One Habit of a Slightly Effective Person

At the height of the late 80s and early 90s dudebro corporate culture, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was its epitome. Self-assured and self-congratulatory people were scooping up planners, taking management seminars, and aggressively putting up workplace posters. I was too busy finishing an Army tour and limping through college to be much concerned with organizational effectiveness, even as I waded through bureaucratic inefficiencies on a daily basis. I was born a woman into a poor working class family, so suit ties and fraternal backslapping and BMWs seemed a tad repulsive and Stephen Covey got tossed under the very same bus.

36072Nearly 30 years later, I meet a woman in the course of my writing life. She’s energetic, intent on learning, a good listener, and positive about her life and interactions. My first reaction was irritation. My second was envy. My third – curiosity. What motivates her? How does she operate from such a place of positivity? How does she make others feel welcome and heard? I knew that it was a far distance from where I was currently residing. One of her secrets? That old manual of hair gel, firm handshakes, and relentless optimism – the porn of personal success, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I have a particularly bad habit of aggressively rejecting ideas until they seep into my self-consciousness, roll around in my head like a tennis ball, bouncing off this idea and that. A few days, months, or years later, I think hmm, I might try that. It drives my husband nuts. He makes a helpful suggestion, I stomp on it, and then six months later I do it and exclaim “I can’t believe I didn’t do that sooner!” It really takes the wind out of his I told you so, because enough time has passed that I’m convinced it was originally my idea. Yeah, still married (shaking my head with disbelief).

It’s been a few years since I recognized that I do this and I’m starting to think I need to work on it. The learning curve in my brain is barely perceptible as a curve because it stretches out over years. Now that I’ve tripped into my 50s, I think I might need to speed up the process a bit. This is aided by the one habit that will, I hope, eventually save my bacon.  I’m always learning and I actively pursue wisdom.

This morning I took the 7 Habits Personal Effectiveness Quotient Assessment. I was as honest as I could be, which is brutally, occasionally unfairly, honest. It’s all in the perception and my self-perception is not kind. Needless to say, I can show up on time, but I couldn’t get anyone else to show up with me. And I’m not being particularly effective in pursuing success as a whole. Maybe I need to finish reading that book.

17349126I just finished reading Daniel Goleman’s Focus: The Hidden Drive of Excellence. It started out well for me, but took a turn into the corporate world that had me reading at light speed, just so I could get to the author’s conclusions. I walked away with a handful of interesting concepts that will likely show up in my life a few years down the road.

This self-improvement bender I’m on is par for my life. I was feeling pretty self-satisfied until life events knocked me for a loop. In order to re-engage, find my way back to the path, I start to research for inspiration. It might be a person, a book, a random thought from four years ago. I do think that slowly, awkwardly, I’m getting wiser, but I’m beginning to realize that the goal is not where it’s at. My joy is in the process. Being there. The process is where we spend most of our time. If it can’t be joyful, we’re dooming ourselves to all the struggle and few of the benefits.

It’s odd to realize my joy comes in recognizing how little I know, how much more there is to learn, and that there is no being done. For years, I viewed this propensity for self-improvement as a result of never feeling like I was enough. Sometimes those early messages embed themselves inside our psyche and we, like moths to the light, spend our lives trying to get close to that warm feeling of perfection, no matter how damaging or dangerous.

13588356After reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how small I’ve been living. In a heated discussion with my teenager, she said “You’re such a rule follower!” It stung and then I had to think about why that would bother me. We’re often torn between who we are and who we think we should be. The failure to embrace who we are, the struggle to resist it, the efforts we make to counter it – it’s exhausting and sometimes destructive.

There is a point, though, when you say okay, this is who I am, how do I make it work in my favor? What’s the upside? I would tell my little teenage rebel that mama doesn’t need bail money, for starters. It’s a quick turn of the kaleidoscope or, as Stephen Covey would say, a paradigm shift. He says paradigm a lot. It’s a pretty cool, intellectual word, especially if you pronounce it with a silent ‘g’ – and don’t just read it on the page and then drop paradiggem into a conversation. Let’s hear it for the heavy readers out there, hey-o.

I have a rather large stack of books about the meaning of life, how not to suck at life, and why my life could be so much better. This is, I’ve finally realized, my happy place – feeling so down and out that I hit the books in search of inspiration. Even a book that uses the word “synergy”. If the author uses synergistic, though, I’m out.

Creating Space: A Writer’s Quest

canstockphoto18728910After many years of constant motion, I set out over the last year to make deliberate changes to my life. I stepped down, resigned, said no, cancelled activities and walked away. When all the excuses were gone, I was left facing the most formidable obstacle ever to being the writer I want to be – myself.

There’s a lot of talk about the corrosive effect of our distracted lives and it hasn’t been until I tried to sit still that it became truly apparent. I feel a little lost, a little uncertain about what I’m supposed to be doing. I have to look at the calendar to see what day it is and remind myself to shower. I have done every imaginable household task – my home has never been cleaner. I’ve spent countless hours doing internet research on any random question that has popped into my head. I have done, you see, everything but write.

I had a problem to solve and I’ve been working to come up with solutions. How do I create the space and time to write?

Where? Writers are presumed to be able to work anywhere. I have not found this to be the case. Sensory-wise, I can be pretty easily overwhelmed. My husband has told me for years that I need better “filters”. I told him that he needs a different wife. Defensiveness rules after being told for so many years that I’m too sensitive to sounds and smells. Maybe the world just needs to shut the hell up for a moment and back off the cologne.

I constantly hear about the coffee shop writers. I mean, J.K. Rowling, right? Sound impacts my ability to concentrate. Everyone tells me “headphones”, but I find that not being able to hear what’s happening in a public space to be unsettling, much the same way that mafioso like their backs to the wall in a restaurant.

I do a lot of writing at home when I’m in a productive phase. Those are joyful times for me, when I believe in my own potential as a writer. Still, emails pop up, the phone rings, texts ding and Skype beckons me. Hunger is never unabated, since I’m about 20 feet from the kitchen. If I’m really desperate to avoid the page, there is always housework to be done, rooms to be painted, yellow wallpaper to be stared at until I’m completely bonkers. Potential wanes in the face of interruption.

Random questions never go unanswered, even in the midst of writing. Is ragweed in season when I have my character having an allergic reaction? Google, oh wise one, tell me. An hour later, ragweed has linked me to the genus name ambrosia has linked me to the wine god Dionysus has linked me to numerous nude statues and a staff of fennel. And no, I still don’t know if ragweed is in season when my character’s nose is running nonstop.

This week, I’ve started using a new tech tool called Freedom. It blocks all internet connection for a timed period. You’d think with a little self control, I could do this without paying the $10 for the download. It was eye-opening to realize how often I attempted to access the internet reflexively. It was such a habit interruptus to check email, look something up, to even look at my weather app (seriously, I sit in front of a big damn window – weather is self-evident). I think it’s a brilliant little tool that, at bare minimum, made me realize what poor habits of concentration I have in front of the computer.

With the running “to do” list for household work, I decided that I needed to scout out a secondary location for some writing sessions. I visit our local library branch a couple of miles away at least once a week. I “discovered” that there is a quiet room with strict protocols and just tables and chairs. I’d never noticed it before – it was full of natural light, with huge windows that face a wooded area. How had I missed this gem?

Today is my first two hour writing session in The Quiet Room. I’m going in cold turkey, armed only with paper and pens. I used to write like that, with a lefty’s ink smear across every page. I think of it as an exploratory time – to figure out my whens and wheres of writing. I’ve been a hit-and-run writer for years. Now it’s time to park it and focus.

If you’re a writer or artist, how do you create space and time to work?

Administrative Note: The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest is revving up with some very thoughtful entries! You have until Sunday, December 7th, 2014, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.