Also Thanks

Also thanks to the people who advise and guide and patiently explain why this bit is rubbish and that character wasn’t even in the story until page 274 and everyone in the book has glasses on …
                         Dinise Mina, in the Acknowledgements to one of her mysteries

Other people help us all the time, if only by growing the produce we eat or keeping the traffic lights in working order — matters we tend to notice only when they go wrong. We see them as part of modern life, which is to say we don’t see them.

Practice: Trying to “practice gratitude” is an iffy proposition. Instead identify a specific place and a time — the entrance to the grocery store, the traffic light at the bottom of the hill — to name a benefit you appreciate and acknowledge those who made it happen.

See also: Rough Drafts, The Mind Craves Images

Patchwork Quilts

The pictures from the Hubble telescope are so astounding, so pleasing, so beautiful: they’re like patchwork quilts.
                                        Bobbie Ann Mason, Master Class, by Nancy Bunge

Notice the effort Mason puts into describing what she sees. After three tries, she’s still not satisfied: “They’re like patchwork quilts.”

Getting to what you see, what you think, what you feel takes effort. The reward is getting to savor, in greater detail, your own way of being in the world. Metaphor is particularly rewarding in this regard: Only you would compare this to that.

Practice: Come up with a metaphor for something, anything, that catches your attention. The more often you do this practice the more precise — and odder — your comparisons will become.

Related practices: Rough drafts

“As it turned out”

She taught herself French while she churned butter, so that she might read Rousseau’s Confessions in the original — a book, as it turned out, that she hated.
                                                 Maria Popova on Elizabeth Bisland

Oops. Plans are one thing and outcomes are another. Both are real, but our minds eagerly fasten on plans that don’t turn out as intended.

Practice: When you hear yourself describe something as a mistake, recast the story: “She churned butter while she taught herself French which — as it turned out — improved her capacity to focus.”

Seek Silence

Silence is so accurate.
                                                                Mark Rothko

Rothko finds silence accurate. I find it restorative. You have your own experience of silence.

Practice: Seek silence. If you generally surround yourself with sound, turn it off — not as policy, as an experiment. (If you find the silence unpleasant, try to identify what puts you off.)

No Easy Jobs

In most fields of endeavor there are no easy jobs; there are only graceful ways of performing difficult ones.
                                                                Lynda Obst

echo-weave-scarf-in-pastel-colors-pearl-cotton-rayon-2012-close-upEva Stossel

Whether something will be easy or hard is rarely worth considering. Instead, identify what you consider the initial task in the sequence: Sending a one-sentence email. Starting a forty-page report. Calling to apologize. Confronting the contractor.

Practice: Once you have defined the task, picture what executing it gracefully (or forcefully or bravely) would look like. Then let that image lead you. It’s up to you to nudge your behavior toward your ideals — case by case and moment by moment.


“Vicarious” is not a strong enough word to describe the effect of mirror neurons.
                                                                Marco Iacoboni


Mirror neurons come close to running the show when it comes to empathy and, possibly, to morality as well: We respond to what engages us.

Demagogues dumb us down. People we admire inspire us to try harder. Encouragers rouse us; gloom-and-doomers deplete us.

Practice: Notice which encounters lift you up. Once you tune in, they are easy to identify.
Caution: You may discover you have people in your life you no longer want there.

Withdrawal Symptoms

He’d forgotten just how addictive crime can be. Repeat offenders are motivated more by withdrawal symptoms than necessity.
                                                                Sue Grafton

usual-suspectsThe Usual Suspects

Withdrawal symptoms are real. Drink less coffee than usual and you are likely to get a headache. Emotional states work the same way: we each have go-to emotions and reactions. Do something different and you are likely to feel “off” for a while.

Practice: Identify an emotion that you find tiresome. Slowly — to avoid withdrawal symptoms — start to distance from it. Different methods work for different people. One that works for me is saying, out loud, “You again?”

Related practices: Feel-good Giving, Play


don’t worry please please how many
times do I have to say it
there’s no way not to be who you are and where.
                                                       Ikkya, version by Stephen Berg

Please. How often do you ask yourself politely to do or not do something?
Practice: The way you talk to yourself is the way you talk to yourself. As an experiment, (please) add please.

Feel-good Giving

Give when it feels good, stop giving when it stops feeling good, and find another feel-good way to give.
                                                       Gemma Stone

People wise up and worry their hearts have hardened. People open up and worry they’re no longer discerning.
Instead, notice what feels good to you and what does not – when giving, when taking, when walking down the street.

Practice: Talk with yourself about what feels good. Other people have opinions about you and your gender. You have stereotypes about yourself. Make sure you’re giving what you want to give (and when, and how).

Walking Companions

Don’t feel you have to give [the occupying army] the right directions when they ask you the way: these are not your walking companions.
                                                       Jean Texcier as quoted by Caroline Morehead

walkingTogetherJean-Marie Guyon

There are people, known and unknown, who are your walking companions: people who show you the way and cheer you on.
Practice: Identify one of your walking companions and think hard about the benefits you derive from knowing that teacher, that painter, that neighbor. That friend.
What do they help you do? How can you use their “company” more effectively ?