Self-improvement for writers, editors, and other nerds.

bears

In my past Sorting posts, I mentioned a few of my family members — two of my four brothers, my dad, my sister-in-law, and my niece — because they declared their Houses in a way that was illustrative of the point I was trying to make.

But what about the rest of my family? My oldest little brother hasn’t made a statement about his House, so I’m left to guess about him, but my sister identifies as a Hufflepuff. Also, my mom and my youngest brother have tested as Hufflepuffs and definitely have some good Hufflepuff qualities, and said Puff relatives have inspired today’s post.

However, before we go any further, I have to introduce my sister, who is offended that I didn’t mention her before. She is the first of my loved ones to get an official alias, and she has chosen Sister Bear. She also requests that I show you this very real footage of her:

bear

Sister Bear is a proud Hufflepuff, and she likes bears more than I knew she did before she chose her alias. Like, I didn’t think she disliked bears, but I did not know she thinks bears are basically the best thing ever. Mostly she’s been a vocal fan of dogs and ducks. The more you know, right? Turns out that spending time on the internet did just help me get to know people in my real life.

And given Sister Bear’s indignation, I was glad I’d already planned to write this post on four of the virtues of Hufflepuff.

  1. Focus on People in Reality

I tend to be more comfortable with the idea of people than I am with actual people, and sometimes I shy away from engaging enough with the people in my day-to-day sphere. When it comes to helping people, I often focus on ideas, systems, and organizations that help abroad and at home. For example, I sponsor a child in another country and volunteer as a reading tutor.

Hufflepuffs, my mom in particular, remind me that I don’t have to look outside of my family or friend group to find people who need my attention and resources. While spending time with loved ones isn’t community service, that time and attention helps people stick together and not need intervention from people more distant from the situation. If I can’t see the people right in front of me, then I’m not doing what I should to help people, no matter how much money I donate or how much I volunteer.

If we all took care of the people in our neighborhoods, congregations, schools, and workplaces, then we wouldn’t need so many charitable organizations. We can’t just help the less fortunate. We have to help people not become less fortunate in the first place.

2. Remember What Matters

My youngest brother has been more motivated than the rest of the siblings to work outside school, and he’s not overly fixated on grades, though he’s plenty smart.

Sometimes his lack of concern about grades stresses out my mom, but I think that focus has made him more well-rounded than I am. Because he’s less fixated on proving he can meet whatever standard is ahead, he’s more prone to develop job skills, hone his social skills, and develop other talents and interests.

He doesn’t get caught up trying to prove himself, so he’s better able to figure out what he wants to do and keep his focus on the things that are important to him.

3. Remember That We Change the World in Cooperation

We change the world in cooperation, not through one-off feats of heroism.

Because the truth is, no one non-God person has the power to improve the world as much as movies and books would lead us to believe. Yes, every person can make a difference, but we inevitably have to cooperate and compromise with others in order to make our vision reality. I find this fact depressing, but I’m reassured that Hufflepuffs are fairly well equipped to deal with the situation.

Hufflepuffs are characterized by hard work performed as an investment in human capital and welfare more than by pursuit of glory, so they can deal with world problems fairly efficiently. The greatest tragedy here is that more Hufflepuffs with these skills aren’t in power.

  1. Interact With People Organically

To an extent that Sister Bear finds unnatural and insulting, I tend to plan relationships. I think about what specific means of communication may help me grow closer to family members, and when I think of how to help a friend or family member deal with a specific problem, I come up with a five-step plan based on research and then adjust that plan as it doesn’t work.

Sister Bear reminds me that I have to interact organically and just let people be without figuring out how they fit into my plan or what slot on my schedule they’ll fit into. While preparation may help me socially, I ultimately can’t plan bonding. I just need to meet the opportunity when it arrives.

What have you learned from friends and family members in other Houses? What perspectives and lessons have been the most difficult for you to learn?

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DotheThing.png

This post comes at you about a month late because life happened, but onward we press. Now that I’ve shown you how the Sorting system is stupid, we’ll finally discuss how fans have reformed it and how you can choose your House.

Sorting Quiz Evolution

As most people reading this post know, for years before Pottermore existed, the Internet hosted many Sorting quizzes, most of them frustratingly fixated on your favorite color and whether you would do something obviously evil. (Though in all seriousness, half my family does read while brushing or flossing.)

sortingquizzes

Pottermore changed all this with their quizzes, which produced some great Sortings but have limitations. Most importantly, the computer can’t evaluate why you choose your answers, and some of the questions, such as “left or right?” seem more random than reflective of personality.

Additionally, because Pottermore has more than one quiz, the result depends in part on which quiz you take. For example, one of the current quizzes more directly targets the Ravenclaw in me, so when I take that quiz, I’m more likely to be Sorted into Ravenclaw.

Still, Pottermore drove the conversation forward by quasi-officially Sorting real people, and this Sorting led people to redefine the Houses. Most importantly, Hufflepuffs undertook a massive PR campaign focused on proving that people who value kindness, justice, and friendship have their priorities straight.

JK Rowling subsequently highlighted Hufflepuff through Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which stars Hufflepuff Newt Scamander.

Meanwhile, Slytherin was redeemed both through proud Slytherins showing they’re not inherently evil and through The Cursed Child, which focuses on Slytherins Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy.

Fan Perception

Most fans have since developed intuitive ideas of what each House’s general personality is. Others have tried to develop logical systems that more reliably Sort individuals and describe personality. For example, consider Tumblr posts like these:

fightinghouseshouses2houses3houses4houses5slughorn

I don’t agree with all these analyses, but you get my point.

Decide Your Destiny, or Something

Now that we’ve got that explanation out of the way, here are four steps you can take to discover your House.

  1. Take the Pottermore Quiz, Possibly Repeatedly

While some people consistently Sort into a given House, I’ve been Sorted into every House on Pottermore. For years I’d periodically delete my account and recreate it so I could take the Sorting quiz again. I was hardly ever Sorted into Slytherin, but Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw were all frequent results.

However, a few months ago I got fed up and deleted and recreated my account about 20 times in a row so I had a bunch of data points from a single day.

Once again, I was Sorted into several different Houses. However, the process of taking the test was very Ravenclaw, and I decided that my favorite Pottermore quiz tended to Sort me into Ravenclaw. I also like their common room the best because books.

Another popular quiz you can look at is the hybrid Hogwarts House quiz from Buzzfeed.

  1. See Which Intuitive Idea and Group You Relate to Most

Fan perceptions of the various Houses differ, but you’ll find some common threads. For example, while the idea of Gryffindor appeals to me, I’ve found that the stereotype of a Gryffindor is a person who drives me up the wall.

Case in point: once for a company conference, each team had to draw a maze in Sharpie. I had to work hard to convince my team that they couldn’t draw a maze right the first time and that they needed to make a draft in pencil first. Fortunately, I convinced them and thus prevented the disaster that happened in pencil from being our final product, but I felt like I was babysitting that whole afternoon.

I’m not sure I could socially thrive in Gryffindor. Really I’m just surprised Hermione didn’t punch someone sooner than she did.

I also like planning and methodology more than the average Tumblr Gryffindor does, and in articles such as this WritersDomain article about writing style by House, I relate to the Ravenclaw traits most.

Still, a part of me feels I should be in Hufflepuff. After all, Sorting is a stupid, exclusionary idea, and everyone deserves an education. Justice, friendship, and kindness are the right priorities. Though you don’t have to be a Hufflepuff to have those priorities.

However, setting aside all the stereotypes about toast and pancakes, I’m not sure I’m people-oriented enough for a Hufflepuff. Sure, Hufflepuffs aren’t necessarily gregarious, but my judgmental, elitist, hit-you-hard-with-the-painful-truth streak tends to shock and disturb Hufflepuffs, so I’m not sure Hufflepuff is right for me.

Hufflepuffs, whether social butterflies or not, tend to have a finesse with people that I just don’t.

  1. Study Fan-Created Systems

While no Sorting system is perfect or scientific, fans have created some pretty awesome ones. I recommend you take the two-question Sorting quiz and Sort yourself based on the Sorting Hat Chats system.

I struggled with both Sorting methods because I tend to synthesize intuition and logical thought under the belief that either method alone will lead me the wrong way. But after studying the models and performances of the Sorting Hat Chats system for a while, I decided I’m a Gryffindor primary and a Ravenclaw secondary. In other words, I’m guided by my gut instincts but execute and support them using Ravenclaw methodology.

I sometimes test as a Hufflepuff or a Slytherin because I’ve incorporated some of their values into my moral system, models, and performances, but my intuitive draw toward Gryffindor and Ravenclaw is supported by the Chats system.

  1. Choose Your House

After all this research, you have to choose what you think. Which House best reflects you? Which House will help you most?

In the end I decided on Ravenclaw for practical purposes. I am motivated by my gut instincts and intuitive morality, but because that part of me already exists, I think I can improve myself most by developing my Ravenclaw skills, which allow me to better evaluate, check, believe in, and act on my gut feelings.

This choice is opposite from Hermione’s, as she decided that she was good on her Ravenclaw skills and wanted to develop her morality system more.

And thus my Sorting journey comes to an end — at least for now. What House(s) are you in? Why did you choose them, and how do you think your chosen House will help you develop as a person?

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Wizengamot

Last week I told you how I think J.K. Rowling’s bias toward Gryffindor established an inherently flawed Sorting system that has been reformed by fans.

This week, I’m here to give you textual evidence that the books themselves both explicitly and implicitly lead people to believe Gryffindor is superior.

Ready for your evidence? Great! I’ve sorted it by Hogwarts house.

Hufflepuff

Why do people think Hufflepuffs are “a lot o’ duffers” (Hagrid, The Sorcerer’s Stone)? Because at least in the first half of the series, Gryffindor is Hufflepuff 2.0. Hufflepuffs value justice and kindness, but Gryffindors value justice and kindness enough to fight for what’s right and stand up for others in difficult situations. (For those of you bringing up Cedric Diggory, Tonks, and the Battle of Hogwarts right now, remember that I say “the first half of the series”).

First, remember that the Sorting Hat considered Ravenclaw and Gryffindor for Hermione (and McGonagall) but apparently didn’t seriously consider Hufflepuff in either case. And we can’t chalk up the lapse to Hermione’s own prejudices or that of her parents. Hermione, a Muggle-born, asks many students about the various houses. Yet she concludes that “Gryffindor is by far the best,” despite the fact that she values hard work, justice, and loyalty.

Hermione undeniably has traits that Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin value (yes, Slytherin — she’s Muggle-born, but she’s also ambitious, determined, and resourceful), but she’s Sorted into Gryffindor. Given her parentage and the Slytherins’ prejudice, I understand why the Sorting Hat wouldn’t consider Slytherin. But I see no pretty explanation for the omission of Hufflepuff.

Draco Malfoy considers being Sorted into Hufflepuff an unbearable shame, and Ron distinctly prefers Gryffindor to Ravenclaw and especially Slytherin: “I don’t suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin” (Sorcerer’s Stone). Hufflepuff doesn’t get consideration.

While Pomona Sprout is generally good, the first major Hufflepuff character is Cedric Diggory, whom we meet in the fourth book. Tonks isn’t introduced until Order of the Phoenix.

The Hufflepuff characters we meet in previous books — for example, Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, and Justin Finch-Fletchley — don’t play a role that shows Hufflepuff virtues. Mainly we interact with the Hufflepuffs when they falsely accuse Harry of being the heir of Slytherin.

And despite how hard-working Hufflepuffs allegedly are, their work ethic apparently hasn’t brought them victory in classes, Quidditch, or whatever else in large amounts. Hufflepuff is mad when Harry becomes a Triwizard Tournament participant because they want Cedric Diggory to earn them the kind of glory Hufflepuff house hasn’t had “in centuries” (Goblet of Fire).

By the time we get to the Battle of Hogwarts, Rowling’s understanding of Hufflepuff values has developed to the point where more Hufflepuffs than Ravenclaws or Slytherins stay to fight, but that’s the furthest we get in the books.

It’s not really until the advent of Pottermore and Fantastic Beasts that Rowling redeems Hufflepuff.

Slytherin

Slytherins are thought of by many as evil because they are resourceful and ambitious but don’t use their talents for the benefit of others. Phineas Nigellus says that Slytherins are brave, just not stupid (Order of the Phoenix), but we see few Slytherins who do morally courageous things without being spoken of as lost Gryffindors.

We learn about Regulus Black’s courage in The Deathly Hallows, in which we also see Horace Slughorn duel Voldemort. Finally, Potter nerds know that Merlin was a Slytherin. But notice that none of this information is established in the early books.

Consider Snape. In Goblet of Fire, when Snape prepares to eventually face Voldemort after betraying him, Dumbledore says, “sometimes I think we sort too early.” In other words, Dumbledore thinks that Snape may have been a Gryffindor if he had been Sorted later in his school career.

Snape was daring before he turned spy for Dumbledore, but once he starts being daring for good, he becomes brave and a possible Gryffindor. The key to being a true Gryffindor is Hufflepuff values, but Hufflepuff is never considered as Snape’s “true Sorting.”

Another example is Peter Pettigrew. Pottermore lists his Sorting into Gryffindor as a possible mistake by the Sorting Hat, but Peter never stops being daring. He’s just self-serving and evil. Pottermore even suggests that perhaps Peter should have been a Slytherin because he wasn’t good.

Percy is very ambitious, but he’s a Gryffindor, and when he gets to the point where he has to choose between his family and values and his ambition, he chooses his ambition, as Ron predicted in The Goblet of Fire. Still, he’s not an incorrectly Sorted Gryffindor who would have been in Slytherin were it not for his family’s prejudice toward Gryffindor. He’s just a Gryffindor who has lost his way for a bit, until he joins his family in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Finally, Bellatrix Lestrange has nerve, daring, loyalty, and a flair for brash dramatics, but no one ever considers that she could have been Sorted anywhere but Slytherin or maybe Ravenclaw. No Gryffindor here.

Sure, we eventually get immature Gryffindors like James Potter and Sirius Black, but I can’t think of a Gryffindor who is both evil and never mentioned by JK Rowling as possibly Sorted incorrectly.

If a character is brave and wants to make a difference in the world, then they’re likely also determined, ambitious, and at least somewhat resourceful. So in most of the books, the difference between Gryffindor and Slytherin is that Slytherins are evil.

It’s not until we see Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy in Cursed Child — a play most rabid fans don’t consider canon and that came out after the advent of Pottermore — that we see Slytherins who aren’t at some point deeply racist or otherwise terrible.

Ravenclaw

Ravenclaw is, as Ron describes it, “alright, I guess.” Ravenclaws are potentially talented but not generally thought of as evil. They’re morally neutral as a whole but still considered special.

With Ravenclaw, we have Cho Chang and Luna Lovegood. Cho is at least theoretically brave, but she doesn’t play a major role and has that whole issue around Marietta Edgecombe. Luna Lovegood is smart, kind, and brave, but you’ll notice she doesn’t play a role until the fifth book, when Rowling has taken notice of the flawed system she’s created.

I can’t even say much more about Ravenclaw because it plays a relatively small role in the books.

A New System

Because of all these inconsistencies, I don’t think that we can simply Sort people based on what values they’ve previously shown or what they claim to value most.

The Sorting system from the beginning of the series obviously doesn’t work: we can’t have a system where we label an entire group of people dunderheads.

The Sorting system of the end of the series doesn’t work either. By the end of The Deathly Hallows, we have brave people from houses other than Gryffindor, but we have no explicit way to tell which of them are Gryffindors. The good characters have traits of two or more houses.

For example, Luna loves the quote, “wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” but I’m sure that forced to choose between standing up to genocide and seeking learning, she’d do the first, as she did when she chose to rebel even though doing so took her away from her studies and led to her imprisonment in Malfoy Manor. If she were asked whether it’s better to be clever and evil or stupid and good, I imagine she’d pick the latter.

Based on this information and the traditional system, she and every good character would be in a combination Gryffindor-Hufflepuff house. And yet, everyone is not.

In the early novels, Gryffindors really believe in kindness and justice, and Hufflepuffs are generally nice. In the first part of the series, Hufflepuffs are seen as people who don’t stand out either in terms of talent (like Ravenclaw) or in morals (like Gryffindor). Sure, they’re not evil like Slytherin, but they’re just kind of there.

As a result, Harry Potter fans were initially prejudiced toward Gryffindor, not just because the characters were but also because Rowling herself set up a system that favored it.

So if we want to Sort ourselves into the four Hogwarts houses just so we can, then we have to look outside canon (which to me is the seven Harry Potter novels).

Enter Pottermore. Next week we’ll talk about how fans took over the Sorting system.

 

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Parting of the Ways

Like any self-respecting Potterheaded self-improvement bookworm, I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over what my one true Hogwarts house is. In the process, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the Sorting system itself.

My conclusion?

I think I’ve found a way to sort people. But it’s not a quiz, and before I finally tell you, I need to break down what the Sorting system is — and isn’t.

See, I think the way Potter fans sort themselves is different than the Sorting system originally conceived by Rowling. Or at least, the implicit logic of the Sorting is different from its explicit methodology. In fact, between ongoing releases like the Fantastic Beasts movies and continual fan reinterpretation of the houses, I think the Sorting system continues to evolve.

This week, we’ll talk about Rowling’s original system and its flaws.

The Traditional Explanation

While we initially learn about the houses as being full of people with certain traits, both the novels and fans are quick to clarify that values and choices play a big role. People can have traits of multiple houses — like how Harry has traits of Gryffindor and Slytherin and how Hermione has traits of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw — but they’re in Gryffindor because they want to be. They chose to value bravery above all, both in their minds and through their actions.

However, I think this explanation is inconsistent. Why? Because this description fails to recognize that Gryffindor as it originally existed assumed the traits of Hufflepuff house too. And when we try to separate the two while sticking to canon as established in the seven core Harry Potter books and not dismissing Hufflepuff as a useless house, we can’t.

While Rowling somewhat redeemed Hufflepuff (and to a lesser extent, Slytherin), in doing so she splintered the Sorting system to the point where fans have taken it over.

The Definition of Courage

Especially at the beginning of the Harry Potter series, courage is defined not just as nerve and daring but also as moral fiber in the face of opposition. My evidence for this claim is not only all the books but also this 2005 quote from JK Rowling:

“I would want to be in Gryffindor and the reason I would want to be in Gryffindor is because I do prize courage in all its various ramifications. I value it more highly than any other virtue and by that I mean not just physical courage and flashy courage, but moral courage.

“And I wanted to make that point in a very first book with Neville, because Neville doesn’t have that that showy macho type of courage that Harry shows playing quidditch. But at the end, what Neville does at the end of Philosopher’s Stone to stand up to his friends and risk their dislike and approval is hugely courageous so I would want to be in Gryffindor. That is not to say I would be there. I think there is a good bit of Hufflepuff in me.”

Notice that Rowling said she values moral courage above all else but also said that “there’s a good bit of Hufflepuff in me.” What exactly does that mean? Are people with moral courage different from people who value kindness, justice, and inclusion? I don’t see a way that Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, moral courage and love of kindness and justice, can be separated in this way. You can’t separate moral courage from goodness.

In forming her ideas of courage, Rowling presumably drew on the ideas of C.S. Lewis, who deeply influenced her. And his definition of courage is this:

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

This is a great definition, but it doesn’t work as a way to distinguish Gryffindor and Hufflepuff from each other. If you believe in fairness, then you believe in it all the time, including when doing so is dangerous or difficult. Believing in justice in an unjust world takes courage. If you truly believe in justice, then you are courageous, whether in a quiet or a public way.

The Decimation of Hufflepuff

Justice and kindness are types of love, and when you love something, you defend it. According to an explicit interpretation of the house values and the fan interpretation of Sorting, a true Hufflepuff is also a true Gryffindor.

Perhaps more to the point, the value of bravery, at least according to the early books, assumes the simultaneous existence of Hufflepuff values. The key characters in the Potter series are beloved Gryffindors not just because they’re daring but because they possess the core values of other houses, especially Hufflepuff. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are firm in what’s just. They value friendship, family, goodness, and love.

For Harry, the Sorting Hat considers Gryffindor and Slytherin but makes no mention of Hufflepuff. If Hufflepuff truly represents justice and kindness, then why wouldn’t Hufflepuff be an appropriate choice for Harry too? Why didn’t the Hat consider Hufflepuff?

Because at the beginning of the series, Hufflepuff is a catch-all house. Some fans talk as though readers devalued Hufflepuff on their own, or at least absorbed the prejudices of the Gryffindor and Slytherin characters. Fans don’t always acknowledge that the bias came from the author and the themes of the early books. Rowling apparently didn’t understand that a house that values kindness and justice and a house that values moral courage are ultimately inseparable.

Not convinced yet? Don’t worry. Next week’s blog post is all examples. Stay tuned for Part 2, “Tales for the Wizengamot.”

 

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sortingobsession

 

Like every good Harry Potter nerd, I love talking about Hogwarts houses. However, as a good general nerd, I also realize that like every personality test, the Sorting system is inherently and ridiculously flawed.

One reason? No one is simple enough that you can just shove them into a house. Like, how are hat stalls rare, anyway?

Well, I found out when I asked my family members what their houses are. Several of my family members would have been sorted about as soon as the hat touched their heads. I didn’t expect them to quickly know their houses, which I guess just goes to show that talking about Sorting can in fact teach you about human nature. Yes, I’m kind of serious. Just let me pretend I’m doing something productive, okay?

The Quest for Eternal Glory

I think everyone’s a mix of various houses, but in some cases, the sorting hat does indeed have a simple job. Some people make up their minds very quickly and intuitively. For example, consider my conversation with my dad:

Me: “Do you know your Hogwarts house on Pottermore?”

Dad: “I don’t know, but I’m a Gryffindor.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Gryffindor has a sword.”

I accept that response as an accurate sorting because only a Gryffindor would say that. My middle little brother had a similar thought process.

Me: “What’s your Hogwarts house?”

Middle Little Brother: “I’m in Gryffindor on Pottermore.”

Me: “Because you value bravery?”

Middle Little Brother: “Maybe? Gryffindors do cool stuff, so I answered the questions to make sure that I got Gryffindor.”

Also a rather Gryffindor response. An immature Gryffindor, but one nonetheless.

The Family Tradition

My older brother usually refuses to take personality tests when I ask him to. He thinks they’re stupid and simplistic, and he’s not wrong. But I still want to know people’s results, and more importantly, what people think of their results. My conversation with him and my sister-in-law about Hogwarts houses, however, was enlightening. It went something like this.

Me: “Do you know your Hogwarts house?”

Older brother: “No.”

Me: “You should figure it out for me.”

Older brother: Not Gryffindor or Slytherin. You’ll have to remind me what Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are about, but probably one of them.”

Me: “Why not Gryffindor or Slytherin?”

Older brother: “Gryffindors are stupid, and Slytherins are evil.”

Me: “Not all of them. Gryffindors value bravery, and Slytherins value ambition, resourcefulness, and determination.”

Older brother: “Meh, still. What are the others?”

Me: “Hufflepuffs value friendship, loyalty, fairness, and hard work, and Ravenclaws value intelligence, learning, and wit.”

Older brother: “I’m in Ravenclaw.”

Me: “Why?”

Older brother: “Obviously you want to be where the smart people are.”

Me: “Sister-in-law? What house would you be in?”

Older brother: “She’s in Ravenclaw.”

Sister-in-law: “What are the houses, again?”

Older brother: “Gryffindor has the stupid, reckless people; Slytherin has the evil people; Hufflepuff has the nice people, and Ravenclaw has the smart people.”

Sister-in-law: “I’m in Ravenclaw.”

Me: “Gryffindors value bravery, Slytherin values ambition, Hufflepuff values justice and kindness, and Ravenclaw values intelligence and learning.”

Sister-in-law: “I’m in Ravenclaw.”

Me: What about Niece? I guess it’s too early to tell where she—”

Sister-in-law and older brother: “She’s in Ravenclaw too.”

Me: “Well, she’s like one, so her personality is still—”

Sister-in-law and older brother: “She’s in Ravenclaw.”

Well, okay, then. I saw how families were committed to certain houses in the books, but here’s a real-life example.

What about you? Do you just know your Hogwarts house, or do you agonize over the issue like I do?

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3 Questions

Last week, I wrote about how lack of sleep has kept me from writing and reading. And why do I often not sleep enough? Quality of sleep aside, I have a hard time getting to bed on time. And while I’ve found 500 articles about sleep hygiene, I’ve found very few about how to go to bed when you’ve made a goal to do so, set up a schedule accordingly, and have no apparent barriers in the way.

So this week I’m writing that article. Here are three questions I’ve asked myself to solve my bedtime problem.

  1. What Do I Really Want?

In my head, I wanted to get enough sleep. Adequate sleep was a core 2017 (and then 2018) goal. I read research about the perils of sleep deprivation, and I felt the effect on my health when I didn’t go to bed fairly early.

I read books about habits and tendencies, and I searched the internet for ideas. I identified my Rubin tendency and applied the associated strategies. I tried strategies for other tendencies. I made work goals around my bedtime so that money and raises were tied to my sleep. Still, I made no significant progress.

Finally, I sat down with myself and reflected on what I really wanted. I knew that while in theory I wanted to go to bed, deep down I must want something else more. Sure enough, I discovered that at the end of the day, I continually felt like I hadn’t done enough. Thus I told myself that I need to stay up to complete more tasks.

Sometimes I did stay up and do chores or something, but a lot of the time my energy level was so low that I’d end up mindlessly browsing social media sites. Just for five minutes, which of course turned into an hour or two.

  1. How Do I Need to Change My Mindset?

My introspection brought to my attention the fact that I have a skewed idea of what things count as “being productive.” I did in fact do a lot, but I didn’t want to count life-maintenance tasks like work, showering, cooking, eating, exercising, and reading scriptures toward my unconscious mental tally.

I found the idea that 2/3 of my life should be work and sleep while the remaining 1/3 is largely filled with tasks like exercise and commuting endlessly depressing.

I took some time to breathe and make my peace with reality. (Read: months. Just to get to the point where I go to bed. Overall, I’m still working on my mindset.)

  1. How Can I Avoid Burnout?

After all my reflection, I thought I would be good to go. I did better, but I still often mindlessly browsed when I didn’t particularly want to. At first, I thought I had a problem with social media. However, a week-long fast from non-work social media quickly showed me that I was wrong.

I am perfectly capable of staying off social media. The fast wasn’t difficult for me. Instead of mindlessly browsing, I just put off going to bed by taking Buzzfeed quizzes and deleting and recreating my Pottermore account 12 times so I could repeatedly take the Sorting quiz and gather enough data to determine my true Hogwarts house.

In the morning, I was not proud of my time management.

After more introspection, I realized that my brain wanted an outlet. Most nights I would convince myself that I’d just be online for a minute, and by the time two hours passed, I’d stopped caring about going to bed on time. I’d burned out just before I got to the end of my schedule.

The solution? I now read for half an hour before I get ready for bed. While I was afraid I wouldn’t stop, I’ve actually done really well. A little experimentation has shown me that I need to read a novel to feel refreshed. With my renewed self-control, I can stop when my cell phone alarm tells me I’m out of time.

For me, sleep hygiene is only part of the answer to the sleep riddle. Reflection and reading is my best solution.

What about you? What are your mental blocks to going to sleep and doing things you want to do?

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maketimeforwriting

Amid work, relationships, community service, and everything else I have to or want to do, writing and reading get lost more often than I’d like. Sure, I write every day — I am a professional writer — but my creative writing tends to take a back seat to everything else I have to or want to do.

This isn’t because I’m not passionate about writing. It’s largely because a) I’m still learning that prioritizing my creative efforts isn’t inherently selfish and b) I’m terrible at time management. I’m getting better, so here’s some of what I’ve learned about making time to read and write regularly.

  1. Target Your Keystone Habit

If you want to accomplish your goals, you need a strong foundation. In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin identifies seven key areas that most people want to improve in. These areas are nutrition, exercise, rest and relaxation, productivity, finances, simplification and cleaning, and relationships.

If you reflect on why you aren’t writing or doing whatever else you want to do, you may find that a lot of your problems come from poor habits in one of these core areas.

For example, I am terrible at getting enough sleep. When I don’t get adequate sleep, then all my other habits fall apart like an archway without a keystone. I sleep through all my alarms, am late for work, don’t study the scriptures in the morning, and don’t get the morning smoothie I rely on for a lot of my nutrients.

On the other hand, when I sleep well and extensively, I find that my nutrition, workouts, scripture study, relaxation, and relationships all improve. I can actually fit writing into my schedule.

  1. Block Out “Me Time”

Whoever you are, you need some time to do things you’re passionate about. “Your passion” is a loaded phrase, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll say that a passion is something that you kind of have to do. If you don’t take time for your passion, then your mind will probably find some other way to meet its needs.

For example, I like to read, write, and learn things. My passion allows me to improve myself, utilize my imagination, and channel my ideas and feelings into something constructive. Could I physically restrain myself from reading, writing, and learning? I could. But doing so is counter-productive.

I can’t stop my brain from looping through my unexpressed thoughts, possibly keeping me from sleeping. And if I constantly resist the pull of what I want, then my self-control will weaken until I find myself on a vain search for creative fulfillment via Buzzfeed quizzes and irrelevant internet articles. In the end, I’ll waste hours with nothing to show for them.

I’m much more prone to go to bed on time if I’ve taken half an hour every work night during which I write in my journal and read, all by my introvert self. I love this time.

  1. Clarify and Explore Your Interests

You’ve probably heard the “follow your passion” advice. And one of the many issues with this advice is the difficulty of figuring out what your passion is. Sometimes you love the idea of something but don’t like doing the thing.

Sometimes, you don’t make time for the things you say you love because you don’t really want to. And even within a broad passion, you may need to clarify what you want and why you do what you do.

As I said before, I love writing, reading, and learning. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m passionate about blogging itself. I started this blog mainly because I need it for marketing purposes. Blogging is a support for my other writing and editing.

To make the time I spend blogging worthwhile, I need to draw on my other interests and look at writing from a different angle. When I started my website, I didn’t think I wanted to blog about just self-improvement, but now that I’ve written a couple of posts, I know I want my blog to be about self-improvement for writers, editors, and other nerds. Some people might be bored by that angle, but it’s one that keeps me engaged.

What about you? What habits do you need to establish and clarify in order to get your writing time in?

 

 

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