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Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment. Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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Discussion Forum > What you can do without trying?

There are a lot of people out there who try to figure out how to help people do what they want to do. They have all kindsa methods and fancy talk about it. We have some professionals in those fields on this board. Like most here, I have probably spent too much time reading about theories of behavioral change, motivation, systems of productivity, etc. than I would care to admit.

We're nerds.

I've tried a lot of different "techniques" to get things done. Many have been helpful. That's why they stay around. They help sometimes and a for a little while.

Some time ago, I stopped. I decided to stop trying to change myself, my environment, my relationships, etc. in any non-trivial way. I was not longer going to try to get better or become better.

Interestingly, a lot changed. A short while after I stopped trying. Some unexpected things changed. And others things which I literally struggled with for decades either no longer mattered or I found them simply taken care of.

At first it was just giving up, then a few things tumbled in and helped develop a practice of not-trying. One of these was AF.
April 18, 2010 at 7:15 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
I love to smoke. I love tobacco. I grew up in tobacco country. Seeing those mature plants glow in the sun before harvest time, made clear why man so long ago decided to ingest them. Absolutely beautiful.

Our lives depended so much on this plant, we had a week long festival to celebrate it and view the many varieties which had come into to season. A pagan celebration of the gifts of the earth in the middle of a world marked by the starkest of Protestantism.

At age eight I had began to chew tobacco (potent stuff). In school we would snort snuff. I earned my first real money stripping and hanging tobacco. You would feel the intoxication of the plant simply through the pores your skin. When I started smoking, I smoked 2-3 packs a day.

Hard to argue that playing with fire and exhaling smoke like a dragon is not cool, no matter what the anti-smoking lobbies say.

I never wanted to stop smoking (I stopped chewing, because it simply was not socially acceptable in the circle I found myself in as an adult). Even now, it is one the single greatest joys I believe given to man.

After living in Europe for some time, where smokers were not treated as lepers. I moved back to the States to find my countrymen turning their backs on the magnificent plant which had fueled a large part of its economy and image for centuries.
April 18, 2010 at 7:28 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
I kept smoking. More and more laws were passed to rid man of this wonderful plant. Just as much as I was a two-fisted drinker, I was a two-handed smoker. I would wake during the night to have a cigarette or two so that I could finish sleeping.

I watched my fellow conspirators attempt to quit smoking, always returning to the fold. Smoking is wonderful and yes smokers are cooler than the rest of everyone else.

The laws against smokers were becoming draconian. And one night I found myself outside a bar that was complying with the smoking ban (most of my haunts simply ignored the laws) and it was about 25F and I looked around felt like an infant suckling on a pacifier.

I didn't want to quit. I loved smoking. But I asked God and the world to take it away, if that would be more helpful. I lit another cigarette and let that prayer go and kept smoking.

That summer I was outside at work. It was about 92F and I was enjoying my 27th cigarette of the day, when mid-puff I felt like putting the cigarette out. I went inside and typed an email letting everyone know that my wonderful personality would be less so probably for a while because I was stopping smoking. Or if I were honest, smoking was stopping. I really wasn't going to do much of anything.

Everyone wanted to give me advice on how to do it. Especially those who had tried so many times without success. You know the ones who are constantly feeling bad about each cigarette they take (miserable souls). My workplace even offered counseling and a support group. Both were laughable and largely unsuccessful, if you looked at the stats.

I didn't try to stop. And I haven't stopped not-trying to stop for over three years. And somehow, while I love smoking, I just don't

Wish I could say I feel healthier or something and that "motivates" me, but I don't. Seems the world just doesn't see fit for me to be doing so right now.

I didn't try. In fact, I did most everything wrong according to the experts.

This experience showed me, that perhaps I was approaching everything wrong I had *wanted* to change. This "difficult" change which I hadn't really tried to change was so effortless, maybe I could apply or rather not-apply the same non-approach.

AF bumped into my life shortly after.
April 18, 2010 at 7:47 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Ever see those gritty crime dramas, where detectives show up at the scene of a murder committed where junkies go to perform their opiate driven communion?

I always thought the art directors did a terrible job in those shows, because those sets looked quite lovely compared to how I lived. I thought I should take some shots of my place and send in them to the art direction department and get a job living on set for a few days to bring some reality to the situation.

When you are jotting down interior organization and decorating notes from _Trainspotting_, rather than the new Ikea or Pottery Barn catalog, your life might have taken a strange detour somewhere along the line.

Lest you think this hyperbole. I live in the most dangerous neighborhood in America. This means prostitutes, crack addicts, dope boys, junkies, all circumambulate my abode. Why I live here is another story. But occasionally, one of these folks find their way into my home. Maybe for a bite or something to drink. Nothing too exciting.

On more than one occasion, a junkie has commented poorly on how I live and how I could possibly live how I do. Again when getting advice on the orderliness and cleanliness your home from someone who shows signs of having been bitten by fleas and bed bugs, you might want to put things in reverse and see which exit ramp you missed.
April 18, 2010 at 9:15 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
I've always been a "slob" of the highest degree. From my school locker to my car to my many apartments, I quickly and without much effort turned each place into a sty. People are shocked by how I live due to how impeccable my personal hygiene, manners, and clothing are.

Most of my life, I've been embarrassed about this and tried forever to change it. There are always three or four sympathetic women in my life who offer to clean up everything, so I can just keep up the work afterward.

I've tried that and it didn't work. Egg timers, rewards systems, punishment systems, psycho-therapy, books, also on the heap of useless methods.

As long as I can remember everyday was going to be *that* day I change how I live. Well, that is pretty exhausting and never worked. No matter how motivated I was. An occasional dent here and there, then back to utter squalor.

I just didn't have people over as much. It didn't impact dating, my job, or much of anything. My stellar personality, rapier wit, and Hollywood good looks made up for this absurd manner of living. I did feel shame, lazy, morally bad, and embarrassed.

Then I finally gave up. I wasn't changing, because I didn't want to. So I stopped trying.

It seemed like that shame and what-not went away. I accepted things how they were.
April 18, 2010 at 9:31 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Norman - have you thought about writing a book?

I'm with you regarding the smoking - both my husband and I have given up (different times fortunately else we probably wouldn't still be married) and we just stopped. Hard but effective. Oh and neither of us feel any better in ourselves for not smoking! I'm hoping that there are positive changes on the inside. And of course we are a lot better off as they are heavily taxed in the UK so very expensive now.
April 18, 2010 at 10:23 | Unregistered CommenterAlison R
Very nicely written, Norman.

Re: Smoking. I am one of those who takes money to help people quit. From that perspective, I'm here to tell you that you did it RIGHT!

Re: Slob. Your line about getting decorating advice from the flea bitten is by far the funniest thing I've read in a long while ;-)

Re: Neighborhood. Where the HELL do you live?
April 18, 2010 at 11:44 | Unregistered CommenterMike
"Re: Neighborhood. Where the HELL do you live?"

Look out, Norman! We got another stalker.
April 18, 2010 at 12:55 | Unregistered Commentermoises
Well, harumph, if that's the way 'yall are gonna be, I'm outta here!

<stomp, stomp, stomp, slam!>
April 18, 2010 at 13:18 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Mike: oh dear, that's the sound of a another great personality leaving our midst...

Norman: I gave up smoking 2 months ago by a measure of planning. Choosing a quit date 2 months beforehand, wrapping my mind around the idea, thrashing about, stressing and generally just allowing myself to feel whatever, and trying to acknowledge them in any way I could. On quit day, I smoked my last stick, and listened to the hypnotherapy audio I had purchased online on my MP3 player, just as I had planned to do.

After seeing my world spin around me literally in the 1st few days, and other such physical symptoms, things started getting exponentially better. I could kiss my kids without having to wash my mouth first, I could taste almost every single ingredient in the foods I ate, I felt energised, buzzed, and a lot more confident.

I now have a goal to reduce weight, but its been worth it. Thanks for sharing your story, I really enjoyed reading it.
April 18, 2010 at 15:21 | Unregistered CommenterJD
For some reason this reminded me of an interview done on some inhabitants of houses near Heathrow, one of the worlds busiest airports. Because all air traffic had been grounded in the UK due to volcanic ash hazards, houses near airports had the benefit of enjoying some rare silence. A couple of women stated that they finally were able to catch a full nights rest, something which they hadn't had in years. I thought to myself, why on earth would you continue to live near an airport for all that time if you can't get a proper night's sleep. It goes to show how much we'll tolerate without doing anything about it and never realize what life could be like without a particular state of affairs, or the idea that it is achievable to go beyond.
April 18, 2010 at 15:37 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Knight
Hey I ain't done yet!

That is just some quickly written extemporaneous stuff to get a point I tried getting in another thread.

I foolishly tried explaining my point with all the idiosyncratic three dollar words I use. This time, I am going to try to make it by putting it into narrative form. Seems people understand each other when exchanging stories a bit better than when try to spin out "abstract" theories.

Hope it ends up helpful.
April 18, 2010 at 16:49 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Finally something worth reading.
April 19, 2010 at 4:45 | Unregistered CommenterMel
Peter:

<< I thought to myself, why on earth would you continue to live near an airport for all that time if you can't get a proper night's sleep. >>

Possibly because the prices of houses directly under the flight path of Heathrow are so blighted that they can't afford to buy one anywhere else - if indeed they can sell their house at all.
April 19, 2010 at 11:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<Possibly because the prices of houses directly under the flight path of Heathrow are so blighted that they can't afford to buy one anywhere else - if indeed they can sell their house at all.>>

Yes, that's probably the sticking force (a powerful one) that keeps the status quo for many of those near Heathrow. Relating it back to Normans insights, I think most of us are really tolerant to some form of state of affairs when it doesn't work in our advantage. In physics, strong force explains why subatomic particles are so strongly connected. It only works when the particles are close together, the force, while many times stronger than gravity, has no effect when particles are too far apart (again, unlike gravity). I think what happens is people try to fight the strong force of the status quo, or our habits, or whatever condition we are in. Whatever we try doesn't have enough force to affect the status quo.

But as Norman has pointed out in other comments in the past. There's the difference between trying and doing. A couple of years ago I was living quite happily in an apartment until two neighbours moved in above me. The neighbours were so noisy, it surpassed what I was willing to endure. After one particular bad day it was all I was going to accept. Even while I didn't have the money to move, an idea of where I could go, nor was it practical on any kind of level to move plus I would be leaving an otherwise ideal scenario, I decided I was going to move to a new place. There was no question about it. Sure enough I figured something out in the end, but only after the decision had been made. That's not to say moving house isn't a pain and comes with its own costs.

I wish I could say I was decisive and quick to transform about all areas in life that are not precisely the way I want them. A threshold needs to be surpassed and then acted upon, to enable enough driving force to follow through on changing the status quo. People just don't seem to be really good at engineering that at will and will wait till circumstances change instead.
April 19, 2010 at 14:43 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Knight
I think it's the Boiled Frog Syndrome that stops some folk from changing from a deteriorating set of circumstances. History is full of examples, eg the Jews in Germany in the 1930s, the white farmers in some parts of Africa.
April 19, 2010 at 15:41 | Unregistered CommenterRogerJ
Norman, a surprising strain of self-pity in some of your recent posts. Hope everything's okay with y'all.
April 19, 2010 at 17:39 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Self-pity? Weird. Hardly how I would describe anything I have written or myself. You have to wait for the story to finish.

Honesty. That's all.
April 19, 2010 at 19:03 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Check. Cool.
April 19, 2010 at 19:47 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Just read an article on this:
http://todoinstitute.org/library/procrastination_and_getting_things_done/seven_strategies_for_taking_action_when_you_dont_feel_like_it.php

Here's the 7th of the 7 strategies in the article:

"I don't generally advise people to quit, but there's a trap in "trying." You mistake preparation for action. Meanwhile, while you're doing other things, life will continue its process of change. After mud season, the ground hardens and the mud disappears. Sometimes its easier to dig yourself out in the summer."
April 20, 2010 at 0:22 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
Norman: Waiting for the story to finish. IMO it's all about motivation. Although ceasing striving can be life changing. I had daily excruciating abdominal pain for several months. I kept trying anything I knew of to make it stop, including of course seeing doctors. When I finally accepted that I would have to find a way to live with it, it disappeared.

Jacqueline: Very similar to my doctoral research on stages of change. When you factor in studies that show people who engage in preparation are often relieved to the point of not taking action, it makes sense. IOW, if I check out gyms, I feel like I've worked on my weight problem and don't actually work out. It's one reason why I resist recording things on a list as that feels like "working on it" to me. Better to keep seeing that the car needs cleaning out so I will just DO it.
April 20, 2010 at 2:40 | Unregistered CommenterMel
Mel,

I dunno about motivation. It often just seems like an empty word to me. My point about smoking was that I really didn't care much one way or the other. Can't afford to quibble though, I need to keep some posts open on this thread for when the opportunity allows for me to sit down here for longer than five minutes, so I can finish the "story".

But like I always say, you are the smartest here next to me, so there is a chance you might be partially correct.

Seriously though, I've enjoyed your posts and I think how you approach things or allow things to approach you, or are approached by things is kinda the non-goal, I hope AF will allow me to further settle into.

You point about prep = action rings painfully true in my experience. My de facto motto once was, "If you can think about it, why do it."

The anxiety and energy just thinking about something seemed like progress and was exhausting, so why "do" anything. This nonsense continued until I started being around humans who didn't wring their hands making choices and fear making a catastrophic error in the most mundane of activities. I am glad they spoke plainly and directly to me about my neurotic BS and inflated sense of importance.

They gave me a couple new mottos:

"You can't doing anything right."
"Shut the @#$! up and go do something."

Incredibly helpful at the time. The first was great for my "perfectionism" and second for my profound "intellect".

Chronic pain and acceptance is a whole 'nother thread.

Jacqueline,

I've noticed you have been referencing Reynolds and company more lately. I hope you are finding the materials helpful. I think CL is a great to make some strides into a more formal Moritan and Naikan practice. Naikan especially has been an enormous boon to me in the last years.

No hyperbole, I cannot be more grateful to the man who introduced me to the practice . If you have the opportunity to take a formal Naikan "retreat" or practice, I would jump at it.
April 20, 2010 at 5:15 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Where were we? Oh yeah, I had given up. I tried so hard to live in a way I thought I "ought" to and never seemed able to do. I was tired of feeling the shame and fear of judgement all the time, so I just gave up and accepted things how they were.

And it did seem that I "felt" better about my situation.

Work started to get away from me. I had to deal with more and more responsibilities and I was sinking. Time to google around for the new latest productivity software, life hacks, motivational tricks, etc.

I came across this site. I read over the instructions for AF1. The role of "intuition" or more importantly letting tasks "stand out" really did appeal to me. It seemed like a way to give up trying in a systematic way.

I recalled my moment of letting go of whether or not to smoke and how my "habit" just seemed to drop on its own and thought I could apply the same principle in AF.

And I did.

Anything I thought I "needed" to do was simply an entry on a list. As much as I could, I would remain faithful to suspending for a moment what I thought was necessary and give a moment to each task and let it ask for my help.

By this time, it had become clear to me that I wasn't too damn important and everything would pretty much get along just fine without me, but while here, I might try to be helpful.

So I listed everything:

What I thought was necessary.
What others thought was necessary.
What I thought wasn't necessary.
What others though wasn't necessary.
etc.

I was ruthless in my list making (ignoring one rule of Mark's).

I always hated lists. They caused me anxiety. No progress seemed to be made. The list just never ended. At the end of the day, there were just more things to do.

But this list was different. Nothing on it was necessary. It was simply a list of possible ways I might help in the world. I wasn't on the hook for any of it.

Somewhere in those dozens of pages was:

"Clean apartment"
April 20, 2010 at 5:34 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
I went through those pages, item by item. I refused (as well as I could) to think that I had to do anything. And many things changed in surprising and curious ways (but we'll stay with one).

"Clean Apartment"

Skip.

"Clean Apartment"

Skip.

I met a woman who cultivated bamboo. We had dinner and shared a wonderful evening together. I wanted to show her my appreciation for her time and company. It occurred to me that somewhere in the mishigas that was my apartment lie a few sheets of paper I purchased years earlier. They were made from bamboo and were beautifully embossed in the lower right hand corner with an image of plant I had recently learned so much about.

"Find Bamboo Stationary"

It light up in neon when I paused to read it.

Thus the hunt began. Hard to believe that although paper, books, clothes, shoes, sports equipment, pots, pans, bills, checks, CDs, DVDs . . . covered every square inch of my floors, I knew in a general sense where just about everything was and had always been careful when moving about not to damage or break anything.

The couple sheets of bamboo stationary? That I did not remember where on the floor I let it fall.

When living in an utterly disorganized sty, nearly any movement of the contents of the room could pass as "cleaning up." I searched for hours. Pushing stacks of unopened mail here, stacking DVDs there, tossing all my clothes into a single pile in the corner. A careless archeology of years of neglect and accumulation.

I spent the entire night looking. Piling. Stacking. Tossing objects of nearly every sort into 55 gallon, 5 mil, heavy-duty, black, contractor trash bags.

As the sun began to shine through the fanlight (I had long ago gave up opening my blinds, lest others see how I lived), I found the sheets.

My living room had changed. No one would call it clean. No one would call it organized. It looked like a hired crew of labors spent a considerable amount of time collecting worthless junk to haul away to sell or barter at flea markets faraway from the city.

"Find Bamboo Stationary"

Crossed out.

I looked around my room and shrugged my shoulders.

"Clean Apartment"

Crossed out and re-entered.

Not only was the stationary embossed but was outlined in green along the edges of the paper. I remembered I had purchased with the stationary a pen with ink that matched the green of the paper exactly.

"Find Green Pen"
April 20, 2010 at 6:14 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
"Find Green Pen"

Lept off the page.

I looked at the half dozen or so 55-gallon trash bags. I kinda remembered placing pens in one or two of them. So I began to empty and sort through the bags.

As I went through, I sorted things a bit. Pens here. Obvious junk mail there. Three pairs of scissors? Started a pile of stuff to drop off at the local homeless shelter with those two pairs of scissors. An external hard drive. An older laptop computer which I had not seen in a year. Various computer components left over from another time in my life.

I found the pen and tossed the obvious junk mail into the empty 55-gallon trash bag designated shockingly for trash.

"Find Green Pen"

Crossed out.

"Write Bamboo Letter"

"Clean Apartment"

Crossed out and re-entered

"Drop-off items at homeless shelter"

Sleep came and later that afternoon I woke up and placed a tick mark on:

"Write Bamboo Letter"

My dining table stood covered in clothing, more unopened mail, and who knew what else. The same pattern as before repeated. I didn't care much for cleaning the table as such, I just needed a surface to write on. Seeing my floor for the first time in a year or so in no way seemed extraordinary nor motivating to do anything else.

I found the stationary, I found the pen, I found a writing surface.

Over the next week or so, new things began to slowly find their way where the items piled and stacked in the corners and sitting in trash bags once occupied.

"Drop-off items at homeless shelter"

Ticked.

I spend a lot of time in half-way houses, three-quarter houses, homeless shelters. I live in the most dangerous neighborhood in America. My street though is one of the charming and "safe" ones. I live here because I love the area, its history, its possibility, and because I am not married, have no children, and grew up in neighborhoods or rural areas plagued by similar problems as this one. Living here, I like to believe I am of a bit of help. And I do enjoy living here.

Dropping off the items at the homeless shelter, a guy from the neighborhood was transitioning into a three-quarter house and due to a miscommunication would be without a place to stay for five days or so. I agreed to let him stay on my couch. If I could find it.

So I poured myself back into moving stacks and piles. Removing the heap of stuff on the couch. Getting stuff outta the way using novel techniques like hanging clothes up. Putting them in drawers. Creating some space for my temporary room mate to stash his few belongings. Securing my valuables. Laundering some bedding. Again, not intending to clean up per se. Just make progress on:

"Offer Shelter to D."

When D. showed up, he didn't criticize my place. He sat down and we discussed the rules of his staying with me.
April 20, 2010 at 6:53 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
D. suffers from schizoaffective disorder. When he takes his meds and isn't drinking liquor all day long or smoking meth, he is about the sweetest man you would meet.

Grateful for my offer he pleaded to do my dishes (pots molded and mildewed, I simply stored in my refrigerator which served as a way to keep things out of sight and nose). He did. He also scrubbed nearly every surface with the obsessive energy only a newly sober meth-head can do. Then the bathroom.

D. was very pleased and asked about the piles, stacks, and bags. I told him the bamboo story and he wanted to tear through those piles, stacks, and bags. Somehow helping purge all this refuse seemed to him like a visible sign of his own change, so I agreed. I had given up. I didn't care about his possible judgements. If this was helpful for him, so be it. I just sat as he went through every item. Holding it up.

Thumbs up. Keep.
Thumbs down. Trash.

"Offer Shelter to D."

Crossed out and re-entered again, along with "Clean Apartment".

D. went through all my mail. Tossing out duplicate bills, sales offers, etc. I just sat and watched.

By the time we were finished, we had taken out four of those 55-gallon bags of trash out to the curb.

It was time for D. to leave and enter the three-quarter house. I gave him some of my "trash". Older mp3 player. A small LCD TV. A portable DVD player.

He was gone and I could finally relax.

"Offer Shelter to D."

Crossed out.

"Clean Apartment"

Crossed out and re-entered.

My kitchen and bathroom gleamed down to the grout. My living room and bedroom looked as though someone had just moved in, some method to the madness of the mess in each room.

From the letter until D. left, I never felt stressed, compelled, guilted to clean up or conflicted about doing so.

AF taught me something. It showed me a value I had and a value which I didn't.

What I don't value: Spending hardly any energy on cleaning my living space for myself. I just don't give a @$#!.

What I do value: Others and being able to offer hospitality. I had always been such a "slob" I never had many people over and just considered myself a very "private" person. I would have laughed in your face if you suggested I would ever enjoy something like offering "hospitality" to someone. This was total BS. I enjoyed having D. over. I liked the fact he enjoyed the city skyline view from my porch. That he showed so much gratitude just to stay where I did. To enjoy my space and company within it.

I thought I had given up on "Clean up apartment", but I hadn't. I had kept re-entering it.

I dismissed that item forever. Never again would I clean my apartment. Its just not how the world and I work together.
April 20, 2010 at 7:30 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
J., I have known her for nearly two decades. No matter where in the world I found myself, we always kept in touch. She's truly the closest person on the planet to me and knows me better than anyone ever has.

"Invite J. Over"

I asked J. to stop by. Surprised and hesitant, she asked why and if something terrible had happened. I told her just to stop by that next Saturday afternoon and she could just pick me up and we could go to dinner. My treat.

"Make dinner for J."

Over the next week I assembled the lighting I never put together I had purchased years ago. The shelving units. I pushed and pulled furniture around. I sorted and ordered items on my shelves in a manner I thought looked OK. Each time I would cross out "Make dinner for J."

Every night I effortlessly worked on making dinner for her. Sometimes making dinner requires getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing years of accumulated grime off a floor and maybe setting dry wall anchors to hang a shelf.

I met J. at her car. And told her to come inside for a minute, because I had something to show her. She balked and made a face of disgust. The last time she had walked into a living space of mine she was less than charmed by the pet I had at the time. A swarm of fruit flies.

She reluctantly followed me and said she was not going hang around inside for very long (she knows me better than anyone else).

When she saw the place, her mouth literally dropped. She punched me in the chest and in reproach asked, "How *much* money did you spend on this?!" Implied that I should be able to live like an adult without the aid of others.

Nothing.

She didn't believe me. Convinced that I had a cleaning team work on my apartment and an interior designer(!) employed to decorate, she and I ate dinner.

That was nearly a year ago. J. believes me now. I allow people to just stop by when they want. An old cardinal rule of mine used to be: never stop by unannounced, never. Each person who had known how I used to live were equally shocked when they were invited over the first time.

No one who didn't know me then can believe me when I tell how things used to be. My most recent guest's first impression:

Oh my God, what a great apartment. It's so small, but so cute and so organized. I wish I could make such good use of space. It looks like one of those apartments from apartmenttherapy.com!

I smirk.

She runs her finger along the top of a shelving unit. She asks:

Have you ever heard of dust before?

She asks how often I clean. I tell her never. She gives me her look when she knows if she asks for further detail she will hear an answer more unsatisfying than silence.

I don't clean. I had been working on this:

"Celebrate Oboe Recital"

The Oboist has visited me many times. Tonight as we sat together she told me she loves being here. It is cozy. Warm. And comfortable. She feels at home.

When she says that, so do I.
April 20, 2010 at 8:14 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
So what's the upshot? A while back Alan (I believe) wondered if something like AF could develop values or something to that effect.

For me AF has helped uncovered them, and by doing so has allowed me to get along with my world more and more in a manner I can only call effortlessly.

It took time and still is taking time.

"Keeping my place clean" is nothing I feel particularly motivated to do nor do I relish it nor am I proud of it. I simply do it. It is hard to describe. In the language the Oboist hates, I get along with world better when I help it in this way. Replace the "world" with "God" if you so choose. It just happens.

In this particular case, you could say I've "restated" my goal. But I reject this.

Things stand out. A letter. A pen. D. J. The Oboist. The uninvited guest. I don't force them. I didn't even know what I was doing when it started.

When I first accepted my lot, I thought I lost the feelings of shame and guilt. I did. But that was a poor bargain.

Through diligent practice with AF, when I am at my apartment alone I feel a tension released, a weight missing I didn't realize had been there. I believe that God, the world, I wanted to be able to offer my home to comfort others, although I never would have ever thought this and frankly would have found it more than a bit queer and insulting to suggest such a thing (pardon the offense, but this truly is as polite as I would have put it at one time).

Life hacks, CBT, psycho-therapy etc. employed to help me achieve what I thought I wanted or ought to do (clean where I live) never helped on this front. Or just for a short time and just a little. Trust me, I tried nearly everything.

Exercising this part of me so much over the last year has made it almost second nature. It is not just the repetition, but the fact I realized I wanted to be able to offer the comfort of my home at any time. And I live somewhere, where this can be of use.

Letting things stand out. Being curious about what might happen. Being willing to be surprised. Being willing to believe nothing is necessary.

Ask my managers. I gave up "Being on Time" a while ago. In this case, literally. I go to work when AF and my gut thinks is right. Caused some commotion at first, but I get more work accomplished and everyone pretty much accepts this behavior now and are pleased with my level of "productivity". That explanation and how others came to understand my decision is another story that won't be told.

Some things are still very puzzling to me. They get dismissed and show up again. But I don't try to worry about them too much, no matter how important they seem. AF (coupled with a few other things) seems to help work things out.
April 20, 2010 at 8:55 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Great story
April 20, 2010 at 9:06 | Unregistered CommenterDamien
Mike,

Here is where I live:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over-the-Rhine

A great wikipedia article. Captures much of the wonder and frustration of where I live.
April 20, 2010 at 9:09 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Re your neighbourhood: I "knew" it! Your sundry clues and my one visit to the city some years ago made me think that was your spot.

I'm with you on the cleaning thing. Although I do have a higher level of distaste for uncleanliness that you did, I really don't value housework. I cut the grass because the neighbours like neat lawns, and I aim to please. But I don't cut the grass *lots* because I'm not that much concerned about what they think, and frankly lawn-cleaning is off-topic. And there's nothing like inviting people over to get a house cleaned (meaning I invite and I clean before they show up).
April 20, 2010 at 15:01 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Norman:

I'd really like to combine your "story" into one piece and publish it as a main blog article so it gets a bigger audience than those visiting the Forum. Would you be happy for me to do that?
April 20, 2010 at 15:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

Sure, but it might run a little more smoothly if I give it the once over. I wrote it extemporaneously and piece-wise and usually when bleary-eyed.

But you like it as it stands, it's all yours. Edit it as you see fit.

Just hope it amounts to more than narcissistic bluster and is helpful.
April 20, 2010 at 15:15 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Alan,

If you don't mind, what brought you to the Queen City?
April 20, 2010 at 15:16 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
"I've noticed you have been referencing Reynolds and company more lately. I hope you are finding the materials helpful. I think CL is a great to make some strides into a more formal Moritan and Naikan practice. Naikan especially has been an enormous boon to me in the last years."

Thanks Norman. I'm not really researching it for me, I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm at - I don't have issues with perfectionism, fear, all that kind of junk. A great course I took years ago took care of all that stuff after years of playing with my head and not making a lot of progress. I just have issues with pacing / pushing myself too hard and I'm working on that.

But my son wants some help with his procrastination and I'm too close to "the issue" to help and I appear to just make him feel worse in - ahem - leading by example. I think the online instruction given by the todoinstitute is a more structured approach that isn't a huge undertaking as it focuses on one project and how to make progress with just one thing and not every area of your life. I'm glad he chose it. Will report back as to how he does with it when it starts up.
April 20, 2010 at 15:23 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
Training for a software package we used about 8 years ago brought me there. I had a couple free weekends too so I got to tour the area as well. Entered the Flying Pig, the half-dome, saw parts of PG, etc. Some areas do seem unsafe, but on the whole it is a very pleasant city to visit.
April 20, 2010 at 15:24 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Norman, I read your story in the dentist's waiting area and couldn't stop crying. What an incredibly touching account. I'm not sure why it affected me so profoundly. Perhaps because in another life, I was in somewhat similar circumstances. I wrote about it in So You're Not Wonder Woman and people have asked me if it was really that bad and I tell them, "No, it was a lot worse." I don't know what apart from the grace of God got me out of those circumstances because it certainly wasn't AF. It could also just be that nothing affects me more than stories of lives changed. I know that's why I was drawn to psychology.

I hope you will bless more than just the participants on Mark's forum with your writing. Maybe writing a book will stand out for you some day. I'm not sure what to do after reading your story. As I believe I've mentioned, I was set free from overeating when I gave up trying to change it. I have been letting go of more and more in the past year. I've spent my whole life gripping so tightly. I have not used an AF list in the way you describe. I don't know that I need to but it's something I will surely think about. Thank you so much for sticking it out on this forum despite the anti-Norman protesters.
April 20, 2010 at 18:14 | Unregistered CommenterMel
I wonder why "not trying" works. Does it always work? In some cases I think it's a matter of the initial effort building a desire and capacity to succeed, which is thwarted by the fatigue of that effort. Once you learn to relax yourself, the fatigue goes away and you succeed.

By this theory if you had never tried to lose weight, clean house, whatever, it might never have happened. But the sequence of trying, failing, abandoning does get you there.

I suppose also this is related to the theory I read in Breakthrough Thinking which posits (based on field research and observation) that extraordinary effortless performance (being in the zone) only occurs after a one-two punch of hard-work followed by immersing yourself in energizing non-work (exercise, meditation, playing music, etc.), followed by returning to the work you left off before feeling refreshed.
April 20, 2010 at 18:30 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan, interesting question. Without referring to God's role in it, I think one factor may be just that we're not thinking and doing the same old thing that clearly doesn't work. Does this play a part in the success of AA? Maybe. What you reference may also be at play. Habit breakers typically attempt to quit many, many times before they are successful.

Finally, I wanted to link everyone to this site which has some hysterical anti-motivation signs. Nice reminder not to take ourselves too seriously.
http://despair.com/viewall.html
April 20, 2010 at 18:49 | Unregistered CommenterMel
Fantastic piece Norman, I hope it gets published somewhere and that there's more coming.
April 20, 2010 at 22:28 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Knight
Norman, I don't necessarily agree that your success is attributable to "not trying". Maybe the non-smoking part, although I quit the same way on May 18, 1997, it was a little harder on me unfortunately. But not the rest.

Victor Frankl - "I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than with man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system... being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself."

I have a finance blog that I write and am quite regular with despite not really having the time to put into it, but I like it. Much of the time I wonder why I bother - what can I say that hasn't been said before?

But I have two readers in particular - one a young lady that I've corresponded with quite a lot and given career advice to for some time. Another is a single parent that is deeply in debt. At the end of the day, I write for them. They log onto that blog more than I do. If I can help them learn some things about money or alleviate some stress in their lives, how can I not keep up with it?

JMHO, but I think that's possibly what you have discovered about your values.
April 21, 2010 at 2:17 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
Makes sense Jacqueline. But my sense is that Norman's point holds as well. He had to let go of things he didn't care about to get to what he did care about. And that lead full circle.
April 21, 2010 at 3:51 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan, I don't know that he had to let go of anything at all. It was just irrelevant and he was "looking for love in all the wrong places". It wasn't a true value, despite what he told himself about whether it should be or not.

"What I don't value: Spending hardly any energy on cleaning my living space for myself. I just don't give a @$#!.

What I do value: Others and being able to offer hospitality. "

Coming to that level of understanding of yourself is sometimes difficult. In the process of figuring it out, the other stuff just falls away and you're amazed that you ever thought it mattered. I found that out years ago when I used to think I *should* value what my parents or society valued. No matter how I pushed myself to value those things, it just didn't work. Getting to what floated my particular boat came in a flash, and I never looked back after that. It appears to have happened a little faster than Norman's epiphany, but we got to the same place. It's a great place to be. As Erhard says, your difficulties can just fall away in the process of life itself.
April 21, 2010 at 4:53 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
Hi Norman,

I'll read all the latest episodes when i get back from work, but for me you come across as a maverick (in the nice way, not the Palin type Mike mentioned), I guess it takes one to know one.

Once I've settled in my new apartment here in Damascus, I'll post that Maverick diagram I mentioned previously, it's on my DWM list, lurking on 2 May!

I've done assignments in Kabul, Peja in Kosovo and various places in Central America and sub-Saharan Africa. I reckon I'll give your current abode a miss, maybe look you up one day after you've moved.

Syria maybe ain't the way you spell 'party', but I find it great, just a pity I'm too old to join in the partying which apparently only gets under way from midnight.

Stay well and safe.

Roger
April 21, 2010 at 6:49 | Unregistered CommenterRogerJ
Norman:
<< But you like it as it stands, it's all yours. Edit it as you see fit.>>

Thanks, I'll have a go at combining them into one, and if I feel the need will come back to you.
April 21, 2010 at 9:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Norman, what an amazing story - and what a gift you have in putting it over. Glad you stuck with this forum and gave us all the gift of explaining how AF has worked for you. Best wishes.
April 21, 2010 at 9:55 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
Hi Norman
Your value of being of help truly helped me and some others I'm fairly sure. I truly thank you for that. You probably won't see this as your app blocked it out. Maybe I should have signed it Norman.
learning as I go
April 21, 2010 at 14:31 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Mel,

I am glad you were touched by the story, if it was of help.

I've been in recovery for some time.I left the sordid details out of the story, since I didn't they were necessary to get the spirit of the message across about AF and its impact on that part of my life. I've been in recovery for sometime. And been trying to find a balance between having "goals" and letting go of trying to control the world around me (including myself). When you have a lot on your plate (who doesn't), it is hard to wear your garment loosely.

AF, I believe is the most effective help in terms of helping balance "goals" and letting go and keeping my desire to remake the world in my own image in check.

I've led a storied life to be sure (the kinda salacious, sometimes morbid, picaresque folks seem to like nowadays in the same way they like to slow down to view the injured in an auto accident) , but I am not sure I have the writing chops to put it down on paper. I do appreciate the compliment and encouragement.

RE: Not taking yourself too seriously. Never really have, hence the biting sarcasm and irony. In some places it is called: Rule 62.

Thanks again Mel for your kind words. I would usually self-deprecate but when the compliment comes from someone who is nearly as intelligent as I am, it is hard to.
April 21, 2010 at 19:04 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
Jacqueline:

"Norman, I don't necessarily agree that your success is attributable to "not trying"."

You have a point here. I really started the thread on a lark thinking about tobacco plants backlit by the sun and how my relationship with those plants changed. The title is more apropos or at least more clear in that instance.

Second part of the story though I think can be seen within the context of "giving up" or "not trying". It might have been more clear if I fleshed things about a bit more or were not writing after working 14 hours a day unable to sleep due a hellish case of seasonal allergies.

But your points are well taken. Other instances in my life have a more clear aspect of "not trying" but those might be less appropriate for the "culture" of this board.
April 21, 2010 at 19:10 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.
"Thanks, I'll have a go at combining them into one, and if I feel the need will come back to you"

As I said, feel free to edit them as you wish. Although many things, it is primarily a statement of gratitude for your work.
April 21, 2010 at 19:17 | Unregistered CommenterNorman U.