J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Category: Nonfiction books

Things I Regret KonMari’ing

Where did you go, little Peavey 8-track mixer? I miss you!

Where did you go, little Peavey 8-track mixer? I miss you!

About two years ago I wrote about applying the KonMari method to my stuff. Since then I’ve had time to reflect on the process. This is a quick update on my post-KonMari insights.

Regret

There are a few items I regret getting rid of. This is something Marie Kondo does mention in her book, but maybe underemphasizes. For me, the list is as follows:

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How to Solve Your Money Emotions and Achieve Financial Freedom

You couldn't pay me to own a yacht, but they do look real fancy.

You couldn’t pay me to own a yacht, but they do look real fancy.

I recently read MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Tony Robbins. The book shifted my thinking and emotions around money to such an extent that it warrants a post. While the book does get into technical details regarding types of investments, asset allocation, and diversification, the most impactful sections are those that address the big emotional and value questions around money, such as:

  • What is money for, for you?
  • What emotions do you have around money and the accumulation of wealth? Guilt? Anger? Greed?
  • What is enough for you, in terms of a savings/total assets amount? Why?
  • What level of financial security or financial freedom is your ideal?

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Improve Your Human Operating System — Consciously Reorder Your Values

Values ... but which ones? What would Mr. Rogers do?

Values … but which ones? What would Mr. Rogers do?

Recently I read Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. I’d been curious about the book for a long time but I’d been reluctant to buy it … somehow I didn’t want to succumb to the Robbins money-minting self-help machine. On the other hand Robbins has worked for decades to develop and share a complete life system (something I’m also interested in). However when I realized the book was both available for free download and for sale on Amazon.com for $0.01 (used), I realized I didn’t have an excuse. I picked up a used paperback for the cost of shipping.

A Message From the Nineties

Awaken the Giant Within was first published in 1991, and the book shows its age. Many of the heroes and exemplars of the book have either died tragically, fallen into disgrace, and/or committed heinous crimes (Robin Williams, OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Ross Perot). Of course these names leap out with hindsight, but it’s enough to question Robbins’ ability to judge character. Robbins also had trouble thinking of women to either quote or use as positive examples (the book was written before the Oprah/Robbins alliance).

Values as a Decision-Making System

These criticisms aside, the exercises themselves hold up well. The book contains many useful personal development tools*, but one stood out in particular and using it has already changed my behavior and quality of consciousness for the better. The tool (described in Chapter 15) is a series of simple exercises that includes:

  1. Values inventory (listing your values — what’s important to you — in order of most important to least important).
  2. Considering if that order is working for you in terms of what you want out of life, and changing the order as a way of shaping your own decision-making system.

Everyone has values, whether or not we’ve considered them or not. We inherit values from our family (especially our parents), peers, and culture. When we make decisions we consult these values (usually subconsciously) to guide us in one direction or another. Sometimes the values we hold are in active opposition to each other. We might value both earning money and spending time with our family, but these two values can pull us in opposite directions.

In the first version of my values list my top value was creative work (fiction writing, music producing, etc.). Also very high on the list were love/friendship, vitality/health, and kindness/compassion.

The flip-side of the exercise is making a list of what Robbins calls “moving-away from values.” These are the things you actively avoid in life. My initial “moving-away from values” included poor health, depression/hopelessness, boredom/stagnation, and being cheated/taken advantage of.

Both lists included many more values, and the more I thought about it, the more values I added.

Creating these lists, and even more so ordering them, was mentally strenuous. What was more important to me, health or creativity? Where did one value end and the next one begin? What does love as a value mean exactly?

It helped to remember that it was just an exercise, and I didn’t need to make a perfect list. The process was the important part.

After I made the initial lists I reflected on the question Robbins asks on page 363: “In what order do my values need to be to achieve my ultimate destiny?”

Ultimate destiny. Hmm … not sure I have one or want one. Don’t we all have the same ultimate destiny? But I got the point — Robbins pushes the reader to go beyond “What is important to me?” and to consider “What kind of person do I need to be to have the kind of life I want to have?” It’s an important distinction.

After a few days of reflection and list-editing, I ended up with these as my top five “moving towards values”:

  1. love (friendships and family relationships)
  2. quality of consciousness
  3. creative work
  4. vitality/energy
  5. kindness/compassion/empathy

Following these top five were an additional 32 values (loosely prioritized), and the very last value in my list:

  • luxury/being rich

Yes … I admit it, I’d like to be rich and live a more luxurious life (like flying first class once in awhile, traveling without extensive budgeting and cost-optimizing). But it’s the very last value on the list (financial well-being is much higher).

“Creative work” dropped from first to third. Ultimately my relationships and my state of mind are more important. Probably, putting those values ahead of creative work will improve the work itself. For me, inspiration comes when I’m feeling good, and I don’t feel good if my relationships aren’t going well or if I’m not making meditation and other practices that improve my state of mind a priority.

Vitality/energy also dropped a bit as a value. Having experienced poor health, I know the value of taking care of oneself. But excellent health is not that closely associated with happiness and life satisfaction (jump to 2:00).

Life Changes

So what difference did listing and then consciously considering and reordering my values make?

In the weeks following the exercise, I’ve done a few things that I attribute to this exercise, including:

  • Resetting my relationships with my daughter (age 6). I felt like I was too much in the “rules enforcer” role, with not enough fun times. We’ve been enjoying each others’ company much more since the reset.
  • Raising my consulting rates, which has reduced the number of hours I need to work, allowing me to spend more time with family and friends (and also on writing and hobbies).
  • If I find myself in any kind of negative mindset, stopping whatever I’m doing and taking whatever steps I need to get in a better place. Sometimes this is an honest, non-accusatory conversation with a family member, sometimes taking a walk or lifting weights, sometimes meditation, or sometimes doing some work that I’ve been putting off.

In addition to these specific changes, I’ve noticed a sense of clarity in terms of decision-making. Should I do x? It’s easy to evaluate if the activity in question supports or detracts from my top values.

Moving Away From Values

Listing and prioritizing my “negative” values was just as useful and revealing. After the listing and reordering process, my top five anti-values are:

  1. cruelty/evil/maliciousness
  2. depression/hopelessness
  3. loneliness/isolation
  4. chronic pain or disability
  5. poor health/low vitality

Another twenty-five follow. The very last item on the “moving-away-from” list is:

  • brief discomfort/pain

In other words I don’t generally want to be uncomfortable or feel pain, but I’m not going to work hard to avoid it, especially if the benefits are great (like brief discomfort from cold water immersion, which can have positive health benefits). Another item low on the list is waste/inefficiency. I don’t like to waste or be inefficient, but it’s way more important to be a good person, to not be depressed or lonely, etc.

Working on the negative values list brings up some hard questions. Would you rather experience chronic pain or be lonely and isolated? Neither, obviously, but which one are you going to more vigorously avoid? Don’t want to be broke, humiliated, ugly, and ignored? Neither do I, but I’d rather be all those things than be a cruel, lonely, depressed person.

The result of the negative values listing and ordering was greater clarity in decision making, especially in terms of avoiding behaviors that I know from experience send me into a negative spiral.

 Is Personal Development Narcissistic and/or Another Form of Procrastination?

To some extent, yes to both questions, but that doesn’t mean selected exercises aren’t worth doing. The values listing and prioritizing is a good one.

I chose to do ALL the exercises in the book, and it took a long time. I didn’t get as much done in other life areas while I was spending hours listing and reordering my values, and engaging in the fifty or so other exercises the book recommends. The values prioritization exercise was one of the most helpful; others less so. At times I felt guilty of navel-gazing and over-self-analysis. Would I be better off using my time to be productive or have fun?

There is a definitely a point of diminishing returns in regards to self-help work of this nature. I’m glad I did the values listing/reordering exercise, but it’s not something I would feel a need to repeat more than once a decade or so.

For someone facing difficult decisions, or in the midst of a big life change, a values inventory could potentially serve as a powerful compass to guide decision-making and set a new course.

Expectations vs. Results

I expected that reading Awaken the Giant Within might motivate me to work harder and reach higher in terms of professional and financial goals. While I did end up strengthening my commitment to goals in these areas, the more significant life changes I made were in the areas of emotional processing and family relationships. Working on the values exercises in particular, I could feel my emotional intelligence increasing.

The net result is that I feel more aligned in my intentions and motivations. Now that I’ve explicitly decided which motivational substructures have priority over the others, the “wars within” have subsided.

*Other Tools and Exercises

There are some other techniques and tools in the book worth mentioning:

Neuro-associative Conditioning or NAC
Consciously associate massive pain with behaviors you don’t want to continue (like smoking or eating junk food); associating massive pleasure with behaviors you want to encourage (exercise, meditation, whatever you feel you need to be doing to improve your life).

Control of Attention and Focus, or “Manipulating Submodalities”
Changing the intensity of our emotions by manipulating aspects of our thoughts as if we were editing video or audio (brightness, contrast, color, zoom, amplitude, etc.)

Modulating/Changing Vocabulary and Metaphors used to Describe Feelings/States
For example instead of habitually saying “I’m furious” experiment with saying “I’m miffed.” The more ridiculous your language, the better (in order to break up your habitual emotional reactions).

Asking the Right Questions
Use question-asking as a tool. Don’t indulge in unhelpful questions (“Why me?” “Why do bad things always happen?”) and build a toolkit of helpful questions such as “What is helpful about this problem?”

The KonMari Method is Changing My Life

I awoke this morning, earlier than usual, trembling with excitement. It had been awhile since the thought of the day’s activities filled me with such gleeful anticipation. The task ahead: sorting and discarding my papers and documents. You see, I have succumbed to the KonMari method, and I am under the spell of this technique’s transformative powers.

A couple weeks ago I picked up an unassuming little book at my mom’s house: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. As I flipped through the table of contents I made little grunts and chuckles of appreciation. The chapter titles hinted at a mind that deeply understood the emotional baggage of stuff. Some were calls to action, like Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely. Another pointed to the method for deciding to keep or discard: Selection criterion: Does it spark joy? Others were straight-up rules: Downgrading to “loungewear” is taboo. This Kondo woman knew stuff. I was intrigued. My mom said she would pass the book along as soon as she’d finished it.

Marie Kondo is an interesting character. Late in the book she briefly analyzes her own obsession with tidying up. A middle child, she received a dearth of attention from her parents, and tidied up to receive approval, and also to control her own environment. She read housekeeping magazines from the age of five, and eagerly volunteered in her elementary school class for the job of organizing classroom cupboards and closets.

Her writing voice at first struck me as stern; she is uncompromising in her rules and methods. But later I came to recognize the tone of confidence born of experience. Obsessed with tidying and organizing, she has literally tried every method. Her confidence is hard earned (not only from field experience with many clients, but from a lifetime of reflection on the art of tidying).

The basic method is this: go through all your possessions by category (starting with clothes, then books, through the other categories, and ending with mementos — basically easy to hard so you learn the method with your least precious items). Hold each item and determine if it gives you joy. If it doesn’t, discard it. Most of her clients end up discarding (or donating or recycling) between half to three-quarters of their possessions. Through this process, their life is transformed, as they process and release their emotional baggage along with their physical junk.

Kondo comes from a Shinto background, and she communes with objects in an animistic sense, aware of their life and energy and their relationship with their owners. Whether there is any truth to this or not, her selection criterion (holding an object to see if it sparks joy) is deeply powerful. If it doesn’t spark joy, she suggests that you thank the object for the role it played in your life (maybe teaching you that you don’t look good in that color) and letting it go.

Kia and I read the book over the course of a few days using the “racing bookmarks” method. After only a few chapters we started the process. Together we discarded two giant garbage bags of clothing. Our six-year-old daughter wanted to do the process as well and contributed a third somewhat smaller bag. The old and worn stuff I threw away, the rest I dropped off at Goodwill.

Suddenly there is space in our drawers and closet! The piano has nothing stacked on it! Our bedroom is transformed. I am eager to continue the process. I keep thinking of things I want to throw away.

Kondo’s “KonMari” method is one I fully endorse without hesitation. Every so often I come across a “life system” that is so nearly perfect that I can’t think of a single improvement. Of course not every part of every system applies to every person (I only skimmed the section on how to organize your stockings) but the guidelines and rules she suggests make perfect sense to me. I will be following the KonMari method to the letter. I’ll do a follow up post when I reach the “click” point Ms. Kondo refers to: the moment when you have discarded enough, and now the objects in your living and working spaces are only the ones that bring you joy.

How To Avoid Parent Rage

Berserker rage — not a good parenting system.

I don’t write much about my daughter — I’d like to protect her online privacy until she’s old enough to make her own decisions about that kind of thing.  However I’m making something of an exception in this post because I want to write about parenting emotions.  I’ve had a breakthrough in the last year or so that I’d like to share with my readers (and get feedback as well from other parents).

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