I was going to do something food-related as my 30 Day Challenge for May 2012, to encourage me to cook more, but I ended up spending the first few days in transit, and so that just wasn’t a viable option. What I decided to do instead was something a little simpler:
For all of May 2012, I will make myself laugh every day.
Mostly this has been done while walking, usually walking home from work. My favourite tactic is simply to fake-laugh with really corny “Ha, ha”s or “Pfffts”, until eventually it sounds so silly that I just start laughing. It started when I made myself laugh simply by thinking that it would be funny to challenge myself to make myself laugh.
Laughing with others
This past weekend, I was in Ottawa for the Ontario Regional Contact Jam, which is basically a dance retreat. It was an amazing experience on all levels. One of the coolest moments was when I entered one of the floors, and the lights were out… some people were still, some were dancing, and two were laying in a corner, chanting or singing. I laid down next to them and began adding a bassline, and we sang all sorts of wild things, a few other people joining us. At some point, laughter came to mind (perhaps I heard somebody chuckle) and it occurred to me that this would be the perfect time to laugh.
“Ha…hahaha…haha…” I sang breathily, then promptly burst out laughing at how ridiculous it sounded. After a few seconds of me laughing, others found themselves drawn into a fit of laughter as well. More people heard the commotion and came to investigate, and ultimately we had a pile of maybe 15 or 20 people laughing in full.
I'm the one in the middle.
This continued, ebbing and flowing, for probably five to ten straight minutes before ultimately turning into song again. When we finally broke up (the lights were turned on) we had all had an immense ab workout and were feeling so relaxed and simultaneously energized. It was an amazing experience, and several people commented to me that they hadn’t laughed that hard in a decade. Personally, I think it’s the most I’ve laughed in my life, although that’s a record can’t wait to beat.
That was going to be the end of the post, but it occurred to me you might like some laughter yourself. In such a case, try this video of purportedly “the man with the most contagious laugh in the world.”
This is a phrase I’ve said to people on many occasions, usually when they admonish me for not having seen something—typically a movie or TV show. I was blessed to grow up without a TV in my house and have (not surprisingly) never particularly been interested in following shows. It just takes so long! Years ago I watched all of Dead Like Me, because there are only two seasons and it’s hilarious. I was briefly caught up with The Big Bang Theory but not past season 2. I like watching movies but don’t do so often.
NoTube for me for a month!
So, when my friends cry out in horror and disbelief, “But you must have seen The Dark Knight!” or “You’ve never seen Doctor Who?” or “How could you not watch all of the episodes of Firefly?” I tend to answer “I don’t watch.” Recently, though, I’ve found myself clarifying that “well actually, I do watch a fair amount of YouTube videos”. I was talking with a friend about choosing my next 30-day challenge, and we ended up with:
For all 30 days of April 2012, I will not watch online video.
“Online” is defined broadly as anything that got to me via the internet. This means anything streamed or downloaded. This includes something that was downloaded by someone else, even if it was transferred to me by digital cable or by a physical disk. Essentially, this will limit me to the following, none of which I expect to be substantial (I was last in a theatre about 5 months ago).
Movies in theatres.
Videos I take myself, on my phone or camera.
Videos others have taken, watched locally on their devices.
I have decided to make a singular exception: I may watch lectures online, provided it is part of actively studying for one of the 5 courses for which I’m writing an exam on in the next 2½ weeks. Actively studying will probably mean taking notes. If the video has no important visuals, I will just listen to the lecture, but this is unlikely since most off these subjects involve working through math.
Also, notably, since YouTube is a popular source of music online, I may use it for such purposes, but may not view the tab containing the video, even once it has stopped. That is, if I want to listen to a song on YouTube, I have to search for it on Google, Ctrl+click on the link to open it in a new tab, then close the tab with the X when it’s over. This is largely to avoid distraction by browsing through related videos etc.
This is a particularly suitable challenge for this month for several reasons:
I have a lot of exams to deal with, so this will free up extra time with which to study.
Also, unlike a challenge of the form “do ______ every day”, this challenge won’t add any responsibilities to my day.
I am going to be going home to see friends and family at the end of the month, so I have a lessened need to interact with them online.
(Although this was not designed to be within the scope of the challenge, it occurred to me just now that I won’t be able to Skype (video-call) friends or family this month either. Oh well, as mentioned, I have exams and I’ll be seeing most of them soon enough anyway.)
I’m not sure about GIFs and flash videos, but I’ll generally try to avoid them as well. My general rule for things like this is “if it feels like cheating, it is”. I’ve found this to be an easy and effective way to eliminate all loopholes.
I’ll write another post shortly wrapping up the 40 days unsweetened challenge. Since the challenges overlap by a day, I’m launching this one before the previous one actually ends.
For the 40 days from Feb. 22 until April 1, I won’t eat or drink sugar.
What the food am I doing?
To be more specific, I’m not going to consume any sweetened or naturally sweet foods for the next 40 days. I’ve arbitrarily set this limit at 5% sugar by mass, to eliminate things that seem okay. I set that limit when I realized that raw almonds have a few grams of sugar per 100g. Anything that I was already seriously doubting is probably out anyway. Fruit is out. Anything with “sugar” (or “glucose”, or “high-fructose corn syrup”, or even “stevia”) listed as an ingredient is out. “Diet” foods are out, because I already don’t consume artificial sweeteners.
Not until April.
The reason this is a 40 day challenge versus the typical 30 is that I was inspired to cut out sugar just before lent was due to start, and it seemed to go well with the theme of fasting. Also, while I started 30-day challenges last summer, I haven’t done one in awhile, so I thought I’d come back in strong. Then on April 1st I’ll also start a 30-day one (or will I?).
Why on eats would I do this?
Purely as a challenge. I successfully gave up chocolate last lent, and I’m quite a chocoholic normally. This is the next logical step up.
My health. Sugar is, well, not exactly the best food for one’s general health.
I tend to eat sugar compulsively, and I like proving to myself that I can break from my compulsions with enough conscious effort
It’s listed as the first step to adopting the Bulletproof Diet. I’m not a huge fan of diets, but what I like about the Bulletproof diet is that it’s a guideline rather than a rigid set of rules. All of us are following it, just some of us more than others. It also doesn’t involve calorie-counting or anything complicated. It’s essentially just “these foods are better for you than those foods. Eat more of these and less of those.”
When I’m done, sugar will no longer be blacklisted, but I hope to avoid a sudden resurgence into stuffing my face full of sugar. I figure if I allow myself to eat lots of extra-dark chocolate, that will help with my desire to gorge on sweets.
For those of you who see me in real life, hold me to this!
I mentioned that one song was missing from my 30-Day Poem/Song Challenge. Well, here it is:
While you watch & listen, here are some of my thoughts from the past few days. I’ve had some interesting conversations and listened to more of Steve Pavlina’s podcasts (such as this one on achieving goals) and I’ve started thinking about my goals. I’m notorious for not setting any, so this list is not very long, but if you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen that I have at least one:
I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits. -Me, several weeks ago.
Well, I started thinking about ways in which I could try to accomplish that goal. One of Steve’s strategies is to become the person who has already achieved it. As I thought more about what sort of person has amazing time-management skills, I realized that the person I was imagining was not very spontaneous or adventuresome, two traits I hold in high esteem. With that realization came questions: Then who do I want to be? What skills and habits do I want to have?
I began to redefine the problem, from “not managing my time well enough” to “not managing my activities well enough”. What I realized is that my main problem isn’t with missing deadlines but with wasting time. It’s not that I feel like I need to procrastinate less. On the contrary, Parkinson’s Law (Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.) makes a fairly strong argument for procrastination. If I do things earlier than they need to be done, I’ll likely spend more time doing them then they really need.
A New Approach
Today I decided I would try a different tactic: I made a list of all of the things that I wanted to potentially spend my time doing today, and tried to do only things on that list. I added some things as the day progressed, but the point of the exercise was to be doing only things that I consciously wanted to do. I have a strong tendency to get sidetracked by activities that in retrospect I judge to be wasteful. These include reading shallow blog articles, wandering around on Facebook, and having long circular arguments with my friends. These activities are entrancing but not engaging — tempting but not really worthwhile. Instead, I want to do more reading, writing, exercising, and having deep and meaningful conversations with people.
The today-plan worked out alright. I had two items on my list that I had marked as high priority (see below) and I got both of them done. The flexible schedule I gave myself worked particularly well today because the two high-priority tasks were ones I wanted to do anyway and knew I would enjoy (recording the video above was one). I’m not sure how well this would work in a circumstance where I have a large unpleasant task with a faraway deadline. We’ll see, though. I’ve managed to get those things done before though.
This is how I've been making my todo lists for several years. The bottom item type · is new, but necessary for my new paradigm as it allows for items I'm allowed to do that are infinite, eg. read.
In working through this new strategy, I’ve come to realize:
It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do.
That is, as long as I’m not doing anything wasteful, then I’m either doing something valuable or doing nothing. If I define the latter to be meditation, then it’s still worthwhile. Exactly what I do isn’t really that important – as deadlines approach, enough pressure will build that the things that need to get done will get done.
I’ve yet to determine exactly how this will affect my spontaneity, but for now my rules will be as follows:
I will keep a daily list of activities I may engage in.
I may modify the list at any time during the day.
There is no limit to how long the list can be.
I will not spend a significant amount of time engaging in other activities.
Rule 2 lets me be spontaneous, because if I discover an interesting activity I feel is worthwhile, I can take part in it… as soon as I add it to the list. This forces me to make a conscious decision “Yes, this activity/event will add value to my life” before I undertake it. Otherwise, it’s all to easy to just do it without truly considering if I really want to.
For rule 4, I haven’t decided exactly what the threshold for significance is, but I think probably about 10 minutes on any one activity per 3 hours, and 30 minutes total on any extra activities within the 3 hours. I should probably use some sort of timer that I set every time I start one of these activities, that will sound after 5-10 minutes to force me to either decide that what I’m doing is meaningful or stop. The former case would apply to finding a really captivating article or something on the internet.
I’ve created a new page titled “My Life“, that will keep a current record of exactly what rules I’m following as I live my life. The link ought to stay at the top, so if you find myself on my blog in the future you can see what challenges and so on I’m currently engaged in.
One final remark: I’m observing with some interest that while I seemed to be taking a blacklist approach, what I’ll actually be creating daily is a whitelist. I suppose because otherwise, if I wanted to permit myself to have half an hour of Facebooking, I’d have to take it off a list, which seems strange. Would I then put it back on the list when I decided I’d had enough? I’m going to try it like this for now, and see how it goes!
I’m sure I will write more haikus at some point in my life, but it need not be any day soon. I found I started to grow fond of them though. They force a certain brevity – like Twitter! (except… not like Twitter). Anyway, here are the last three. The first one is saying that the challenge was indeed a challenge, btw, not the reverse.
Was not quite as challenging
As I expected
It’s almost August…
What happened to the summer?
Time owns private jets
And for my next trick
I will cut
up this haiku
into two pieces
And that’s a wrap! Well, actually, there’s one other non-prosiac work that I haven’t shared with you: a song I wrote on July 13th. I’m planning to record it this week, and when I do I’ll make sure to post it here.
I decided yesterday that my challenge for August would be something that would start me on a path to lucid dreaming. Specifically:
I will keep a daily dream journal from August 1st to August 30th.
This morning, I spent nearly an hour rolling around in a Hypnopompic state, trying to remember my dreams from last night and dreaming multiple times that I had picked up my notebook and inscribed them, only to eventually realize that I had been dreaming. Eventually I woke up, and did write some things.
I don’t think most of my dreams will be particularly valuable to the world at large, so I don’t plan to blog about this challenge, unless something interesting or exciting does occur (such as a lucid dream). If anyone has any tips for lucid dreaming, don’t hesitate to let me know!
Well, I didn’t really write this song (in the sense that there was nothing to write down) but I did create it today, so I figure that counts.
If you’d been wondering about my silence for two weeks or so (which probably nobody has, since (to the best of my knowledge) my fledgling blog has only 2-3 followers at the moment) then you’d probably be thinking “Has Malcolm been writing amazing poems and songs every day and just not sharing them with the world?” as my 30 Day Poem/Song challenge is still running until the end of the month.
The answer to that question, sadly, is “No.”
When I discovered the idea of the 30 Day Challenge, I decided immediately that I wanted to do something. I considered doing something super-easy like “Take a photo every day” (technically I already do this as I photograph all of my food before eating it as a mindfulness exercise). I figured, however, that I could go further, and set my first challenge to be something that has often been, well, a challenge for me: forced creativity.
I consider myself a fairly creative person, but the majority of my creations arise out of spontaneous notions rather than methodical processes or even daily habits. My hope with the 30 Day Poem/Song was to help change that, but apparently it’s a bit more difficult than I thought. I have essentially failed my first 30 Day Challenge.
I have a tendency to succeed at most endeavours I pursue, but I’ve noticed that I also have a tendency to put them off until the last minute. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get many things done unless I plan when I’m going to do them, and my schedule tends to be pretty erratic. I was listening to an interview of Tim Ferriss earlier today (by Leo Babauta — they are two of my favourite personal development leaders) and he brought up the idea of controlling your behaviour by controlling your environment. That is, becoming productive by making your world a place in which productivity is natural. I’ve been listening to a bunch of Steve Pavlina’s (he’s another huge inspiration to me in personal development) podcasts lately, and one of them mentioned this idea as well.
So, in the pursuit of awesomeness, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to organize my life, both in terms of time and space, so that I’m a more productive person. I’ve decided to start simply by believing that I will achieve this. That’s another idea I got from Steve Pavlina (from this podcast on Beliefs). Hence here is my proclamation:
I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits.
New poem style. This one is crazy. It has so many rules. More about Double-Dactyls on Wikipedia. In brief, though, it has to have 8 lines, of which 1-3 & 5-7 are two dactyls (stressed-unstressed-unstressed) and 4 & 8 are a dactyl followed by a monosyllable. Line two must contain a name. The second stanza must have a six-syllable word as one of its lines. The last lines of the stanzas must rhyme with each other. Without further ado, “Self-Referentially”:
Malcolm McCulloch, he
wanted to write a quick
Some minutes later he
did so and lo! the word
can describe it
I find myself wondering, from time to time:
How has history changed, because of a rhyme?
If words had been different, some of our favourite songs
would find some of their lyrics just do not belong
And since popular music shapes culture and society,
We must concede power to a song’s notoriety.
Consider how The Who’s My Generation would sound,
if “get us down” didn’t rhyme with “get around”?
Could MacCartney have kept all his troubles at bay,
if “stay” and “far away” didn’t rhyme with “Yesterday”?
Or would James Brown really have felt quite so good,
if he couldn’t rhyme that he knew that he would?
Or anthems – if not with years “victorious” or “glorious”,
how would one bid “God save the Monarch” reigning “over us”
Or how would Canadians “on guard for thee” stand,
if “thee” rhymed not with “free”, nor “land” with “command”?
Would the myriad of rhymes in The Star-Spangled Banner,
make America different phrased in some other manner?
And what about Christmas carols, sung every year?
If not jolly, would holly bring so much cheer?
Or fond memories of White Christmases we “used to know” -
How would they sound with no rhyme on the word “snow”?
or back even further, to William Shakespeare –
Sonnets unwritten since the rhyme wasn’t there
Countless other examples, but this poem’s quite long
(Though its rhymes have been eased by plagiarism from songs)
…It’s crazy to think, no? How life would be changed,
if popular lyrics had to be rearranged…
Their meanings, of course, would change slightly as well,
although as to how, one really can’t tell.
Yet consider the massive effect of each word
on the vast populations by which it is heard,
and it’s clear that such a small thing as a rhyme
can have a lasting effect for all human time.