This is the second part of a three-part post. You can read the first here.
I am in the giddy, excited stage of discovering something new that most people already know, but I’m a slow learner. If my friends and family hear the word microresolutions one more time (“It’s not even a real word!”), they will likely be making some of their own that involve earplugs and duct tape.
Inspired by a lot of reading and a desperate need to make some changes, I made two small resolutions four weeks ago. As a result, I sleep better, read more, eat fewer calories, and have written 40+ pages (10,500 words) in the last month that I would not have written otherwise. Painless, immediate results.
What is this magical elixir you speak of?
I log into my computer in the morning and then I log off at night.
Wait – what? This post is a scam!
Hear me out. I have two major personal goals in my life right now. I want to be a paid published writer and I want to be as fit and healthy for as long as I can be. I am not published and my shirt buttons could become deadly projectiles should my belly continue to expand. This is all to say, that my reality is far away from my goals.
The authoritarians among us would just bark “Write!” and “Calories in, calories out!”. Most of us know that easy answers are easy to give, but much harder to live. And if you’re truly skilled, like me, you’ve built layer upon layer of self-defeating behaviors. No single action could pierce that crust of hardened habits. The first stop on the way to any resolution is an honest assessment of those habits.
Finding the Tipping Point
I’m on track, taking care of business for the day and before I know it, I’ve blown the day doing things that aren’t remotely useful for meeting my personal goals. Where did I go wrong? It seemed to me that it was logging into the computer that did it. From that point on, all good intentions were gone and I was pulled along by habits – news reading, email sorting, blog surfing. Logging into the computer was where I needed to start with a resolution.
I decided that my first resolution was that I would immediately, upon logging in, write 250 words (a single page, double-spaced). I could do nothing until those words were written. I didn’t care what they were. It just needed to be the first thing I did.
In conjunction with that, my second resolution was that I’d log off the computer every night by 7pm.
Making It as Easy as Possible
Despite my long history of making life more difficult, I focused on making my resolutions as easy as possible to accomplish with additional cues. I set up my computer so that a new Word document would open as soon as I logged in. The first thing I’ve seen on my computer every day for the last 28 days is a blank page. I’ve written poetry, rants, laments, essays, and silly lyrics. The task took me all of 15 minutes and I wrote an average of 380 words per session.
Every night at 6:45 an alarm goes off, letting me know that I will need to log off by 7.
Letting Everything Else Go
These were my only resolutions. That was all I had to do. I had to let go of all my goal baggage. There were things I wanted to work on – working out more consistently, improving my diet with more nutrient-dense foods, sharpening my foreign language skills. I still did some things to support those goals, but they were not required and didn’t sidetrack me if all didn’t go to plan. I only had to do two very small things.
Framing the Present
Let’s start off with a few clichés. Life is short. It’s the journey, not the destination. Be present. All of these are about today. When working out my resolutions, I made myself write down what the immediate benefits would be.
Writing those 250 words would do this for me:
- Start my day off productively
- Start my day off positively (no news is good news)
- Improve my writing skills
Logging off at 7pm would do this for me:
- Prepare me for good night’s sleep.
- Leave room for better choices, like reading or interacting with my family.
- Less likely to make poor eating/caffeine choices to stay awake.
Scope Creep and Resistance
Initially, my resolutions seemed paltry. How was I going to get healthier this way? How was I going to get my novel past the revision stage? I felt the old tug of desperation tugging at me to do more, that these things couldn’t possibly be enough. I had to fight the urge to GO BIG. I’d gone big before and for the three days it lasted, it was glorious. Going small is for the long game.
If you’re like me and you get all happy-lab-puppy excited about new things, you might decide to tell your friends and family about your resolutions. They are also part of the GO BIG culture, so will likely be underwhelmed by your mini-goals. And they’ve heard your intentions before. The nice thing about easy, attainable goals is that you don’t actually need a support group for them. Maybe keep it under your lid. Wet blankets can often dampen resolve.
While I could imagine the possible benefits of my two small habits, they’ve turned out to be so much more – in measurable ways. I was at the point of thinking that maybe I needed to give up my ideas about being a writer, but I rediscovered how genuinely happy writing makes me, not just as an end-goal pursuit, but in the moment. This meant the overall tone of my day improved. I was not seeing the headlines first thing in the day. It meant that before I absorbed the bad things in the world, I was first in touch with the joy.
Sleep had become a real problem for me – whether it was hormonal or anxieties, I was not well-rested, stayed up too late, and woke repeatedly at night. Logging off my computer earlier changed how I spent my evening. First of all, it made me realize how very tired I really was – a missed cue masked by a surfing habit. At loose ends, I prepped better for the next day, settled in with a book, or just engaged with my family a bit more. I slept better and longer. It also ended my nighttime snacking habit, which meant less heartburn, fewer calories, less restlessness. Good sleep is a magic potion unto itself.
So while I can write my self-satisfied posts about my new habits, I am still far away from my big picture goals. Trying to decide what to do next was like starting all over again…