Resisting Polarization and Encouraging Compassion

Double rainbow and seagulls over Niagara Falls, with onlookers

We humans like to place people into buckets: good and bad, left and right, us and them. This seems to be an age-old tendency, and it isn’t all that surprising that the rise of social media and the proliferation of news and opinion platforms have allowed our divisions to become more entrenched and more apparent. We can choose to read and listen to only those sources that affirm what we already feel and believe, and we can respond to those who disagree while protected by a screen that keeps us from seeing and experiencing their humanity, their emotional reactions.  Our quickly typed words can be amplified through shares and retweets, carried far beyond the small circles that might once have heard them.

Many, many people have written about the heightened state of polarization in which we live these days, lamenting how destructive it is and postulating about what led to this environment.  It is distressing and disheartening.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Snapshot: May 27, 2017

Black and white photo of Alexis

In this occasional series, I’ll share what I’ve been reading, watching, thinking, and doing.

What I’m Reading:

What I’m Watching: Master of None, Season 2

What I’m Listening To: Modern Love, “A Slow Fade to Black

Current Guilty Pleasure: ice cream (most recently from Marble Slab)

Where I’ve Been Recently: Chattanooga, TN

What I’m Looking Forward To: My trip to Greece later this summer!

Latest Personal Project: Learning Greek (with the help of DuoLingo, Collins, and my Greek husband, who’s been a helpful and patient tutor)

Recent Moment of Joy: Reconnecting with a former colleague from a past job and learning that we have more in common than I’d realized

Currently Inspired By: My friend M, who fought through a painful foot injury to complete her third half-Ironman last weekend. She ran her first 5k just a couple of years ago. Way to go, M!

Grateful For: A beautiful, sunny day after a long rainy spell

Have a lovely weekend!

Peace,

Alexis

Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

To Accomplish What You Want, Write Down More Than Just Your Goals

A dirt road disappears into a tree line under a blue sky

Tracking time is one of the most universally disliked aspects of private law practice.  I don’t think I’ve ever met an attorney who liked having to log every client-related task in six- or fifteen- minute increments.  Tracking and recording your time is a pain.  But it does have its benefits, aside from being able to bill your clients for the work you’ve performed.

When I first left private practice and no longer had to keep daily time sheets, I noticed that I became less productive.  I chatted with coworkers more and took longer lunches.  I spent more time on projects.  These things are not all bad, but I realized at some point that I wasn’t checking items off my to-do list as often as I’d like, and I felt like I was losing momentum.

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My Wardrobe Challenge

Clothes hanging in a closet

If you use Pinterest or read women’s magazines or websites, you may have come across this concept:  Turn around all the hangers in your closet.  After you wear something, hang it up with the hanger facing the other direction.  You will easily be able to see which clothes you’ve worn and which you haven’t.  After six months or a year, donate or sell any items you haven’t worn.

It’s not a bad idea, but because I fully Marie Kondo-ed my closet last year (more about that later) and am generally pretty good about regularly purging clothes that are in poor condition or don’t fit well, this concept didn’t seem all that useful to me.  But it sparked a slightly different idea.

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Rethinking Gift-Giving

Oil painting of a cluster of tomatoes at different stages of ripeness and a small ceramic pitcher on a rumpled blue tablecloth
Still Life with Tomatoes, 2009. For details or to purchase, please contact Alexis (contact form in menu bar).

I recently came across this post on gift-giving from Mr. Money Mustache and thought it was worth sharing.  The post is several years old and references Mother’s Day, but it applies to all the occasions on which our culture tells us we are supposed to give gifts.

Ideally, gift-giving should be a way of expressing our appreciation for the people we love, making their day a little brighter, and perhaps easing their burden.  At its worst, gift-giving can become another obligation, and the gifts we give can sometimes add to the burdens of the receiver as well as the giver.  I’ve gone to holiday gatherings without gifts to give and have been embarrassed when others brought gifts for everyone, including me.  The gifts were not personally selected for each individual, but were, I suspect, bought en masse out of either a sense of requirement or a desire for the gift-giver to feel good about herself.  These gifts were not meaningful, but they provoked feelings of guilt and obligation in me.  That is not what gift-giving should do.

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What I’m Doing to Increase my Focus and Decrease Distractions

A vibrantly colored abstract painting
Joy, 2014. For details or to purchase, please contact Alexis.

Lately, I’ve been trying to grow my attention span.  I get distracted easily, and having the internet at an arm’s length most of the day does not help.  But to be as productive as possible in my job, and to enter flow states and do good creative work, I need to be able to focus on one task for an extended period of time.

Like many people today, I’m a chronic multitasker.  In my free time, you’ll rarely find me doing just one thing.  I’m talking on the phone while driving, listening to an audiobook while gardening, watching a TV show while cooking, texting a friend while listening to a podcast while putting away laundry.  Though always doing two (or more) things at once may make me feel more productive, I know that it reduces the amount of attention I’m devoting to each activity.  I think multitasking too much can lead me to feel less calm, too.  My brain sometimes needs silence, and the chance to devote itself to just one thing.  So I’m making a conscious effort to do more unitasking (also known as monotasking).

It isn’t an easy change to make, and I frequently slip back into bad habits. I wrote down some rules for myself, and I review them regularly to help me stay on track. Here are a few things I’m doing to try to minimize distractions and increase my focus.

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The Power of “Can I Just…?”: Building New Habits, Motivating Ourselves, and Progressing Toward Our Goals

Close-up of a pair on sneakers on a trail through the woods
Photo by Will Shell

We all have things about ourselves and our lives that we’d like to change or improve.  A study published last year showed that less than three percent of Americans meet all four markers of a healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, healthy diet, low body fat percentage, and not smoking).  I would guess that most of us know we need to eat better, exercise more, and quit smoking, but change is hard.  Though setting ambitious goals might cause us feel energized at first, lofty goals can make change even harder.  We have an idea of where we want to end up, but we don’t know how to get there, or we get overwhelmed along the way and give up. Read more