Running with the Bull

There are the lies we tell others and there are the lies we tell ourselves. My lies to others canstockphoto15403110tend to be the carefully curated lie-but-not-a-lie that tries not to hurt feelings or unjustifiably cause pain. I don’t lie about myself, although online I tend to be airbrushed. Catch me when I expected to have some solitude or ride my bumper in your oversized vehicle and the sharp edges emerge.

The toughest lies to untangle are the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and what will make us happy. If I were to imagine my actualized self, it would be as an established writer in good physical condition – an autodidact vegan polyglot. And rainbows would shoot out of my ass.

At this point in my life, it’s all about the reach. I’m reaching towards my actualized self, trying to build actions into my daily life that are in the right direction. That’s the hard part – as exciting as the end game might sound, it is the smallest part of the whole process. The hard part, the boring part, is the action.

I’ve been adding new habits over the last few months – running and language studies. I attended a pitch conference that made me talk about my work, even in its disheveled state. After experiencing a small measure of success, I had the letdown. What now? What’s the next step? I began to think about the process of turning internal bullshit into reality.

Internal Investigation

canstockphoto5050400Assessing where I was should have been easy, but I found myself repeating old excuses or justification for why I hadn’t made progress. I have years of experience in lying to myself, so it took a willingness to say “hey, you know that’s not true”.

There are a couple of things I believe, but didn’t take to heart. One is that if something is important enough to you, you’ll make time for it. I was always telling myself I didn’t have time, but when I looked at how I was actually spending my time, I knew it was a lie. This is an important thing to think about, because it tells you several things:

  • Maybe I don’t really want this thing I thought I did.
  • Maybe this other thing I do is more important to me, and
  • How much of my life is on autopilot?

The other thing to think about is why you want to attain the goals you do. What need does it fulfill? Is it something you still want? I had an experience with a book proposal at the writers’ conference. I’d been carrying around this idea for 25 years and when I decided to let it go, it carried with it more than the idea, it carried my reason for wanting to do it – an old burden of shame for not finishing a master’s degree. Pruning one’s goals to those that really matter is so helpful.

canstockphoto19601309I had a discussion with a writer friend the other day about what need writing fulfills and where one needed to go with it, instead of blindly reaching for what we thought we should. Maybe the act of writing is enough or maybe we want awards or monetary compensation. Maybe we just want a few readers. It’s important to be specific about your goals, so that your actions support it.

I want to be published and paid for it, so I have to create a body of work, write and edit daily, send out queries, etc. That’s a lot of work to do if, at the end of the day, what you really wanted was a few readers or to see your writing in hard copy – both attainable without all the excess work and money. If you are not doing the actions to support what you think you want, you need to be honest about what you really want or you need to make a change.

canstockphoto18049411Over the course of my life I’ve been an irregular regular exerciser. Solid workouts for weeks and then nothing for a whole month. This seemed an intractable and constant problem for me. I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and started to think about what throws me off positive habits. His flowchart “How to Change a Habit” is useful. It made me realize that I might need a more specific goal and extrinsic reward for working out. Yes, it did my brain good and woo-hoo, I could lift so many pounds, but I had to be honest that this was not enough of a motivator or else I’d be consistent.

I recently started and finished an 8 week to 5K training program. Having a specific goal, an automated workout to follow and a compulsion to finish was very helpful. On top of that, I gave myself a reward at completion – new running shoes and a t-shirt that says “Less Talk, More Run”.

canstockphoto19213064For a year, I followed a plant-based, vegan diet. I felt lighter and like I had made a real effort to integrate my personal ethics regarding animal life by pairing it with action. I felt good and enjoyed the food I was eating. And then I stopped. Holiday food belted out its siren call and I crashed myself upon the rocks, less like a ship and more like a sea lion lolling about, reveling in its layers of warmth.

These are goals I return to, again and again. And maybe a pragmatic person would say, hey, if you can’t stick with it, maybe this ain’t your game. But there’s a learning curve and each time I set goals and miss them by a quarter mile, I figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I get better at it. And the fact that I return to them over and over means I’m doing something more often than not.

It’s reset time at The Green Study. I’m starting a new program with specific goals, time frames, metrics and rewards. For the next 21 days (May 1-21), I’m putting some new habits in place. Autopilot is being disengaged. So for the next three weeks, I am going to be intolerable. And I plan on writing about that here.

canstockphoto25992149If you want to ride along with me for the next 21 days, think about one tiny, daily habit that will help you towards a larger goal and drop it in the comment section. Think about how it works in your day, what obstacles you might run into and how you’d counter them. Decide on a reward and think about who or what might help support your goal. And if you have experienced success, pass on your tips!

Let’s do this thing.

19 Comments on “Running with the Bull

  1. This is all good stuff. I’m going to make this easy on myself and strive to write one simply entry/idea/observation per day in my notebook. Should be easy, right?

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    • I had this dorky goal of doing a language program daily. It doesn’t take much time and won’t have me working for the UN anytime soon. The biggest surprise to me was that I was able to do anything that many days in a row. It gave me a renewed sense of confidence that I could teach this old dog new tricks.
      I never assume it will be easy, but I do find, like anything else, taking it one day at a time rids us of unnecessary pressure. “Today, I only have to …” And before you know it, you have pages of ideas and thoughts. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lots of food for thought here in your post Michelle. You strike me as a pretty motivated lady and your talent for writing is obvious. I believe you can write a great book. I also believe that the publishing world has changed and the introverted writers like JD Salinger and Wolfe would likely vanquish on the vine having to promote their books the way publishing houses expect them to these days.

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    • I am motivated and quite often tired! And you’re likely right about publishing these days. It requires that writers be more than writers. I don’t know if I’m up to the task, but it’s one of those things I’ll deal with when I get there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a modest goal to practice the first step recommended in “Potatoes not Prozac,” which is to have a breakfast of adequate protein with a complex carb within an hour of waking up. Not earth-shattering, I know, but it’s the first of seven steps aimed at a better relationship with one’s body, resulting in improved emotional and physical well-being. And it does force me to let go of a decades-long practice of running before eating. Onward, Sister!

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    • I think the most lasting steps are never earth-shattering. I hit my 1000 word mark of writing before I did anything else this morning, which is on my list of goals. It felt like a luxury to not do the dishes or start laundry before making room for writing. I love self-care when it hits its mark, even if it takes me 4,321 times to figure out what that is. Good luck on your step – I’ll be interested to hear if you feel a difference!

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  4. Nice! I recently made the decision to start eating an actual breakfast instead of grabbing a diet coke and a pop-tart. I know, I know. Terrible! It’s only been 4 days, but I already feel better and more grounded in the mornings after my oatmeal and juice! Start small, and keep going!

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    • That’s a huge step. What I like about a good breakfast is that it starts the day saying “hey, I give a shit about myself.” That’s probably a pretty good message to start out your day.

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  5. I’ve been mulling over your post for a full day. I wondered how you were able to channel my own thoughts so clearly.
    I think self-actualization is often a process of “two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back.” If it were easy, everyone would be living at their fullest potential. I’ve also come to suspect that many of the things we want most in our lives sneak up on us when we stop focusing on them. The process of becoming is so gradual that we don’t notice the way our lives daily inch toward our goals until suddenly we’re there and we wonder how the hell that happened.
    Coincidentally, I’ve been consulting with a non-profit animal welfare group. One of its tenets is veganism and promoting the vegan lifestyle. Something I’ve learned from them is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing at all. They aim to educate about veganism and if for some it means choosing meatless Mondays or reducing consumption of animal products, that’s okay. It’s all progress and it all moves the needle.
    Sometimes I think we’re harder on ourselves than we ever would be on anyone else. I look forward to you being “intolerable” for the next three weeks. And I am inspired by your challenge. So, I’m committing to writing every day—and to doing it freely, playfully, exploringly, and without self-judgment (to the degree possible). Thanks, Michelle, for a blog post filled with inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve found the most important things are persistence and learning to adapt to failure in order to find out what works for us. Lots and lots of backwards steps. I’m kind of getting into this practice of little steps.
      No matter how many advice books and articles I read, it just never resonated. But over the last few months I’ve been astonished at what those little things add up to. The skill that I’ve been getting better at is breaking down the bigger goals to their smallest components, which is very useful for determining where to start.
      I’ve found the goals that I return to over and over point to aligning my beliefs with my actions, hence the desire to eat a plant-based diet.
      Best wishes on your writing goal – it sounds like a happy one!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Something that was counterintuitive to me, but which seems very important, is to not try to change too many things at once. I have had some reasonable success with the “don’t break the chain” method (https://www.writersstore.com/dont-break-the-chain-jerry-seinfeld/), but I can’t have too many chains going at once or I get overwhelmed.

    The most recent chain that I have been working on is something that sounds pretty silly, but it was just at the right level of difficulty for me to have success without being trivial. And that was to quit “cleaning” out my ears with Q-tips. I had read a number of articles about how you weren’t supposed to do that, how it was bad for your ears, how Q-tips were not intended for that purpose, but I kept doing it anyway. It felt good and it relieved anxiety in the short term. One night, though, my ear bled (fortunately superficially), and I decided I really needed to stop. I started taking anti-histamines and using my nasal spray more regularly, and I started a calendar chain in which I would cross out the day every day I went without Q-tipping my ears. After about 4 days of success, the chain itself became something I cared about, and it became a way to resist temptation. After 2 months of the chain (which sounds pretty long, but I need that long to establish that kind of habit), I just recently added another chain, which is to not anxiety-binge-eat. I have 5 days of that so far, and again it’s working surprisingly well. The same mental habits that I was using against one unwanted anxiety-related behavior seem to have transferred over to a second anxiety-related behavior.

    I’ve been separately trying to reduce anxiety and find better coping strategies, but after years of nevertheless not making any progress on these specific behaviors, this modest success seems noteworthy. I’ve even done chains before but I remember trying to start more than one chain at once and getting overwhelmed.

    Also, I find this idea from Gretchen Rubin helpful: to say to yourself that you “don’t eat/do” something (rather than that you “can’t eat/do” something–but that’s actually not that important, IMO). What has been helpful to me is changing my self-concept. I’m now a person who doesn’t eat cookies in the middle of the afternoon. It’s no judgement on the person I used to be, or on people who do eat cookies in the afternoon, it’s just what I do. It’s an easy and effective reminder when I think, “oh, I want a cookie.”

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    • I like how you talked about the “chain”. I have always viewed my compulsiveness as a negative, but it has come in surprisingly handy when trying to keep my “streak” going. I did it with DuoLingo language training (now at 79 days) and with the running program.

      I agree with not having too many chains going at once. This was always a downfall of mine – tomorrow I was going to wake up and do everything right and as expected, failure came quickly. I’m trying the approach of layering, as I master each habit. The confidence that comes from maintaining one small habit serves as a building block for the next. It sounds like you are doing something similar.

      Also, learning how to deal with setbacks or broken chains as the case may be, is to learn the art of resiliency in habit building. I am also more quick to recognize when something is not going to work for me, instead of setting myself up to fail.

      Your comment also reminds me of the idea of living like you’re already the person you want to be. It’s a mental tweak of “dress for the job you want”. And deciding that you are not a person who lives on coffee and burritos goes a long way to changing that habit. Also, heartburn…

      Best wishes in your habit-building – it sounds like you’re right on track!

      Liked by 1 person

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