Posts Tagged 'balance'

Goals

There is a lot of talk these days (well, for a while now) about SMART goals. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T., or that is what people say. I get that it’s a good acronym (though I suspect it’s more of a backronym than an actual acronym). But I have issues with the whole thing.

First of all, the only consistent bits are the “specific” and “measurable” parts, but I feel like those are nearly redundant. Of course with an explanation you can see the difference, but how hard would it have been to combine those ideas into something that embodies both ideas? But then it wouldn’t fit into the neat little acronym, right?

And even if you don’t feel like those ideas can be joined together, do we really need to make sure every goal meets five criteria? And don’t forget that some authors add additional letters to the end (SMARTER, for example). I want to write goals, not go through checklists to make sure my goals meet five or seven or more criteria.

For various reasons I have been asked to write a lot of goals lately. And I’ve also been trying to help others come up with and meet goals that will help them improve. And that’s the thing: I feel like most goals should lead to some kind of improvement. Isn’t that the focus, anyway?

So I feel like the first criteria should be that goals focus on improvement and responsibility. Of course, we don’t need to include “improvement” in some kind of “how to write goals” piece, because that’s the purpose of a goal, not part of the design. But it is worth mentioning, in case someone is setting goals that might lead to some kind of degradation. Plus, when we take responsibility for our own shortcomings we set goals. We aren’t blaming circumstances, or our parents, or our spouse, or our coworkers, or our boss, we are saying, “I have something I need to improve because I am responsible for this.” And with that in mind, goals that you set for someone else will rarely be reached, unless they are heavily invested in all aspects of the goal. They must feel that the goal is necessary and be invested in generating the goal to the maximum allowable extent.

#1 Goals should be focused. You should be pretty specific about what category you want to set a goal in, how you plan to execute it, what you plan to do, and why you are doing it. Focus on something, find ways to remind yourself about the goal and the focus. This is something you’ll need to carry with you in the forefront of your mind through to reaching the goal. Focus is key.

#2 The next thing that I think a goal should be is reasonable. I don’t just mean this in the normal sense of the word (that the goal not be absurd or unreasonable). You should be able to reason about your goal, you should have reasons for your goal, and you should reason your way to the goal. Goals should be accompanied by reason from inception through to completion. Of course goals should also be reasonable in the sense of “not unreasonable or absurd.”

#3 The final thing I feel is an important part of goals is that they be restrictive. I know that one is a little odd (especially since it’s such a negative word most of the time), but hear me out. We grow though self-imposed restrictions and through work. We increase in self control by exercising restraint, which leads to work. We deny ourselves instant gratification in order to gain discipline. Nearly all good things in life come through some form of personal restriction and hard work. By restricting our options we gain freedom. There are a lot of potential actions I could take right now, but by removing most of them I am free to chose the best options. For example, I could commit any number of crimes right now, but by restricting myself to the list of possible actions in the “completely legal” list I am avoiding issues with the law (which could lead to even worse imposed restrictions) and I have a much shorter list of potential activities to choose from, which avoids overload. The brain is actually pretty good (most of the time) at removing options in order to more easily and quickly make decisions. And similarly, by occasionally imposing restrictions on ourselves with purpose we can grow more readily and easily. A favorite exercise among writers and one I enjoyed in college was to pick a common word and write a paper or story without using it. You might try writing a short story without including the word “the” or “and” or “then.” By doing so you grow, because you are forcing your brain to work harder than usual to complete a mundane task. Restrictions lead to growth, so long as they are reasonable (see #2). Reasonable here means your restrictions shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. Seek moderation.

Again, like with the mention of “improvement” above, I don’t feel that my mnemonic device need include the final bit of advice. Moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance. These are fantastic criteria for anything, whether it be a goal or an interaction with your neighbor. I seek moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance in all things, and I encourage others to do the same.

So while FRR isn’t a great acronym (Focused, Reasonable, Restrictive), I do feel that it is a better set of criteria for goals. Before finalizing any goal, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the focus?
  2. What are the reasons for needing goals here? Why am I focusing on this? Why do I need the goal? What do I hope to accomplish? How can I reason my way to that accomplishment? (Don’t stop here, there should be lots of questions in the “reasonable” stage, all the way through to reaching the goal.)
  3. In what ways will I restrict myself in order to reach this goal?

The final bit of advice I have for goals is to keep records. Record your progress. Record your thoughts. Record your failures. Reason your way through the records from time to time and take assessment. Do you need to adjust course? Is the goal wrong? Is your methodology flawed? Are there any potential improvements you’re missing?

So while the three steps (FRR) are the most important bit when forming goals, the entire process looks like this:

  • Take responsibility and use goals for improvement.
  • Create goals that are Focused, Reasonable, and Restrictive.
  • Seek moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance.
  • Keep records throughout the process.

If you do all of those things you will have success, which is the primary objective of any goal. If you do not taste the sweetness of success you will struggle with goals for the rest of your life. Start small (and simple), taste the success, and take small steps from there, setting goals along the way.

My Big Breakup

Please briefly explain in the form below why you’re cancelling.” Which is another way of saying, “Well, can you at least tell me why we’re breaking up?” in website speak.

The whole thing started several weeks ago, though it was seeded from the very beginning of my life. I provided the fertile soil, and life rained down on it, so it grew.

The fertile soil is my social awkwardness. If you read my about page, I mention that I am aware of a possible diagnosis I could one day claim (were it necessary) through proper examination by a psychiatric professional. One symptom of the “syndrome” I possibly live with is an acutely awkward social life (which is caused by a variety of factors). Through observation, logical analysis and years of practice, I feel that my social life no longer exhibits all of the symptoms I once struggled with as a child and teenager, though I maintain certain traits that speak out against me, even if only in private.

One such trait is my aversion to social encounters. That’s right, I’m not comfortable around people. If you hadn’t noticed it’s because I’m that good at hiding it, but the truth is I get unusually uncomfortable in the presence of people, especially in face-to-face interactions.

Many of those who share my symptoms and have been labeled with the diagnosis take refuge from the real, face-to-face world by spending more time on the Internet. They are especially susceptible to becoming addicted to online multi-player games and social networking activities because such things appear to offer the same benefits of a real social encounter without the “hassles” of having to be there. I’m sure you can see where this is headed, so I’ll break for a moment to tell a short story.

Today, on the way home from work, our little three-month-old daughter screamed and cried most of the way. We’ve been working on our five-year-old son’s behavior a lot lately, and he finally seemed to be getting it, though the frustration I was experiencing from the persistent crying seemed to drown out my attempts at praising my son. We walked into the house through our kitchen door (the one closest to the car port) and I found brown paper bags, some still full of groceries, scattered all over the place. The counters were stacked with rinsed dishes, food items and trash that hadn’t been taken care of (some of it for over a week). My job keeps me away from home during the day, and I understand that staying home all day with the two children has my wife pretty well busy all day just trying to keep up with things. I don’t expect, and have never demanded her to create order or even maintain perfect cleanliness in the home. As the children age this job will get easier, and I try to help her as much as I can.

I must say though, that today it seemed especially discouraging. I was already frustrated in my mind from the constant screaming, then I walked into chaos. Never fear, I do this often and handle things fairly well most of the time. Some of the time, however, I go through emotional peaks and valleys that have an effect on my ability to handle things. I try to muscle my way through the troughs and ride the waves when things are up, but in the end those little chemical imbalances can get the best of me from time to time. I resolved right there, in the kitchen, that as soon as our daughter was safely suckling away on her mother, I would attack the kitchen and restore order.

I rushed through the chaos in the kitchen, through the hall toward the bedrooms and finally into our bedroom at the end of the hall. There, I was greeted with the usual mess. I wholeheartedly admit that somewhere around half of that mess is mine, and I am guilty of doing little or nothing to fix it in the last several months. I had already resolved to fix one mess, and there was no room inside me to fix another the same evening. Mother came and rescued the baby and I began my mission.

I attacked the kitchen. Trash, recycling, dishes, counter tops, floor (my wife had to hand the baby off to me, but I made sure she helped finish the job) and soon everything was nearly sparkling, in that one room, of course. Then, I sent my wife out on some errands, dutifully taking the little princess (who was tired and hungry, but would have to deal with her mom being gone for twenty minutes nonetheless). We had a good time (kind of) until she fell asleep (always makes for a lame date).

Then, dinner time hit. Sometimes dinner goes pretty well. Tonight, it was already an hour past our son’s bedtime, and he wanted to take seven bites out of every French fry, and watch his chicken nuggets to see if they would grow mold. I usually have to tell him to slow down, but tonight I wanted to get on with the bedtime routine, and he was waiting for Christmas. My wife didn’t share my sense of urgency (I don’t expect her to think the same way I do, I think very differently from just about everyone else, but I’m still fairly reasonable) and was disagreeing with me, which made me look frustrated and stubborn (which I was slowly becoming). Finally, I got up from the table, leaving them to work things out, and figured I could whisk myself away to a magical place called the Internet to escape from my real-world woes.

I began loading the pages, one by one, like I usually do from my bookmarks tool bar in Firefox. My homepage (iGoogle, of course!), Gmail, Mail.com, some work related sites, WordPress.com, Shelfari.com, Facebook, MySpace, VIRB, deviantART, and Google Reader. While they were loading I looked at all of the tabs. I check all of these every day? I thought. I began to assess, in my mind, approximations of how much time I spent doing each one. I looked back and recalled many a late night spent on my beloved Facebook site, with all 100+ friends, the fun games and applications, the many social exchanges every day…

Then I thought, Do I need all of that? I thought of my many real social exchanges at work, at home, at church, etc. Then I remembered that sometimes I get overwhelmed in real life with social activity. Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed that I end up having to say no to something (or several things). Sometimes, when you have too much on your plate and you can’t handle it all, you have to say no to something(s) and stick with what you love the most.

Obviously, my family will always come first for me. That goes without saying. Beyond that, in the social realm, things get a little fuzzy for me. Tonight, with all of the frustrations around me, I realized that my real-world plate was getting full and messy, and part of that was because my virtual plate was overflowing.

I don’t need that much social interaction to be healthy. I have my best friend, my wife, by my side all the time, except when I’m at work (which I wish I didn’t have to do because then I could be with her all of the time, and that would make me happy). Then I have two of the best parents who ever lived to support and love me, I have some great brothers and a top-notch sister who e-mail, text message and call me from time to time. I have many other friends who are available for the occasional chat, phone call or visit when I am in need as well. If that’s not enough social interaction to keep me healthy, I always have my creative outlets.

I love to write. I always have, but I haven’t always given it the priority I would have liked to have. Now, in recent times I have decided to write more and practice to get better. Since I resolved to do this, I have accomplished much less than what I know I am capable of. Why? Because most of my time on the computer has been lost reading updates, news, Facebook profiles, etc.

So, with the tension building between me and my wife because my virtual plate was starting to fill my real-world plate, I deleted my Facebook account.

That’s right. It’s gone. They mention that if I ever want to come back all I have to do is use my old log in information, but I don’t currently foresee myself doing that in the near future. Perhaps some day, but not now. Then, I remembered how much cooler Facebook is than MySpace (sorry MySpace lovers, I just never really liked it that much), so I though, hey, if I’m deleting my Facebook account, I can’t leave the MySpace one up, even if I never use it. So, I went and deleted that one too (though they want 48 hours to actually remove my account).

This might seem rash to many of you, but if you consider me and who I am, you should realize that it was a necessary step to ensure that I don’t get sucked in to something less important than the people I love. Plus, now I hope that finding time to write might become slightly easier. Any time I was previously putting into Facebook can now be invested in writing.

So, that brings me back to the beginning. It was actually MySpace that was asking why I was leaving them (Facebook wanted a reason too, but it was just a radio-button selection – “I’m spending too much time on Facebook” or something like that). Now you know the whole story, but do you want to know what I told them? “Downsizing Internet activities.” Pretty cold, huh?

So here’s the plan. I’ve officially committed Facebook “hari-kiri” and there’s no going back (not for the next year or so, at least). I’m going to use my Gmail address to send out a request for all of my friends and family to read this (that’s where I have the most addresses). If you know me, please follow the instructions below:

1. Please “check in” and leave a comment on this posting for me. I want to know who came and read this. When you enter your e-mail address to comment, make sure it is the e-mail address you actually check!

2. If I was listed as your friend on MySpace or Facebook, please write a bulletin, note or anything else asking all of my other friends whose e-mail addresses I didn’t have to visit this same posting (send them the same link I sent you). Post it as something interesting like, “Why Brian disappeared.”

3. Do something out of the ordinary to ensure we can stay in touch! Facebook and MySpace are both fabulous tools for keeping in touch with old, current and new friends, and I am a little worried that I may lose touch with some friends I love who prefer to use these sites as their sole point of contact for friendships. Below you will find a list of options I am retaining so we can keep in touch. Pick one, and keep in touch with me that way!


Here are some ways to keep in touch with me.

  • There’s always the obvious – email. If you need my Gmail address, just ask for it in your comment below.
  • If you don’t have my phone number, but are good at keeping in touch that way, ask for my cell phone number. The same goes for a physical address if you like stamps and mail.
  • I am keeping accounts at a few smaller social networking sites. If you already have an account at any of them, find me there (if you need help with this, just ask!). If you don’t have an account there, look at each of them and set up an account at the one you like best.
    • www.virb.com – Kind of like MySpace, but not. You don’t need an account to check out my profile. Click the link!
    • www.orkut.com – This is the one I check the least often, but if you sign up there I’ll know about it and I will definitely keep up with you that way.
    • www.deviantart.com – This one is not as much for social networking as it is for artwork. If you’re an artist and you’re my friend, add me on here and I’ll add you too.
    • www.shelfari.com – This is for book lovers. You can add all the books you own, you’ve read and you want, and it shares your virtual “shelf” with your friends.
  • Since I’ll be writing a lot (hopefully), perhaps the best way to keep in touch with me (and keep up to date) is through this… *gulp* blog. (I really don’t like calling it a blog.) You can subscribe to my RSS feed through any feed reader (I use Google Reader and love it).
  • Finally, I have a Google page (website) that is currently under construction. Right now, it just links back to my WordPress stuff. Oh, and you can play PacMan there too. 😉

If you can’t use any of the options above to keep in touch with me for long term, I’ll be sad. Despite not really enjoying social encounters, I really do love all of my friends and family. I cannot stress to you enough how much I will miss hearing from you (especially the former Facebook and MySpace friends who are reading this). I just spent too much time doing worthless things on Facebook, and not enough time paying attention to the real world. In fact, if you want to get together sometime, let’s try to make it happen. It might take time (especially if you’re far away), but I would love to spend some real-world time with all of you.

So, I leave you all with my love.

Brian

P.S. On a quick, lighter note, I found this really funny little gem of a video about Facebook thanks to Digg. If you know anything at all about Facebook, you must watch this video!


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