Monday, January 17, 2011

The Simple Secrets Project

Don't click to look inside. That's just a permanent reminder I stole this image from Amazon.
So I have a new, big life project that I'm throwing myself into this year. It's somewhat in the vein of Paused (side note: I've starting trying to make "Paused" a buzzword for 2011, interrupting all manner of conversations where people talk about what they're doing with their lives to find a way to shoehorn in the term, i.e.: "Oh, so you're Paused on carbs right now,", "Ah, you've decided to give smoking weed a Pause for now," and "Totes, broheim. I've been Perma-Paused on SNL since the 90's too.") but rather than giving up an old habit, its more about adopting new ones. And the inspiration comes from this book I randomly stumbled upon last year.

Back in February a friend moving out of the country donated half a bookshelf worth of books to me. Amongst the huge pile of books I've yet to even scratch the surface with was one called 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People, the contents of which are fairly self-explanatory. Everything inside of it is stuff you'd hear from almost any life coach, guidance counselor or wise old man inside an ancient temple at the top of a mountain you'd have to spend a full week climbing. Stuff like: 'You'll Get What You're Afraid Of,' 'You'll Work Harder If You Feel Wanted,' 'Always Think About What's Next,' all sound advice that most people wouldn't argue with.

Initially nothing drew me to the book other than its tiny size, which lent itself to being read in about a day. So I breezed through it, thought: "yeah, totally!" tossed it into a pile and forgot about it. But towards the end of this past year I was gearing up for what was already looking to be a busy 2011, and rather than just filling it up with all manner of things to fill my calendar, I decided I also wanted to make some active changes to my mindset, which I'd been less than diligent about. I remembered the Simple Secrets book, and I thought about how while everything in the book was useful, practical advice, there was no way I'd naturally ever make more than one or two small changes to my life after reading that or any other self help book, just by the nature of being human. I wondered how I could take it to the next level, and figure out a way to get more out of the concepts and suggestions presented inside.

I decided to incorporate something I'd done years ago almost a gag (but also, totally not at all): my Video Game 'To Play' List that I've been keeping since I took my year off from playing them in 2008. So I started a new spreadsheet, listing all 100 items from the Simple Secrets book, and broke them all down into four categories: Level, Priority, Task and Progress. I hope you're ready for the breakdown, 'cause there's no turning back now.

'Level' is a simple self-measurement that I took, trying to be as honest as possible with how much I truly believed and incorporated the item in my life. Something like 'Notice Patterns' is easy enough to agree with and assume you do well, but the reality is I mostly look out for certain specific patterns (douchey behavior, level of eye contact, whether you're laughing enough at my jokes) and miss plenty of others. So I'd rank myself on a scale of Low to High and consider the next step from there.

'Priority' is how much focus I think I need to give to the Simple Secret in question. Some of the items inside the book are useful but not as practical for my life or where I stand at the moment. 'Your Work And Home Life Must Fit Together' is something I'll worry more about when I'm not a bachelor who mostly goes home just to sleep and make a slight dent his DVR. I rate these items on a scale of 1-5, with the 5's being the ones I think more than anything can and should be applied to my life right away. In other words the 5's are the Mass Effect 2's in my life, and the 1's are the Bioshock 2's in my life. Make sense?

'Task' is what I'm actually going to do about it. A LOT of the secrets in the book are things we've all heard dozens of times in our lives but really, how do you just start believing and doing it? 'Learn From Losses' is a great example - I totally should be learning from my losses, rather than screaming at myself in the mirror for 4 hours, but how do I start doing that? I eventually decided to break down all the necessary tasks into five specific behaviors: Mantra, Practice, Journal, Seek Out, and Improve Behavior. Many items wound up getting more than one task, but these five behaviors pretty much summed up what I felt I needed to it.

Some items are just ideas that need to be ingrained in my head, perhaps rewriting another, more negative line of thinking. Those are mantras, things I just need to repeat to myself all the time, until there's no question in my mind that I believe it. Practicing and journaling as just that - Whenever possible I try to practice the behavior in question, and I've started a private journal that I'm trying to write in regularly with all my thoughts, good and bad, to try to track where I stand with things. Seeking out involves communicating or working with others to help improve this behavior, or gain some perspective. And the remaining items I felt like I had a good grasp on (as Ralph Wiggum has put it, "[Getting A Good Night's] Sleep is where I'm a Viking"), I would list aspire to improve the behavior, because hey, everything I'm doing well do I could probably be doing better.

Finally, there's 'Progress,' which has started as an empty column where I'm able to jot down notches, or notes or whatever I want to update the list as I go along. It'll take a fair amount of introspection and dedication, but I think even a quick glance at the list every day will push me in the right direction on a lot of things. I did initially write down a custom, 'Simple Secret 101', which was: "Create A Ridiculous Spreadsheet As A Way Of Tracking Life Goals," to really feel like I was crushing it right out of the gate. but it felt like a cheat so I took it off.

So that is the Simple Secrets Project. It has no end date, it's not something I'm really making a big deal out of to friends and family (I've only mentioned it to a handful of people at this point, and well, now you, dear reader) and there probably won't ever be a moment where I scan down the list and say to myself: "I did it!" but I do think it'll be a good thing for me, as someone who thinks a lot about his life, but often times isn't naturally inspired to make the necessary changes. If this happens to sound just crazy enough to work for any of you out there, hit me up, and if you'd like to try it, the book is super cheap, and I'd be happy to set you up with a blank copy of the spreadsheet I made.

-Matt

But I'm too tired to go to sleep tonight
And I'm too weak to follow dreams tonight
For the first time in a long time I can say that I wanna try
To get better and overcome each moment in my own way

I'm not saying that I'm giving up
I'm just trying to not think as much as I used to
Cause never is a lonely little messed up word
Maybe I'll get it right some day

'Even If It Kills Me'
Motion City Soundtrack

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