Personal Development

How are you?

If you encountered five people a day, every day for forty years, you would have been asked “How are you?” and you would have responded “I’m fine,” seventy-three thousand times.

You tell others that you’re fine, but what do you tell yourself? For every time you greet another person, you probably greet yourself a hundred times.

I don’t mean that you say the words “How are you?” in your mind throughout the day. I mean that on a semi-conscious level, you take stock of your situation, concluding that you’re either OK or your not. You do this many times a day. For all the complexity of life and for all the variety of human emotions, your mind recognizes a binary status at any given moment.

The belief that you’re OK or not OK determines how you will feel and what you will perceive in the next moment, so it’s important. If you often tell yourself you’re not OK when in fact you’re OK, then you might have the opportunity to improve your life just by changing how you assess your status.

Let’s skip over the question of what makes a person OK or not OK and say that if you’re under an immediate threat to your health or safety, you’re not OK, otherwise you’re OK.

But here are some reasons why you might be telling yourself you’re not OK: I’m late. My hair is a mess. I’m bored. I’m a little cold. I’m unprepared. I don’t know what to focus on. I just had an argument. I want chocolate. I wasted an hour on something unproductive. I don’t feel as good as I did before. I think I’ve failed at my mission in life. I just stepped on a piece of chewing gum. I don’t like what I’m looking at. I’m tired. It’s rainy and the news is bad.

My point is not to debate how severe or threatening any particular situation might be. My point is just to ask whether some percentage of the “not-OK” conclusions that you make each day could be switched to “OKs.” I’m late but I’m OK. I’m tired but I’m OK. And so on.

If you could get even a few more OKs each day, this could translate into thousands more OKs in the coming years, which could mean thousands more moments in which you allow yourself to relax, which could benefit your health.

Suggestions:

Try to notice the conclusions you make throughout the day about being OK or not-OK.

If you can’t perceive those conclusions as they happen in your mind, consider your behavior. Are you behaving as though you’re OK or as though you’re not OK? What does your breathing and posture tell you about the conclusion you’ve made?

Consider whether some of your not-OKs could be switched to OKs. Perhaps a not-OK from before is still echoing in your mind now even though your situation has changed?

Notice how much effort you might be spending on explaining or justifying why you’re not OK. What would happen if some fraction of that effort were redirected to the opposite conclusion?

 

 

Commentary:

This is my second “personal development” post. It was inspired by my experiences in a stress management course I’m taking at the Benson-Henry institute at MGH in Boston, but the material is not from the course. In writing the post I had to work through a few things. First of all, I’m reluctant to tell other people what to do, and I don’t want to sound like I’m lecturing. So I thought about avoiding generalizations and framing the post as an anecdote about how I changed my own thinking on one particular occasion. Writing is best when it’s personal and concrete, right? But you could also say that writing is best when you get to the point. I concluded that the material amounts to a few assertions and a recommendation, that’s it. I took it as my job to make those things clear so the reader could quickly grasp them and accept them or reject them. There’s also a tendency for me to think I should have fully mastered whatever material I write about, and be able to report success in implementing whatever I propose. But I’ve realized that setting such a high bar can become an excuse for not writing and hence a reason that I never get to learn from whatever I might have written.

Personal Development

Checking News

In 2019, I’d like to overcome my habit of checking news. On a bad day, I might check news a hundred times, hovering over the New York Times, CNN, Reuters, Google News, and Facebook in search of breaking headlines and updates to trending stories. The temptation to take out my phone and read news arises when I’m standing in the subway, waiting for food at a restaurant, sitting on the toilet, lying in bed trying to wake up, or pacing around the kitchen wondering what to do next with my day. When I’m at my desk, I might have a dozen browser tabs open to different news sites and articles I’ve started reading in between other tasks. Sometimes while I’m checking news online, the news is also playing on the radio.

There are three reasons why I check news, not including any practical need I might have for information about current events. In truth, almost nothing I see in the news aside from local weather has any bearing on what I do during the day. And while the desire to be well-informed is a good excuse for frequently checking news, it could be better satisfied by reading books and maybe looking at the news once a week. My real reasons for checking news are not often obvious to me at the time, but they reveal themselves in hindsight.

The first reason I check news is that I’ve gotten tired working on my current task, whatever it is, and I need a break. The second reason is that I’m bored or lonely and I’m looking for stimulation. The third reason is that I’m anxious and I’m looking for a distraction from troubling thoughts. In all three cases, I’m looking for something quick and easy, and the news provides.

Unfortunately, what the news provides is never what I’m really looking for. When I turn to the news as a break from my current task, I’m seeking refreshment so that I’ll be able to concentrate again, but the news leaves me exhausted and discouraged. When I turn to the news because I’m bored, the news provides excitement, but this excitement is of a hollow kind that leaves me unsatisfied and ultimately more bored. When I turn to the news because I’m anxious, the news distracts me from what I’m worried about, but it does this by causing new worries. While these new worries at first crowd out the old ones, they eventually welcome the old ones back to join.

Every time I check the news, my emotions are basically the same: shock and disbelief, leading to anger, leading to sadness, leading to helplessness, hopelessness, and gloom. I’m left with a sense of guilt (I wasted my time checking), futility (I can’t change any of these horrible things that are happening in the world), disappointment (I didn’t really get what I was looking for), and confusion (I guess I don’t really understand the world). Often these feelings impel me to check the news again, looking for something hopeful, fascinating, or urgent that will distract me from my deepened frustration, and the cycle continues. I tell myself “I need to know what’s going on” and “maybe I missed something important” so I keep scrolling and searching. But the news just hurts more and more.

Checking the news is a way of rehearsing impatience. As soon as I’ve extracted whatever stimulation is to be found in the current news item, I start looking for new ones. I’m carried along from link to link, article to article, always choosing the path of greatest stimulation, juiciest distraction. I feel a reduced sense of volition, as if I’m being pushed and pulled around with little choice in the matter, even though it’s me who’s doing the clicking and the scrolling. It doesn’t matter that sometimes, my browsing leads me to the encounter the work of the world’s greatest, most thoughtful, courageous, and incisive journalists. I’m paying just enough attention to be frightened but not enough to learn or truly appreciate.

What is the way out? Some ideas:

First, focus on breathing. Take a deep breath before you check news. Notice whether the urge to check is stronger or weaker after you’ve inhaled and exhaled slowly. Take some more breaths. Maybe you don’t need to check?

Second, focus on a comforting, joyous image. Before you take out your phone, think about a thing that makes you happy. Take ten seconds to visualize yourself experiencing that thing. Maybe you don’t need to check?

Third, check yourself instead of the news. How are you doing? Is it possible that in fact, you’re doing fine, your doing OK, right now, at this particular point in your day? Try affirming that you’re all right, you’re OK, just as things are now. Maybe you don’t need to check?

Fourth, keep your phone’s mobile data and wifi turned off. If you feel an irresistible urge to fidget with your phone, try looking through your photo album.

Commentary

This is my first post in a new category that I’d like to explore here on my blog, personal development. I figure I’ve been alive long enough that I might know some stuff about life that could be helpful to others; at the same time I’m dealing with some things and I’m probably confused about some things that I could get a better grip on if I wrote about them. Writing this post and keeping it in mind over the past few days has already helped tame my news-checking urge.

My aim in this post (and future ones like it) is to address a problem without lavishing too much attention on the thorny details of the problem as if those details were the most interesting thing in the world. While I could have gone into a cinematic exposition of a specific news-checking experience, I took it as more important to reach the solutions at the end.

In writing the post, I was concerned about painting too harsh a picture of myself — maybe that’s a risk of succinctness. I felt a temptation to assure the reader, particularly anyone who might be a friend or loved one, that my situation is far from dire. I’m doing lots of rewarding things in my life, I feel joy each day, and I’m not sitting around checking news to the exclusion of all else. Rather, checking news is a habit that seems to grow and shrink according to the amount of idle time that’s available for it. However, the specific percentage of my time I might be spending on the news doesn’t really matter as far as the point of the post, and I figured that being milder and chattier in my self-portrayal wouldn’t really make the post better.

 

Photography

15 Days, 15 Photos

My process for leaving Facebook will involve reviewing what I’ve posted there and moving the good stuff to my blog. So here’s a start. Back in September 2017 I challenged myself to post one photograph each day for fifteen days.

Although photography makes up a large portion of what I share online, I feel a lot of internal resistance to posting my photographs. What gets posted is a minuscule portion of my growing collection. The resistance comes from a sense that the online world is a spectacularly bad place for concentrating on photos, and that to do justice to the images I love, I should make the effort to print them, frame them, and find somewhere to hang them, rather than taking the easy route of launching them into the noisy, crowded chaos of the internet. The goal of my September 2017 experiment was see how it would feel to bypass this internal resistance, suspend all my doubts, and just freely share my images for a while.

It felt pretty good. I appreciated knowing that my friends were finding some interest or pleasure in the pieces.

Here are the photos I chose to share on each of those fifteen days. On the first day, September 1, 2017, I posted three images of the same subject so there’s actually a total of seventeen photos here. To be clear, the photos were not taken on the days when I posted them; they are all older photos that had been waiting in my archive for a moment on stage.

RudiSeitzSep-1-2017-1
September 1, 2017: Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, View 1
RudiSeitzSep-2-2017-2
September 1, 2017: Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, View 2
RudiSeitzSep-1-2017-3
September 1, 2017: Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, View 3
RudiSeitzSep-2-2017
September 2, 2017
RudiSeitz-Sep-3-2017
September 3, 2017: “Crossing Borders”
RudiSeitzSep-4-2017
September 4, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-5-2017
September 5, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-6-2017
September 6, 2017: One of my interests in photography is finding and documenting unknown and fleeting works of abstract expressionism in dumpsters (example above) and other non-ticketed venues.
RudiSeitzSep-7-2017
September 7, 2017: Jantar Mantar (Garden of astronomical instruments), Jaipur, India, 2016.
RudiSeitzSep-8-2017
September 8, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-9-2017
September 9, 2017: “Gentrification”
RudiSeitzSep-10-2017
September 10, 2017
RudiSeitzSep11-2017
September 11, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-12-2017
September 12, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-13-2017
September 13, 2017
RudiSeitzSep-14-2017
September 14, 2017: Here’s a beautiful and harmless Cross Orbweaver spider that’s been spinning and re-spinning its web in my garden in the past few days, catching mosquitoes and flies, and meanwhile being photographed by me. I’ve been doing a personal experiment this month, trying to share more of my photography — some images from my archives and a few new ones like this. I’ve really appreciated the feedback and commentary from everyone here — it has encouraged me to go out and take more photos. After tomorrow I’ll probably stop the daily posting for a while, leaving this experiment as 15 photos for 15 days, but I’ll be back…
RudiSeitzSep-15-2017
September 15, 2017

 

Leaving Facebook, Life

2019 Resolution: Leave Facebook

My resolution for 2019 is to permanently leave Facebook. I’m giving myself an absolute deadline of December 31, 2019 to do this, but I’m hoping to achieve it sooner. I say “achieve” because it’s going to be hard. I don’t want to lose my connection to my friends but I can’t maintain my self-respect if I stay.

It’s been said that leaving Facebook is an ineffective form of protest because Facebook doesn’t need any particular user. Leaving Facebook hurts the departing user more than it hurts Facebook.

I look at it differently. The power you wield when you leave Facebook is more than the power to deprive Facebook of your own future content stream. It is the power to help others make the same decision. The reason we’re all on Facebook is because all our friends are there. Your friends are the bonds that hold you in place. If fewer of your friends were there it would be easier for you to leave. So, when you make the decision to leave, you’re paving the way for your friends to do likewise in the future. This is not to say that enabling your friends to leave should be your primary reason for leaving, but just that it is a powerful consequence of your choice.

What if you’re not ready to leave? I would offer this New Year’s message: Be faithful to the people in your life, but please cheat on corporations; specifically, please cheat on Facebook. Let me explain by asking you a question.

Is Facebook the only place online where you offer your favorite recipes, your music recommendations, your travel photos? Is Facebook the one giant corporation to which you contribute your wit, wisdom, and humor? Is Facebook the only advertising behemoth with which you share your dinner plans and your deepest secrets? Is Facebook the only place online where I could go to find out what’s happening with you, what’s important to you, what’s funny to you?

If the answer is yes, my next question is why does Facebook deserve your fidelity? Why have you let yourself enter into a one-way exclusive relationship with Mark Zuckerberg’s profit engine where it receives everything you’ve got while only pretending to keep a reciprocal commitment to you, to your privacy, security, and well-being?

If you’re not ready to leave Facebook yet, at least consider playing around with other platforms. Next time it seems to you that the easiest way to share a thought is to post it on Facebook, try tweeting it. Maybe start a personal blog. Want to share a photo? Experiment with a photo-sharing site other than Facebook or Instagram.

You don’t have to leave Facebook to take action towards reducing its grip on all of us. You can do that by avoiding one-sided monogamy with Facebook. You can do that by turning to Facebook less, depending on it less, and sharing outside it more.

I’ll be delighted if you join me in leaving Facebook this year. I hope you’ll copy my New Year’s resolution. But for those who aren’t ready to leave, please resolve to start cheating on Facebook in 2019 if you aren’t doing that already. Meanwhile, stay good and true to the people in your life – they’re the ones who deserve your faith. Happy new year!

See also: The Myth of the Guarded Facebook User

Music, Voice

Silent Night

I had a full day to myself yesterday to record a Christmas song. Here are two versions of Silent Night:

Making these recordings was a chance to experiment with a few performance concepts that I’ve been interested in. The first is the idea of singing with a smile. After making a handful of recordings and reviewing them all, the ones I liked best turned out to be those in which I had decided to physically smile while singing. I was surprised at how clearly I could “hear” my smile wherever it occurred.

Some voice teachers say that smiling improves vocal production, but others say that smiling with the mouth creates detrimental tension and a singer should really only smile with the eyes. In these recordings I’m unabashedly smiling with everything I’ve got, and this leads into the second concept I want to mention: vocal acting. In roughly seven years of taking voice lessons, I’ve spent a lot of time on the physical technique of singing but much less on the technique of acting, assuming a persona and conveying it through vocal nuance. In these Silent Night recordings, I’m imagining myself as someone who is ecstatically devout and I’m trying to convey that sense of devotion as overtly as I can. I think that’s what the song calls for.

I never expected that Silent Night would become such a significant part of my musical life, but it has. Back in 2014, when I was trying to build my knowledge of jazz harmony, I followed the pianist David Berkman’s advice to practice reharmonizing simple tunes like Silent Night. I made a dozen reharmonizations of this very tune and arranged my favorites into the first piece of what would become a full Christmas album. While I remain fascinated as ever by the complexities of harmony, and I’m now exploring some of those complexities in my guitar arrangements, I’m paying more attention to some “simple” things that I feel I skipped over in my musical journey. What have I skipped? Well, if I could go back and add one positive element to my teenage years, it would be that along with picking up classical guitar, I would learn to strum and sing folk songs (by myself, yes, but also in groups). Well, I’m thrilled to be doing that now.

What is possible with a voice and the plainest, simplest guitar accompaniment? In 2019, I’m hoping to sing more, strum more, and make more recordings like these to find out.