One Perfect Day

“What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”

Some of you may recognize this as one of “36 Questions That Lead to Love,” a popular and oft-cited article by Daniel Jones in the New York Times in 2015, based on Arthur Aron’s study published in 1997. I could never generate a plausible answer, thinking superficially. And every time I read the article, I think of Nigel Marsh’s description of his ideal day–see 4:50 of his 2011 TED Talk. Basically he spends quality time with family, works about 6 hours, hangs out with friends, exercises, and has sex four times.

Coming across the question again in You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy yesterday, I realized how close to perfect my day off was this week. Here’s how it went, with brackets inserted that would have made it truly ideal:

Wake up after 7 hours of sleep, in a fantastic mood, giddily looking forward to the day.
Move through morning routine easily, no rush or urgency.
Talk to Mei on the way to school, discussing her musings on anything that comes to mind.
Eat a light and tasty breakfast, sweet and salty, carb and protein, and coffee–oh yes, pour over coffee, nice and slow.
Consume a book and/or articles: on audio, digital, and/or print, romance and/or other, in the kitchen and car.

Ethos class! Challenged, educated, strengthened, and energized through coaching and community. I am now quoted on their social media:

Lunch with Dear Friend #1, communing over gorgeous salad, an Arnold Palmer, and shared ideals of leadership, friendship, and inner work.
[Find squishy armchair in a bookstore coffee shop, where I journal my reflections from lunch, reveling in the time and space to meet my friend and feed my soul.]

Browse bookstore, purchase artistic yet understated journal for Dear Friend #2, because everybody deserves pretty paper to write on.
Run into Dear Friend #3 on the way to meet DF2, reconnecting after many months and checking in–yay!
Walk and talk with DF2 [on wooded trails of Summit County–or] near Lake Michigan, stopping to photograph beauty that catches our eyes.
We discuss culture and relational leadership, exchange perspectives, and brainstorm ways to help systems and their people flourish.

[Find a shady bench, near spring blooms and urban wildlife, to sit and journal again, recording ideas, plans, aspirations, BHAGs.]

Pick up Mei from school, she’s energized more than stressed.
Pull fresh ingredients from fridge, audiobook or Agape music in the ears while chopping and stir frying.
Have a light and easy dinner, somebody else cleans up.
Mill around enjoying the house and its memories [it’s clean and neat, all plants watered and thriving].
Complete a relaxed night time routine, including pleasant smelling skin treatments.
More writing [and reading] in bed, all leftover words effused [and/or absorbed] for the day.
Lights out, burrowed in the covers, some intimate connection, sated in all 5 reciprocal domains of health.
Still high the next day and beyond, absolutely buoyed.

So what makes this day so perfect? What makes me so unreasonably and residually happy from it?
The ingredients:
Good sleep
Communion with people I care about and who care about me
Good food
Alternating rhythm between activity and rest; among input, processing, and output
Nature, especially sunlight
Social, emotional, and intellectual connection, both intra- and inter-.

Would I want to live this day every day? I think not, even if it were possible… Although I could easily imagine repeating it a few times over a languid vacation.

When I cannot/will not get a whole day like this at a time, how can I incorporate something perfect into each day? This question excites me with potential. It wouldn’t take much of any/each of the ingredients above, in any combination, to make any day a little more ideal. Some advance planning, mindfulness, and real time gratitude could go a long, long way. By this time next year, regardless of what’s happening around me that I cannot control, my life in general—all days—could be a lot closer to perfect, even more excellent, than they already are.

Friction, Traction, and Drag

On our way to any destination, what helps and hinders our progress?

I am currently halfway through reading The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas by Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal, which I recommend. It describes “the four Frictions” that keep us from adopting new ideas or behaviors: Inertia, Effort, Emotion, and Reactance. How fascinating and helpful! It makes sense to think of friction as something that hinders motion and progress, something to be overcome. We consider kinetic energy wasted when friction converts it to heat, and experience real consequences of equipment failure, injury, and stagnation from the burn of chafing contact in motion.

Then again, when is friction desirable? Imagine hiking, mountain climbing, or attempting to traverse any path with the surface covered in a sheet of smooth ice or a thick oil slick. Either we get nowhere, or somewhere we don’t want ‘way too fast. Even for Olympic speed skaters, blade contact with the most pristine ice track still requires some friction–an ideal amount–to gain enough purchase to push against and maintain control.

I submit that in movement of any kind–physical, political, behavioral, emotional, etc–we need optimal friction. Stability requires friction; we depend on it for orientation, to know where we start. Optimal friction coefficient over an ideal surface area provides traction–enough resistance to push against, the stability to launch forward with power. Tire treads, soccer cleats, chalk on a pool cue–we know how to modify objects for maximal traction and performance.

How can we modify our mindsets similarly? What does it cost us to make everything too easy, to remove all friction on the path to achievement? For three years I have exercised in my basement, doing things I know, challenging myself minimally. I have gained strength and maintained confidence in my movements, and also stagnated in my fitness. Joining a fitness community pushes me; I get to reassess my assumptions of capacity and limits. It introduces healthy friction. The tribe here gives me something to test against, strengthening through challenge, elevating my achievement. Additionally, I feel positive peer pressure to eat healthier, a perennial stuggle for me. Communing with folks who care for their bodies with whole foods increases the psychological discomfort (friction?) I feel from eating junk–even when I’m not with them–and voila, my nutrition patterns are changing for the better.

What is the relationship between friction, traction, and drag?

Friction can help or hinder. Traction requries an optimal quantity and distribution of friction for both stability and mobility–I think of it as a kind of potential energy. We understand the concept of traction easily from common vernacular, but what about ‘drag’, other than as late 20th Century social slang? I love the internet, where you can Google, “What is drag in physics” and get it directly from NASA:

“Drag is a mechanical force. It is generated by the interaction and contact of a solid body with a fluid (liquid or gas). It is not generated by a force field, in the sense of a gravitational field or an electromagnetic field, where one object can affect another object without being in physical contact. For drag to be generated, the solid body must be in contact with the fluid. If there is no fluid, there is no drag. Drag is generated by the difference in velocity between the solid object and the fluid. There must be motion between the object and the fluid. If there is no motion, there is no drag. It makes no difference whether the object moves through a static fluid or whether the fluid moves past a static solid object.”

So drag is the resistance of the milieu to movement of an object. It is the cultural current against which innovation swims upstream, a result of the inherent viscosity of any given system. I think of it as another form of friction, but one that only hinders.

If I’m trying to change, to move something, what are the sources of negative friction, positive traction, and drag? Of these, which are modifiable and not? Where and how can I gain a foothold or grip, to push or pull myself onward? Where do I need to apply some lubricant and relieve or release a counterproductive grind? How does the environment need to change, or how can I change my orientation within it, so I may glide more easily toward my goal?

“Drag is generated by the difference in velocity between the solid object and the fluid.” Hmmm. So if I claim my role as change agent, then I must decide how much drag I’m willing and able to tolerate, how much I can afford in cost of fuel for thrust, and what velocity of change will satisfy me. I have to think that my vector matters, also. Head on opposition to a strong and established current, versus a hard left diversion, versus introducing a small fork or bumper in the terrain… I can consider all of these and more, depending on my goals and the ambient conditions.

OH this is such a fun thought experiment! Framing my goals, plans, and actions in terms of friction, traction, and drag allows me to step back from my own tunnel vision, to see a complex adaptive system perhaps more concretely and objectively, even dispassionately. Whether it’s my own personal health habits or the professional culture of medicine, this analogy feels helpful. I wonder how it will continue to manifest hereafter?

Keep Going

Something is definitely better than nothing.
Keep with your healthy habits, even if sporadically and at low intensity.
Back at Ethos one month now
Very sore after the first week
Old occult injury aggravated
So accommodations made without judgment
Now fifth week completed
Took it easy these eight sessions
Afraid to get hurt and sidelined
Encouraged by coaches to challenge without overexerting.
Supervised, corrected. Cared for.
Increased load as tolerated within each session, along with confidence
Progress made in one month
Greater in some ways than the past three years total, in the basement at home
So keep doing your best.
Just keep going, however slow.
You will know when it’s time to kick it up.
Trust yourself.
Recruit your Tribe.
Onward in solidarity.

Thank you, Sisters Jennifer and Marian, and Brother Kinnier, for keeping me company on my slow persistence.

Thank you, Melissa, for pouring such a strong foundation with me 9 years ago.