Solving Problems vs. Dithering Over Them

Q. In your talk, you discussed the importance of solving problems as opposed to dithering over them. What's the difference, and what exactly does dithering mean? A. Solving a problem means taking specific actions that lead to change. These include observing the problem, precisely defining it, developing a strategy to solve it, testing the strategy, refining the strategy, implementing the strategy, and evaluating success. Dithering includes all the _other_ things you do about your problems, including worrying, feeling guilty, beating yourself up, complaining to family and friends, and feeling sorry for yourself. Dithering is pernicious. It offers the illusion that you are solving your problem, so that you don’t have to feel guilty for ignoring it. It also offers the illusion that you are making progress, so that you don’t have to feel like you’ve given up hope. But dithering doesn’t really solve your problem. The hallmark of dithering is that, no matter how long or seriously you do it, the … [Read more...]

I want to take a dance class. Is that evil?

Q. For years, I’ve wanted to take a jazz dance class, and now, after having read the part of The Lifelong Activist that says it’s good to meet your creative and other non-activist needs, I’m finally thinking of signing up for one. The only problem is that every time I actually get ready to call up and register, I get cold feet. (No pun.) I tell myself that I should use the time to do more activism, that I can’t afford it, and that I probably will miss half the sessions anyway. The truth is that I have a hard time doing anything except activism – although I don’t work nearly as hard as I should and wind up procrastinating a lot. Help! A. I’ll assume that there is nothing else going on in your life right now that is so urgent that you can’t afford to take a couple of hours off each week to take the class. If so, then, in my view, it’s not just okay, but almost obligatory for you to register. Registering will reinforce the reality that you are a complex human being with diverse needs and … [Read more...]

Allergic to Spreadsheets

Q. Do I have to do time management the way you say in The Lifelong Activist? I'm allergic to spreadsheets! A. In The Lifelong Activist I offer a strategy for managing one’s time that involves (1) coming up with a short list of professional and personal priorities, based on your Mission, and allotting a set number of hours each week to each; then, (2) creating a weekly schedule that incorporates all of those priorities; and (3) working to stick to the schedule while at the same time tracking your time so that at the end of the week you can see how well you did. I explicitly say that the system isn’t for everyone, and that if it isn’t for you, you should keep searching for one that’s better. However, most effective time management systems do ask you to budget and track your time, the way most money management systems ask you to budget and track your money, and most diets ask you to budget and track your calories. There’s simply no other way for most of us to control our use of a finite … [Read more...]

Happiness = Reality/Expectations

For some reason - maybe pre-holiday anxiousness? - there's a lot being written about the nature and attainment of happiness this week. Not just the below-referenced article on happiness from the WSJ, but another article from the WSJ on cognitive dissonance as a coping strategy (subscription - hence, no link), and now a long article from New York Magazine on burnout. Some interesting quotes: "Farber had burned out once before. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, he taught public school in East Harlem....for four years he’d struggled to stop his students from fighting with one another, and in spite of his best efforts he couldn’t even teach all of them to read....Eventually, he began to pull away from his students—depersonalization, as the literature now calls it...It was only when Farber went to graduate school at Yale that he learned that this syndrome had a name: Burnout. “The concept offered a perfect understanding of what teachers were feeling,” he recalls. … [Read more...]

How to Be Happier

Today's Wall Street Journal has a terrific article on how to be happier. It's subscription only, but here are some highlights: 1) PROLONG YOUR ENJOYMENT AND CELEBRATION OF HAPPY EVENTS The article states, "Possibly the biggest obstacle to greater happiness is so-called hedonic adaptation. Sure, you are thrilled when you first get promoted or get a pay raise. But soon enough, the thrill fades and you are lusting after something else. "'When something good happens, you want to find a way to hold on to it for longer,' says David Schkade, a management professor at the University of California at San Diego....'You have to combat adaptation...You want to celebrate the small things, not just the big ones. If you save all your celebrations for getting married or becoming vice president, you won't celebrate very much.'" 2) DON'T DO A LONG COMMUTE "Studies have found that commuting ranks as one of life's least enjoyable activities. The reason: While folks often adapt to changes in their lives, both good and bad, … [Read more...]

A Self-Critical Paragon of Productivity

In The Lifelong Activist I talk at length about how destructive negative thinking is - and, in particular, the particular form of it that exaggerates one's perceived failures and flaws while minimizing or even ignoring one's successes and strengths. Just this weekend, as it happens, a woman with whom I was speaking on a business matter told me she was "really could use help" with her time management, citing as proof the fact that we were working over the weekend. She had forgotten, however, that the reason we were doing so wasn't because of anything she had done, but because I hadn't had a chance to return her call during the week. So here she was, blaming and condemning herself for something that wasn't even her fault! Along with pointing that out, I also pointed out that she did great at her complex and challenging job, a sign that, contrary to her words, she probably was a competent time manager. "This isn't even my main job!" she exclaimed. Turns out that she held a part-time job in addition to a … [Read more...]

Stop Feeling Guilty!

Liberal Guilt is a cliche, but that doesn't mean it's not a pernicious problem. All day, yesterday, when I was staffing the _Lantern Books_ table at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, I spoke with people who felt guilty - or, more precisely, ashamed. (Psychologists generally define guilt as regret over an action or feeling; shame is when you believe that an action or feeling makes you inherently a bad person.) I quickly learned to ask strangers who stopped by the table "Are you vegetarian?" instead of "Are you vegan?" because many non-vegans responded to the first question with shame, often launching into tortured explanations of their food choices. Then there were the people who felt they weren't doing enough activism - like the woman who had a houseful of rescued, traumatized animals she was caring for, but felt bad that she wasn't doing more campaign work. And then there were the many writers who stopped by the table to talk with me, writer to writer. Most had written articles, stories, poems, or … [Read more...]

A Great Day at Work

As some of you know, I work for a Boston nonprofit that specializes in helping refugees, political asylees and recent immigrants. I'm the small business counselor, which means I help people start and grow businesses. I help Bosnian construction companies, Russian computer programmers, and East and West African artists and importers. One guy, from Congo, specializes in the decorative mineral malachite Another, a photojournalist from a South Asian country that shall remain nameless, took pictures that earned him the ire of the local mullahs, and had to flee for his life. He was granted political asylum here and I'm helping him start a photo studio. My workplace has an extensive ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) program, and during the days hundreds of women - mainly, stay-at-home moms and night-shift workers, I'm assuming - take classes. (The evening, after-work classes have more men.) They appear to be mainly from China and Somalia, with some Afghanis and others mixed in. Why can't some of … [Read more...]