The book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg is divided into four “sessions”, roughly an hour each (whether you’re reading or listening – though I highly recommend the audiobook version). These sessions are highly practical and have usable insights into how to better communicate with others, get in touch with our needs, empathize with the needs of others, improve our relationship with ourselves, reduce anger, and so on.
Fundamentally it’s about compassion – of expressing what’s alive in us, and seeing what’s alive in others. It’s not about criticizing or judging, as we’re so apt to do.
“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”
Someone doesn’t make us angry. If we get angry, there is anger within us already. Rosenberg uses the example of working with teens, and how on two successive days he was injured while breaking up a fight. The second day saw a worse injury, but the first day saw anger where the second day saw none. Why? Because Rosenberg judged the first day’s offender as spoiled and privileged. His opinion of the second kid was of a more pitiful character in need of help. So despite the worse injury, he didn’t react in anger. Not true with the first kid. But it was the same situation. Break up the fight, get hurt. Shouldn’t he react the same way? The reality is that anger comes from our perceptions about other people, not the action itself.
And, “at the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.” If you’re angry, what are you lacking? If I get angry because no one cleaned up the kitchen, it’s infringing on my need for time, since time is precious to me and I don’t have very much of it. I also have a need for respect, which feels violated if, as the woman, I feel like I’m doing more than my fair share. And that underlines another need – for fairness and equality.
I can then communicate my need for time, respect and fairness. Instead of saying, “You didn’t do the dishes again…” I can express my need. This builds a bridge of empathy with the other person, where blame would’ve only created defensiveness.
A quote that’s relevant to this point, and explains itself:
“Two questions help us see why we are unlikely to get what we want by using punishment to change people’s behavior.
“The first question is: What do I want this person to do that’s different from what he or she is currently doing?
“If we ask only this first question, punishment may seem effective, because the threat or exercise of punitive force may well influence someone’s behavior. However, with the second question, it becomes evident that punishment isn’t likely to work: What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking?”
I like his advice about accepting responsibility for our feelings, and allowing others to be responsible for theirs as well:
“In this stage, which I refer to as emotional slavery, we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.”
Instead, when we perceive ourselves and others as free agents, we delight in making life more wonderful for others.
Equally fascinating was his discussion on compliments, which he believes to be just as alienating as insults – they both show that you sit in judgment, be it positive or negative. “Jon is so smart,” “Alison is late all the time,” it doesn’t matter the charge – the judging is the behavior that needs to change. Instead, when you offer a compliment, be specific (“Jon, the math lesson we had on Thursday really helped me understand integers more clearly”), and explain how it made you feel and the need in you they fulfilled (“it made me feel confident and capable, which helped me pass my exam”). Since reading this, I have noticed how often I sit in judgment of others, be it positive or negative.
At the start of the book, Rosenberg discusses separating observations from judgments, and detaching from our predilection to constantly judge. Instead of saying “He has such a big mouth”, which can’t be observed or measured (not metaphorically speaking, anyway), it would be more accurate to say, “I’ve noticed during the last few meetings, he’s gone on at length about some wartime anecdote that isn’t relevant to our work”. If you approach someone with an observation, not a judgment, they’ll be a) actually able to change the behavior (how do you change having a “big mouth”?), and b) they’ll be unlikely to react defensively.
I intend to listen to this book every now and then to re-engage with the concepts. I’ve noticed a difference even in the last week or so in how I’ve interacted with others.
“You could be good today, but instead you choose tomorrow.” -Marcus Aurelius
I like to read during breakfast and lunch. If I’m being totally honest, it isn’t usually books I’m reading (unless I’m in the middle of something engrossing), but rather articles – something I’ve found in my blog feed, something someone’s recommended, or something I’ve stumbled across on my own.
Today I was reading about perfect days. How your life is just a series of ordinary days. Vacations, they’re fun, but they’re not the real, everyday experience.
So if your day-to-day life isn’t up-to-snuff, then that’s a big problem. That’s your life.
As I was weeding in my garden this morning, I let these thoughts bounce around my head. What is my perfect day? A million answers emerged – I can’t settle on a template. I’m not even sure if I should.
And, am I happy in my day-to-day? If not, what am I doing wrong?
Happiness isn’t usually an external thing – not for us spoiled first-world people who don’t experience real problems. I don’t go hungry, I have a roof over my head and I’m not a victim of violence. There’s plenty of love in my life, and plenty to be grateful for. Sometimes the search for happiness seems ridiculous.
Because, really, if all my basic needs are being met – food, shelter, companionship – why shouldn’t I be happy?
And if I’m not happy, then the fault isn’t with my environment, it’s with me.
So I keep picking out weeds. There are two very specific types – one is grassy-looking, and the other is purplish and wet when you pull it from the ground. I’m picking weeds and trying to own my happiness.
(And I’m also thinking thoughts about how I kind of hate gardening, but kind of love it too. Connecting with the earth is just an essential component of being human. Then, following that, some fist-shaking “kids these days” thoughts about screen addiction.)
One major block to my happiness, I realize, is in framing. It’s in the language I use to myself. I’m going through my day thinking, “I don’t like this, I’m overwhelmed, if only this, if only that.”
What if I erased the word “overwhelm” from my internal dictionary? If I stop thinking about being overwhelmed, will I stop feeling overwhelmed?
And instead of thinking “I don’t like this” (when Jane screams in response to not getting her way, or harassing me while I’m trying to finish lunch clean-up), what if I just accepted the situation for what it is, instead of rejecting it?
And instead of thinking “If only…”, what if I started dealing in reality instead of trying to peddle a fantasy?
That’s why all these “perfect day” posts just sound like bullshit.
If you’re fathoming a perfect day, then yes, it can be motivating. It can help you get your priorities straight. Knowing the components of your perfect day can help you see what really matters to you. That’s all good, that’s not bullshit.
But as soon as you start fantasizing about your perfect day, you start resenting the little flaws in your everyday. My “perfect day” involves waking up early to practice piano. But what if I’m running on no sleep because Jane was sick in the night? What if my husband has to go to work early, and I’m unable to get fully immersed in practice because of the reality of being a mother to a small toddler?
Now my day isn’t perfect. When I look at it like that, the entire day becomes marred by this. It’s a cloud against my sunshine.
But it’s all make-believe. The cloud doesn’t exist, it’s just something I said. It’s just words.
Or maybe my perfect day involves cooking and eating something delicious. My family loves okonomiyaki. But what if Jane decides that this meal she’d rather stuff her okonomiyaki in her water glass, or eat nothing but sauce with a spoon?
I put all of this expectation into having this wonderful experience – sharing and enjoying a meal – and when it doesn’t go according to plan and the fantasy collapses, what then?
Is it better to just lose the fantasy?
Or maybe even better than losing the fantasy of a perfect day is embracing non-attachment. Don’t attach to any outcomes, que cera cera. But that’s hard. It’s really hard.
It’s language, it’s reframing, I’m sure of it. Instead of, “This child is ruining my perfect idea of dinner”, what about laughing it off? Making sideways jokes with my husband about the situation?
It’s ceding control. Life is messy and the way isn’t always paved. There are bugs in that beautiful beach image. There are slugs in the garden. If you have children, there is lots of poop.
Instead of thinking, “This is my perfect day and I’m going to iron-fist it into reality”, maybe I should simply have an outline of what my perfect day would include.
A friend or family member.
Moving my body.
Breathing fresh air.
Waking up early.
All of these, with an asterisk. All of these, not a prescription. All of these, in some capacity.
Instead of “practice piano at 6:30am”, it becomes “music”. Maybe most days I practice at 6:30am. Maybe some days I practice when my daughter goes to bed. Maybe some days I don’t practice at all, but I sing songs with her. Or we turn on Spotify and dance around.
Instead of “cook a nice meal and enjoy nice family time”, it’s just “good food”. Good food can be homemade gnocchi with sage butter sauce, and it can be pre-made veggie burgers. It can be a nice conversation with a peaceful toddler, or it can be 5-second pockets of conversation between bouts of toddler outrage.
Maybe I only breathe fresh air for five minutes while doing errands because it’s forty below. Or maybe I spend the entire spring day outdoors. Maybe I have a long and sprawling yoga session, or maybe it’s just weeding in the garden. Maybe it’s actually talking with my mom or cousin or spending time with a close friend, but maybe it’s just sending them a quick message or making someone a birthday card. Maybe it’s my daughter and I enjoying some specific, pre-arranged activity, or maybe we’re simply in the backyard with no plan and no agenda. Maybe my husband and I have a deep conversation when Jane goes to bed. Or maybe we just parallel play in silence, my feet propped up on his lap. Maybe reading isn’t always Tolstoy, and writing isn’t always striving for something. Maybe my project is getting a picture framed one day, painting with Jane the next, and decluttering one-fifth of a closet the next.
This picture is impressionist. Bright, impassioned, raw, expressive, and non-specific. Messy. It opens me up. It evokes a big yes.
(The Friday part is arbitrary; pick a day of the week and go).
It’s something I began doing in earnest at the start of the year as a way to keep on track with my larger-scale projects. It’s easy to get mired in the details on a day-by-day basis, and I tend to lose sight of the big picture.
The Friday review is a correction for that. Every Friday, I look over my quarterly and monthly goals, and look at my to-do list for the week to assess how I’m doing. Then I draft up a list of tasks for the following week.
It’s really that simple, though I’ll get into it in more depth if it’s something you’re interested in trying for yourself – something I highly recommend.
What is involved in the Friday review?
The very first thing I do with my Friday review is go over finances. I pay off my credit card (we have no debt and I pay off our card promptly), take notes in my family’s personal budget, and note any income and expenses with my business.
Since I work with someone in my business (PianoTV.net), I make sure to send him any income he’s earned each Friday. We have small streams of income filtering in throughout the month (as well as expenses), so I need to divvy it up weekly in order to stay on top of it.
Weekly to-do list
Once the budget portion is done, I look over the to-do list I made for the week. I assess what I’ve accomplished and if there are any loose threads that need tying.
I cross off what’s finished, and I mark which ones must be carried over into the following week.
Any habit-based items on the list, such as “walk every day for 45 minutes”, I figure out how close to that figure I came and make a note of it.
Friday review: Write-up
From here, I do a full write-up. I like actually writing about my week because it’s a way to re-experience everything that’s happened, and everything I’ve accomplished. The act of writing about it has a way of slowing down time and make me more attentive to details as I go through my week. It has the effect of making each week less of a whirlwind.
I can’t really explain it, but it’s magic.
My write-ups are done journal-style, and are usually about 1000 words. It takes about 30 minutes to do. My goal isn’t to write something amazing, but to look over the various areas of my life (work, family, friends, etc.) to see if my week was balanced.
(I’ll share a write-up at the end of this post so you can see what I mean).
A new to-do list for the week
From there, I re-calibrate for the next week. I draft up a new to-do list for the coming week.
This is done by carrying over any items from the previous week that I didn’t finish, and also by looking at my monthly to-do list to see what I can tackle in the coming week.
I make sure to arrange things by category (business, relationships, etc.). I also like to be quite specific when marking things down here, because I believe in the power of specific and actionable tasks.
Update everything on Nozbe
Finally, I take my big to-do list and input it onto an app called Nozbe. It’s a paid app (monthly subscription), but it’s extremely valuable and I can’t imagine not having it.
It’s basically a beautiful, intuitive and highly functional to-do list. You can keep track of projects and larger tasks with Nozbe, you can share tasks with other users (something I do with my business partner), you can attach images, files and links to to-do list items, and so much more.
I also like to go through my calendar and mark down anything from my calendar into Nozbe. That way, when I look at my daily to-do in the morning, I have a full list of what needs to be done (including appointments).
My planning system
I’ve tried various systems over the years for keeping organized, but what I find works best is a nice, big, unlined notebook (I’m obsessed with my Pentalic, and have had several). I use this notebook for anything – lists I make, ideas I have, goals, and so on. My life is in this notebook, including all to-do lists.
Aside from my notebook, I have Nozbe on my computer and phone. This is how I keep track of my day-to-day schedule.
Then there’s my calendar – it’s just a Google calendar attached to my email. The only things that go on my calendar are time-bound things like appointments and meetings.
Finally, I use Evernote. This is where I clip anything I want for reference – it’s like my digital Pentalic. My yearly goals, quarterly planning and 100 Dreams list all live here, in addition to any other random things I decide to save (anything from a hair product I want to try, to a password for an obscure site, to a blog on brands of cat food).
I tend to clean up my Evernote once a month or so, sorting through everything, giving notes a new home or deleting things that have become irrelevant.
All in all, my Friday review takes about 2 hours to do. That might seem like a lot of time, but it pays abundantly in focused productivity during the week. It’s easily the best thing I do to stay on top of my many plans and projects.
Depending on where you’re at in life, a detailed Friday review might be overkill. But I think most people could benefit from it. Give it a try for a month and see how it feels! The worst that could happen is you’re more organized and aware of how you’re spending your time… 🙂
A Friday Review Write-Up Example
Another great week!
So what made this week great?
1. The pacing was good It can be exciting when things move really fast, when you’re bouncing from one task or appointment or meeting to the next. But I always feel dissatisfied at the end of days like this, laying in bed, the first time I’ve breathed all day. Why is the end of the day the first time I’ve breathed?
I like when life moves at a decent clip – fast enough to be fun – but you can still see the scenery out the window. And this is a delicate balance of having plans and tasks, but not too many.
I got the math right this week. Two days of work, quality time with my mother and a couple friends, and lots of time at home tending to chores, and outside tending to the springy weather. I breathed all week long. Jane and I had a lot of fun. Even when the furnace broke down again! (It’s getting replaced Monday.) Even when the giant convoy of carbon tax protesters, complete with their “I love gas” stickers on their trucks and semis, caused a stone to fly at and burrow into my windshield when I was on the highway (a $65 fix, no biggie)! Even when Jane shirked her afternoon nap today (which is why I’m writing this at 10pm).
Things will always go wrong forever. Such is life. Might as well have fun.
A meeting with ___ I had a meeting with an innovative company called ___. The two guys who run the business are very enjoyable, down-to-earth people and I had a great time chatting with them. So great, in fact, that I pitched them on participating in my online conference. I haven’t formally asked anyone yet – that’s something I’m starting next week. But I thought – hey, if they say yes, I’ll have a couple names that I can name-drop when asking other people to participate.
And they were an easy yes! They dig the idea and they’re happy to participate. My first big win. Thanks Universe! You’ve got my back on this online convention.
More on the online convention I’ve been doing a lot of prep work for next week, where I’m going to start messaging people about being speakers at my convention. Basically I’ve just searched my personal network for potential connections. It’s easier to email people who are “warm” – like a friend-of-a-friend situation – than to send cold emails, so I wanted to see how many warm emails I’d be able to get going.
Not very many. But a few. I’ll be spending the next few weeks in heavy correspondence. It’ll be tough next week, since it’s the last week of my course – the two are overlapping – but after that it shouldn’t be too heavy a load.
Blog posting I’ve been feeling a lot of energy toward posting on my blog, and rode the wave of inspiration on Wednesday. Like I talked about last week, I gotta exercise that muscle!
I have a piano teacher! Finally, after years of dallying, I’ve scheduled regular lessons with a piano teacher. I haven’t taken lessons for a decade (aside from random one-offs, usually with people I used to work with). And I wanted the experience of a mentor.
So I found a teacher through the conservatory – we’d actually met before (the piano teaching world is small in Regina). And she’s quite accomplished, having just finished a stint studying in Hungary. She’s going to help upgrade my skills so I can pass my grade 10 with a mark of 70% or higher – the mark needed to go on to the next level.
Private mentoring of any kind is expensive, but I also can’t think of anything else that’ll propel your growth faster. I’d love to have mentors forever. Universe, I’d like enough money to have personal mentors for whatever projects I’m working on, okay?
The Jesus Veggie Truck Came to Town! Shoutout to the ABC truck for rolling through Regina. I spent way too long in a semi-truck stocked with all kinds of exotic vegan meats, cheeses, condiments and so on. It was heaven. It was crowded. There were familiar faces (the vegans of Regina are a close-knit community).
Speaking of dolla bills… Mike and I haven’t had a date night in a few weeks – plans have been falling through. But the Universe did us a solid this week – there’s a six-course vegan pop-up dinner (complete with wine tasting) tomorrow, and we’re in it to win it. My mom is babysitting. She’s been helping out a lot lately, and I’m lucky for it.
I initially hesitated to buy tickets because it’s expensive, but then I realized that life experiences are far more valuable than money in a bank account (especially when it’s a relatively inconsequential amount – it’s not like it was the difference between us having groceries for the rest of the month or not).
Gardening So this is random. But every year I declare how much I hate gardening. It’s not because of the gardening itself, it’s because I suck at it. But you suck at everything until you learn about it and get good.
My parents live out of town and have good land. I’m there often enough anyway, so I’m going to grow things on a plot there. I have a little greenhouse in our sun room and am armed and ready with some early-start seedlings (tomatoes, peppers and eggplants particularly enjoy an early start). I’m also starting some lettuce, collards and chard because they can be transplanted at the end of April – they can tolerate some frost and don’t like it too hot.
I like the idea of growing things. There’s an appeal in country life, in sinking your hands into dirt. But I also hate bugs. There was a spider in my lettuce the other day and I started screaming – no control over that reaction at all. Mike thought I was dying. So there’s a disconnect there. Ha!
But then, I like the convenience of buying things. Of having people grow things for me. Skip out on all that labor. But then I wonder – in doing so, am I also skipping out on something fundamentally human? I love to do “higher” work – work that involves more high-level decision-making, more intelligence – but those kinds of things take me out of my body.
I spend so much of every day in my head. The idea is that gardening is a way out. A way into the present moment.
Plus it’s something I’d like Jane to grow up experiencing. It’s a productive way for us to spend time outside.
Other habits Other habits I have on the go – walking 45 minutes a day (I succeed most days), baby gym 2x/week (it’s basically a BYOBaby HIIT thing), other workout 3x/week. Mostly consistent.
Mostly eating well, but I’ve definitely enjoyed a thick slice of banana bread or blueberry scone when the opportunity arises. And I’m not losing weight as a result. But I’m cool with that for now. I might not be losing weight, but I can eat as much as I want with very little restriction and not gain weight, so that’s a good place to be.
Listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my drives. Still reading voraciously (particularly enjoying James Altucher’s Choose Yourself right now). I’m also reading a meditation book so I’ll try to meditate for a few minutes each day and see how that goes.