Do you really need to streamline your day to be successful?

I recently came across this post on Facebook from CBC Radio:

The article centres on a tech worker who started wearing the same thing (more or less) to work every day in order to free up resources in her brain to do “more important” things. We’ve seen this before – it’s a similar approach to workplace productivity to people like Mark Zuckerberg, and it’s basically an application of the concepts presented in The Paradox of Choice. There is a lot of online discourse about how doing this can improve your work performance and leadership capabilities.

I just can’t help but wonder if this hype about “decision fatigue” in the workplace is wholly a good thing, and whether it maybe ignores some other key aspects of psychological health.

Listen, if you want a formulaic wardrobe, that’s fine. If choosing an outfit is stressful for you, of course you want to reduce that weight! I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t use approaches that work for them. And I’d be a hypocrite to do so: I refused to wear makeup for years because I like sleeping in, and I am a big fan of reducing my mental load by “working smart, not hard.” I even refuse to use Instagram filters because the energy it takes to choose one seems wasteful (and the #nofilter picture always looks totally fine).

But, please, let’s stop glamorizing the drive to become little more than productivity machines.

In nearly every piece I’ve read or watched about streamlining one’s wardrobe, it always seems that the outcome is “I was better at my job.” Not, “I could spend more time with my family” or “More sleep helped me feel more alert” or “I reduced my ecological footprint while saving money.” But to me, optimizing our jobs (and our jobs only) feels restrictive and seems to have a high risk of backfiring. To me this ties in with articles that tell us to wake up at 5 am every day and replace our breakfasts with Soylent in the name of productivity.

These continued narratives about being more efficient at work by cutting out “frivolous” pursuits and focusing on work above all else are insidious because they imply that for every bit of self-indulgence we allow ourselves (doing our hair, making waffles with fruit, sleeping in on Sundays), we are sacrificing our potential. We could always be “doing more” if only we had our schedules and habits down to an exact science. With fashion and other beauty-related pursuits, there’s the additional implication that it’s feminine, and therefore trivial. Feminine people don’t have to be masculine to succeed in the workplace, but sometimes it sounds like that’s the expectation.

On the other hand, a lot of these rituals are forms of self-care that help us prioritize our well-being so that we aren’t weighed down by the stress that accumulates as a result of personal and professional obligations.

I painted my nails a different way every single week this summer. I also got an Outstanding on my co-op work evaluation because of my creativity and problem-solving abilities. The two are not mutually exclusive, because doing my nails is a form of self-care that helps me regroup so that I can focus on important things.

To add on to that, we need to recognize that cutting out a handful of decisions per day has a negligible effect on our total number of decisions. One of the numbers floating around on the internet is that we make 35,000 decisions per day, and we make nearly 200 decisions per minute just when we’re driving. The shirt, shoes, sweaters, pants, and accessories you choose are only going to reduce that overall number by a small fraction. Agonizing over some sort of productivity algorithm for your lifestyle is counterproductive for a lot of people, and it seems like the costs might outweigh the benefits in most cases.

Again, I actually agree with Desirae. She sums the specific issue of fashion up here:

For some people choosing what they wear every day is a very important part of their day to day routine. It’s an important part of how they express themselves. And that’s wonderful. Power to them. If you enjoy choosing what to wear, this is not a good strategy for you. But if you’re like me and it was more of a hassle than anything else, I think you really could gain a lot and you’ll be very surprised at how little anyone cares or how little anyone even notices.

I just hope that when we read pieces like this, we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that the things we find enjoyable are the things preventing us from being superhumans. For many of us, the places where we express our individuality are important outlets that prevent burnout and add some colour to our lives. Personally, I feel my best when I’m wearing something that was consciously put together and different from my usual. Rather than distracting me from my responsibilities, it makes me feel more vivacious and more creative.

So if you’re going to adopt a “work uniform,” my advice is to make sure you’re doing it because it’s something you want to do for yourself, and not because you think it will confer some magical professional benefit overnight. More than likely, it won’t.

Interesting, related read: Decision fatigue: Does it help to wear the same clothes every day? by Dr. John M. Grohol

How a shy girl became a sex educator

I don’t think that I’m the type of person who comes to mind when someone says “sex educator.” I certainly never thought I would be one, because although I’m sex-positive and believe in education, I’m pretty reserved and it used to be the kind of topic I didn’t even discuss with my friends.

Of course, now I’m minoring in human sexuality and looking to study intimate relationships when I get to grad school, so clearly something has changed in the last few years.

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One of the booths that I host at my school (and that I helped design!)

It was my first year at university, and the residences had organized an event where one of the school’s health education teams would deliver a seminar about sexuality for our entire building. A few of my friends decided to go “to laugh and eat free snacks.” I joined them and acted bashful about the whole thing, although secretly I was pretty curious about what they would talk about. Would I learn anything new?

In terms of sex, I did not. Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but misguided messages, the sex education I received in public school was comprehensive, inclusive, and factual. In middle school, we discussed things like drinking, drugs, and consent. In high school gym class, we studied the various sexually transmitted infections and forms of birth control outside of condoms and the pill. (We even acted out a play, as a class, that depicted the journey of a sperm cell to an egg. Each of us played a different part of the male or female reproductive system. It was embarrassing, but it was thorough.) Frankly, nothing the seminar presented was a revelation to me.

What I did learn was that what I assumed to be common knowledge actually was quite exclusive. For the other people in the room, a lot of this information was completely foreign. Some of them had never put a condom on a banana – or even seen a condom to begin with – because they came from places with insufficient sex ed. And when the seminar presented things in a way that was shaming, ambiguous, or totally inaccurate, I looked around the room to see if anyone else had noticed. It seemed like no one had.

I wanted to raise my hand and ask why they used gendered language and stereotypes to send their message (“Guys, you’re going to have your hands down your pants at night anyway, so you may as well check for testicular cancer while you’re at it!”). Why had they ignored the fact that condoms come in different shapes and sizes, and that just because a given size fits on an arm or a leg, does not mean it is comfortable? What if someone didn’t know what the slang terms they were using meant? Why were we racing to put on a condom the fastest when in reality, it’s more important to slow down and follow the steps accurately?

Unfortunately, I was too afraid that I would be seen as a troublemaker or nuisance rather than someone with good intentions. As timid as I was, I also didn’t want random strangers to see me as that girl who knew way too much about sex. I didn’t even slip my concerns into the anonymous question box for fear of being roasted by the presenters. I understood that the people presenting were students and they wanted to engage with their audience as peers. Despite that, I couldn’t help thinking that the over-the-top jokes about masturbation and casual dismissal of certain topics would sit poorly with people, like myself, who were less comfortable with talking about sex. Didn’t everyone need this information? Shouldn’t it appeal to all audiences?

That night, I was uncharacteristically fervent about correcting the myths my friends seemed to believe. Even though I had always been pretty reserved on the topic, talking to them made me feel more confident about my relative level of knowledge. I decided that if I could not express my doubts as an audience member, I would try to join the team and influence the seminar’s content from within. I applied on their website, but was rejected.

A year later, however, I enrolled in Introduction to Human Sexuality – a full course dedicated to the study of sex. Even in this course, I was astonished by how much of the early portion of the syllabus was dedicated to things I’d learned in grade 5, and the professor specifically explained that it was because she couldn’t assume people had received even rudimentary sex ed when they were in high school.  I did end up learning a lot in that class, but I was growing even more concerned about the vast gaps in sexual education. The vocal opposition to Ontario’s revised sex ed curriculum, introduced around the same period, only furthered my worries.

By chance, I met the new team leader for the sexual health education team at an unrelated event that year. I told her that though I’d been rejected I still thought the fact that we had a sexual health team in the first place was incredibly important. She informed me that they had actually revised their messaging to be more inclusive, and she encouraged me to apply once again for the upcoming year. This time, I was accepted onto the team and with that, my real foray into sex ed began.

In my time as a peer health educator, I’ve delivered tons of seminars. I’ve also been involved in planning events and sharing fun, educational content on our social media. We’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with local groups like the Sexual Health, Options, Resources, and Education (SHORE) Centre and AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Area (ACCKWA). I have a lot more confidence speaking to people about strange topics (mainly built by having to shout, “free condoms!” in crowded public places).

I still think it’s important to connect with students through humour, but I try to infuse the jokes with sex positivity and maturity. I want to reach as many people as I can, and that means balancing laughs with up-to-date information, precise language, compassionate explanations, and a positive, curiosity-provoking attitude towards sexuality. I think about people, like myself, who were reserved when it came to discussions of sex and who were turned off (ha) by the crude way sex is often portrayed or joked about. Normalizing sex sometimes means talking about it the same way you might talk about the importance of exercise or dental hygiene – in other words, framing it as a crucial health issue that affects everyone.

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At our team meetings, we do “Snacks and Slideshow,” a weekly presentation by a team member on any sexuality topic of their choice. The first one I did was about asexuality!

These days, one thing that our team does differently is collecting feedback after each seminar. The comments are often split between “I didn’t learn anything new,” and “Wow, this was really informative!” The gap is still there, but I think it is narrowing slowly.

More importantly, I know that we are starting meaningful conversations between students. After they visit our booth or attend a seminar, I overhear students talking about things like consent between spouses, sex toys, and the importance of lubrication. It’s funny because the most passionate discussions seem to be between people who first approach us in a flippant way: They would say things like “I’m grabbing this gigantic stack of condoms for a friend” or laugh when someone said the word “penis,” and leave debating much more serious topics with their friends.

Making sure that everyone is informed of the basics has become a personal and professional mission of mine. Even if it’s just one or two people that I reach at a time, it makes a difference. We live in a world where more and more people speak up for gender-neutral bathrooms, better treatment of sexual assault survivors, and increased access to valuable sexual health services. If we give everyone a common, evidence-based starting point, then we can have the necessary, productive discussions that allow these changes to happen.

How much does it all matter?

The best piece of “advice” I ever received came from my grade 12 World History teacher. She was a phenomenal teacher in many respects, but there’s one thing she said that I continue to think to myself on a regular basis.

My friends and I were in the midst of university application season, and every morning we would walk into class and collectively agonize over small details like the weight of our grade nine math marks and whether a school would reject me because I was stupid and originally listed the wrong program on my online application.*

It was on one of these mornings when the teacher walked over to our table and asked how we were doing. After inviting her into our daily commiseration session, she stated, simply and seriously:

You know, none of this matters as much as you think it does.

What?

At first we were astonished and offended – it doesn’t matter?! What could she mean?! We had spent our whole lives preparing for this step, and she had just nonchalantly dismissed our (perfectly rational) anxiety??? Of course it mattered!

I mean, that’s what it felt like at that moment, and we told her so. But over time, I started subconsciously integrating the phrase into my self-talk.

  • I don’t get into my top choice of school? It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. There were other high-quality schools, and if I didn’t get in at all I would have a year off to save money, explore new options, and enrich my applications. In some ways, not getting into university the first time around could have helped me become a stronger and more well-rounded person.
  • My boyfriend and I are going long-distance? It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Lots of people break up in their teen years and that’s survivable; even so, technology like Skype existed and neither of us were leaving the province so occasional trips were possible. Of course I was scared, but that’s because I didn’t know what the future held – even though it would most likely be (and certainly was) better than I was imagining.
  • I can’t do mental math? It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. First of all, any skill can be trained. Mental math ability isn’t present at birth, it just requires a bit of concentration and practice. Plus, there are calculators and programs that can do statistics for you, as well as friends to help out with situations like how to tip or split the bill. I would eventually befriend many people who could multiply enormous numbers in their heads but could not analyze literature with half the finesse and concision that I could, and as a result, our relationships are reciprocal.

By using this strange affirmation, I didn’t find that I was ignoring the very real challenges in my life, and I didn’t feel like I was being nihilistic or prematurely resigned. Instead, the dispassionate observation that things weren’t nearly as consequential as I thought was helping me to re-assess the situation and look (realistically) at what could happen if I failed. If I’d let myself think that every single decision in my life was the ultimate, fate-deciding concern, I would have been stuck imagining situations where I never learned past high school, died alone, and lost all my money due to a lack of numerical know-how – the worst-case scenarios. If the effects were less far-reaching (i.e., they “didn’t matter that much”), they would be surmountable.

I also found that reciting the mantra helped me to deal with stress. I lean – and still do – towards a Type-A personality, but when I am chasing 7 or 8 deadlines at once, it’s helpful to remember that it’s okay if 2 or 3 or even 4 of those tasks do not end flawlessly. None of them will single-handedly determine the course of the rest of my life. No one but me remembers the one time I failed that test, forgot to call an event sponsor, or didn’t give 100% on a work project because I had other commitments going on. Believing this allows me to invest less effort into fretting and considerably more into working on tasks in the first place. I’m not using this as an excuse to do the bare minimum – the reason these things are forgettable is because I am conscientious and resolute the majority of the time. Rather, it’s a helpful reminder that a small blip in the radar is just that – small.

The final effect I noticed was that I started to focus more on obtaining success through the desire for intrinsic fulfillment rather than the pressure from external sources (namely grades, money, and fear of rejection or criticism). In my head, the way that things do not “matter” is that they do not necessarily assure status, praise, wealth, or any of the other rewards we hope for when we make major decisions. On the contrary, I firmly believe that I can attain the outcomes I want regardless of which path I take to get there. Thus, it only makes sense that I go after the things I truly want, and that will make me happy even if they do not work out in the long term. I enjoy school and my volunteer placements because I’m less preoccupied with the outcome, and more absorbed in the process of learning and helping as much as I can.

Even five years later, I still reflect on this advice from my teacher. Brooding over the exact wording of an email to my professor? It doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. I don’t get my dream co-op job? It doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. I didn’t eat enough vegetables this week? It doesn’t matter as much as I think it does (but I will add some spinach to my diet next week)And the list goes on.

Obviously, there are some challenges that cannot be re-evaluated by simply pretending they hold less weight. Some problems really, really matter. But where it’s feasible, I think that looking at the alternatives can build some perspective. Few individual decisions end up being as dramatic as we anticipate. At the very least, this strategy helps you think about what you can do if you don’t succeed the way you originally wanted to.

*For what it’s worth, no, they didn’t care. In fact, it was the university that I ended up going to!

Hello!

My name is Jessica. I’m a psychology student, sex educator, future psychologist, and relatively opinionated person.

I started this blog to reflect on the learning that I’ve done, especially as I near the end of my (first) degree. Hopefully I’ll be in school for quite a long time – I want to be a clinical psychologist, and where I live that requires a PhD. On the other hand, I’m a strong believer in experiential learning, especially when it takes place outside of lecture halls. This is most likely because I am in a co-op program where I alternate school semesters with semesters of full-time, school-sanctioned work, but I also think there is a lot to be gained from everyday interactions. I also think that learning is internalized a lot better when you take those experiences and search for the meaning in them, which is what I’ll try to share here.

In my head, I’ve been on a graduate school trajectory since before I finished high school. A lot of what I say will be geared towards that experience, but I think and hope that a lot of what I share will be relatable to most people in some way. For example, I’ll also talk about my experiences with work, family, and general life stuff that most of us go through at some point or another. I’ll probably also share my opinions on current events and other topics if I think I have something to add to the conversation.

Anyway, my plan is to be back tomorrow, and then every Monday-Wednesday-Friday after that. See you then!