Crystals

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Yesterday in the storm, icicles grew all along the eaves of our house. This morning the sun is rising, making them sparkle and shine.

It’s just facets in frozen water that cause this glittering effect—a slight variation on something that happens every day. But even a simple change in what’s rote and familiar can make a typical scene feel magical.

Birding

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I never knew watching birds was such a popular pastime until recently. Our new house is near a train track that doubles as a wildlife corridor. As a result we seem to have a greater variety of birds in the yard.

Or maybe we don’t. It could actually be that we’re so happy to have windows again, we’re looking outside a lot more than we used to. Or that we so rarely leave the house now, we have more attention to spare for the small changes just outside the door.

Whatever the case, we got curious, bought a book, and discovered a rich community of passionate people who care an awful lot about seeing birds. And like with so many things, the more you learn on this topic, the more there is to discover.

The landscape outside is frozen solid and covered in snow. The entire world is still under the thumb of a raging pandemic. Based on many measures, life now is a lot more limited than it was a year ago.

But the birds don’t know about any of this. Perhaps that’s why its soothing to watch them. They can remind us that when choices seem limited, looking up can do a lot to change your perspective.

Unsubscribe

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When you’re trying to build a mailing list, it can be demoralizing when someone leaves. It’s a clear signal that your messaging did not hit the spot with at least one person.

But keep in mind you’re not working for the masses. You’re working for your core audience. And those are the people who want to hear from you so much they’ll look forward to your emails and miss them if they don’t come.

People who unsubscribe are doing you a favor. They’re clearing the way and making it possible for you concentrate on only your core group of super fans.

Grind or Hone

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People talk about the daily grind. It’s the idea that the repetitive parts of life—the getting out of bed and making breakfast and going to work and doing the work—these things wear you down. Bit by bit, you are reduced by them and made into something smaller and smoother and less interesting.

But what about growth? The strange thing is, learning a new skill also requires seemingly endless repetition. One cannot improve at anything without dialing in the groove of a habit and sculpting a rough ability into a refined skill. This is why progressing to the point of mastery is so hard. It takes incredible stamina and persistence.

Sharpening and dulling both require a grind. It’s really just the difference of how you choose to angle the stone.

Gratitude

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When we do something nice, we except the recipient to be grateful. We expect this so strongly we will often regret being kind at all if no appreciation is shown. This illustrates a little-recognized truth: mostly we help others to make ourselves feel good. If they don’t do their part and show gratitude, we feel cheated.

Knowing this, it’s worth considering why you are inclined to help someone in the first place. Is your intervention designed to actually improve their circumstances? Or are you just chasing the feeling of being a good person?

It it’s the former, you’ll find gratitude is not actually required to make a good deed worth doing.

If it’s the latter, the world could probably use a little less of your help.

Misdelivered Mail

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When it’s physical mail, you have three choices. You can throw it in the recycle bin, tell your (over-worked, underpaid) mail carrier to return it to sender, or take a detour and see to it yourself that it arrives at its intended destination.

It’s harder online. There’s certainly no benefit to anyone in forwarding spam. But sometimes a message arrives that’s meant for someone who is not you. The easy thing is to delete it. But the kind thing is to hit reply and let the sender know of their error.

Metrics

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We have more information than ever before. We’re drowning in data. About the world as a whole. About our government and the people who run it. About where we live and who is nearby. Even about ourselves. As I sit here right now, my smart watch is recording my heart rate and saving that information alongside how many steps I took yesterday and the measurement from the smart scale I stood on this morning.

My smart phone is recording my coordinates. My laptop is making note of the websites I visit. I take a photo of something nearly every day. Never have so many people so assiduously recorded so much. And yet, by and large, our culture of one confusion. We can’t even agree on what a fact is anymore.

I like data. But weighing myself daily is only a useful exercise if I’m prepared to accept the responsibility when I see a trend moving in the wrong direction. If I get angry with the scale or deny what it’s telling me or take data from a study on gravity, twist it, manipulate it, and make it seem to show that physics has turned against me personally, I’m lying to myself more than anyone.

If you use false facts as a shield against reality you might seem to win a short term argument or two. But this is not the strategy of someone who actually wants to solve the problem or reverse the trend.

Shortcuts

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They’re great when they’re real. The keyboard kind, in particular, is really useful. Lately they’ve stopped working on one of my favorite apps. It is driving me insane. But the truth is my annoyance at the lack of the working shortcut is what’s costing me the most time. I’m used to my keyboard shortcuts, I rely on them, and when they don’t work I get thrown for a loop.

But the truth about life is that most shortcuts are illusions. You think you’re getting somewhere faster but in truth you’re either working harder or skipping important steps. Sometimes working harder is worth it. If you’re in a hurry to get to the top of the mountain and you’re in good shape, you’re not going to hurt anything by taking the steep trail instead of the switchbacks.

Skipping steps, though, will almost always comes back to haunt you IRL. And if you’re out for a hike trying to relax, rushing straight up the slope defeats the point.

Cold

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It’s been a winter of snowfall and temperatures I now perceive as mild (but once would have considered frigid). I enjoy the blanket of white over the landscape and the smoke rising from chimneys. I don’t enjoy the endlessly chill in my feet and the necessity of wearing many layers at all times.

But the horses live outside in this. Esti sits in the yard of her own volition and loves the icy romps and snorfeling through snow. They obviously must perceive the cold, but it doesn’t bother them. I would like to learn that trick.

In the meantime, I’ll rely on candles and throw blankets and mittens.

Optimism

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It feels foolish lately. It’s as if everyone now believes being caught out hoping for a better world can only leave you vulnerable and disappointed. In all the great battles of our time, it feels like all we get is losers on all sides. And perhaps this is true on a global level. Hoping for a change in circumstances is always perilous.

But what if we learn to separate the circumstances we’re stuck with from our assessment of whether or not there is anything to hope for? If my hope for today is that I can show kindness and generosity to someone, it’s pretty safe to feel optimistic about my chances.