Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 72

State of the Systems 2022

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Hi this is Reinhard from Everyday Systems.

Last year, in 2022, I almost managed to achieve my goal of getting out an episode a month – 10 episodes total. More than I’d managed in a single year since 2007.

And I almost made it to 11, but I wound up biting off a little more than I could chew in December. I started writing a script for a “3 mini book reviews for the holidays” episode and it got way too long, and now the holidays are over. I’ll probably use the material for future episodes at some point, but I need to take a break from it. If you’re curious what the books are, they are The Simple Six, by Clive Dobbins, Dopamine Nation, by Anna Lembke, and The Courage To be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. One for body, one for spirits, one for soul.

Normally, for the last 2 years at least, I’ve done a state of the systems episode in January, reviewing how the Everyday Systems are working for me personally, and if anything has changed about how I practice or think about them. Last year my review was so thorough that it took me three episodes to get through it.

This year, beyond being a month late already, I’m thinking, I’d like to redirect some of that energy toward putting together an Everyday Systems compendium ebook, something I’ve been dreaming about doing for years, and never quite gotten around to, though I have made plenty of false starts. Or if not a comprehensive compendium at least some kind of Everyday Systems book, even if it’s just a little single system manifesto or pamphlet to break the ice. I think doing the (almost) monthly podcasts has given me the creative discipline to finally seriously dare to re-attempt something in that direction (and a lot of raw material to draw from).

We’ll see! I know that writing a book is no small undertaking. When I got the original No S Diet book to my editor two months early she said “I have never worked with an author who submitted their manuscript early!” I told her, “I have one kid, a three year old daughter, and another due in a month. Extrapolating from the impact my first kid had on my life, I’m assuming I’m never going to have time to work on a book again. You gave me a deadline, but my 2nd daughter – she is the real deadline.” And I was right! Even more so after our third child was born. It’s been 15 years and I never wrote a book again.

But… I’m hoping that I’ve finally grown strong enough in habit, and accustomed to working with the tiniest scraps of time that are all that are available to me these days for creative work, that I have some prayer of a chance of pulling something off, however humble.

But since, even thus heavily qualified, it’s far from a sure thing, and even best case scenario, likely to take some time, I will give you something today in this podcast, if not a complete review, at least some highlights. And some thoughts about how I’m going to direct my Everyday Systems energies this year.

I’ll use my usual Body, Soul, Spirits organizational scheme – and “meta”of course, systems for tracking and supporting other systems.

First body: the No S Diet has been more or less the same. My one refinement, as I described in a recent episode, is I’ve been more systematic about punitive food logging aka surgical flogging when and only when my weight reaches a certain threshold, and that’s been helpful in keeping the fluctuations down a bit. Because I dislike food logging (it’s time consuming, it’s boring) the threat of knowing I’m on the hook to do it if my weekly average weight hits a certain number is probably more effective disincentive than the logging itself. But it’s not a sea change. My average weight in 2022 was half a pound lower than in 2021. Effectively no difference. But that’s fine, I’m where I want to be, weight-wise, and the variability was less, which is probably a good thing. And it’s reassuring to have this fallback system in place as I advance further into middle age and presumably my metabolism slows down (more ideas like this in my Good Redundancy episode). And a lot more details on the mechanics of this particular technique in my recent episode on Surgical Flogging.

Longtime No S facebook group member, Miran, has pointed out that another way to go about flogging is to use pictures rather than words, to keep a photographic log of every meal. I like this because the results can be rather beautiful – and inspiring, if shared, as more and more people have been doing on the facebook group. It also builds on the visual aspect of learning to eyeball excess that the No-s habit tries to build. Again, not something I can see anyone doing forever, but as a jump start to no-s or course correction, it’s more interesting than a written log, and a potential help to others so they can see what a real live no-s meal looks like if you share it on the group.

Urban Ranger has been a bit more challenging my first full year working fully remotely. I no longer have a daily walking commute and it means I have to be a little more intentional about my walking. I’ve been doing an OK job, but I haven’t quite 100% compensated. So I’m down to a little under 12000 average daily steps in 2022 from a little under 13000 in 2021, about 7% down. It’s still a good amount of steps, but I definitely don’t want it to decline further, and I’d like to find ways to make walking more automatic and habitual again, to build it back into my daily routine somehow so I don't even have to think about it. It’s while urban rangering that I get most of my other Everyday Systems inspirations, so it’s critical for the future of Everyday Systems as a whole that I get this system turned around!

Shovelglove has been the most challenging of my body systems this year. Although my golfer’s elbow has gotten much better since October 2021 when I first noticed it, I’m still wary of triggering it, and though I was making good progress in terms of gradually re-introducing shovelglove, I had another setback two months ago, in November when I fell while I was on one of my early morning mini-runs in the dark and injured my ribs. This required me to ease off shovelglove yet again, for a surprisingly long time. I don’t think I broke anything, but it continued to be sensitive for well over a month. My only consolation this time is that I can blame running for this injury, that most dangerous of exercises (and someone else’s invention!), and that my own beloved brainchild, Shovelglove, is clear from suspicion this time. Though let the world take note: the official explanation for my “uppy arm” is still those 5 air conditioners I carried down to the basement one weekend, not Shovelglove.

So at the moment, I’m still doing Shovelglove just 3 days a week vs. the 5 I used to do, 2 sets of the routine of sevens vs. one 14 rep set of each movement, and with at most a 16 pound hammer vs. my 20 pounder. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I do bodyweight exercises during my shovelglove time: pushups, squats (usually holding a sledgehammer for stability and some extra weight), a tiny, tentative but slowly increasing number of pullups, dumbbell shadow boxing, interspersed with capering around the living room or in place in a rather ridiculous manner until I hit 2000 steps on my fitbit. I call this alternation between shovelglove and bodyweight exercise days (or whatever you want to call it), “crop rotation,” to stick with shovelgloves’s agrarian, manual labor theme.

It’s been hard, this period of reduced shovelglove, I miss it, I feel embarrassed that I’m having these problems. But I also feel good about how I’ve responded to them. I’ve been flexibly persistent, keeping the habit going, the time structure in the mornings, backing off and gently easing back in, experimenting with temporary and maybe not so temporary alternatives on non-shovelglove days. And I know, from having seen my parents decline, as irritating as this is, this is life. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that for the next half of my life, bouncing back, sometimes only partially, from physical injuries and setbacks is going to be the exercise challenge. And that it’s possible and necessary to find a measure of satisfaction and even excitement in meeting this challenge.

I keep thinking of that image of the VC Cat, C.S. Lewis’s image of the neurotic who earns, or deserves to earn, the Victoria Cross, the highest distinction for bravery, for overcoming his fear of cats and picking one up for some good reason. I like to think it applies here, too, that it can be motivationally useful, in getting myself to pick up an embarrassingly light shovelglove, or even a non-shovelglove, on alternate days. Not for the sake of being Mr. Universe, or even Mr. Weird Corner of the Internet, but just an ordinary human being who owes it to himself and his family to stay in reasonable shape for as long as possible.

Speaking of cats, it’s been a few years since we’ve had the brothers who inspired shovelglove, and are still pictured on the shovelglove homepage. Just last month we got a kitten, a Siberian, who supposedly won’t trigger my wife’s allergies, and he’s so playful and fearless that he’ll literally attack and jump at my Shovelglove while I’m using it. A good reminder to be careful and why that sweater wrapped around it is useful!

In terms of spirits, my biggest innovation for 2021 has been finding a Glass Ceiling accountability partner. As you may recall, a couple of years ago, I went from a flat 2 drink a day ceiling to a variable ceiling of 2 drinks on S days, and zero drinks on Non-S days. So no drinking at all except on weekends and holidays, and then a maximum of two drinks. Same days/on - days/off structure as the No-S diet and shovelglove. So the new variable height glass ceiling is an even more perfect fit with the rhythm of the other everyday systems than the original. And it’s been very helpful. And surprisingly (mostly) doable. At first I leaned heavily on non-alcoholic beers at dinnertime but I’ve mostly weaned myself off even these. But my compliance was not 100% perfect. And sometimes, all too frequently, my permitted drinks were on the enormous side (this was really the bigger issue). So I was inspired by AAs step 5 to find an accountability partner to check in every week with and mutually fess up any infractions or stretchers.

And it’s been great. We’ve both been drinking less (according to my life log, I was down 17% in terms of total alcohol consumption in 2022 vs 2021), we’ve selflessly been helping each other with our selfish little problems, and as a bonus we’ve deepened our friendship.

It’s still a struggle, honestly, I am and will likely remain a little too fond of drink for my own good, but at least I’ve pushed the front lines deep into enemy territory. When I do slip up, the enemy may temporarily gain back a few yards on me, but the consequences are much less severe, unnoticeable by anyone but my hypervigilant self (and my new accountability partner).

In terms of soul, though it’s been the focus of most of my new systems thinking for the last few years, since I feel I have a pretty good handle on body and spirits, it feels like there is still an infinite amount left to figure out. Maybe that’s just the way it is with souls. I’m still practicing mantrafication, mindful bagful, timebox lorded meditation, the Study Habit, audiodidact, posifactive, weekend luddite, VC Cat and more. And I think all these things help – but still, all too often, I find myself (how should I put this?) in a non-serene state.

On the bright side, what a fruitful avenue for further Everyday Systems research and development in 2023!

Finally, meta, systems for tracking and supporting other systems. I’m still at it with the personal punch cards and the lifelog, managing my daily todo lists and habit compliance with physical index cards, then transferring select aspects of them to a spreadsheet once a week. Sometimes it feels excessive, compulsive, a distraction from real life and real work, but I know from experience that the feeling of chaos that seizes me when I get lax about them is far worse. And it is nice to be able to see real, quantifiable progress or stability when my habits are good – and catch myself when I slip. It’s something solid-feeling to lean on when I start to doubt or wonder.

But I also wonder whether to some degree the personal punch cards and life log represent a hubristic, excessive systemization of life. Whether there might not be something better between total chaos on the one hand and what sometimes verges on OCD-level tracking on the other, some happier medium. The earliest everyday systems,the No S Diet, Shovelglove, Urban Ranger were all explicitly anti-tracking after all. Something I will muse about in 2023 as I try to get to the bottom of it myself.

So that was 2022. What’s on the radar for 2023, besides an attempt at some kind of Everyday Systems ebook, which is probably a big enough undertaking? Well, I’d like to continue attempting to release a podcast episode a month, though I’m already a month behind, and it’s going to be challenging if it's competing with book writing time. My hope is that somehow I can have the two processes synergistically feed into each other, and have the podcasts be a proving ground for raw material for the book, but I know that’s naive beyond a certain degree. The fact that I just used the word “synergistically” is probably a sign that this endeavor is utterly doomed. But still, I’d like to try. And like I said, if I can’t pull off a book, I’ll try for a little manifesto, and if I can’t do that, the merest pamphlet. I’d at least like to go through the mechanics of getting some kind of e-publication on sale at the kindle store, so I can see what it’s like, and maybe worth doing again more ambitiously.

Finally, on a technical level, I’d like to figure out a way to bring the everyday bulletin board back to life. The No S facebook group is going strong, but I know there are a lot of people who don't do facebook, and I respect that, I’m not much of a facebooker myself. And the bulletin board has decades now of historical posts that would be a shame to have blip out of existence. I’m deeply grateful to longtime bulletin board members in particular for keeping it alive to some degree during the last 5+ years I’m been largely neglecting them. Thank you, oolala, soprano, ladybird, Amy, Over43, ~reneew, Sinnie, pinkhippie, lpearlmom, Greatfuldeb and all others who have continued to post there!

The trick is I have to find an antispam mechanism that effectively blocks spam accounts without blocking EVERYONE who is trying to create a new account. This is the status quo. Everything about the site is so old and crusty and fragile that I’m afraid I might destroy it in any attempt to fix it, but I think the time is coming soon when if I don’t do something, it’s going to run itself into the ground anyway, so I’m going to have to take that risk.

Well, that’s all for today. If anything in this episode resonated with you, please let me know! You can do it in the facebook group, or on the apple podcasts comments section, on the everyday systems bulletin board if you can get past the anti-spam defenses or just email me. There’s even a sub-redit apparently now that I may eventually figure out. I’d love to know what you’d like to hear more about, what you’d maybe rather not hear so much about, and if you have thoughts as to how I should apply my limited Everyday Systems energies in 2023. Specific questions or suggested topics for podcast episodes (or ebook publications!) are very welcome.

Well, that’s really it for today. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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