February 17, 2011

Eat Your Vegetables

Some blogs, web sites, newspapers and magazines love to hand out rather simplistic advice, delivered in bite-site portions: The top 7 ways to prepare for retirement, 10 ways to live a healthier life, 8 steps to declutter your home.  I call this "eat your vegetables" advice. It is common knowledge, it is obvious, and it is virtually useless. Not because top 10 lists are inherently bad or flawed. But, because most of these approaches assume that a "one-size-fits-all  actually works. I suggest it doesn't.

There is nothing more unique than your life. A list of possible solutions to your problems or opportunities can't hurt. It might even remind you of something you have neglected for too long. But, there is no way anyone telling you the best 10 ways to do anything can really solve your problems. Life issues aren't that easy to fix. They certainly won't be resolved by scanning a list.

So, what do you do? Clearly I am not about to list 7 steps you should take to solve your problems. Rather, I am suggesting you do some heavy lifting and develop your own approach to what needs attending to. It may be finding a new passion or something that interests you, fixing or strengthening a relationship, deciding how you are going to simplify your life, or figuring out how you are going to solve the financial bind you find yourself in.

Some of us do better with learning more about a subject before we move forward. Taking a community college course or two may be all you need to feel comfortable enough to better manage your money. The library has books, audio, and video resources on virtually every subject. The Internet has almost too much information to choose from.

Maybe your personality thrives in a mentoring type arrangement. You find a friend or the friend of a friend who knows what you need to know. Develop a relationship where you get what you need (information), and the other person gets what he needs (feeling needed).

I know people who find answers through solitude. Turning off the cell phone and computer, staying at home or finding a place to go for a day or more allows the brain to mull over the issue at hand. The freedom from distractions and everyday responsibilities can be tremendously energizing. Try it. You may find yourself with new ideas. Or, you may simply find yourself relaxed and refreshed with no specific solutions to a problem at that time. Both outcomes are positives.

You may be the type that needs hard physical work to allow your creative side to be released. By doing a manual task that requires little active thinking, your mind is free to explore solutions. As a side benefit you finish something on your to-do list.

What works best for me is is usually learning more about a subject or quiet time to think about what I have discovered. I tend to over-study a problem before moving forward...I'm working on that. Sometimes I will see an article in the paper or a phrase from a book that will grab my attention and give me an idea that I kick around for awhile. Then, I decide if it is worth pursing.

The point of all this is simple: a list that suggests it can help you have a happier, more fulfilling life by checking the items off like a grocery list is not going to work. Life's problems and needs can't be reduced to such an easy format. Put in the effort to discover the approach that works best for you and develop your own action list.

Oh, and eat your vegetables. They are good for you. That advice is true.

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  1. ITA. I've read such "list" books and articles before, and they tend to be a tad on the frustrating side.

    Although I have to say that many give the skeletal basics as steps needed to take in a direction. Sometimes they are useful; sometimes so obvious I wonder why I wasted my time.

  2. Darn, I was thinking you had gotten a position with the list people---USNEWS retirement page. I have never seen so many lists!
    After teaching for so many years I don't know why I didn't move "modes of learning" to "modes of learning in retirement". Thanks for reminding me that I am much more of a mentor seeking person.

  3. Emily,

    I see these lists of " 8 super strategies" or "9 secret ways" and like you I get frustrated, frustrated that someone is getting paid to write such obvious stuff.

    Have you noticed the more mainstream the magazine, newspaper, or web site the more simplistic the lists? Some are downright insulting.

    OK, morning rant is now over. Thanks, Emily, for starting the comments off. Yes, as a reminder lists have a value. But, as a longterm solution, no way.

  4. Janette,

    Several of my early guest posts on other blogs were lists. I read somewhere that men like list-type articles. Then, I began to realize that if I wrote like everyone else what's the point?

    Mentoring is powerful. As you noted isn't that what a teacher is? Add parents and we have nothing but mentors for the first 18 or more years of our life. So, reacting well to a mentor is really our default choice.

  5. Excellent point - I tire of reading someone else list of what I need to do to live a better life. Only I know what makes me tick. No problem with getting some ideas from others but as you say, only I can do the heavy lifting for myself. Then I can write my own list that is applicable to me! Go Sharks! :)

  6. The only time I look at lists are when they are the NHL standings and they show the Coyotes one point above the Sharks!

    Lists are great for idea generation, not so good for idea execution.

  7. You have a very good point...I saw a list the other day that suggested ways to live on less after retirement. The second item on the list was "Get rid of your car!" Just shoot me now. We are retired, not dead. People actually NEED cars in most cases. The trick is learning to make your car cost less!

    The sad thing is that Google Search Engine is driving the "list machine"...or at least that is what I think. I get more clicks for a list or a "how to" than anything else.

    Now I will go on with my "heavy lifting". Oh by the way I have started using bullet points to highlight things. Have a great day.



  8. I think I saw the same list! Silly, isn't it. I believe you are correct about how SEO works. Certain things do help search results in Google, like images, key words, and yes, lists. Like you I went to bullet points instead of numbers.

  9. Great observations. While there are certainly some important fundamentals in nearly every area, one size does not fit all. We are all made different, and for good reason. Enjoy your continuing march to the beat of your own drummer.

  10. Thanks, Rick, though sometimes that drummer is playing a song I don't recognize!

    Being true to yourself is the key.

  11. I've been reading the top 10 sort of health lists for years. It tends to all be repetitious. We all know we should eat veggies, keep our weight down, and get plenty of sleep and exercise by now.

    I think people are so busy anymore and are operating on serious information overload. Lists tend to water down and simplify to the point where most people feel they can handle it.

    I'm reading the ebook focus by Leo Babauta, who does the ZenHabits blog. It's about simplifying our lives, disconnecting from technology on a regular basis and reconnecting with the world around you. This goes with what you said about finding answers in solitude. I think each of us really knows in our heart what we should do for our own lives if we just listen to our own intuition.

    Maybe a list "Top 10 Ways to Connect to Your Intuition"-lol

  12. You make a good point, Joan.

    With overloaded lives, a short, numbered list is quick and simple. It gives the illusion of problem-solving without a lot of time and effort.

    There is nothing wrong with a top 10 list, as long as it contains actionable and fresh insight. The ones I am writing about are the type that are overly simplistic and pretend that a problem is solved that easily.

    Leo's book (I've read it too and it is excellent) is a good example of someone presenting basic information with a fresh, unique perspective.

  13. I find that my style differs according to the task. I typically research intensely on my own. That personality trait is reflected in the work I've chosen, too, as a writer and options trader. However, with some tasks, I would prefer a mentor. For example, it's long been a goal of mine to grow many of our own vegetables. I love weeding and working in the garden, and some of my best plot developments (pun intended) occur to me while I've been gardening. After two seasons of trying to grow vegetables, however, I've provided lots of feed for the locusts, deer and rabbits that populate our part of the world and very little for our table. I would love a farmer mentor to shorten my learning curve. To learn to play violin, I of course also needed a teacher, a mentor. So, I find that my style has to be tuned to the task in addition to my personality. Perhaps as I've grown older, I've become more willing to ask for help than I was in the past.

  14. Good Morning, Linda,

    You are exactly right: experience teaches us that different approaches work best for different needs. Without belaboring the point, a simplified list approach doesn't allow for that type of approach.

    Good luck with the vegetables. We tried to grow one little tomato plant this winter (it can be done in Phoenix)and the poor thing is pathetic looking and has produced nothing.

    If any readers missed my post on asking for help in exactly the way Linda has suggested, here is a link. Cut and paste: http://tinyurl.com/4f266xn

  15. Seems to me that each of us learns in his or her own way. Some take courses, others consult with experts (or friends who know just a bit more)and still others search the internet. And a small minority actually read the owner's manual. I tend to "poke." That is, I use all of these sources of information, then I sleep on it for a while. At times, quite a while. A good friend told me, many years ago, "Bill, you do everything you say you'll do. It just takes you about a year to think about it."

  16. Bob,

    Your writing so often makes me smile! This is so true: "There is nothing more unique than your life." I love the variety of suggestions you pose here from a course to solitude. These are meaningful suggestions, not quick fixes that don't necessarily work.

  17. Perhaps we shall finally get away from these "10 ways, or 5 Simple steps etc." People aren't stupid, so why treat us like we are. Thanks for "eating your veggies." I agree.

  18. Thanks Sandra,

    I'm glad I can make you smile and think. If what I write accomplishes that then I'm happy.

    By the way, I love the picture of Hawaii on your masthead today. But, then again I love the leaves, too. How will you ever decide?

  19. Hey Bill (a few comments above),

    Nothing wrong with "sleeping on it." You'd probably agree with me that some of our problems would be solved if more of us didn't want instant answers and instant solutions.

    Reading the owners manual....really?

  20. Good evening Gutsywriter Sonia,

    We are an instant culture, so I'm afraid many will still look for bite-sized answers to complex problems. Besides blogs I think I see more of these lists in Money Magazine and Good House Keeping than anywhere else.

  21. I like the numbered list and I don't try to go by them but I pick and choose what is helpful to me. One of my favorite blogs is Christian Personal Finance and they do the numbered list thing often. I just find it helpful to have it broken down that way and again, I just use what is helpful to me, not the entire list in numbered order.

  22. Hi Sue,

    Thank you for offering a different perspective on this subject. Obviously a lot of people like them and find them useful or they wouldn't be so common.

    You pick and choose what is helpful to you. That sounds like a wise approach. I must admit I read "Top 10" lists when I see them and occasionally am reminded of something I should do.

  23. Well, as the author of a 10 steps blog, I had to think about this! I agree with you that one size fits all is not a helpful approach. It's funny--I contributed to a site about life lessons. Some people had 50, some had 12, I had 3. As I browsed through some of the other contributions, I saw a theme. Basically we all learned the same thing, whether we expressed it in 1 or 50 lessons. Be nice to others and don't sweat the small stuff. Oh yes, and eat your veggies!

  24. Hi Galen,

    The point you make reminds me of my days as a consultant to radio stations. The vast majority of my "advice" was common knowledge or common sense. But, having an over-paid, out-of-town "expert" repeat it made what was already known valid.

    Come to think of it, I often left the client a list of steps to take...basically the same list that everyone else got with some minor modifications to adapt it to the local situation.


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