Cheat Codes for the Game of Life

One of the best things I’ve read online in a very long time.

I normally wake up very early — think pre-dawn — and start my day lounging in bed. After checking the day’s weather and any text messages that might have come in overnight, I head over to Twitter to see what’s going on.

Most of the folks I follow tweet about politics and I have to admit that I’m getting very tired of it. We generally agree on things, but reading about Trump’s conflicts of interest or golf outings or outrageous tweets gets old after a while. That might explain why I limit my Twitter time to early mornings, late evenings, and the occasional break in the middle of the day.

But this morning there was a treat in my Twitter newsfeed: a link to an article by Mark Manson. Eager to read anything that wasn’t related to the GOP’s attempt to deny healthcare to millions of Americans or the insanity of yet another presidential election with a right-wing nut job on the ballot, I clicked and read.

I don’t know who Mark Manson is, although his blog identifies him as ” Author. Thinker. Life Enthusiast.” Sounds like a guy I’d really like. Apparently he’s written a lot about psychology and life in general. At the end of the article was a link to sign up for a newsletter and get an ebook; I might do that. Why? Well because the article I read was so well written, wise, and completely on point.

I don’t want to rehash what he wrote here. I want to urge you to read it for yourself. It’ll take you about 15 minutes and it isn’t the least bit dull. In fact, it’s a somewhat fun read, written with a sense of humor that I can really appreciate.

I will give you a teaser, though. There are two things I took away from this that I hadn’t thought of before:

  • Five levels to the game of life. This reminds me a lot of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I mentioned in this blog post from 2016 about making things happen for yourself. In fact, when you finish Mark’s post, you might want to come back and read what I wrote there.
  • Solutions vs. Distractions. All I have to say about this is wow. Mark is 100% right about this; why didn’t I see it that way? This has the potential to be life changing for me — and it might be for you, too.

The one thing he did discuss at some length that I already know very well is how you are responsible for yourself.

If there’s one thing I detest is how some people complain about stuff they can control and blame their problems on others. For 29 years, I lived with a man who never admitted (or apologized for) his mistakes or took responsibility for his failures. All he did was blame others. And the older he got, the more blame he threw around. He was his own worst enemy. By the time we parted ways, he was an angry old man, blaming me for his dead-end life when he had plenty of opportunities to make his life better. It’s been nearly five years and he’s probably still blaming me for everything that went wrong with his life. I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

Unfortunately, there are many people just like him. People who hold themselves back in the game of life because they refuse to take responsibility for their own situation. They point fingers at everyone except themselves. They somehow expect the people they blame to stop their own lives and fix theirs.

Of course, that doesn’t usually happen because it isn’t usually possible.

Seriously, you need to read this. Even if you’re on top of your game, you will learn something from it. Better yet, you’ll realize, like I did, that it’s a great piece for anyone who might be floundering on Level 3 — or one of the lower levels. Something you’ll want to share on Twitter or your Facebook feed to make someone else’s life better.

After all, isn’t it better to share something that can actually help people than the same old angry and hateful political crap circulating around?

Go read it now.

On Social Media Addiction

I’ve known for a while; now what am I going to do about it?

The other day, one of my Facebook friends, Lynda Weinman, shared an article from the New York Times titled “Addicted to Distraction” by Tony Schwartz. It began with the following paragraph:

ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

The author had just described a condition I’d been suffering with for at least a year — the inability to stay focused on something for more than a short while.

The author of this piece blames his problem on being connected to the Internet all the time. In his case, the problem is primarily email, although, like me, he also finds himself compulsively Googling for answers to questions that pop up in conversation or or his mind. From there, he says it’s difficult to “resist surfing myself into a stupor.” Sound familiar?

My problem is not email. In fact, email is such a nuisance these days that I don’t even bother checking it every day. I figure that if something is important, I’ll get a phone call or text. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. But as I type this, my Inbox has 2215 messages, 92 of which are unread. Obviously, the best way to contact me is not by email.

So if email isn’t distracting me, what is? Social media, of course.

I’ve been active on social media since 2007, when I joined Twitter. I embraced Twitter and made many “virtual friends” there, many of whom have become real friends who I’ve met in the flesh and shared meals with. I follow a select group of people who tend to post interesting things that entertain or educate me. As someone who worked alone all day — I wrote for a living back then — I considered Twitter my “water cooler,” the place I went when I needed a break from my work and wanted social interaction.

Then came Facebook and LinkedIn and Google+. I grew to dislike all of them pretty quickly. Facebook was social networking for the masses, where people lazily shared image-based memes spread around by sites looking for clicks. So many of these people were real-world friends and it was disappointing to see that they didn’t have anything better — or even more personal — to share. On LinkedIn, I was approached more frequently by spammers trying to sell me goods or services than anyone interested in a mutually beneficial, friendly relationship. And Google+ never really got off the ground so I stopped using it pretty quickly. A visit to my account there shows I have more than 700 followers there and I still can’t understand why when there’s nothing in my account to follow.

Still, Facebook sucked me in and continues to do so on a daily basis. I think it’s the potential for conversation that attracts me. Again, I live and work alone and it’s a place for social interaction during my day. I’ve stopped following the folks who have nothing interesting to share, as well as the folks who share hate-filled political messages. What’s left is a handful of people I like, posting original content or links to interesting content elsewhere on the Web. Sure, there’s still a bunch of crap in my timeline every time I visit, but I’ve become pretty good at ignoring it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I visited Twitter and Facebook occasionally, as I did when I first began using them. But I don’t. I’m on and off both services all day long. I start not long after waking, when I’m lying in bed waiting for the clock to tick to a more reasonable time to get up. (I wake up very early some mornings and would prefer staying in bed until at least 5 AM.) Then, if I have a tablet or my phone at breakfast, I check in some more. When I sit at my computer, I’m constantly checking in to see if anything is new and either commenting on someone else’s post or replying to comments on mine. At any idle moment, I’m more likely to reach for my phone to check social media than sit in quiet contemplation.

And then there’s the sharing. Any time I see something I think is interesting or funny, I take a picture of it and share it on Twitter or Facebook or both. And, while I’m sharing on Facebook, I usually check to see what’s new and spend time reading, commenting, and following links.

Both Twitter and Facebook have become tools for “surfing myself into a stupor.” Although I’m pretty good at resisting link bait — think headlines like “Shocking new photos reveal that Princess Charlotte is very cute” (Mashable) and “Adorable baby goat learns how to hop by copying its human friend” (Mashable), and “Soda-loving bear, ‘the dress’ among the weirdest stories of 2015 (USAToday) — I do enjoy (and learn from) reading articles about science, psychology, and history (to name a few). After all, that’s how I found the Times article that triggered this post. And a great article this morning titled “12 bad reasons for rejecting scientific studies” on a site I’d never heard of before, The Logic of Science. And countless other extremely informative, thoughtful pieces. So I do learn and grow from things I find in social media. That’s good, right?

Yes and no, but mostly no right now. I don’t need to be checking in all day long to reap the benefits of social media. I can limit my access to an hour or so a day. I can use my browser’s “read later” feature to accumulate articles to read when I’m not on social media. It’s not going to kill me to miss a friend’s update or a link to something of interest or value to me.

There’s only so much information I can squeeze into my head. As the author of the Times piece says,

Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.

Some people will argue that this isn’t true. That your brain isn’t like a hard disk that can be filled up. But I definitely believe there’s at least some truth in this.

But it’s the distraction that bothers me most. The inability to just sit down and read a book or magazine without my mind wandering away to something else. Or feeling a need to share something I just thought of with friends. My inability to stay focused when I want or need to sit down and read or write.

Facebook Update
I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I stopped suddenly, went online, and posted this update. 27 minutes later, am I gratified to see that a stranger liked it? What does that mean?

This blog post is an excellent example. I’m only 2/3 finished with it and I’ve already left it several times to check Facebook. Although once was to get the link to the Logic of Science article above (which really is good), I did post comments and even send an update that has nothing to do with this blog post. (Yes, my mind wandered to my driveway and the scant amount of snow left on it by yesterday’s all-day flurry event.) Social media has become a tool for procrastination, more insidious than a television because it’s with me all the time.

Ironically, when I first started writing this blog post, I looked back through older posts for one I’d written about sharing image-based text memes on Facebook. I didn’t find that one because while I was looking I found one far more appropriate to share. Written in October 2007 — yes, eight years ago! — “Is Social Networking Sucking Your Life Away?” is a foreshadowing of what was to come. Clearly I realized way back then that social networking was a time suck. Back then, I couldn’t understand why or how others could let their time be wasted in such trivial pursuits. But now here I am, with the same problem I couldn’t understand.

Now I understand it.

Back in January 2015, I wrote a blog post titled “2015 Resolutions.” The very first one on my list was to “Fight the Social Media Addiction.” I realized then that I had a problem and even came up with a workable solution to fight it: place limits on social media time and updates. Did I do this? Maybe for a few weeks.

(The only one of those resolutions I kept was to stay out of Starbucks; it’s been almost a year without Starbucks and I’m quite pleased with myself.)

Clearly, I need to try harder.

I read the comments on the Facebook post where Lynda shared the link to the Times piece. One of Lynda’s friends said, “I was a better person and a better artist before the iPhone.” I added:

I was a better writer before Facebook.

He could have been describing me here. I struggle to read now. Can’t stay focused. Reread the same paragraphs over and over. Constantly checking social media and following links to articles I shouldn’t care about. I knew I had a problem last year when I tried to include a limit in my New Years resolutions. I lasted less than two weeks.

I’ll try again. This time, I’ll take social media off my phone. And I’ll put a post-it note on my computer with one question to remind me: “What are you doing?”

Thanks for sharing this. It was a good read — and a good reminder.

What are you doing?
Maybe this will help remind me to stay focused while I’m using my computer?

Are you addicted to social media? Think about it and beware of denial. The first step to fighting an addiction is to admitting that it’s real.

Read the Times article for yourself and see what you come away with.

Postponing Happiness

Could it be true?

LifeThe other day, I spent some time with a friend of mine who just happens to be a psychology intern at the local hospital. We talked at length about some of the things I’ve gone through in the past few years. Recent events have left me concerned that I might be suffering from PTSD from something seriously weird that happened to me when I worked at the Grand Canyon in 2004. My friend has been helping me work through those concerns, as well as the pain I still feel, over a year later, from my ex-husband’s betrayal and subsequent abuse.

My friend seems to think that I changed after the June 10, 2004 event. She thinks it affected my personality. But although that was a long time ago and my memory isn’t too clear, I disagree. While I admit that I thought about the event every single day for years afterward, I don’t think it made me a different person — at least not on the outside. It didn’t change my dreams and goals; it just made me angry. (Apparently, more angry than I realized.) Sadly, the only person I could talk to about a possible personality change back then — my wasband — isn’t allowed to talk to me anymore. (His new mommy won’t let him. Either that or he’s simply too ashamed of what he’s done to our lives to face me.)

What did change my personality, however, was the illness and subsequent death of my friend Erik. Erik’s sudden illness hit my hard; it made me realize that life can be taken from you at any time and that it was important to do what you wanted to do as soon as you could. Waiting for retirement was idiotic — I knew that better than ever before.


As I shed debt, my wasband accumulated it. He bought a condo in Phoenix with a huge monthly maintenance fee as the housing market went into decline; the monthly payments on that were more than our house mortgage payments. He bought a Mercedes sedan he didn’t need. He used the home equity line of credit for overdraft protection on his own personal checking account for years, thus increasing its balance by thousands of dollars while I was paying it down. He was a slave to his job — which he hated — because of the debt he kept building. In the 20-20 vision of hindsight, I realize that he resented me because I had more free time to do the things I wanted to. He didn’t understand that I had that freedom because I simply didn’t have such a huge debt burden forcing me to work harder or longer than I wanted to.

As for his promise to join me on the road…well, that was one of his many empty promises, something he told me to give me hope without actually doing anything to make a positive change in our lives. His 55th birthday came and went; my reminders of his promise were met with new promises that were also broken. I think the broken promises hurt almost as much as the lying and cheating that came later.

I explained all this to my friend, telling her about how the sudden urgency I felt about living my life changed what I did. At the time, I was working two careers — as a writer and a pilot — and was struggling in both, working harder than I ever wanted to and having little time off. I explained how I realized that debt ties us to jobs we don’t really like or want — or, in my situation as a freelancer and business owner, working harder than we want to on jobs we do like — making us slaves. The solution was easy: get out of debt. I stopped buying expensive things I didn’t need, concentrated on investing in my business, and paid all credit card balances in full every month. I made extra payments toward our mortgage and the home equity line of credit to pay them off quicker.

I also told her about the promise my husband had made to me back in 2006, right around the time we married after 23 years together: that when he turned 55, he’d leave his job and join me on the road half the year, spending the summer doing work with my helicopter in a place we could avoid Arizona’s brutal summer heat. One of my business investments had been for a 5th wheel RV, the “mobile mansion,” that was big enough for both of us and our dog. We’d work together and play together all summer long. He’d be able to chase down some of his dreams with the free time we had every winter back in Arizona.

Out of the blue, my friend suggested that I was postponing my happiness.

Of course, I denied it — a knee-jerk reaction to the suggestion. Postponing my happiness? How could I be? After all, I’m happy now. I’m living in a beautiful place I love, surrounded by friends. My business is doing surprisingly well — even in this economy at this time of year — and I have plenty of free time to enjoy the activities I like: hiking, wine tasting, writing, making a new home on a blank slate of 10 acres of my own land.

But then she reminded me about how I’d worked so hard to get my finances in order. Had I been happy then? I thought about it. I told her I was laying the ground work for the future. Besides, I was waiting for my husband to join me.

“Exactly,” she said. “Postponing happiness.”

There was nothing I could say to deny that.

“What about now?” she asked me. “What are you doing to postpone your happiness?”

I could think of just one thing: delaying the construction of my new home. But there were reasons for that and there was nothing I could do to change them. I had to wait.

In the meantime, I was working on my land, settling in my bees, making a pathway, prepping for next season’s garden, planting wildflower seeds. I had friends over for dinner at least once or twice a week. And I did lots of other things that made me happy, including getting out with friends and traveling.

I knew that I wasn’t happy when I was married. I knew that my wasband was part of that problem — during that last year we were together, he was never happy and he seemed to constantly disapprove of anything I wanted to do. I knew that in that last year, my happiest times were the times I was away from home, in Washington, free to do the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. Free from the man who seemed to try so hard to make me feel guilty about my life decisions and the happiness they gave me.

I’d never thought of my marriage as something that was postponing my happiness, but it so obviously was.

So the question remains: am I still postponing my happiness? I don’t think I am. But her suggestion has planted a seed in my mind. You can bet I’ll be thinking about it in the months to come.