This is an exercise in finding one thing explicitly and one thing implicitly.  First, measure yourself against a fairly conservative and responsible checklist of things that should increase your personal freedom.  Second, find your hidden personal biases against certain seemingly responsible behaviors.

According to the Better Me website the Clean Sweep Program is:

A checklist of 100 items which, when completed, give one complete personal freedom. These 100 items are grouped in 4 areas of life with 25 in each group: Physical Environment, Well-being, Money and Relationships. These 4 areas are the cornerstone for a strong and healthy life and the program helps a person to clean up, restore and polish virtually every aspect of his/her life. The program takes between 6 – 24 months to complete.

It’s a bold claim.  At first I was curious about which authority they were claiming that these 100 things are actually worth achieving.  The creator of this site, Michael Cooper, is a graduate of Coach University and I think these 100 things are something from their program… and prospective new coaches are encouraged to get their own lives in order before coaching others.

The 100 things are split up into four categories: Physical Environment, Well-being, Money, and Relationships.  Each category has 25 things that, together, imply health and personal freedom.  The idea is that the best way to solve problems and improve yourself is to create the space and mental state that best accommodates problem solving and self-improvement.

I took it and got a 77 out of 100.  I think I cheated on a few though.  I have strong personal preferences against a couple of them (mostly drinking caffeine and alcohol).  However an interesting comment from them is:

Those last 5 or 10 are the ones which are most worth taking care of, given our egos are well entrenched among these incompletions.

That seems true to me.  We all have personal behaviors or habits that we believe our personality is permanently intertwined with.  For that reason alone I suggest that you take this test and pay particular attention to the things on the list that you say to yourself either “Not only do I not want to do that, but I think it’s wrong” or “It’s not that I don’t want to do that, it’s that I can’t”.  Both of these responses indicate a strong emotional conflict between your behaviors and your actual self.  Take a look at WHY you think something is wrong or impossible and you may find some deeply rooted hidden biases in yourself.

One of the best ways to change habitual behavior is to commit to it.  This is obvious to us, and is often why we don’t commit to changing behaviors.  If you’re a smoker and you want to quit, make a list of the 10 people in your life that you are most concerned with keeping a high reputation with, and give each one of them a written statement that says, “I promise you that I will never smoke another cigarette.”  Simply thinking about that will let you know just how powerful the force of public commitment is… more powerful than internal commitment, more powerful than the patch, and more powerful than any plan to slowly wean yourself off cigarettes.

If smoking isn’t the main thing you’d like to change, choose something else.  Make a promise about an absolute thing like never doing something again or completing something by an exact date.  Immediate and drastic change that you can’t wimp out on.  Write them down on note cards or blank business cards and hand them out to 10 (or more) people that you desperately want to respect you.  No need to even include an “or else”… that way there’s no way out.

There’s a hidden cost in the things we don’t like about ourselves.  In addition to the fact that the things are usually undesirable traits in the first place, what is usually neglected is the cost of thinking about the undesirable trait over and over again.  In most cases, we are slowly changing creatures and things we don’t like will stick around for years, sometimes decades.  It’s a good idea to check in occassionally with a few of the most costly of these traits and make sure we’re not letting them use up more of our energy, time, and self-esteem than it would take to fix them.

Make a list of the top 3 things you don’t like about yourself.

The important thing here is to find the things that bother us the most.  Sure, you might like to be a foot taller, to have the bone structure of a hummingbird, and have a turtle shell to allow easy sleeping on sidewalks, but does it truly bother you to your core that you don’t have these qualities?  In my experience, the things that bother me most, the things that most encourage the slow and steady buildup of self hate, are the things that I know I could change about myself, but only lack the energy and motivation to do so.  It’s the ability to blame yourself for the undesirable trait that stabs deepest.  So, think hard… what do you really dislike about yourself, name two or three.

How long have you disliked each thing?

Sometimes we rationalize undesirable traits by thinking one of two things: either they are not really THAT nagging, or they are too difficult to change.  Losing 20 pounds, or improving conversational skills, or reinventing your career path are not simple tasks.  However, if you can think back to the first time you considered this trait it becomes more clear how costly keeping them around can be.  Thinking about something once or twice a week, each time with self-criticism and disgust, for years or even decades can really bring you down.  It also brings home the point that it’s possible that this trait is going to stick around for as long as it wants to… sometimes they magically disappear but most of the time they only go away with concerted effort.  When framed like that, imagining yourself having this same conversation with yourself 10 years from now, it becomes easier to motivate yourself to make changes now so that you can save yourself all of those years.

Imagine life without the trait.

Imagine that through some miracle the thing you hated most about yourself was gone.  You would wake up each morning and not have that same thought.  You would be in other situations and not have that insecurity.  How much relief would it bring?  It might help to think about other traits you have had in the past (maybe something like childhood awkwardness or acne or harmful relationships) and how liberating the day was when you found that that particular burden had come to an end.

Write out steps for removing each undesired trait.

What would it take to get fix the thing you hated most about yourself.  Exactly how much effort would it take, how much money, how much of a lifestyle change?  What is the cost of reaching that point?  Compare this cost to the real cost of keeping it around.

Strongly consider changing the top-most undesirable trait.

Really think about it.  Why not do it?  Why not double down on fixing one major source of unhappiness… and give it everything it takes until it’s resolved?  Not only would it remove a self-sabotaging source of self-hate, but it would build up confidence in your ability to make positive changes in your life and give you momentum for more changes.  In my case, the appeal is also to simply have a new project… one that has a real benefit.  You can research the problem, consult friends, and make it a thing.  As a thing, you can rise to the challenge and keep yourself interested in a subject for the duration of its resolution.  Good luck!

I like to travel without luggage.  I just went to San Jose for three days and only brought a bag left over from a trip to Kenneth Cole.  Not having luggage makes you think twice about what you bring and how you bring it.  My flimsy bag might fall apart in the rain, and can't carry anything too heavy.  Also, it might spill out anywhere.  You may not need to be as extreme in your own travels, but here's a good set of tips on traveling light:

Carrying off the art of one carry on [via 43 Folders]

Another interesting link from the comments on 43 Folders was this site: One Bag: The art and science of traveling light.

I'm an introvert, and before last year, shuddered at the thought of throwing a party. I was a party-attender, not a party-thrower, and the thought of inventing a reason, recruiting people, and preparing whatever it was that party-throwers prepared made me freeze up and/or run away. At the same time, I've always envied the life of event and party planners.

Throwing a party, especially if it's not normally your thing, is a great chance to create an entire experience for your friends. From music, to food, to choice of attendees, to entertainment (if any), you can create a vision of a couple hours length and let it explode into a life of its own.

I just threw a party this last weekend for my 30th birthday, and though it was rather stressful and worrisome at times, the stressful and worrisome aspects of it were probably the most enjoyable… as they helped me work towards the vision with more focus. Few things get you to act with the determination and attention that fear of public failure. Haha, I am mostly kidding.

The great thing about parties is that they can be any size in scope… from a small gathering of close friends to a rented venue with bands, djs, or performers, to a multi-day festival out in the desert. Choose a scope that feels uncomfortable to you, tap your social circle for people who can help you think about how to do it right, and pick a date not too far in the future. Start telling people about it right away.

The other great thing about parties is that they are over quickly. An evening is over almost as soon as it is begun, and other than cleaning up and apologizing for drunk dials of the previous night, there's very little follow-up.

Throwing a big party is a great way to inject momentum into your life. Once you throw one, you'll begin to think about the next one, and the next, and the snowball of fun will roll right over you, and carry you along with it.

The title of this exercise is a bit misleading.  Watching what you eat usually refers to counting calories.  I mean it more in the literal sense… looking and noticing what you are eating.  Acting on that knowledge may or may not happen, but it's not important for the purposes of this exercise.

Watching what you eat will tell you a lot about your current mental and physical state.  Have you noticed that your appetite for food will be different depending on your mood and your state of current health?  When I exercise, I crave different foods than when I've just gotten into a fight with a friend.  Also, my appetite will be different when I haven't eaten in a long time than it is when I have just finished a meal.  There's a reason salads typically come first and ice cream comes last… the body's appetite when full is less for less healthy food than when your body is actually trying to get energy for vital functions.

You can pretty much take the types of foods you're currently craving as a literal expression of your mood and health.  A healthy mental state will crave healthy foods, and vice versa.  Take note of the things you are craving for a day.  In particular, notice:

  • How sensitive are you to hunger?  Do you eat at the first sign of hunger, or do you put up with hunger longer?
  • Do you eat more healthily when you satisfy hunger immediately, or when you wait it out?
  • When do you eat most the most junk food and what is your mental and physical states at those times?

How much can you tell about people around you if all you had to go on was the food that they eat?  How much of this serves as a personality test for others and for yourself?  Most people believe that you can become more healthy by eating more healthily… but is it possible that the reverse is true as well?  Healthy people eat healthily.  Chicken or egg?  Lest we confuse correllation with causation once again, let's start with merely watching the food we eat and watching our moods. 

The purpose of this exercise is to learn more about why you like some things and don't like others. Preference is a very powerful force in our personalities, and by taking it apart a little and looking to see which mechanisms are at work when creating your preferences, you can learn to fiddle with the algorithm a little to make sure you like things that you actually want to like, and that you don't like things that you don't want to like.

Sounds complicated, but a very important aspect of preference (and desire in general) is that there are two levels to it:

  1. What you want
  2. What you want to want

You might want chocolate, but want to want salad. You might want television, but want to want exercise. When thinking about this exercise, try to figure out if the thing you are retrying is something you want, or something you want to want. The happiest life is one where you both want, and want to want, the same things while also not liking the things you don't want to like.

The sources of like:

What causes us to like something and what causes us not to like something? Are things inherently likable and dislikable, or is there something that happens between the thing and yourself (a relationship, or an aesthetic) that creates a likable or dislikable quality to emerge? I argue the latter. Here are a few things that might influence your judgement of a new thing:

  1. Do you already like or dislike this thing? If you know that you dislike brocolli, you will most likely continue to dislike it each time you come across it, even if you do not taste it each time.
  2. Do you already have a preference for the general class of thing? If you come across a new green vegetable, and you have an existing dislike of green vegetables, it's likely that you will apply the general rule to the specific new vegetable.
  3. Does the environment or group your in have a preference? If you are in a group that strongly prefers sipping expensive wines, and you are relatively new to the field of wine-tasting and have no overwhelming preference for cheap or expensive wines, you may be influenced to adopt the group's preference for expensive wines. Likewise, if you live in a liberal city, you will most likely adopt liberal views. This happens because the environment will influence the evidence and data you receive for making a preference… you will only get good evidence and data about expensive wines when you're around people that love expensive wines, and you will only hear bad data about conservative viewpoints when you're around liberals. It's not that you necessarily adopt the views of those around you, it's just that the environment filters the information you receive about the thing being judged to favor the decisions that the group made.
  4. Is there pressure to form a quick opinion? In some social situations, making a decision is difficult because none of the choices stand out as distinctly better than the others. For example, when choosing which new blockbuster movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon. In these situations, people with preferences are rewarded by being decision makers and leaders. It doesn't really matter which option is taken, as long as it provokes action in the group. After a decision is made, it's then much easier to confabulate reasons that it is the best option, strengthening the power of the preference that was originally weak.

In this way, preferences can be created by cascading down a series of decision making systems. The interesting thing is that because preferences are reinforced each time they are invoked, what quickly began as a weak preference will strengthen over time into a much more powerful preference. The possibility then exists that there are very strong preferences in our own personalities that may or may not justify the strength of their preference.

Identify a few strong preferences of your own

I used to strongly dislike zoos. It all went back to one childhood experience where I felt bad about an animal at a zoo. Over the years, disliking zoos became "a thing", if you know what I mean. A thing that felt as much a part of me as my sense of self. I was a zoo-disliker. I was a also a Halloween-disliker. I was an avocado-disliker. However, once I started retrying these things, I often found that the only reason I continued to dislike them was because I had disliked them at some point in the past.

By letting go of that past preference, and the opinion that blossoms from it, I get to let the object cascade once again down the waterfall of experience to see if there was any continuing evidence supporting the preference. In the case of zoos I discovered that my dislike of them was a little lopsided and that while I may object to some of the principles behind the caging of beautiful natural animals, that I could enjoy learning about animals and engaging them in person. My preference, it turned out, had been more positively reinforced by the personal satisfaction I got from stating the opinion and being the kind of person that cared for animals than it had by the actual zoo itself. There's a strange kind of pride in preference. Which isn't necessarily bad in itself, but it might be worth investigating which things you store your pride in… are they all things you want to take pride in? And are you consistently interested in the object of pride? In the case of zoos, why did I take self-righteous pride in not supporting the enslavement of animals when I took opposite pride in eating meat? It's important to notice inconsistency in yourself and acknowledge it, not necessarily to reconcile it right away, but simply so that you can learn to not take yourself and your preferences so seriously.

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