There are the lies we tell others and there are the lies we tell ourselves. My lies to others tend 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.
Assessing 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.
I 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.
Over 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”.
For 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.
If 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.