1.5% is better than a tithe
BALANCE / FEEDBACK / ADJUSTING THE PLAN
Today’s post is a peek inside this strange head of mind. We all have our ways of seeing the world and navigating the route. For those of you that know me personally or just through this Newsletter, you probably have come to realize a few things about me:
I am focused more and more as I age on self-improvement. So I like to set small goals for myself and have some kind of feedback loop to assess whether I am on the right track or the wrong track.
I am a “word guy”. I think that is because if I associate the right word with what I am thinking about, my mind will cycle through the situation I am in a lot better than just “winging it”. The word of the day and this post is homeostasis.
When I started this Newsletter, I simply could not know whether it was for me, whether I would stick with it, or where it might lead. While it is easy to imagine some possibilities, I tried very hard at the beginning to redirect my mind and keep my plan modest. I did not know how much time this effort would demand. I did not know whether I would be able to stick with it. I did not know if something else in my life would suffer if I started doing this. I did not know if something else would emerge in my life that I would rather do
For a guy like me, that was a lot of unknowns. Before I began writing I gave some consideration and wrote down what I thought this would be like in a month, 3 months, and a year down the road. It is easy to imagine the right questions but the answers were lacking in most cases. Going through those simple questions helped me delve deeper at the beginning to at least consider why I was doing it, and what was the goal.
I have been officially “signed up” for Substack since August 1st, 2021. That starting date says volumes about the value and challenges of having a plan. For those of you who have a minute and are interested, here is my very first post. It is a tribute to how LITTLE I knew that somehow the title of the post “How to Use the Substack Editor” has nothing to do with what I wrote! At the time I did not even understand how this publishing platform worked.
I do not highlight this post very often. Reading it exposes my confusion and uncertainty and seems a bit like crazy writing! I did not write again for almost two months and wasn’t sure if this was just an idle stab at something new that would wither and die. I have alluded to the influence of my creative writing group. I enjoy the group. Each of the members in different ways provides some motivation to understand why I am there. I also just like the people already and having another circle in my life is always a great thing. A while back I did a post about the holidays that included a Venn diagram. I love those as they befit a goal for me that I am far away from at this point. A Venn diagram is able to convey a powerful concept with VERY FEW WORDS. I think all of us might be able to construct a Venn diagram of our social circles and it might reveal what we get from each. Regarding the FEW WORDS, for those that know me or read these posts, you know I am far from that standard at this point.
In reality, after three months on November 1st, what I envisioned versus reality was quite a gap. Once I reached the OFFICIAL three-month mark, I was thankful that I had started out with a little note of why I was doing this and what I expected when I started out. There are lots of self-help books that tout the merits of planning. Some of the most often referenced principles are failing to plan is planning to fail. I get all that but also believe that what plagues many of our lives is fear. Fear is to be faced, conquered, and overcome in my opinion. I believe that what guidance about the importance of planning OFTEN misses or does not stress near enough is that planning is really a feedback loop. Making a plan to start is important but adjusting the plan is just as important because we are always learning. I believe that returning to your plan and ADJUSTING is the key to serenity and making real progress. Now the silly feedback loop in the image of Homer makes some sense.
I think that in this fast-changing world it is easy to anchor ourselves to something. Even once it becomes obvious that it was not correct, changing what we believe or are trying to accomplish becomes harder and harder. We continue to try to push the square peg through the round hole. If only we paused and rounded out the corners, things can get easier. To dwell on why we didn’t round out the square peg in the first place is missing the point. To refuse to consider and round out the square peg after we realize the situation is madness. I had an old work colleague who became a friend for a number of years. He often said there is safety in the herd. If I were to characterize what plagues our society more than anything else it is the feedback loop of social media that is herding us together and creating this sort of group-think that is the opposite of re-think. People remain in their herd at all costs and grow more and more rigid in their thinking as a result. In many ways, people are abandoning their OWN thinking and just accepting the herd thinking of a group.
Getting back to this writing thing. When this effort started out, before I really even knew what it might involve, I defined what in control theory would be called a setpoint. I wrote a post a while back about thermostats and they are the very best example of setpoints in our lives. We set our target temperature and the thermostat uses that one basic piece of information and turns stuff on and off in accordance with whether we are below or above the setpoint.
More exotic control systems take into account “overshoot” and realize that the most efficient way to run the furnace might be to run it for a while longer even after we hit our desired 68F target. The reason would be there is no sense in cycling the furnace on and off repetitively. This is actually one of the guiding principles of the new generation of smart thermostats which learn. An old-fashioned mercury switch thermometer like the one I replaced and described in an old post was an amazing yet primitive device. The only piece of information it really had was the current temperature and desired temperature. The more you measure the more you learn. Once your thermostat knows when people are home and when they will return and the responsiveness of your A/C and furnace and whether you are a cheapskate and allow the utility to control your swings in return for a discount, it can do so much more for you. The more you measure the more you learn.
My original setpoint for my writing was that I wished to commit 20 minutes per day to this effort until I had a better sense of whether I could sustain the effort. As a complement to the Substack statistics, I created a little spreadsheet and figured out how to export my post names and other information. It is now a SMALL effort for me to keep this information separately and I added some estimates for how much time I spent writing the posts. That information was really useful as I neared the 3-month mark. What I did not consider was how much time do I additionally spend looking at who is reading or replying to comments. I try to keep that strictly limited but have now started keeping track of that information. So why bother?
I am pleased to note that after enough days to establish a pattern it seemed I was spending closer to 34 minutes per day on these posts. Since I rarely if ever write a post from beginning to end but rather write a bit and then park it in a drafts folder to finish later, I would have no problem writing a draft and start of a post and then finishing it up. It is the TOTAL amount of time spent that I am trying to manage at this point. From my original plan that is 70% more than I originally thought would be reasonable for me. It is time to adjust the plan. If I felt the extra time was worth it and sustainable I would stick with the 7X per week but I just have so many other priorities at this point in my life.
The great thing about adjusting the plan is I might check in again after six months (if I make it). This was one of the reasons I decided to back off to 4X per week posts. While it may seem crazy to some for me there was some math behind it. 34 X 7 = 238 minutes while 34 X 4 = 132 minutes. 132 minutes over 7 days is a bit less than 20 minutes per day. I am going to try to only check posting statistics twice a week and I think between those two adjustments I will be more content.
I will have a sense that I am on track if by the end of the winter I have made some progress on a new consulting job, some other hobbies, projects, and activities that are important to me. The fun will be to see what emerges in the gap. I am convinced that slipping in new ingredients into my life is like a Dagwood sandwich. I always loved that comic strip and still occasionally enjoy getting a sandwich made with all the trimmings. Adding something new to the sandwich often brings unexpected joy (as long as it is not mayonnaise in my case). I hope to report where the extra time got redirected in a future post I would imagine. Figuring out if the juice was worth the squeeze will be what I will eventually look back toward. So far, the writing has been awesome for me and how I feel. Since I love a good kitchen contraption I own a juicer and an ice cream maker. Once in a while, I juice lemons or limes or grapefruits. Even less often we make homemade sorbet. Even though it makes a mess, requires some extra cleanup, I find in that case the juice IS WORTH the squeeze. I hope and trust the writing will continue to do the same.
The funny thing is I enjoy writing but I also know that I need the balance of all the other things in my life to make this sensible. So how does all this tie back to my title? Homeostasis is that wonderful sense of equilibrium that is attained in a feedback loop. It is easy to see it in the Homer Simpson snapshot. The subtitle just means I like a fun word. There are 1440 minutes in the day so 20 minutes is about 1.5% of the day. I can spare it. Managing to work the word tithing into a post is just a bonus for a crossword puzzle lover. While writing is important, it is simply amongst the things I want to do in my daily life. I think that posting 4X per week is going to get me closer to not cycling between hot and cold like Homer in the image. Comfort is the goal.
I felt better and the writing came easier today than it has ever before. Perhaps that means it is more authentic. I hope so. I hope you all have a great day and can enjoy this song. Life is a journey where we have this grand chance to constantly rediscover what brings us joy and occasionally mix in a new ingredient. I think a person can be happy and share that with the rest of the world in their disposition if they commit to always learning. That is the way I want it to be and hope I never lose that. The fundamentals in our lives, our spouses, the people we partner with, our families be they immediate or extended, and our friends provide the basis and stability upon which all of this self-improvement lies. I think you all can find happiness in what your life is today and remain visionary to what comes next. Hope to see you tomorrow. I went la little long (37 min) between two sessions but am okay with it. Serenity is a great thing.
In Lieu of Bonus Posts: This is my 50th Post
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