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Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Golden Rule

As I read the comments here, and as I peruse the web, I always notice that many academics are very hard on ourselves.  We set high standards, and give ourselves demanding work loads, and are not very tolerant when we fail to accomplish all that we have set out to do.   Perfectionism comes with the territory.  In recent weeks, a few people have tried to set reasonable goals, but I notice that we mostly set stretch goals for ourselves.    And then we don’t quite make it.   The Golden Rule suggests an ethic of reciprocity, or, as Leviticus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I interpret “love” here to include both practical kindness and generosity of spirit; my observation is that many of us are more generous to others than to ourselves.  But my experience is that if I am not being kind to myself, I can’t be kind to others, at least not for long.  So my question for the week is, how do you balance stretch goals with limits?  How are you kind to yourself when you are not perfect?   What are the things that you do to accept your inability to do everything you would like, in a perfect world, to do?   This, it seems to me, is another aspect of self-care: balancing our demands with reality.   And we could probably all learn a something from each other on this one.

  1.      Topic for the week
  2.     Goals from last week
  3.      Goals for next week
Here are your goals from last week:
1) finish the bags - 12 to do.
2) Tidy office, file things, make space for new projects
3) survive

Elizabeth Ann Mitchell
1) Write 100 words a day
2) Space planning for home office. The current arrangement is not working
3) Personal time. I do not protect down time for myself either at work or at home

1) Finish and submit past due article
2) Finish and send proposal to friend for feedback
3) Write at least three days

Contingent Cassandra
1) try to get a full night's sleep when possible; eat the nutritious food that I have in the fridge/freezer; regroup toward the end of the week re: exercise, possible day off.
2) keep making progress on DH class materials (and, now, feedback for that class).

1) exercise 4x
2) eat well (according to "plan" I've established)
3) reasonable bedtimes
4) four 90-minute writing sessions

- Get close to finishing chapter. (The goal was to finish it by the end of February, but other obligations got in the way, so I'll give myself an extra week.)
- Work on panel for fall conference (my new favorite conference)
- Write abstract for invited workshop in April
- Keep walking
- Keep making progress on the garden. (This goes on forever, because weeds keep growing.)

1) five minuteses
2) survive three days in the office doing various things with people
3) do at least one hour on Crunchier on each of the days I'm NOT in the office
4) take the weekend completely off work work (and maybe do some housework).

Good Enough Woman
1) Write 500 words for special section of Chapter 2.
2) Read 75 pages of primary text.
3) Exercise 5x, tracking water and spending

1) Week 5-2 of Belcher's book.
2) Continue to read the important book.
3) Finish the introductory part of the review article.
4) Exercise for 7 minutes everyday. Do a short exercise in the morning.
5) Be tolerant of snacks, but try to have healthier one.

Allan Wilson (continued from last week)
Exercise every day, and complete the analysis with a goal of having the paper tidied up as well.


  1. Topic: I really like the idea of the golden rule applying to ourselves, but I'm not sure I have any great insight on how to get out of the perfectionist conundrum. I was very much a perfectionist in my younger days, and now worry that I've gone too far in the other direction (witness my being one of the people setting "reasonable" goals -- i.e. ones that sound an awful lot like doing my job and trying to live what most would consider a normal life). The other side of not "stretching" is that anxiety builds up, especially about TLQ-type things that I know I really must start doing/get done soon, but have a great deal of difficulty fitting in on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. I tend to be a long-range planner, and, while I've gotten better at realizing that long-range plans don't always work out (and can't even be made, at least not with any realistic sense of their working out as pictured, in some circumstances), I haven't figured out how to make sure that I keep moving in some direction that might lead to something better (even if it's only a sense of not being stuck), even in uncertain situations.

    Not having said much useful myself (I'll check back to see if anyone else has an answer, even a partial one), I will say that Notorious Ph.D. has what seems to me like a relevant post on making choices and not letting the job consume other, more important parts of life.

    1. Last week's goals:

      1) try to get a full night's sleep when possible; eat the nutritious food that I have in the fridge/freezer; regroup toward the end of the week re: exercise, possible day off.
      2) keep making progress on DH class materials (and, now, feedback for that class).

      Accomplished: a reasonable amount of sleep (except for one night, and I'm fighting a cold that I'm pretty sure is related to having pulled near-all-nighters three times in the last two weeks), pretty good eating, some real progress on the DH class assignments (assignment pretty much figured out, albeit somewhat in medias res; still need to set up and begin doing grading). Not too bad; I'm especially realizing that being in the uncertain stages of trying to work out a new class while teaching it really wears on my psychologicallly. Now that I know how it's going to go for the rest of the semester (and am reasonably confident that I can make the tool work well enough to do that, and have decided what I'm just going to do myself rather than trying to teach my students to do it), I feel better. Also, the effort put into departmental service-type stuff paid off well, in several ways. And it's almost spring break (which won't involve that much of a break, but at least no new tasks will appear).

      With that in mind, goals for the coming week:

      1)sleep, eat well, maybe exercise a bit, and generally try to keep the cold from taking hold.

      2) do a lot of grading for all classes (with the goal of not doing any, or at least much, grading over spring break).

      3) make sure I've got reservations, registrations, reimbursement forms, readings, etc. in place for both upcoming trips.

    2. I know what you mean about the concern about being too kind to ourselves. I wonder that too. But when our jobs are very demanding, and TRQ is taking over, maybe it's OK to focus on the "urgent and important"?

      Sorry about the cold, though: I hope the good sleeping can continue. The DH class sounds challenging if interesting. But it's always hard when you're outside your comfort zone!

  2. Topic: for me, the kind to myself is an attitude. If I don't follow through, I try to go for "Oh, well. That didn't work out like I planned. What can I do tomorrow/next week to make things happen differently?" I find it helpful to have 1-3 things that are "must dos" for each day. I can usually manage that--the rest of the things have to be scheduled or well-planned for me to follow through. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but I also really value down-time. (My husband and I joke that we're the laziest ambitious people we know. Or is it most ambitious lazy people? "Lazy" really stands in for "leisurely.")

    Last week's goals:
    1) exercise 4x--yes. The gym membership is getting good use.
    2) eat well (according to "plan" I've established)--pretty well.
    3) reasonable bedtimes--ha! I had a big project due Tues for an online class, so I was up very late. I made up for it with a 4 hr. nap on Thurs.
    4) four 90-minute writing sessions--a couple, depending on how you count. I didn't schedule these very well, so they got bumped by TRQ and procrastination.

    For next week:
    1) exercise 4x
    2) eat well (according to "plan" I've established)
    3) reasonable bedtimes
    4) four 90-minute writing sessions
    5) prep for weekend conference (practice pitches; review faculty bios; schedule stuff)

    1. It sounds as if you have a good way to manage the balance between rigor and kindness to self. I like the idea of looking at how to get a different outcome.

      I'm glad the exercise is going well; but staying up very late is not fun!

    2. I am also a lazy-ambitious or ambitious-lazy person! In contrast, my dear hubby likes some downtime, but his leisure is very active (surfing, biking, home projects). Living with him is kind of hard because I think he sees reading as the epitome of lazy rather than "leisurely," so, to him, when I'm working, it looks like I'm doing nothing.

      On another lazy note, how will I finish the PhD while also having port and chocolate every night while I watch a TV show with my husband?

      Can't wait to hear how the conference goes! And congrats on the commitment to the gym! I've never been good at going to the gym.

  3. I like the golden rule idea as well. I try to remember it as 'I cannot/could not reasonably do more' and try to remember that behaving professionally is about doing sufficient things well rather than everything poorly. I'm tired of the academic 'do all the things all the time have nothing else' culture.

    Past week: I did all of my goals! I don't think I've ever completed a weekly to-do list in all the weeks I've done TLQ. And even if one of those things was a cynical thing of surviving, well in the last week that was an achievement.
    1) finish the bags - 12 to do. - all done! And they look really pretty!
    2) Tidy office, file things, make space for new projects - done
    3) survive - done

    This week:
    1) finish up the marking and stray bits of paperwork from early semester tasks
    2) send email about possible article I could write
    3) plan publication/presentation around small aspect of current teaching so that I can put an evaluation plan in place to get a good paper
    4) make figures for the paper

    Task 1 is big, task 2 will take 10 minutes, 3 will take about 30 minutes and 4 could expand to fill some time.

    1. Woo-hoo! Congratulations on the completed list! (and I saw the bags on facebook and they are very pretty. How you have the patience to work with nasty sequinny fabric I do not know, I certainly don't!)

    2. Goal #3 sounds great! And nice job on the bags.

    3. Yay on finishing all your goals -- I think survival is under-rated at times as a goal.
      The funny things about things like an email that could take 10 minutes is that it often takes far more time to write because what it means is more important than the 10 minutes it takes. And it looks as if you've got a bunch of interesting projects cooking!

    4. Congrats on finishing your list!

  4. Topic: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” My Grandma was fond of pointing out that that didn't mean MORE than yourself or LESS than yourself. She had very high standards for her own family though, and was a great believer in that Protestant kind of self-flagellation of 'get up and wash your face and you'll feel better' and 'worse things happen at sea'. She herself had all manner of health problems from her early 20s, and I guess she had to be like that because there wasn't always an alternative, at least not when she was being raised and when she was raising her children (my aunt was a very frail and sickly baby during the second world war - how my grandmother coped, evacuated to a village where water came from the pump and the cottage had a bare earth floor, her husband a fire-fighter in central London during the Blitz... well, I suppose people just do cope. But she had to have that sort of iron, there-are-no-options kind of will to get through that, and it stuck). One reason I am so passionate about the NHS - NO-ONE should have to make the sorts of choices my grandparents faced, about whether to take their sick baby to the doctor or be able to buy her good food and heat a room of the house properly. But that means that I was brought up like that, and I struggle to balance not overdoing things with feeling like a very lazy person... doesn't help that my sister is very much a 'doer' - she copes best with pressure if she keeps busy, whereas these days I just get sick, but still struggle to know what is 'as much as I can do' - if I do too MUCH I find out, if I do too little... well how do I know? Because I feel bad about it? Even if I work until I get ill I feel like I didn't do enough, so that's no use!

    I am much better at making allowances for other people than for myself. I assume I am judged more harshly than I judge others, as a general rule. And I do tend to plan as if every day will be a good day, whereas the reality of living with a fluctuating health condition and a job where a substantial proportion of the work is reactive rather than under my control is that most days will not be good, productive days when it comes to ticking things off on lists. That is often what I mean by 'survive' - that I will react appropriately to all the unplanned stuff without getting so overwhelmed I have to take a day off. That is, it's not as minimal as it sounds, it's about the 'winging it' parts of the job not totally winning!

    So a very apt topic! But not one I'm any good at...

    I adhere to the sort of 'stretch' planning approach though because like Cassandra I feel like having aspirations slightly in excess of what is realistic is important to prevent my natural sloth winning out totally... and because I know I tend to fall short so in some ways if I set my goals lower I perhaps risk falling short of THEM, too. I also rather like having a plan in place if things DO go as planned - it happens sometimes, and I am rather good at spending the whole of a vacant slot faffing around deciding what to do in it if I don't make that choice in advance.

    1. I like your story because it reminds us that we go into these things with lots of history. (And what a story about your grandmother. And I'm totally with you on the terrible choices people had to make, and why the NHS matters -- in the US, some people still have to make those choices.)

      I put up the topic because I'm no good at this: always willing to take things on, but then overwhelmed by what I've taken on. What I'm not good at is moving from saying "Yes, I'll do that" to the practical planning to get it done.

  5. Well, being that my pseudonym is Good Enough Woman, one can see that I have found (or tried to find) balance with perfectionism. These days, I think I have sufficiently adopted the "good enough" philosophy. If anything, I often worry that my standards are not high enough. Specifically, I worry about my commitment to the standard needed for the final draft of the PhD thesis. I think I am fairly easy on myself when I don't hit self-imposed PhD goals, but I do think I need to work on setting goals more effectively and realistically. In contrast, I am sometimes hard on myself when I make a mistake or perform poorly in a way that impacts other people--even when the mistakes are minor.

    Goals for Last week

    1) Write 500 words for special section of Chapter 2: No.
    2) Read 75 pages of primary text: No.
    3) Exercise 5x, tracking water and spending: No.

    I got a cold this past week, and was feeling pretty bad until Friday. I'm still bouncing back. Fortunately, it didn't turn into something more nasty. Still, I didn't exercise much--just one walk with the dog, I think. And, although I didn't accomplish goals #1 and #2, I *did* do PhD work. I did some database research to find the latest articles and books from the last year or so that I need to read, I read 2-3 articles, ordered four books, and I read (or re-read) most of "Authoring a PhD" by Patrick Dunleavy. Dunleavy's book has been very helpful. I think I read it very early on in my process, but right now is a good time to re-read it so that I can think about the big picture of all of my chapter drafts. I was planning to zoom in on the second chapter to get a full, healthy, and well-edited draft, but now I'm wondering if I need to zoom out a bit to read relevant recent criticism about my general topic (I've fallen a bit behind in this regard, I think) and spend sometime thinking about and remodeling thesis and chapter structures.

    Despite being sick, it's been a nice week. Not too pressure with class prep and other activities. This probably won't last, but I'm going to try to maintain momentum. On Friday, I said to my family, "I think it's starting to happen. I think I'm starting to enter 'intense thesis mode.'" This will be hard on me and the family, but it needed to happen, so I'm glad it's kicking in.

    This week's goals:
    1) Read two articles and one primary source novella
    2) evaluate structures of chapters one and two
    3) Send follow-up email to supervisor about timelines
    4) Exercise 3x
    5) help son with Minecraft account problems (I've been promising to do this for a while) and prep daughter for next presentation
    6) play son's homemade game with him

    1. Glad your cold didn't turn into something nasty -- I have two friends locally whose long term congestion thingy turned into pneumonia this week, so . . . And it sounds as if you figured out how to do what you could do with the brain you had, so made progress. The dynamics between the chapter/detail and the whole is really interesting!

    2. Congrats on all the PhD work you got done this week, even if it wasn't what you planned. The zoom out can be really helpful for framing the zoom in. I'm a big fan of zooming out.

      I'm glad you're feeling better! I hope you have another no-pressure week.

  6. goals: 1) five minuteses 2) survive three days in the office doing various things with people 3) do at least one hour on Crunchier on each of the days I'm NOT in the office 4) take the weekend completely off work work (and maybe do some housework).

    achieved: 1) a few days, which is more than the none I managed in January. 5/7 for epurging, because that's the easiest one, so thinking about ways to make the others easier to do than to not do is a task for this coming week, I think. 2) kind of. I did the things, at least, but then had quite a pronounced physical reaction to 'the things' (or a mild go of food poisoning/stomach bug or most likely BOTH) so lost the next couple of days to poor night sleep, excess daytime napping and generally not being very well. 3) nope, because of 2 (sigh, TLQ lost out to reactive again), but I did do an hour on one of my office days (because it went better than expected and an hour opened up...) 4) nope, but see 2, and I have been pretty idle still - starting to feel back to normal today...

    goals: 1) five minuteses 2) planning of many things. Taking time to think about what I REALLY want out of my 'study leave', seeing if I can possibly fit in a long weekend off (other than through being ill!) in the next couple of months, making lists and then RUTHLESSLY PRUNING THEM a la Psycgirl - except probably not because I'm not good at that sort of stuff, but at least trimming off some sideshoots and that. 3) three sessions on Crunchier. I am so ready to send that draft off... and so close...

    1. Well, in line with our topic, I'm impressed. (I'm working on the e-purging, but I find I do it in bouts, with something like 30 minutes and getting rid of 100 emails.) When I don't sleep, it's really hard to do anything, so adding the stomach bug/food poisoning would be really hard. I hope you regain strength, and that you don't have to go in to work and get side-tracked. And good luck with Crunchier!

  7. Huffington Post posted a short narrative this morning that ended with the following:
    “So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as ‘busy,’ and instead, see it for what it truly is. Full.”

    I resolved to be this person, the one who would would measure herself by being, not by doing. And as the day has gone on, I have found that almost impossible. It requires a paradigm shift that I am not sure I know how to accomplish, no more than I know how to be kind to myself in the face of failure/coming up short of goals.

    And here I am, beginning the third week of saying no I didn’t meet my goals but still need to, so please post them again. I did get a bit of writing done, but only twice.

    Last week’s goals/this week’s goals:
    1) Finish and submit past due article
    2) Finish and send proposal to friend for feedback
    3) Write at least three days

    I sound far more dreary than I feel. This is just the situation in the moment.

    1. Prayers like that always strike me as aspirational. I sometimes get close, but living that way is so counter-cultural that it's very hard to maintain. So if it just helps you reframe a few things, maybe that's enough?
      I hope the week goes well. It's hard when things just don't work.

  8. Well, it's my topic, so I wish I had great answers. My maternal family line is full of women who are do-ers, and I was raised with a very intense work ethic. But when I was in high school and bored, my mother would allow me to take a day off, and she'd write a note to school saying I had the vapors. (And no one ever noticed - we thought it was a great joke!) Because I'm competent, and conscientious, I tend to agree to do things that I think need to be done, which leads to over-commitment. I'm working on this, and have got better, but figuring out when to say no, and how to plan a week, instead of just bopping along, is really hard.

    Anyway, as to last week's goals:
    - Get close to finishing chapter. (The goal was to finish it by the end of February, but other obligations got in the way, so I'll give myself an extra week.) Probably: Friday morning was taken up by a 3 hour skype conference related to a grant, so I may be a little behind, but I feel like it's moving.
    - Work on panel for fall conference (my new favorite conference) - Yes, trying to find one more person
    - Write abstract for invited workshop in April - Done (and designed so that paper feeds into my introduction)
    - Keep walking - four days, but I do better if you count some of the housework and other short walks.
    - Keep making progress on the garden. (This goes on forever, because weeds keep growing.): Yes, and I've managed to keep the kitchen clutter from new mail under control. Getting rid of the scary piles was good, keeping them from re-emerging is never-ending, because the junk mail keeps on coming.)

    Next week I have leave for a small conference on Thursday, so I have Monday and Tuesday, and then half days Wed and Thurs, to work on the chapter. I *think* I can do it, but I may have to take the cat to the vet, and visit my mother, so . . .

    Goals for next week:
    1. Finish the chapter
    2. Prepare for the conference
    3. Enjoy the conference
    4. At least one more session weeding
    5. Keep up on the house
    6. Keep walking or exercising in some way daily.
    There are a bunch of things coming up that are more TRQ that may get in the way of all this good thinking.

    1. I hope your week is gifted with more time than you anticipate. Enjoy the conference!

  9. Allan Wilson
    Exercise every day, and complete the analysis with a goal of having the paper tidied up as well. -
    Hmm. The last couple of weeks have been a bit patchy- lots of exercise, and then very little. Although I was sick for a few days, which slowed me right down.
    And no to having the paper tidied up, although I have managed to tidy away a couple of other things. I managed to finally clear a day to work on the paper, and then ended up doing the revisions on a different paper that arrived that morning- I just wanted to get it back out the door, and mentally clear my desk again. Although to be honest, I was also avoiding what I needed to do. Sigh.
    So, my goals next week are the same, plus two more: to ENJOY the task that I have to spend next week on, and go at it with gusto (thanks to a conversation with a colleague this morning, who tells me this is how he copes with being too busy); and to plan a series of papers on the topic I love but is completely outside all my work plans.
    Insights in to how to balance- not many, except to keep exercising, and to try and set up boundaries around work time and personal time, and be ruthless in saying no (doesn't always work).

    1. And as this is only vaguely related to perfectionism and I ended up thinking tangentially - I guess trying to rein in perfectionism for me means trying to balance my time and energy. AW

    2. I love the idea of going at a task with gusto! Also theIRL conversation as The inspiration - clearly a wise colleague! And congratulations on getting a paper back out the door. It's what a friend calls productive procrastination, the best kind. Even if it's not what you intended, it's good!

    3. Gusto always sounds like a cleaning agent to me. How about "Gusto: eliminates 99.7% of all procrastination! find it in your local writer's supply store next to The Dame's Bugge Spray"...

    4. JaneB--I love it!

      AW--congrats on getting the one paper out again. I hope this week is a productive one for you!

    5. Ha! gusto does sound like bugge spray. I may need to use it as a mantra! AW