Non-zero is a superpower, possibly my favorite.
Or at least we can say it’s the one I am most consistently devoted to, the one I have been spending the most time with. Non-zero as a practice, non-zero as mindset.
I am cultivating a relationship with non-zero as an approach, to my day, to a long cold winter, to the daily effort of existing.
By which I mean: the challenges of being a person in a body, in this culture, in this world, and the ongoing work of keeping on keeping on.
Non-zero is a way of simplifying.
Non-zero simplifies and clarifies.
It is the power of do less, but hey, we are still doing something.
Do less, but still something
Less is still something, even [a very little] is still something, and something is not nothing.
And not-nothing is a big deal actually.
Any amount of effort, any amount of progress. It counts and it matters, good job, good job.
It changes the question
Am I going to do an hour of yoga like the monsters in my head think I should? Nope, but I am going to try for non-zero movement.
Maybe that’s a neck stretch, maybe that’s hugging myself, maybe that’s rolling on the floor for the duration of one song. Maybe it’s dancing in the kitchen. Good job, non-zero movement!
Am I going to empty my inbox and close all the tabs? Probably not! But can I close a non-zero number of tabs and archive a non-zero amount of email? Amazing work, progress!
From a stress-goal to a doable something
Am I going to keep setting impossible (for me, currently, in this moment) goals like spend time outside every day, or can I start where I am with a non-zero version of that, like taking three to five porch breaths?
Do you see? We are lowering the bar, we are seeking a shift in focus…
A shift in focus
Shifting my focus to non-zero takes me out of the stress-mindset of striving and achieving, and it keeps me from sinking into the devastating bitterness when I am simply unable to do any of the things on my list, as often happens, because my brain is broken.
I am not trying to do all the things, or even most of them, or even some of them.
Instead I am aiming for non-zero in a few categories. We’ll see how it goes from there. But non-zero is a big deal, and we celebrate it.
One small step, or maybe more, or maybe not
When I am attuned to the power of non-zero, I am are not forcing myself to think big, aim high, reach further. I am just zeroing in. What small, low-effort and immediate steps are available to me in the moment?
One step and then another step. Or maybe just the one.
It’s still a non-zero amount of forward movement, good job, good job.
It’s not nothing, it’s so much more than nothing!
I love you and I’m proud of you, babe! Look at you, making non-zero progress!
We are not focused on finishing, we are focused on non-zero.
It’s not nothing, it’s more than nothing, and it counts. It matters.
When everything is effortful and feels impossible, even a very symbolic amount of effort is game-changing.
And it serves as a reminder that non-zero is possible, which is encouraging.
In fact, it’s almost always more encouraging than I expect it to be…
You wins some, you win some later
Is it in fact true that sometimes (often) non-zero effort leads to more? Yes it is, but also that’s not the point, and even if it doesn’t, non-zero is still non-zero.
Progress is still progress. Patience is still patience, and we’re playing the long game.
You win some, you win some more later.
Lowering the bar
I think we’ve talked about this theme many times over the years here, but it’s also so easy to forget.
Just as it can be hard to practice acknowledgment and legitimacy in challenging times, it is hard to remember that non-zero is a good starting point.
We are existing in challenging times (in the world, maybe also internally) and sometimes we have high expectations of ourselves, plus we exist in a world that rewards achieving and does not appreciate process.
But here we are, sometimes things are a struggle. They often are, for me. So what does non-zero look like?
I cannot express exactly how inspiring non-zero number of anything can feel when it happens…but it is!
A non-zero amount of, for example…
moving or stretching
Noticing is also on the list of non-zero things
As in: I noticed the non-zero things I did, and gave myself credit.
Non-zero credit to me! A thousand sparklepoints, at least….
This also shifts the focus.
Instead of saying, “Ugh I didn’t clean the house this weekend like I was going to”, I can say something else.
The non-zero cleaning I did this weekend included sweeping the floor, cleaning the sink, wiping down the kitchen cabinets, good job to me.
The connection between non-zero and hope
This amazing thought via a dance acquaintance:
“Finding hope is an important ambition these days, with the world on fire…”
So true, put it on a poster, graffiti it on buildings.
Finding hope is an important ambition, and for me, non-zero and all related practices of do less but do something, exist on the winding path towards hope.
What else would help?
What else would help?
In addition to all the powers of non-zero, I am also calling (in, on, up) all superpowers of…
I play the long game
slow & steady wins the race, and either way: slow & steady
the cowboy abides
the clues are invited to the party (I only have to invite them)
putting my faith in a tiny walk
what if slow is powerful
what if a little helps more than I think it will…
What else is or can be slow and powerful
Walking, cooking, baking, journaling, training…
Taking an entire day to make a pot of delicious Tunisian beans with braised spinach and onions for the week, letting them soften until they are impossibly delicious.
Yes, we are back to the slow motion montage, to chop wood, carry water, write words. One step and then the next step…
Not alone. Not empty. Non-zero.
Speaking of slow is powerful…
I was listening to the Samara Joy cover of Someone Like You…
And it is sooo slow.
And I Need You To Turn To, Arik Einstein covering Elton John, which is slow in a different way.
What else is slow?
What else is slow, in a good way? Magic, hope, strength-building, spell-casting.
Salt, water, garlic, onion, whatever helps.
Walking for three minutes, heating water for tea, listening to a song, whatever helps.
Outside of time
Process, healing, rehabilitation, moving through time after a traumatic experience, or through an ongoing traumatic experience. Slow, but also: outside of time.
Non-zero progress can translate to big gains in this not-in-time space. And so we continue, one small symbolic step and the next, as indicated.
What appeals? What is small and doable? Let’s start there. I’m with you.
Small but important thank-yous
Thank you to Marisa, my wise mathematician friend, who brought non-zero into my vocabulary.
Thank you to Holly for reminding me that non-zero is powerful magic, whether I remember that or not.
Thank you to Amanda for reminding me that the big list of what is still undone is not a helpful thing to fall asleep to, when I can instead celebrate each non-zero win from my day.
And thank you to everyone who reads what I write here, you are the reason I sit down to write non-zero words and think non-zero thoughts so that we can play with them together and on our own.
Non-zero gratitude, and then a whole heartful, isn’t that beautiful? I think so too.
What are your wishes?
What are your wishes? I am lighting a candle for them, and for your own investigative process, and whatever treasures are revealed from the act of wishing.
Oh wow, what beautiful wishes. I love to wish wishes with you.
Thank you, everyone who reads, thank you to porch breaths, to the winding path, to all the many clues that land when they land, to receptivity, and to the tiny hope sparks that we keep cultivating, one breath at a time.
Come play in the comments, I appreciate the company
You are welcome to share anything that sparked for you while reading, or anything that helped or anything on your mind. Wishes you are wishing.
Or anything you’d like to toss into the wishing pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship always helps.
You can wish any wishes that come to mind (come to heart?), or echo “Oh wow, what beautiful wishes!” for my wishes or anyone else’s.
I’m happy you’re here with me.
I’m making progress on bonus material about how I relate to time and map out my quarters, let me know if there anything you want to know more about specifically? Drop any questions or thoughts here…
Anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email as soon as I finish editing, I hope soon.
If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️