Sketched Book – Self-compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind – Kristin Neff

I read Kristin Neff’s Self-compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (2011) on the recommendation of a friend who’s been working through many of the issues addressed by the book. I liked the book’s differentiation between self-esteem and self-compassion, and its exercises for acknowledging your inner critic and becoming kinder to yourself. The website (self-compassion.org) has MP3s for guided meditations and a hyperlinked bibliography of related research.

I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image for a larger version that you can print if you want.

2015-03-24a Sketched Book - Self-compassion - Kristin Neff -- #sketched-book #self-help

2015-03-24a Sketched Book – Self-compassion – Kristin Neff – #sketched-book #self-help

I’ve been thinking about self-compassion and self-care over the past few years, ever since I decided not to set up that taskmaster dynamic with myself. Instead of trying to force myself down one path or another, I chose to go along with myself, focusing on understanding and then slowly guiding myself. It seems to be working well. I can tell the difference between that and the approach many people seem to take (decision, guilt, shame, force), and I like the kind approach more.

It’s good to be able to look at your negative internal monologue or the parts of yourself that you’ve been avoiding thinking about, become aware of what’s going on, and work on reframing or transforming those thoughts. It’s good to look at what you’re resisting and figure out how you can embrace and move through that pain.

I’ve had a very easy life so far, compared to other people I know. I’m glad this book exists; the techniques will help me through the challenges that are sure to be ahead, and I hope they’ll help other people too. Good book if you often beat yourself up, judge yourself harshly, or feel lost and frustrated.

Haven’t read the book yet? You can buy it from Amazon (affiliate link) or get it from your favourite book sources.

Like this sketch? Check out sketchedbooks.com for more. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

Weekly review: Week ending March 27, 2015

I started yoga again, and I think it might be a good habit to build. It’s been good to spend time with people, too. =) Next week, I’m looking forward to sewing some box cushion covers, cooking more, doing more yoga, and spending more time with folks.

2015-03-29f Week ending 2015-03-27 -- index card #weekly output

2015-03-29f Week ending 2015-03-27 – index card #weekly

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (33.0h – 19%)
    • Earn (7.2h – 21% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (10.8h – 32% of Business)
      • Drawing (8.2h)
      • Packaging (0.6h)
      • Paperwork (0.3h)
        • File payroll return
    • Connect (15.0h – 45% of Business)
  • Relationships (4.6h – 2%)
    • Check on project F4
    • Hang out with Eric on Friday
    • Drop gift off at Jen’s
  • Discretionary – Productive (12.8h – 7%)
    • Emacs (2.2h – 1% of all)
      • 2015-03-18 Emacs Hangout
    • Research yoga places
    • Research private yoga lessons
    • Writing (2.5h)
    • Review Createspace
  • Discretionary – Play (6.0h – 3%)
  • Personal routines (31.6h – 18%)
  • Unpaid work (15.3h – 9%)
  • Sleep (64.6h – 38% – average of 9.2 per day)

Quantified Self: How can you measure freedom?

At a recent Quantified Self Toronto meetup, one of the participants shared his key values (freedom, health, happiness, purpose) and asked for ideas on how to measure freedom. I gave him some quick tips on how I measured:

  • Money:
    • Long-term freedom through a theoretical withdrawal rate: expenses vs net worth and investment returns
    • Short-term freedom for discretionary expenses: opportunity fund for tools and ideas, connection fund for treating people
  • Time, particularly discretionary time (my own interests and projects)

In addition to those two easy metrics, there are a few other things that contribute to a feeling of freedom for me.

2015-03-06b What makes me feel free - What can I measure -- index card #quantified #freedom #independence #feeling

2015-03-06b What makes me feel free – What can I measure – index card #quantified #freedom #independence #feeling

  • How often do I have to wake up to an alarm clock, or can I sleep until I feel well-rested?
  • Am I starting to be stressed because of commitments? Do I have to juggle or cut back?
  • Can I follow the butterflies of my interest/energy, or have I promised to do a specific thing at a specific time?
  • Can I share what I’m learning for free, or am I restricted by agreements or by need?
  • Am I getting influenced by ads to want or buy things that I don’t really need? Do I experience buyer’s remorse, or do things contribute to clutter? Is it easy to remember my decisions or my values in the din?
  • Do I have the space to enjoy a great relationship with W-?
  • Can I make the things I want? Do I have the skills to create or modify things?
  • Am I reacting or responding? How reflexive is my ability to see things in the light that I would like to see them in, and to respond the way I would like to respond?
  • Can I learn about what I’m curious about? Do I use it in real life?
  • Can I make small bets and learn from them?

I think it’s because I tend to think of freedom as freedom from stress and freedom to do things – maybe more precisely, to live according to my choices without having to choose between deeply flawed options. I’m in a safe, rather privileged situation, so I’m not as worried about freedom to live or move or speak or learn; those are more important freedoms, for sure! So with the definition of freedom I have, I feel pretty free. Based on my impressions from conversations with other people, I think I’m probably in the top 10% of freedom in terms of people I know. Or at least a different sort of freedom; I’m more risk-averse than some of my friends are, for example, so they’re freer in that sense.

2015-03-06a How can you measure freedom -- index card #freedom #independence #quantified

2015-03-06a How can you measure freedom – index card #freedom #independence #quantified

If you break down the abstract concept of freedom into different types of freedom, you can figure out which types resonate with you and which ones don’t. You might then be able to think of ways to measure the specific types of freedom you’re curious about, and that will help you get a sense of areas in your life that you may want to tweak.

Philosophy has a lot to say about freedom, so that’s another way to pick up ideas. The biggest freedom, for me – the one I most want to cultivate and keep – is the freedom that comes from choosing how I perceive the world and what I do in response. I like the freedom described in Epictetus’ Discourses. How could I measure this or remind myself about this? Since it’s entirely self-willed, I can keep track of whether I remember to take responsibility for my perceptions and responses and how easy it is to do so. I imagine that as I get better at it, I’ll be more consistent at taking responsibility (even if I realize uncomfortable things about myself) and that I’ll do it with more habit. I can also track the magnitude of things I respond to. I know that I can maintain my tranquility with small events, and I’ll just have to wait and observe my behaviour with larger ones.

What does freedom mean to you? How do you observe or reflect on it?

The balance between doing and improving – evaluating yak-shaving

A reader wrote:

… I came to realize that many Emacs users seem to spend a great deal of time learning about Emacs, tweaking it, and writing new extensions, rather than getting non-Emacs-related work done. Sometimes it feels as though heavy Emacs users actually get less done overall, if you consider only non-Emacs-related tasks. My question is, is it possible to get work done in Emacs, without most of that work being Emacs-related?

It got me thinking about skills or tools that can be used to improve themselves, and the balance between using and improving tools.

2015-03-15c Skills or tools that can be used to improve themselves -- index card #learning #bootstrapping

2015-03-15c Skills or tools that can be used to improve themselves – index card #learning #bootstrapping

Not all skills or tools can be used to improve themselves. I’m learning how to sew, but that doesn’t lead to making my sewing machine better (aside from fiddling with the dials).

Here are some skills that can be used reflexively:

  • Philosophy asks questions about good questions to ask
  • Learning about learning helps you learn more effectively
  • Woodworkers and machinists have a tradition of making their own tools
  • 3D printers can print parts for their own models
  • You can program tools to help you program better: testing, version control, project management, etc.

Although making your own tools takes time, here are some advantages of doing so instead of buying them off the shelf:

  • You understand the internals better, and you can appreciate the subtleties
  • You can customize it to fit the way you work
  • You can create different variants for greater flexibility. Mass customization can’t anticipate or cost-effectively provide all the different types of things people may want.
  • As your skills and needs increase, you can create better and better tools for yourself.

Many programmers spend time deliberately improving their toolkits; if they don’t, they stagnate. At the basic level, people try programs or frameworks that other people have created. The next level might be scripting things to work together. A third level might be writing customizations or extensions, and a fourth level might be creating entirely new tools or frameworks. Beginner programmers might start at the first level of reusing other people’s code, but wizardly performance often involves a mix of the other levels.

So the question is: How can we balance doing things and improving things?

No one can answer this for you.

Me, I tend to avoid hard deadlines and I do things faster than people expect them to be done, so I have plenty of leeway to improve my tools – which helps me be even more effective, so it’s a virtuous cycle.

You’ll need to find your own balance. You might get urgent stuff out of the way first, and then figure out how to balance smaller requests with investing in capabilities.

Here’s something I put together to help you figure out where you might be in terms of balance. Alternatively, if you’re thinking about whether to pick up a skill or tool that can be used to improve itself, you can use this to evaluate what you read from people sharing their experiences with the tool. Can they find a good balance for themselves, or are they frustrated by the challenges of getting something to work?

2015-03-16a The balance between using and improving tools -- index card #learning #bootstrapping

2015-03-16a The balance between using and improving tools – index card #learning #bootstrapping

  • “I have what I need in order to work.” This is the basic scenario. People focus on doing things instead of improving things.
  • I can keep pushing, but performance is dropping, so I should invest time in maintenance.” It’s like the way a knife or a saw dulls over time. When you notice diminishing returns, it might be good to invest some time in maintenance. It’s not an urgent need, but it can pay off.
  • I’d better take care of this now before it becomes a problem.” This is like maintaining a car or taking care of your health. A little time now can avoid big problems later.
  • Grr, it’s broken. I have to fix it before I can work.” If you let things go for too long, or if you’re working with something finicky, you’ll be forced into maintenance mode. For example, some 3D printers require a lot of fiddling. Watch out for this scenario.
  • It’s fine the way it is, but I know I can make it better.” The way you’re currently doing things is okay, but you know (from your experience or from what you’ve read of other people) that you can invest a little time to work more effectively. You might even know the return on investment. It’s easy to decide whether you should just go ahead with the status quo or invest the time in improving.
  • It’s fine the way it is, but I think I can make it better.” The way you’re currently doing things is okay, but you have some ideas that might make it even better. If you think those ideas might be worth it, it might be good to give yourself a time limit for exploring those ideas so that you don’t get distracted. Alternatively, you can save it for a slower time.
  • I’m waiting or stuck, so I might as well work on tools.” Maybe you’re waiting for feedback from someone else. Maybe you’re waiting for programs to compile or tests to pass. Why not spend a little time exploring how to make your tools a little better?
  • I’m doing this for fun/learning.” Tool improvement can become more enjoyable than some of the other ways you used to like spending time. For example, you might find yourself wanting to watch a screencast or try out a tweak instead of watching TV or browsing random sites on the Internet. You don’t have to completely replace other activities, you just have to shift a little time from things that have less value to you.
  • I can’t write about my actual work, but I can write about this.” If you’re wondering about yak-shaving propensity based on the blog posts you’re reading, consider: do people write about their improvements instead of the work that they’re doing because their work is confidential or hard to explain? Maybe they think blog posts about improvements are more interesting. Maybe they’re writing about improvements in the process of figuring things out (which in an excellent process, by the way). All these things can skew your perception of how much time people spend doing things versus improving things, and how much they accomplish within that time.

In terms of Emacs, these things mostly apply to me:

  • “I’m doing this for fun/learning” – Emacs tickles my brain, and the community is wonderful.
  • “I can’t write about my actual work, but I can write about this” – I suppose I could write more about the other stuff I’m interested in (sewing? cooking?), so there’s that. However, the consulting stuff is covered by agreements, and that’s a small fraction of my life anyway.

I assume other geeks are rational, especially if they have a lot of experience with it and other tools. Therefore, if people spend time tweaking (while avoiding the consequences of low performance), I assume it’s because they see the value of doing so (whether the pay-off is certain or not). On the surface, an effective person’s behaviour might resemble an ineffective person’s behaviour – six hours sharpening the saw for two hours of work, or six hours procrastinating and two hours of cramming? But if you look at:

  • if they get stuff done
  • whether other people are happy with their performance, or if they generally appear successful in their endeavours
  • how happy they are about the process

then you can get a better idea of whether it’s working for them.

As you think about your own balance or read other people’s blogs, can you identify what scenarios you and other people might resonate with? Am I missing any that I should add to the list? Please comment below!

Dipping my toes into the ETF waters

There’s something about taking a look at processes that intimidate you and seeing if you can break them down into smaller steps that are more manageable. I’ve been thinking about shifting some of my investments from TD e-series index funds to exchange traded funds (ETFs), since that seems to be the next step in my personal finance journey. I’ve held back from making that decision, though. On one hand, it only makes sense if you commit a large amount. On the other hand, it’s a little scary to experiment with an amount large enough to make a difference.

My investing story has been all about baby steps. I started with TD e-series funds soon after receiving my first paycheque in 2007. I chose those index funds because of their low management expense ratios (MERs). I invested as much as I could, ignoring the doom-and-gloom of 2008. If I’d carved out more of my budget, I could have taken more advantage of the recovery. But in retrospect, I probably would have made the same decisions; most of my savings went into building an emergency fund and an opportunity fund, and that was important for making me feel safer and encouraging me to take small risks. As I built a good safety net, I invested more.

This has been going well so far. I’ve settled into a rhythm of rebalancing by way of annual contributions. I think I’ve reached the point at which it makes sense to switch to ETFs, since those have even lower MERs. Most forum posts I’ve read about ETFs focus on discount brokers like Questrade because of their free or low-cost trades, but I’m hesitant about switching to Questrade because of the customer service complaints I’ve read. I know that’s slightly irrational, biased by salience; the horror stories stick in my head, even though I know lots of people are happy with it and I have the persistence to deal with technical issues.

Maybe I can dip my toes into the ETF waters by converting the Canadian index fund investments I have in my RRSP into something like VCN, but within TD Waterhouse instead of creating an account with Questrade. This means that I’ll need to spend $10 each time I buy shares instead of buying them for free, but since I’m planning to hold these for a very long time and I rebalance yearly, the difference in transaction costs is likely to be worth it if it gets me to act.

It looks like putting in a limit order is the best way to do this, so I’ll take care of that once the money from the sale of my e-series fund arrives in my investment account.

The difference between the MERs for the TD Canadian Index e-series fund (0.33%) and VCN (0.10%) isn’t much for the amount I’m looking at experimenting with, but it’s more about getting over the intimidation factor of trying out ETFs. If I try it and it works out, I might try converting some of my non-registered investments when the capital gains make sense (either a low-income year or one of the inevitable slumps in the market). Alternatively, I might try the popular approach of accumulating investments in an e-series fund (maybe the TFSA, especially if they increase the contribution room) and then periodically converting that into ETFs.

I’m cautiously optimistic about how the stock market will perform over the next few decades. Its recent gains don’t quite seem connected with the struggles of jobseekers and small business owners around me, and there’s some kerfluffle over oil prices that I don’t quite understand. But I’m less concerned now than I used to be about demographic-related stock market crashes (someone pointed out that many people don’t have that much invested in the stock market anyway), and sufficient savings can help me ride out a 2008-style downturn. We don’t seem to be headed towards decades-long malaise. Even if we do end up with market difficulties, chances are I’ll be right in the same bucket with everyone else, so it’s no big loss.

I’m still nowhere near ready to pick individual stocks, much less day-trade. Neither my self-confidence or my ambitions are strong enough to tempt me to that path.

More than that, investing in frugal choices and skills gives me more independence. The more I can cook healthy, yummy meals with low-cost ingredients, the less I depend on finances. The more I can improve or entertain myself with free or low-cost resources, the richer life I live. As I build online and offline relationships with people who share similar values, my world grows.

The difference between the management expense ratios of TD e-series funds and index ETFs probably isn’t going to result in a significant difference in my investment results. Not as significant as the decision to keep investing, or the choice of a particular lifestyle. But as practice in breaking down and trying out intimidating things, I think it will be worthwhile.

Update: Converted my RRSP investments in the Canadian index to VCN. So far, so good! Things haven’t fallen apart yet, and I’m being careful about my record-keeping this time around…

Learning to live slowly

Sometimes I feel a little duller around the edges, not quite as alert. It’s a little harder to think, to reason. I feel slightly out of focus. I talk more slowly, move more slowly.

And yet, living more slowly, I feel like I live more gracefully as well. None of the sharp jitters when my mind works at its fastest, none of the zigzags and interruptions, none of the words tumbling over themselves in their haste. More meditative.

I know why this is so and I don’t seek to avoid it. The real question is: How can I embrace this state? How can I make the most of it? It is natural, and will only become more so over time.

Coding currently feels better with a sharp mind, but there are still a myriad tasks to do and things to learn even when I don’t feel at my peak. Over time, I’ll learn to code in a reflective state instead of the intense one I carried over from competitions and quick prototyping. I think this will be good for my growth as a developer. After all, speed is not as useful as insight and care.

Reflective writing feels better than rapid writing. I don’t feel brilliant, but I feel methodical: following threads slowly, watching my own thoughts.

Cooking has become something that gives me pleasure. It’s one of those activities that I can indulge in, knowing that I can reliably create value where sometimes writing or coding does not. There are no blocks when it comes to cooking, only the steady slicing of ingredients and the textures and tastes of alchemy.

This slowness is perfect for listening, for talking. When I was younger, I felt an almost physical itch to be elsewhere, to be away, to be within the world of a book or a computer instead of in conversation.

Tidying benefits from deliberate thought. I organized my closet and my drawers by colour, and suddenly the patterns are visible. It takes just as much effort to maintain this order as it would to mess it up, and so I keep it.

Most days, I get very little done. But somehow, looking back over the week, I find that I’ve covered more ground than I thought.

I have the perfect foundation for learning how to live slowly. Few commitments, few expectations. I’ve lived this first part at a speed that other people have found remarkable but also, perhaps, uncomfortable: speaking, reading, coding, enthusiasm. It might be interesting to experiment with the flip side of that: the kind of stillness that the nuns in my grade school carried with them, the calm of late-night relaxed conversations, the serenity of quiet. I think I can translate the things I’ve loved about my faster life. Enthusiasm and delight don’t need to be breathless. The world is frantic enough. Let me learn how to be contagiously restful. =)