Clearing the Deck

This morning I got around to writing my last holiday card. Many people will be surprised to receive anything from me. I’m pretty hit-and-miss with correspondence around this time of year. I’m ridiculously insistent on writing personal notes, so sometimes I can’t even get started, since the task seems daunting. This year, though, has been more contemplative in nature. I took the time to do it. I’m ending the year on a good note, so that I can begin the next with an empty slate. No odds and ends left undone.

canstockphoto58759250I wrote up my work plan for 2019 yesterday, but I’ve been churning things over in my brain for the last month. I rearranged my study, got a new rug to spruce things up. Cleaned up my computer and did back ups. I now have a work calendar separate from my duties as mom, spouse, and household maintainer. For weeks, I’ve been listening to motivational books, thinking through my daily routines, writing lists, and basically getting my shit together.

It’s been the undercurrent to an uneven season of grieving the loss of my mother-in-law and holiday rituals. For the last year, our family has been in a holding pattern, where death seemed imminent, but not quite possible. And then it happens and it feels like a surprise. But the surprise is not just in the absence of the person, but the absence of the routine built around the person. Life collapses inward a bit.

The shift in time and energy, being snapped awake by a reminder of impermanence, the new year on the horizon – all these things have propelled me forward. I have to live my days differently. I’ve been practicing a long time, trying on and discarding habits that work or don’t work. I’ve been making my life more about writing than laundry. I’ve reached out and connected with other writers. The time for practice is over. Batter up!

canstockphoto3020214That isn’t to say that I won’t have to make some adjustments to my grand plan. Some things will still be untenable, no matter how good it looks on paper. My schedule and work plan are written in pencil for a reason. I think it’s going to be a slog, to shift into a writing work schedule from just “writing when I feel like it”. Moods tend to be a bad barometer for productivity, so my goal is to work anyway. Hello Excuse. I see you. Now go sit in the corner while I work.

So I prepare for the new year not with a burst of unrealistic goals, but with a sense of determination and an understanding that it will likely suck for awhile – the discomfort, the tension and pull of old habits, the voices in my head that tell me I’m ridiculous or untalented or incapable. Change is difficult, even changes that are simply a shift one way or another. What I do know is that this time next year, I want to have a different story to tell.

What do you want your story to be in 2019?

Some resources that give me a mental boost:

Books

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

I just started reading this book and had trouble putting it down. Compelling narrative, but also some immediate great lessons about being a writer. I’m going to have to take notes.

This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True  by M.J. Ryan

This isn’t a magic pill, but she draws from a lot of useful sources and I enjoyed listening to the audiobook.

Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold

I’ve recommended this one before. Important because she writes about how to create a workable goal for yourself and what that process entails.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

Sometimes I just read things like this for reinforcement of what I already know. Occasionally there’s a tidbit that sticks and I add it to my own personal motivations.

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

The audiobook is great for those who love classical music, as it breaks each chapter with music. But there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to write down, so I bought the book as well.

Videos

The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown

Hillary Rettig on “Overcoming Procrastination and Perfectionism

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban

Podcasts

The Good Life Project with Host Jonathan Fields

The Life Coach School with Host Brooke Castillo

A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2018.

I’ve made some progress over the last couple of months on both my novel and some essay writing, and I’ve reached that point where I need to do a final push to meet internal and external deadlines. I’ll leave you with some thoughts before I head into Michelle’s Writing Month (MeWriMo).

On Vulnerability and Writing

When I wrote about book reviews earlier this month, I began to think about the nature of being a writer in today’s world. If I’m deep into writing, I have no armor. I find after spending a lot of time writing, even going to the grocery store feels like an assault on the senses. I’m exposed. A hermit crab without a shell. I wince at the overhead speakers and all the beeping noises of the register. People seem too loud, the lights too bright.

canstockphoto17784854I have to harden up a bit again, develop a wind break against the sensory onslaught. And this is only to physical sensation. What about those writers who read a review of something they’d published, something they’d poured themselves into, only to be eviscerated by a careless reviewer? The Amazon hit piece: This sucked. I want my money back.

Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.

International Relations

I’ve noticed a lot of readers from countries where English is not the main language. With all the available tools we have to translate, I would encourage you to engage, practice your English here or write in your first language, and maybe we can learn a little more about your language and country. You are welcome here at The Green Study.

canstockphoto7037830I just started studying Chinese, but also have some German, Spanish, French, and Russian under my belt. I spend a little time each day studying, using apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Lately, too, I’ve been using Quizlet to improve my geography knowledge. There is something about learning location and language that brings the world closer to home. And it’s excellent exercise for the brain.

At a time when our U.S. leaders seek to sow discontent, we must free our minds and open our hearts. The U.S. is shedding experienced and knowledgeable diplomats, so we must step up to the plate. We must reach out, talk to each other, make connections, learn languages, read internationally, and not allow our leaders to define our relationship with the rest of the world.

Microresolution Update

It works. It really works. Back in December, I did a post series on resolutions with the intent of doing monthly updates. I’m a little late, but I’m sure no one is losing any sleep over it. I ran into trouble when I kept picking the wrong resolutions. I kept modifying until I finally hit on a couple more that worked. The results, like the resolutions, are small, but have shifted me more towards my personal goals than not.

canstockphoto8037195Writing: I have written every single day now for almost three months. As soon as I log into my computer, a blank Word doc comes up, and I am writing. My current resolution is a nightly habit of planning the next day’s writing. I don’t always follow through on the list, but I’ve given myself a map and travel with it as far as I can. As long as I’m still moving, that’s progress.

Fitness: I’ve mixed up my workouts and avoided my usual pitfall, which is to progressively add more weight and distance and time until I burn out for weeks on end or get injured. Whatever I do is fine, as long as I do something. The sun is out today and the sidewalks have finally melted off – it’s a walk for sure.

Nutrition: Forcing myself to eat only at the kitchen table has completely changed how I approach mealtimes and snacks. It is now a ritual and not a dash-and-grab. In the words of Caroline Arnold: small move, big change.

canstockphoto11693411My latest microresolution is eating food that requires me to slow down. Soup or salad and fruit for lunch. Unless I slurp cold soup with a straw, it’s a slow meal. And the time it takes to peel and eat an orange is meditative. I can feel my relationship with food changing, becoming the pleasure it should be.

Lifestyle: For the last couple of months, I made the resolution to always log off my computer by 7pm. This has improved a lot of small, meaningful things for me. I have more conversations with my family, I read more, and when I’m ready to go to bed, I sleep.

What is the most significant thing about taking a long time to make small changes, is that it changes the narrative from one of failed resolutions to that of incremental victories. This has given me a sense of optimism about my ability to make change and the confidence I’d lost in the repeated failures of bigger goals.

I still get a little impatient, but after seeing how consistent I am able to be when I whittle down to the smallest resolution, I’m going to keep at it. Five new habits in three months? That’s 20 new, positive habits a year. Where will I be then? I’m kind of excited to find out.

Gratitude

canstockphoto4839212Thank you to the many readers and commenters who have connected with me here. The blog is now six years old. It has learned to walk, wipe its own butt, and doesn’t drool quite as much – with only an occasional temper tantrum. It would have languished long ago if not for the people who read it and those who take the time to share their thoughts and perspectives. Thank you!

Have a great month of March and I look forward to reconnecting in April!

So You Want to Start a Resolution…(Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part post. You can read the first here.

canstockphoto17363632I 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.

canstockphoto2656709The 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 ecanstockphoto2658109asy 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.

canstockphoto19357489Writing 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.

Unintentional Consequences

While I could imagine the possible benefits of my two small habits, they’ve turned out to canstockphoto6502520be 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.

What’s Next?

canstockphoto0201754

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…

Tune in tomorrow for So You Want to Start a Resolution, Part 3

Building your resolutions, Jenga Tower or Rock of Gibraltar?

So You Want to Start a Resolution… (Part 1)

canstockphoto17363632It’s the time of year when many of us fall into the cyclical trap of “this year sucked and next year will be so much better because…”. We take the bait and before you know it, we’ve decided to completely re-vamp ourselves from being human to being perfect. And by February, it turns out we’re still human, but just a little less self-confident than before we failed that resolution.

I am known as The Goal-Maker. Okay, I’m not. As hard as I’ve tried, that nickname has never caught on, no matter how many times I tell people to call me that. Friends and family will tell you that I am, however, a perpetual goal-setter. I have been all my life. Out of the womb, my first goal was to get grownups to talk jibberish to me. Goal accomplished.

From very early on, I set diet goals, workout goals, reading goals, writing goals, nicer person goals (that never panned out), and financial goals. As a friend pointed out, I don’t wait until January 1st – I do it year round. Part of this pattern of behavior is pathological – the never good enough syndrome hit me at a young age. It’s taken me a decade or three to untangle that web and come to terms with whoever it is that I am.

canstockphoto13579921Over the last few years, I’ve set and failed goals at an alarming and increasingly rapid rate. I justify this pattern by saying that even a failed goal is partial success. I tell myself that some progress is better than no progress. The truth is that, while I’ve made some steps forward, the failures and the lack of positive, permanent outcomes have chipped away at my confidence. In the last year, I set goals halfheartedly and gave them up at the first sign of resistance.

Goal-setting became a rote reaction to getting on the bathroom scales, noticing a loss of muscle, not sleeping well, feeling stupid, panicking about how old I was getting, or feeling an overwhelming sense of personal underachievement. Goals made in a reflexive panic are the least likely to be thoughtful, reasonable, or attainable.

I have, over the last year, had a slow epiphany about speed and time. We are inundated by the quick-fix mentality that focuses on outcomes and not process. The seductive before-and-after picture, the TV show that shows extreme personal changes in what seems like one week. It sets up the idea that self-punishing rule-setting in the short term will bring us happier long-term outcomes.

I bought into every bit of this. I consider myself a fairly rational, intelligent person, but in the area of goal-setting, I’ve been a bit of an idiot. I knew I’d hit a point of just going through the motions, as if any attempt at self-improvement was actual improvement. It wasn’t. It was damaging my belief that I could change anything. It was bringing me to a point of bleak acceptance. Not the fuzzy warm self-acceptance that people go on about, but the dismal, aren’t you a complete shit kind of acceptance.

canstockphoto1076788Whenever I come up against a wall in my life, I do the research. I read everything I can get my hands on, I take notes, and I spend some time letting it all knock about in my noggin. In a movie, this montage would be accompanied by “Chariots of Fire”. I went to outside experts. I have the good fortune of having a personal trainer/life coach/friend who asks all the right questions when I’m trying to get things sorted.

Even with all that, I am at a point in my life that could cause despair. I turned 50. I have no career. I’m still unpublished. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m in an ongoing battle with aches and injuries. I still wrestle with depression. On the flip side, I have a wonderful family, great friends, accessible resources, and that magical, exasperating quality of persistence.

A month ago, I fell for it again. I resolved to make changes. I wrote everything out. I worked my way through my intentions, I thought through the obstacles. I mentally practiced in the days prior to my goal start date, adjusting my goals to be more attainable.

canstockphoto5001137Today, I have met both the goals I set every single day of the four weeks. And it was relatively easy. As I write this, it feels like this is one big ad for a book I read or a system I want to promote. I write this because it feels like a small miracle. And when you experience a small miracle, you want to blab to everyone about it.

I had been doing it all wrong. I’d blamed my lack of willpower or self-control for failing to meet goals. I blamed it on my depression and hormones or circumstances beyond my control. The real reason for my failure was that I didn’t know how to set attainable goals. My ambition and overestimation of my abilities always got ahead of reality. I expected myself to be someone different or my life to somehow function differently tomorrow. The reality that I wrote the goals for was not the reality in which I lived.

A lot of people have written blogs and books about changing habits and setting goals. Some things made sense to me and hit home and many others did not. But I think this is a key point – meeting resolutions starts at the very beginning, with the resolutions you select. If the resolutions aren’t right, no amount of willpower is going to get you to your goal.

canstockphoto37460924As a result of my two small resolutions, 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. Immediate results. No pain.

Wow – what miracle did you procure? What magic wand did you wave? And can I send you $19.95 for it in six installments?

But wait, there’s more…

Tune in tomorrow for So You Want to Start a Resolution, Part 2

How to play resolution roulette while avoiding trap doors, anvils, and wet blankets.

*****

Great Resources for Figuring Out Goals and Resolutions:

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold

For whatever reason, this book resonated with me. The basic concepts are covered in the first half and then loads of examples are given. I also watched her talk at Microsoft. Her approach is the incremental building of positive habits to slowly push out the negative habits.

Mini Habits: Smaller Habit, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise

Similar concept, smaller book. Especially useful in working on exercise resolutions, since that is his main example. He also writes a blog.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

This covers a lot of the science involved with habits for people who need more than the “do this” kind of explanation. Runs more to the business and productivity talk, but the concepts are the same. It also approaches it from the perspective of breaking negative habits. He explains the cycle of habits here.

Things I Learned While Away from My Computer

Blogging after a long break means my words feel as wobbly as a toddler learning how to walk. But here I am.

 

canstockphoto1469876I’ve spent the last month reading voraciously, walking miles, getting sleep, reconnecting with friends and family, working out more regularly, and spending a lot of time staring off into space. It’s been good and necessary and I came away with a brain filled with thoughts and ideas and no sense of what to do with it all.

Think Little

I’ve always been a “This Old House” kind of goal setter. In the course of a few episodes or hours, I plan to completely rip out my old life and become someone entirely new. Someone who doesn’t binge watch bad 80s television or eat an entire bag of Ghiradelli Peppermint Bark Chocolates in one sitting. I will no longer be the person who whinges on about writing and drags myself begrudgingly, bitterly, to the gym. I will like people in general and not avoid them like the plague. And it will all happen…tomorrow.

On one of my random library strolls, I discovered Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold. While I’ve read similar approaches, her process resonated with me.

canstockphoto293181.jpgLearning to meet small goals, to not let their scope creep through ambition, and to whittle things down to the smallest component, is an exercise in patience. It’s walking as far away from the insta-fix mentality that afflicts late night ads and reality TV as possible. I’m in week three of meeting small goals and it is difficult only in the sense that I must resist my urges to go big, to fall victim to my enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations.

Sound and Fury

There’s a lot of dying and death near me now – aging pets, aging relatives, the roller coaster of illness and recovery and diminishing returns. Winter is only tentatively here – killing everything in sight, but without the civility of covering it up with a blanket of snow. Nothing meets this head-on better than reading Shakespeare. Drafty, damp castles, ribaldry, murders, and words, words, words.

canstockphoto3731968.jpgI’m no intellectual heavyweight, so I was delighted to discover the No Fear series of Shakespeare’s plays. It includes the full text of his plays with plain English on the opposite page. So far I’ve gone through Hamlet and Macbeth. So much of our literature, even our conversation, finds its origins with Shakespeare. For people who love words, whether written or spoken, Shakespeare is worth revisiting. It’s Julius Caesar and Richard III next – apropos of our current political climate.

The Politics of Anger

The news during my break is enough to crush one’s heart. Two mass shootings. The cultural dominoes tumbling down over grabby hands and penis exhibitions. The continuing government’s trend towards authoritarianism and the willful embracing of that by a portion of the population, regardless of moral or ethical conflicts.

The natural and unnatural disasters seem to grow exponentially by the minute. Before I took a break, I imagined all forms of apocalypse, found myself ideologically entrenched and rigid, depressed by the widening crevasse between my beliefs and the beliefs of others.

Somehow, it’s different now, because the question I’ve begun to ask in earnest is: what is helpful? Was it useful for me to read the news twice a day, get enraged and depressed and frustrated about things over which I had little control? Did I act upon those feelings in such a way as to change it?

canstockphoto7124977Shortly after the 2016 election, I did what I felt were the right things. I contributed to organizations that supported causes I value, which are being threatened: reproductive rights and women’s healthcare, the environment, and civil rights. I started volunteering to work with English learners at a local public high school, feeling like I was cancelling out a couple of white nationalists in my efforts. I sent emails and made phone calls and wrote self-righteous, heated letters to politicians.

Still, I was depressed and felt little sense of relief from any of my actions. Nothing I’d done up to this point seemed to make a difference, except for the thing I was actively doing. Giving money, emailing, and leaving phone messages (rarely did I reach a person) – these are all relatively passive things. Working with English learners had a real time payoff every time someone proudly showed me a great paragraph they’d written or told me when they’d gotten their first part-time job.

And then, there is this inexplicable thing – a softening in political attitudes and a desire to not be so angry. Anger made me stupid. My thought processes and words had become twisted. I had to step back and regain my composure. I started with my own words. I paid my teenager money every time I swore in front of her and after the first ten bucks, I stopped. I love a well-placed swear word, but my anger had eroded even basic civility. It gave me a sense of entitlement – to rant, to not even try to sound like a reasonable person.

Next, I sought to neutralize the click bait nature of online or televised news. I used a site blocker on my browser to block the news sites I visited frequently. I still read the news online, but now I have to make a deliberate decision to turn off the blocker and many times that decision is to leave them blocked – the delay makes me mindful. I read most of my news delayed now, by getting The Economist (a serious bang for the buck, but get out your reading glasses – the print is small) and The Atlantic (edifying long form writing). It’s amazing what changing the immediacy of news can do for one’s day.

Reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions reminded me that anger cannot stay anger – it has to be something else. In Ms. Solnit’s case, it became some outstanding writing on complex issues. I read an article in The Atlantic, “Conservatism without Bigotry” (online title “Republican is not Synonymous for Racist“) by Peter Beinart that has made me really think about how we talk to each other and how to move beyond the shouting of memes at one another. There are so many rational, reasonable voices to counter the provocateurs who seek to divide us.

Moving Forward

My brain reservoir has been replenished. I am well-rested. And I have a lot of things to write about. I’m glad to be back and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow bloggers, having conversations with readers, and doing my part to contribute a civil voice to the internet.

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.