Creating Impeccable Structure for Your Life

There’s a strange contradiction in most of our lives:

We deeply feel the messiness of our lives. We feel it in all areas of our lives, which stresses us out and causes us to shut down, feel overwhelmed, run to distraction and comforts. It creates tremendous uncertainty for us.

But …

We resist sticking to structure and routine. We want to have a great order to our lives, but when it comes to actually following it, we struggle. It feels too rigid, too constricting. So we immediately toss the plan aside and start free-forming it, answering messages and going to distractions and reading or watching things online. This creates even more uncertainty, not being able to stick to structure.

This contradiction might not be universal, but it’s present for a lot of people. I would guess that a majority of people reading this feel a struggle between these two things.

Now, I don’t think you can get control and order over everything in your life — life is inherently messy and uncertain, and all attempts to make it ordered and certain are fundamentally futile. It’s often more helpful to practice mindfully with the uncertainty rather than try to control it.

That said, this is not an all-or-nothing choice. We can create structure and practice with uncertainty. We can even create structure for our uncertainty practice. And we can learn to be unattached to the structure, so that if we have to do a day or week without it, we can be perfectly OK.

Two Reasons to Create Structure

There are two major (interrelated) effects that we feel from this struggle with structure and messiness:

  1. The messiness of our lives causes us to be messy. When we have a huge mess around us, it’s hard to be impeccable. It’s hard to be focused. It’s hard to really put our best effort into our meaningful work. We are greatly affected by everything around us, and by any kind of messiness in our lives. That doesn’t mean we should strive for perfection, but instead that we should recognize the effects of this messiness on us.
  2. Lack of structure creates a lack of trustability. When our lives are completely unstructured and messy, it’s hard for others to trust us. If you were to go into business with someone whose office and life were a huge mess, vs. someone whose office and life seemed to be in impeccable order … all other things being equal, who would you choose? This messiness is felt by our spouses or partners, felt by friends and other loved ones, felt by our colleagues and bosses, felt by our clients, even if they can’t completely see it. And we feel it ourselves, and it erodes our trust in ourselves.

None of this is reason to freak out or beat yourself up. It’s just bringing awareness to the effects of lack of structure. And maybe resolving to create more impeccable structure with time.

Creating Impeccable Structure

Once we’ve resolved to create structure in our lives, it’s important to recognize that this is a process, not a destination. You never do it and then are done with it — it’s an ongoing process.

What does that process look like? Here’s what I do:

  1. Recognize when a part of my life is messy and could use more structure. I list some of those areas below, but the important thing is to notice the feeling of messiness in an area, and resolve to try to create better structure.
  2. Contemplate a structure that would give you a feeling of trust. For example, if you are not staying on top of your emails, you could create a structure as simple as, “Check email at 10am, 1pm and 5pm only, and process each email out of the inbox to empty, or as close to empty as possible in 20 minutes.” If this would make you feel a sense of trust that emails would be taken care of, it’s a good structure. You may need to test it out (see below). Take a little time, disconnected and in solitude, to contemplate this structure.
  3. Write out the structure, then put it somewhere you’ll see it. Once you’ve give it some contemplation, actually write it down — either on paper or in a text document. Make sure it’s somewhere you’ll see it when you need it. If you write it down and then forget it, it’s of no use.
  4. Put it into action, as a practice. This is the key step — actually test out the structure by using it. See if it works. See if it makes you feel a sense of trust. See where the flaws are, and adjust as needed. Do this structure not as a chore, but as a practice, seeing if you can relax into it, surrender to it.
  5. Revisit and revise on a regular basis. Even if the structure is good, you’re not done. It’s like a machine, humming along — eventually it will break. It needs maintenance. You need to adjust as your life changes and you change. You’ll need to make it more impeccable when your life demands it. Every month or two, revisit and revise. At the very least, revisit every 6 months (set reminders in your calendar).

I’m constantly revisiting my structures, and revising them, especially when I feel it’s needed.

Examples of Structure

Some areas of your life that might be messy and in need of structure:

  • Daily structure. How do you want to structure your day? It doesn’t have to be super planned out and rigid, but you might have something simple … for example: a simple morning routine, then a block for important tasks in the morning, email, important tasks, admin tasks, email, work closing routine, exercise, meditation, evening routine. For others, a more detailed structure might be important. For others, an even looser structure might be better. Or one that is different on different days.
  • Financial structure. How do you stay on top of your finances? Create a system so that you are tracking your spending on a regular basis, and have a plan for how to spend it.
  • Communication. How are you handling email and messages? You might carve out time in your regular schedule so that you’re on top of email and messages, without being overwhelmed by it or doing it all day long.
  • Relationship(s). How are you working on your relationship? Do you have regular dates or time you spend each day together? Do you have counseling or getaways to focus on you as a couple? Maybe you’re not in a relationship — how do you stay in touch with your closest friends and family? How do you make sure you stay close to them, or go even deeper?
  • Health. How will you stay active? What will you eat to give yourself a thriving healthy life? How will you stay on top of both of these areas?
  • Household & personal maintenance. How does the laundry get done? Groceries and menu? Cleaning the house? Taking care of yourself (grooming, etc.)?
  • Physical surroundings. How messy is your house, your office? Is it cluttered? How does all of this affect your mental state?

These are some important examples, but you might have other areas in your life that feel messy. Wherever you’d like to feel more trust and order, that’s a place to contemplate & write out some structure.

Practicing with Uncertainty Within and Without the Structure

Once we’ve created the structure, there are two ways to practice with it:

  1. Working with the uncertainty & resistance of having structure. If you feel yourself rebelling against having structure, you can practice with the uncertainty of that.
  2. Working with the uncertainty when we’re not in the structure. You won’t always be able to stay within your structure — some days will go sideways, other things will come up. In those times, you can practice with the uncertainty of not being in your structure.

Let’s first talk about working with resistance to having structure.

Resistance to having structure: When you set up a structure for yourself, it might sound nice … but then when it comes time to actually doing it, you might feel constricted. You might feel uncertainty about whether you can do it or if it’s the right structure. Or if you should be doing something else instead. This is uncertainty & resistance of having the structure itself.

This is actually perfect! The structure, instead of eliminating uncertainty from your life, gives you a space to practice with the uncertainty. Instead of letting yourself flop all over the place (without structure), you’re asking yourself to courageously confront your discomfort and uncertainty.

The practice is to stay in the discomfort of having structure, and play with it. Feel the resistance, but don’t run. Let yourself open up to the feeling, be immersed in it, be mindful of it in your body. And find a way to appreciate this space, be curious about it, grateful and even joyful in the middle of it. Then play with whatever you have set for yourself to do! Instead of running from the structure, relax into it. It’s an amazing practice.

Uncertainty when we’re not in the structure: If you are used to having structure, what happens when you can’t use it? For example, maybe visitors come over and you can’t do your regular routine? Or you travel, have a crisis at work, have a crisis at home, or have social functions to go to that disrupt your regular schedule and structure?

This is also perfect! It’s an opportunity to practice letting go of the need for structure, and be present in the moment, deciding what’s needed next.

For example, you might be traveling, and your structure is out the window  … but you wake up and decide you still want to meditate, so you meditate for a few minutes in your hotel room. Then you decide you need to do a little work, and you do that before you head out for the day. You find a window at lunch time to catch up on messages. Before you go to bed, you find a window to do some writing. You are flowing, but not just letting everything go, you’re finding focus and purpose in the middle of chaos.

The same could apply if you are in a crisis, have visitors, etc.

This doesn’t mean it’s better to have no structure — for most people, a default structure is going to be helpful, but it’s not helpful to only be able to work and function when you have structure.

Adjusting & Learning with Structure

All of the above is great, but setting up structure once isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of deal. You are going to work with this structure on an ongoing basis.

You will learn as you work with the structure whether it works for you, whether you have needs that aren’t met by the structure, whether you forgot to include things.

For example:

  • A client created a schedule for himself but then discovered that he was very tired, because his structure didn’t include enough time for rest. So he could adjust it so that he has a sign-off time to ensure he gets enough sleep. Or he could build an afternoon nap period into the structure.
  • Another client discovered that she was overloaded with too much on her task list. So she learned that it’s better to pare down her expectations of how much she can get done.
  • I personally have found that the landscape of my day is constantly changing, not always very consistent. So I have a structure for when I have a wide-open day with only one or two meetings, but otherwise I create a structure at the beginning of the day depending on what I have going on that day … or I figure things out on the fly if my day is shifting during the day.
  • You might find that you need to move something to the morning to give it more focus. Or move exercise to the afternoon to conserve energy. Or have a different structure for different days.

The point is, you learn and adjust. It’s an ongoing refinement. You can make it better and better, and more and more impeccable, with some care and attention.

Structure is worth the effort, because you can learn to relax into the structure. The people around you can trust you more, and relax into your structure as well. And the structure becomes a way to practice with the uncertainty, resistance and discomfort that inevitably arises in your life.

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How Government Programs Ruined Childhood

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “We Have Ruined Childhood” offers disheartening data about childhood depression and anxiety, closely linked to school attendance, as well as the disturbing trend away from childhood free play and toward increasing schooling, standardization, and control.

“STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music,” says the writer Kim Brooks, who is the author of the book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

While many of Brooks’s insights are spot-on, the undertones of her article make clear that she is focused on the collective “it takes a village” narrative of childrearing. Indeed, her book praises “the forty-one industrialized nations that offer parents paid maternity leave—to say nothing of subsidized childcare, quality early childhood education, or a host of other family supports” (p. 50).

The assertion is that most parents are desperate and alone and they must rely on government programs to help raise their children. She writes in her article:

The work of raising children, once seen as socially necessary labor benefiting the common good, is an isolated endeavor for all but the most well-off parents. Parents are entirely on their own when it comes to their offspring’s well-being…No longer able to rely on communal structures for child care or allow children time alone, parents who need to work are forced to warehouse their youngsters for long stretches of time.

This narrative is backwards. It was the expansion of government programs, particularly in education, that weakened the family, led many parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and caused them to increasingly rely on government institutions to do the job for them. These institutions, in turn, grew more powerful and more bloated, undermining the family and breeding contempt for parental authority. What may seem like a charitable endeavor to help families ends up crippling parents and emboldening the state. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Brooks knows better than many of us the terror associated with granting the state more power: Her book details her harrowing ordeal of being accused of child neglect and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service for leaving her child alone in a car for five minutes while she ran a quick errand. The village shouldn’t be in charge of raising children; parents should.

So how did we get here? While the seeds of mounting state power and institutionalization were sown in the 19th century and spread throughout the 20th, it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who dramatically accelerated these efforts in 1964-1965 with his “Great Society” legislation. One of the most consequential effects of Johnson’s Great Society proposal was getting Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) which gave unprecedented control of education to the federal government, mainly through the funding of a variety of government programs. In fact, expanding the government’s role in education was a stated goal of the Great Society plan. As Johnson himself stated: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.” (Heaven forbid a child be unschooled!)

The result of Johnson’s plan was the establishment and enlargement of programs such as Head Start, which was initiated in 1965 to provide government preschool and nutrition programs to low-income children. Despite billions of dollars spent on the federal Head Start program over the last half-century (the annual Head Start budget is over $10 billion in 2019), the results have been disappointing. As researchers at the Brookings Institute noted, the most in-depth studies of Head Start show that any initial gains disappeared by the end of kindergarten. More troubling, by third grade the children in the Head Start program were found to be more aggressive and have more emotional problems than children of similar backgrounds who did not attend Head Start.

Not only are these outcomes concerning for the children involved, they also indicate how government programs can strain family relationships. Notably, it was the parents of the Head Start children who said their children were more aggressive than non-Head Start children of similar backgrounds, suggesting that parental bonds could be compromised at the same time that government early learning programs could foster maladaptive social behaviors. When parents, not government, are in charge of determining a child’s early learning environment they may rely on informal, self-chosen networks of family and friends, thus building social capital in their communities, or they may choose from among various private preschool options where they retain control over how their child learns. If parents are not satisfied, they can leave. When government increasingly controls early childhood programs, reliance on family members, friends, and other private options fades. Grandma is no longer needed, and she becomes less of an influence in a child’s life and learning and less of a support system for her daughter or son.

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Johnson’s Great Society plan had other consequences that served to weaken family roles and strengthen government. The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 greatly expanded the National School Lunch Program, allocating additional funding and adding school breakfasts. While no one wants a child to go hungry, relying on government programs to feed children can cause poor health outcomes, strip parents of their essential responsibilities, weaken informal family and community support systems, and lead parents to hand over even more control of childrearing to the government.

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact on education of Johnson’s Great Society was the lasting legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that paved the way for ongoing and amplified federal involvement in education. It was the ESEA that was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that led to the standardization of schooling through Common Core curriculum frameworks, as well as regular testing. No Child Left Behind morphed into the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, again a reauthorization of Johnson’s ESEA, that tried to shift some curriculum standard-setting to states but retained regular testing requirements under federal law.

In her weekend op-ed, Brooks laments the increasing role of regimented schooling in children’s lives. She writes:

School days are longer and more regimented. Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful.

She is absolutely correct, and the culprit is increasing government control over American education through the ongoing reauthorization and expansion of federal education programs. Longer, more regimented, more standardized, more test-driven schooling is a direct consequence of the government’s education policy.

The inevitable result of these expanded government powers is less control over education by parents. As parents lose this control, they cede more authority to government bureaucracies, which in turn grow more powerful and more bloated while parents get weaker and more vulnerable.

I agree that childhood is being ruined, as children play less, stress more, and find themselves in institutional learning environments for most of their childhood and adolescence. I also agree that the problem is getting worse. The solution, however, is to weaken government and strengthen families, not vice versa. Put families back in charge of a child’s education. Grant parents the respect and responsibility they rightfully deserve. Remember that the government’s role is to secure our natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not to determine what those pursuits are.

Childhood is being ruined and parents are the only ones who can save it.

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Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement

The Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership – in particular then-President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs, but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.

Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.

Randy Weaver was, in many ways, a typical American story. He grew up in an Iowa farming community. He got decent grades in high school and played football. His family attended church regularly. He dropped out of community college and joined the United States Army in 1970. After three years of service, he was honorably discharged.

One month later he married Victoria Jordison. He then enrolled in the University of Northern Iowa, studying criminal justice with an eye toward becoming an FBI Agent. However, he dropped out because the tuition was too expensive. He ended up working in a John Deere plant while his wife worked as a secretary before becoming a homemaker.

Both of the Weavers increasingly became apocalyptic in their view of the world. This, combined with an increasing emphasis on Old Testament-based Christianity, led them to seek a life away from mainstream America, a life of self-reliance. Vicki, in particular, had strong visions of her family surviving the apocalypse through life far away from what they viewed as a corrupt world. To that end, Randy purchased a 20-acre farm in Ruby Ridge, ID, and built a cabin there.

The land was purchased for $5,000 in cash and the trade of the truck they used to move there. Vicki homeschooled the children.

Continue reading Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement at Ammo.com.

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The Difference Between Public Libraries and Public Schools

Plans for the Boston Public Library, the nation’s second-oldest public library, were approved in 1852, the same year Massachusetts passed the country’s first compulsory schooling law. Both public libraries and public schools are funded through taxation and both are “free” to access, but the similarities end there. The main difference between public libraries and public schools is the level of coercion and state power that public schooling wields.

Voluntary vs. Compulsory

Libraries are open and available for anyone to access. You can quickly sign up for a library card if you want borrowing privileges, but you don’t have to. You can come and go freely, spend time in whatever library sections most interest you, ignore ones that don’t, and leave when you want. You can ask for help and support from a librarian if you choose. You can participate in a class that the library offers or access one of the library’s many online resources, but those are all optional. You may not always like a library’s programming, but you don’t have to participate in anything you don’t want to. If you don’t like your neighborhood library, you can freely visit one in another neighborhood or another town. You mix daily with a wide assortment of people of all ages and backgrounds at your library, reflecting the diversity of your community. Aside from the public levy, everything is voluntary.

Moreover, you don’t ever have to step foot in a library and still have access to books and resources through bookstores and online retailers. Your library has no control over what your local bookstore sells, and the library system can’t dictate rules to Amazon.

Parents are required to register their children for school under a legal threat of force, and the ages at which a child must attend school are lengthening.

Public schools, which are more aptly called government schools because of the force associated with them, are nothing like public libraries. Parents are required to register their children for school under a legal threat of force, and the ages at which a child must attend school are lengthening. Parents can choose to homeschool or enroll their child in a private school, but in most states, homeschooling and private schools are regulated by the state under compulsory schooling statutes. Education is controlled by the state, even for non-public entities that receive no public money.

This is akin to your public library monitoring the books that Barnes & Noble sells, but it goes well beyond that. In each state, young people are required to meet certain attendance thresholds in terms of hours of classroom learning. It would be like the library system mandating that you visit your library—assigned to you based on your zip code— a certain number of days and hours each year, or, alternatively, visit Barnes & Noble for those same number of days and hours with a report to the state to prove it. While you’re at your library or bookstore, you are also required to learn about specific subjects whether you want to or not. And there may be a test.

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Freedom over Force

If the public library system had the same power as the public schooling system, there would be far fewer private booksellers. When you are required by law to receive library services for a certain number of hours per year, you will likely go with the “free” option rather than paying to receive your mandatory library services at Barnes & Noble, which would charge a fee. Indeed, this happened with mandatory schooling.

Most of us would never tolerate a level of coercion and state power associated with public libraries that we routinely accept with public schools.In his book Schooled to Order, historian David Nasaw explains that as government schooling became compulsory in Massachusetts, the number of private schools in the state dropped from 1,308 in 1840 to only 350 by 1880.[1]  Similar trends occurred in other states as they enacted compulsory schooling laws, with private school enrollment subsequently plummeting. It’s hard to compete with “free” and compulsory.

Most of us would never tolerate a level of coercion and state power associated with public libraries that we routinely accept with public schools and education more broadly. As back-to-school time nears, it’s worth celebrating the many ways that public libraries facilitate non-coercive, self-directed learning for all members of the community and questioning why we would ever want our children to learn in spaces where force, not freedom, prevails.

[1] Nasaw, David. Schooled to Order: A Social History of Schooling in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 83.

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Politics versus Policy in the New “Public Charge” Rules

On August 12, the Trump administration announced new rules for immigrants seeking permanent residence status (through issuance of a “green card”)  in the United States. Those rules apply a longstanding prohibition on immigrants likely to become “public charges” (that is, dependent on government benefits) to  applicants who have received certain of those government benefits — among them Medicaid, SNAP (“food stamps”), and housing assistance — for more than 12 months.

The politics of the move are obvious: Trump is throwing more red meat to his anti-immigration “base.” The new rules are of a piece with his border wall project and high-profile ICE raids on workplaces where undocumented immigrants are employed. They’re not intended to solve a problem. They’re intended to keep his voters enthused as the 2020 election cycle heats up.

As actual policy, who can really complain? Well, some people can and will. But if the US government is going to regulate immigration at all (I don’t believe that it should, and the Constitution says it can’t), “pay your own way or go away” doesn’t sound like an unreasonable rule.

Interestingly, though, the policy conflicts with the politics. It discourages the “legal” immigration most Trump voters claim to be fine with, and encourages the “illegal” immigration he campaigned on a promise of “fixing.”

Suppose you are a would-be immigrant to the United States.

You can “get in line,” fill out forms, show up for meetings, submit to questioning, bust your hump meeting various requirements, and still find yourself turned away (or sent back) for any number of reasons.

Or you can walk across the border in the middle of the night and go to work, with a much lower chance of being found out, and sent back, than if you interacted with US immigration authorities.

Adding to the burden of the first approach doesn’t mean fewer immigrants. It just means that more immigrants will take the second approach.

Is that the outcome you signed up for, Trump voters?

Anti-immigration agitators fondly quote economist Milton Friedman: “[I]t is one thing to have free immigration to jobs. It is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both.” The rule change is a sop to that sentiment. But it leaves out another thing Friedman said about what happens when we try to have both:

“Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as it’s illegal.”

If Americans want fewer “public charges,” the solution isn’t to single out immigrants for exclusion from government welfare benefits. It’s to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce and toughen  eligibility requirements for, those welfare benefits. For everyone, not just for people who happen to  hail from the “wrong” side of an imaginary line on the ground.

Two evils — immigration authoritarianism and welfare statism — do not add up to one good. We should ditch both.

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Education Needs Separation From State

Once again we approach that saddest time of the year: when the majority of parents send their kids back to school; back into the local government concentration day-camps.

If you’re someone who mistakes schooling for education you probably believe this is good.

School is a socialist babysitting system funded by your neighbors. If you’re OK with forcing others to fund things you want, then go ahead and support the government schools. I can’t support socialism.

Schooling is also a system where organized bullying is cheered while the freelance competition, provided by the victims’ peers, is officially frowned upon. I oppose all bullying.

I’m not saying education doesn’t happen in schools, but when it does it’s in spite of the schooling, not because of it. Kids are automatic learning machines and it’s almost impossible to short-circuit their hunger to learn. They’ll usually manage to learn everything they need to know, and more, even under the worst conditions.

The fact that many people still believe schools educate — because kids come out knowing more than they knew when they went in — is evidence of this.

The real goal of schooling is to train kids to be useful, and not too dangerous, to politicians. Don’t question too much, and only within approved boundaries. Sit down, be quiet, obey the bells, and be force-fed authoritarian propaganda.

This style of training — called the Prussian Model, after the country America copied — creates adults who are unlikely to break free from this early indoctrination and will largely comply with arbitrary orders from politicians and their attack dogs. This is useful to governments and is why governments everywhere want to control schooling.

They use the unsupportable claim “it’s for the children;” if they can also fool the adult population into believing it’s about education it works even better.

This isn’t to say the teachers are bad. Most have good intentions, they are just saddled with a toxic system. A system that shouldn’t exist. The teachers are victims almost as much as the under-aged inmates, but at least they get paid.

There are good teachers, but there are no good schools. If this claim angers you, congratulations — you are showing symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, where captives (and former captives) begin to relate to their captors, even taking their side, defending them from criticism. Stockholm Syndrome makes people loyal to “their” school.

My appreciation for education explains my opposition to schooling. It is essential to separate education from the state before the damage is irreversible.

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