Give your social media the ladder check

There are positive aspects to social media, definitely, but it can also suck away a lot of your time, motivation, and positivity. So how do you balance it?

First of all, you do balance it. You think about how it impacts your day; what the impact of different services have on you; how you feel depending on what you’re encountering in your timelines. You deserve to have this part of modern life feel good and help you be who you want to be, whether that means you end up engaging with social media a lot or not at all.

Think about different ways of using social media as ladders. There’s the short ladder that gets you out of a hole, that helps you break your isolation. That can be a really good use and if you’re going to use social media at all, make sure the services you use and especially the list of things each is showing you meet that basic requirement.

Looking down through a hatchway to a metal utility ladder that leads up out of an underground chamber. Another ladder leading up is in the foreground. All the metal in the image shows heavy use, with its orange safety paint worn away where feet tramped up and down.

This can be a very difficult minimum standard to maintain on services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that don’t give users control over what appears in their timeline. If you’re seeing promoted posts or viral content instead of the posts of the people you care about, reconsider your use of that service; its interests do not align with yours.

Even on services like Mastodon or Discord or Slack, where algorithms aren’t obscuring the posts of those you follow, examine what is appearing in your timeline. Many excellent people you like a lot do not feed you what you need or want.

Unfollowing isn’t rude; it’s self-care.

Unfollow that funny friend who’s burbling constantly about a new hobby in which you have no interest. Turn off boosts from that one who’s boosting magazine-loads of content into your timeline. Filter out keywords. Drag all your little-used Discord channels atop each other to create a server folder. Mute channels you don’t actually care about keeping up with. And especially turn off notifications; everything on social media can wait until it’s a good time for you to have a look.

The short ladder can be your friend. It’s good to have a way to climb out of your own head and make a connection with others, find a laugh, and be reminded of interesting things to learn or ways you can help in the world.

Old color photo of two wooden ladders in a room with built-in wooden bookcases, wainscoting, sedate wallpaper and a balcony (presumably with more bookshelves). One ladder is just four steps for reaching the top of the shelves at the ground level. The other is thirteen steps and has a handrail along the wall side.
from Het Utrechts Archief catalog number: 21516.

The next ladder is the one that gets you out of your bubble. Follow people who teach you about stuff you want to understand better. Let real voices of other people’s lived experience help you unlearn your biases. Follow people who are elsewhere in the world and see how life in different countries can be different. Follow hashtags which bring images of landscapes different to your own and gain a window on the world. Bonus points for places with very different climates and opposite hemisphere views of the seasons. Let this mid-size ladder be the one you use when you’re feeling good but need inspiration and insight.

Black and white photo from the 1940s. A person with short wavy hair and a mustache stands on a ladder while painting kettle drums in a stylized mural with a piano, sheet music, a microphone, and various wavy lines and geometric forms.

The long ladder is generally to be avoided. When you’re up at the top of it, you mostly see other people balancing at the top of their long ladders, trying to achieve the greatest visibility, but constrained in their choices and distanced from normal life. Don’t fixate on follower counts or other metrics; keep your life goals oriented to what you’re doing when you’ve stepped away from social media.

Black and white photo of an incredibly tall ladder leaning against a sizable church. The ladder extends well above the tall chimney and the roof of the church, with the vertical line it forms drawing the eye up past the church buttresses and tall narrow stained glass windows, across the tiled roof, to the person nearly at the top. A bird flies by below the level of the person.
from Het Utrechts Archief 406502

If you find social media eats up too much of your time, prune and prune heavily. Use fewer services. Follow very few accounts. Find interface preferences and apps which let you view just your follows and don’t automatically display the stream of activity and trending posts. You can like people and subjects and services and still not give them more of your time than you want to allocate in your day. Prioritize your real priorities, and configure things so the easiest thing to do is support them.

Make it easy to keep the ladder short; just enough to trot up out of your hole and then move on in an enlivened mood.

Focus Stars: motivation without guilt

For a month now I’ve been doing a very successful experiment in orienting my time to what matters to me most, without beating myself up with incomplete to-do lists. I track my successful focusing by coloring in part of a simple drawing I made. I use a color that makes me very happy.

A printout of a picture of a seven-pointed star made of ribbons, with some of the points and ribbon sections filled in with green felt tip pen. The points of the star are labeled Creative, Resourceful, Calm, Secure in Self, Strong, Kind, and Connected.
a focus star from a day where I didn’t do any housecleaning, but I did spend lots of time on creative work

I have seven areas I am choosing to focus on. For each of those areas, there’s a daily habit I want to do. When I do it, I fill in that point on the star.

Each of those seven areas also has other related activities or habits. When I do a chunk in that area I fill in one of the pieces of “ribbon” that form the star.

My areas are:

  • Secure in Self
    Habit: holding boundaries and not ruminating.
    Related: maintaining differentiation of self*, autonomy (avoiding leaning into the people-pleaser trap), emotional maturity, knowing myself, personal identity, honoring my true self, ability to have distance from volunteer work.
  • Strong
    Habit: working out for 30 minutes three times a week (strength, stretch, aerobic) and get otherwise getting active on the other days.
    Related: good sleep, movement, stretching, walking, sexiness, dancing, healthy eating, managing my health care.
  • Calm
    Habit: 10-15 minute meditating.
    Related: time alone, nature, journaling, hobbies, stability, gratitude including with me as the object of gratitude.
  • Kind
    Habit: love and listening.
    Related: compassion, forgiveness, stress management, giving help.
  • Resourceful
    Habit: keeping food and finances on track, and doing a housework task.**
    Related: maintaining a pleasant home, dishes, tidying, laundry, saving, budgeting, ability to splurge sometimes, clothes that please me, calendar and time management, readiness and safety information.
  • Connected
    Habit: social time and planning for future social time.
    Related: mutually supportive relationships, communication, asking for help, community, volunteering.
  • Creative
    Habit: 30 minutes working on my main creative project
    Related: learning, sharing, making, showing up for my creative self.

Secure in Self and Strong really are the legs that hold up the rest and Creative keeps me excited, though everything contributes to my sense of well-being and the energy I have to do anything.

This gentler way of reminding myself to give myself what I want and need is working incredibly well for me. You can give it a try using these images:

Focus Star with no writing, two to a page for printing
Focus Star with Dinah’s categories, two to a page for printing

I’m not a visual artist, so I’d love to see them if others create their own Focus Star templates! Please share them in a reply to this post. 🙂

*This is a good three part overview of differentiation of self (1, 2, 3) by therapist Martha Kauppi.
** Grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, handling finance/bureaucracy mail, all are part of that “on track”. I broke my maintenance housework down into chunks that take about half an hour or less. My goal is to do each chunk every eight weeks.

12 days of small positive changes

Happy Discardia!

Where is the friction that most directly impacted your life over the past month?

Turn your attention for the next 12 days to improving things in that area.

Just one common example:

Bad or insufficient sleep? Take a break from devices in the bedroom, step away from online/TV distractions for an earlier bedtime, and make your bedroom space as calm as possible.

Give yourself twelve days of gently nudging your world in the direction of better wherever you need it most.

Be kind with yourself this week

Avoid clothes that are too tight or itch. Eat foods that leave you feeling good, not turbulent inside. Surround yourself with silence or soft, pleasant sounds whenever possible.

Create room around yourself to raise hunched shoulders, to breathe deep.

Let all that touches you be by your consent and invitation.

Make space in your world for your best, kindest, most peaceful self.


Discardia Guide to Travel Stress Reduction: Quick Test of Your Gear

Pack less, way less
You really appreciate having less when you're racing across an airport or schlepping from train to train in a strange place. Traveling with a single carry-on bag is an art form well worth mastering. Don’t just figure, “Hey, the airlines let me check a bag, so I might as well do so.”
You can cure yourself of this habit the first time you walk off a plane with nothing but a carry-on and are on your way, while everyone else is milling around waiting. Next time you're at the airport, watch the people claiming their luggage. I certainly hope some of them are actually moving to the country at which they're arriving because you shouldn't need a bag the size and weight of a coffee table to get you through a vacation. Who looks oppressed and in pain? Giant Bag People. Who looks excited and adventurous? The ones walking past baggage claim on their way to the exit because they already have all their reasonable amount of stuff.

"Just in case” crowds out present opportunities
Traveling in the 21st century continually reminds us of how much we have in common with people in other places. I’ve been able to pop into a corner store for some forgotten item in cities from Nairobi to Nara to Newcastle. If that’s true while traveling most places on the globe, it’s even truer in your hometown. Quit hanging onto so much stuff “just in case.” Come on. You aren't on the moon! Let the excess go.

excerpts from Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff


I hope you're ready to try being happier traveling with less luggage. The best way to increase your confidence about lowering your load is to do this simple test at home before you travel. You may feel a little silly at moments doing it, but it can save you many more moments of discomfort on your trip.


Step One: Prepare Your Gear

Most of the places that bags and backpacks travel to are dirty, so spread something easy to wash on top of your bed before you begin packing (or especially later unpacking). Go through your itinerary pulling out and laying on the bed what you will need for each day. Layered clothing is your friend so double up to maximize your options wherever you can. And, when in doubt, leave it out. The odds of needing something you have to buy on the trip is vastly lower than the odds that you'll adore having light luggage every step of the way.

Joe and I travel with two bags each: a carry-on bag which fits in the overhead compartment (we like TravelPro Flightcrew) and an over the shoulder laptop bag or other day bag (I like the Timbuk2 Q backpack, Joe prefers a roll-top messenger bag from Mission Workshop). I also tuck a small, over-the-body-strap purse inside my day bag for lighter or dressy use.

While on the move, keep your day bag in constant sight. This is where you want to have all your valuables, including your passport, money, wallet, laptop, phone, and travel itinerary printout. You'll be keeping track of your suitcase too, but you want to be able to set it out of arm's reach, such as the luggage rack at the end of a train car or airport shuttle, without having to worry too much.

Along with valuables, your day bag is where you'll carry those things you want on the plane or other long rides. These include: snacks, reading material, earbuds, medicine, the quart size bag of liquids (such as shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, etc.) which airport security will want you to present as you pass through the security gates of most airports, and anything else small to keep you comfortable as you journey. Ideally, you should leave enough room in the top of the bag to tuck in your sweater if you get warm on the way.

Everything else goes in your suitcase, including nonliquid toiletries. Roll soft things like undershirts and underwear to create a dense, compact layer on which you can set items more prone to wrinkle. Don't forget to be sneaky with space-saving tricks like filling shoes with socks. Wear your bulkiest garments when practical; boots and thick sweaters are fine on your body but take up a lot of space in your bag. (Here's more detailed advice on packing light from Rick Steves and Heather Earl)

You should be able to comfortably lift your day bag and wear it without pain. It's okay if your suitcase is a little bit heavy but you must be able to lift it from the floor to waist-high racks or security conveyor belts and down again without hurting yourself. It's preferable if you can also lift it above your head to put it in the overhead compartment on a plane yourself, but in a pinch I find there is usually someone strong around who is happy to help if you apologize and ask nicely. 

One last check: Turn your closed day bag completely upside down. Nothing should fall out. If it does, that's not the right bag to take lest casual losses or pickpockets ruin your good time.


Step Two: The Imaginary Airport

Now is where it feels a little silly, but stay with me; it's worth it. Couples and families should do this step together. Everyone should have a piece of paper and a pen to write down things they're learning in this step. This piece of paper also serves as your pretend boarding pass. No one should have anything that won't be traveling with them.

Wearing exactly what you'll be wearing when you set out on the trip, stash anything from your pockets in your day bag and note anything else which security may ask you to remove before passing through the x-ray such as belts with large metal buckles.

Now put on your day bag, lift the closed suitcase off the bed, and roll out of the bedroom(s) to form a line in front of another doorway.

Quickly retrieve your passport from your day bag. Show your pretend boarding pass and your passport to the doorway. Roll on to allow the next person to do the same and quickly put your passport away securely.

Return to the bed, which is now playing the part of the security x-ray conveyor belt. Put your suitcase and day bag on the bed, leaving space to between them for you to set the extra things you will need to show security. This varies from airport to airport and country to country, but often includes laptops, removed shoes, jackets, and permitted liquids in their quart bag. Here's how it works with TSA in the United States. Step back from the bed and confirm you can comfortably assume these two positions without your unbelted trousers falling down:

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 4.09.38 PM    BeThereExplorer_SquareAd

You probably won't need to assume that second position (for which I amusingly could only find that particular official TSA image) unless they need to do extra screening with a metal detector wand. It happens not infrequently and it's not a big deal, just relax and stay pleasant if it ever does.

Now you can step back to the bed, move your suitcase to the floor, and quickly return everything to your day bag. If your shoes aren't slip ons, it's polite to shoulder your day bag, pick up your shoes, and roll your suitcase over to one of the recombobulation benches to sit and put them back on out of the way.

Hooray! You're through security!

Roll on to your living room, set your day bags on your seat, lift your suitcases above your heads for a moment putting them in the imaginary overhead compartment, then set the suitcases aside and, standing awkwardly over your seat whilst pretending not to bump your head, remove your jacket before sitting down. Put your day bag laying flat right in front of your toes and breathe a sigh of relief. Now, without elbowing your seatmates, remove your reading material from your day bag and relax. Write down any notes you have so far.

Next, put away anything you've removed from your day bag, put your jacket back on (or stick it in the top of your day bag), and retrieve your suitcase again lifting it in the air briefly. Roll back to a doorway in a line, quickly remove your passport from your day bag and show it to the doorway before returning it to safekeeping and rolling on.

Now with all your gear, day bag still on, walk around rolling your suitcases for at least 10 minutes. Set a timer so you aren't tempted to cheat.

After this enlightening interlude—during which you will likely discover if your bags are too heavy—return to the bedroom and place all your gear on the bed.

Hooray! You're out of the airport!


Step 3: Venturing Out of Your Hotel

Now it's time to see how well your day bag works. Remove from the bag anything that you wouldn't be taking with you on a day trip including a stop at an internet cafe. Stash your passport in an inside pocket of your suitcase. Think about what the weather will be like at your destination and change clothes or add items to your day bag as appropriate. Now walk, take a bus, or if you need to drive somewhere nearby where you know there's a café or library with Wi-Fi.

Walk around for little while with your day bag on, stopping to adjust the straps or otherwise improve its comfort as needed.

Visit the café or library and use their Wi-Fi if you have your laptop or tablet, or a public Internet terminal if you don't, to check your email and send a test message. Being able to stay in touch is a great way to stay calm while you travel. Remember to log out of any accounts you logged into when you are all done.

Walk around a while longer, again testing the comfort of your day bag. Note any items which seem too heavy for everyday carrying and decide if you will leave them at home or keep them in your suitcase in future.

How do your feet feel? Are these the best shoes for this trip?

While you're out walking keep an eye open for interesting postcards of your hometown. These are ideal for writing thank you notes on your journey.


Congratulations! You've made your upcoming trip much better!

The benefits of low-alcohol drinking

'Less can be more' in your glass as it can in your home and calendar. Many people enjoy mixed drinks—or would like to if they weren't laid low by them. It is possible to have the best of both worlds and sample great cocktails without getting sleepy, stupid, sad, or sick.

The core Discardian principle of Quality Over Quantity comes into play in multiple ways to achieve this.

  1. Slow down.
    Be mindful of what you're consuming. One of the best aspects of good cocktail drinking is tuning in to the present moment and to those you're with, so amplify that by paying attention to what you're having. Take time to enjoy what you've got and space out the alcohol with a glass of water between rounds. You'll get more enjoyment out of your drinks—and out of the next morning!
  2. Drink less of better.
    Satisfy your senses with smaller sips and smaller servings of something well-made with complex ingredients. Whether you like sweet or bitter, tangy or rich, there are amazing cocktails to be enjoyed in classic serving sizes (generally just 3-6 ounces).
  3. Base your drinks on lower-proof main ingredients.
    By not including more than half an ounce of high-proof spirits (40+% alcohol by volume) and carefully selecting recipes which allow their less "hot" components (such as sherry, vermouth, and port) to shine, you can discover a whole world of amazing cocktails, both classics and new creations.
  4. Be a snob.
    Now I don't mean you should only have top-shelf products in trendy bars; I'm talking about the good kind of snobbery that keeps you from wasting time and health on things that don't provide you with real pleasure. Save your liver for those cocktails worth having, in the time and place, and with the company that makes those moments special.

Want to explore more in this realm? I've got a whole book of ideas for you (my second book!) and it's called The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level.

Thanks again to readers of either of my books for your support and encouragement to keep on writing!

Rescue the stressed

Even the luckiest of us feel a bit of extra pressure around the end of the year. In a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) over half of respondents reported that they often or sometimes experience stress, irritability, and/or fatigue during the holidays, with the leading stressors being lack of time, lack of money, and commercialism or hype (in contrast to work and money, which lead at other times of year).

It’s not just Christmas. The whole season is enough to make anyone rebel against all that pressure. I’m not the only one to invent holidays out of that stress: Buy Nothing Day and Festivus owe their origins to some of the same forces that launched Discardia. From the moment we lock the front door on Halloween night and poke through the leftover trick-or-treat candy, we jump into a wild, obligation-ridden bobsled run, whisking us through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, until we’re dumped headfirst into the cold, slushy snow of the first bleak week of January.

We feel the whirlwind begin as ads suggest “the perfect gift for the such and such on your list.” This list is assumed; of course, everyone has a list. Everyone must be buying. Post-turkey Friday comes and the retail frenzy begins. The crowds and the sensory overload of enforced commercial festivity. “Bring on the cheer, dammit!” seems to be the underlying message of the barrage of Christmas music, holiday movie promotions, and red and green advertising plastered on every surface. Sometimes it seems like you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Santa—and, as December barrels on, the temptation to do so grows.

Prioritize your energy. Emotional turmoil can almost always move to the bottom of your list. Find a little breathing space and give some to others when you can see that they need it. Ease the tension and let something other than drama take your time.

Even the very best group of family or friends can sometimes be annoying, so I encourage you to do two things when stress starts to kick in at big gatherings. When you need a little room, find a way to take it. Good techniques include walking the dog, washing some dishes, amusing the littlest kids, showing the newest family member around the neighborhood, running a last-minute errand, or having a shower. Along with taking care of yourself, make space for others. Build some alone time into your events. Don’t make a fuss over people retreating from time to time. Whether between family, friends, or lovers, making room for each other’s “me-time” builds stronger relationships

Rescue the stressed. Useful phrases include, “I need a little walk before the pie. Care to come along?,” “Mom, I’ll do that for you, but sit down for just a moment and tell me again about the trip where you got this vase. That was right after you two got married, right?,” “Okay, that’s got about an hour more to cook and everything else is all ready, so you all can relax or read or whatever and I’ll let you know when we get close to dinner time,” and “Who else is ready for a nap break?”

Create opportunities to free yourself and your loved ones for joyful engagement.


(This post is a little taste of the book, pulled from a couple sections as a seasonal tip.)

Daily Setup for Success

One of the best habits I've built up over the past year or so, with the most consistent payoff, has been tidying the bedroom every day. Sometimes I get it done in the morning, sometimes it's not until just before dinner, but almost every day I return the room to calmness and breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction just looking around.

I put away any clothes that are sitting on the floor, chairs, or dressers. I put the change from pockets into the coin jars (one for quarters and one for everything else) in our home office. I empty the trash basket and straighten the throw rug. Most importantly—and this happens virtually every day—I fluff the pillows and make the bed; so easy with just a sheet and duvet!

For the rest of the day and, most importantly, right before bed I see a space that's exactly how I want it: a calm, restful nest for a great night's sleep. In the morning, I'm greeted by a room with everything in its place, ready to launch a good day.

Get Back to Your Happy Place

Step one to a good weekend is dealing with the essentials. Do these things on Thursday night or Friday morning or first thing when you get home Friday after work.

1) Water: Go get a big glass of water right now. Now. Do it. Water is the means for your body to do a little Discardia of its own. Purge out the bad stuff; set yourself up for the good stuff. Drink that glass of water all up while you put in this little chunk of progress and then refill it when you're done and have another.

2) Food: Nothing fancy, just eat a small meal with something good for you and something yummy. And while you're preparing it, if you come across anything spoiled in the fridge don't you dare set it back in there. Throw it in the trash and carry that nasty baggage out of your house.

3) Sleep: Are your sheets dirty? Change 'em now. (Always have a clean change of sheets; it radically improves your quality of life.)  Now lie down on the bed for a moment and see what the first thing you're going to see when you wake up is. If you don't like it and it isn't nailed to the wall, get it out of your sight. Maybe it’s just clothes strewn around. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t even belong in the bedroom.

4) Motivation: One more step. We took care of the last thing we see before sleeping and first after waking. Now make sure that walking in the front door doesn't drag down your mood. Straighten that doormat, tidy that shoerack, put away (or at least move) that clutter in the front hall. Let the first sight of home remind you of what you like about this place, not of your to-do list.

Ahhhh. Nice.

Discardian weekend: be true to yourself

Eat something good for you that you like, then find a project you really enjoy and put in a good chunk of time working on it.

– Tidying up and catching up with your newspapers, magazines & catalogs. Don't get hung up on reading guilt and think you need to finish them all. Just get them looking nice and read the quick stuff/toss the junk.

– Catch up on uploading photos to Flickr (or other photo sharing website, which I have heard might exist, but why?) and title/tag them while you can still remember what they show. Charge your camera battery while you're at it and then (important) put it back into the camera today.

– Clean up your desk or project space and then spend an hour doing the most creative thing you do there, writing, sewing, drawing, whatever you like.

– Clear the dining room table and the kitchen counters of stuff that doesn't belong there, wash the dishes so the sink is ready for action, then plan a nice meal. Head out to the farmers' market to shop for ingredients if you have one in your area today.

Share what you did in the comments!