George Washington’s farewell address (abridged and in modern English)

Yesterday, I shared George Washington’s farewell address from 19 September 1796. In it, he warned Americans against devolving into political parties and he encouraged them to remain neutral when it comes to international politics.

I really, really like his speech, and I wish more people would read it. But it’s long (6000 words) and while the language isn’t too convoluted, it does get boggy in spots. So, I spent some time attempting to “translate” Washington’s farewell address into modern English. At the same time, I trimmed it from 6000 words to 1000 words.

I’ll grant that I could very well have made some errors here, both in interpretation and in translation. If you spot a mistake, please tell me so that I can fix it.

With that out of the way, here’s my attempt to convert George Washington’s farewell address from 1796 to 2021… Continue reading

Switching servers

I’ve had a couple of folks write to tell me that they’re trying to comment here at Folded Space but can’t. When they try, they get an internal server error. And you know what? When I try to post new pieces, I sometimes get that same internal server error. I don’t know precisely what is causing it, but I do know this. For too long now, I’ve stuck with my same host despite mounting frustrations. (The host is actually one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to re-launch this site.)

So, over the next few days — today or tomorrow, I hope — I’m going to try to move to a new host. That means things may down for a while. But when it’s over, everyone should be able to use the site properly once more. I know this probably only affects like five people right now, but I still thought I’d let you know.

George Washington’s farewell address (from 1796)

Last July, my friend Miranda and I had a long conversation about politics in the U.S. I expressed (once again) my frustration with this country’s political parties. I think our current two-party system creates many of our woes and I hate it. It’s the reason that — until 2020 — I’ve always voted for the strongest third-party candidate for President.

Miranda told me something I’d never known: Our first President, George Washington, was also wary of political parties. “He made a point of warning against parties in his farewell adress,” Miranda told me. “Have you read it?”

I had not. But I have now! And today, I’m going to reprint George Washington’s farewell address in full for you folks to read. If this seems like all too much (it’s 6000 words, so I get that it’s overwhelming), I’ll publish an abridged version tomorrow with translations into “modern English”. The language in Washington’s farewell isn’t too intimidating, but it does indeed get boggy here and there.

Anyhow, here’s George Washington writing in 1796, warning the new country about the dangers of partisanship and advocating neutrality with other nations. Continue reading

Life without alcohol is life on easy mode

While walking the dog this morning, I had a realization. A re-realization, really. I was struck by the difference in my mindset today vs. when I’m consuming too much alcohol.

The past couple of days have contained a lot of stressors for me.

  • Although Tuesday’s riots at the U.S. Capitol weren’t unexpected, they still way heavily on my mind. I know I shouldn’t let national news affect me, but I do. When COVID hit last March, it depressed me. The events around November’s election depressed me. Tuesday’s riots were a similar Big Ugly Event.
  • Yesterday, I did a dumb thing. In the comments at Get Rich Slowly, I called out my colleague Financial Samurai based on some unsubstantiated info. This was a mistake. I own it and I regret it. We’ve resolved things amicably but I feel terrible about what I did. This sort of stuff usually sends me into a tailspin too.
  • Meanwhile, I have ongoing trepidation about the structural stability of our house and my ability to live on my savings for the next eight years. Kim tells me that I’m “catastrophizing”, and I know that this is at least partially true. (Possibly 100% true.) But still, I cannot stop myself.

A year ago, this combination of factors would have me in a pit of despair. My depression and anxiety would be at extreme levels. I would be avoiding work. I would be soaking in the hot tub all day while playing video games. I would feel miserable and worthless.

Today, there are still elements of this going on — there’s a corner of my brain where these thoughts exist — but mostly I find I’m able to tell myself, “Get over it, J.D. You cannot control national events. You made a mistake with Sam and apologized; what’s done is done. And Kim is right that you are catastrophizing. If you don’t like this house, you need to fix it or move.”

I feel as if my current response to things is much healthier than my response might have been a year ago. Or three years ago.

Why is that? I keep coming back to alcohol.

My Relationship with Alcohol

For most of my life, I did not drink. I grew up Mormon. Mormons don’t drink. Although I was no longer LDS when I left for college, I still didn’t drink a lot while there. Yes, I drank some. But not much. And when I drank, it was weird. (I would down two or three shots of vodka in rapid succession while plugging my nose and chasing everything with a salty snack. I hated it.)

When Kris and I got together, she didn’t like me drinking, so I didn’t. We were pretty much alcohol-free until 1998.

In 1998, I started having panic attacks. (I thought they were heart attacks.) For real, my doctor suggested that I start drinking red wine to combat this. So, I did. For fifteen years, I drank wine and whisky now and then, but it wasn’t a regular habit. (And I rarely got more than mildly buzzed.)

In 2012, I learned to like beer. And when Kim and I started dating around this time, many of the things we did were centered on alcohol: wine tasting, wine bars, speak-easies, late-night dive bars, etc.

Then, starting on our RV trip in 2015, my alcohol consumption began to creep higher. With nothing to do in the motorhome in the evening, we’d often enjoy two or three beers (each) or share a bottle of wine.

Eventually I reached the point where I was drinking nearly every day. Even after we returned to Portland, I maintained the habit.

When I started seeing a therapist in 2019, she had me keep a log of my alcohol consumption. I was consuming between 21 and 28 portions of alcohol every week — and that’s just what I was recording. (I tried to be honest, but I know I wasn’t 100% faithful.) Plus, I would count a 22-ounce bottle of 7.0% beer as one portion. Haha.

In the U.S., fourteen grams of pure alcohol is considered a “standard” drink. (Why grams instead of milliliters? Because it’s the U.S., I guess. It’s bizarre.) This is roughly twelve ounces of 5% beer. Or five ounces of 12% wine. But a 22-ounce bottle of 7% beer? Well, that contains 45 ml (~36 g) of alcohol. That’s nearly three standard drinks. (It’d be considered more than four “units” of alcohol in the U.K.)

Translation: I was drinking a lot, and it was fucking with my head. I have no doubt now that much of my depression and anxiety stemmed from alcohol consumption.

Test-Driving Sobriety

In 2020, I managed to go from July 5th to October 28th without consuming alcohol. By the end of that stretch, I was operating at peak performance for the first time in years. I felt great! I felt like myself again.

Yes, I did replace alcohol with pot for some of that time (marijuana is legal here in Oregon), but there were long stretches where I was completely sober. I used non-alcoholic beer to cope with some of the cravings.

From Halloween to Thanksgiving, though, I returned to my old ways. I wasn’t consuming 28 drinks per week, but I was drinking at least three days a week and probably enjoying 12+ servings of alcohol each week. In early December, I felt the depression creeping back, so I put the brakes on.

For the past month or so, I’ve given up alcohol again — but not completely. I may indeed go dry for another extended period of time, but right now I’m simply choosing not to drink whenever possible, and when I do drink, I limit myself to one or two.

During the first seven days of 2021, I consumed four drinks. I drank on three days. Yesterday at Costco, I bought a 22-ounce beer that’s sitting in the fridge for this weekend. I may or may not drink it. We’ll see.

So, let’s go back to my current state of mind.

Life Without Alcohol Is Life on Easy Mode

As I said, if I were currently drinking a lot, the events of the past couple of days would have shoved me into a dark place. I would be miserable and unproductive.

But because I’m not drinking (or not drinking much, anyhow), I’m better able to deal with things. I let myself get riled up by the Capitol riots, but I’m ready to let those feelings go now. I screwed up with Sam, but I dealt with the problem immediately in an adult way instead of allowing it to fester. And while yes, I continue to fret about the house and my financial situation, I recognize that if these things bug me, I need to take steps to fix them.

When I’m drinking, everything is harder. That’s because alcohol exacerbates my natural tendency toward depression. And when you’re depressed, it’s like you’re constantly trying to live normal life while submerged neck-deep in water. It’s a slog.

Life without alcohol is life on “easy” mode. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly life on “easier” mode. (Maybe a better way to look at it is life with alcohol is life on “hard” mode and life without is life on “normal” mode. Maybe I’d find “easy” mode if I gave up alcohol and took my ADHD meds. I don’t know.)

American Dharma

Last weekend, I watched American Dharma, the 2019 Errol Morris documentary that profiles political strategist Steve Bannon. Here’s the trailer.

This preview does an admirable job of encapsulating the film in just 2-1/2 minutes. Like all Morris documentaries, American Dharma is fascinating.

Because I deliberately try to steer clear of the news, I didn’t know much about Bannon. Hardly anything. I knew he was somehow related to the Trump presidency, but that’s it.

And because my political views are decidedly non-traditional — I’m a non-partisan small-i independent and/or small-l libertarian — I’m usually willing to give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t like Trump. I think he’s easily one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. But that’s not because he’s Republican. Some Republican presidents are good. Some are bad. Some Democrat presidents are good, some are bad. To my eyes, Trump is an awful president who just happens to be Republican.

All the same, I’m not one of those who believes “all Trump voters are racist”. I know that sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes you have to vote for somebody you don’t like simply because you like them a little better than the other option.

So, I went into American Dharma not knowing what to expect. I found it interesting.

Morris profiles Bannon’s rise to power, tracking his move from aspiring film-maker to chairman of Breitbart News to mastermind behind Trump’s 2016 campaign. Morris doesn’t badger Bannon. In fact, they have a reasonably open exchange, even though they clearly disagree with one another.

I actually found Bannon a somewhat sympathetic character. I don’t agree with his views, but I now understand more about the reasoning behind them. And I think he makes a compelling case when he argues that there’s a vast swath of people in the United States who feel abandoned, who feel as if the government does not represent them — and hasn’t for a long time.

To Bannon, Trump’s election was inevitable. To these disenfranchised voters — the farmers and mechanics and cafeteria servers of Middle America — Trump represents a voice who will speak for them. They don’t care that he often doesn’t make sense. And they don’t care that his aims are often what would once have been called un-American. They have somebody on their side.

By the end of the film, Bannon has made the case that there will literally be a violent revolution in this country if the political elite continues to ignore the vast middle. And I can’t remember whether this is explicit in Bannon’s statements or merely implied, but when you have a violent revolution, the previous rule of law no longer applies. The revolution is meant to overturn the established order, after all.

Bannon seems to believe that the U.S. Constitution is not sacred in any way. If it needs to be discarded in order for a “better” nation to emerge, then so be it. (Better as defined by Bannon and those who believe like him, obviously.)

It’s become very clear over the past few months that Donald Trump believes something similar. Trump doesn’t give a flying fuck about the Constitution. He’s doing what he was elected to do: serve his those who voted him into office. The Constitution is a nuisance to him rather than a guiding document.

And today, as his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it was very clear that they don’t give a flying fuck about the U.S. Constitution or the rule of law either.

I have no idea what happens next. I suspect that calm will be restored, Biden will assume the presidency, and Trump will fade to oblivion, forever remembered as one of the country’s worst presidents. But I could very well be wrong.

Whatever happens, I wish people on all sides would take the time to listen to each other. The Right speaks and the Left doesn’t listen. The Left talks and the Right has deaf ears. They talk past each other. They use inflammatory jargon that serves to foster disagreement rather find consensus. It’s baffling.

Find somebody who disagrees with you. Sit down with them. Have a rational conversation. You’ll learn they’re not an idiot. They’re not evil. They’re simply another human being trying to find their way through life. And they happen to disagree with you a bit on how that might best be accomplished.

How much time do people spend in a hot tub?

Nearly three years ago now, Kim and I had a hot tub installed at our “country cottage”. I know some people consider hot tubs (and pools) to be foolish expenses, but that’s largely (I think) because most people don’t use them often enough to justify their cost. They get installed, then they become money pits.

I was worried about this too.

For a time after we had the hot tub installed, I tracked how much we were using it. I kept a spreadsheet log and found that we were averaging about three “people hours” per day in the thing before I stopped tracking numbers.

But I knew we’d get use out of the spa based on our existing habits.

Kim is a bath person. She likes to soak in the tub and watch her favorite shows. I’m a bath person too — and I always have been. When I was in grade school, I’d sit in the tub and read Hardy Boys books. When I had my own apartment in college, I’d spend hours in the tub reading comic books. And as an adult, this pattern has continued.

When Kris and I moved to our old house in 2004 (the same house where she currently lives), we remodeled the bathroom. As part of that, we put in a big, deep claw-foot tub. The tub saw a lot of use from both of us.

In the condo Kim and I had before we moved here, there was a big soaking tub in the master bathroom. We used it a lot. But the tub in this house? It’s just average. We used it (and still do) but it wasn’t any fun. At the same time, we have a gorgeous park-like back yard. (The back yard was the main selling feature for this place!) We knew when we purchased the place that we wanted to install a hot tub.

But do we still use the spa now, three years later? Yes. Yes, we do. We use it a lot.

Now that I’m logging how I spend my time, I can see just how much we actually use the spa. So far this year — and I know it’s just four days, but still — I’ve used the hot tub more than two hours per day. (And the bath tub nearly an hour per day.) That’s a lot of soaking!

What do I do while soaking? I read books and comics. I watch TV and movies. I write blog posts very slowly on the iPad. I play games. Or, sometimes, I put everything away and sit still, listening to the birds and the rain and the sounds of the neighborhood.

So, the hot tub has been a worthwhile expense for us. The initial outlay was large (several thousand dollars) and it costs maybe $20 or $30 per month to maintain the thing, but we probably get 1000 hours of use per year out of it. It’ll be a few years before our overall cost of ownership drops below one dollar per hour total, but I think that’ll happen.

The cats have learned to like the hot tub too. On especially cold days, they’ll sit on the closed spa cover, which tells me that the thing isn’t as well insulated as we might like. When the cover is open (and we’re sitting in the hot tub), the little beasts will hang out with us, sitting on the edge. It’s cute.

In fact, Savannah is very proud of herself because she has learned how to monkey up the decorative lattice-work at the edge of the tub. It’s pretty hilarious. Here’s a short video of her acrobatics.

U.S. Population by race and gender

For better or worse — I’m not going to argue this point right now — the United States has become a country in which racial and gender “quotas” are important. By that I mean that people pay a lot of attention to the demographics of any particular group, show, or organization.

I’m frequently curious about the actual demographic composition of the country. Seriously, this is something I try to figure out a couple of times each year. I’ve never had any success at finding actual numbers, though. I’m sure they exist somewhere (likely the U.S. Census site) but I haven’t been able to find them.

This morning, however, I found two pieces of info that can help us extrapolate some numbers. These won’t be precise measures of U.S. demographics, but they’ll be close.

In this post, I want to break out the U.S. population by race and gender. This is meant purely for informational purposes. I’m not trying to make any political point here.

First, let’s look at gender.

According to this November 5th report from Statista, gender distribution has remained steady in the U.S. for years. Women make up 51.1% of the U.S. population; men are thus 48.9% of the country.

Next, let’s look at race. For these numbers, I’m using data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (which, in turn, bases its numbers on the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau).

In 2019:

  • 60.1% of the U.S. population was white.
  • 12.2% of the U.S. population was black.
  • 18.5% of the U.S. population was hispanic.
  • 5.6% of the U.S. population was Asian.
  • 0.7% of the U.S. population was American Indian.

As a sidenote here, I hate the term “latinx” as an alternative to latino or hispanic. It’s a linguistic horror. Hispanics and latinos hate the term too, but some people continue to use it anyhow. This article from Pew Research contains a terrific discussion (and stats) regarding the use of “latinx”.

Because gender distribution is fairly stable across time and across other demographics, we can extrapolate the following numbers:

  • White women make up 30.7% of the U.S. population and are the largest gender/ethnic bloc. White men represent 29.4% of the U.S. population.
  • Black women make up 6.2% of the country. Black men are 6.0% of the population.
  • About 9.5% of the U.S. are hispanic women. Hispanic men are 9.0% of the nation.
  • Asian woman are 2.9% of the nation’s population, and Asian men are 2.7%.

While we’re looking at gender and race, let’s take a quick look at the current demographics of sexual orientation.

In the U.S., 4.5% of the country’s population identifies as LGBT. But the numbers are strikingly different by generation. Millennials (defined as those born between 1980 and 1999) have the highest queer population at 8.2%. Every other generation has a queer population of 3.5% or lower.

In the past, estimates put the transgender population in the U.S. at about two or three people per thousand. In recent years, however, that rate has doubled. The current widely-accepted estimate is that 0.58% of the U.S. is transgender. So, out of every 1000 people, roughly six are “trans” and 994 are ”cis”.

Again, I’m offering these numbers purely for informational purposes. It’s been tricky for me to find these stats in the past, and I want to have place I can grab them, when needed.

Why would I possibly need to know these ratios in every day life? Because, unfortunately, we live in a world where people are quick to judge (and condemn) if you even appear to exhibit bias that deviates from statistical norms. (Here’s an example of what I mean.)

But, more importantly, I really do try to be representative in my work and writing. Knowing what representative actually means in the Real World helps me to do that.

Anyhow, I thought these numbers might be useful and/or interesting to others too. Enjoy!

Using ATracker to track and manage time

When Kim and I returned from our 15-month RV trip across the U.S. in 2016, I was overwhelmed — and for a lot of reasons. One problem was that I couldn’t seem to manage my time.

Time management has been a struggle for me all of my life. It’s something that most folks with ADHD wrestle with. It’s tough for us to prioritize. And even when we do manage to prioritize things, it’s tough for us to stay on task.

Related reading: Yesterday on the ADHD subreddit, one user asked a great question: Why the hell does my brain tell me this five-minute thing I need to do will consume my entire day, leading me to do the fun stuff first? Ah, this is my life. Instead of getting the requirements out of the way and playing later, I play first. I cannot defer gratification. Apparently, it’s an ADHD trait. I’m working on it.

In 2016, I spent a week performing Laura Vanderkam’s time makeover. For seven days, I logged everything I did in fifteen-minute increments. It was a useful exercise.

I’ve been wanting to do something similar again. But really, I want to track my time on an ongoing basis. One week doesn’t give enough data. Plus, although I tried not to do so, I know I alter my behavior slightly when I’m aware I’m conducting a short-term experiment. I want to see long-term patterns.

Yesterday morning, because it was the first day of the year, I went on the app store to search for time management apps. There are a lot of them (although most are targeted at business users). Each works in a slightly different way. Most seemed a bit clunky to me. But then I found ATracker, and I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

How ATracker Works

For me, ATracker is perfect. (I don’t mean to be hyperbolic in this case. I mean it. It’s a perfect app.)

Fundamentally, ATracker does only one thing: It logs the time you spend on various activities. Here’s how it works.

  1. You create a “task” for each activity you want to track. Each person will want to track different things. In my case, I created tasks like Sleeping, Gaming, Hot Tub, Mindless Web, and Get Rich Slowly.
  2. Whenever you start a task you’d like to track, you go into the app and touch the task name. This starts a timer.
  3. Whenever you finish a task, you go into the app again and touch the task name. This stops the timer.

That’s it. That’s the basic functionality built into ATracker. That’s all it does. But you know what? I don’t need (or want) it to do anything else. And while this is its basic functionality, let’s talk about a few of the apps more important features.

First, you can track multiple tasks at once. So, for instance, yesterday while I was in the hot tub, I tracked that activity and I tracked the fact that I was reading. I’m not sure how many activities you can “nest” like this. Because I was reading a book about money, I might have also tried to log this as Get Rich Slowly time also…but I didn’t.

Second, there’s an Apple Watch version of the app. This is huge. I know it’s easy enough to go into my phone to start (or stop) a timer when I’m doing something, but having a watch app for this removes all barriers. Now it’s merely a matter of getting in the habit, which will take a few days. (Remembering to start/stop the timer when I’m sleeping will be the biggest challenge.)

Finally, ATracker offers amazing reports.

The main screen — the Today screen — is where you start and stop tasks. Here, you can see how much time you’ve spent on each activity today.

ATracker's default Today view

On the Calendar screen, you can see a timeline view of exactly what you did each day — including “nested” tasks. In this screenshot below, for instance, you can see when I was reading in the hot tub yesterday morning.

ATracker's Calendar view

The History view is somewhat similar to the Calendar view, but it shows you each activity in discrete chunks.

ATracker's History view

Lastly, the Report page gives you a pie chart that breaks out how you spent your time during a given period. You can opt to see the breakdown by day, by week, by month, or by a specified range.

ATracker's Report view

Based on the app’s iconography and dialog boxes, I’m certain that there are some subtle features that I haven’t discovered yet. There are different ways to view the data. It look as if you can set goals and/or targets. And so on. I don’t care about any of this stuff. What I want is an app that tracks how I’m spending my time, then shows me that data. ATracker does precisely this.

Final Thoughts about ATracker

Will I continue to use ATracker for more than a few days? That’s a great question.

I have a 51-year track record of starting stuff like this and then not following through. A couple of days ago, I mentioned my new five-year journal, for example, as something I worry about using for a little while and then forgetting.

But the thing with ATracker is that it’s so brain-dead simple. I mean it’s very very easy to use. There’s no barrier there. (The barrier is me forgetting to start a timer. When I started writing this post, I forgot to start my “Folded Space” activity in the app, for instance. I remembered after a couple of minutes. Fortunately, you can edit and/or manually enter data to fix issues like this.)

Plus, I’m highly motivated to use this. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and implemented in a way that I love.

So yes, it’s possible that this app will fall by the wayside. But I suspect there’s a high chance that I’ll continue to use it not just for days, but for weeks and months ahead.

Discovering Melody Gardot

Last week, I noticed that Apple Music had created an automatic playlist compiling my “most listened” songs from the past three years. I didn’t recognize one of the songs from 2018. (To be fair, I started using Apple Music at the end of December 2018, so it had very little data to go on.)

While the majority of my “most listened” songs (from all three years) were by Taylor Swift, of course, one piece from 2018 was “Worrisome Heart” by Melody Gardot. Curious about the song, I gave it a listen.

“Worrisome Heart” is a smoky, midnight-laced jazzy piano ballad that sounds as if it might have been written (and sung) in 1954. But it’s not an old song. It’s a new one. Gardot wrote this and released it on her first album in 2006.

I loved the song.

I mean, I really loved it.

So, I did what I always do in situations like this. I did an obsessive deep dive into Melody Gardot’s music. I read up on her. The more I read and the more I listened, the more I liked her.

Maybe everyone else has already heard of Gardot, but she’s new to me. And in a very short time, she’s won a permanent place in my musical world. I’m a fan of how she blends modern sensibilities with traditional jazz delivery. So, so good.

During my deep dive, I found this video for her song “From Paris with Love”:

This is such a wonderful piece. So joyful. So beautiful. So very 2020. I liked this video so much that I shared it on all of my social media outlets yesterday (although I could’t find a reason to post it at Get Rich Slowly).

Next December, when Melody Gardot joins Taylor Swift on my list of “most listened” in 2021, it won’t come as a surprise. Because just as I listen to Swift all of the time, I’ll be listening to Gardot on and off throughout the year too.

If you want to change, change today — not tomorrow

Every year as December winds to a close, I think about all of the things I’d like to change in my life. I think about how I’d like to lose weight, stop wasting money on stupid stuff, and — especially — learn to use my time wisely.

Some years (and this is one of them), I make grand plans to change my habits.

Recently, for instance, I purchased a five-year journal. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a lovely little book that includes space to make entries for each day from 01 January 2021 until 31 December 2025.

Hobinichi 5-year planner

In my mind, it’d be awesome to commit to keeping this journal for five years. And I really really want to do it.

But here’s the problem. Often, these grand plans aren’t rooted in reality. They’re based on some idealized picture of who I want to be, not who I am. As a result, I don’t follow through. (Fortunately, my intended journaling routine is aligned with who I am.)

Here’s a real-life example.

I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life. There have been periods where I’m fit and healthy, but there have also been periods during which I indulge myself indiscriminately. I gain weight. My blood pressure soars. My mental health suffers.

Eventually, I decided I need to get fit again. When this happens, I take one of two approaches.

  • The first approach is to adhere to some sort of regimented diet. Maybe I decide I’m only going to eat vegetarian. Or, usually, I aim to stick to a high-protein menu. Plus, I’ll exercise every day! As you can probably guess, this doesn’t usually work. (Sometimes it does but not usually.)/
  • The second approach is to allow myself to continue eating and doing the same things I’ve been eating and doing, but to do so at a reduced level. I don’t deny myself anything that I enjoy (hello, Hostess Sno-Balls!) but I eat the stuff less often.

This latter method is aligned with who I am. It doesn’t operate on the assumption that I will suddenly become a different person. It accepts my quirks and works with them.

Like I say, I have a much higher success rate when I opt to make changes that come from a place of intrinsic motivation.

There’s nothing revelatory here. Psychology shows that changes are more likely to stick if we’re intrinsically motivated rather than pursuing something because somebody is making us do it (or we think we ought to do it). We have to want the change for the change to occur.

I know this, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to adopt habits that are completely foreign to my mental make-up. I think we all do this.

There’s another problem with deciding, “Oh, I’m going to suddenly be a different person on January 1st.” When I decide to adopt resolutions on some meaningful date — the first of the year, my birthday, various anniversaries — they rarely stick. Maybe I adhere to the new behavior for a day or two, but then I forget (or fail) and it makes me feel shitty. I feel ashamed. I feel like a failure.

I have much, much better success if I do not aim to adopt new habits on some meaningful date. I get better results when I decide to start now.

Again, let’s use my fitness as an example.

I frequently try to start fitness programs at the first of the year. Or on my birthday. But during my 51+ years on earth, this has never worked. Not once.

What has worked, however, is starting immediately.

If I want to lose weight and get fit (and I’m serious about doing so), then the most effective thing is to begin this very moment, not wait for some arbitrary date in the future. I have the motivation now. I have the desire now. If I start when I’m motivated, I’ll build momentum. If I wait until a future date, I may or may not have the desire at that time.

In 1997, for instance, I hit 200 pounds for the first time in my life on May 6th. After I stepped on the scale and saw that number, I decided then and there to lose weight. Over the next six months, I lost forty pounds. (And it was this weight-loss journey that led to my first blog. Neither Folded Space nor Get Rich Slowly would be here today if I hadn’t made that decision!)

In 2010, I resolved to lose weight starting January 1st. It didn’t happen. But I did get fit after a similar “come to Jesus” moment in early April. (That instance led to me losing forty pounds again and achieving the best fitness of my life.)

And this year? This year, I hit my limit on July 28th. I resolved to lose thirty pounds in six months. It now looks like I’ll miss my target by a week or two — but I’m still going to shed that thirty pounds. (And more.) Then, I’ll start working on exercise to boost my overall fitness.

In each of these three cases, I started when I was inspired to start. I didn’t wait for some date in the future.

I went alcohol-free from July 5th to October 29th of this year using the same method. I simply said, “Enough.” I made the decision to stop drinking, and I followed through. I’m ready to resume sobriety starting tomorrow, even though I know have a lousy track record of doing things when I pick a “magic” date. If I was serious, I’d start today. I’d let Kim enjoy champagne tonight and I’d celebrate sober.

Anyhow, none of this means that I shouldn’t try to make changes in the new year. It’s always good to pursue self improvement. But I need to be realistic about the likely results. And I need to recognize that my true successes come when I make changes immediately, when I’m motivated, instead of waiting for some magical time in the future.