“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” – Pablo Picasso
We have a choice. We can accept the life that’s handed to us, consuming whatever is most cleverly thrown in our face. Or, we can “make” our own life (get used to the phrase “make your life”, I’ll be using it a lot). That can mean simply making more informed and educated choices, and becoming aware of the impact of those choices (on ourselves, the community, the world). It can also mean literally learning how to make the things we need, or hacking the things we buy to better suit us. Either option takes time and effort. The goal of The Code really has nothing to do with that effort on it’s own. It has to do with everything else that supports those efforts. Living to Code solves so many of my basic life needs, that I have time to thoroughly engage in things I truly love (which, for me, happens to include making stuff).
Here in Part II, I will explain the details of the basic framework I posted in Part I. You may find that you have a different philosophy to some of these ideas. You may find that some of these ideas don’t really apply to you. You may even flat out disagree with it all. You can tweak this anyway you see fit. My only hope it that you find this inspiring for “making your life.”
1. Live to Code
“It is what it is, but it will become what you make it.” – Abraham Lincoln
Perhaps it seems strange that the first step in Living to Code, is to Live to Code. As you get started, you won’t yet have a code to live by, but this is an iterative process. First you create your code, then you live it, over and over, ad infinitum. A code is nothing if you don’t live it. Without action, thoughts are useless. Imagine if heroes like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. thought about civil rights, but never acted on them? This step is about action, and continually reminding you to take it. Saying the phrase “live to code” reminds me of how important my code is to the bigger picture, and the commitment I’ve made to living by it. I often use this when I’m facing something I don’t want to do. I simply say “live to code”, and realize that I need to do whatever it is in order to stay on track.
2. The Temple
“The best things in life aren’t things”. – Art Buchwald
The spaces we occupy ought to be sacred to us. They are our temples. Keeping them picked up (as subjective as “picked up” can be), tending to chores, organizing our belongings, and keeping up with repairs/maintenance are essential here. If we neglect these things, they grow into bigger problems that overwhelm us, and shut us down. I like to think of my space as an analogy for my mind. Physical mimicking mental. When it’s cluttered, my mind is cluttered. When there is order, so it is with my mind. This part of the code has implications regarding our “things”. All humans seem to have a need to fill a void. Modern society promotes the idea that buying “stuff” will do the trick, and despite constant disappointment, we try this approach over and over. The things we fill our space with should be as sacred as the space itself. Do we really need it? Does it enhance our lives? This isn’t necessarily about becoming a minimalist, though I highly approve of such endeavors. If you love something, keep it. If you think you’ll love it, buy it. But, if you decide you don’t love it, stop hanging on to it “just in case”. It is often noted that “the body is a temple,” and we’ll be discussing matters of body and mind later in The Code.
3. Be a Good Citizen
“Arriving late was a way of saying that your own time was more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you.” -Karen Kay Fowler
We are not islands, sitting alone in an expansive and empty sea. We are a part of a world with which we interact constantly. How we behave not only affects how the world sees us, but how we feel about ourselves as well. Do good, feel good. Do bad, feel bad (unless you’re a narcissist who can be an asshole and not feel bad about it. Good luck with that). Be respectful of others in all manner of interactions. Try to be on time (whether for work, appointments or other engagements). Treat others with respect, even if they don’t deserve it. Disrespect breeds disrespect, so just take the high road, always. Being a good citizen has a way of attracting like minded folks, while the detritus floats away. The weeds die and flowers bloom.
We’re all just people, so forget about differences in status or lifestyle and treat people as equals. If you feel like you’re “above” someone, that’s ego, and you should probably work on your humility. But even if you suffer from an inflated ego, you need not let it effect how you treat other people. We never know what’s going on in the lives of the people we cross paths with throughout the day. Just be kind. To everyone. Always. Just because someone doesn’t have something to offer us now, doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. They will rememberer how you treated them, good or bad.
Communication often plays a big role here, especially if you live with roommates or loved ones. Communicate honestly and clearly regarding your thoughts, intentions, expectations, or boundaries. No matter how reasonable or obvious your expectations may seem to you, if you don’t communicate them, the only expectation you can have is to be disappointed.
4. Work, Work, Work
“A little at a time, until less becomes more, and more becomes less on the other side.” – Johnnie Dent Jr.
This is not just about getting and staying busy, it’s about how well we do it. It comes into play before, during, and after everything we do. Before starting any task, we should have a clear plan. This ensures we remember everything the task entails, so we can move from one step to the next with little thought. We make the most efficient plan we can, and even have backup plans for when things don’t go as expected (which is always). During the process, we stick to the plan, and work diligently to complete it efficiently. We strive for 100% completion, unless something out of our control blocks our progress. Our backup plans will hopefully have contingencies for this.
Try not to over plan the tasks. I call that “choking the plan”. Choking the plan is when you plan every small detail, without leaving any breathing room. The plan will always change. Over planning means you’ve wasted your time creating a plan that is unrealistic, and when it changes, you have to waste more time tweaking your meticulous plan. You spend most of your time on detailed planning, and little time on execution. Just have a clear idea of what’s first, what’s next, and what each step entails.
While simply getting started is important (and often difficult), it’s equally important to know when to end. Sometimes, once we get started, motivation takes over, and it’s easy to get to a point where we start to overthink or overdo a task. We can become obsessed and it becomes difficult to stop. When we work beyond our usefulness, our work begins to suffer. It’s best to move on the next thing. Try to have a plan for a natural stopping point. And remember, just because we’ve “completed” a task, does not necessarily mean we’re done. We still might have some clean-up to do (i.e. doing dishes after cooking, putting away items used in our task, putting away laundry, etc…). We’re not really “done” until these “finishing steps” are done as well.
5. Self Care
“There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” -Aldous Huxley
This is a big one, and it’s one area where codes will differ drastically from person to person. It includes such items as your diet, your physical fitness or lack thereof, hygiene protocols, posture, emotional needs, etc… This is a good place to point out that the concept of Living to Code is not about the solutions, it’s about sticking to solutions once you find them. When you have a plan, the code is supposed to encourage you to keep at it. Self care is far too subjective for me to posit any particular approach for you. In my mind, there is no space (or temple) more sacred than our mind/body/soul. The best advice I can give here is to be patient as you devise the best plan for yourself. If the plan seems to not be working as expected, make some changes/corrections/additions and keep trying. But, be honest with yourself before making any changes. How hard have you really tried? Is the failure the fault of a bad plan, or poor execution? Is the progress just very slow? Also, I recommend the scientific approach of changing only one thing at a time. If you change multiple variables at a time, you’re never really certain which change caused the success, and which change was unnecessary. Make a small change, and be patient. Then, make a different change if needed. Finally, remember that just because we call it “self” care does not mean you’re alone. Most everyone is trying to be “better” in one way or another. Surround yourself with positive, like minded people on a similar path to decrease the likelihood of losing your motivation.
6. Be Curious and Playful
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing” -Helen Keller
On the surface, this is just about having fun with life. Isn’t that the point? But underneath, there are more profound implications. This is the spot in The Code where creativity lives. Being creative is simultaneously the most satisfying and terrifying feeling available. Creating is joy. But the idea of our creation being seen and judged is gut wrenching. It doesn’t matter if you’re creatively challenged or if you’re an artist. All people feel this way about their work at some point. Don’t be afraid of it, be curious about it. Being curious about life opens us up to experiences we would never have otherwise. Being curious teaches us that it’s OK to be a little uncomfortable, and with practice, it can even be a bit fun (in a strange pseudo-masochistic sorta way). Learning to be uncomfortable is a courageous endeavor with enormous benefits. (Some examples: Go take a class. Say “yes” when you’re first instinct is to say “no”. Do something creative and then show it to someone!).
7. Write It Down
“The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.” -Adam Savage/Alex Jason (on Mythbusters);
Keeping track of everything going on is a daunting task, but if we can find ways to efficiently notate our lives, the rewards are unfathomable. This is another area where everyone’s code will differ greatly. In its most basic form, this can be simply a piece of scrap paper that has your days plan on it. That list begins as a document of your immediate future. As that future sequentially morphs into the past, the list becomes a record of what you’ve accomplished. Seeing a list of your crossed off items can provide a comforting satisfaction. I highly recommend you expand your notes beyond simple to-do lists. If you take notes on your actions and their results, the results become repeatable. Imagine you’re messing around in the kitchen with a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that. Sometimes the results are worthy only of the trash. Other times, “edible” is about as gourmet as it gets. But sometimes you surprise yourself, only to realize that you don’t remember how much of anything you used. Finding an efficient and convenient place to take and keep notes is a great way to send your productivity skyrocketing. For most modern folks, this involves the use of apps for their to-do lists, grocery lists, reminders, etc… Many people use a combination of analog and digital approaches. Be mindful to not over do it with the lists. Be realistic. It has been said (and studied) that people with less on their to do list actually get more done.
This idea also encompasses journals and diaries. Any writing that helps prepare you for the future, process the past, or make sense of the present, can have an incalculable value in your life and progress. Journaling, even just a few minutes a day, is possibly the most important factor in any change we want to make. I would even argue that it is more important than the goal itself, at first. Even if you fail in everything else, just write about it. Writing about our failures is the best way to learn from them. It forces us to face them, process them, understand them. It is not possible to write about failure everyday without it eventually steering us toward success (even if our success is only because we’re sick of writing about failure).
“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy” -His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. If we can do this honestly, our failures themselves are our punishment, because we strive to do better. But, if we aren’t honest with ourselves, then we often refuse to hold ourselves accountable. Instead, we make excuses, blame others, and play the victim. In this case there is no personal consequence for failure, because the failure is never ours. What remains is anger and self pity. If you’re the type that embraces accountability, then The Code simply requires that you maintain that. If you are more likely to play victim, you’ll have some work to do here. That work is outside the scope of this post, but will likely be examined as I continue to write about The Code. The simplest action you can take immediately, is to start always (and honestly) asking yourself what role you played in any given scenario. If you have a hard time figuring out who the asshole is, it’s probably you. Don’t sweat it. Own it. Apologize. The end game of The Code is to be a better person. Better to ourselves, and better to others. That process necessarily requires change that is often uncomfortable. The change begins with taking an honest look at ourselves which is equally uncomfortable. We are rewarded with the opportunity to grow immeasurably if we muster the courage to navigate such discomfort.
“Spirituality does not come from religion, it comes from our soul.” -Anthony Douglas Williams
If there is any part of this framework I expect may get completely left out of someone else’s version, this is it. I urge you to think twice. The most common reason for people to struggle with spirituality, is because they struggle with religion. Spirituality is NOT religion, I cannot stress that enough. This is another area of The Code that will be EXTREMELY personal, so I wouldn’t dream of even hinting at what you need. If you already have spirituality, run with it. If you dislike spiritual thought, I urge you to a least think about becoming willing to open your mind to the concept. If you are open to it but uncertain, there are countless ways to get started. I am not a Buddhist per se, but I find that Buddhist thought is often presented in a very practical manner. It has a structure and universal quality that is applicable to anyone, regardless of lifestyle or religious affiliations. There are many books of Buddhist origin that are written for the non-Buddhist (you needn’t become one). Something as ubiquitous as the Wikipedia page on Buddhism can get you started. To delve deeper, almost any book by Thich Nhat Hanh (such as No Mud, No Lotus) should serve you well.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
– FB Silverwood
That’s all there is to say about that. There is nothing I can write here that will sum up persistence any better than that quote. Press on.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. ” – Dr. Seuss
I suppose I can summarize The Code as “a definition of our values”. Since I think our values are merely an expression of ourselves, Living to Code is simply being ourselves. Of course, knowing The Code is just the beginning. Next, you have to create yours. Once created, that’s just the beginning. Next, you have to live it. Once you’re living it, that just the beginning… Are you sensing the theme here?
“The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race. “– unknown