Friday, June 30, 2017

A Week in the Life

And what a week it's been--for the garden, that is.

Right now, we've been enjoying some really wonderful garden-growing weather. Last weekend, we had a downpour in the morning, followed by temps that slowly rose into the 80's. Needless to say, these guys loved it.

Usually you have to choose: heat and sunshine, or watering? We got both, and not too much of either (which is often a problem).

I've done things a bit differently this year, most notably putting down mulch, and also spreading plants out a bit more. I used to put the same plants all together, and I still do that (melons, sweet potatoes, cucumbers), but for some of the other things, I spread them around different spots, or put them in different kinds of containers so that I don't lose I'm less likely to lose absolutely everything if we run into a problem with bugs or blight or whatnot (tomatoes, I'm looking at you).

I've also tried to get a bit savvy about pairing plants. So, I planted squash in a spot where it can spread out and maybe, just maybe, use those trademark enormous leaves to provide a bit of shade for my lettuce leaves, so they'll last a bit longer.

I also put broccoli in with the same agenda: can it provide shade as it grows, and extend the lifespan of my lettuce (since the typical July heat and sun will make it bolt in no time).

I've also put basil around the tomatoes this year, instead of planting it all in one planter. It's rumored to keep the bugs away, and I really don't need tons of basil this year--I'm still working through the pesto of years past (my two storage freezers were the best investment ever).

And speaking of storage freezers and investment, yesterday was a day for cherry-picking. It's a 70 mile drive each way for me to get to a place that has them, so every year it's always a bit up in the air whether time will be on my side.

This year it was. I didn't take pictures of them, but trust me, they are quite wonderful. I put over half of them in the beloved freezer, and I'm enjoying the rest. During the winter or next spring, I'll have plenty to make into jam--right now, I'm still working through last year's batch on that too.

Sunday will include a wee bit of raspberry-picking. Although the big push for those usually comes in early August, the first early crop at the picking place was apparently large enough that they've opened it up to the public for a one-day, four-hour extravaganza.

I will be there.

And of course, any minute now, blueberry season will be upon me.

As I said, as a week in the life of the garden (and other assorted fruit), it's been a good one. A growing season to be very grateful for so far.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


No, I'm not talking about the Calvin Klein fragrance.

Although when you get right down to it, the weirdness and stupidity of those old Calvin Klein cologne commercials (sorry if I seem judgmental, but I really thought they were weird and stupid) fits with the weirdness and stupidity of obsession itself.

I'd like to think that the fact that I can say that and see it quite clearly means that I'm at least poised to embark on the road to recovery with my own current problem.

In my case, the obsession is really more of a compulsion. If you're wondering what the difference between the two is, it's the difference between a thought and an action.

An obsession is a recurrent thought. A compulsion is a recurrent action. You can do something compulsively without really being aware that you're doing it. In the case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the two are wedded: a person worries constantly about germs, said person compulsively washes and cleans.

In my case, I've found that the summer months have led me to compulsively check a particular Facebook page, even though I know there's no valid or worthwhile reason for me to do so. 

Because I know that, I was able to stop for a bit, but then I fell off the wagon this weekend. To such an extent that, yesterday, I began nattering on about it and a friend eventually said the word "obsessed" (forcefully).

My friend is very patient and understanding, but let's face it, no one needs nattering, particularly when it's become anxious, emotionally overwrought nattering. (I think this means it's technically no longer nattering, but I really want to use that particular word, so ... there 'tis.)

And no, I'm not going to tell you what page it is, because I don't want others to suffer, I don't want to drive traffic to said page, and--most importantly--I don't want you to look at it and think, "I don't get it... THIS is what you keep looking at? THIS?"

On that particular point, I can't handle the truth. So simply swap in some internet site or FB page that has you in its cyber-clutches and move on here.

Because let's face it, I'm not alone in this. It's a common problem. And in a minute, I'll explain why.

I think that, for the most part, my FB checking is compulsive--under normal circumstances, I don't get caught up in worrying about it. But clearly, it does have the ability to cross that line and turn into a source of worry.

So what is an (Over) Thinker to do?

Well, first of all, I did what any sensible person would do: I went out and bought a book, so I can read about it.

Then, I did what any sensible person would do: I read an article. This one in particular. 

As Begley points out, the way that Facebook works is a recipe for compulsion, because it taps into what our brains are wired to respond to: it offers "intermittent/variable rewards."

Sometimes, there's something "good" and we feel like we've hit the mother lode. Other times, not so much.

Actually, most of the time, not so much, but that doesn't matter. The fact that it happens intermittently and variably means that it creates a situation of "low-cost, occasionally high-reward activities" that  are "catnip to the brain." (Being a cat-lover, I love when a writer assumes that we're all basically cats.) 

Compulsive checking of Facebook is also a way of relieving anxiety (theoretically). At some point, however, it can reach a tipping point and it's now a source of anxiety... and yet, we keep checking, to try to alleviate the anxiety that the checking has caused.

Stop. The. Madness.

Easier said than done, of course. Some people are able to white-knuckle their way with willpower until they've broken the cycle. Some people are able to come up with other distractions and over time, the compulsion dissipates.

Until it's baaaack.

I decided that I want this compulsive checking gone, though, so I'm breaking out the big guns.

If you want to change a behavior, you need to track it--so that you cognitively recognize what you're doing and hold yourself accountable.

I've already been using Marshall Goldsmith's idea of "active questions" to stay on-task with other behaviors I want to implement, so I decided to add this to my list of questions that I ask myself at the end of the day: "Did I do my best not to compulsively check this particular page?"

But then, because I know me, and I can be a bit of a slacker at times, particularly if I manage to convince myself, "Oh, what's the harm??" I decided that simply scoring my success wouldn't be enough.

Don't get me wrong, I'm the girl who wants to get the highest grade in the class. So on the one hand, the idea of scoring how well I'm doing is definitely a good approach for a personality like mine.

But I decided that, since I really want to kick this habit, I'm going to up the ante. And I decided the best way to do this would be to tap into my other obsession.

No, not cats. The other one.


There is some seriously expensive yarn out there in the world, my friends, and I. Want. It.

But the frugal, sensible Thinker in me can't rationalize buying it. My inner yarn-hedonist has tried, oh, how she has tried.

"If you're knitting something with it, it's never wasted money." "Whatever you make would last forever... you could will it to someone when you die, so then it would be, like, more useful." "You could just buy a little bit of it and make something small--it's not like you're thinking of making a blanket with the stuff...".

You get the idea. I've withstood this self-induced pressure for a while now, because in some way, I know that if I succumb, I will feel guilty that I spent too much and that I hadn't really "earned" it.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

So here's what I've decided: I get 10 points every day that I stay away from that FB page. When I've accumulated 1000 points, I can buy the nice yarn. If I stay on track, that will fall right around my birthday, so that would be a win-win, guilt-free extravaganza, as far as I'm concerned.

If I slip up on any given day ... I lose 100 points.

The funny thing is, the minute I put this system in place, my brain was like, "Done. So now we wait... and in the meantime surf yarn websites and figure out what color yarn we want and what pattern we're going to use."

I think what happened that caused this to "click" with me is simple. Previously, there was never any incentive for me to not check it (low risk), and nothing ever-present to my mind that reminded me how much it paled by comparison with the things I value and enjoy spending my time on.

Problem solved. The fact that checking this might lead me to lose out on (or delay) my achievement of something that I want--and the fact that I now have a very concrete reminder of what that is--turned the situation from an abstract problem to a concrete goal.   

Today will be my first 10-point day. Only 99 more to go. I'd better get cracking on the yarn searches.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Recently, I had the opportunity to reread a story that I enjoyed years ago, when I first read it, but that I hadn't had a chance to return to: Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" (1853).

If you've never read it, but would like to, you can get a copy of it here (via Project Gutenberg) or here (as a PDF).

I'm not a fan of giving away the plot, so I'm going to focus predominantly on the things that struck me upon rereading it, in light of some of the other reading and thinking that I've been doing lately.

Perhaps the most famous component of Melville's tale--and a ready source of fascination for scholars the world over--has been the impact and significance of Bartleby's repeated comment, "I would prefer not to."

Initially and inexplicably applied to any and all requests that his employer makes of him, the phrase takes on additional resonance as the story unfolds. Interestingly, the narrator of the story admits that he feels "unmanned" by Bartleby and his phrase: as his employer, the narrator expects Bartleby to simply comply with his demands, as part and parcel of his job as a scrivener.

When Bartleby fails to do so, the narrator increasingly finds himself at a loss for a solution to this odd behavior.

Herein lies the genius of Melville's story: by stating, "I would prefer not to," Bartleby is not simply resisting the dictates involved in fulfilling a job that demands his compliance. He's also undermining the system itself by pointing to a flaw in the definition of "work"that underlies his employer's requests and the logic of Wall Street labor in general.

As the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben points out, Bartleby doesn't say, "I won't do it." And then again, he also doesn't say he will do it either.

Saying "I won't" is an overt and straightforward form of defiance. Instead, Bartleby has the nerve to express a preference.

The employer/employee relationship, as the story's narrator understands it--and by implication as we ourselves have generally come to understand it--isn't supposed to allow for the expression of a personal preference with respect to our job.

It's a job; we're paid to do what we're told to do.

As the narrator tells Bartleby at one point, "Either you must do something, or something must be done to you." This is the logic upon which the narrator operates, and by implication, it is the logic that underlies the workings of Wall Street and the definition of labor in America.

Do or be done unto.

But what does this assumption (as the story points out, the narrator is a lawyer who makes a good living operating on assumptions) do to the idea of the laborer as an individual?

The brilliance of Melville's formulation of the problem is the confrontation of power implicit in Bartleby's response. When an employer asks us, "Will you, would you, or could you" questions with respect to the tasks that we are being assigned, we're not really supposed to feel entitled to say "no."

If we do, and the employer listens, then the kudos typically go to the employer, because the assumption is that s/he is not required to consider the question of their workforce's "preference" in any given situation.

If, as employees, we say "no" outright, we are putting ourselves in the position of being perceived as not doing our job. As actively defiant.

But what is involved in doing our job is not necessarily always clearly spelled out when we take the job itself. Instead, it often depends upon our employer's understanding of our role and responsibilities, because our employer is by default the one with the power.

By saying, "I would prefer not to," Bartleby confronts this assumption outright. An employer's power lies in the worker's compliance. But without Bartleby's compliance, the job can't and won't get done.

Bartleby's phrase also encapsulates his implicit refusal to be labeled a "bad" or "negligent" worker. He simply has "preferences" with respect to how his time and his labor are employed, and he does not operate on the assumption that those are set aside the minute someone else begins paying him for his work.

Obviously, Bartleby could be fired--that would be a much simpler and less philosophical story, obviously.

But instead, Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" muses on the implications of Bartleby's brand of resistance.

One of the points I find most interesting is the fact that Bartleby's behavior is characterized as "contagious." Shortly after Bartleby begins deploying his famous phrase, everyone in the office is inadvertently remarking upon their own preferences, even if they openly disagree with Bartleby's peculiar behavior.

Likewise, at the end of the story, we learn that, according to rumor, Bartleby was previously employed in the "Dead Letter Office" in Washington, but lost his job due to "a change in the administration."

"Dead letters" are letters that cannot be delivered to their recipient, but that also cannot be "returned to sender." If the rumor is true, then, as the narrator points out, Bartleby's previous job probably consisted of opening these letters and then burning them.

The narrator sees this as the daily experience of profound despair by a man already "prone to a pallid hopelessness."

More importantly, I think the conclusion of Melville's story is designed to make us question where Bartleby belongs and what his work or his preference for not working might mean in the overall conception of business-as-usual in America.

Does work really define who we are and who we are perceived to be, even in spite of ourselves? Is productivity a measure of our meaning?

And what does it mean for us, and for humanity at large, if they are?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poised for Growth

I've been doing the mental equivalent of tossing and turning all day today, because I knew I need to write a blog post, and I actually have a nice literary idea for one, but I've been doing so much academic writing lately, that when I finish it, I can't quite bring myself to write yet another literary thing.

My literary writing brains are worn out at the end of the day. And my fear is, if I write a blog post in the morning, I'll never get to the academic writing I need to do.

Such is the quandary. The struggle is real. (Note: I didn't say "worthwhile" or "valid" or even "interesting," just "real.")

But then it dawned on me: I've been spending so much time on the garden for the past two or three weeks, I might as well blog about where I am with that and save the other post for another day. (It will get done this weekend, I swear.)

The garden seems to me to be off to a slow start this year for a few reasons. First, the weather has been very ... volatile. It rained a lot, which wasn't bad, and it was chillier than normal for much of the month of May, and that wasn't bad either, really.

But it did mean that things didn't really grow after I planted them. Which brings me to the second reason why the garden seems a bit behind this year: I didn't have a chance to start anything indoors.

So everything went straight into the ground, as seeds, and it was sink or swim. There was no time for screwing around.

And I have to say, I think it turned out okay, even if it is a little behind where it usually is (and I'm not all that sure it is, that's just my sense). Because in years past, I start seeds indoors, get them to the point of transplantation and then BAM! dampening off!  BAM! sunburn! BAM! rabbits! BAM! bugs!!

So this year, because things just grew when they grew, it seems like they're a bit hardier. At least, that's the hope.

So okay, what do I have this year? I have all kinds of things growing. I planted melons, like so (please excuse the odd angle in some of these pictures, I was taking them quickly, before the battery died):

And I planted sweet potatoes, like so:

There are beans in with the melons and sweet potatoes, because my sense is that beans make the other plants rather happy.

I have a ton of itty bitty tomato plants in grow bags, but I didn't take pictures of those, because they're so small they're not terribly impressive.  But I also installed a new planter and put some tomatoes and basil in that, and here those are:

These are cherry tomato plants, so that's why they look a bit more impressive. My neighbor and I were chatting about gardening, and he characterized cherry tomatoes as the "weed" of the tomato plant family. (He means "weed" in the sense of "invasive, fast-growing plant" not "weed" in the sense of marijuana.)

At this point, I'll take it. (And by "it," I mean fast-growing cherry tomatoes, not weed.)

The overview of the garden beds right now is underwhelming, I'll admit, but I'll also admit that I'm optimistic.  Here that is:

The leeks (front right) and potatoes (back right) are doing pretty well. There are also carrots in the back, but you can't really see them.

And if you take a closer look, like so, you'll see it's not entirely terrible (again, apologies for the oddly angled shot):

That's lettuce in the front on the right side--it's doing quite well, because the temps haven't been terribly warm, and it's been cool and rainy. In the back are two types of squash--spaghetti, on the left, and acorn, on the right.

And if you know anything about squash, you know that in a few weeks, I'll no doubt be complaining bitterly about how they're taking over my entire garden.

I also have a couple of broccoli plants--you can see one staked on the right edge of the photo up above. I really tried not to plant quite so much this year--I have a billion tomato plants, but life has taught me that you really need a lot of those, because they have a tendency to, well, die, sometimes rather unexpectedly.

I'm also experimenting with composting and mulching this year, to see if that helps. If nothing else, it's sparing me a whole lot of time spent watering (well, that and the rain, obviously), and I'm curious to see if it helps the garden to grow a bit better. I just put some old grass down yesterday, and it may be my imagination, but I thought everything looked quite pleased with that this morning.

And on that note, I'll leave you with a picture of hope. Several years ago, I planted sweet william and for at least 2-3 years, I could never get any decent plants because the bugs ate them. (And I mean ate them.)

I had sort of given up all hope, when lo and behold, last year, I had an amazing little bed of sweet william.

And this year, it's even better! The other day, we had a heavy rain, so I clipped some of the ones that had been beaten down by the storm. They're a reminder that, sometimes, when it comes to gardening, you just never know.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Productive Week

It's been a good week.

I finished an article. Not the terrible Zola one, which I have set aside yet again.

I'm beginning to think that one falls in the category that Joli Jensen, in Write No Matter What, labels a "toxic project."

Her argument is, if you begin to feel nothing but loathing at the thought of working on a writing project, it's become "toxic" and it needs to just... go... or STOP because it will drain your energy and become a mental and emotional roadblock that makes it impossible to work on other things.

Jensen is (unfortunately) talking about much larger projects, but it sure does seem to describe that Zola article for me. So I set it aside, with the thought that I may "never return to it."

Given the sense of overwhelming relief and peace I felt when I reached that decision, I'd say "toxic" was the appropriate label for it at this point. I had begun to regret ever embarking on it, quite frankly.

But the good news is, I finished the article on Hersey's Hiroshima and I feel pretty good about that one.

And I got the page proofs for an upcoming co-authored article on Shalamov, so I feel very good about that, needless to say. It's always a great--and sort of surprising--feeling to see your work in print. Not just typed out on your own computer or whatever, but actually, officially typeset and about to appear in professional form somewhere out in the great big world.

And then, there was this:

I found a wonderful pick-your-own strawberry place in RI.

I haven't had such great luck with strawberries in RI. Typically, they're much better in NJ, I suspect because waves of godawful heat tend to hit NJ far earlier and far more often in the months of May and early June.

But we had one such mini-heat wave here in RI last week, for a few days, but I didn't mind it (I certainly never though of calling it "godawful") and this was the glorious result of that.

It was followed almost immediately by this:

The summer jam-making session have commenced, in short.

The end of the little spate of warm weather left much cooler temps, so I took advantage of the cool and breezy days to can some strawberry jam (in progress photo on the left), and to use up the leftover berries in the freezer and make some more blackberry jam and cherry jam as well.

So now, we wait for the raspberry and blueberry picking seasons to begin.

If the timing is right, I'll also get some more cherries. Really, nothing beats having fresh fruit frozen and stored for the winter.

Since we're looking at yet another rainy and chilly weekend, I'm hoping to get some knitting projects finished.

Because no one really wants to be knitting a sweater during the summer--unless it's something lightweight, and even then, not really. Not if it ends up big enough that it's resting on your lap in the heat. That's the kind of thing that can push someone over the edge, even if the resting item is simply made of cotton or silk.

God forbid it's woolen.

I also bought a bunch of books (for the Kindle of course) and hit the library, so I've got a couple more writing projects in the works.

I'm still trying to stick to the program of "Deep Work" sessions, bouts of a minimum of 15 minutes of writing every day, and "Active Questions" to check on whether or not I'm meeting my goals.

I think it's working, more or less. Some days better than others, but overall, I'd say it's working. At the very least, I feel a bit more "on schedule" and "in control" of my work habits.

I didn't do any writing for the past several days (see above: berries and jam take time) although I think I did do a 15-minuter, actually, on one of those days, I just didn't count it because it seemed so very piddly.

Prior to that, I had a 6-day span of "deep work"--concentrated, intellectual activity--that resulted in an article submission. This is good. And productive.

I'm hoping that the upcoming week will consist of "second verse, same as the first."

With maybe a bit of gardening and knitting--instead of berry-picking and jamming--thrown in.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Redeeming Value

I ended up feeling a bit under the (rainy, windy, gloomy, chilly) weather last Monday and Tuesday, so I feel like I've spent the past week playing catch-up. (Again.)

I'm nearing the end of the article on Hiroshima that I had planned to finish, oh, a while ago... but I really do feel like the end is in sight, and I want to say that I'll have it submitted in the next day or two... but I'm afraid to say that (for obvious reasons).

Jinxes happen.

So instead I'll focus on talking about the other things that I accomplished. When I was away from home April, the grill tipped over in my yard and lay there just long enough to kill off a grill-shaped segment of the lawn.

Being me, I did what only I would do.  I installed another planter. (What, you're surprised by that?) Here 'tis.

I put a couple of cherry tomato plants in it, along with some basil. Everything is teeny-tiny in my gardening world right now, because I plant the stuff from seed, so... it takes a while.

BUT, in my defense, I've got a nice variety of things coming up, and the heat wave we're getting right now is giving them the little boost of confidence they need to ... get growing! Right now, the melons, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and potatoes are all looking like they're well on their way.

Fingers crossed.

I'm also pleased because my peonies have finally had the chance to put down solid roots and the blooms this year are quite wonderful. Like so:

They smell wonderful, needless to say.

My understanding is, a lot of people consider peonies an "old fashioned flower" so they don't plant them all that much any more.

I say, that's kinda foolish, because they're all kinds of wonderful.

And I mean what I say: I have no fewer than 5 peony bushes. They make great cut flowers--although once the weather gets hot, they don't hold up very well or for very long.

I planted a new type of perennial as well. I confess, this one was a bit of a mishap. I bought the seeds and planted them, and when they got big enough and I was ready to transplant them, I checked to see when they would be expected to bloom.

Imagine my surprise when it said that they wouldn't bloom at all the first year.


This is why it pays to read the packaging all the way to the end, I suppose.

In any case, I tended them all last year, at a couple points wondering whether I was an idiot for doing so because after all, there was no guarantee they wouldn't just up and die over the winter and never return in the spring... and the seedlings were initially kinda frail, so a couple of them died within moments of being transplanted (yes, I exaggerate, but only slightly).

But good things come to those who wait, apparently, because, without further ado... the latest addition to my garden... Canterbury bells! 

They come in an assortment of colors, but most of mind are bluish-purple.

Which is fine by me, because I like that color, but at the same time, a variety would have been nice.

But we can't have everything, and at this point, I'm just glad that they survived and they look nice. They're quite striking--the stakes are about 3-4 feet high, and as you can see, they need to be staked, and they are generally as tall as the stakes themselves.

So it's a good thing I read the package far enough along to know to put them in back of other plants. They're actually right near my peonies, and I for one am happy with the result.

Speaking of results (or the lack thereof), I'm still on my fitness/weight loss quest. The fitness side of things seems to be progress much better than the weight loss side of things, but that may be because last week I went out for ice cream twice.

Once, to console myself for having not felt well on Monday and Tuesday, and once because, well, I just wanted to and I'd already gone once, so I considered the "weight loss" issue "on hold" for the week, given that I'd had to adjust to accommodate any number of unanticipated problems.

At least, this is how I rationalized it to myself.

But yesterday and today, I took a 20-mile bike ride, so I think I've more than redeemed myself, thank you very much.

And redemption was even sweeter than ice cream. I'll leave you with a glimpse of this morning's view from the bike...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Changing Times

As is probably pretty obvious by now, I'm a self-awareness and human behavior junkie. So it is not at all surprising that I picked up Marshall Goldsmith's Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be (2015).

I've blogged about Goldsmith's work a bit recently ("Here and There") and I must say, I found Triggers even more interesting.

Put simply, Goldsmith argues that "Our environment is a nonstop triggering mechanism" that profoundly affects our behavior.

I know, not a terribly new insight, is it?

But as my dad used to say, "Common sense isn't so common," and despite the fact that we know that our environment sets us up for some bad choices--from things as harmless as hitting the snooze button 16 times instead of heading out to the gym or getting into yet another blowout over politics with our brother-in-law at the family picnic to ignoring the doctor's warnings about our smoking --but we continue to make them anyway.

Perhaps more importantly, we make them despite the fact that we plan to stop doing precisely the things we know we shouldn't do.

Our intentions are good. Why do we keep getting sucked in and find ourselves at the kitchen table at 3 a.m. wondering why we felt compelled to eat 5 more slices of birthday cake?

Goldsmith argues that "we start each day as a bifurcated individual, one part leader, the other part follower--and as the day progresses, the two grow further apart." We wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (after we stop hitting the snooze button) and we decide that it doesn't matter if we didn't make it to the gym this morning!  We drive right by it on the way home from work, so we'll do our workout then!

Until we end up running late at work, and realize that there really isn't any point in doing a workout an hour before the gym closes...that's just foolish.  And anyway, we're hungry and the Chinese take-out place we love just happens to be right around the corner from the now-nearly-closed gym, so...

You know how this story ends.

Goldsmith argues that we start with a plan, like a boss. But then, as the day wears on--and ye gods does it wear on sometimes--"with little to no awareness, you assume a different role." But the leader in you thinks the inner-follower will stick to the plan, regardless.

But our inner-follower isn't like that. If the environment changes, the follower will rationalize not sticking to the leader's plan. And what's even worse, our follower-self will "flirt with temptation" precisely "[b]ecause of our delusional belief that we control our environment."

Ultimately, Goldsmith argues, "We willfully ignore how profoundly the environment influences our behavior" and instead "make excuses," "rationalize," and "harbor beliefs that trigger all manner of denial and resistance."

And sadly, "As a result, we continually fail at becoming the person we want to be."

Goldsmith's solution is interestingly simple: we need to take stock of our willingness to try (whether or not we succeed) and we need to do so by framing the behavioral change we wish to effect in terms of "active self-questioning" rather than posing "passive" questions about our desired behavioral change.

For example, if you go on a diet, chances are, at the end of the day, you ask yourself, "Did I stick to my diet?" If the answer is yes, awesome!  On to the next day.

But if the answer is, "Wellllll... not really," you will almost immediately begin blaming the environment somehow or finding an excuse (or beating yourself up for failing, to such an extent that you end up giving up entirely). You'll note that it isn't really not sticking to a diet if you only had the one cookie (plus the other two that your kids picked up and then didn't want) at that event earlier in the afternoon, because the cookies were made by a friend, and wouldn't it be rude not to at least try one? Of course it would.

You see where this is going.

Active self-questioning, Goldsmith argues, "can trigger a new way of interacting with the world" because "Active questions reveal where we are trying and where we are giving up."

Instead of asking "Did I [fill in desired behavior change here]?" you ask, "Did I do my best to [fill in desired behavior change here]?"

Instead of, "Did I stick to my diet?" the question becomes, "Did I do my best to eat healthy food today?"

And then, you score yourself on a scale of 1-10. So, the cookie scenario might earn you a 3 out of 10. Which isn't great, but if you think about it, it's easier to say, "Well, I'll try to at least get a 4 tomorrow!" 

More importantly, active self-questioning forces you to think about the extent to which you're trying and the extent to which you're simply giving up on the behavioral change you're trying to bring about.

According to Goldsmith, "Injecting the phrase 'Did I do my best to..' triggers trying. In a world full of triggers, active self-questioning helps you create your own trigger and train it on the behavioral change you wish to bring about.

Obviously, Goldsmith's book is full of other helpful (and interesting) suggestions, but if you'd like more insight into his strategy of using "daily questions" as a trigger for effecting positive personal change, you can check out his article "Why We Don't Become the Person We Want to Be" on his website.