Here’s what bothers me about conventional ambition, the assumption that we all aspire to the top, the blah blah blah, the winner’s circle, the biggest brightest bestest, and that we will run around and around and around in our little hamster wheels to get there: Most of those goals are standardized.
Elisa Albert

Count me in: I want a spare, serene bedroom. The habit of checking Kanopy when I am looking for a  movie to watch. More imaginary friends, starting with Socrates Fortlow.

Practice: Consider identifying a goal (standardized or highly individual) that you’ve already reached before identifying one you want to reach.

Advanced practice: Tell others about your goal, stopping only when someone’s response tells you they understand what you want, and why.

Related practices: Trousers, Quit, Simplicity

Miss King

“…the important thing is that Miss King believed she was a capable sensible person and this belief was a great help to her in emergencies such as the present one.”
D. E. Stevenson

We talk about household emergencies like a flaming skillet and international emergencies like global warming as if they’re different, but in the Miss King sense they are similar.

What you do about them depends in large part on your sense of who you are.

Practice: Write down a belief about yourself that makes you effective. Write down one that leaves you ineffective. (If you’re feeling bold post them where you will see them for a few days.)

Advanced practice: Imagine an action plan that pairs your self-description with a cause that matters to you: “I can handle tedious tasks as long as I get to  work side-by-side with other people,” “Public speaking doesn’t intimidate me, managing others does,” “Give me a stack of letters to take home and address and I’m a happy camper.”

Related practices: Work, Author’s Statement, Viking hat


In a text, we can easily distinguish “noise” from “information.” In a painting, one day’s “noise” is the next day’s “information.”
Dave Hickey

Robert Procter, painting in progress

It’s hard to distinguish between “noise” and “information” in the first place. It took watching a confidently-made movie for me to recognize that I’d been watching television that was made anxiously.

Practice: Study a phenomenon. Any phenomenon. You making a sandwich, you selecting a vacation destination. Identify anything you consider noise: searching for the mustard, reading about alternate vacation spots.

Advanced practice: Revisit the categories the next day. Or the next week. If you have decided to take up making your own mustard, reclassify your earlier search for mustard as information. You kept looking, an apparently useless activity (noise) because the mustard you wanted wasn’t there (information).

Related practices: Boredom, Fresh Peaches, First Step


The blunders are all there, waiting to be made.
Saviely Tartakower 

Eli Duke

They are indeed and some days I make more than my share. The question then becomes what to do about it.

Practice: Notice what you do after you’ve messed up. Done the wrong thing. Blundered.

Advanced Practice: If you’ve done anything other than than notice, quietly and without reproach, look hard: Who taught you you’re not allowed to make mistakes? That errors are avoidable?

What do you think now that you’ve researched the topic?

Making blunders may be a species behavior, like sneezing when the sun hits our eyes at a certain angle.

Related Practices: Self-attack, Sweeping the Staircase, “As it turned out”


I have reached the point in my spiritual life at which I am certain that I know nothing about the spiritual life.
Thomas Merton

Genetics may be involved in how actively a person strives for certainty, small comfort to anyone trying to fend off someone else’s definition of The Right Way to Be.

Where do you fit on the certainty continuum? Are you more comforted by statements of certainty or statements of uncertainty?

Example: Kelly Corrigan interviews Kate Bowler on PBS

Practice: On any day, you will run into both. Notice your “little kid” response. Mine varies: In one mood, I find certainty comforting. In another, it’s claustrophobic.

Advanced practice: Merton plays with the concept of certainty — as can you. Someone makes a vehement statement and you ask, “You’re sure?” You make one, and add “So sayeth I.”

Related practices: The Mind Craves Images, Fresh Peaches

Skip It

Found in a Canadian cookbook: If you don’t own an electric waffle iron skip this recipe.
Donna Dooher and Claire Stubbs with Lianne George


Great advice. Variants might read “If you lose heart when you make an ugly waffle, skip this recipe.” Not to mention, “If you live near a great waffle house. . .”

Practice: Identify an activity that is likely to require greater focus or more effort than it’s worth to you.

Consider skipping it.

Advanced practice: List the shoulds that interfere. Popular ones include: “Don’t be ridiculous,” “Nobody else finds it difficult,” “You just need to try harder…”

Such messages say “You are not who you ought to be,” which is an exorbitant price to pay for a waffle — or anything else.

Related practices: Misalignment, Tutu, Cliches

Buying Books

Buying books would be a good thing if you could also buy the time to read them.
Arthur Schopenhauer

Practice: Hold a book that appeals to you in both hands and say, “I wish I had time to read,” and set it back down. If what you’d like to do is sketch more, pick up your pencils and put them back down: this is an all-purpose suggestion.

Advanced practice: List as much as you can remember of “where the day went.” Then cross out anything that didn’t bring you satisfaction. Repeat until one day you find yourself reading.

Related practices: Busy, busy, busy, Please, Done


There is no mystery in killing each other over an imaginary line drawn on a map…Rhys Bowen

We all draw imaginary lines. The trick is noticing the ones that work and the ones that don’t.

Practice: Try moving one of your lines toward greater inclusion. Toward more self-protection. Move any line in any direction to become aware of yourself as a drawer of lines.

Advanced practice: Lines create insiders and outsiders. What changes if you identify with the insiders, the outsiders, and the imaginary line?

Related practices: Sweeping the staircase, Behaving badly, Author’s statement

Band of Angels

In South Africa in the early 1990s, a joke was making the rounds: Given the country’s daunting challenges, people had two options, one practical and the other miraculous. The practical option was for everyone to pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and fix things. The miraculous option was for people to talk with one another until they could find a way forward.
Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, Peter M. Senge

Practice: Rehearse until you find everyday language to discuss something controversial that you care about.

Advanced practice: What would you say differently if you respected those on the other side? If more than anything else, you wanted to find a way forward?

Related practices: Fluency, Authentic, Author’s Statement


The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
Alvin Toffler

Unlearning is hard. I applaud people who say something the way they first learned to say it — and then hear themselves and change their language. Update it. Make it more inclusive. Make it more hopeful or less cautious (some of us were taught to use words as camouflage).

Practice: When you or someone else says something that sounds “off,” identify what makes it so. Too imprecise? Too authoritative? Less generous than you prefer?

Advanced practice: Identify the ideas that surround that language. For years I said (without hearing myself) “I don’t really know.” Then one day I heard myself: I don’t really know but in unreally land, my knowledge is boundless.

Related practices: Cliches, Bright Blue Sailboat, Self-attack