Grayson's Beeminder Journal 2024

in which I actually kick all the ass in 2024 that I’ve always known I could kick if I could just stop sabotaging myself

I’ve had a very long love-hate relationship with holding myself accountable. Doing so chafes; not doing so is a cesspool of suck. Up, down, up, down and never a sense of satisfaction. This is the year when I set it up to support me rather than as an idealized should-fest – the perfect middle line between feeling harried and wasting away my potential.

tools

I work so much better with automated goal input, so after checking out the alternatives, I’ve gone back to Intend (formerly Complice) which is both a wonderful tool to capture what matters to me (as opposed to just a task list) and the best autodata integration with Beeminder I’ve found.

journaling plan

I’ll pop in at least monthly (as part of my Intend monthly review) to update.

previous editions

[2017-2023] […yep, that’s it so far]
I had a single, often neglected journal until this year; in theory (value on the hope axis is high), this list will grow each year, as I start a new journal each January. Inspired by @shanaqui’s first-post-of-the-new-journal-year format.

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January 2024 retrospective


[Stealing the above idea from @k1rsty who in turn credits it to @rperce]

off to a great start

This is the first time I’ve managed to set up a complex-ish intend-and-track system and feel supported rather than overwhelmed after a month. Normally I’d be archiving Beeminder goals like crazy and either rethinking the whole system or (likely) just abandoning it because “this much pressure is counterproductive for me.” Instead, the inevitable rethinks and tweaks have consistently felt like forward progress. Wow.

I credit this to two things. First (and this is 99%): with every passing year, hope loses ground to cynicism. I’ve tried and failed to find meaning and purpose for more than five decades, and the evidence is gradually building for the hypothesis that there is none. In which case, I am so not up for another thirty years of pointless and often obligatory activity that only highlights my acute sense of being permanently alone in a crowd. The stakes are thus high, and I am motivated. It is quite literally a life-and-death matter to do something other than more of the same – to go all out on finding what I’ve been looking for in life, and leave no stone unturned.

Second, for me, Intend and Beeminder are excellent tools to help shape a search for meaning and purpose. They aren’t enough on their own – as I’ve proven countless times over – but with this intrinsic motivation now spelled out in my mind, they are very welcome support. I’m sure I’d get there without them, but they make getting there a lot easier.

being intentional about my time

I decided that for 2024, I would track time spent well as a proxy for finding meaning and purpose. To that end, I have seven life areas at Intend, two of which are “purpose” areas and the rest of which are “support” areas that make the purpose areas possible. At Beeminder, I have 27 goals that track how I spend my time in total and across each area, plus 2 goals that track fitness proxies (step count and weight).

Every morning I enter my intentions for the day at Intend, including a time estimate (in hours) which sends a data point to one or more Beeminder goals when the intention is marked complete. For example:

In this example, you can see that each Intend area has a distinct number. Some areas have subareas, indicated by a short code (such as [es] or [bbh]). This lets me track time spent on projects at Beeminder and keep Intend focused on life arenas.

At the end of each intention is the time estimate. If I spend more or less time than estimated, I can append the difference onto the intention, and Intend will sum them all up before sending the datapoint to the relevant Beeminder goals.

Some daily intentions are assigned to more than one area (such as 5,3)). I thought long and hard about this; it means that the time will be counted double at Beeminder and in particular in my total-time-spent goal. I decided that this was more in the spirit of what I’m trying to do than it would be to partition my time into non-overlapping buckets. In the screenshot above, the 5,3) menu & groceries item captures my deliberate choice to buy only enough food for one day, so I have to leave the house and get a short walk in every day, as well as my intention to ensure there’s dinner and breakfast for everyone. And, in the end, all of this is only a proxy anyway – I don’t capture every minute of the day, and I don’t need to. What’s important is that this system helps me be intentional about my time.

I can add new intentions if the day goes unexpectedly – that’s what the very last item in the screenshot is. I hadn’t intended to get into a deep philosophical disagreement about the best way to do more good through drinking coffee, but I did, and it absolutely counts as meaningful time even though I hadn’t planned for it.

All of these are things that evolved for me in this first month, and it’s been wonderful to experience this as actively making progress instead of either “time wasted tweaking things” or “this isn’t working, see?”

homing in on what matters

About halfway through the month, I realized it was hard to know when spending time with other people should be categorized as REL (relationships) or BE (be a light in the darkness). I’d originally created BE to capture my volunteer work with refugees, which is definitely time well spent and a clear source of meaning and purpose for me. REL was meant for the thorny issue of personal relationships – I am generally drained rather than energized by dinners with friends, parties, etc. and I wanted this area to help me figure out how to make that work better for me. So far, so clear – but what about time spent helping a friend who’s going through a rough time? That sounds a lot like being a light in the darkness.

I eventually teased out this distinction: BE is about the other feeling seen, heard and understood; REL is about me feeling seen, heard and understood. This is a super-interesting epiphany, folks. Because when I am in BE mode, I disappear: my disappointments, needs, fears, desires all go poof and I’m just there but not in my head. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I credit a couple of very hard times in my life, when I absolutely needed to show up for someone else, for showing me that this is not only something I am able to do without melting or falling apart, but also in some sense what I was born to do. It comes naturally and easily to me when shit is truly hitting the fan – your teenage daughter is dying of brain cancer, for example, or your sister’s husband unexpectedly drops dead at 37. I didn’t learn to do it; I discovered I was naturally good at it – and that it was the most rewarding way I’d ever spent time, giving me a sense of completion and peace nothing else ever has.

I’m not sure what teasing out the distinction means for my REL goal, but that’s what I’ll explore in February. I think it’s clear that the conclusion is “drop REL because focusing on whether you feel seen, heard and understood has literally never made you feel better” – but there will always be non-BE-ize-able time I have to spend with others, so the question is how to recast or minimize that time.

money, oh how I hate your very existence

One of my life arenas at Intend is INC, for income. I have left my past work and am looking for what comes next. It’s been hard. I believe money is a terrible system, the very definition of tit for tat, where you don’t give your neighbor some of your wheat because he’s hungry, you LEND it to him and now he owes you something in return. This is essentially the antithesis of my worldview, in which things and ideas are freely shared to the benefit of all. As you might imagine, this has made it complicated for me to do work in exchange for money. Also complicating my ability to work for money is the existential weariness I mentioned at the start of this post.

The epiphany this month, as I kept failing to get in my hours on bug bounty hunting and felt oppressed by the two probable translation assignments in the pipeline (from old clients; I no longer do this for a living but said yes to them because obligation and unemployed) is that I just really cannot do something simply because it pays. Not “this isn’t interesting enough to me, I need to find a better fit” but “I am past the point where money can be a relevant deciding factor in how I spend my time.”

This is of course easy to say because I’m not our main breadwinner and we are nowhere near living on the street and we have some savings to bridge the gap for a while. If we were starving and I was our only hope then shit yes I would work for money. But then it would be time well spent, wouldn’t it? Dare I say it would be a way of lighting up the darkness for my family, even.

But we don’t need the money to stay afloat. We need it to maintain our current lifestyle, but I don’t give a rat’s ass about our current lifestyle. I mean, it’s nice, yes, absolutely, but it is not worth spending my time on making the money for it at the expense of spending that time on finding the light in the darkness and being a light in the darkness. Focusing on money feels dirty, selfish – you know what, it feels like a violation of my principles. This world should not work on the principle of money. Money is evil made concrete.

I know this sounds over the top and crazypants to lots of you. Not a problem, certainly not my problem. Just reporting on myself here.

So INC has been refined to be about closing the gap between our income and outflow. Maybe I’ll earn some money; maybe we’ll win the lottery (unlikely, since we don’t buy tix); maybe M will earn more; maybe we’ll move somewhere cheaper; maybe a lot of things. This refinement feels good – it feels like I’ve gotten clearer on the real point of this as a life arena and disabled some hidden assumptions in the process (like “it’s my job to solve this problem”).

Two of this month’s three derailments were on INC goals, and the derailments feel good – they informed my understanding of this arena, rather than marking my failure to do what I said I would.

getting clearer on hobbies vs purposes

In addition to BE, be a light in the darkness, I have FIND, find the light in the darkness. These are my two purpose arenas at Intend, and they’re meant to complement each other. BE is about concrete action in the world; FIND is the abstract, thinking side of things. This month, I discovered an interesting distinction in each of them.

First, language learning. I’ve been a sometime language learner all my life, and though I think of it as a failed hobby and yet another example of how I never follow through on things, the truth is I did learn a second language (Dutch) and now I live in Europe with my Dutch husband and kids and I had a whole 17-year career (translating) I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t taken that first class in college on a whim. But it’s true I haven’t learned any others to an appreciable degree, despite years of buying books and courses and starting full of enthusiasm only to peter out after a month or two.

Then I started working at the Dutch Council for Refugees, where I constantly speak with traumatized, frightened, exhausted people I don’t have a language in common with. We work through telephone interpreters, which is mostly okay but often less than great. And sometimes, there’s no interpreter available. That happened to me once, with refugees from a Spanish-speaking country. Turned out my very rusty Spanish from high school and college was sufficient to muddle through the conversation, with hand gestures and pointing at things mixed in. And I suddenly realized that reviving my Spanish sufficiently well would actually fall under concrete action to be a light in the darkness. As would learning Farsi, Russian, Turkish, Chinese, and a few other languages we frequently encounter.

So that completely reframed my language-learning hobby, and I jumped headlong into studying Spanish again. But that effort started to flag after a while. It will take a sobering 2 years at 2 hours of study every day to achieve truly conversational Spanish, and 4 to 8 years (at 2 hours a day) for each of the rest. That’s a long time and a lot of hours. While it was a gratifying insight to have, I’m not sure the benefits merit that kind of effort. I’ll decide whether in February whether to pursue it under BE or let it remain an occasional pastime just for fun.

(My Spanish Beeminder goal was the third one that derailed this month, and like the two INC goals, it felt informative rather than punitive.)

The second distinction, in FIND, was that “what is the nature of reality?” is maybe just a fascinating question, not a meaningful one. That is, maybe it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for finding the light in the darkness and then being a light in the darkness. Maybe it’s just a hobby I enjoy.

This has gotten super long and I’m getting tired, so I’ll stop here. Thanks for reading, those of you who did :).

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February 2024 retrospective: lots of exciting clarity

life area changes

I’ve gone from seven areas (two purpose, five support) to four (three purpose, one support). The remaining support area is FIT, because it’s important and only I can do it. The other support areas have either been incorporated into a purpose area (SYS, REL) or are now miscellaneous intentions that are generally worth doing, but nothing will be lost if someone else does them or they don’t get done at all (HYA, INC). The new purpose life area is … well, the naming is confusing, so let me just describe the three areas together.

I previously had FIND (find the light in the darkness) and BE (be a light in the darkness). This month I teased out that what I actually need is to feel the light in the darkness. Enter FEED, where I deliberately cultivate a worldview that convinces me life is worth living. (Spoiler: atheistic materialism, the worldview I held for most of my first five decades, is not it. I keep defaulting to it in waves, though, and I need a way to stop doing that.)

Since most of what I’d been categorizing under FIND properly belonged to FEED, I renamed that life area and created a new one that reused the name FIND. This new FIND is about finding new concrete ways to BE a light in the darkness. It got some focus in February, but down the road I expect it will settle into the background. I don’t want to forget it, and I think it’s good to always be looking for ways to be your best self, but I won’t always be in this transition phase where I need to figure it out from nearly scratch.

Returning to INC: I’m nearing the middle of the book translation project I took on. I’ve ramped up the slope on my Beeminder goal to make sure I keep pace for the last two months. This is, I hope, my last ever effort-to-make-money-for-money’s-sake. Long term, my INC activities will end up under BE (be a light in the darkness), because…

there’s a new career ahead

After last month’s realization that money cannot be a relevant factor in deciding how I spend my time, combined with my ultimate goal to spend as much of my time as I can concretely BEing a light in the darkness, it was suddenly obvious that I should look at vacancies similar to the work I do now as a volunteer with the Dutch Refugee Council.

So I pinned a few refugee-organization tabs and refreshed them daily. A lot of what came by required a background in social work (which I don’t have), but there were also lots of vacancies for teachers of Dutch as a second language (“NT2”). So many that I finally took a look (I’d assumed you’d have to be a native speaker to qualify, but you don’t; you just have to speak the language incredibly well – C2+ on the CEFR scale). I also discovered that there’s a serious shortage of certified NT2 teachers.

I am particularly captivated by the NT2-teacher vacancies at the COA, the national organization tasked with maintaining and staffing the country’s refugee centers. These are full-time positions where you’re a part of the whole team of counselors and support staff, attending morning briefings and interacting with residents outside of class time, too – really being a full part of a system designed to support, shelter and nurture them.

So I applied for a one-year certification program in Amsterdam and, after an intake interview to assess whether my Dutch was good enough, am delighted to report that I will be starting in September. Before that, I’ll attend a four-session preparatory course in May for participants who are not coming from a previous career or degree in education. In the summer of 2025 I’ll be certified and ready to find a position.

honey money

I firmly believe that occasionally derailing means you’re maximizing your awesomeness in a way you could not do without Beeminder. That conviction has often been at odds with a gamified aversion to losing. So I bought myself $25 in honey money to reinforce the idea that I should be derailing from time to time. Hey, self, the money already belongs to Beeminder now, so make sure I use it well by being ambitious, expecting occasional overfull days, and choosing deliberately for maximum wellbeing!

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March 2024 retrospective: steady forward progress

my Beeminder goals
my Intend life areas

derailments

I derailed 6 times on individual household task goals (cleaning a bathroom, dusting, etc.), once on a fitness goal, and twice on my income goal.

Six of these derails were because I unexpectedly worked an extra day at my volunteer refugee job to cover for another volunteer who got sick. One of the income derails was because I’d dialed in 20 hours a week as the rate, and then my client had something come up and pushed back the deadline by several weeks, so I happily took the time off even though it meant the goal would derail before the updated rate kicked in.

Happy with all 9 derails!

life areas

Still have four life areas at Intend: FEED, FIND, BE, and FIT.

christianity for the win

As I wrote in my Intend monthly review: Returning to my faith in God after a relapse into materialism has shown me how important my worldview is for my mental health, and how dramatically the narrative I tell myself shapes the way I perceive the world around me. FEED is helping me to keep mindfully bolstering this worldview.

more volunteering, possibly paid work as well

FIND is a temporary life area, to help me find ways to fill most of my time with BE activities. The long-term plan is clear, but until June 2025 I have additional time to fill – the teacher training program doesn’t start until September, and it will be a 20-hour weekly workload, leaving plenty of time to do additional things. So for April I let the organization I volunteer for (VWN, the Dutch Refugee Council) know I could work multiple days a week.

I also started looking for a paid parttime position at VWN, which I can keep doing alongside the teacher training program once that starts. Ideally, I’ll find something for 2 days a week, so I can keep my 1 day volunteering plus the school workload.

exercise success

For FIT, I’ve successfully developed walking and strength training habits, both twice a week. The strength training habit took a little tweaking; I started at 1x per week with a longish program I had trouble sticking to. Now I’m at 2x per week with a much shorter routine. The goal for April is to keep doing both activities at the current Beeminder schedule (so no lowering the rate on either in April).

diet shakes resolve multiple issues

As I age, my weight has also been creeping up, which I have been ambivalent about. On the one hand, that’s fine. I’m not going to strive to keep an unrealistic weight. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to adapt my eating habits to natural metabolic changes – it’s unrealistic to keep eating the way I did when I was younger. This month, I hit a ledge in that ongoing tug of war – my clothes have started to feel a little tight, and I realized I would soon need to buy new clothes if I didn’t change something. My closet is filled with perfectly good clothes that will last for years, so pretty much all of me rebelled at the idea of that.

Over the years I’ve also spent a lot of time and effort making sure I meet my protein, vitamin and mineral needs in a mostly vegan diet and about 1500 calories a day. (If that sounds crazy low to you: I am female and short – 160 cm, 5’3".) So when the tight-clothes problem surfaced, I decided to butter two scones with one knife: plant-based meal replacement shakes twice a day, plus a regular dinner. Two shakes provide 60% of all the daily vites and mins – so I can stop buying separate supplements – plus 60g of protein, for 500 calories. (The brand is Orangefit, for anyone who wants to go vet the nutritional details. As a plus, they happen to be local to me (ie, a Dutch company here in NL).)

I started in early March; the goal for April is to continue with roughly 2 shakes per day and assess again at the end of the month.

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April 2024 retrospective: more gratitude and joy

my Beeminder goals
my Intend life areas

derailments

I derailed 6 times on individual household task goals (just like last month) and twice on a fitness goal. Happy with all 8!

Using honey money instead of individual credit card charges has been a great change. Some of you may remember when I waxed lyrical about an exercise app that took my money up front, then gave it back if I met my goal – somehow that approach works better for me than paying after the fact. Well, honey money hits that same spot. It’s like an investment in myself, instead of punishing myself. It’s majorly helping me reframe derails as healthy, inevitable choices that reflect more progress, not less (because I’m aiming just beyond what-I-would-do-anyway).

life areas

I’ve archived FIND at Intend; it was always meant to be temporary. Going forward with FEED, BE, and FIT.

still multiple refugee days; no paid work (yet?)

For May, as in April, I’m volunteering 2-3 days each week with the Dutch Refugee Council.

I haven’t found a paid parttime position, and in April I got clear on needing to stop trying to force things, and to remember that I am someone who thrives with time alone that isn’t uber-scheduled. So I’ve stopped actively searching for work to fill a mythical magical number of hours and will take a more passive tack going forward. If something perfect shows up, I’ll go after it; but my stance is more “on the lookout” and less “on the prowl”.

teacher training preliminary course has started

The NT2 (Dutch as a second language) teacher training program doesn’t start until September, but there are four preparatory sessions underway. The first one was fascinating! The history of Dutch immigration policy and how it’s changed in the last 75 years. Great context.

The next two classes cover major theories on second language acquisition, and how they’ve influenced NT2 methods – super interesting stuff. I was already familiar with Stephen Krashen, from my obsessive interest in languages, but was particularly struck now by his “affective filter” hypothesis while reading the preparatory material ahead of the lecture. He says that a critical role, perhaps the critical role, of the language teacher is to spark interest, provide a low-anxiety environment, and bolster the learner’s self-esteem. This approach has my name written all over it :). It feels like confirmation that (though there are a multitude of ways I could be a light in the darkness for refugees) becoming an NT2 teacher is absolutely in the group of most effective ways.

foreign languages still beckon

I noted in previous month(s) that I don’t need to speak other languages to work with refugees; we use interpreters and, for ad-hoc communication, hand gestures and apps like Google Translate and SayHi. But I’ve kept at the back of my mind the fact that I just plain enjoy learning things about other languages. I’m low-key musing on how I might reinstate language learning as a satisfying hobby, disentangled from any expectation of progress or prowess (which is where it goes from ‘fun hobby’ to ‘slogwork I am slacking off on, bad me’).

health is healthy

I’m still doing the shakes, though generally once a day instead of twice, and getting plenty of steps, outdoor walks, and mini-strength-training sessions. I’ve been feeling great, and my weight is steadily dropping back toward my pre-menopausal steady state.

worldview is wonderful

I have so much I could say about this, but this forum isn’t the place. So I’ll just say here that I’m moving steadily into the sun and out of the dark, and I’m so glad for that.

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May 2024 retrospective:

my Beeminder goals
my Intend life areas

derailments: fewer!

I derailed once on a household task, once on my more-walks goal. Happy with both!

life areas: more!

My autodata tagging system at Intend was getting out of hand and I finally realized that the solution was to bring back the HYA and INC life areas there. I’d archived them at the end of January and been using the miscellaneous tag, &, for the related to-dos. This made good sense from the viewpoint that these are, at their core, non-essential things that make life smoother but are not at the same level as my purpose goals. But after months of tagging multiple goals per day with [hya] and adding new autodata rules to an already-long list every time I added a relevant BM goal, I decided that minor nuance wasn’t worth the hassle.

This epiphany was assisted by the addition of a new Intend tag, [fun], and a new Intend area, LANG. I presently have three levels in my organizational framework; from most abstract to least, these are:

  • meta: purpose | support | fun
  • life area: feed | be | fit | … (etc – you can read what these mean at the Intend link at the top of this post)
  • behavior: walks | steps | cleaning tasks | … (etc – you can see all of these at the Beeminder link at the top of this post)

I added [fun] at Intend because there kept being things on my daily to-do list that I didn’t know how to categorize, exactly; and as I started musing on adding foreign language study back into things, I had to find a place for it to go. It wasn’t a purpose goal – the things that make life worth living; it wasn’t a support goal – things that aren’t purpose-filled but do make life run more smoothly, even though I don’t necessarily want to do them. It was just for fun!

So, to sum up, I have three new/revived life areas at Intend – LANG, HYA, and INC – and three new goal areas at Beeminder – for Spanish, Mandarin, and language learning overall. Speaking of which…

foreign languages are back in the mix, with more adding next month

I wrote last month that the itch to study languages was growing. This month I added Spanish and Mandarin study back into my schedule, and so far I’ve been loving it. So much so that I’m going to add five more languages in June. You can read the details in the May retrospective at my LLORG log. Speaking of which…

I’m looking for an online faith community that’s like this one and the one at language-learners.org

The Beeminder forum is a huge support for me on the organizational side of living a purpose-filled life, and idem LLORG for my language-related pursuits. My ontological worldview is critical to my sense of self and purpose and joy, so I’m currently looking for a Christian counterpart.

Specifically, I’m looking for both a place to blog about my personal journey (like I do here and at LLORG, for the relevant topics) and a place to engage in asking and answering ontological questions with likeminded people – by which I mean, Christians who think deeply and well, who embrace science and rationality, and who value respectful exchanges where the goal is to gain new insight into objective truth rather than prescribe behavioral absolutes and unconsidered dogma. If anyone here has recommendations, please let me know!

data-driven insight for the win

In February I added a slew of specific yes-or-no Beeminder goals for individual household tasks: clean the downstairs half-bath, dust the upstairs, mop the kitchen, etc. I set each one to a frequency I call “oh my god, has it been that long? Gross!” At first cleaning still felt like it took a lot of my time, but a very interesting datum has gradually surfaced: most days, nothing is actually due. The workload is actually fairly light. Even though sometimes I do a chore MORE often than it’s scheduled. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, back when I wasn’t tracking it. So now the house is more reliably acceptably clean, while I more rarely feel like a household drudge. So awesome!

scaling back on refugee days for June

For the last two months I’ve worked multiple days, and in some ways that’s been lovely. But one of the reasons I was doing it didn’t pan out, and it’s left me frustrated, so I’ve dialed back down to the usual one day per week for June. We’ve been chronically low on volunteers since corona (I am told there was a waiting list before 2020, but that abundance was long gone by the time I started), which has meant that some of what we want to do hasn’t been getting done. By coming in more frequently, I was expecting to help us add some of that back in. What actually happened is that other volunteers often started calling to say they couldn’t make it on days when there was extra personpower. And that left me feeling taken advantage of.

An additional, unexpected downside was that with more volunteers there and thus a lighter per-person workload, the social chitchat level went up. I am not a chitchat person. I am all up for being there long hours to do the work that matters, but I am very much not up for being there to take a long lunch and spend time talking about unimportant things.

a little visualization porn for you

Inspired by @k1rsty’s chart, I created this overview of my own goals. Fun to make!

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