Determine How to Spend Time With One Question

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There have never been more ways to spend your time. Even if you have chosen to sit on your duff and watch a screen, the choices are endless.

Do you want to watch Netflix? Hulu? HBO? It seems like we’ll never scratch the surface of even figuring out what show to watch next. 

And that’s just watching TV. If you want to listen to music, read a book, take a class, cook a meal, or anything else—the options aren’t virtually endless, they’re genuinely endless in the span of a single human lifetime. It feels like we’re on a crusade against the word “boredom”—committed to ending its use.

So, how do we determine how to spend our time? 

I had been experiencing this dilemma lately. It would start with something mindless—a YouTube binge, a meme-scroll session, or something else. Then, after a while, my default mode network would flicker slightly and I’d “wake up” to the recurring question:

Is this is what I should be doing? Is this how I should be spending my time?

Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless escape into the world of entertainment with low nutritional value. But like consuming loads of empty calories, I never found myself feeling especially glad that I had done so. 

That’s when I asked myself a question that has become an immensely useful litmus test for gauging whether or not I should doing something: 

How will this activity make me feel after I’ve done it? Will I be glad that I did that? 

I’ve come to personally refer to this sensational-gauge as the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test.

One of the first times I put this litmus test for time consumption to work was while getting back into reading great stories. I’ve been on a John Grisham kick—reading A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, A Time For Mercy, The Innocent Man, and The Rainmaker all within about the span of two or three months. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the stories but also just the act of reading. 

Setting my phone in the next room and arming myself with my Kindle Paperwhite connected to my public library account, reading became effortless. I turned off all page indicators so I had no idea how far I had left to go. Hours would fly by as I got lost in the texts. I would usually only stop when life’s other obligations would arise or when my reading would take me into the night and I found myself nodding off in the early morning hours.

Usually, when I’d binge a show or fall down an hours-long YouTube wormhole, I would come out the other side exhausted—beat, but with my mind still racing. However, every time I’d close my Kindle after a hearty reading session, I would feel refreshed—almost rested. There would be a genuine feeling of whew—that was great. I’m glad I did that.

Soon after realizing this difference, I became cognizant to gauge how certain activities made me feel—what I call the “subsequent tone” of an event or activity.  The following are a few experiments and their outcomes. 

Music Production

As a musician and a huge fan of the subgenre of Reggae known as “Dub,” within the past few months, I decided to try my hand at producing some Dub recordings of my own. Like reading, I found myself immersing myself in the process of piecing together drum sounds, recording bass lines, experimenting with chord progressions on my midi keyboard, and finding the perfect melodica melodies to tie up every “riddim” like a bow. Once I had recorded all of the instruments, I’d spend hours tweaking the recordings, effects, and molding them to my liking on my dinky laptop. 

I proudly released two of those recordings as singles—accessible to most streaming platforms. You can find them on the platform of your choice on my music page

As I completed the tracks and uploaded them for distribution, never once did I feel like I was wasting my time. Even after exhaustedly re-recording a bassline at 2 AM because the intonation on my bass guitar was off on the original recording, I felt the same sensations—man, I’m glad that I did that. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I felt full of life. 

Journaling

Rarely do I ever start a journaling session because I have a craving to scribble my thoughts onto a page. I usually do so because I feel like I have so many things on my mind that my own lack of clarity is starting to weigh me down. However, by the time I’ve laid out all of the “paperwork” of my mind onto the table of the page, I can begin to see what I can fix, what I should ignore, and what is holding me back. I start sketching out plans, goals, aspirations, and fixes. Then, closing my journal, I’m hit with the wave of man, I’m glad I did that

Exercise

Rarely do I leave my house in the morning anxious to break a sweat. Whether I’m going out to my deck to jump rope or to walk or run laps around the nearby park, my soft bed still calls out to me. However, after my body has warmed up, my pulse increases, and I hit my stride, I start to feel alive. Heading back inside my house with a sweat-soaked beard and clothes sticking to me, I feel great. The rest of the day seems to go easier because I got my increased pulse and sweat to blow out the morning’s cobwebs. 

Prayer

Like journaling and exercise, I rarely initiate my prayers pumped to be there. It can be an immense slog that requires many mindset and liturgical shifts before finding a groove. In Judaism, we have a concept referred to as “kavannah” — which most translate as “intention” but I prefer Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser’s translation, which I’ve heard is actually more accurate — “alignment.” The moments leading up to my moments of kavannah—my spiritual alignment with my Creator—can feel like a dial-up modem circa 1998 trying to log on to the internet. Like that dial-up modem, there is a lot of internal static, whirling, and sharp creaking—spiritual turbulence that accompanies such ascension. But like flying above the turbulence, there is a moment of soaring above the clouds where the connection is made.

When I have moments of immense kavannah, while it doesn’t feel like I can hear the voice of a Higher Power, it does feel as though Someone has picked up the receiver. Paraphrasing a quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l —“This call is being monitored for quality purposes.” 

As much as I may have to wrestle to get myself to get into a place of spiritual alignment, I always walk away from prayer with the feeling in my bones of, “I’m glad I did that.” 

Social Media

Though I stopped using about 97% of all social media years before officially using the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test as a decision-making tool, similar feelings resulted in me deleting my accounts. I can’t think of many if any instances in which I would conclude a social media scrolling session and feel better for having partaken in the social media experience. 

Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Activities 

If you’re struggling to determine how you should be spending your limited time on this planet, I would urge you to apply this test to your own actions: after completing an activity, do you feel better having participated in that activity? 

Do you feel elevated or deflated?

Do you feel inspired or simply tired?

Do you feel fulfilled or drained?

Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Life

Activities aren’t the only area of life where the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test can be applied. You can also use this test to determine other decisions—career choices, people, what foods to eat, and the like.

Sometimes, making a life-changing decision simply means asking yourself — Is this going to make me feel better or worse when it’s all over?


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My Favorite Place in the House to Start My Day

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“Win the morning, win the day.” – Tim Ferriss

Most of you who read this blog have likely noticed how much of a believer I am in developing morning routines—habitually performed rituals that give us the momentum we need to make the most of the rest of our day. While a good morning routine doesn’t guarantee a successful day, it gives you a fighting chance. 

With that said, my morning routines have been fairly erratic throughout this pandemic. Don’t get me wrong—they’re productive, yes. But set? Far from it. I have, however, found an unlikely activity that I will likely keep in my morning repertoire. Well, maybe more of a place than an activity. 

Step 1. I get up from bed. I use the bathroom. Feed the cat. Drink a pint of water. 

Step 2. I walk into my living room…and collapse to the floor. 

Yep. The floor. I really enjoy laying, sitting, rolling around…on the cold hard floor. 

Why I Like the Sitting or Laying on Floor in the Morning #1: It’s relentlessly soothing (or “soothingly” relentless?) 

The floor is…well, hard. Unforgiving. But you can lay on it. This combination of solid yet accommodating makes my thin area-rug-covered hardwood floor one of my favorite places to stretch out upon first thing in the morning. 

Not yet caffeinated or exercised, I’m not ready to do many activities that demand mental acuity or physical agility. My natural state is to want to return to the warm embrace of my memory foam mattress. However, sprawling out on the hard floor begins to awaken my joints and muscles without really any conscious effort. And the first thing in the morning, I’m looking for maximum output with minimum input. 

Rocking around on the floor feels like someone rolling a rolling pin up and down the back of your body. While that sounds painful, and it kind of is, it can also feel oh so good.

Why I Like the Sitting or Laying on Floor in the Morning #2: It’s stretching for soft, lazy people. 

In order to change positions on the hard floor feels like a natural movement while utilizing muscles you forgot you have. 

We spend most of our days in office chairs, supportive seats in a car, on sofas, and finally—big hyper-cushioned beds for hours and hours. All of these apparatuses are aimed at providing comfort. They do this by limiting certain body movements and our need to support parts of our body. They also cushion our kiesters and limit potential instances of circulation cut-offs in certain parts of the body—especially in the legs and feet. 

Though these adversity buffers can feel quite nice following a day of arduous labor, few of us break a sweat outside of a gym these days—if then. When this is the case, what were once devices for relief have become sloth enablers. If you are what you sit on, we’ve become a soft, doughy people. 

Why I Like the Sitting or Laying on Floor in the Morning #3: If you’re able to be comfortable sitting or laying on the floor, you can find comfort virtually anywhere.

I’ll be the first to admit that sitting and laying on the floor when you’re not used to doing so straight up suuuucks. It’s rigid, uncomfortable, and reveals just how tender and weak you have become as a human. If you’ve ever been forced to sleep or sit on the floor, you can attest to feeling like you should expect to find bruising under your tuchus, back, shoulders, and legs. 

After a while, however, you get used to it. You begin to understand how cultures all over the world have come to sit comfortably on the floor well into their old age. After even longer, you find yourself alternating between your $900 couch and enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of wine while sitting on the floor—just depending on the day. 

The greatest part of this last point is that getting used to sitting on the floor opens up a world of comfortable seating options to you wherever you are. Are all of the seats at the airport terminal taken? Are there more friends over to watch the big game than there are spots on your friend’s couch. Boom—the floor is yours, pun definitely intended. 

Now, you’ll just have to convince the host of the party that, yes, you really are quite ok with sitting on the floor without seeming like a crazy person. 

Why I Like the Sitting or Laying on Floor in the Morning #4: Increasing your ability to get up off the floor may actually help you live longer…kind of.

The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology published a story about a team of Brazilian researchers who studied a group of men and women ages 51 to 80 years old for a number of years. One of their findings revealed an interesting discovery—those who required the use of both of their hands and knees to get up and down from the floor were nearly seven times more likely to die within six years than those who get up from the floor without additional support. 

Now, will spending time on the floor increase you ability to get up from it and thus extend your functional life? I don’t know. I do know that it will certainly give you more practice. 

Bonus: The Back Stretch I Do Every Morning on the Floor

I can’t say that this on-the-floor back stretch is the reason I don’t have any back pain, but I do it every morning and, yep, I don’t have any back pain. 

  • Lay on your back on the floor.
  • With your right arm reaching over your body and rolling onto your left shoulder, reach as far and high to the left as you can. 
  • Then change sides.
  • With your left arm reaching over your body and rolling onto your right shoulder, reach as far and high to the right as you can. 

Another bonus is a quote from my wife—who is also an advocate for spending more time on the floor. I told her that I was writing a piece on spending time on the floor in the mornings. I asked if she had any input. 

“Your day can only go up from there!”


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Two Ancient Notions That Helped Pull Me From the Depths

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The summer of 2020 was rough for a lot of people…

…for a lot of different reasons. It was rough for me because I was experiencing levels of health anxiety only matched by the week before I received a positive cancer diagnosis in 2017. 

This was different, though.

Was I displaying any physical symptoms? Eh, probably not. Then what was the source of the anxiety? For those who have experienced bouts of anxiety, you know that you don’t need a reason. In fact, most of us pray for a source of our torment so that we can know what the hell to fix. The worst anxiety often makes the least sense. 

But I did find something that turned it all around—two ancient notions that have been helping people like me for thousands of years. But these require additional context.

Anxiety is a lying snake.

Impending doom continued to swirl around my perception of how I was doing inside. These feelings were briefly alleviated by trips to my doctor. He would immediately tell me that nothing was wrong. In fact, that I was in better health than I had been since my teenage years. I would ride this high of relief for a few weeks only for the feelings of anxiety and dread to slither back into my life. 

My health anxiety would crack fever pitches just before surveillance appointments—routine follow-up scans with my urologist following my cancer treatment in 2017. This bubbling dread leading up to scans is what is known as “scanxiety” in the cancer community. 

He’d usually just walk into the examination room, tell me how the scans showed nothing abnormal, and remind me that I hadn’t displayed any signs of cancer in several years. 

A few months later, the dread would reappear—like Ol’ Pap Finn back in town, looking for his Huckleberry to knock around. Rinse and repeat.

But that was all about to change.

One morning in early spring 2021, the dread slithered up my spine and sat atop my shoulder as I examined my appearance in the bathroom mirror. With it’s split tongue tickling every consonant, it whispered—

“You’re going to die soon.” 

Taking a deep breath and realizing it was [only] the anxiety talking—something meditation had made me hip to—I let a deep exhale flap my lips in cheeky facetious exasperation as I let out my reply.

Well, if that’s the case, I better make this summer count,” chuckling to myself, scoffing off the serpent’s lies as I dried my hands and walked out of the bathroom. 

I didn’t know it at the time but something shifted inside. That serpent, who thrived on my fear and dread, was defanged. 

Did I truly believe that I was going to die soon? No—it was just another lie my mind was trying to get me to believe. 

But I started living as though it were true

  • I made an extra effort to spend time with people I cared about —sometimes seeking out old friends who had slipped through life’s cracks.
  • I became more conscious of what foods, habits, and activities made me feel my best and made a point to fill my life with them.
  • I sought out moments of peace. 
  • I made conscious efforts to be more present in everything I did—especially while spending time with loved ones. 
  • And yes, this was around the time I quit social media—an activity I’ve mostly replaced with more pleasure-reading than I had done in my entire life. Thanks, John Grisham.

With these activities and the mental residue that accompanied them, my dread was rendered powerless. The whispered lies grew increasingly faint and manageable. Ease and contentment snuck their way back into my life reminiscent of childhood.

There’s no doubt that these activities aided in managing my mood and anxiety levels. Still, I attribute much of this relief to the combination of two philosophical pillars of Stoicism I had learned about years prior but had begun inadvertently practicing—amor fati and memento mori. 

Amor Fati

We have little control over what happens to us in life. And how boring would life be if we could? Without a little uncertainty, you may not have ever met your spouse or discovered your passion. 

Amori fati literally means a love of one’s fate—whatever that happens to be. Even if it sucks. Because ultimately it will teach you something or play a role in helping you become the person you were meant to be just as it had up to this point. Fighting fate is a losing battle, so you might as well fall in love with it. 

Memento Mori

Speaking of fate, you’re going to die. 

“Yeah, but not for a while.” 

Says who? You could die in a few months. Next week. Tomorrow. 

Instead of letting this idea burden your thoughts, use it to bring clarity to your life. When tomorrow is not promised, this notion should make your next meal delicious, every sunset spectacular, and moments with those close to you an extravagant privilege. The governor just gave you a stay of execution—what are you going to do with it before he changes his mind?

Memento mori means “remembrance of death” — which is actually a remembrance of life. 

Death is inevitable and thus a silly fear. The true fear is never having truly lived.

Still, it is important to remember that yes, you’re going to die. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply make sure you’re squeezing the juice out of life and not leaving any meat on the bone. 

These notions may not click for you or change your life right now or even in the near future. That’s ok. But they’re planted. If you’re like me, your subconscious may need to chew on them for a few years before they “turn on.” My prayer is that one day, your mind finds use for them when you most need them.

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The Now Page: A Blog Post About a New Page on My Site

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As most of you may know, in May 2021, I left most social media platforms — at least the trifecta of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter [fortunately, I had not yet joined TikTok]. Yes, I still have a LinkedIn account and periodically update creator pages [not profiles] on Facebook.   

Still, this has led many to wonder what I’m up to. I guess I wasn’t alone in this. Writer and CD Baby founder Derek Sivers also found himself being frequently asked what he was up to in a way that social media couldn’t adequately answer. This is when he invented the Now page. 

A Now page? Isn’t that what social media is for?

Derek’s reply

“No. If I wonder how someone is doing these days, it doesn’t help me to see that they went on vacation last week, are upset about something in the news, or even got a new job. That’s not the big picture.

Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year.”

And this was written pre-covid! 

Derek encouraged others to make their own Now pages on their own websites, though he stresses an important rule: 

“This isn’t for marketing or attention. It will not benefit you in any business way.”

So, I have decided to put up my own Now page. I may end up emailing my list whenever I update it, but then again, I may not.

I will update this for the sake of my far-flung, oft-missed friends. If you’re a friend of mine and live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I’ll always prefer catching up over a drink than reading Now pages. 

You can check out my Now page at thekenlane.com/now

Who Tells Your Story: Cementing a Legacy Through Good Work

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Though I’m extremely late to the party, I’ve recently been absolutely enthralled by the incredible Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Hamilton. Even though every number is pretty flawless from beginning to end, the piece that sank its hooks into my mind the deepest was the final number — particularly the first few lyrical lines of that piece as sung by the character of George Washington: 

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory —you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

The Legacy of Your Grandparents

I’m not sure why, but upon hearing these lines, I immediately saw my grandparents’ faces — most now passed away, only one still living. They are the source or subject of so many wonderful stories and lessons. Each of them was the embodiment of benevolence. 

While considering their legacy, I thought about how tragic it was that their names may be completely lost to history in a generation or two — with nothing more for would-be historians to find than a few photographs, home movies, obituaries, and official documents. 

Visualizing their faces fading like those of Marty McFly’s family members in his pocketed photograph in Back to the Future, my first instinct was to take to my computer and begin writing down every experience and anecdote of my grandparents that I could shake loose from my memory to preserve their legacy. As I sat down to do this, I looked down at my own two hands on the keyboard — hands that resemble those of my mother’s father. I started to remember all of the ways I am like him and why that’s so. I began to see that a legacy is more than a written story or a name on a plaque, but is instead one’s ability to reach through time and touch the future — even if in a completely unidentifiable way. 

Your Own Legacy

This ability to reach across time got me thinking about my own legacy. Am I currently doing enough to cement a legacy? Is this even a worthwhile goal? I mean, ole Washington said so in Hamilton — we don’t control who tells our story. 

The actual Alexander Hamilton was obsessed with his legacy. As the performers and historians alike have told us, Hamilton was constantly writing like he was “running out of time” — emptying his mind onto thousands of pages through his quill. Despite this and all of his efforts, his legacy was largely preserved through his wife, Eliza, who took up the task of making heads or tails of his copious writings. 

But is that what made Hamilton’s legacy so well preserved and acclaimed — Eliza’s dutiful archiving of his written works? Partially, but one may argue that Eliza preserved her husband’s legacy by perpetuating the momentum of his spirit — channeling it into the good work that she feels he may have pursued had the bullet of Aaron Burr’s pistol not sent Alexander to an early grave. 

After Hamilton’s death at around age 47 or 48, depending on who you ask, Eliza lived to be 97 years old. In the time between his death and her own, she worked dutifully to preserve her late husband’s legacy — not only establishing the first private orphanage in New York City, as the musical mentioned, she also established the Hamilton Free School — which offered free private education for the children from low-income families. Hamilton himself had been an orphan whose private education had only been possible by an endowment from those in his boyhood community of Nevis — an island in the West Indies. 

Had her husband not been a Founding Father of the United States, his legacy likely still would have been preserved through the acts of Eliza — who performed good works that ensured her lasting legacy as well. 

Good Work Not Forgotten

Though many of us will never have our names emblazoned on a monument, plaque, or in a textbook, history recalls fondly the impact of good work in the world. This good work can range from serving one’s community, raising children to be compassionate citizens, or other acts that positively inspire future generations.  Activists, artists, civil servants, educators, healers, scholars, athletes, parents, family, and friends — all of these possess the capacity for good work that namelessly ripples through the ages long after the writing has faded from the monuments and textbooks. 

The Reward for Good Work

So, is cementing a legacy the reward for good work? No. A legacy is never realized within one’s lifetime — again, as Washington sang — you have no control…who tells your story. This good work is not performed for a paycheck, award, acclaim, or even a legacy. A legacy is the byproduct of good work. No, good work is performed because it is what the worker must do to remain a human being — to warm their bones and fill their days with purpose. 

Simply put by one of my favorite artists, Tom Sachs — 

The reward for good work is more work.


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5 Reasons Why I Left Social Media (and 4 Things to Consider)

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My jar ain’t big enough. 

There’s a classic story told by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First entitled “The Big Rocks of Life.” In this story, a person speaking to a class of business students uses a gallon-sized jar to symbolize their schedule. He also uses various items to represent time on their calendar.

  • He first placed several fist-sized rocks in the jar till they reached the lip. He asked the class if the jar was full, to which they said yes. 
  • He then dumped in as much gravel as he could into the jar, shaking the jar, causing the gravel to fill the space between the rocks. He asked them again if it was full, to which they replied yes. 
  • He then poured in as much sand as he could into the jar — again, shaking it until it settled around the rocks. He asked the class if it was full. They said yes. 
  • He then poured as much water as he could into the jar. He didn’t even have to shake the jar to get it to settle. This time he agreed that it was, in fact, full. 

He asked if anyone understood the point of this illustration. 

“…no matter how full your schedule is,” one student shouted from the back, “if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” 

“‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”’

As a husband, family man, employee, and just a human being in need of routine maintenance, I’ve come to realize that my jar is only so big. The more I’ve tried to cram into it, the more my big rocks have remained teetering above the lip—if not rolling out and landing on my foot with a thud. 

It’s for this reason that I was forced to take careful note of how I spent my time and compare that to how I wanted to spend it — as well as optimizing my own mental and emotional bandwidth.

Upon analyzing how I not only spent my time but also my mental energy, the total impact of social media seemed to clog up inordinate amounts of my attention and energy. Discovering this was akin to finding a minimized web browser loaded to the hilt with active tabs. 

So, what did I do? Over the past 2 years, I closed those mental tabs. I started by shutting down my personal Facebook account, then Instagram, and just a few weeks back — Twitter.

The following are a number of reasons why I quit using 98% of the social media platforms I had previously utilized, how I feel now, and four items to consider for those contemplating making the leap from the social media train.

Reason #1. I’m no match for the machine.

“Why do you make such a big deal out of social media? Why can’t you just treat it like a nice little escape and stash it the rest of the time?” 

Man, I wish I were one of those social media users who could just take a peek every Sunday afternoon for 10 minutes and then stow it away — not just physically but also mentally. But I’m not. 

I’m not sure why but whenever I use social media, my mind gives it permission to run in the background like a memory-hungry computer application. I find myself thinking about it and checking it as though I’d invested my life savings on a single tumultuous stock.

“I wonder if anyone has interacted with my post.”

“I wonder what so-and-so said about xyz.”

“I’m bored but I know where to get a dopamine bump…”

“Why did I automatically type in ‘twitter.com’ once I opened that web browser?” 

And was I ever fulfilled in my checking? Hmm…not really. 

Anytime I took the plunge down any feed, it felt like opening my own refrigerator in hopes that someone else had stocked it with ice-cold Hefeweizen and disembodied thumbs up. Ok, that last part sounded a little weird

I’m a simple dude. I’m no match for Silicon Valley’s algorithm-driven “advertainment” spoon perched atop the cigarette lighter of my own insecurities. As long as I’m logged on, they got me.

Reason #2. Acquaintances don’t matter. Like, at all. 

Some relationships are worthy of your attention and they should be preserved at all cost. Others should be allowed to wither, die, and decompose in order to nurture new and existing relationships.

If you asked me 15 years ago to describe my present self, such a reckless shot in the dark would have been investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. While many aspects of my personality and interests have remained consistent over the years, much about me has also changed. And with these changes comes a shift in those who matter most to me. 

While I have preserved many important relationships and even fostered new ones, I likely could not tell you which members of my graduating class from high school are still capable of fogging a mirror. 

And if that sounds harsh, it’s really not. Why? Well, the reality is that those people don’t matter. To me — I mean. They don’t matter to me. My daily life. And they don’t have to. Why? Because I probably don’t matter to them. And that’s fine. 

According to acclaimed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the cognitive limit of the human brain to adequately maintain social relationships is about up to 150 people. Called “Dunbar’s Number,” 150 relationships is where we, as a species, max out — or as he put it, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

I’m not precisely sure why, but learning about Dunbar’s Number brought me immense comfort — as though someone relieved a pressure valve so as to say, “no, you’re not crazy. You’re just not built for this.”

In addition to not being able to maintain healthy relationships with so many people, I always feel my own sense of self begin to erode when held up to the scrutiny of the masses rather than how I perceive myself. I found myself attempting to impress people far outside my 150 relationships. Even worse, I was failing to impress the only person worthy of impressing — me. 

Over the years, I found that social media kept me beholden to a particular group of people — most of whom were acquaintances, lapsed friendships, or distant relatives. Though I initially tried to fashion the online version of myself to be consistent with reality, the continued preservation of that antiquated version of me started to hold me back from progressing into my perpetually changing, authentic self. Even worse, this avatar I constructed had deviated so much from whom I wanted to be now that I grew to question my own identity. 

Does my Instagram or Twitter self symbolize who I am or vice versa? Do I even know who I am anymore? 

The more I would strive to construct a social media manifestation of myself, the less I felt I knew about who I was. I feel that this was partially because I was aiming to impress or at least preserve a consistent image for those who matter very little to me now. Social media kept me believing that, like a company, I was a brand. But I am not a brand. I am a living organism — terms and conditions subject to change, some restrictions apply. See me for details.

Reason #3. Half-baked thoughts don’t need a venue

When I left Twitter, I saved all of my tweets. Looking back at them is, well, embarrassing. While I stand by much of the things I said, there are several examples of instances where posting a half-baked thought was likely not warranted. 

Why do we feel ok about saying things on our social media feeds that we would never utter in public? Social media accounts are virtual jumbotrons, yet little responsibility or consideration is made for quality assurance. We belch randomness into a box that then clogs the minds of anyone unfortunate to have it illuminate their face. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m going to continue belching my nonsense into blog articles, essays, and even books for the rest of my life — but I’ll at least give you, the audience, the decency of mulling the contents over before hitting the “publish” button. 

Reason #4. Having my impulses continually prodded was exhausting. 

Now that I’ve covered how the social media version of myself was likely a confused, exaggerated, and vain attempt at presenting an interesting fellow to the world, the following statement is likely not very controversial — most information acquired via social media is…well, off

To keep people scrolling, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. The more outrageous the content, the more irresistible it is to consume. To maximize engagement, content creators frequently tap into our base impulses — fear, anxiety, outrage, sex, excitement, inclusion, insecurity — generally speaking, FOMO —  the fear of missing out

Reason #5. I discovered that I really don’t want to be famous. 

I don’t know if I’m just getting older but the idea of becoming famous sounds 10,000% more terrible than it used to than when I was younger. 

I used to imagine that being well known for something would make me feel more whole — that the idea of being recognized for a talent or accomplishment would be a delightful sensation. As a writer and a musician, attaining notoriety just seemed like something I should seek…right?

Then, something happened: I received acclaim from people I did not know…and I did not know how to handle it. 

In that moment, I discovered that I’m really not good at receiving praise or compliments. When I receive a glowing review, I experience sensations of what some call “imposter syndrome” — doubting that I am deserving of whatever praise is being showered upon me. I clam up and feel like saying, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

Imagine that you’ve been told you’ve definitely just won a Nobel Prize, but that your entire acceptance speech was just you murmuring, “I’m almost certain this is intended for someone with my same name. Have you confirmed our birth dates, social security numbers, fingerprints, and dental records?” 

A big reason why I was so active on social media before was the vain pursuit of some form of notoriety for a creative thought or idea. The moment I received a bit of it, my pupils dilated like a fugitive caught in a searchlight, and I dove into the safe embrace of obscurity. 

So, why do I still make art? Why do I write, record, or publish? Why do I make stuff? Well, mostly because I enjoy every step of the craft — of the process of sculpting an idea into a consumable piece for someone to enjoy. But when it comes to impressing anyone, the only person I work to impress these days is myself. 

And though I still scurry from the limelight, I am still filled with immense warmth whenever I discover that anything I’ve done or created has genuinely helped another person. The difference between this sensation and fame-seeking is that the created thing did the heavy lifting, not so much me as a person. In fact, the piece of my writing of which I am proudest — one that was published in a highly syndicated publication and that I’ve heard has touched many people deeply — was published anonymously. And I love that — it’s my little secret with anyone who has ever read it. And you’re just going to have to hope you come across it one day.

A Few Things to Consider Upon Leaving Social Media 

If you, like I was, are feeling overwhelmed by the size, speed, and recklessness of social media and feel like leaping off of this runaway train, there are a few new concepts to consider. 

A. You need to have replacement activity ready to go. 

For most social media users, scrolling timelines and newsfeeds is not something one blocks off an afternoon to accomplish. This activity is typically the sand and water in your metaphorical jar of time — slipping between the spaces in other activities. 

Because of this, if you disconnect yourself from social media access, you may feel a twitch — sometimes an actual physical sensation — to reach for your phone’s social media applications or to navigate to a particular website to bridge activities. Standing in line at the store, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or waiting for leftovers to heat up — these are all twitch-inducers. For this reason, it’s important to look at how you will replace social media even before you ever do. 

My favorite social media replacements include: 

  • Reading books — digital or physical. My favorite device these days is my Kindle Paperwhite. It is a blissful escape from my phone or computer. It’s waterproof, contains my entire digital library, can receive articles I’ve previously sent to it, and has a battery that lasts for weeks on end. When I’m out and about, I can pick up reading a book or article right where I left off with the Kindle app. Also, did you know you can connect your Kindle account to your public library account and check out books digitally? And of course, there are always, you know, physical books as well. 
  • Journaling. Think of journaling like updating your social media feeds without ever hitting the “publish” button. It’s actually even better because you can also say everything you’d never say to your “friends” and followers. And with a digital journal, this feels damn-near like social media. Personally, I prefer an app-based service called Daybook that I can write to from my phone or computer, but any password-protected note-taking app will more than suffice.
  • Educational apps. Right now, I’m trying to learning Spanish with Duolingo so I can better communicate with my Hispanic neighbors. Mi objetivo es cambiar cervezas por lecciones de español … y amistad.
  • Arranging physical hangouts with friends. Increased vaccinations mean we no longer have any excuse not to hang out. If you have time to scroll a timeline or update a profile, you have time to arrange an in-person hangout — no phones allowed…unless you’re showing each other pictures of babies, dogs, or cats.
  • My favorite — consciously doing nothing. When was the last time you had a few minutes to kill and you didn’t fill them with anything? The next time you feel the twitch of boredom approaching, just place your hands in your lap and do nothing. Maybe close your eyes and feel your breath enter and exit your nostrils. Think about the wonderful people in your life. Daydream about an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Listen to the birds or watch the way sunlight reflects off leaves. Simply observe the present moment. It’s just about the most underrated activity. 

B. You’re going to be seen as a weirdo. 

Are you going to miss out on some stuff by leaving social media? Eh, that depends. While you may miss out on a joke here and there or some breaking news as it unfolds, if there’s something you were meant to see or know, you will eventually. I personally found, though I did miss out on all kinds of information about aquaintances, news that mattered about people that matter to me eventually trickled into my orbit. I’ve yet to miss a substantial event or bit of news due to my absence from social media platforms. 

“Oh, I forgot — you’re not on social media” is something I hear on a regular basis whenever news of friends is discussed, but guess what? It’s discussed in person eventually — only I get to hear it in person for the first time rather than chew on a regurgitated version of it like everyone else who is living through the reruns. This leads to the next item…

C. You’ll find that in-person conversation is night-and-day better. 

One of the areas of my life that has improved immensely since leaving social media is one you wouldn’t imagine — socializing. Why? Because as briefly mentioned before — regurgitating timelines in person is about as agonizing as discussing the weather. 

“Hey, I saw that picture of your kid that you posted. He’s getting big.” 

“He sure is. Hey, I’m glad to see that your mom is doing better.” 

“Thanks, she’s just had — ”

“ — hip surgery. Yeah, I saw that. You know, I’m going in for —”

“ — knee surgery, yeah, I saw that you posted about that. Let me know if you’ll be well enough to go to that —”

“—weekend street fair? Yeah, I saw that you discussed wanting to get a group of friends together to go to that. I know that Rick can’t go because he’s —”

“—moving to Canada. You saw that post, too? Sheesh, I mean, it’s cool that he scored that new—”

“—job with the solar panel technology firm. You saw post that, too?” 

If you’ve had a conversation with a friend who is also in your social media sphere, you know that this conversation isn’t that exaggerated, but is as equally soul-crushing.  

D. You’re going to feel great no longer being a product. 

Social media would have us all believe that we’re their target demographic. We’re not — or else they’d call us “members.” What do they call us? Users. Social media is not designed to connect long-lost friends, help maintain relationships or people explore new interests. It is a funnel used by advertisers to bypass our gag reflex. It uses psychological manipulation at every turn to get you to scroll, to react, to doubt yourself, and to believe that you need to buy more stuff. It’s not an accident that your timeline is referred to as your “feed.”

Believe it or not, there are ways to be just as informed and connected as those on social media — become a member instead of a user. Seek out products and services not funded by advertisers. While this means that you may have to start paying for certain things, you’ll find that paid memberships lack much of the addictiveness and psychological manipulation of ad-driven content. Because of this, you’ll also find that once you become a member and begin paying for services you once received for free, you’ll likely spend less because your experiences are much less controlled by advertisers. 

My challenge to you is not to terminate all of your social media accounts, but simply to gauge your dependence on them and how they actually make you feel. Maybe it’s time for a break…before you break.


Choosing Your Shovel: A Field Manual to Leveraging Fear & Managing Anxiety

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Quick disclaimer: There is a significant difference between sporadic spells of anxiety and a chronic anxiety disorder. This piece is meant more to aid with periodic anxious spells rather than treating any condition, which should be addressed by a mental health professional.

Two emotions. Endless misinterpretations.

Fear and anxiety are two of the most perplexing emotions one can have. Both can overtake you and result in a miserable daily life. Conquering fear and anxiety is the work of life and not a life hack that can be acquired by reading a short online essay or listening to a podcast episode. This being said, I’ve personally found the following mindset shifts to be immensely helpful when attempting to control or even leverage fear and anxiety. When these mindset shifts are combined, they may even be able to help the average person pull themself from the occasional bout of anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 1: Fear can be useful when correctly identified.

Fear — ”an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.”
– Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Though fear can be debilitating, it is an instrumental emotion. Without fear, we might find ourselves attempting to cross busy highways on foot, coming too close to the edges of steep heights, or petting dangerous creatures. Fear is a mechanism to protect us from many of the dangers of life.

While this is true, fear is only helpful when it can be leveraged or applied — when it results in a discernable behavioral shift. When it cannot be, it ceases to be fear. It is, instead, anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 2: We frequently confuse fear with anxiety and vice versa.

One of the biggest reasons we cling to debilitating anxiety is because we confuse it with helpful fear. As we’ve discussed before, fear is instrumental. Anxiety, however, is not. 

  • The shovel of fear can dig us free from a situation.
  • The shovel of anxiety only deepens our rut. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to correctly identify the shovel of fear and the shovel of anxiety. So, the first step out is knowing when you’re clutching the wrong shovel. 

Mindset Shift 3: Becoming mindful of anxious thoughts can help you manage them. 

You are not your thoughts. If this were the case, you would be incapable of thinking about your thoughts. Humans are unique from other creatures on this planet in that we are capable of offering the Director’s Commentary of our own thought process. 

Most of us, however, can rarely distinguish our thinking from thinking about thinking. This thinking about our thoughts can be referred to as “metacognition” but is most commonly referred to as “mindfulness.” 

The term “mindfulness” is meant to be used to contrast our default mode — mindlessness. When our thoughts are allowed to ricochet in our heads without control, the result is a dangerous rumination and can culminate in severe anxiety and depression.

Mindset Shift 3: Mind control is an obtainable superpower if it’s your own mind you’re controlling.

Like stopping a ricocheting bullet, catching a mindless thought before it tears through our emotions can feel like a superpower. Mindfulness, however, is not the act of catching speeding bullets but rather slowing them down to the point of plucking them out of thin air. When a thought or reactionary emotion can be slowed down, its details can be more objectively analyzed, its intent considered, and the most appropriate response deployed. 

Examining Fear vs. Anxiety in Practice

The next time you experience the frantic gloom of fear or anxiety, as soon as you can identify the sensation, do your best to cease what you’re doing and take hold of the moment for yourself.

  • Focus on the raw sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. This present action will help pull the emergency brake on your thought processes.
  • Once grounded in the present, aim to perceive this negative emotion as though belonging to someone else. Aim to observe it as objectively as placing a glass slide under the lens of a microscope for examination. 
  • Carefully inspecting this thought or feeling, ask yourself, “What action is this sensation prompting me to do?” 

Leveraging Useful Fear

If this sensation has practical next steps that can prevent ailment or injury, whether of your body, relationships, career, or overall wellbeing, this is valuable fear. Consider how these steps can be positively applied to the betterment of your daily life. Break each action into its tiniest achievable steps — with no effort too small as long as you’re moving forward. Construct a plan for following these steps with scheduled times and deadlines. 

The following are a few examples of how to possibly leverage useful fear to help resolve a fearful state.

  • If a bodily symptom is fearfully weighing on your mind, an executable action is to present your concern to a doctor. If this action feels daunting, break the activity into smaller parts. Perhaps, start by sending a message to the doctor through email or your health care provider’s online portal. Maybe even start as small as scheduling a time to make an appointment with a deadline for the completion of this action. If even this feels like too much, perhaps your first step is looking at yourself in the mirror and saying out loud, “tomorrow, I’m going to call my doctor’s office.” Again, no step is too small if it means moving forward from your present fearful state.
  • If you’re fearfully concerned about the future of your job, whether due to your performance or the support of your employer, an executable action would be to make a list of actionable items you can take in case your fears are founded. If the fear is performance-based, identify your weaknesses as an employee and develop ways to strengthen them — even little by little. Asking colleagues, even superiors, for constructive criticism can help in this matter and express your dedication to your duties and role. If your fear is with your employer’s support, you can either bring these fears to your employer to quell or confirm them. If you don’t feel comfortable with the potential confrontation, consider taking tactful steps toward securing employment elsewhere.
  • Suppose you’re fearful about the deterioration of a relationship. In that case, an executable action may be to identify why you feel this way and what actions you can take to nurture or remedy said relationship. If, upon closer analysis, the relationship does not seem salvageable, begin devising steps to end the relationship on agreeable terms. 

Quelling Pernicious Anxiety

The sinking feeling in your gut and increased heart rate are helpful biological responses to approaching the edge of a dizzyingly high cliff. Such sensations are your mind’s signal to your body to be fearfully conscious of impending danger. However, the same sensations while simply lying in bed can be immensely hazardous to your mental and physical health. These are not leverageable sensations but rather potentially debilitating ruminations. 

As previously discussed, properly identifying fear versus anxiety is a practical means of quelling either. When fear is appropriately identified, actionable steps can be executed to leverage and squelch such sensations.  

But once anxiety is identified, then what?

Once anxiety is correctly identified as such—as a senseless nuisance—we can begin to leverage the lack of teeth in these ruminations — aka no discernable executables — to shift our minds to efforts worthy of our attention. We do this by pivoting our thought process from anxiety to the raw perception of the present moment. 

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

― Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching

Mindset Shift 4: Simply sensing the present is your oasis from pernicious anxiety. 

Upon realizing that a particular mental and emotional sensation is harmful anxiety rather than helpful fear, there is a place we can go to manage such disturbing thoughts—the present moment. 

In the present, there is no fear or worry—there is only the moment itself. At this moment, all that need exist for us is the space we occupy and our body’s involuntary biological function. 

  • Our heart beats in our chest, sending blood throughout our body. 
  • Our skin forwards data about the temperature of the airflow of the space. 
  • Our eyes perceive the shapes of objects and the flow of light around us.
  • Our nostrils detect the coolness of inhaled air and the warmth of exhaled air.

None of these sensations of the present moment require thoughts of the past or future. In fact, they can only be perceived clearly once we’ve shelved non-present thinking. 

We can access the escape hatch from anxiety through any of our sense perceptions of the present moment. Tapping into the present perception of our bodies and surroundings rather than our mindless ruminations is immensely useful whenever anxious ruminations seek to creep into our thought process. A constructive way to do this is with a method that I’ll call the Monitor Technique for the sake of this piece.

The Monitor Technique

Unlike a full camera or audio recorder, a monitor—whether a camera’s viewfinder screen monitor, a musician’s stage monitor speaker, or even a medical heart monitor—has the singular job of sharing what exists in real-time. It cannot store sights or sounds. It cannot recall past moments. It cannot process data. Even though it is called a “monitor,” it is usually a secondary computer system or a user that is actually doing the monitoring. In this sense, it should be called an “allows-you-to-monitor.” But for the most part, monitors are nothing more than vehicles for capturing present data.

When you have become more acquainted with the mental and physical sensation of anxiety, instead of attempting to process your way out of such an episode, become a monitor of your present surroundings. Do not attempt to consider how any of these make you feel. Rather, simply observe them as objectively as possible. This is quite literally what many mean when they use the expression, “stop and smell the roses.” 

Here are a few monitoring techniques that have worked for me: 

  • Observe the shapes, slopes, angles, and colors of objects in your vicinity. The arm of a chair or couch. The rise of a window sill. The angles in the edges of the leaves on trees. The sunlight against the backside of a curtain.
  • Close your eyes and allow your ears to absorb the mosaic soundscape around you. There is always sound — from birds chirping to air vents, the whirl of distant lawnmowers, airplanes, cars on a nearby highway, a humming refrigerator, a computer fan, and beyond. You can either let all of the sounds swirl together as one at the front of your attention or isolate one sound to savor. 
  • Sit with your eyes closed and focus on the raw sensations of your breath. Feel the cool and warm air passing through your nose, the rise and fall of your chest, or the space between breaths.
  • Sit with your eyes closed and simply experience the sensation of the surrounding air on your skin. If the air is moving, notice its direction, intensity, and texture. Even with eyes closed, attempt to feel the shape of the space. 

While practicing the Monitor Technique, your anxieties will likely attempt to breach the doors of your focus. Your first impulse will be to fight them, but this too is a mindless reaction. When this happens, simply observe the anxiety itself as its own entity, mindfully note its existence, and then return to practicing the observation of the present moment via the Monitor Technique. 

Choosing Your Shovel

A fearful mindset tends to result in reaching for one of two shovels. 

The first shovel of pernicious anxiety resulting in aimless rumination is sharp and only capable of digging downward—creating ruts and holes in which to hide. Though seeming like a helpful refuge, the occupant of these ruts or holes will soon find themselves unable to climb out. 

The second shovel of useful fear is broad, better able to dig oneself out from psychological and even physical harm. Though it is a heavier shovel to wield, the more efficiently it is utilized, the sooner it can be stowed until needed again. 

Distinguishing fear from anxiety is not a life hack — it is a skill that requires perpetual sharpening. Honing of the perception of our mental state is aided by regularly “checking in” with ourselves in ways that pull the emergency brake on rumination and align our awareness with the present.  As we sharpen this tool of discernment, we must also remain mindful of which shovel we choose to sharpen — that of useful fear or useless anxiety.


Reminders:

Your Clothing Code: A Guide to Owning Only Your Favorite Clothes

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“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”

-Joshua Fields Milburn, The Minimalists

This piece is not necessarily about Minimalism, but about simplifying one area of life that most of us think we don’t think about while subconsciously obsessing over and spending too much time and money—clothes

“I don’t have anything to wear.” 

How many times have you peered into your closet—possibly at a metal rod as long as your height, completely covered in clothes…and don’t feel like wearing any of them? 

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single item in your closet was your favorite version of that thing? Just imagine—no more settling for your second, third, fourth, or even fifth favorite version of that item of clothing.

This is totally possible. How? By creating your clothing code. 

In this piece, we’re going to examine 

(a) what the heck is a clothing code

(b) why you should have one

(c) what it should contain

(d) how to make your own, 

and as a bonus, I’ll show you my own clothing code. 

So, let’s get started. 

What is a clothing code? 

A clothing code (more specifically, your clothing code) is a personal guide to only possessing and obtaining clothing items that most consistently conform to your personal preferences and needs. Your clothing code is your personal best practices guide to increasing the likelihood of only wearing your favorite clothes every single day.

Why is a clothing code necessary?

Life is too short to wear anything other than your favorite clothes. Your clothing code is designed to guard your time, money, preferences, closet space, and, yes, your mental health. All items in your wardrobe should abide by your clothing code’s specifications to ensure the highest quality of life possible. Your clothing code is designed to eliminate those “I have nothing to wear” moments and provide a clear guide regarding what item or outfit suits which situations.  

How to Create Your Clothing Code

Determining Your Criteria

To create your clothing code, you must possess a clear understanding of your clothing preferences and needs. To do this, you must carefully analyze your existing favorite clothing items—not to determine which you prefer, but why. Doing so is incredibly simple.

Step 1: Go to your closet, dresser, wardrobe, etc. 

Step 2: Find your very favorite single items of clothing for each seasonal weather condition by temperature (in Fahrenheit, that’s 0-to-30s, the 40s-60s, 70s-90s, etc.) and application (indoor work, outdoor work, casual, dress-casual, formal, exercise, outdoor leisure, etc.). 

Step 3: Write down each item, leaving about a paragraph’s worth of space beneath each item in your physical or digital document. 

Step 4: Document in detail what physical qualities you like the most about these items —things like cut, texture, weight, flexibility, color, style, comfort, etc. 

With this list, you now possess the start of your own personal clothing code. This code will help you to maintain and obtain clothing items that will only be your favorite. 

How to Flesh Out Your Code

Even more than listing out what clothes you should possess or obtain, your clothing code should state which of your favorite qualities each should have and which qualities would be deal-breakers. Specify fabric types, design cuts, social setting applications, or even environmental sustainability. 

A clothing code is not a uniform shopping list for your personal army, but rather your path to only owning clothing that fits your body but also your character. Because tastes change, only mention specifications of the items, not the items themselves. 

Must-Have/Be & Cannot Have/Be

Per each style of item, provide must-haves and cannot-haves. If you’re tired of buttons coming loose from pants, perhaps your pants must have rivet buttons. If you’re an advocate for animal welfare, perhaps items cannot incorporate genuine leathers. If you’re tired of uncomfortable shoes, perhaps all shoes must be of a certain comfort level. All of these criteria should abide by what you like most and least about clothing items. 

Conditions of Replacement, Updating, or Duplicates

Within your clothing code, decide upon and document the conditions for which an item may be replaced, updated, or duplicates are justified. 

  • A hole in the knee or toe of a more formal pair of pants or shoes may necessitate a replacement version. A similar hole may be perfectly tolerable or mendable in a more casual or utilitarian piece of clothing. 
  • Before buying an upgraded version, carefully assess your present version of said item’s function and if this adequately meets your current needs.
  • Before purchasing additional versions of a favorite item, consider how many (if any) duplicate versions are necessary and when. Ten pairs of an undergarment may be justified, but four jackets of the same warmth or protection level may not be.  

Setting these criteria will ensure that you’re not prematurely buying unnecessary replacements, upgrades, or duplicates of still usable items. 

Where to Keep Your Clothing Code

Even if you choose to physically write down your clothing code, it’s not a bad idea to also create a digital, amendable version of it somewhere that is very accessible. Consider keeping your clothing code within a note-taking application on your mobile device for ease of reference. Resist the urge to make any amendments to your clothing code that may adversely impact your willingness to don an item. After all, this code is meant to keep all of your clothes your favorites. 

How to Apply Your Clothing Code

Once you’ve formulated your clothing code, the easiest place to apply it is within your own closet. Pull everything out and pile it on your bed or a clean space on the floor. Armed with your clothing code, take each item in hand and assess if it meets the code. If it doesn’t, this likely means your willingness to wear this item has waned or will wane in the future, making it safe to discard most appropriately. 

How to Handle Clothing Discard Remorse

Getting rid of items that do not meet your personal criteria can be difficult. You may be holding onto certain items simply out of nostalgia, sentimentality, or because it reminds you of a goal you once had (i.e., clothes you hoped to fit into one day). It can feel like a waste to get rid of perfectly good clothes. There are, however, a few ways to manage such emotions. 

  • Thought 1. Try to recall the last time you wore this item. It was likely quite a while ago, or else it would have met the criteria of your clothing code. 
  • Thought 2. Consider the people who would enthusiastically don the item the very next day. It would serve them more than this item has likely served you.
  • Thought 3. Remember that this item is probably diluting your wardrobe and keeping you that much further away from only possessing your very favorite clothes.
  • Thought 4. Discarding gifts can be fraught with emotional hardship. However, remember that discarding or donating a gift does not mean you do not value the thought process and effort behind the giver’s intent. Simply treat the gift with the same emotion as though you were given the wrong size. If the item does not meet your clothing code’s criteria, it isn’t the right “size” for you in other ways but does not subtract from the giver’s generosity. 

Isn’t this a little obsessive? 

Some of you may be thinking that the idea of constructing a clothing code may be a little weird or too detail-oriented. In all honesty, it’s not very common and downright bizarre. However, I feel it is quite necessary. Why? Because I only want to possess my very favorite clothing items. This seems simple enough, but because I live in the United States — a country whose fashion industry spends over $20 billion a year on advertising apparel to us, most of which none of us need or end up liking in the long run — I feel that guarding my attention while preserving my closet is important. And if that means spending 20-30 minutes putting together a clothing code in order to do that, I feel like that is a small price to pay.  

Bonus: My Own Clothing Code

The following is my own clothing code. It is not to be duplicated unless, for some odd reason, you were tasked with portraying my appearance at a costume party or something as equally bizarre. 

Ken Lane’s Clothing Code

Overview

For the gist of my clothing code, the majority of my clothes fit the following attributes: 

  • Practical: All clothing items must be of practical use that can suit a very wide variety of social, formal, and weather implications. 
  • Timeless: All clothing items must, for the most part, not reflect time-sensitive fashions. The designs of the shirts, pants, shoes, hats, and the like should aim to exist in virtually every decade and, at the same time, no decade.
  • Comfortable: Most every item of clothing should remain on a level of comfort deemed “nappable” — that is, capable of achieving comfortable sleep without having to remove any item, outside of temperature variation. This means that they should allow for a full range of motion, ventilation, and be of a texture that is soft to the touch. This commonly means a preference for bamboo or cotton fibers. Also, no item of clothing should constrain the body, such as overly tight items or belts. Suspenders should always be substituted for belts for this reason.
  • Sturdy: Button-down shirts and pants should favor an industrial or outdoors level of sturdiness. This means a preference for work shirts/pants or outdoors shirts/pants over dress shirts/pants while maintaining comfort. 
  • Vegan: Though not a vegan in my diet, I do not believe any animal should be harmed for my clothing or accessories — especially not when polyurethane (PU) leather has become on par with genuine leather in terms of quality and realism
  • Replaceable: The model/product numbers of preferred clothing items should be saved on a log sheet so that replacement versions can be ordered in the event of unmendable wear
  • Exceptions to all the above

Formalwear is the sole exception to clothing code policies in the rest of this document. Formalwear allows for various levels of discomfort but is typically allocated to one black suit or any required formal clothing  (i.e. tuxedo, etc.)

Pants

  • No jeans
  • Work pants or lightweight straight-leg twill pants 
  • Must have steel clasps or rivet buttons
  • Belt loops should be positioned at around 2, 5, 7, and 10 o’clock to support suspender clasps 
  • Black or grey in color
  • Held up by belt-loop-hooking X-style suspenders

Shirts

  • Darker long-sleeve button-down workshirt for cooler climates
  • Vented lightweight and light-colored hiking/fishing shirt for warmer climates
  • T-shirts —preferably soft with few to no graphics
  • Dress shirts — Standard dress shirts with soft, wrinkle-resistant material, white, off-white, or grey

Shoes

  • With the exception of inclement weather boots, all shoes must be barefoot-style in construction (zero-drop heel, wide toe box, no cushioning, rollable sole)
  • One pair for formal and dress-casual occasions (black vegan leather)
  • One pair for leisure and exercise (no color constraints)
  • Older retired exercise pair for yard work
  • One pair for aquatic activities
  • House slippers and sandals optional

Formalwear

  • For weddings, funerals, religious services, and job interviews, you have one black suit, belt, white shirt, and black tie
  • Will eventually incorporate suspenders into suit pants

Undergarments

  • All undergarments must be majority bamboo fiber
  • Black or dark color

Headwear

  • Daily-use casual hats should be correctly sized and of a timeless fashion — preferably a canvas button-top gatsby cap
  • Exercise or outdoor caps should follow their specific function (shade, breathability, warmth, etc.)

Coats & Jackets

  • Large coat for extended periods in freezing temperatures
  • Insulated jacket for temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)
  • Uninsulated jacket for temperatures from the 40s to low 60s (F) 
  • 2-3 hooded sweatshirts for outdoor exercises in temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)

Exercise wear

  • 4 polyester, moisture-wicking t-shirts (no color specifications)
  • 4 pairs of athletic shorts

Conditions for Replacing, Upgrading, or Duplicates

  • Of all damaged, worn, or stained pants or shirts, the best two may be kept for messier work or lengthy outdoor activities — all others damaged outerwear is to be discarded
  • Athletic/leisure shoes may only be replaced when the intended function is compromised
  • Any damaged or visually worn formalwear that cannot be mended may be replaced
  • Upgrades are only justified when multiple replacements have failed or worn in specific places fortified within upgraded versions (i.e. for work pants that wear in a specific pocket, an upgraded model may be sought)
  • Approved duplications to maintain wardrobe: 6 pairs of pants, 6 longsleeved shirts, 6 t-shirts, 10 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks — only to be replaced upon unmendable wear

A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”


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Am I Glad to See You: A Story About Visiting Dying Friends

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The last time I had seen Don, he was beaming with more than happiness and strength—he seemed downright victorious. 

“Man, am I glad to see you!” I said as I gave him a bear hug around his now-scrawny frame. I didn’t mention that it was because Don had been battling cancer for months and had just been told that the brutal treatments had been successful. 

Though months of treatments had resulted in him now being half of his original size, he hadn’t been a skinny fella before the diagnosis, so he carried his new frame well. In the dimly-lit downtown lounge, he, my brother, Don’s military-pilot son, and I shared drinks and caught up after almost a year apart. Though we weren’t necessarily toasting to Don’s victory over his cancer, it definitely hung in the air like a delicious aroma. 

I still have a picture of the four of us together, taken by a kind stranger whom my brother had asked to snap a picture. A mere selfie wouldn’t do. 

Don isn’t a family member, but he might as well be. He’s my brother’s ex-father-in-law — which makes him my…friend? Despite this, my brother and I share an affinity for Don that we don’t have with many biological relatives. He’s larger than life, so to speak. He’s always been the life of the party and the someone you can call when you’re in a jam. Everyone he knows has a Don story — and he’s quick to tell you what actually happened…though his version isn’t any less hilarious or crazy — he would just tell it as though the events were no big deal. Classic Don. 

Months after that night at the downtown watering hole, the pandemic hit, and everything went into lockdown. I didn’t hear from Don because I hadn’t really heard from anyone. Before the pandemic, I had opted out of social media in lieu of personal interactions and was beginning to regret it a bit. One night, the topic of Don came up with my parents—the few people within my germ circle who were also on social media. 

“Man, I miss Don. How’s he doing?” I said with a smile. 

Both of my parents’ faces drooped and they looked at each other, so as to say, “oh, yeah…he doesn’t know.” 

“His cancer came back. That’s about all we know,” my mom said. 

The rest of my evening was fairly deflated and thoughts of Don swirled. 

A few weeks went by. While working in my home office, my brother called. 

“Don is in hospice.” 

My heart sank and my feet started to physically tingle with shock. After a bit of silence, my brother asked if I was still on the line. I was, I just had to take a bit of time to regroup. Don, whom I’d always seen as the pinnacle of strength, bulletproof, and always ready with a snarky comment, was now dying. This new reality left me shaken and disoriented. 

“I’m coming to town this weekend to see Don while I still can,” my brother said. 

Over the next few days, I wrestled with myself whether or not I would accompany my brother. 

I should see him. No, I shouldn’t. He probably doesn’t even want visitors. No, he’s Don — of course, he wants visitors. No, I don’t want to remember him that way. Ah, what do I do…

I tried to justify not visiting Don by telling myself that he likely wouldn’t even recognize me in a mask, or that he’d be too weak for visitors, or something else—anything to hide the truth: I was terrified that seeing this version of him — Dying Don — would shatter my image of the Don I knew and cherished. I didn’t end up visiting him with my brother in that instance due to sheer logistics, but that didn’t remove the option of visiting him from the table. 

In an odd twist of fate, we all received this news around the same weekend that was Don’s birthday — likely his last birthday. Pandemic precautions meant no usual party, but Don’s sons arranged a drive-by birthday celebration. I felt better about this — I’d get a little bit of closure out of actually going to see him…without actually visiting with him. My version of Don could remain intact. 

Before the drive-by party, my parents drove over to my house. We all decorated our cars with birthday greetings. Posters held firmly to the sides and fronts of our cars with masking tape read sayings like “Wild Man Don!” with a cartoon portrayal of him in his prized Jeep and other greetings covered our cars. We met up with a good dozen or more cars covered in signs and balloons with mask-wearing friends and family of Don. 

As we approached Don’s house, his sons had pushed him outside in his wheelchair to his porch and wrapped him like a burrito in a blanket, topped with a stocking cap. As the parade of honking cars made their way past Don’s house, they would slow to a near stop to wave and proclaim their birthday wishes. Don, though obviously very weak, cold, and thinner than I’d ever seen him, was grinning from ear to ear. 

Our car was up next. I briefly stopped my car with myself, my wife, and our sleeping toddler son in front of Don’s house and stopped to honk and wave. As I waved and yelled out happy birthday wishes, I noticed Don’s eyes squint to try and make out who this person was. Soon after squinting, his eyes shot open wider than I’d ever seen them in life with a smile that revealed every tooth in his mouth. 

“KENNY!” he exclaimed—not only my name but my nickname only reserved for family and the closest of friends. Most people knew me as simply as Ken. His ecstatic face almost made me think he was about to throw off his oversized blanket and run over to the driver’s side of my car and hug me through the window.

“Wow…Kenny!” he said, eyes returning to their normal size with a sleepy grin. He settled back in his wheelchair as I let the next car approach. 

As the cars pulled down the street, we soon realized that this was a dead-end and that we’d have to pull back around and pass Don’s house again. Some cars went by and then on their way. Others pulled over. I followed my parent’s lead and pulled in behind them. Many of Don’s family members got out of their cars and began to gather in his front yard — all spaced out and wearing masks — to sing happy birthday to Don. Others sang from their cars on the streets. I thought I would be among these people until Don made a special request. 

“I want to see Amir” – my sleeping toddler in the back seat. Not about to deny the request of a dying man on his birthday, I gathered the snoozing Amir from his car seat. Donning a mask and 30-pounds of snoring toddler, I walked up to Don’s stoop — staying around a dozen feet away. 

Don’s face softened with a smile as though he was listening to a favorite song as he gazed upon Amir’s sleeping face — a face he’d not seen in over a year or longer. Don’s eyes then lifted from Amir’s eyes to my own — falling upon them like a warm hug from four yards away. 

“Man, am I glad to see you,” he said to me with a gentle smile, repeating the words I’d said to him that victorious night in that dimly-lit downtown bar.

“I’m glad to see you, too.” 

The Don I knew was still there. The Don I know will always be there, and nothing will ever change that.