Observing A System

Mar 10

The thing about systems is that we all have them, even people who believe they are the absolute worst at systems. What these people lack is an honest look at their systems.

An Example: Laundry

Each day I go out of the house with clean clothes. This is a desired effect, so obviously there is a system that works here. (Yay me) If I were asked to describe my system I would name my laundry basket, the washing machine, my drying rack and the closet. Yet if I look closely, sometimes there is dry laundry on the line for days, or it sits folded in a basket, or there are piles of already worn but undirty clothes on the chair in my bedroom, mixed in with stuff that belongs in the laundry basket. These elements also belong in my description of the laundry system, though they are undesired.

In reality my system is this clean clothes come out of the closet or a basket, I wear them and when I get undressed at night I throw them over the chair, sometimes I also put clothes that need to be washed into the laundry basket. When my planner tells me it is laundry day sometimes I collect all dirty clothes from the chair and the laundry basket and sort them into light and dark. The still to be worn clothes go into the closet, or stay on the chair. Sometimes I wait until “I have nothing to wear”. I wash a load. Sometime that day I also hang the laundry. It needs about a day to dry, depending on time of year. At some point, Friday evening or on the weekend when the drying rack is in my way I fold laundry and put it into a basket which I put in the bedroom next to the dresser. Sometimes I sort all the things into their places in the closet.

It’s a lot messier and not my ideal system, but it is a system and it works to do what it should, give me clean clothes. Optimizing it so that it is less messy and includes more desired behaviors is another matter.

Science Of You

Feb 26

In “Fully Present” Sue Smalley and Diana Winston explore the science of Mindful Awareness Practices, like meditation and yoga. They present research of the effect of meditation on concentration, stress, illness, emotional resilience, addiction and the structure of our brain.

They touch on the idea of using scientific method on your internal world to understand it better. From the introduction:

“Mindfulness meditation is itself a tool for discovering more about ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. This inward investigation, using the tool of mindfulness meditation, may help us understand more about ourselves from a first-person viewpoint just as science has done using a third-person lens of investigation.”

Science establishes an objective, shared, reality. Through science we learn universal truths and also within those truths how to form the world to our ideals. Mindfulness practices on the other hand, turning inward, establish a subjective, unshared, reality. They help us learn about our internal world, or stories, truths and parts and, within the constraints of our being, how to form our world to our particular ideals.

Chemistry was the lens through which I chose to study the objective world, the science with which I strove to discern universal truth and with which I sought to from, a very teeny tiny bit of, the world. Yoga is the lens through which I am choosing to study my subjective world, the “science” with which I strive to discern my personal truth and with which I seek to form my internal world. My experience with the former informs the way I approach the later. I try to bring the same scientific rigor to my internal experiments that I brought to my laboratory experiments.

When I write about my experiments here, or about systems, I want to spark in you ideas of where you can go. I want to give you methods to become your own internal scientist, cartographer, or engineer. Why? For one, I’m a huge nerd and doing things in a structured, scientific method makes me happy. I also adore teaching, especially things that make me really happy, like science and yoga and knitting. I also strongly believe that understanding yourself and how you work, building systems with these understandings in mind makes for a life of less friction and living with less friction makes for a better world. That’s my little dent, see also the title of this blog.

Defining System

Feb 24

A system is composed of parts these relate to each other in a structure or through behaviors. A structure can be a physical space, or a time space. Dates in a calendar relate to each other in time. Underwear in a drawer relate to each other spatially in containers. A behavior is a process that transforms input to output. When putting socks and bras into your underwear drawer (input) you might put all the socks in one basket and all the bras in another (output), the behavior sorts underwear according to type.

Most systems interact with their environment in some way, they are open. Scientists often like to pretend that their systems are closed, that no exchange happens with the environment. This is usually a gross simplification that makes observations easier to explain. For non-scientists looking at their systems it is important to remember that systems live in a context. Looking at underwear again; my system works in the context of my life. I share my space with one non-bra wearing person, which in this case means the bra process can process any bra into my bra-drawer. In another household there might be more bra-ed people and the process needs to include a behavior to determine which bra-drawer a bra goes to.

Anything outside the system, the surroundings, can be ignored. That my neighbor also wears bras and processes them while doing laundry is irrelevant, so is the cute bra with polka dots in the store. You don’t need to account for it in your process.

What is important to remember about systems, in a personal context, is that we all have them. Even if you can’t see them, or they aren’t doing the things you want them to do. Next steps are making the systems visible and then changing them to better do what you want.

The Art of Noticing

Feb 17

All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” – Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Once you decide not to throw your hands in the air and accept that you just are the way you are with all your harmful stories of lack and monsters that keep you petrified; once you stop believing that your psyche and body are these mysterious things outside your influence, with you being relegated to useless railing against them; when instead you decide to get curious, to get to know how you work and where there might be space to breathe and gently shift, that is when the art of noticing becomes important.

Noticing is a gentle art, full of loving curiosity. Hm, it says, interesting. It reserves judgment, instead tracking behaviors and counting clues. It doesn’t construct a story out of what it finds, neither a story of lack, nor one of heroic effort, all it does is observe and note, for some future date when your internal scientist is ready to look at all the data and form a hypothesis.

Just noticing.

It takes practice and patience. See if for a few minutes a day you can switch from judgement to noticing, from “What an idiot” to “Hm, interesting.”

The Scared is scared

Feb 10

of all the things you like.

How to talk to your monsters from the perspective of a six year old. Also, that it’s better to not go to the pool on the last day, because then you will miss it all winter, but you can go play in the snow instead.

the Scared is scared from Bianca Giaever on Vimeo.

Continuing Education

Feb 03

It used to be that to learn something in depth you’d have to go to a university for years and pay money for books and classes etc. It used to be that to get an excellent education from the best teachers you’d have to apply to an elite school. Today though it’s a whole lot easier.

You surf to Coursera.org and pick one of the classes. You sign up and when the class starts you watch the video lessons, do your homework and maybe even take a test. All courses are taught by university staff from great unis around the world. You even get a little certificate mailed to you at the end. Best of all, no financial investment is required.

Currently I’m taking a course on Game Theroy which is bending my brain in interesting ways. It’s geared towards people who grasp math and logic somewhat, but aren’t fluent in the whole symbolism, so I can follow along anyways. Yay game trees.

Courses are available in a whole range of subjects. I think I even saw a chemistry class. So if you like to learn, check them out. It might even be a good way to test out a subject you are interested in studying, before signing up to an entire Bachelor’s program.

Sleeping All The Sleeps

Jan 22

How well do you sleep and how long? Do you get all 8 hours, or more, or less? Do you always get up at the same time? Do you generally feel rested afterwards?

During December of last year my sleep schedule kind of slipped. When this happens I tend to stay up later and later and get up really late in the morning. The whole cycle shifts to long past midnight bedtimes and days where I feel like I get nothing done. Going to bed early isn’t really helpful here because my brain tends to be really wired up and I don’t sleep anyway.

The thing that does work is getting up. Always at the same time of day. For various reasons, like needing 2 hours in the morning to get from awake to functioning, I decided that a good time to get up would be 7 am. So I set my alarm for early in the morning and got up. Day after day, even on weekends. I could go to sleep at anytime during the evening, though naps are forbidden. Unfortunately it takes a while for the body to adjust. So for two weeks I ran around in a zombie brain fog. At it’s lowest point I was a crying cranky baby. But when you reach that point you know that it’s only going to get easier. And it did. Right now I get up comfortably at 7 am, I’ll continue to do so even on weekends, though my longterm plan is to allow “cheat”-days where I get to sleep in or just doze off in bed. I like that time of drifting in and out of dreams very much and don’t want to miss it.

Of course this is just the ritual now, if it starts feeling less than congruent I’ll change it again.

Some things that make it easier:

  • I put warm socks and yoga pants right next to the bed, on the floor, so that before my feet even touch the floor I have them clothed.
  • I have my early morning planned and ritualized; first I visit the bathroom and brush my teeth, while the window is open to air the bedroom, and then I do some yogic breathing exercises to activate my body, then I meditate for 10 min and maybe do a few rounds of sun salutations. Only then do I go and check out the Internets and drink tea until I am hungry for breakfast.
  • Morning starts at night, as Havi says. The grand tradition of Erev is really helpful if I have to go somewhere during the morning. I pack my bag and set up everything so I can start right away.
  • If there are problems, or exciting thoughts running through my head when I go to bed, writing them out in a diary helps calm them so I can actually fall asleep.
  • I try to eat nothing in the last 2-4 hours before bed, because a full stomach makes me uneasy lying down.
  • Turning down the lights when I first feel tired helps not keep me up too long.
  • Listening to my self and having realistic expectations of what I can achieve in a day. Because I tend to take weekends off, I always have a lot of energy on Monday and then do all the things until late in the evening. Then on Tuesdays I feel shitty and don’t get anything done. It’s very demotivating. Instead I try to only do things on Monday until I feel sort of tired and then do relaxing, nourishing things. That way I continue doing things all week and am way more productive.
  • Going to bed when I am tired, even if it is only 9 pm.
  • Remembering that I don’t have to sleep and that just resting is enough.