high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Stretch goals: Not just a buzz word anymore

With grad school long since finished, all current ASOFAI books read, a momentary stoppage on house projects with the completion of the front porch, and a corresponding increase in the regularity that workouts and runs occur, I decided that this weekend I would sit down and establish some goals.  Mostly this meant coming up with things to do in my free time, but I've found it necessary to frame these things as "goals" so that I actually do them rather than spend all my time laying on the couch reading.  A little explicit commitment can go a long way toward not settling for the same-old same-old.

My thoughts exactly
Some of the items that made the short list came pretty easily to mind, and included "Take one course in a language by the end of 2012" and "Run your fastest marathon yet by November of next year."  But other possibilities were less sure, because goal-setting is actually tricky business, believe it or not.  For example, I considered making it a goal to update the blog at least once every two weeks for the coming year.  A respectable goal, right?  But by defining a goal like that, am I not in a way discouraging myself from updating the blog more than once every two weeks?  I hate to think that the blog would become just another task to be checked off once the goal is completed, when it should really be something that serves as a natural outlet for creativity and thinking, and something that provides real enjoyment.  The blog should not be a "job," and it seems that harnessing it with a goal would put it into that realm.

It seems to me that another way goals can become a double-edged sword and accidentally limit one's efforts is by way of the timeframes we attach to goals.  People naturally think of personal goals on a one-year timeframe, but why stop at one year?  With my goal of starting to learn a new language, I'm purposefully saying "Take one course," but realistically this is only a starting point for something that will take numerous years before there are really any results.  If someone sets a goal for a year, does that mean at the end of the year they should quit on whatever they've started?  On the other hand, it is true that breaking things into manageable chunks helps us to accomplish goals, so maybe a timeframe less than one year would be more appropriate.    

There really is a thin line between a goal that pushes your limits as intended and one that restricts you to doing less than you are capable of doing.  My marathoning goal is mostly a matter of convenience.  There are marathons all over the place now, but otherwise there's no good reason to stop at 26 miles.  Why not 30?  Why not 40?  The 26-mile mark is set as the "finish line," but if I set the finish line at 30 miles I could probably make it.  The weariness I'll feel as I approach 26 miles probably wouldn't be as bad if I was thinking in terms of going for another 4 miles.  If I set the mark at 30, I may not feel the same level of exhaustion until mile 29.  Obviously there are limits to this, but it's sometimes difficult to tell when the limits are psychological and self-imposed, and when you've really gone as far as you can go.

At this point you may have set an immediate goal of preventing yourself from gouging your eyes out as an involuntary reaction to this annoying flood of speculation and self-questioning.  Let me assist you in achieving that goal by moving on to some less drivel-rich content...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading this post is a sign of true character

Much time of late has been spent engrossed in George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  As noted in prior posts, I read the series for the first time a few years ago, and upon the release of the newest book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, I decided to re-read all the books before getting to the most recent addition to the saga.  While Martin has been criticized for his snail's pace in releasing the books, much of the reason for fans' impatience is because of Martin's obvious talent in telling the story, which makes readers long for the next chapter in the tale to unfold.  Part of the appeal of Martin's writing in this series is that he combines classic fantasy elements (dragons, magic, knights) with a historically-grounded setting.  He paints a picture of lords and peasants, castles, and warfare that closely resembles the lifestyle in certain parts of the world in human history.

The direwolf, fearsome sigil of House Stark
The series is built around the concept of various "houses," or families, each going back many years and involving histories of both heroic and despised figures.  In keeping with the historical theme, each house has its own sigil, meant to represent the family in some way.  In a number of cases, the family is very mindful of building its identity around the sigil it has chosen.  For example, House Lannister has a lion as its sigil, so the members of the family think of themselves as having lion-like characteristics (ferocity, power, etc) and try to display those characteristics in life.  Lions don't necessarily have anything to do with the family or the area in which they live, but at some point a connection was made between lions and Lannisters, and so the Lannisters purposefully make an effort to enhance that image.

Think of it this way: Professional football teams have a mascot.  Some mascots are connected to the city in which the team plays.  For example, the San Francisco team is the 49ers, in reference to the gold rush that occurred in the area's history.  On the other hand, Chicago's team is the Bears.  The mascot has nothing to do with the city, and is simply chosen because it makes for a fearsome, intimidating image.  But the marketing folks for the Chicago Bears will eagerly try to make the players fearsome like bears and project the characteristics of bears onto the team.

My uncle once said that professional football is just modern-day tribal warfare, and I've oft thought that truer words were never spoken.

Monday, October 10, 2011

If you need something to read while surfing the web during lunch at work...

Untapped market: Edible brown paper lunch bags
Being a planful, health-conscious, and generally tight-wadded individual who places a lot of emphasis on what I'll be consuming throughout each day for purposes of replenishing my calorie stores, it comes as no surprise that I am very purposeful about grocery shopping.  A lot of thought goes into the weekly grocery list to ensure that the items I buy will be appropriate for comprising both dinners each evening and lunches each day at work in the week to come, all at the best price.  A balance must be struck between food that tastes good and food that is good for you, meals that are standbys and meals that stretch your culinary repertoire, ingredients that are merely marketed as high quality and ingredients that truly make a difference in the cooking.

While planning and cooking dinners is a genuinely enjoyable activity, planning and preparing lunches is more of a task.  You can't host people for lunch at work, and although there is some ability to put some simple ingredients together at your desk, you can't truly cook anything in the office.  There is little enjoyment to be found in placing items in tupperware containers and carrying them to work with you, especially when you know that you'll likely be having the same thing the next day.

The exception to this rule is leftovers.  Leftovers are like a refreshing redux on the previous night's dinner-making enjoyment.  Obviously you aren't preparing the meal all over again, but in eating the leftovers at work you are reminded of the enjoyment that went into the initial preparation.  Leftovers are the perfect lunch because you don't need to spend any extra time preparing something in the morning and they break up the monotony of the "daily salad," so to speak.