How to Design Your Inner Role Models

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inner role models
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Are you living up to your potential? 

Before fleshing out article ideas, I like to bounce many of them off of my wife—the Queen of Honest Feedback When Requested. She’s especially honest if you catch her while she’s cooking—that perfect balance of distracted yet receptive.

I looked up to see her closely monitoring some tofu cooking in a skillet on the stove.

“Can I ask you a completely non-rhetorical question?” 

“Sure. What’s up?” 

“Would you say that you’re living up to your potentia—”

“—no.” 

“Wow, you didn’t even have to think about it.” 

As our laughter over her gunslinger-fast response settled, I was relieved to see that (a) my question had landed properly and (b) that this wasn’t a realization that crushed her spirit.

There’s a decent chance that you share my wife’s feelings about living up to your potential—and my own. Am I living up to my potential? Hell no. But, what would help me begin to move in that direction? In my experience, small daily nudges from a role model that understood me. 

External Role Models: The Good and the Bad

If you need a motivational pick-me-up, there are entire industries dedicated to such a service. From cheerleading personal trainers to power thinkers whose wisdom seems to ooze from their lips like honey off toast, the wellsprings of inspiration are brimming with influencers. 

And what can I say—I’ve been known to fanboy. I keep a rotating carousel of influencers in my consumption orbit—each with their “niche-itch” that they scratch. Maybe some — 

  • Beau Miles for exploring physical and mental space
  • Simone Giertz, Tom Sachs, and Van Neistat for resourceful creativity
  • Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton for naturalist running advice
  • Rabbi Nachman of Breslov for spiritual wisdom
  • Augustus Pablo and J Dilla for music production
  • Rabbi Dr. Benjy Epstein for some spiritual mindfulness
  • Ryan Holiday for relevant stoicism
  • Patrick Rhone, Alan Watts, and Ram Dass for contentment philosophy
  • And many others

And while I lean on them for advice during my various pursuits, there are downsides to such role models. 

A. I don’t know them. 

While I would love to be personally mentored by any of these individuals, this is simply out of my grasp. And I wouldn’t want to bug them anyway. 

B. They don’t know me. 

While some of the people have acknowledged my existence via a comment reply or even an email, most of these people don’t know I exist. In fact, several of my role models on this list are…(wait for it)…dead! Like, super dead. Rabbi Nachman has been dead for over 200 years. 

Because I don’t know them, they don’t know me, and some are pushing up daisies, there’s no way they could ever provide guidance tailored to helping me live up to my potential. 

But I do know who knows me. 

Me. 

You probably know you pretty well, too. 

Build Your Own Targets, Then Take Aim

Unless you’re in medical school or are currently on a trajectory to qualify for an Olympic team, most of us don’t know what our “achieved” potential would even look like. This lack of envisioning gives our potential no target. For this reason, it may be helpful to design your own inner role models. 

What is an inner role model? 

An inner role model is simply a characterization of your realized potential. To put it in another way, do you remember when your guidance counselor asked you, “Where would you like to see yourself in five years?” An inner role model is that version of yourself that stuck with your plan. But wait, what’s the plan? 

Extended Metric-Based Goals Suck

This may be a controversial opinion, but goals are overrated. Sure, they’re great for daily to-do lists, but they’re not great for building lasting personal development. What do I mean by this? Let’s explore with a quick example. 

Let’s say you have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight. Good for you! You start up a new diet and exercise program. Before long, you’re seeing the numbers roll back on the scale and your clothes are becoming looser. After months or even years of hard work and dedication, you’ve finally hit your goal weight. Congrats! But now what? 

While you may have chosen a sensible, sustainable route to weight loss, if you achieved your goal with a fad diet and an extreme exercise program, your wins will likely not last. Diets that feel restrictive take the joy out of eating. Extreme exercise can lead to burnout or injury. Metric-based goals have a hard endpoint before we’re forced into maintenance mode, which feels less like remaining svelt more like being chased down the street by your fatter self. 

So, if we’re not chasing a goal, what should we chase? An identity. 

Choose Your New You

In James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits, he discusses how identity change is an incredibly helpful tool for habit change. He uses the example of someone who wants to quit smoking. When offered a cigarette, one could refuse it on the basis that they are trying to stop smoking. This person still sees themself as a smoker. A more powerful mindset is to refuse a cigarette on the grounds that they don’t smoke. This person has chosen to take on a new identity: a non-smoker. Non-smokers, by definition, do not smoke, thus making smoking not an option. 

There’s no goal to pursue— simply the process of choosing a new identity and then becoming acclimated to said identity. These new identities are a part of living up to your potential by being your own inner role model—in their case, the non-smoker. 

Designing Your Various Inner Role Models

If you were to seek out help living up to your full potential, there’s likely no single person that would be equipped to assist with every sphere of development. You are a multi-faceted person and your desired growth likely spans lifestyle categories. You may want to grow professionally, physically, spiritually, artistically, socially, and beyond. Each of these segments of your development would require hiring a different consultant—a different role model. 

For this reason, it is helpful to design an inner role model for each category of development—a different version of you that has reached or is in the process of reaching your potential in one mode of being. 

First, let’s explore where you can begin working towards living up to your potential and then design the inner role model that will help you on your journey toward this new identity. Let’s start with a five-year period.

Where would you like to be in five years? 

  • In what state would you prefer your romantic, parental, familial, or social relationships to be in five years? 
  • What would you like your relationship with physical fitness to look like in five years?
  • What levels of focus and peace would you like to experience in five years? 
  • Where would you like to be spiritually in five years? 
  • Where would you like to be professionally or financially in five years?
  • Etc. 

Now, what kind of person would you have to be to achieve these conditions and maintain them far beyond five years? These are your inner role models. 

Crafting Your Inner Role Models

When crafting your inner role models, it is important to remember that these personas are you. They share your motivations and your fears. Unlike you, though, these are versions of you that have persevered and have achieved the identity as a version of you that lives up to your potential. They are the non-smoker, the caring sister, the artist, the professional, the runner, the architect—while all being you. 

As an example for this piece, I will use an inner role model I have been in the process of developing to help me with my physical fitness and mindfulness movement—Kenny Sandals. 

Naming Your Inner Role Models

While the name you choose for this inner role model for yourself is not incredibly important, a name is a helpful handle to hold onto when you need to consult this identity. I chose “Kenny Sandals” because this role model is a free-spirited runner. Kenny Sandals runs in a natural way, usually in running huarache sandals. The name doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. 

Choose a Sustainable Motivation

Why are you wanting to develop this side of yourself? Your inner role model’s motivation is the continued fuel in their tank. For Kenny Sandals, his motivation is experiencing as many hours of runner’s high as possible. 

While I could have said that Kenny Sandals wants to complete a marathon, this wouldn’t have been the best fuel in his tank. 

  • He may end up taking shortcuts to complete a horrible marathon.
  • He may overtrain and injure himself.
  • He may obsess over metrics and forget to have fun.
  • He may complete the marathon and then completely evaporate. 

However, because his goal is achieving the most amount of runner’s high, this ensures that other conditions must be met. 

  • His form needs to be smooth and prevent injury. 
  • His nutrition needs to support his running.
  • He needs to manage his weight so he can continue to run better.
  • While he will need to push himself to run miles through rough patches and run when he doesn’t feel up to it, he needs to remember to keep a cheerful outlook or the runner’s high may never arrive.

Choose Their Pet Peeves

Your inner role models need to be annoyed by distractions from their motivations. These pet peeves should begin to shape your own behavior. These annoyances act as a pebble in their shoe—forcing them (and you) to course correct when you’re beginning to lose sight of their motivations. Let’s look at Kenny Sandals’ pet peeves. 

  • He doesn’t like losing sleep—preferring sensible bedtimes and sleep-promoting behaviors.
  • He doesn’t like excessive junk food, sugar, or other substances that make running less enjoyable. 
  • He doesn’t like unnatural cushy footwear that messes with his running form and results in sore knees that hinder his ability to run.
  • He doesn’t like dwelling on negativity—instead, using bad experiences as learning tools. 
  • He doesn’t like being cooped up inside and not able to be active.
  • While he likes the occasional brewski (especially after a run), he doesn’t like excessive drinking because of how it impacts later running.
  • Oddly enough, he doesn’t like competition—unless it’s very friendly and lighthearted. He’s already competing with himself as much as it is.
  • He avoids whiners, complainers, and overall negativity wherever he can.

Describe Your Inner Role Models

Your inner role models are your supportive friends. Because they are your friends, you should be able to identify them. This exercise also helps them seem more real to you. 

Take a few moments to write a detailed description of each of your inner role models as you design them. Write what their day looks like, how they behave, what they look like, and how they would respond to certain situations. 

For Example: 

Part myth, part legend, Kenny Sandals is all about LSD—yep, long slow distance. He is a free spirit who loves exploring his world on two barely-sandaled feet. He carries an unflappable smile and doesn’t care what others think about him. He wanders down roads, shoulders, trails, sidewalks, and paths all over town like a grinning quick-footed wizard or gnome—long beard flapping in the breeze, toes exposed to the sky—usually donning a trucker cap, cheap shorts, a random t-shirt, the least amount of footwear. He waves to most people he passes and nobody ever knows where he’s headed. He’ll run the occasional race or pub crawl, but usually just for the sense of community. And you better believe he’s always game for a post-run beer, but he usually has to earn it first.

What Would (Insert Inner Role Model Name Here) Do? 

Now that this inner role model has begun to take shape, it is time to channel them to work towards achieving your potential in their facet of your life. When planning your day, consult your inner role models to see what they would do. Let them guide your daily habits, your diet, your personal interactions, and the like. If you have designed them with the proper motivations and pet peeves, they should guide your day in a sustainable way that meshes with what you truly want out of life. 

Once a month, make a date with your inner role model to make sure you’re living up to their motivations and not the motivations of others—even if those are misguided motivations you find yourself drawn toward—such as unhealthy habits, vanity metrics, acclaim from others, and the like. Make sure you’re not placing pebbles in the shoes of our inner role models and realign your daily activities to scratch their itches.

Revisit Your Inner Role Models

Though remaining tethered to a revolving carousel of inner role models is a great way to start living up to your potential, you may find that your motivations change over time. For this reason, every quarter or six months, reevaluate if your inner role models’ motivations still truly match your own or at are appropriately actionable levels. There’s no shame in adjusting the intensity of your inner role model’s motivations if you’re simply unable to live up to their standards. Still, this should only be done for the sake of creating forward momentum. While motivations may change, make sure that your new motivations aren’t simply surrendering to apathy. 

Inner Role Models Accountability

You may choose to form your inner role models with friends. Sharing your inner role models with friends is a great way to create accountability. In this way, you can check with each other to see how happy or annoyed their inner role models are. 

I’d love to meet your inner role models at ken@thekenlane.com and hear if you’re keeping them happy. Feel free to ask me how Kenny Sandals is doing. 


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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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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

The Broken Autopilot

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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Let me know if this sounds familiar:

You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Living 25 Minutes at a Time

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A little news before we begin: For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, I’ve started recording audio versions of my articles going forward and reaching back. Also, look for “TheKenLane.com” on your favorite podcast player to subscribe. Thanks! – Ken


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When was the last time you needed to keep your focus on a particular task for more than 30 minutes? 

Sounds agonizing, right? Even as you read this sentence, your mind is likely conjuring up what you could be doing at the same time or what you need to do later. Most of us can’t even enjoy a favorite television show or movie on the couch without also scrolling through social media, news, or emails from a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Multitasking, or rather the illusion of it, has trained our brains to constantly seek up-to-the-second stimulation.

But what if you were told you’d be free to multitask to your heart’s content in return for just 25 minutes of focus? Everyone’s got 25 minutes, right?

Why is 25 minutes such an effective length of time for focus?

My fascination with 25-minute spans of focus started with the Pomodoro Technique—a strategy for productivity that could be explained to a 2nd grader. It goes like this:

Focus on a performing single task with intense concentration for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes in which you can do whatever you want. After you’ve completed four 25-minute concentration sessions, you take a 15-minute break. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 15 off. Rinse and repeat.

But this piece isn’t about the Pomodoro Technique—I’ve already written about that. What I’m talking about now is the beauty, the simplicity, the elegance, the congeniality of 25 minutes.

We can stand almost anything for 25 minutes.

25 minutes is the maximum amount of time most can focus without approaching the red-line of brain sizzle or scroll-twitch. It’s also just enough time to feel like we’ve accomplished, well, anything. Though we can put dents in a task after 10 or even 5 minutes, 25 minutes is the amount of time that most begin to feel the momentum of our focus and actions. Even if we struggle to initiate an arduous task, after 25 minutes, the sediment in our once-murky waters of focus will begin to settle and we’ll gain immense clarity not possible after a mere 5 or 10 minutes.

Also, when 25 minutes is presented with the promise of 5 or more minutes of aimless reprieve, focus comes easier. Don’t worry—in 25 minutes, you can be back to watching cat videos and checking your social media feeds. Is any reward more appealing than guilt-free time-wasting?

Most things can be segmented into 25-minute blocks.

After a few weeks of using the Pomodoro Technique during my workday, I began to notice how so many of my other daily activities could be segmented into 25-minute blocks. In fact, for most tasks, 25 minutes became their optimum time for focus.

  • 25-minute journaling sessions
  • 25-minute meditations sittings
  • 25-minute workouts
  • 25-minute prayer times
  • 25-minute book-reading periods

Despite all of these being daily habits that I cherish, I’ll admit it — there are times when I don’t want to do them. Maybe I don’t want to sit still that long for meditation or work myself into a panting, sweaty mess with a jump rope. It’s days these that I tell myself, “You don’t have to enjoy this today. All you have to do is put in the 25 minutes. That’s it.” And it doesn’t even have to be the best 25 minutes as long as it’s 25 minutes.

And I remember after all— it’s just 25 minutes.


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You Owe It To Yourself to Give Your Craft the Focus It Deserves

Reading Time: 2 minutes


Disclaimer: I mostly wrote this article to myself, but felt that it may be helpful to others.

The Scattered-Focus Life

With information and global networking more attainable than ever, there’s no reason why, with a little focused effort, any of us can’t become world-class specialists in our craft. From graphic designers, developers, writers, videographers, and photographers to business managers, financial professionals, and educators, with the proper focus, we can continue to sharpen our craft every day. But many of us choose not to. Why? Because we prefer the easier, scatterbrained life.

Multi-tasking vs. Fragmented Focus

Yes, listening to a podcast while folding the laundry or watching a TV show while riding a stationary bicycle are both within the realm of what we deem “multi-tasking.” This is due to the limited concentration required for the accompanying task. This being said, one task always has focus over another. The folding of the laundry, the riding of the bicycle—these tasks require virtually no mental bandwidth whatsoever. That means that our primary focus is on the plot of the show or the content of the podcast. And that’s perfectly fine, as long as we’re not fooling ourselves into believing that we can split our focus 50/50 between both activities simultaneously. This is a lie—a lie that we frequently tell ourselves when it comes to pursuing our craft.

Forsaking Focus On Your Craft

When we attempt to use this same logic in our working lives, the same rules apply; one takes the lion’s share of our focus. Though we can listen to repetitive music while we write about complex subjects, we can’t simultaneously watch riveting programming while claiming to provide the necessary attention to our valued specialty. 

Why not? Well, firstly, as much as you claim to be the unique person with the capacity for split focus, you simply can’t. But more importantly, because your craft deserves to be the primary focus of your conscious mind. Your concentration deserves your concentration. 

So, if you hope to sharpen your skills and create meaningful work, sign out of Netflix, close the YouTube browser, turn off the podcast episode, and give your craft what it deserves — the captain’s seat of your focus.

Related Piece: 5 Things I Really Like About the Pomodoro Technique

For Your Future Self: 4 Attributes of a Sustainable Existence

Reading Time: 5 minutes


“How long can I keep doing this?”

143

In addition to being an accomplished television personality, minister, and musician, “Mister” Fred Rogers was also an immensely disciplined fellow. He was a vegetarian who never drank or smoked. He went to bed every night at 9:30 PM. He rose every morning at 5 AM, and began every day with prayer, answering fan mail, and swimming laps. After swimming, he’d weigh himself. Every time, the scale was the same: 143 pounds—the “I love you” number as he’d call it due to the number of letters in those words. 

Was this routine flashy? Hardly. Was it sustainable? Undoubtedly. 

Inspired by Rogers and my desire to be a friend to the older versions of myself, I’ve grown fixated on cultivating the most sustainable lifestyle possible. This research continues, but this piece contains what I’m presently referring to as “The Four Attributes of a Sustainable Existence.”

Life Sustained

Four touchstones must be present when determining which lifestyle activities, habits, or routines are sustainable—a sustainability test, if you will.  

  1. Positive: The activity has to be something that you won’t need to give up eventually. 
  2. Honest: The activity has to be something you honestly want to pursue with motivations authentic to your character. 
  3. Simple Reasoning: the reason for pursuing this activity needs to be simple.
  4. Enjoyment: you need to enjoy the activity separate from the benefit it brings. 

Throughout this piece, I’ll be using the routine of jumping rope for 25 minutes, six days a week as an example of a sustainable lifestyle habit of mine and why it met all these criteria for me (and maybe you, too, but hey, that’s you...)

1. The activity needs to be good for you…or at least not bad for you.

Starting with the most obvious, any lifestyle activity you hope to pursue into old age shouldn’t be anything that will, at some point, result in negative consequences. Some examples of not-good activities include nightly cigar smoking, a keto diet, or afternoon ice cream. While any of these may begin as harmless niceties or even helpful tools, if you’ll have to give it up eventually, there’s no use in starting it now.

Example: One of the reasons I chose jump rope as my favorite form of exercise as opposed to, say, motocross racing, is due to its sustainable nature. With the proper conditioning, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do jump rope cross-overs and boxer-skips into my 90’s. Ok, maybe not double-unders, but I can take or leave those.

Secondary thought: is it good (or at least not bad) for the world?

This activity should also not be harmful to others. (This is perhaps the most common understanding of modern use of the word sustainable—which many use in an environmental context.)  For instance, if you decide to pursue an activity that requires a product whose manufacturing or disposal is overly destructive to the environment, this activity may not be sustainable. Likewise, if this activity damages a valuable relationship, it’s also likely not sustainable.

2. Do you really want this? Why? 

Despite our ambitions, there is a certain amount of virtue in properly giving up on a goal. To determine which ambitions to pursue or discard, we can simply look at the honesty of our motivations. 

  • Do you want to read all 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud to glean its information, or are you doing so for the bragging rights? 
  • Do you want those six-pack abs to combat dangerous subcutaneous and visceral fat or to flaunt it on your Instagram feed?
  • Do you want to wake up 5:30 AM to get a jump on the day or because you simply want to share that aspect of your daily routine with your favorite influencer? 

Honest Motivation = Stored Willpower

Any activity we pursue will occasionally depend upon stored motivation and willpower to commence or pursue. If our motivations are frivolous or shallow, that fuel source will be spoiled when we need it most. When our motivations for pursuing a specific goal are constructed on vain or fragile foundations, they are doomed from the start.

To test this, ask yourself: 

“Do I want the result because I want it? Or do I want the result because I’m supposed to want it?”

Example: 

My motivation for jumping rope is pretty straightforward: to maintain my fitness and because it’s fun. Yes, I’m supposed to want to maintain my fitness and pursue fun things, but I also genuinely want to pursue these endeavors for my own sake—thus, this goal has a sustainable motivation.  

Besides, if I was going for cool points, I could have done a lot better than a jump rope

3. Is your motivation simple enough to endure?

If our motivations for pursuing a task are unclear or overly complicated, determining success may be difficult—and thus, the reward illusive. To test your motivations’ simplicity, see if you can express them in a single concise sentence. 

Here are a few examples of my own reasons for pursuing my routines/habits:

  • Why do I practice intermittent fasting? To aid my digestion and boost metabolism. 
  • Why do I jump rope six days a week? To maintain my fitness and because it’s fun.
  • Why do I journal? To process my thoughts and emotions. 
  • Why do I meditate? To train my attention span.
  • Why do I allot eight hours in bed every night? To maintain my health and focus.   

Now, enjoy some examples of my past routines/habits I’ve abandoned due to complicated or misguided motivations: 

  • Why do I practice strength training? Because I’d like to, at least once in my life, see what my abs look like under that gut fat. I mean, wouldn’t it be pretty cool? I guess, though it’s not a huge deal, it seems like something I should want. (Yep, and I ditched it.)
  • Why do I engage in the Daf Yomi (daily reading of Talmud every day, resulting in completion in seven-years-time)? I imagine that studying Talmud and navigating all of the arguments of the sages would give me immense insights into Jewish life. Besides, being able to say “I’ve completed Shas(Daf Yomi)” is something not everyone can say. (And thus, I closed the book.)
  • Why do I get up at 5:30 AM? Some of the most accomplished minds get up at 5:30 AM, if not even earlier. Getting up an hour or more early will give me time to do more throughout my day…right? (I didn’t quite believe this and was tired of cutting sleep short, so I have since abandoned the notion.)

If you have to sell yourself on your motivations, pursuing the associated goal is likely not sustainable.

4. How much fun are you having?

Another sustainability sniff test for a lifestyle activity is how much pleasure you derive from the process…independent of the goal. 

“Because I Want To” Passes the Test…As Long As You Do

To piggyback on clearly defining motivations, one of those motivations may simply be, “because I enjoy doing it.” That was my initial motivation for jumping rope. Though it has transitioned into, “I jump rope to maintain a certain level of fitness,” as well, the process began solely as, “Hey, that looks fun.” Because fun was my original motivation for starting it, I still enjoy the process to this day. Any project or activity we begin must remain pleasurable to remain sustainable. 

Pleasurable Doesn’t Always Mean Non-Stop-Fun

Only pursuing projects I find pleasurable does not mean that I am perpetually laughing like an idiot through every step of a process. During a writing project, I may end up banging my head against the wall regarding what word to use or how to structure a piece. During exercise, I may end up frustratedly tripping over my jump rope. Despite these challenges and disappointments, exasperations eventually give way to breakthroughs, making them an enjoyable part of the process. However, when the highs no longer justify the lows, it may be time to abandon an unsustainable initiative.

In Conclusion: I’m Actually Lazy

While the idea of cultivating sustainable lifestyle activities and projects seems ambitious, it’s actually a process I’ve lovingly dubbed utilitarian laziness. It’s nothing more than buffing out the friction of false-starts, thin motivations, and superfluous fluff from life to get us closer to the good stuff—fewer items on our docket, but each one packing a resonant punch that helps us live a life that truly sticks to our ribs.

How to Intentionally Waste Time More Efficiently

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If there’s a concept most of us wrangle with the most, it’s time. There doesn’t seem to be enough of it in a day. No time to work, pursue your dreams, spend time with loved ones, take care of yourself, and fart around. There is one simple tool I’ve found to be the most helpful for what I call “time dieting”—your basic timer. 

Yes, a timer. It could be a timer app or asking Siri, Alexa, or Google to let you know when a certain amount of time has passed. It could even be an egg timer or a simple watch timer that beeps or buzzes.

How to Use a Timer to Manage Your Life

Yes, not your day—your LIFE. Why so dramatic? Because…

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” – Annie Dilliard

 Anyway, back to the timer. 

What the timer allows you to do is to section off periods of the day and dedicate them to specific activities. Why is this necessary? Because we’re abysmal at doing so without assistance.

Setting Intentions

 How many times has, “I’m just going to scroll (enter social media platform here) real quick and then get back to work,” turned into two completely soul-draining, utterly unproductive hours? Not to say that there’s anything wrong with two unproductive hours—as long as that was your intention for those two hours. But was that your intention? Likely not. You probably intended to scroll the infinity pool of social media for 10 minutes and then regained consciousness 110 minutes later. 

Now, if you’ve been dutifully working for an hour and would like some intellectual novocaine, you should be allowed to imbibe now and again. However, if you down the whole bottle (or vial…I don’t know what receptacle novocaine comes in) on TikTok, you may not return to the productive world for the rest of the day. That is why a timer is the perfect measuring spoon. 

A timer is a leash that permits you to “wander off” for 10 minutes, only to bring you back once you’ve run out of chronological slack. It is your ankle tether keeping you from straying from your board of intention. 

Time Dieting: Nourish & Imbibe

I use a simple wrist timer to measure out my doses of hyperfocus and intellectual novocaine throughout the day. Sometimes, I turn to my timer and go… 

“Ok, I’m going to read with an immense focus for 30 minutes.”

Ready. Set timer. READ. For the next 30 minutes, I pour my focus into reading. 

Other times, I allow myself to unabashedly go down the rabbit hole of news, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube videos for 15 minutes as a reward for or motivation to conduct more productive behavior.

Ready. Set timer. IMBIBE. Until that timer goes off, it’s off to White House Press Conference coverage, trending hashtags, Instagram Stories, and life hack videos on YouTube. 

I repeat this process for meditation, exercise, vegging on the porch, and even work via the Pomodoro Technique. Each watch buzz on my wrist is a tug on my time leash, drawing me out of said intentional activity, no matter how productive or juvenile it is. 

“Ya Can’t Have One Without the Other.”

I find that occasional shots of mental novocaine straight to my prefrontal cortex are as necessary as the rest of my meaningful pursuits. Giving yourself the occasional cheat day from all-out productivity helps one stave off burnout and can even increase drive…when used in moderation, of course. In many instances, I use the promise of upcoming mental downtime as a reward for focused work or other productive accomplishments. Frequently, dangling carrots of sloth on the end of long sticks of productivity can pull my donkey out of the ditch of procrastination. There are instances when I will work my arse off for the chance to do absolutely nothing. Sometimes, I will burn the midnight oil if it means I get to sleep in (though, being an early bird, it usually means I will greet the dawn if it means I get to turn in early). 

How do I regulate my bouts of intentional neural lethargy? Again, a simple timer. 

“Ok, you’re allowed 10 minutes of watching video reviews of products you already own in return for 45 minutes of productive work.”

“You got it, boss. I’m going to knock out deep cleaning up my office. Then…I’m going to watch strangers share their thoughts about a jump rope I already own.” 

Dessert First?

There are instances when, no matter the size of the dangled carrot, my donkey ain’t moving. For those instances, I find it helpful to give the donkey a down payment—a tiny nibble on the reward. Perhaps five minutes of stand-up comedy on YouTube will remind my inner do-nothing the bliss of earned inertia.

Ready. Set timer. Cue 5-minutes of jokes about garage sales.

(5-minutes later.)

Buzz…buzz…buzz…

Ok, that was delightful. I’m coming back to that…in 45 minutes.

(Sets timer for 45 minutes of focused work to earn additional listlessness.)

Rinse and repeat.