Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

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The joys of being a beginner

For many of us, the older we get, the less we do new things. We might learn a new hobby in college, but after that, it kind of levels off. If we’ve always been into running, we might still run. If we’re into sci fi, we read more sci fi. We already know what we like, goes the thinking, so we’re good. Why spend the effort to learn an entirely new thing? Isn’t being a raw beginner frustrating and difficult and just kind of not worth it? I find the opposite is true— being a beginner is freeing, and, dare I say, fun?

In zen Buddhism, there’s a concept called shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” Continue reading

Do we need art?

I have always liked art– drawing, reading, museums. But I went through a very literal phase as a teenager where I sort of didn’t get it. What’s the use? I’d ask. What’s the benefit? That’s nice, that’s fun, but is it important? Do we really need art? Shouldn’t we study engineering, or microbiology, or something? Now, I think the answer is yes, and yes.

We all have feelings, thoughts, orientations to the world. These can arise seemingly on their own and sit there, uninterrogated, shaping our lives. They may or may not be visible to us. Are we at their mercy, or do we have the capacity to guide them, direct them, respond to them deliberately? And how does this impact our well-being, as individuals and as communities?

I think that art— experiencing it, viewing it, reading it, hearing it, making it— is a way to engage with our thoughts and feelings outside of the direct lens we usually experience through. Like maybe we can sidle up to them and get close to them before we put up our guard. Or we can see them from a different angle than the head-on way we usually do.

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On Alignment

What do you think of when you hear the word alignment? The wheels on your car? Your body position in a yoga pose? I bet it’s not online education. . . but hear me out.

Because I believe breakthroughs come from cross-pollination among disciplines, I’m going to borrow this concept from Quality Matters— which is a system for evaluating the quality of online courses. In this context, alignment refers to the relationships among course objectives, unit or module objectives, instructional materials, learning activities, and assessments. Are the outcomes measurable and appropriate, at both levels? Are the course components aligned with those outcomes? This sounds basic, but it can be surprisingly challenging to achieve. Mapping out these connections can be difficult– and enlightening. I’ve done it as both a course instructor and a peer reviewer for other courses, and found it enormously valuable.

So let’s distill this idea down to the basic components: set high-level goals, set smaller goals to support the big goals, and choose actions and assessments that align with those goals.

Where else can we use this simple structure to improve things?

  • Clinical management. The patient’s “big-picture” goals are surprisingly frequently absent from the conversation. But patient-centered care demands identifying goals for health and for life. A care plan that doesn’t include an assessment of goals is in peril before it even gets off the ground. And I don’t mean goals like “get A1C less than 7%”. I mean goals like “extend my healthy lifespan so that I can travel in retirement”. That might be a radical shift and it might alter management. Or it might mean the same basic management plan is perceived very differently by the patient. I’ve written about the concept of concordance in healthcare before– it’s similar. Aligning our plans to treat, follow-up, and assess our patients with our shared goals, both long-term and more immediate, is crucial to effective care.
  • Career trajectories. I recently wrote about the challenges of focus in an academic/clinical career.  What if, instead of a single-minded focus on a narrow area, each opportunity is considered in terms of alignment with “big-picture” goals? This approach allows for more bricolage (which, BTW, can make work relevant and grounded), more cross-pollination, more serendipity, more diversity– without falling into a scattered mess. I have a couple of broad interest areas and goals, and I find that rather than continue to narrow into extreme sub-specialization, I prefer to exist as a practicing member of the communities I’m a part of, and participate in projects that align with those areas.
  • Self development. This is what tools like the Passion Planner promote– making big goals, identifying smaller pieces of those goals, and taking steps to move towards them. The act of identifying goals, and identifying small steps, is enormously powerful in making progress. It takes deliberate thought and reflection, but the outcomes of small actions over time that are all aligned with a goal can be mind-blowing.

So there you go. Take a simple principle, and see how powerful it can be in different contexts. Think about how Atul Gawande used a checklist strategy from aviation to improve surgery, and think about what big ideas might disrupt your regular practices.

What’s on your keychain? What’s in your heart?

I listened to an interview the other day on the Outside Magazine podcast. It was Tim Ferris, of all people, talking with Cheryl Strayed.  And boy is she something! I knew this, of course, having read Wild and cried over Tiny Beautiful Things. But Tim Ferris? Not really my thing. But he was, and so was she. They talked about writing, among other things, and she mentioned a favorite writing prompt to be about an object, a talisman— beginning with something simple like your keychain.

My keychain has a long, shiny, neon-pink rod with a tapered end attatched. It’s ridged all the way down, with a flat bottom. It looks like something that might belong to Christain Grey . . but it’s acutally a self-defense keychain, or kubotan. A tool– or a weapon, depending on how you think about it. I have mixed feelings about it.  I’m not interested in weapons. I don’t like guns. I wish we could all just get along, hold hands, et cetera.
I’d never, ever initiate violence against someone— but I would defend myself or my loved one if it became necessary. That’s a powerful thing to learn about yourself— or decide about yourself. I decided that about myself in my first year of becoming UNFUCKWITHABLE (2017). Listen,  2016 felt disasterous to me in a lot of ways, and I felt so sad and defeated at the end of it. 2017 was the year I decided to get up and handle my shit. I started learning self-defense (krav maga), got stronger, focused on yoga and meditation, planned my priorities carefully. I met some amazing friends and teachers. I cried for a while, and then I started working to close the cracks in my life.
And now, I have this keychain. Sometimes, I hold this object in my hand, my thumb over its flat base, my fingers slotted into its grooves, as if ready— and it changes my fear and sadness into power.

Fragility and Resilience

Ever injure yourself in a really dumb way? Come on, yes you have. Recent stories I’ve heard from other early-30’s women at my gym: 1. I stepped on a lime and sprained my ankle. 2. I sprained my toe putting on underwear. I mean, this is kind of funny, we joke about getting old and hurting ourselves by like, getting out of bed. But are we really fragile enough that something like that can put us down for the count?

 

Relatedly: Ever had your day completely ruined by something completely stupid? The restaurant was out of the thing you wanted. Someone forgot your meeting. Someone said something mean. And then suddenly you’re a mess, and you can’t get your mojo back (guilty!).  How can we cope with this? How can we be come resilient, to the physical and the emotional?

Resilience: from Merriam-Webster online:

  • 1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
  • 2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Ok, yeah. This sounds awesome. Sign me up! Advice for cultivating psychological resilience is generally broad— really broad. Keep a positive attitude! Maintian perspective! Practice self-care! Great, Ok, but how to I put this into practice?

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