Routine and Freedom [en]

[fr] La liberté, et la routine. Trop de liberté ne rend pas forcément plus heureux. Et si la liberté c'était de pouvoir choisir ses contraintes? Retour sur mon histoire avec la liberté et les habitudes.

Kites @ KepongPhoto credit: Phalinn Ooi

I think about routine a lot. I spent a lot of time when I was at university trying to be free. I was quite free, actually. Habits and routine are something we can get stuck in and that might shield us from seeing things we need to see — but I naturally gravitate to the other end of the spectrum, the introspective one, the one who thinks too much, wonders too much, asks herself too many questions. It was clear to me, already back then, that routine/habits had their use: they allowed us to lighten the load of thinking and deciding when it comes to our lives.

I spent ten years at university. Ten. Being a student. Three years studying chemistry (and finally failing), and seven years in what we call “Lettres”, studying History of Religions, Philosophy, and French. One of those years was spent in India. I then spent a lot of time not writing my dissertation. All in all, I spent many years with very long holidays and a very do-it-yourself schedule. It was a good time of my life. It was difficult to see it end.

Is freedom so important to me because of this slice of life, or did I hang out in that context so long because of how important it is to me?

Over the years, I’ve realised that “too much freedom” in the way I live my days does not make me happy. By that I mean complete lack of routine. Was it the first or second summer I was living alone in my first flat? A friend had used the kite metaphor: when you’re free, you let the string out and the kite can fly far, far up high. And I had let my kites go out a bit too far. University resumed, I drew my kites in.

In 2009, it felt like I had got my shit together. My life felt “under control”, in a good way. I wasn’t scrambling after things. If I remember correctly I was even doing my accounting regularly (that’s saying something). And I remember that during that year, I had a pretty solid morning routine. I actually would set my alarm clock. I would wake up at 7:30, and at 9:00 I would be at eclau to work, having pedalled on my stationary bicycle for a good half-hour.

Then 2010 happened. During my catless year, in 2011, I travelled way too much. I made up for all the previous years of no holidays. 2012 was chaotic. All that to say I never got back to where I was in 2009. Briefly, yes. But not consistently. And I know very well how important it is for me to have routines and good habits, so it’s something that’s often top of my mind. But I find myself coming short.

Things might be changing right now. This morning I wrote my first Morning Pages. (Loïc’s fault for mentioning them.) Last week, I got confirmation that Quintus is pretty much completely blind, and so I’ve been actively thinking about how to stabilise his environment — space and time. Quintus is a very routine-oriented cat. All cats are, to some degree, of course.

Blind Quintus Taking a Stroll

So between Morning Pages, cat-related routine, no money to travel (keeps me at home!) and wanting to get back on track when it comes to physical exercise (judo injury in March and slightly expanding waistline that doesn’t fit into favorite winter trousers anymore), the time seems ripe.

I’ve also been wondering recently if I’m not sleeping too much. One of my precious freedoms is not setting an alarm clock in the morning: I sleep as much as I want/need. But I still feel tired. So I think I’ll go with the 7:30 alarm for a bit and see if it changes anything. I’ll report back.

On another note, I sometimes feel like I spent a huge amount of my time in the kitchen dealing with food. I like cooking, and I like eating. But maybe I should limit the number of times I actually cook during the day. I eat a “normal meal” at breakfast, so I sometimes end up cooking three proper meals a day. I should probably reheat or throw something quickly together for morning and lunch, and just cook in the evening.

The biggest freedom might be the freedom to determine your own constraints.

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Thinking Too Much [en]

[fr] J'ai un peu tendance à penser trop, et à ne pas vivre assez. Aujourd'hui, avec le côté un peu compulsif de la consommation d'infos en ligne (hello, Facebook!) je crois que je suis retombée dans ce piège.

At some point during my young life, in my mid twenties, it dawned on me that I was thinking too much for the amount of life I had racked up until then. Barely post-adolescent brains will go a bit overboard, of course, but this has happened to me a couple of times since. In my mid-thirties, for example: I had spent a lot of energy trying to figure out the world, people, relationships, myself, life, death and the like. I did study philosophy and history of religions, after all.

Green

Today, I’m wondering if I’m not thinking too much — again. But it’s taking a different shape. Although I’ve long been skeptical about all the alarm bells ringing about information overload, I have come to believe that there is something to say about our access to, and relationship with, all the information now at the tip of our fingers. And it’s clear to me that there is something compulsive in the way I go after information.

This was the case for me before the internet. I’ve always been an avid reader. I’ve always loved understanding things. I collected stamps. Then fonts, and even AD&D spells (don’t laugh). At university, I loved immersing myself in a topic, surrounded with piles of books and articles, going through them for hours and seeing a big muddled mess of ideas start to make sense. So, imagine when the internet came along. As far as my academic life goes, that was largely when I was working on my dissertation.

My compulsive search for information has served my life well when I have managed to harness it for concrete projects (write a dissertation; publish a blog post; gain expertise). I even wondered if there was a way to use it to earn money some way. But today, I feel it is leading me around in circles on Facebook, mainly. There is so much interesting stuff to read out there. I still want to understand the world, people, life, love, politics, beliefs, education, relationships, society… And I will never be done. But the internet allows me to not stop.

My tendency to “think too much, live not enough” has found an ally in the  compulsive consumption of online media.

Time to think less, and accept I can’t figure everything out.

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A Few Notes on 2014 [en]

[fr] 2014, une longue année en très résumé.

It seems like 2014 was a long year, although it also feels like it’s ended barely after it started. Oh well. There is much to write, but here’s a little catch-up dump for those of you who aren’t stalking me on Facebook or seeing me offline.

Météo variable pour mes 40 ans 21

Over the summer I turned 40, and it’s been a much bigger “thing” that I’d envisioned. I will write more about this too, but the TL;DR is that being a childless and single 40-year-old woman when it’s not exactly what you wanted for yourself isn’t a piece of cake. Added bonus if your mother died precisely at that age, just 30 years ago. This accounts for a good part of 2014 being a “difficult” year.

Other than that, 2014 was physically very active. I skied, my first complete ski season in more years than I care to think of. I started kitesurfing, went sailing of course, and received a Fitbit One for my birthday. The Fitbit made me realise how little I was walking (5-6k steps for a “normal” day), and so when somebody told me about this game called Ingress that made you walk, I pounced on it. Now I’m hooked (much much more about Ingress in future posts) and days where I clock 15k steps are far from rare. Let’s not forgot regular judo training during the time I wasn’t moving around too much. I’m also still doing Body By You on and off. The result is that I feel in better shape physically than I have for years.

Professionally, I spent most of the year working on a lovely gig for Phonak as the editor of their community blog, Open Ears — an ongoing project. Eclau, “my” coworking space, is doing fine, and I’ve been teaching a bit at CREADIGITAL in Geneva.

The cats are living their cat lives, though they did provide me both with major health scares. Quintus now has a 1500CHF eye (it’s his eye, it just cost that much to save it) and Tounsi will be under close surveillance the last week of July next summer (there was a somewhat similar scare last summer at nearly exactly the same date). I helped a friend fix up her house for sale in the UK over part of the summer, and around that period also had a friend visiting from India. For a couple of months there I was really running around a lot, and it took me some time to settle down after that. I decided to not go to India over the winter as I had planned initially, but to stay here and go skiing again.

I got a Kindle and have been reading avidly thanks to it. I play around with Calibre. In the same dematerialisation move, I have an XBMC server (now renamed Kodi) and I have started making space in my cellar for all the CDs, DVDs, and some of the books which are taking up so much space in my flat. Oh, and I’ve been learning to fly my tiny quadcopter.

Most of my online activity has gravitated around Facebook, clearly my sharing, publishing, and communication central this year. I am wary of putting all my eggs in the same basket, though, and it bothers me more and more that all the links and quotes I share end up going down the real-time drain. I started using Google+ more over the last months. Twitter is a bit on the back-burner, so is Path. I use Google Drive and associated docs daily. I discovered Slack and enthusiastically fell in love with it.

Finally, 2014 has been the first year since… 1999 that I have not been writing regularly online (let’s not count Facebook interaction as “writing”, shall we? that’s really conversation). And I feel a bit like a pressure-cooker that’s been on the stove for too long.

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The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the café in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.

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Here We Go Again [en]

[fr] Des nouvelles.

Holidays in Spain. Two weeks of crazy work upon my return. Then orphaned kittens at home.

Things are lightening up: the kittens are weaned and clean, the big cats are taking care of them, and they have future homes. Though I have two batches of exams to grade (one now, one early june) my work life is taking a more manageable pace.

I’ve been the worst slacker in the Blogging Tribe experiment. I have a huge backlog of insanely cute kitten photos and videos to process and put online. I’ve started planting things for my balcony again. The sailing season has started.

Next week’s objectives: go back to judo, get back into something resembling a blogging habit, and start my new exercice regimen.

Longer term? Figure out why despite having identified long ago that I take on too much and need to slow down, and making efforts in that direction, I am failing.

Life is good.

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How Was 2012 So Far? [en]

[fr] 2012, année chaotique, mais qui se termine avec un retour vers la stabilité. 2013 s'annonce plutôt bien.

A conversation last night had me thinking back about the last few years. This morning, I stumbled upon this post that I wrote end 2009.

2009 was a good year. I felt like I was getting my act together. Everything came crumbling down in 2010, my “shit year“, and 2011 was largely a year of grieving. Healthy grieving, I’d like to add. Not easy to go through, but a hugely empowering life experience.

What about 2012? Well, it’s not quite finished, though I have two weeks of Lausanne life to go before heading off to India for my annual vacation. So I might as well look back now.

2012 has been chaotic. It’s been a year of changes and uncertainty, both personal and professional. You know how at times you feel like your life or a relationship has not reached its point of equilibrium? That it’s in flux, going somewhere, but not there yet? That’s what 2012 has felt like. On a very practical day-to-day level (the most important one, actually!) I adopted two cats, lost one two months later, and brought another one back from the UK just about a month and a half after that. It may seem like nothing, but for somebody who sometimes finds day-to-day life a bit of a challenge, it was quite a disruption in my life, and whatever was left of the routines and habits I’d formed the previous years kind of flew out the window. To give just one example, I climbed back on my exercise bike for what is possibly the first time in 2012… yesterday.

Tounsi & Quintus à l'eclau, proximité 3

In addition to that 2012 came with its lot of work changes and uncertainty: the end of a long-standing gig, two other important sources of work and revenue left hanging for quite a few months, growing dissatisfaction with the social media industry and figuring out where I want to go these next years…

All this shuffling around was taking me somewhere, and I think that with the year wrapping up, I’m pretty much there. Things are stabilizing. (Proof if needed: In addition to climbing back on my bike, I cleaned the dust webs off my ceiling again this week-end, something I’d been doing regularly in 2009 but that disappeared sometime between now and then.)

2013 is looking good — and exciting.

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A Balanced Life Has Change and Instability Built In [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur l'équilibre de vie -- et le fait que celui-ci est en fait un perpétuel déséquilibre, qui doit pouvoir absorber le changement.

I want a balanced life.

When I stop and think about what I want in life, that’s the best answer I can come up with: I want a balanced life.

I’m not an extremist. I want time for work and time for play, futility and depth, travel and stability, arts and science, me and others, and space for my wide variety of interests.

Many years ago, one of my philosophy courses made me suddenly understand that imbalance is what makes life alive. The very chemical reactions which form the basis of life are oscillating reactions, which go back and forth around equilibrium, permanently out of balance, but stable enough to allow us to live and breathe long years.

There is a risk of getting caught up in words, here. Stable, balance, unstable, imbalance.

During my physics classes in high school (what we call “Gymnase”), I learned that there was stable and unstable equilibrium. An object is in stable equilibrium if it is hanging from somewhere. If you make it move, it will come back to its equilibrium point. Unstable equilibrium, on the other hand, is when the centre of gravity is above the support base. Push it over, and it may fall and never come back to where it was. It’s unstable.

This struck me as counter-intuitive. When I first read about the two terms, I thought it would be the other way around. A lamp hanging from the ceiling seemed less stable than a table on the kitchen floor. There was a slight discomfort in the realization that what I considered most stable was in fact labeled by physics as “unstable”.

Me sitting on the couch: that’s unstable equilibrium. I feel pretty stable, though.

Walking: a body which is losing its balance every step of the way.

I’ve written more than a handful of articles that have to do with my quest for balance or related topics. Here are a few I dug up, but you can probably find more if you hunt around:

So for balance, you have to factor in instability. A balanced life is not a rigid regimen of balanced components. A balanced life is elastic, ever-moving, a harmonious danse of spare parts. A chaotic system, probably.

Balance, probably, is an ability to manage change. Interesting idea, for someone with a slight adjustment disorder.

A balanced life is a life that can absorb external elements without being turned upside down. This reminds me of something that’s sometimes said of Indian culture: it’s inclusive, it absorbs rather than rejecting.

So, my balanced life needs resilience. And it will never be really in balance — forever trying to reach it.

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The Trap of Happiness: Big Things and Small Things, Outside and In [en]

[fr] La clé, pour être heureux, n'est pas dans les événements ou circonstances extérieurs, mais dans nos activités. En nous, et non au dehors de nous. Ce n'est pas très intuitif, d'où le piège. ("Quand ceci ou cela arrivera, alors je serai enfin heureuse.")

I realized today that many of the things I agonize over, the big things of life, are probably not worth spending so much energy on.

These big things of life — work, relationships, where to live — are just the measly circumstantial 10% component of our happiness (50% is due to our happiness “set point”, and the remaining 40% depends on certain intentional activities).

If I’m agonizing over whether to pursue a relationship or not, whether to keep my current line of work or change it, stay put or move to another continent, I’m doing so because at some level, I believe those decisions hold the fate of my happiness. But they don’t.

This is not to say that major life changes have no impact on how we feel. Of course they do. And of course bad decisions can lead to pain and anguish. But if things are going reasonably well and the drive is to be happier, the research presented in The How of Happiness (which I’ve already blogged about) tells us that these major changes will probably have way less long-term effect on how happy we are than certain more modest-looking intentional activities that have been show to reliably increase happiness.

Major events give us a “happiness high”, which is maybe one of the reasons we keep on looking to them as the solution to our lasting happiness. Hence the trap of happiness:

We think that big important things like being in a relationship, having a great job, having kids or living in our dream city are going to make us happy, when in fact it is small day-to-day activities that make use happy.

So when we’re unhappy, we yearn for big changes and stay stuck on “if onlys” rather than doing something that will actually make us feel happier.

For me, there is an important corollary to this:

The key to our happiness is inside of us, and not in exterior events.

This is nothing new under the sun, but I think that today I have really understood it.

You see, in addition to agonizing over “big decisions”, I spend a lot of energy hoping or waiting for things to happen which I expect will make me feel happier. Things that are outside my control or depend on other people. Without getting into details, this energy sometimes pushes me down alleys where I do things which I know are doomed to failure, which I know are a bad idea (and I can even explain why), but I have a very hard time stopping myself from doing them.

And I have understood today that the way to fight these “dysfunctional” urges is to remember where they come from: they come from feelings of unhappiness that I’m trying to address in the wrong way. I’m trying to make big things happen outside of me, rather than certain small things that involve only me — the “happiness activities” or “intentional activities” Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her book.

Not surprisingly, some of them are already part of my “toolkit” for making myself feel better. Before reading The How of Happiness, however, I think I just hadn’t measured how important they were. And now I have extra stuff to add to my happiness toolkit. Yay!

So I’m making a note: to fight my gosh-I-wish-I-wasn’t-heading-for-that-wall-again urges, pick an activity out of my happiness toolkit. And I’m putting “working on being happier through daily activities” above my big “existential issues” on the priority list.

I find it ironic, in a way, that something as important as how happy we are (I mean, a huge amount of what we do, we do because in some way we’re trying to be happy) can be influenced by so small and seemingly trivial things.

It does explain, though, how we can tumble from “happy” to “not happy” in just a few clicks, and climb back to “happy” by answering two e-mails and cleaning the bathroom sink.

It’s not rocket science.

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Long Time No Blog [en]

[fr] De retour d'une bonne semaine de vacances, et très peu d'envie de trainer en ligne, même autour de Google+. Période de transition, pas tout à fait à l'équilibre. A tout hasard, je vais écrire un poil ici -- ça a en général bien marché par le passé.

Long time no blog, right? I have lots to write, but I’m also really enjoying my break from the online, and much tempted to spend most of my time away from the computer.

Computer = work, despite all, and after two months of work-overdose ending with a couple of nasty crises to take care of I really really am quite fed up with my work world. (Dear clients and prospective clients who may be reading this: fear not, I’m not going to disappear somewhere and start raising goats. I’m still here. I’m just enjoying the much-needed break. And you’ll enjoy my fresher brain when I’m back.)

Google+ is out, and even Suw is excited about it, but I just don’t feel like spending time on it. (I will, and have actually started but… I’m enjoying the break, remember?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to do to the way I run my “business” (= “work me”) and now have a plan, but I’m still in this slightly fuzzy place where although things are generally good, I’m not quite happy and know something’s gotta give. Like a chemical reaction that hasn’t reached equilibrium.

One of the things I’m noticing during this break is that I feel tired of documenting my life. Because it’s a lot of what I do: document. Maybe I’m going through a phase in life where I’m more “inward” than “outward”. Maybe I’ve just been working too much, had two difficult years, and need to breathe a bit. Time will tell. Something is tugging at me inside.

As often when things feel “not quite right” and I haven’t been blogging much, I’m going to start by writing here a bit more. I have a bunch of posts lined up — just need to write them without turning them into tentacled monsters.

 

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Don't You Tire of Real-Time? [en]

[fr] Tout ce temps réel sur le web me fatigue. On néglige les expressions plus profondes que permet le web, sur nos blogs par exemple.

I find that I’m increasingly tired with real-time. Keeping up with the stream. Living on the cutting-edge. I like diving into deeper explorations that require me to step out of the real-time stream of tweets and statuses and IRC and IM conversations.

I like reading and writing.

I’ve never been much of a “news” person — and I know that my little self and my little blog have no chance of competing with the Techcrunches and ReadWriteWebs and GigaOms that seem to be all over the place now.

Life is real-time enough. I like spending time on the web like in a book.

I still love Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all the transient stuff that’s floating around — but sometimes I feel like I let myself get lost in it.

Once again, I’m back here, on my blog.

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