Grayson's Beeminder Journal


#1

(I’m following @oulfis’s excellent lead on personal threads.)

I’ve spent the past year largely focused on recovering from a narrowly averted burnout. It took longer than I’d expected – especially given “averted” – and it exacted more rest and quiet than I was happy about. Most of my plans, including my Beeminder goals, had to go on hold.

But giving myself the space to question how I wanted to move forward while standing utterly still has paid off. I’m back on track with many of my goals, and enjoying them more than I ever have. It feels as if I’ve successfully moved from “I should accomplish this” to “I enjoy the process of doing this.” Big win!

Most gratifying (and surprising) is how easy it is to eat vegan now. I’m 50, and I’ve flirted with vegetarianism and veganism for the past 30 years. It’s always been hard: I grew up eating meat and eggs and cheese (and I like them), and I hate inconveniencing people. And nothing’s as inconvenient as a dining companion who’s vegan – not only because it strips most cooks of their entire repertoires, but also because it confronts people with an ugly truth and feels to them like a judgment. So in the past I’ve always retreated back into accommodatingly flexitarian habits: eating whatever it is people serve me when I’m out, going along with the flow in restaurants, and, at home, cooking to please the meat eaters in my family. (Which is everyone except me.)

But recently something’s shifted: it isn’t hard at all to eat vegan, whether I’m out or at home. I no longer feel like I’ve given up something by avoiding animal products. I no longer feel terrible about inconveniencing people – or, rather, I no longer feel their inconvenience is the most important part of the equation. And I no longer feel bad about people feeling bad: whatever unpleasantness they feel is not only a valid response, but also 100% theirs to own.

The balance of the price-performance equation, if you will, has shifted to make veganism a no-brainer for me. And that feels pretty nice.

I’ve also hit upon a writing goal that feels affirming. After years of trying to decide whether to make writing my career or keep it a hobby, I’ve decided on the latter. No more forcing myself to try and finish a novel (though of course I can still finish one if I want to). More importantly, no more jumping through accomplishment hoops. I write because I like writing. And I really don’t like chasing after results designed to prove I’m a worthwhile person. So – after a long and frustrating slog through word-count goals, and stories-finished goals, and time-spent-writing goals – I’ve hit upon a goal that feels like a game. I call it Crack Those Markets! I’m going to try to sell a short story to a series of magazines I haven’t been in before.

Of course, that could easily be an accomplishment-hoop goal. It isn’t, I think, because of the mindset shift I wrote about above. One way to put it might be that I’m finally looking inward to assess value, rather than outward. There may be better ways to describe it. At any rate, I’m far less concerned now with other people’s opinions of what I’ve done and am doing, and that means I’m finally doing what I do because I like doing it.

It’s a pretty great place to be. And it only took me 50 years to get here. :wink:


#2

I’m really interested in your shift to being vegan, specifically if you made a conscious effort to change how much you cared about inconveniencing people or if it just sort of happened. This is still a hangup for me; I was vegetarian for six years but stopped because, among other reasons, it felt like an imposition on someone who was doing something very nice for you (cooking a meal).


#3

Andy, I did make a conscious effort – but I feel like I had been making that effort for decades. I’m honestly not sure what created the shift.

The least helpful option for you is that, since childhood, I’ve always looked forward to getting old. (Maybe because my grandparents were full of interesting facts and fun things to do, maybe from exposure to the “wise woman” idea when I was younger, maybe from all that plus other input I don’t even remember.) So maybe, now that I’ve turned 50, some kind of switch has flipped in my head and I’m fulfilling my own prophecy, as it were? [0]

Also not useful for you (I hope!): my almost-burnout may have helped, because it got me to take a long, hard look at why I always put other people’s desires first. It started with client demands (I was always available, always accommodating, etc.) and expanded from there. When I got to my food choices, the insanity of “don’t be any trouble to other people” hit me. I mean, talk about an orders-of-magnitude imbalance in importance. As I wrote in one of my stories, “Like I’m worrying about a stubbed toe when a bear’s just clawed off my right arm.”

But I do have one useful, concrete datum. I stopped avoiding painful information. I was first exposed to the moral motivation for vegetarianism and veganism (and the accompanying graphic descriptions) over three decades ago. It made instant sense to me. But after that I went out of my way to avoid graphic descriptions, because they’re so hard to bear. I figured I already knew what I needed to know, and I didn’t need to keep exposing myself to that.

What that meant in practice, though, is that my conviction wavered in the face of what was present: other people’s feelings and desires. So a couple of years ago, I decided to start seeking out information, hoping that would help me create an internal commitment so constantly present that it trumped my desire to be “no trouble” to others. And, indeed, that’s what the shift feels like: being vegan has become easy because the reality behind the choice I’m making is now front and center in my mind all the time. So I think this tactic must have played a part (combined with the orders-of-magnitude realization I mentioned above). [2]


[0] Though, now that I’m here, I gotta tell ya, 50 doesn’t feel old. I don’t think I’ve hit “old” yet, actually. [1] But 50 still sounds old, so if there was a switch to be flipped, this last birthday sure could have triggered it.

[1] Obviously bodies do get old, but I’m pretty sure that mentally, I’ll never get old. Which has opened my eyes (gradually, over the years) to the fact that all those white-haired wrinkly people out there are still the same people they always were: free-thinking or narrow-minded, experimental or straightlaced, fun to be with or boring as mud, … Hitting 50 (or 60, or 70, or 80, or…) doesn’t magically turn you into an old-fashioned granny. (This may have been obvious to everyone but me.)

[2] Some resources, if you don’t already know them:
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Peter Singer, The Ethics of What We Eat
The documentary Cowspiracy
The documentary Live and Let Live


#4

I remember that! That’s a pretty powerful story!

My only thought on vegetarianism is that presumably people are super binary about it because of how slippery the slope is. Unless you actively identify as vegetarian or vegan, you’re going to end up eating animal products all the time. In theory Beeminder offers a compromise – hard-committing to eat less meat. But I’m not aware of a lot of success stories here so maybe identifying as vegan/vegetarian really is the best option.


#5

I had a vegetarian_days goal for a long time, and it was set to 4 or 5 days
a week. Worked for me.


#6

I definitely fall into the “every lit bit helps” camp! Especially if your main motivation is environmental [0] or health-related.

I think committing to less is only hard for people whose main motivation is the moral argument. Maybe moral decisions are necessarily binary? You’re either living true to your morals, or you aren’t. Even one drop of red makes the water no longer colorless – that kind of thing. If you think something is terrible, even a little bit of it makes you feel terrible.

Which is too bad, because every step a person takes toward a goal really does help move the world closer to the ideal they’re striving for. And Beeeminder is AWESOME for that. It’s an excellent system for letting you bask in your progress, rather than hitting you over the head with your non-perfection.


[0] I had no idea until I saw the documentary Cowspiracy that the meat and dairy industries are actually major contributors to global warming and deforestation, as well as giant natural resource hogs. [1] Learning that definitely helped move me along toward full-on veganism – the whole darned thing seems all upside, no downside.

[1] The makers have a nifty infographic here, for anyone interested. Click through for a version with the sources listed at the bottom.


#7

An end-of-summer, back-to-work update.

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“Just do something, anything


I’ve been gradually shifting more and more of my goals to a binary “did I do anything at all toward this goal?” metric, and so far it’s a success. Turns out the hard part is just getting moving. And the barrier to that is surmountable if even one minute counts (and that minute almost always ends up being much longer and more productive).

I’ve also shifted many of my goals to a daily check-in metric. It started with daily-routine goals like laundry-am and kitchen-pm, where I wanted to make sure everyday tasks didn’t fall through the cracks. Daily-routine goals let me use Beeminder as my single to-do list for recurring and long-term items. These (also binary) goals get a data point when that item is done for the day, which might also represent “I didn’t need to do this today” (if I was all caught up on laundry or we went out to eat, say).

It works great, so I’ve been expanding the strategy to other goals: mandarin and guitar and exercise and so on. It doesn’t make me actually do these things every day, but it does keep them fresh in my mind and my intentions. And the days I don’t do them are well-considered days: when I enter the data point, I’m consciously choosing “I didn’t need to do this today”, which is pretty powerful. It feels like being in control and taking care of myself – when work is busy, or other goals take precedence, that deliberate choice not to work on a goal feels like I’m prioritizing well instead of failing. And (bonus!) ticking it off when I make that call clears it out of my head for the rest of the day.

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I hate the word “vegan”


(@apb Tagging you here, Andy, since you also wrestle with this.) I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the point of my eating habits at a pretty fundamental level.

– I didn’t request a vegan meal from the airline before we flew, so I had to make do with the vegetarian option. Which made me realize that not eating the cheese was utterly pointless: it was on my plate now and it would be thrown away if I didn’t. By not requesting a vegan meal ahead of time, I’d wasted that cheese either way. So I ate it, which felt like the less stupid option.

– My goal is to move our treatment of animals to a good place. What best accomplishes that? It isn’t putting people on the defensive, which a strict adherence to veganism frequently does. [0] It isn’t making them go miles outside their cooking comfort zone when I come over to eat. My husband has suggested a 90% rule that would let me eat whatever people serve me in their own homes, but as an ethical vegan that sounds a lot to me like “it’s wrong to kill people/own slaves/commit child abuse/…, so I make sure I don’t do it unless that would inconvenience others”. Yet the idea has a lot of merit, too:

– – My personal eating habits don’t make a dent, in the larger scheme; but passing on the idea does. If my behavior gets people thinking about their food choices, the idea spreads. Putting them on the defensive doesn’t do that, which means that being 100% strict about my diet actually works against my goal.

– – Every little bit really does help. Even if people don’t get defensive, when I’m 100% strict they see an all-or-none proposition. If instead I present an example of cutting back, they’re much more likely to give it a go. And 100 people eating “meat-free Mondays” cuts out way more animal products than 1 person eating strictly vegan. And from meat-free Monday it’s a manageable step to cutting a little more, and then a little more…

– – When my nine-year-old who loves to bake comes home from his grandmother’s house with brownies that contain eggs and butter, I AM EATING THEM. I am not crushing his little baker-boy heart and turning the bright, proud smile on his face into tears by telling him that dairy cows are more important to me than he is. And, frankly, they aren’t. They just aren’t.

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New language learning resource


Thanks to @kerrie’s post on Kwiziq [1], I ended up in a Duolingo forum thread where a user named LanguageButcher listed several resources, including https://www.readinga-z.com/worldlanguages/. Holy wowzers! The site has leveled books from AA (simplest) to Z (most complex) for a handful of foreign languages (plus English). They offer a 14-day free trial; after that it costs money, but it looks like you can preview the entirety of a book on its description page. (I think the site is geared to instructors who will order copies for their students?)

EDITED TO ADD: Just found another fantastic resource (and bought the whole enchilada of worksheets [2]): Notes in Spanish. Spent an hour browsing through the site, trying out the sample worksheets, reading reviews… and trying to decide whether to buy the whole pack at a significant discount, or just buy the first course. Then I found their charity page, and that tipped the balance. Good people behind this website.
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[0] For that matter, just the word “vegan” makes people defensive, so I need to find a different way to describe myself. (And, technically, if I go with a 90% rule, I won’t be vegan anyway.) For now, I think I’ll just say “I’m cutting back on meat and dairy” if people ask, and then explain why if they want to know more.

[1] Sorry I can’t help you answer your question in that post, but tusen takk for introducing me to Kwiziq! I hope they get Spanish up and running soon.

[2] All their audio is free for everyone to use. The paid content is the accompanying worksheets, if you want them.


#8

Thanks for the post! Very thoughtful.


#9

I really enjoyed this, especially the bit about not breaking little baker-boy hearts. I recently switched to vegetarian-with-limited-exceptions, and they’re similar to yours: if something’s already cooked and being presented to you, especially from a host, I’m not going to make a fuss. If someone asks I’ll say I prefer to eat vegetarian. And if you raised the animal yourself, that’s also allowed. It’s actually been really pretty easy to stick to, as in the exceptions don’t even get invoked all that much.

I’ve also been thinking about why we draw this line around meat - there’s plenty of non-animal products that have the potential to be really harmful or environmentally impactful, but it’s not as much on the radar. Or it hasn’t been, anyway. The general goal I’ve been working toward is to just be more aware and deliberate about what I’ve been eating, rather than adhering to a strict set of rules like “zero animal products under any circumstances”.


#10

I like the name Plant Strong (from Engine 2 Diet™ ).

Even if you don’t like the Engine 2 stuff, most people have never heard of it, so Plant Strong stands alone pretty well.


#11

I’ve been doing something like this by setting my slope to be something like “30 minutes per week” or “1 pushup per day” and then setting max safe days to something small.

But I find that when the slope says “1 minute” sometimes I start treating that as the goal, which is unhelpful. And I don’t really care about the quantified self aspect of knowing how many minutes I’ve done in total.

So maybe I’ll try converting them to be binary instead. Thanks!

PS: best of both worlds option for subscribers: keep reporting minutes or whatever, but set your aggregation method to nonzero


#12

An end-of-year(ish) update on my evolving use of Beeminder.
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Pomodoros are my new best friend
I’ve recently adopted 25-minute pomodoros as my unit for several goals – including some that used to be binary “just do something, anything” goals. That metric was useful for getting me to build a habit, but it didn’t help me make as much progress as I’d like. So guitar, mandarin, spanish, write, and exercise have all moved to pomodoro tracking, and my sense of satisfaction has grown. Pomodoros are also a valuable metric for my work-related goals (more on those below). I find that 25 minutes is an ideal length: it’s long enough to focus, but it sounds short to my brain. And being so close to half an hour, it’s also easy to do in-my-head math on.
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Five interrelated goals to track work time
My work-tracking system has matured into something that finally captures my intent. I now have five goals, which are automatically fed data from my Complice outcomes:

  • write (≥ 24 pomodoros per week, on average)
  • xln-max (≤ 48)
  • nobill-max (≤ 8)
  • wrk-min (≥ 36)
  • wrk-max (≤ 72)

For example, if I spend 5 pomodoros on a translation project, those 5 pomos will be automatically logged to my xln-max, wrk-min and wrk-max goals.

The max goals are to keep me from chronically overdoing work – a mess I got myself into back in 2016 and am eager to avoid repeating.

The write and wrk-min goals combine to ensure that I consistently work on my fiction – since it earns me very little, I’ve tended to shunt it aside in favor of more paid translation work. Together, these goals mean I must write for at least 24 pomos a week (on average), and in weeks when I don’t have an active translation project, I must write an additional 12 pomos to boot.

That last feature – which forces me to build buffer on my writing goal in slow translation weeks – gives me the flexibility every freelancer needs to have an occasional slammer week, when I translate morning, noon and night and ignore everything else. Similarly, the gap between wrk-min and xln-max (and wrk-max) means that I can have that occasional slammer week where I spend 90 pomos on a translation project – as long as I’ve had enough slow weeks to build the necessary buffer.

The nobill-max goal should ensure that I don’t spend more than 11% of my work time on administrative things, including meetings with potential clients. (This was part of what overloaded me in 2016, when several new clients approached me at once.)

The system will undoubtedly need some tweaking; for example, since wrk-max also logs writing pomodoros, then if I spend several weeks maxing it out by writing, I won’t have that translation buffer I need when a big project comes in – even though I haven’t been overworking myself. But it’s a great start, and I’m excited about using multiple Beeminder goals to capture a complex real-world intention.
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Language learning milestone
When I took up surfing this summer, I realized that what I call my “hobby” goals – things I ostensibly want to do – were of a whole different order of “want.” Frankly, I’ve kind of had to pull my teeth to make myself practice guitar, mandarin and spanish. But surfing? I loved every minute on the water – even though I was just learning, and thus terrible at it. And when I came back to shore I couldn’t believe I’d been out there for two hours because it felt like ten minutes – and I was already looking forward to my next session.

That made me take a good, hard look at whether I should even have goals for guitar and languages. I decided I’d give them another few months, and reevaluate. I’m happy to report that in the past three months, I’ve turned a corner on all three: while I don’t spend hours that feel like minutes on them, I do enjoy my practice sessions now, and I even look forward to them a little. So they’re all still on the docket for 2018.
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Also on the docket for 2018
I had a great time with my goals to watch 30 documentaries, read 30 books, and explore 30 new (to me) musicians. So those are continuing in 2018. I’m also still enjoying my theology study, so that will continue as well.

I’ll also be tracking surfing sessions once the season starts back up for me (here in NL, that means May – I love surfing, but not when I’m miserably cold. And even in May, that’ll be with my 5/4 wetsuit and a hoodie and quite possibly gloves and it will be cold. Just not miserably so.) Surfing sessions will also populate my exercise goal, so that means I can ease up on the indoor dancing around and doing bodyweight exercises once surf season hits. Yay!

My binary every-day-todo goals – kitchen, laundry, water, etc – have been very satisfying, so they’ll continue as well.

New for 2018 is an effective goal, which is automatically populated by the percentage of Complice intentions I complete. That encourages me both to complete my intended tasks, and to create a Complice todo list that is realistic in its optimism.

I’ve archived my subgoals for guitar, mandarin and spanish – breaking each down into theory/technique/songs or write/read/listen/speak – in favor of single trackers. I’m using structured learning materials for all three goals, which will ensure I hit all aspects without the complexity of multiple goals.


#13

I have recently set up a “vegan/vegetarian days” goal. A day in which I eat vegan counts as 1, vegetarian as 0.5. I have started very small, but seems to me it is working so I will probably get a bit harder on myself, like to set the goal to get 3 points per week. My motivation is only ecology. And I am very lazy about food, do no cooking in my life whatsoever and as such achieving a vegan day is fairly difficult for me. But I also think in the end to get to the level I want this to get - which is not 100% vegan - is mostly about developing new habits. So, something for the Beeminder devil.