Whitney Hess: Hi there.
Paul McAleer: Hi, everybody. This is Designing Yourself. My name is Paul McAleer.
Whitney: And this is Whitney Hess. Thank you for listening today.
Paul: Yeah, thanks for tuning in. So, this week, what we wanted to do was talk about balance. So, before we started, Whitney, you said something that was kind of interesting to me. You said you weren't sure about balance in general. So, I'd love to hear what you think about it, for starters, and what you're thinking about in terms of balance and what to means to you.
Whitney: So, I'll just start off by saying that we had a short exchange over e-mail, where you said that you feel like sometimes you're either doing something, or you're not doing something. It's, like, black-and-white. I am very much the same way.
I think that things are right-or-wrong or all-or-nothing. I have a really hard time with the middle ground. I have a really hard time with the grey area and moderation, and I've been told that this is what balance is.
So, when I say to you I'm not sure I really even know what balance is, it's because that I don't know that I have a lot of it in my life. It seems to me that it's something that people say we're supposed to have, but why? What is balance, and why are we supposed to have it?
Paul: Well, I think part of it is that, you know, one of the things I said also in that e-mail, was, you know, talking about the terms of business, right? There's almost any chart I've ever seen, in any meeting, that involves a triangle and talks about balance, right? It's, you know, "the fast, good, cheap, pick any two," that old song, right?
It always comes down to balance, and you know. I mean, in my experience, that stuff is never, ever, ever, ever actually balanced. Like, something always wins out. You know, there's not necessarily a loser, but that's the way I think about it.
When you think about, you know, in terms of yourself, too, I mean, that's kind of how I see it as well. Like, there's this pretend thing that we are supposed to, you know, kind of, be maybe fair in all things, always, with everybody. That's something that I have had with me for a long time, but I'm finding more and more that that's simply not the case.
You don't have to balance everything out. I mean, sometimes things are going to be, you know, leaning towards selfish, selfless, you know, those things that we talked about a couple episodes ago. I just feel like it's not possible to be totally balanced but that is also balance by not being balanced. Do you know what I mean?
Whitney: Totally. Like, the saying, "All things in moderation," including moderation.
Paul: Yes. Yes. Exactly like that.
Whitney: Well, the word "balance," for me, brings to mind motion because I think of a seesaw and two people trying to keep each other in balance, and when one person goes up, the other person has to go down. They have to try to oppose each other's forces.
They will achieve balance, but it's momentary. It's not really something that you can sustain. So, I think that the way that we use that term, "balance," is as though it's possible to be still and be calm and have everything in equilibrium, as though that's something that can be static, but I don't think it is.
For me, it feels like a really active thing. Like, it's something that you're striving for, but it's not really anything you can permanently attain.
Paul: Well, no. I agree with you on that. There's no real permanence in it, right? I think you had a really interesting point there. I think it often can be conflated with calmness, you know?
Whitney: Well, when I say I have no balance, it's because I don't think I have a lot of calm in my life. I mean, there are times when I am calm if there's really nothing going on. I'm not being inundated with e-mails, or I don't have a deadline that I'm expected to meet, or I'm not in conversation with someone.
Maybe if I'm just laying on the couch and watching TV, perhaps I'm in a calm state, but as soon as there is external stimuli, immediately, I'm out of balance. I am not, in any way, at a point in my life or in my self-development where I'm able to maintain my sense of self or maintain my composure when I'm receiving stimuli from other people or from, like, other areas of my life.
I'm constantly in, like, processing mode. So, sometimes, it picks me up. Sometimes, it brings me down. Like, that's constant. I don't feel as though I'm ever in this, like, tranquil state where anyone can say anything to me, and I just receive it without any reaction. That's what I conjure up in my mind when I think of that term, "balance."
Paul: See, and that's kind of the place I used to be myself because I would - the way I would react to a lot of things was I would hear something from somebody, and then, I would take it in, but I would try to think on it a lot.
Like, we talked a little last time about, like, mind and body and all that good stuff. I would really kind of let my mind drive that whole thing and just, you know, take it in and absorb it and analyze it and, you know, do all that stuff to it, but I wouldn't necessarily show any kind of reaction to it.
Like, I became famous in, gosh, lots of my jobs for being really calm, you know? It's something I actually pride myself on, and have in the past, is, you know, in times of crisis, I tended to be very calm, and that meant also not really showing emotion in any direction.
The truth of the matter is that I really did have these emotions and feelings inside of me, but I was not showing it to the world, you know? I was just being super-duper calm and, kind of, not - I wouldn't say not present but almost not present.
I'm thinking of that now in the context of not just business meetings and things like that I've been in but, like, usability testing, where, you know - we've talked a little bit about this, too - where you, kind of, like you said, when you're doing interviews and the like, you kind of, hmm, check yourself out a little bit, and you totally absorb what the other person is saying.
Having spoken with you in person one time, I can attest to that. Like, I noticed that, and I don't see it as a negative thing at all. I saw it as, like, a really positive quality that you were so absorbed in what I was saying that it was obvious that you were listening with intent.
My point with all this is that the way that I approached it was, Don't show emotion. That's exhibiting balance and calm.
Whitney: I don't know that I've ever been able to do that. I would love to think that when I'm in a client situation that I'm incredibly diplomatic, that I know how to manage clients well after a decade of being in client services, that I am able to take things in with composure and go away from the situation and then analyze what was said and how I feel about it and then react after some reflection, but I think I'd be lying if I claimed that that's how I actually am.
I think I am very professional, and I've been told by many of the people I've worked with that I put on this, kind of, professional - I'm in professional mode when I'm in professional situations. People that know me personally that then see me in a business context later say, Wow. You were so professional. [laughter]
Now that I'm saying it out loud, I'm wondering, Was that a compliment? Maybe it's saying something about how I am when I'm not being professional, but I do know that there have been times where I have been confronted with things in a professional context that have rubbed me the wrong way or that have made me feel that it's essential that I react immediately, and I do.
It's not always a conscious decision. Okay, I'm going to react to this now. Sometimes, I'm overcome. It hasn't gotten me into hot water, thankfully. In fact, I have been able to build a reputation for being forthcoming and not beating around the bush and not "yes, sir"ing everyone when, in fact, I believe that there's a better way to do things.
People say that I raise issues immediately. So, there are some positives to that, but I can think of a couple situations where I wished that I had a deeper calm in me that I was able to, you know, be in that moment and allow someone to express themselves without immediately reacting to it.
I have not done that. I really feel as though there's a lot of imbalance, perhaps, that's just lying underneath the surface that maybe I do a really good job of appearing a certain way when I'm in that mode. Like, I'm really good at putting up that front, perhaps, but what's happening below the surface is, like, tumultuous almost.
So, where does this balance even come from? Where does this comfort with the unknown and comfort in ambiguity and comfort in waiting, what I imagine is all inherent balance. Where does that come from?
Paul: I don't know at all. I have no idea. I'm going to not answer your question because you said something else that I found really interesting. You talked about professional mode. This pulls into the old idea of work-life balance, right?
This is something that I've totally changed my perspective on relatively recently, right? So, I also have a professional mode. It is something I used to not notice, but the way I articulated it was always, you know, the way that I am at work is different than the way I am anywhere else.
That is still mostly true, but I've been trying to change that in certain ways. You know, I've been trying to be more expressive, more emotional, frankly, more vocal in things that matter to me, you know, in matters of my work and my team's work and the work of other people and all that good stuff at work because I see the benefit of a professional mode.
I see that there's a time, absolutely, to be diplomatic. There is absolutely a time to be calm. I get that. I agree with you on that, but there are also these other times that I was not taking advantage of either, where, you know, that type of, like, I actually needed that type of quick reaction that you were trying to not have, right?
Like, those are things where I needed to express myself more forcefully and more forcibly than I was because I would, you know, in those situations, take it in, sit with it for a while, let it fester under the surface, and then either do nothing or do nothing. I mean, that is what I did or be passive-aggressive about it.
It was something totally not very productive and not very satisfying to me and not true to me either. So, I have the professional mode as well, but where does this come from? Where does professional mode come from? Why is it so different than us, as people? Is it different than us, as people, or is it just another facet of us?
Whitney: You know, it's so funny because you were naturally a way that I've always wished I could be, and you are saying that you felt as though you needed to be more like the way that I naturally am, and that it was something you were trying to cultivate, and it just makes me realize, maybe there's a balance to strike between the two, you know?
Paul: Nice. Nice.
Whitney: I haven't fully been able to cultivate that which you have naturally, and so, I think I'm supposed to be all that, rather than being a little bit more that way and a little bit less susceptible to other people's reactions to things.
That notion of a little different is a lot harder of a concept for me to grasp than it is to be 180 degrees different for some reason because there is something about when you want to change completely that when you start behaving in a way that you no longer recognize at all, you know you're on the right track, as opposed to having a much more sensitive awareness of when to be slightly different in certain contexts and only to a certain extent in order to achieve that balance.
I think that your awareness has to be so fine-tuned to recognize when you've done too little and when you've done too much. That's what makes balance such a challenging concept for me. More directly to your question of where does this professional persona come from, this notion that we're supposed to be different in business contexts than we are in personal contexts?
It was that belief that I fundamentally did not agree with and was why I ultimately quit my full-time job to go independent because I felt like when I walked in the door, I had to put up a front. I had to behave in a different manner. I had to suppress a lot of my natural ways of being and conform to what was expected of me.
That wore on me eventually. I just felt as though I couldn't do it. I didn't know how to be a little bit more me in the work place to the point where I was comfortable while still achieving what was expected of me. So, when I started to kind of break down - I'll put it that way, without insinuating that I was having a breakdown - when that front started to break apart, and the real me was seeping through more and more, I noticed myself getting into conflicts that I would have otherwise avoided because I was not being fully me.
It's when I realized that me being more me at work was making it more challenging for me to get done what I needed to get done and to be considered an expert and to be considered someone that was reliable and all of these things, it was like, wait a minute. I'm just getting comfortable. I'm just finally feeling like I am valued here, and now that I'm being a little bit more me, questions are arising?
Okay. Clearly, the corporate environment doesn't work for me. That was the third company that I had a full-time job at in 3-1/2 years. I had spent a year and a half in one company, six months in the next company - and they were having financial problems, and I eventually ended up leaving in, like, a mass exodus of other people, and then I was at my third company for a year and a half.
So, I felt, you know what? It's not them; it's me. It's something that I need. Maybe I don't want to balance that professional and personal persona. Maybe I just don't have the energy for it. That's why balance has always been a tricky thing for me because I feel like it requires a tremendous amount of energy to remain in balance.
Paul: Do you think that it was you, or was it them? I'm really curious about that because I want to hear your thoughts on that because based on what you just told me, it sounds like, you know, the way that it went down, in general, is that these work environments were not for you, and thus, not that there's a blame involved, but it simply wasn't a good fit for a relationship, right?
It was simply that, you know, this is what this environment demanded of you. You attempted to conform to that. Ultimately, you said no. That's not it. See you later, but when you were talking about it, it sounded like you were kind of shouldering that and saying, Well, it was me, and that's the way that I am.
I think I get that because it sounds like you're kind of declaring, Well, this is, you know, who I am, and from that place of understanding, but I also heard it a little as, I didn't fit there, so it's on me. Maybe, I mean, I would flip that bit if I were you, and I'm totally loading this question, but do you agree with me on this or not? [laughter]
Whitney: The reason why I take accountability for that is because I feel I entered the relationship from the first interview to the last interview to the first day at work to the last day at work. I really feel like I approached it with my professional persona on.
Had I been fully me through the interview process, through the getting to know you, and so on and so forth, then maybe I would have, "A," identified that it wasn't the right environment to match my personality earlier on or would have never gone to work there in the first place or maybe they would have never hired me.
Instead, I believed that I was supposed to be "less me," heavy quotes, whatever that means, and more this professional, respectable, buttoned-up, successful person. So, I went in being that person. When I finally got comfortable and felt as though, these aren't just my co-workers; these are my friends.
We go out for drinks. We talk about stuff that's happening outside of work when we see each other in the mornings. We've been to hell and back on these projects. So, I can let down my guard. I can be a little bit more me and have, like, maybe a little bit more of an edge, a little bit more of an attitude, you know, be a little bit more lax with my language, what have you, then I would notice things would shift.
So, I don't want to say it's my fault, and I hear you responding to that kind of phrasing, but it's more that I think it's on me because I wasn't really authentic about what I'm about from Day 1.
Paul: Okay. I understand that, and yeah, it makes sense to me, then, in the context of, you know, if you went in as professional Whitney Hess, and you started there, and you had that whole relationship with them in that persona or that mode, then sure. You would exit also in that persona or mode.
I mean, that I understand as a concept. You know, and it's interesting because with that, too, you know, you also mentioned kind of the all-or-nothing thing, which touched back to something that I said to you is that the way I approach a lot of things - and it sounds like you do as well - is pretty much, you know, either I'm totally doing it, or I'm totally not doing it.
That grey area is that weird part, right? Like, you know, we talked about the way that we handled calmness in work environments. One thing I was thinking about, too, was the running, right? So, that's my topic du jour today. You know, when I started it, one of the things that I had a fear of was becoming a stereotypical runner because for me, having that label, had lots of negative things on it.
I didn't want to be that person, but I also felt that if I started running, I would be that person. Like, once I have that label of "runner," there's a certain number of things that are associated with that, some that are positive, and some that may be negative as well.
I wanted to have the positives, but I also acknowledged that the negatives might be there, and I didn't want those negatives, of course, because part of me wants to please everybody, right? So, that part of me was really upset with that.
What I came to with that is that the labels don't have to apply to me. I mean, what I'm looking for in those, I feel, is some sort of external validation of just saying, like, Yes, you are a runner, or, Yes, you do yoga, or ,Yes, you do practice Buddhism, or, Yes, you drink a lot of vodka every day.
You know, those things because they can help other people define who I am through words and maybe some actions, but you know, much like we've talked about before, it doesn't give a complete picture, but naturally, I like to have some of these labels and go with them.
For me, it is an all-or-nothing thing. It's, like, either you are a runner, or you are not a runner. There's no in-between, right?
Whitney: I totally can identify with that, and I've struggled with this a lot myself, this need to take an interest and then self-identify. So, I was joking around the other day on Twitter because I was re-writing my bio, and I said something, like, How do you encapsulate your entire identity in 160 characters?
I have re-written my bio 30 times in 5-1/2 years or however long I've been on Twitter. I mean, sincerely, I can never get it right. Every time that I think I've got it, and I'm like, Yeah, I'm going to save that, and then, I look at it again, and I'm, like, That's not me.
I want to say a hundred other things about me because those are all a part of my identity as well. So, I can identify with what you're saying. This idea that other people's concepts of us is going to be defined by what we claim that we do, and unless we're doing it fully, wholly immersing ourselves in it, then are we really doing it at all?
I have struggled with that with a lot of different things in my life. For instance, being all Four-Hour Body. So, they say it's not a diet. It's an eating plan. It's a way of thinking about food. Whatever you want to say it is, if it's consciously changing the way you eat, I think it's a diet.
So, it's been two years since I've been doing this, and my boyfriend had started about a month, month and a half, before I did. So, we've been doing this together for a long time. At first, we were great about it. It was six days on, one day off. You get your one cheat day a week. You can eat whatever you want, but all the other days, you follow a pretty rigid plan of no carbohydrates and no sugars and no dairy and blah, blah, blah, lots of stuff.
Well, as time went on, as our relationship evolved, and as life evolved, and different events, you know, came up, and we traveled and this and that, it became a lot less appealing to be on plan strictly, 100 percent of the time. So, there would be times that we would "cheat," as it's called.
We would eat something we weren't supposed to eat on a day that we weren't supposed to eat it, and then, we would eventually say, Oh, let's get back on track, and we'd do that for a few weeks, and then something else would come up, an opportunity to go eat at a great restaurant, a friend's birthday, traveling out of town, just being tired at the end of the night and not feeling like cooking something good or whatever, just the whims of everyday life.
I really struggled with even saying, I'm on Four-Hour Body, because I knew, in my heart, that it wasn't something that I was consistently doing six days a week, one day off. I felt like I couldn't say any more, I'm on Four-Hour Body, because I wasn't doing it as it was written, to the letter, in this one book.
That, I think, kind of encapsulates my struggle with balance because to be on Four-Hour body is just your own personal definition of what that means. The way it's written in the book does not have to be the way that you incorporate it into your life, just like Buddhism, just like user experience.
You know, I got a Master's Degree in human-computer interaction. The day that I entered industry, the lesson was taught, pretty clearly, that it's not going to be practiced the way it was in school. This is industry. Things are done differently here. You have to strike that balance between doing it the ideal way and not doing it at all.
So, these are the realities of the working world. How are we going to adapt what you've learned in order to do it good enough? How are you going to be on Four-Hour Body so that it's not ruling your life, and it's not limiting your experiences, but you're doing it good enough? How are you going to be professional in the work place so that you are appreciated and respected and able to get things done, but you're not denying your true self, and you're not preventing people from getting to know the special human being that you are so that you're being professional enough?
That's what I think balance is. I don't know how people do it. [laughter] How do you know if it's good enough?
Paul: Well, so, I think with that, there's a couple things. One is that we have these - and we've talked about this before - score cards that are just kind of floating out there that let us know if we're doing something right or wrong. Again, that's a black-or-white thing, right?
It's either, You are doing it right, or You were doing it wrong. There's no middle ground, but we know that there are tons of shades of grey out there. So, when you're talking about things, like, you know, the Four-Hour diet, when I'm talking about things like running, when we're both talking about things like practicing yoga, meditating, things like this, I think that both of us have standards in our heads for what the ideal is or the perfect way of doing it, right?
For me, with yoga, it is like, I'm doing it every day. I am doing it in the morning, and it is awesome, and every time, I am getting better at it. Now, the last part of that is true, even if I'm not doing it every day because every day, I am getting better at it. If I don't do it every day, great, but every time, I'm getting better at it.
Isn't the brilliant part of life, and that grey area, and maybe that balance, is that - kind of piggybacking on what you said - we take these things in. We take things in, like diets, or we take things in, like exercise, or we take in things, like relationships, or we take in other things.
You know, we read self-help books. We listen to "Awesome Self" on Podcast. We listen to all this stuff. We take them in, and we feel them, and we interpret them in our own way, and it's totally unique to every person, right? It's absolutely unique.
Isn't that enough? Isn't that good enough because we're doing it, and we are deciding if we want to do it and the level we want to do it and everything, right? Like, I don't know at what point - Well, here's what I'm trying to say, but it's not true, but I'm going to finish my statement and then contradict myself.
I don't know when I will no longer be a "runner," right, but then I kind of do. It's like, when I stop running, and I feel that I don't identify myself in that way, it's like, I used to play guitar a lot more than I do now, right?
So, for a long period of my, you know, early teens and twenties - like a lot of early teens and twenties - you know, I said, I play guitar. I was practicing. I was learning. I got better at it. I never got really great at it, but I was comfortable with it. I just kind of put it away for a while.
You know, I struggled with that because I still wanted to identify as someone who played a guitar and was a guitar player because I liked that. You know, that's something that I kind of aspired to in a way, and that's a quality that I wanted to have.
So, in my Twitter bio, I would love to have "guitar player," right, for instance. The truth of the matter is that I do play guitar. I just don't do it very often. I did it, you know, in February for only the second time ever in front of a crowd, but that's still a part of me. It's still a part of me.
Now, whether I take that label or not is also up to me, but if you were to make a giant label list, there's tons of stuff that I don't currently do, but I still feel that's a part of me. So, maybe it never, ever goes away. Maybe it's always there, in a sense, with us, right?
Maybe it's just that we always have these qualities with us, even if we try something one time. You know, then we know that we tried it, and we either didn't like it or didn't want to do it anymore or any other of these valid reasons that we have in ourselves to justify doing it or not. Maybe that is good enough.
Whitney: Absolutely. I mean, as you're describing this, I was reminded of one of the assignments that was given to me in the first session of my new coaching course. That is a daily sitting practice. As we would call "meditation," they call "sitting." They try to be as religion- or doctrine-free as possible, I suppose.
The assignment, as it is written on the sheet of paper in my binder, is to sit for 30 minutes in a chair, eyes gently closed or looking down in front of you with, you know, slightly opened eyes. No repeating of a mantra. No guided anything. Not manipulating the breath, just observing the breath. If a thought comes in that captures your mind, recognizing it, observing it, and letting it go.
They have, you know, four or five steps that they outline as being what the assigned meditation practice is intended to be done daily for the year that we're in this coaching program. Well, we practiced it once when we were in session together in June. We only did ten minutes, and it was a long ten minutes.
I had played around with meditation here or there prior to that, but I never had any method for it. So, I kind of just sat there and then waited to see what happened and didn't really know what it was. So, just kind of said, Oh, I guess I'm meditating.
This was very specific. So, we were given a mini tutorial in this ten-minute period of the meditation practice that they were recommending. Okay. Well, I had a check-in with the lead instructor of my coaching program I think it was the beginning of last week, and I was really nervous before chatting with her.
I was almost dreading the conversation, even though a part of me was so excited about checking in and sharing my progress with her and asking for her input on some things that I was finding challenging. Particularly, I was dreading having to tell her that I haven't been meditating every day.
There are some days I do it, but there have been no two days in a row that I've done it the same. In my mind, the movies that I've seen, "Eat, Pray, Love," and, you know, what have you, about women finding their true selves because they've practiced meditation is this notion that it's exactly the same every day, at the same time. It's very ritualistic. It's very intense.
That has not been the experience that I've had. I do it during the time of day that I find I can take 30 minutes out of the day. Sometimes, I can't take a whole 30 minutes. Sometimes, I'm at home. Sometimes, I'm on the beach. Sometimes, it's just after a yoga class. You know, it has varied.
I really didn't want to share this with her because I felt like I was doing it wrong, and I felt like I was being graded because this is an educational program after all, and this was an assigned, you know, an assignment. So, I wasn't doing it right.
When I shared my progress with her, she said, "Okay. So, it sounds like carving out 30 minutes a day, at the same time every day, in the same place, is really not realistic for you. So, what if we did instead that wherever you are that you're able to take some time to relax and check out, that you just take whatever time you can, in any context that you're in, and even if it's while you're doing something else, even if it's while you're walking somewhere, you just, you know, take the principles of what we taught, and you integrate it."
She was basically saying, Don't sweat it. This isn't supposed to be rigid. This isn't supposed to be done exactly as it was described, as though that's the only right way to do it. Integrate it into your life in a way that makes sense, in a way that works, in a way that you're not going to feel guilty or shameful if you're not doing it correctly but will open you up to the possibility of doing it a little bit.
I was so struck by - at the time - what I considered to be her generosity, but I later realized was wisdom. I was reminded of how many times I have worked with clients who've said, "You know, the way that you taught us to do usability testing, the way that you've taught us to do user research, we love the concept of it, but it's just not realistic for what resources we have right now, the time crunch that we're on, our financial situation, the availability of our staff. Is there a smaller version of how we can do this? Is there a modification to this?"
That's ultimately what I became known for, and I did a lot of work with start-ups, almost immediately, when I went independent because I was able to take what would otherwise be a three-month process and distill it down to one week or even one day, if that's all the time that they had, because I believed that some data was better than no data. Some empathy was better than no empathy. Some intel from the outside world was better than none.
If you were going to be so rigid in how you were approaching doing it, that it had to be done to the letter, that it was never going to get done at all. That's when you're saying, like, either I'm a runner, or I'm not a runner. I'm a guitar player, or I'm not a guitar player.
That's what that conjures up for me, this shamefulness that we feel when we haven't fulfilled whatever expectations we believe makes us officially a blank to the point where it prevents us in the future from dabbling and eventually becoming that. We just shy away from it instead because we haven't fulfilled it to the extent that we feel we're supposed to.
Paul: Totally. I absolutely agree. Another thing I was thinking about was that a number, gosh, a number of years ago now. I say "a number of years," and really, it's 13 years ago. I just wanted to start painting and paint. I hadn't done that, really, outside of school because I went to art school, and that's one of the things you do in art school is paint, but I really got the itch to paint.
So, I bought me some canvases. I went to the art supply store. I got some paints. You know, didn't quite know which, you know, I needed to get and all the tools and all that stuff. I just got what I needed, you know, some brushes, some paints, and I painted.
That was that, you know? It's not like I'm continuing to be a painter, but it was just something that I had in me that I wanted to get out and share with myself, "A," and the world, "B." I did it, but that doesn't mean -
Like, I don't identify as a painter now, but it's something that I did. I'm still proud of that, and to me, that's one of those things that's a little, tiny, tiny, grey area. Another thing that, you know, you mentioned, too, and I'm glad you brought this up, too, is the repetition and continuing to do something.
It made me think of the "Seinfeld" calendar. Have you heard of this?
Paul: Okay. So, this is old-school stuff, and I'll link it up. It's old-school. It's so cool you haven't heard of it. So, it was Brad Isaac, who shared this on Life Hacker a number of years ago. This is a different number of years ago. [laughter] This was only six years ago.
He talked with Jerry Seinfeld and wanted to get advice on how to be a better comic. So, Seinfeld told him, basically, I put up a big calendar on my wall. Every day, I take some time and write, you know, work to write a joke, right, because the repetition is what he really wanted to do.
So, what he would do, he would write on a day and put a big, red "X" on the calendar for that day, right, whatever day it was. He would do it the next day and the next day and the next day. So, his calendar would start to fill up with these big, red "X"s.
The quote that he says is that after a few days, you have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. Don't break the chain. Your only job next is to not break the chain. That, to me, is just another visual - in this case very visual, very obvious - method to say, like, Hey, if you repeat something over time, you're going to get something out of it, right?
The repetition is part of that balance as well, right, because, you know, if you do something once, like paint, there's no value judgment on it whether it's bad or good, but I'm also not honing any of my skills as a painter, but I'm comfortable with that.
If I want to, you know, do something on a daily basis, if I want to do yoga on a daily basis, or I want to write on a daily basis, or I want to Tweet on what seems like a half-hourly basis, then I might benefit - and some other people might benefit - from some sort of visual reminder of that just as another form of motivation other than, you know, just having this in your head, getting it out of your head, and saying, you know, This is what I've got - other than the actual product or whatever you're making - to show for it but something that shows your method, something that shows your process.
Whitney: Have I told you about the Lift app yet?
Paul: Oh, I have heard of it, but you need to tell me about it.
Whitney: It was created by my friend Tony Stubblebine, who created CrowdVine. Do you remember CrowdVine from a few years ago?
Paul: I do not. I'm sorry to say.
Whitney: CrowdVine was the original social network for conferences, totally awesome Web app, and I don't know that it's entirely defunct. I would love if it was still being used, but essentially, it would allow people to connect with conference attendees prior to the conference.
So, you could set up who you were going to meet and who you already knew and what events or sessions you wanted to attend and stuff, and it was, like, a great planner. Then, you can go and actually check off people that you had met at the conferences pre-Lanyard.
Anyway, that was created by Tony Stubblebine. Now, he's created the Lift app, which is something that when he first was testing it with friends, I tried it, and I was, kind of like, Okay. I see the concept. I like the concept. It's in line with the way I think, but I don't have any room in my life for this.
Just recently, I went back to it, and I'm, like, Whoa. I get it now. So, it is like a to-do app in that you add tasks to it. However, these are not one-off things that you need to achieve in a day. These are the habits you're trying to form.
So, every single day, when you pull up the app, the same habits appear. It's one single list. You can complete those every day, and you can see the running totals of how many days in a row you've completed it, or how many weeks in a row you've completed it.
You can add notes to it. What's also fun is that they are shared across the community. So, when you're typing in a task or a goal or a habit that you want to add to your list, it's doing a search throughout the community. It shows you all of the relevant matches.
You can choose to add your own, in your own wording, or you can select one that other people are participating in, and then, you can see the thousand people that are all trying to take a multi-vitamin every day or trying to do yoga every day.
So, recently, because I have a lot of practices assigned to me through the coaching program, I am doing The Artist's Way with a group of friends right now, and there are a lot of tasks that are assigned each week in the reading, things that I want to be able to get done.
Just in the work that I'm doing to develop myself, I'm trying to make better habits stick in creating a routine, in making sure the things that really matter to me I'm getting done every day, and I'm not just getting stuck in my to-do list of tasks that are one-off things that I just feel I have to get done that day for some reason, but the things that really, truly matter, to help me to be the person that I want to be.
I'm putting those into Lift. I've only been back using it, like, the last five or six days, but I'm loving looking at it each night and checking off all the things that I achieved. Yes, I went to yoga. Yes, I did meditation. Yes, I took my multi-vitamin. Yes, I called or e-mailed a good friend out of nowhere. Yes, I - one of them was - I wrote in my journal.
I have a bunch of them, and not all of them are intended to be achieved every day, and that's okay. It's not like the numbers are ticking up, like, in an inbox of all the things that I haven't gotten done that day. Some of them are weekly goals, but it's still so nice to have that there.
It gets back to what you were saying about that repetition. If you don't do it one day, that's okay. You know, you can break the chain. I feel as though that's almost a little too rigid for me, even though I like the concept. It's too much pressure for me.
Once I feel as though there's, like, this external pressure, I rebel against it. So, instead, it's that list is just there for me to check in with. If I did it that day, great. If not, it's going to appear on the list again tomorrow. It's not stacking up. It's just showing the same list every day, and I'm absolutely loving it. I really recommend it.
Paul: That's pretty awesome. I'm looking at some of the screen shots of it right now. You know, it's interesting because it reminds me a lot of the daily review feature in Things - which is my to-do app of choice - because you can also set up repeating things, pun fully intended.
So, if there's something I need to do on a regular basis, I can set it in there, and say, you know, every two weeks, on Monday, show this to me. Usually, I use it for stuff, like, Hey, I've got to swap out my contacts. It's been two weeks. Stuff like that.
Then, I look at that every day. In theory, I look at that every day, and I review what I need to do that day, right, but I think the interesting part of Lift is the community around it and the fact that it's gravitating towards habits.
Now, you could use, you know, things or any list app or anything like that to do this, but, you know, not having used it but just the whole community aspect is pretty wild to me. I mean, I like that notion and, you know, that's something.
When I think about - in the context of my running - that's something that I like about Nike Plus. It's because then, you know, a little bit of not breaking the chain stuff, a little bit of the community stuff, but really, being able to look at a chart in the app, and say, like, Wow. This is when I did it.
I can see it over time. For me, that's the exciting stuff, too. Like, the numbers part of me digs that stuff so much. You know, because then I can see a chart and see how I did and all that stuff. It looks like some of that stuff is also in Lift, and that's something that I think is unique to it versus a straight-up to-do list app because it might tell you, like, Hey, you did this task eight times, but in Lift, you know, it has a very nice graph that goes along with it, and it's just something you can, kind of, reflect on as well.
You know, that takes the box - full pun intended - for making lists and for people who love lists, right, because it's, you know, that satisfies that geeky need that we've got. The other thing, too, gummy multi-vitamins are the way to go.
Paul: Totally. They are so great. I highly recommend them because here's the deal. [laughter] I do not like the taste of multi-vitamins. They suck. They taste awful, and I've always had a problem with that, always, always, always, so I need something that either has no flavor or a good flavor.
For a while, I was taking, gosh, the Nature Made ones that are gel. So, they're not tablets. So, they're just little gel caps, so there's no flavor, and then, my son started taking the gummy multi-vitamins, of course, right? Then, you know, realized, Hey, there are adult ones available, too. So, gummy multi-vitamins. That's my endorsement of the week, not an app, but fricking gummy multi-vitamins because they're awesome.
Whitney: I'm going to have to try that because I take a lot of different vitamins, and my multi-vitamin, oddly enough, is my least favorite because it tastes so weird.
Paul: They taste terrible. There's this weird metallic, kind of grainy, and natural and metallic tastes happening at the same time. It drives me nuts. I don't like it. You know what? Honestly, that, in the past, stopped me from taking it because it just tasted so awful.
I knew it. Like, it's one of those things. You know it's good for you. You've got to take vitamins. Hulk Hogan told you to do it. You've got to do it, but when it tastes so bad, it's, oh, gosh. So, that's been solved, thankfully, by modern technology.
Whitney: You know, gummy multi-vitamins is your balance.
Paul: [laughter] It totally is. It totally is. That's great. I love it. It is because I, you know, I'm not going to take no vitamins because I know they're good for me, right? I'm not going to take the disgusting tabs from drug store "X." So, somewhere in between is the gummy for sure.
Whitney: I'm going to go check it out. There's a phenomenal health food store in our neighborhood. I'm going to go see if they have gummy multi-vitamins that are organic. Let's see if that happens.
Paul: I bet those exist. That's pretty awesome. I love it.
Whitney: So, regardless of whether you are repeating these things, if you're taking your multi-vitamin every day, or if you're sticking to the eating plan or doing your yoga or whatever, part of what I struggle with against balance - and I think this is just because of my mentality - is that it feels as though you're trying to balance in the positive direction.
Like, you're in a negative place, and you're trying to get into a positive place. At least, that's how I think about it when it's discussed, but when I'm thinking about it now, more deeply, now that we're talking about it - because I think this must be the longest conversation about balance I've ever had - I'm coming to a realization that it's the balance of the good and the bad.
It means allowing yourself the bad as much as striving for the good. It's not about perfection. Otherwise, it would be called "perfection." It's not all good. It's some good. I'm reminded of yin and yang. I'm reminded of, you know, you can have two glasses of wine a night. I'm reminded of a piece of chocolate a day is recommended for women.
I'm reminded of a lot of things where it's understood that we crave certain things. It's understood that we even need certain things. It's when we have too much of a good thing, you know, as the saying goes, that's when we get ourselves into trouble.
I think that I don't take that in as much. I don't really accept that as being true or good because when I think about needing to be in balance, I see it as being a limitation more than allowing yourself to have those things that you want but to a certain extent, to have enough - that word that we were using earlier - without having too much.
Perhaps, my struggle is that I don't know where that line of just enough is. I either indulge, and I go into the too-much territory immediately, or I restrict myself from having it all out of fear that I will step over that "enough" boundary.
You know, one of the things that is brought to mind immediately is in the readings that I've been doing on Buddhism lately - because I have been exploring Buddhism pretty seriously - is one of the concepts, one of the primary beliefs, one of the Four Noble Truths, as it's called, is that suffering is the result of indulging in pleasures.
I really was not digging this at first when I read this. I liked a lot of things that I read about Buddhism, but specifically that, this notion that we should give up the pleasures because eventually, pleasure becomes pain, you can't sustain pleasure forever, and when that happens, you suffer. I was, like, not really buying it.
I'm buying a lot of the other stuff, but I was not buying that. I went to a meditation group earlier in the week, and then, I was reading a book that was part of the assignment for my coaching program, called "Essential Spirituality." I don't know if I told you about it yet, but it's a great book.
It's all about how all of the world's religions are essentially saying the same thing, which is kind of cool. What it clarifies for me - both this meditation group that I went to and the passage that I happened upon in the book - was that it's not that pleasure is bad or wrong or that in Buddhism or in any of these other traditions that we're being taught to not have pleasures or not have preferences or not experience the positive excitements of life. That's not it at all.
It's when a pleasure becomes a necessity, where if you cannot indulge in it, then you're in pain, that if you can't get it immediately, if you can't fulfill that craving or can't get exactly what you want, when you want it, that you become frenzied.
There is a balance to be had with pleasures of life. That isn't something that I've really accepted before. It's something that I've always resisted because I've believed that we have these sensations. We have these nerve endings that allow us to experience immense pleasure.
If we weren't designed this way - and I know people hate the word "designed" - but if we hadn't, let's say, evolved, to be this way, to have these receptors, then, perhaps, you can make a better argument that we shouldn't be indulging in them, but we have. We did evolve this way. We do have these receptors.
So, my, kind of, argument has always been, we're meant to use them. We're meant to experience all the pleasures of life in all of its intensity, but what Buddhism aims to teach is that when a pleasure becomes an obsession, when it's something you must indulge in and without ceasing, when enough is never enough, it's now become an attachment.
It's really attachments that Buddhism suggests we eliminate from our life, not pleasure at all. I'm figuring out that what they're saying is, Try to find balance.
Paul: Yes. The attachment point is a very good one because I was kind of wondering where you were going with all that, honestly, because the whole pleasure and indulgence stuff, yeah, I, you know, understand that. I can get a sense of what you mean with that, but definitely when it goes over to attachment, like, that's when it clicks for me, when you talk about it because then you are attached to an idea.
You're attached to an object. You're attached to a concept, something that is almost definitely temporary, right? That may cause suffering and may cause pain because of that attachment, and that is something that, you know, is something to examine for sure.
Whitney: One of my dear friends, Roz Duffy, told me about "Ganesha," which is symbolism, I think, in Hindu. I'm probably wrong, now that I'm saying it. I think it's one of the many gods in Hinduism. It's an elephant that has a lot of wisdom and compassion associated with it, but the reason I bring it up is because one of the diagrams of Ganesha that I've found online has a little mouse, kind of, sitting at her feet.
The mouse represents desire. What it says is, "Unless under control, can cause havoc. You ride the desire, and keep it under control, and don't allow it to take you for a ride." That's almost how I think balance is intended, what it's role in our life is intended to be.
Going back to that image that came up for me early on in our conversation with the seesaw, you have to be in control of your half of that seesaw. Otherwise, it's not really fun because you're just being jolted up and down by the other person, or you're letting gravity and momentum take over.
It can be very disorienting, especially if one person is much heavier or lighter than the other. So, you know, it's really only fun when it's a balanced ride and when you are enjoying flying up in the air, but you're also enjoying being rooted down and allowing that other person to dangle.
So, I feel like I'm starting to see, kind of, how balance can play a really positive role, that it doesn't just have to be something to resist, that it's not trying to be a limitation in our lives but that it really is a way of continuing to enjoy the pleasure longer term, rather than having it envelope you, control you, and turn it into a pain ultimately.
Paul: Right. Right. Right. Right. So, I love the Ganesha stuff because I had forgotten all about that. So, thanks for mentioning that, and thanks to Roz for mentioning it, too. It's kind of related. It's a quote from Suzuki Roshi, from "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," that I must share because I think this kind of gets to the point with the seesaw as well.
Basically, he's talking about control. There's a great essay in that book about control and how you control somebody is to give them freedom and rules, and it's really great, but what he says is this is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha nature: "Losing its balance against a background of perfect balance." Right? Right?
Whitney: I love that.
Paul: I mean, that's it. It's so good. It's so good because for me, you know, it's that balance. I'm going to go circular on you, but it's the balance between everything is out of balance, but that also means that everything is actually in balance, too, which makes sense to me when I say it out loud, believe it or not.
Whitney: Everything is in balance. The globe keeps spinning.
Paul: Yes. Yeah, it does. It's true.
Whitney: We keep standing on it. We keep getting drawn into the earth's core. We keep waking up every day and going to sleep every night. The sun rises and sets. There's two sides to every coin. We are all a part of that. I think it's when we resist that pleasure and pain, and we resist that in-and-out and up-and-down, and we try to stay in one state all of the time, that's when we lose our balance.
Paul: Yes, because we don't have to stay in one state. We don't have to take one position or the other. We are messy. We are in that grey area because we are in balance by not being in balance.
Whitney: I really can't thank you enough for choosing this topic tonight, Paul, because this is something I didn't think I could really talk about, and it was not something that I really understood, and I think I get it for the first time now.
Paul: Yeah, that's awesome, Whitney. Well, I'm glad I got to talk about it with you because I wanted to explore it, and I knew this would be something that would be kind of interesting because I didn't know where it would go either. So, that's what this is all about. I'm so glad.
Whitney: Wow. What a great chat. Well, thanks to everyone for listening today. We, as always, want to hear your feedback. Have these Podcasts been helpful to you? Interesting? Are you learning things about yourself? Are you able to identify with what we're sharing?
If you have any feedback for us on the format, on topics you'd love to see us cover, or anything else, please share those with us. We also want to make you aware that we have a Twitter account now, Designing You. Yep. That's always exciting. It feels official, right?
Paul: It feels totally official. It's weird to have my own Podcast following me, but I love it, too. [laughter] So, yeah. It's Designing You, and it's Y-O-U, spelled out that way. Another thing, too, is that, you know, on the feedback stuff, please feel free to Tweet @DesigningYou or @WhitneyHess or @PaulMcAleer. You know, we are on Twitter all the time, practically. So, we love that feedback.
Another thing, too, is that for those of you who are hip to the iTunes and love the iTunes stuff, you know our Podcast is available on the iTunes store. This is the portion of the show, and this is the first time, that I will ask you to leave feedback on the iTunes store because, well, it's feedback. It's good stuff. That helps other people find the Podcast, too. That would be super-useful. So, if you feel so moved, that would be wonderful. Please do that.
Whitney: Wow. Well, I can't wait to see what we talk about next.
Paul: Yes, me either. This has been great. Thank you so much for the conversation tonight.
Whitney: Thank you, too. Have a good night.
Paul: You, too. Thanks for listening everyone. We'll talk to you soon.