A Trip to the Hardware Store

Finding the remarkable in the unremarkable is like finding treasure hidden in plain sight.

loppers 53117                                             My new pair of bypass loppers*

Remarkably, I bought several things at the hardware store yesterday.

You may ask, what’s so remarkable about that? Why write an entire blog post about a trip to the hardware store?

There are several reasons I found it remarkable, and you might too.

Before the 1,000 things projects, buying a bunch of stuff at the hardware store was as unremarkable for me as it would be for most people, but doing the 1,000 things projects made me much more aware about buying stuff. It changed the default setting on my buying habits from “yes, if” (as in “yes, buy it if I want it”) to “no, unless” (as in “no need to buy something unless I really need it”). This zero-based budgeting approach to buying most consumer items has become habitual for me.

So I haven’t been buying much stuff, period. In fact, this is only the second time this calendar year that I went to a store and bought non-consumable items (that is, things other than groceries, restaurant meals, gas and car repairs, fitness classes, massages, and various miscellaneous items). In February, I bought several sets of bed sheets to replace ones which had worn out. This time, I bought stuff for yard work: work gloves, masks, yard waste bags, and a pair of “bypass loppers.” The main reason for buying this stuff was to make it easier to clear out the invasive bamboo in my back yard (and the reason for that is another, longer story for a future post) and to tackle the poison ivy and other vines that are stressing the black cherry tree in my vacant lot next door.

So it was remarkable that this trip to the hardware store was remarkable for me; it was out of the ordinary instead of being ordinary like it used to be. I noticed the difference and appreciated it.

The second reason this trip was remarkable was that I bought the pair of bypass loppers* even though I already owned a pair. The old pair was seizing up and difficult to use on the thicker bamboo stalks I’ve been cutting down. I could have taken the loppers to the hardware store and asked them to sharpen and fix them, but I didn’t want to wait that long. Still, I asked myself if I was being wasteful somehow or if buying a new pair was really necessary, and I surprised myself a little by deciding to buy them. I think this was because I’d been focused more on the “No” part of the “No, unless” formula; I’d been saying “no” to buying new stuff a lot more than I had in the past. When I bought the bed sheets, the “unless” part was a little clearer; there, the decision was basically “no, don’t buy these new bed sheets — unless you want to stop sleeping on bed sheets with holes in them.” Well, in that case…  For the bypass loopers, it was “no — unless you want to make the task of cutting down bamboo easier, faster, and less frustrating.” Sometimes, as in this case, “unless” makes more sense.

The third reason this trip to the hardware store was remarkable was that my decision to buy the new pair of loppers became easier once I decided I would give the old pair away; they still worked fine, and someone else could sharpen and fix them if they wanted. This  is another big change for me: being comfortable with simply giving stuff away when I didn’t want or need it anymore instead of saving it up Just in Case I might need it Some Day. So I noticed and appreciated this too, that my willingness and ability to generate gratitude by giving stuff away had notched up a level.

Buying stuff thoughtfully instead of being mindless about the process, taking the time to appreciate something when I do buy it, and making sure that stuff circulates through my house instead of simply accumulating there, is all pretty mundane stuff. But the real takeaway from my trip to the hardware store, besides the things I bought, is that finding the remarkable in the unremarkable is like finding treasure hidden in plain sight, right under my nose.

So, time to go cut some more bamboo and put that old pair of loppers on Freecycle. Anyone need some bamboo stalks?

*Of course, it was also remarkable that I was learning what these things were called for the first time in my life…


April Fools Day (or is it every day?)

In honor of April Fool’s Day, remember this song we used to sing as kids?
Well, it’s fun, but I think it needs a little updating. So here goes (same tune):

Let’s stop funding science ‘cuz it doesn’t pay,
Stop saying “climate change” and it will go away,

Paul Ryan is talking and he’s making sense,
He’s showing compassion just like Mike Pence,

Look out the window, what do you see?
Lotsa live blossoms on the cherry tree
I fool you, and you fool me
‘Cause this is April Fools’ Day

His hair isn’t orange like a tangerine,
He’ll be the best president we’ve ever seen,

I’m not gonna look on Facebook anymore,
I took my iPhone, pitched it out the door,


The dumbos in Congress gave the donkeys a kiss,
You can’t ever sing a silly song like this,
‘cept every day’s a FOOL’S DAY!

Ode to a Chocolate Croissant: On the Value of Thoughtlessness

plate 032417What, you were expecting to see a chocolate croissant? That puppy’s long gone…

This afternoon I’m sitting at Capital City Cheesecake, winding down my workday week by doing some writing and enjoying one of my favorite treats: a chocolate croissant. The chocolate croissants here are large and full of chocolate and yummy, and as I savored every bite of mine, I paid attention to its yumminess. I briefly thought about its flaky crust as I brushed the extra crumbs off my shirt and computer, but mostly my thoughts were limited to how yummy it was. Did I mention that it was yummy?

Now that I think about it, here are some of the things I didn’t think about when I ate my chocolate croissant: where it came from, what ingredients were in it, or how long it might have been sitting there. I don’t even know what bakery it came from. I didn’t think about what country the cacao beans came from, and I didn’t think about the farm workers who were involved in the harvesting process. I didn’t think about how the beans were fermented or dried. (In fact, I didn’t even know that cacao beans were fermented and dried until I did a web search on it.) I didn’t think about whether they used cacao or cocoa powder to make the croissant.

I didn’t think about any of those things because that is one of the blessings of modern life: the miracle of a system that affords the more fortunate among us to live a lifestyle abundant beyond the wildest dreams of medieval kings.

Why I am thinking about this at all at this moment? Because I’m trying to figure out how to rewrite the section in my book that describes my (re-)discovery of the value of thoughtlessness. I know — my 1,000 things projects were based on the value of being thoughtful about the process.  So it may sound like a total contradiction, but the time and effort I spent being thoughtful about getting rid of thousands of my things also renewed my appreciation for the value of being thoughtless.

In fact, being thoughtless is not just valuable in our society — it’s absolutely essential.

Imagine if I did have to think about where my chocolate croissant came from — if I had to think about the myriad of steps it took to bring that chocolate croissant to my mouth — er, into being. Imagine if I had to make my own chocolate croissant — well, that would never happen. But I didn’t have to think about any of that; in reality, being obliviously thoughtless about my chocolate croissant is what enables me to enjoy it, which is true for that matter for most everything else I consume.

Of course, on some level this is not anything new: the division of labor which brought my chocolate croissant to me has been a defining feature of human societies for centuries, millennia really.  So what’s different in our society?

I think it’s this: modern society has dangerously diminished — swamped, overwhelmed, overrun, you name it — our capacities to be thoughtful about our consumption and our lives.  I felt overwhelmed just listing a few of the ways I’m not thoughtful about a single chocolate croissant, and that’s just one little thing. (Big for a croissant, but small in the larger scheme of things.) Our lives are filled to overflowing with a myriad of things that are just as wondrously complex if we stopped to think about it; but fortunately we don’t have to, because if we did, it would be overwhelming.

How did this happen?  I think it’s the result of affluence and abundance, the complexity and sheer volume of it, along with a big boost from our long-standing love affair with labor-saving devices, which have captivated American life since the Industrial Revolution began over a half of a century ago. The key here is that these devices don’t just save us time and effort; they also reduce or eliminate the thought involved in using them — everything from home appliances to prepared foods to electronics to chocolate croissants, not to mention the computer I’m using to write this, perhaps the most significant labor-saving device ever invented.

This sheer abundance of things doesn’t just encourage thoughtlessness about acquiring things; it demands it. As a result, thoughtlessness becomes the mechanism which causes things to accumulate in our lives until we have far more than we need.  Meanwhile, our consumption patterns have remained driven by habits formed by scarcity. The result is that it’s all too easy for us to keep on accumulating things until excess gets in the way of how we want to live and what we want to be. In other words, thoughtlessness is valuable to a point, but we passed that point a long time. Now it’s a two-edged sword; we can’t do without it, but at the same time we have to do something about it.

Here’s what I’m doing about it:

1) Appreciate the value of thoughtlessness. I recognize that being thoughtless is essential, and I can’t do without it. So the question becomes, how can I be more thoughtful about what I consume and bring into my life? How can I recover and regain my atrophied capacities for thoughtfulness without wearing myself out in the process? For me, this inexorably leads to:

2) Remain calm and keep paring. Keep on removing unneeded things from my life, and remain very vigilant about what I bring into my life in both the material and non-material realms. I may reach a point where I don’t need to keep removing things, but I’m not there yet.

3) Appreciate what I do have in my life. Slowly but surely, I’m learning how to do this in practice with more and more things in my life. This afternoon, I focused my appreciation on a chocolate croissant. I could have a chocolate croissant every day if I wanted to; my budget, diet, and waistline can all afford it. But I wouldn’t appreciate these chocolate croissants if I treated them as routine entitlements. Instead, I treat my chocolate croissants as treats: something to be had once a week or so, something to look forward to, something made a little more precious by making them a little more rare. That way, I can enjoy them more for the miraculous treats that they are. And did I mention that they were yummy?

Cutting the Cable Cord: Three Weeks Later

It’s been three weeks now since I cut the cable cord (well, technically 20 days, but I’m not counting… ;-)), and the verdict: so far, soooo good…

        The DVD player has the shelf to itself now that the cable converter box (& its clock) are gone…

Do I miss cable TV? No, I don’t, with one odd exception.

The only thing I miss is the digital clock on the cable converter box. Turns out I looked at that clock a lot, probably because it was the only clock in the living room. Apparently I had looked at it a lot when I was leaving the house and when I first came into the house. This must have been a deeply ingrained habit because I’ve looked for it a couple dozen times at least since it’s been gone. Still, if having a clock in the living room was that important, I’d just put another one there, and  I haven’t done that yet.

The TV remains dark and silent most of the time, but it has not gone entirely unused. My son has hooked his computer up to the TV and watched various things now and then, and I’ve watched a couple of movies that my son played from his computer.

Other than that, I’ve barely glanced at the thing. I was a little surprised to learn that looking at the TV was not a big trigger for me.  Instead, as expected, my most common triggers are related to sports, most often from reading about a sports event online. Other common triggers happen around meal times, especially starting or finishing meal prep. Passing through the living room at the end of the work day or later in the evening has also been a trigger a few times.

Having said that, I have not followed my plan to track my triggers as rigorously as I did for my social media/news diet/habit reformation. The main reason it feels OK is that it doesn’t feel like tracking triggers is as necessary when there’s nothing to trigger.  There’s no TV to watch, so I don’t need to understand so well what triggers me to watch.

As I also expected, I really don’t miss watching soccer or other sports; they seem to be important when I’m watching them, but once they disappear, their importance fades as well. As for channel surfing and mindless aimless watching, I do not miss that at all, not in the slightest.  Nor do I miss anything enough that I have felt the urge to get a Roku or antenna or subscription of some service.

Instead, I’ve gone out to a couple of movies with my son (at his suggestion). This is a big deal in that I had gotten entirely out of the habit of going out to movies. It seemed like there was a long stretch where there just wasn’t anything worth watching, and they’ve gotten rather expensive if also more comfortable and amenable. But in the past three weeks I’ve seen Hidden Figures and Lion, both very well worth the price of admission.

And without the easy choice of watching TV to fall back on (literally, by plopping on the couch), I’ve been getting out and doing things much more often — Spanish conversation class, improv classes, exercise classes, lunches and dinners with friends, protest march. In the process, I’ve entirely avoided the toxic soup of cable news that has accompanied the dawning of the Chinese Century — oops, I mean the start of the new presidential Administration — which is quite possibly the most salutary benefit of all so far.  My (now more carefully managed) news consumption from online sources supplies me with more than enough information and sense of outrage; I even read a print newspaper on the Metro once last week.  So it definitely feels like I’ve replaced my cable TV viewing time with other, far healthier choices.

Still, I don’t feel quite like an advocate or acolyte of the cable-free lifestyle just yet — not so much because I have doubts about its value, but because I have doubts about the value of proselytizing others. I don’t want to be like that person who bends your ear about the benefits of giving up sugar or processed foods or animal products until all you want to do is find a grateful escape. I’d rather it be the case that this new habit (in conjunction with and supportive of other new habits as necessary) have such a positive effect on me that you start to notice. And then you might venture to say something about it — ‘You seem happier/livelier/calmer/more centered lately. What’s going on?’  And then I’ll happily bend your ear about how wonderful it’s been to be cable-free…

Cutting the Cable Cord

At long last, the deed is done: I am cable TV free, and then some…

fios-cord-010917          This is one way to cut the cable cord (but not the way I did it…)

Well, I finally did it!  This past Sunday, I cut the cable cord.

The decision was a big deal, which is why a strange mix of thoughts and emotions passed through me after I returned the remote device and converter box. I felt a keen sense of detachment and release, as if I had removed a horse bit from my mouth or some other apparatus that I’d worn for so long that I’d forgotten it was not really a part of me. I felt the presence of attachments waving frantically like tentacles trying to regain their hold on me, as if I was freeing myself from one of those disgusting human birth pods in The Matrix movie series. (Yes, those images really did come to my mind.) Maybe that would also explain why the phrase “naked and afraid” kept running through my head.

There’s another reason I had such a strong reaction: because I’ve replaced cable withnothing.

That’s right; no Roku or Apple TV or anything like that. No TV at all, in fact — at least for now. Unlike my recent social media/news diet, I went cold, cold turkey on this one.

This decision evolved from my ongoing quest to build a healthier relationship with my stuff. Now that I’ve dealt with most of the physical things in my life, moving on to other types of clutter seems like a natural progression.  Watching cable TV was for me probably the biggest example of the mental and digital clutter that inhabits my life. The bulk of my viewing time was spent watching sports — soccer, baseball, and an eclectic variety of others. Most of the rest of my viewing time was spent channel surfing through programs which I really didn’t care much about. There were certainly some occasional nuggets here and there, but mostly it felt like a not-very-effective way to relax and decompress and possibly a huge waste of time as well.

So cable TV was a ripe target for some zero-based budgeting  — setting the counter back to zero to determine the actual value of watching TV through questions like these:
– What do I really need and want for TV consumption?
– What will I miss so much that I’ll be able to calculate that it’s worth the time, energy, attention to purchase it, knowing what I’ll be paying for it instead of having the cost hidden in a cable TV “package”?
– Since being able to afford it is not an issue, what other factors will form the basis for my decisions?
– Will I be able to discern what I’ve removed from my life that needs restoring? Will I find that I can replace what’s valuable to me by other means? Or will I find out that my TV consumption was in fact just a huge waste of time?

This decision has been a long time coming and involved a lot of unraveling for me to get to this point. I’d been meaning to do this for well over a year, but I kept putting it off. There were plenty of reasons to keep dragging my feet on the decision. There was the time back in April when someone reminded me that I wouldn’t be able to watch Washington Nationals baseball if I got rid of cable. That stopped me in my tracks for a while. Then there was the unnecessary need to time the event with the end of my billing period, which hardly seems like a savvy cost-savings decision in retrospect, given how many months it took for me to make the decision. The last straw was having the complete Verizon FiOS service — cable, internet, and phone — stop working on Saturday night. I thought, well if I’m not going to have cable for the next couple of days anyway, why not go ahead and do it now? Spending hours trying to troubleshoot Verizon FiOS on a smartphone also helped push the decision; adding on the extra two hours or so it took to cut the cable service on top of the hours I was already spending on dealing with the service issue didn’t seem like much of an extra effort  (see above pic for the cause of the disruption).

Many people I know will say, ‘So what? Big deal.’  Most of these folks got rid of their cable (if they ever even had it) a long time ago. But many other people I know are surprised or even thoroughly appalled at the very idea of cutting the cable cord (‘How could you even think of doing that?’). Maybe this was why, while it felt as if I’d made the right decision, it didn’t feel 100% right: because it also felt as if I was cutting myself off from an important part of society. If consuming less feels faintly un-American in an economic sort of way, cutting the cable cord feels faintly un-American in a cultural way.

But in fact, my intent is the opposite: to get in closer touch with myself, others, and society by removing mindless distractions of TV viewing which had become obstacles to connecting.  I imagined myself as an observer who had stepped to some outside and was now looking in. I imagined trying to cajole people to join me ‘out here’ but finding that their digital lives made them difficult to access, maybe even impossible.

In any event, it felt good overall, as if I had really turned a corner in my life — from where to where I don’t exactly know yet, but I know that my life will be significantly different somehow and in a positive way. It felt liberating.

So back to zero it is. It’s only been a few days, but I haven’t missed having cable so far. This decision is also a perfect way to launch my next habit reforming project, which is to change my TV and sports viewing habits. (More about that in a future post.) So I’m keeping track of my urges and triggers to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see how they emerge as time goes on…

Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Final Results

Weeks 5, 6:  Taking hold of a new habit…

duolingo-achievements-010317                                                  My Duolingo achievements as of today…

Two weeks ago, I decided to focus on doing what I could to enable my new social media/news consuming habits to take hold.  And take hold they did!  Here’s the tally of views and resisted urges for weeks 5 and 6:

Week 5:
T 12/20 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/21 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1
Total: 19/13

Week 6:
T 12/27 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/28 = 1/0
Th 12/29 = 0/2
F 12/30 = 1/2
Sa 12/31 = 0/2
Su 1/1 = 0/1
M 1/2 = 1/1
Total: 5/10

The Week 5 numbers dropped a little from Week 4, but they were very similar. The frequency of my habit in Weeks 4 and 5 could be labeled ‘meal mode,’ where I allow myself limited but more or less regular social media and news ‘meals’ each day.

Week 6 was a very different story. The main reason was that I decided to take a vacation from Facebook — no visits to Facebook since December 27th. Week 6 went beyond ‘meal mode’ (if I did this with meals, I would starve). It was more like giving up meat or sugar or some other major diet item, one that could be consumed sparingly or even not at all.

The result? I have to say, I didn’t miss FB that much. I don’t plan to give it up entirely (at least not for now), but I do plan to limit my future visits a lot, including at least a few days each week where I don’t visit at all.

The other big takeaway was that it’s time now for me to treat social media and news separately.  I lumped them together for this project for two reasons: one, they were both means for me to indulge in my worst habits of looking for news that fed my sense of outrage and righteous indignation; and two, I had allowed Facebook to become my primary source of news through its news feed feature.  Although I also looked at other sources, I had used the Facebook news feed feature first as a news source.  As a result, my social media and news habits had become joined.

Thanks to this project, I rediscovered how ‘Catching up with what’s happening in the larger world’ is different from ‘catching up with what’s happening with my FB friends.’ FB makes it convenient to do both at the same time — too easy to become too much of a compulsion. Using this project to reshape the frequency and purpose. As a result, my social media and news consumption have become different habits again. The easiest way to keep this is going is to stop using Facebook as a primary news source.  As a result, I am going to build my own news feed away from Facebook once I return to viewing news online on a more regular basis.

All in all, it feels like this new habit has taken hold. The urges are much less frequent, and I don’t feel any sense of loss. I’ll keep an eye out for slippage, but I’m going to declare this habit as officially reformed!

I also now have another new habit to maintain: language learning.  I’ve continue to practice on Duolingo every day, and my streak is now 42 days and counting. Just reached level 13 in Spanish (54% “fluent”) and am now at level 11 in French (46% “fluent”). I’ve amassed over 8,000 XPs (experience points) and have learned how to use timed practice to accelerate XP accumulation.

Not only that, I have a process now which I’m going to apply to reforming 10-12 habits in the new year (and yes, that is officially a New Year’s Resolution). Next habit on tap: email! I’m also going to see if I can reduce the formation time from six weeks to four weeks, and then maybe even less than that if I can. I’ll report on that once it’s underway…

Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 4 Results

Week 4: A healthy social media and news diet, or habit, or both?


                                   My Duolingo XP Results for Week 4…

Last week, I said I wanted to focus on consolidating my new habits and starting to write up a summary of what I’ve learned about changing this habit.  Here’s how Week 4 went:

The urge has stabilized as shown by my running tally of views and resisted urges:

T 12/13 = 3/4 (= 3 looks, 4 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/14 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1

The total number of views stayed about the same this week (21 vs. 23 last week) but the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped another 30 percent from 22 to 15. As a result, the total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped again to around five per day.

Weekend numbers were again good but not exceptional, because weekend days didn’t look that different from my weekday days, so I did not spend a lot of time during the weekend doing engaging activities which took me away from my computer and other devices.

The triggers are under control — Only one new trigger in Week 4, and I almost hesitate to call it that. I had an urge to check on a Facebook friend I hadn’t heard from for a while to see what was up (turned out that this person had deactivated their FB account for reasons I don’t know). To me, this is different from a reflexive trigger, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

I also found that the red dot message notification/counter on my iPhone Twitter icon was just as much a trigger as the one on my Facebook icon. That doesn’t seem like a new trigger to me, though, just the same one in a different place, so I’m not counting that one as a new trigger.

The biggest takeaway for me here is that my social media/news behavior is starting look like a food diet now, at least in terms of frequency. Being proactive and planning my consumption has made a big difference; I have learned to decide when I will look at social media or news. Urges have become thoughts now. I almost never access it now reflexively or thoughtlessly, and when I do, it’s been because of some useful purpose for which social media is secondary. For instance, I looked at Facebook once without thinking to access an FB Messenger conversation from a professional colleague about an article I’ll be writing.

For me, this highlights an important distinction between social media as addiction or time suck and social media as appliance. I had the same problem when I tried to enforce screen-free days a few years ago. It was difficult not because of some sort of media addiction, but because I relied on my phone’s other functions — watch, calendar, weather report, timer, alarm clock, et al. In other words, my phone is now an appliance, just like my refrigerator is, and I don’t try to have ‘refrigerator-free days’ where I turn the refrigerator off, so why should I turn off my phone and try to have a phone-free day? A total usage ban is silly; it makes a lot more sense to try to shape intelligent, thoughtful usage of appliances, including our smartphones, computers, and similar devices.  I suppose one could argue that I’m addicted to my refrigerator, for that matter to my water service or to reading. Highly dependent? Sure. But calling them addictions is stretching it.

Better, I think, to call them habits — “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” They’re hard to give up because we need them; we make them a “regular tendency or practice” because they are useful (e.g., the habit of using a refrigerator). There is an element of dependency which is worth acknowledging and maybe even playing with every now and then. But dependencies are not necessarily evils; they can involve being “influenced or determined by or subject to another“, but they can also refer to reliance and trust. So for me, I’ll call it both diet and habit.

What’s not working (yet)?

Since my social media/news holiday diet appears to be successful, it occurred to me to question myself for possible bias here. Am I painting too rosy a picture of my success? Am I deluding myself into thinking that I’m being more successful than I really am?  So I decided to consider the question, what’s not working (yet)?  Some thoughts:

Duration — I haven’t paid much attention to portion control, that is, how long I look at one time. This is not entirely bad; if I’m spending a lot of time doing healthy things, that’s like eating a lot of veggies to me, although I’m not sure that social media/news consumption has effective satiety triggers the way that filling up on veggies does.

Is three times a day every day too much?  What if the meal/diet metaphor really isn’t appropriate? What if it’s really a sign of habituated addiction?  I’ll consider this one over the next two weeks since the holiday season will give me more chances to look at social media/news less.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food diet is OK, not great. I stayed about the same as last week, and so I am still not close to where I was in August.

Language learning is doing fine.  I amassed 790 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week, much lower than last week, but I did practice every day and kept my streak going (now 27 days and counting!). Progress looks slow in terms of level and fluency score — still level 11 in Spanish (53% “fluent”) and level 9 in French (45% “fluent”), but scores on my progress tests indicate gains in both languages. (More details on this below for anyone who’s interested.)

New examples of (less) healthy social media/news choices? Not so much. It turns out that I made a pretty good list after all, and making that list longer wasn’t important to me this week. Same with examples of less healthy social media/news choices.

In addition, the holidays have now snuck up on me, so I’ll probably wait another two weeks before my next posting. By then, I’ll have a good sense of whether this habit has truly taken hold or whether I need to do something else to make that happen.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

More on my Duolingo language progress: I learned that Duolingo’s fluency score scale only goes up to 50-60% , which explains why my progress on that measure seems to be slowing down: I’m reaching the maximum possible. They also have an interesting proficiency scale rubric which is helpful but not that accurate in my opinion. For instance, it rates my 45% French proficiency as “intermediate,” but I can’t do most of the things listed on their rubric. I’d say that my French is still at the beginner to elementary stage. Duolingo also has progress tests which to me give more accurate reflections of proficiency.  I’ve taken the Spanish test twice (once three weeks ago, once this past week) and progressed from 4.21 to 4.84 out of 5 (again, keeping in mind that 50-60% fluency is the ceiling on this assessment).  I also took a French test this week and got a 2.01 out of 5 (which puts me at more like at 20% fluency, and that sounds more accurate to me).