you need. One person to appreciate the work you put into. The catch here is that you may never know this person exists — but they do, and Rule 34 proves that. If whatever kind of crazy twisted freaky porn you can think of has at least enough enthusiastic fans out there to justify someone willing it into existence, then certainly anything you want to make but are second guessing can find an audience.

And better than that, if you keep doing it, those fans will tell their friends, and your fans will double in number. And before you know it you’ll have double digits of fans. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

I know I personally talk myself out of so much that I want to write because the stupid bullshit voice in my head tells me no one will care. No one will be interested. No one will like it. Rule 34 proves that voice wrong. I just need to know one person was glad I finished that thing and hit publish. Now I don’t have an excuse. How about you? What are you waiting for? That person is out there, don’t disappoint them.

Girls

Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 12:59 am

This is a post about television. I spent a huge number of years of my life watching little to no television so if you hate television I completely respect that. And I’d agree that most of it is bullshit. On occasion though a series, when you let it, can really steal you away. It goes from being just TV to being cinematic. Of course the best way to view something like this is all at once, a full season at a time. Anyone who ever watched The Wire or Deadwood in a single sitting can testify to that. These shows have the ability to steal you away. To forcefully pull you into their universe. It’s not terribly different that what you want from a good film, and that’s what good TV is all about.

And you can’t have good shows without good characters. The ones you can relate to, or the ones you wish you could. The fantasy of living in the shoes of a good character can be addictive.

One of my earliest TV memories ever took place when I was 3 or 4 years old, I would watch Welcome Back Kotter and felt a strong connection to the Sweathogs. Even at that early age I was drawn to the outsiders. I used to have a pair of jeans that, while I don’t remember a thing about them, must have somehow been similar to the clothes the guys on the show wore because I had to wear them anytime I was watching it. I was too young to understand that there was really no chance of the actors on my TV screen looking back out into the world of eyes glued on them, spotting me, and being so impressed by my jeans that they’d pull me into the program and I could hang out with them. Part of it was that I didn’t fully understand the technology behind these moving pictures being beamed into my house, but part of it was that I felt comfortable in the universe the writers had created and could see myself being friends with the characters. In a way I’ve judged much of the entertainment I’ve been exposed to sense through a similar lens – could I see myself as a part of this.

Movies, music, everything – the things that I have the strongest connections and attachements too are the ones that I can relate to.

That’s one of the reasons I love Girls so hard. I read a comment about it early on in the first seasons, written by someone I’ve forgotten but have immense respect for because they completely nailed it. They noted that the thing about Girls that will freak people out the most is that the main characters aren’t the pretty people. They aren’t the perfect ones or the ones that have it all figured out. Quite the oposite, they are flawed and ugly and fat and scared and lost. But most importantly – they are comfortable with that. They like themselves. Any other show that had characters like any of the people on Girls would put them in the jester roll, jokes would be made at their expense and there would be some storyline floating around about how these people wanted to “change” and be like everyone else. Lena Dunham has done the world an amazing service with this series by creating these characters who don’t give a fuck about any of that. I feel like these characters are in my circle of friends.

I wish I had role models like this when I was growing up. It would have been so awesome to know that it’s OK to not have all the answers, and it’s OK to make mistakes while trying to figure them out.

Punk rock gave me a great set of tools for not giving a shit what other people thought about me, but it took a long time for me to be OK with the person I actually was. Figuring that shit out and accepting it is no small task. It would have been awesome to know other people had made it through to the other side and survived. (more…)

Fighting your way to the middle

Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 2:30 pm

My friend Scott Fisher asked to give a last minute talk to his class at USC the other day. The topic request was vague – Safecast, Hackerspaces, whatever else comes up. I really like discussions that are more open ended like this and was excited to see which things I had to say sparked the students attention. The first hour was a lot of straight forward presentation with the second hour (d)evolving into more question and answer about life and philosophy rather than any particular topic.

Things took a twist when one student suggested that all my projects seem to be very successful, and I had to correct him and note that I don’t get asked to come talk about the failures. At which point we started talking about all the trials and errors you go through before those “successes.” I pointed out – hopefully clearly enough that everyone got what I was getting at – that the failures aren’t actually a bad thing, aren’t actually failures. They are lessons. They are steps. You have to take those steps if you want to go anywhere, if you want to pull anything off. Refusing to take those chances ensures you won’t have any successes. It demands risk. That’s either a chance you want to take or not. Some people can’t stomach the risk, some people can’t live without it.

One student asked me what the biggest mistake I ever made was. How the hell do you answer a question like that? I answered that I didn’t know what the biggest mistake was, but talked about a decision that I’d made a few years back – I walked away from a company shortly before it sold for many, many, many millions of dollars. Some of which would have ended up in my pocket. Had I chosen the other option – my life would be very, very different right now. But maybe not for the better – just different. Scott noted, excellently I might add, that had I chosen that other route many of the cool things I was there to talk about may never have happened. Or at least, I might not have been involved with them.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since then, and I think I might have given the students the wrong idea. I don’t think that decision was a mistake. I may have suggested that I did, or may have given that impression. I’m very happy with the direction I’ve chosen for my life. I don’t regret that choice at all. I probably should have made that more clear – my point was more that sometimes small decisions can have huge impacts and that specific situation just happened to be on my mind that day.

I think what I would have liked to express a bit clearer to those students before they graduate and head out to the world is that a lot of people spend endless effort fighting to get to the middle. The spend their whole lives trying to do the same thing everyone else does. To me, there’s nothing appealing about that at all. In fact, the more people doing something the less attractive it is to me. Or rather, it’s less interesting. And the rewards for doing it are less satisfying.

Horray! You did the same thing as everyone else! Way to go!

Yuk.

I’d so much rather spend my time and efforts on something new. On something different. Maybe that is the road paved with endless failures lessons, but it’s also the road that can lead to massive success. And it certainly leads to massive satisfaction. If you spend all your time doing the same thing as everyone else, the absolute best thing you can hope for is mediocrity. If you spend your time on things you think are awesome, the worst thing that can happen is you look back to see you spent your short time here on this planet doing things you think are awesome. Not a single person fighting for the middle can say that. This route isn’t paved with fame or fortune, but I can’t fathom choosing any other way.

I want those kids to know that.

It’s not about failures vs successes, it’s about choosing to do the things you love.

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