Not Just Another New Year’s Resolution

 

images treeI LOVE the New Year holiday because we get to make whatever we want of it.

It’s the holiday that asks the bigger questions.

What do you want to make of this year?

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (Okay, I stole that line from poet Mary Oliver).

New Year’s appeals to the list maker and the goal setter in me.

I was not always a goal setter.  For years I had vague and marvelous things I wanted to do on replay in my head, but never a plan.

I am an excellent dreamer.  I could dream with the best of them. And as other introverts know, there is plenty going on inside my head to keep me occupied for years.  Take action? But I am so very entertained right here inside my own noggin. 

This can be a bad thing, in case you didn’t know.  Without a plan that includes specific action steps and time limits I would be, well, dreamin’ my life away.

Then I started to have concrete goals and planned them out and what do ya know, when I take action things actually start to happen!

Why didn’t they teach me this in school? Oh wait- this is real life we are talking about here- it’s more like quantum physics than academia.

I like the ‘work backwards’ technique. What do I want to accomplish by the end of 2017? What would that require of me?  Then I break it down. What do I need to do on a weekly basis?  Daily? What time block? And I write it down.

Most of my own goals are writing ones, and are pretty easy to define,  but I think even broad, vague sounding goals such as “get healthy” or “enjoy life” can be broken down into specific actions if we get clear on what those goals mean to us.

Perhaps it should be called a New Year’s plan instead of a New Year’s resolution.  Maybe that makes all the difference.

So what do you want in 2017?

As the poet John Anster famously said:

 Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

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Moving Forward

Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are. -Maxwell Maltz

Take action! An inch of movement will bring you closer to your goals than a mile of intention. -Dr. Steve Maraboli

 

There’s a crazy intersection in the city near where I live called Kelley Square. There is traffic coming and going from all directions, with no traffic light or signs whatsoever. This area is known for its absolute chaos; there is even a Facebook page called I survived Kelley Square.

The first time I drove through this intersection, I was sure I just hadn’t seen the traffic signs. Anxiety set in as I tried to stay focused on what was in front of me while simultaneously noticing the traffic at my rear and all around me, and keeping my eyes peeled for that elusive yield sign.

The second time I drove through, a week or so later, I felt my heart beating quickly as I approached the intersection. I held out hope that there actually were traffic rules here and that I would grasp what they were this time around. But the second time was just like the first.

After going through Kelley Square three or four times, I finally asked someone who lived in the city,  What are the rules for Kelley Square?

Answer: There are none. You just take your opening, and go for it. Keep moving if you can. Only hesitate if you have to.

And so it goes.

I have high hopes for this new year. Health and fitness and writing and reaching goals.

And I’m not gonna lie, I am just fine with the holidays being over.

They were fun!

Joyous!

And I’m so over them now.

Isn’t everyone?
Is anyone ever left wanting more?

I don’t know.

But I get a sprint in my step as I am packing up the Christmas tree.

I was just so ready for a regular old month. I love regular old months, because there is room for surprises, progress, stillness, ideas. Writing.

The start of a brand new year.

Moving forward.

It’s going to be a good year.

A lot is going to happen. A lot already has.

Our middle daughter got engaged!

My husband has a Fitbit.  If you have one, or live with someone who has one, then you know why this is news. It goes everywhere with him.  It even sleeps with us.

I learned to cross country ski. More accurately, I learned to get up after falling. But it was something new, and new is synonymous with forward motion.

I’m going to compete in the Moth Story GrandSLAM. I hear it’s going to take place in March, finally, one year after my story slam win, but I’m still waiting for confirmation. Also awaiting the theme.

The following month, I am going to speak at a convention for marriage and family therapists about my book!

I am finishing said book. This year. No excuses. Because life doesn’t go on forever, you know. It just keeps moving forward, with or without us.

I cannot say I’ve mastered Kelley Square, and in fact it still scares me. But I see it a little differently now. Instead of chaos, I see people moving forward whenever they can.  Every driver is responsible for herself, but with a keen awareness of others around her.

Maybe that’s not so crazy after all.

Happy 2016.

 

 

 

 

Simplifying = getting sh*t done

20151130_124530Simplifying is not for nothing, folks.

Simplifying means getting sh*t done.

It means you have more time and space and freedom to spend on what is important to you.

Whether you simplify your diet, your routine, your home or your schedule, you will reap the rewards.

And here is my favorite reward:

Creative projects coming to fruition! 

I am in the process of editing my book. I love this part. It is a lot of work, but I get to apply my love for organizing to the whole process.  I printed out a hard copy because I find it easier to edit this way. I can spread chapters out across my table, move things around, write notes in red ink and feel the weight of my project, literally. All the pages I see represent not only what I’ve gotten done, but all the things I chose to let go of in order to focus on this.

I’ve made the decision that I will get this book ready for publication, no matter what it takes. That is a good feeling. Not having it out in the world is simply not an option for me. I will spend any amount of time and effort that is required. End of story.

 

Goal Setting Simplified

20150425_154128 I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’. -Henry Moore

Goal setting needn’t wait for the New Year. I think that any worthwhile goal requires specific daily habits. If we set a big goal, such as losing twenty pounds, or finishing a novel, isn’t it really a matter of taking the right steps nearly every day that will get us there? Why wait for tomorrow?

Smaller goals, like cleaning out a closet, can be done in one fell swoop. Cleaning out a house may take a whole week. But keeping a house decluttered, requires the daily habit of not bringing excess crap into it. And putting things away.

But anyhow, this post isn’t about cleaning up a home, but rather about setting goals in general.  I’ve included a method that I am using, but I think everyone should find and use what works for them. Or don’t set goals at all, because there’s an argument for that too!

Since I was preparing  for National Novel Writing Month, which I wrote about in my previous post, I decided to write down my writing goals and all  my other goals. Mostly, these are daily habits,  in three big areas of life, that I think serve me well.

I typed them up (and added details for this blog post), saved this in a “goal file”, and will print it out every month. Each month will have a space at the bottom for any additional goals specific to that month; those add excitement to the month. For example, in November I am participating in NaNoWriMo and a Moth Story Slam.

Most goals though, will remain constant every single month, and every single week, and for many of them, every single day. That is what is so simple about it.

Writing things down adds power and accountability. I love to write, so this method is very helpful for me.  Here are my goals below, in one document, to be reprinted by me every month, and tucked into my agenda, where I can keep track. I’ve added some detail after each goal, just for the purpose of this blog post. Obviously, my copies will not include the explanations, just the boldfaced goals.

Writing:

Write morning pages/journal (daily) I’ve been doing this for several years now, ever since I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. This one is automatic for me, before I even get out of bed.

Work on book (minimum 5x per week) Sometimes this means half an hour, if there is something else significant going on that day. But most days, there is no reason not to write for much longer. Finishing my book is by far my biggest writing goal, and in order to reach it I need the daily goal of working on it- a lot. Taking weekends off is allowed, except for NaNoWriMo month (November), which is a seven-days-a-week event.

Blog posts (minimum monthly) As I stated in a previous post, I will start posting less frequently than I have been, in order to move forward more quickly w/ my book project. But I still plan to post monthly, as a minimum.

Health:

Exercise (6x per week) This is already standard for me. But in preparation for the upcoming winter season, I joined a gym. I recall finding it difficult to get enough cardio in last winter. Who wants to go out and walk or jog when it’s 10 degrees out? Or too dangerous due to the snow covered sidewalks? Not this gal. I never thought I’d become a gym rat, but my gym offers cardio, plus classes that include weights, and yoga! On the nice days, I am still out walking or jogging, but I love having the variety of classes at the gym to go to when it’s rainy or cold.

Drink 60 oz. water (daily) This one is old habit for me. A simple rule of thumb is to divide your body weight in half, and drink that much water in ounces. I have a 30 ounce water bottle that I fill in the morning.  One water bottle, filled twice a day. 60 ounces. Bam.

Abstain from dessert (daily) This one is still difficult. To make it easier, I keep stevia in the house for the occasional baking (instead of using sugar.) But for special occasions, like my husband’s birthday, I bake the real deal. He currently has four of his homemade cupcakes left, stored in the freezer. I bet he forgot they are even there, because he only craves sweets like a normal person-moderately. I, on the other hand, think about those four cupcakes every hour. I wish he would just eat them already. I also don’t understand how freezing them is equated with “storing them for later”, since frozen cupcakes are awesome.

Since my sugar cravings have not simply gone away, I take probiotics daily(PB8). These help balance the bacteria in the gut, lessening the cravings (as well as aiding in a healthier gut which has all kinds of health benefits). After a bit of research, I have the visual in my head of nasty, yeasty bacteria overtaking my gut, causing sugar cravings. This has been enough to keep me motivated in my quest to become a normal-dessert-craving person, instead of the addict I had become.

Minimal simple carbs (daily) Simple carbs sap me of energy and when my energy wains, I am less productive. Besides, there are great health benefits to minimizing simple carb intake. I am not rigid about this one, but I try to be mindful. I eat less bread these days, I buy gluten-free pasta, and on the rare occasions that I bake, I usually use gluten-free flour. (My daughter, who has hard time tolerating gluten, simply grinds oats in her Ninja blender for easy and economical gluten-free flour).

Limit alcohol consumption to (2x per week maximum) I started off trying 1x per week, but I found this a little too rigid. Often, a glass or two of wine one night is enough, but other weeks the occasion comes around twice in a week. For instance, a gourmet meal at home that begs to be served with a glass of red wine, and a dinner out for a special occasion that also calls for a drink. But without the twice-weekly limit, I might simply start replacing my desserts with wine, which also satisfies a sweet craving. Then where would I be? Alcohol is toxic and since our bodies don’t know how to digest it, they store it as fat. So as someone with a wicked sweet tooth, I decided that if I don’t limit my intake of wine, I could eventually end up a fat alcoholic. And all the probiotics in the world couldn’t save me from that.

Spiritual:

Meditation or yoga (4x per week) I put or yoga here, because if my exercise consists of yoga that day, then I count that as meditation, since yoga is basically meditation-in-motion. Both have profound effects on well being. It clears my head and puts me in the present moment like nothing else can. It makes it easier to keep all the other good habits. Yoga and meditation keep good things flowing into my day and my life.

Follow the Four Agreements (daily) I blogged about this in more detail here: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/the-four-agreements/

Following the Four Agreements is probably my most worthwhile goal of all, and the one I need to work the hardest at. When I review them, I can almost always think of instances where I’ve failed at following them.

#1 Be impeccable w/ your word I can easily recall times when I should have spoken my truth and didn’t. And other times when I should have kept my mouth shut and spoke.

#2 Don’t take anything personally I think I’m okay with this one. I am pretty good at understanding that we all come with our own experiences and lenses and preferences, and I don’t take others’ opinions or actions too personally. Mostly.

#3 Don’t make assumptions I catch myself making assumptions more often than I’d like to admit. I think I know what someone is thinking or I imagine something to be a certain way until I ask or check the facts. I think I am pretty good at seeking out the truth on the big matters, or being correct on my instinct, but on smaller things I often jump to conclusions. And the smaller things matter too.

#4 Always do your best A day in which I have done my best, which typically means following all of the goals I have listed in this post, is a great day. I feel accomplished, fulfilled, and light. And a day when I have fallen short is not as good. A day that I have failed miserably in many areas, feels like I suck at life. So obviously, doing my best is a hugely worthwhile agreement to follow.

And this is why I have typed out my goals to refer to daily, as an aid to keep myself on track for a life feels on purpose.  Having long term goals is great too, but it’s reaching the smaller, daily goals that get us there.  Having them in ink is the tool that helps me do my best.  (Also, I am obsessed with writing things down).

         Notes/Additions for this month: (November)

*Practice for Moth Story Slam thru Nov 3

*Increase time spent on book to  daily  (National Novel Writing Month).Exception: Thanksgiving Day & the day before for preparations.

Simplifying begs the question, what next?

One of the most exciting things about simplifying is what comes after. Simplifying clears the way for this question:

What do I want?

After clearing your home or your mind or your schedule, there is this space that feels like a spectacular opening, an invitation. Sometimes, perhaps, what fills up that space is the understanding that we already have everything we want and now we can enjoy that more. And that is a beautiful thing.

But it is in our human nature to grow, and I think our desires can be the touchstones for that growth. So even if we have most of what we want, there is often something else.

Recently, while my daughters were launching themselves further into their grownup lives, I suggested this:

Take the job that scares and excites you.

Delve into the creative project that you aren’t quite ready for. 

It’s exciting to see them growing into new things, becoming bigger versions of themselves. Though as parents we are not supposed to live vicariously through our children, it is hard to beat the feeling that comes from seeing your own children growing and thriving (just as there is no worse feeling than seeing them suffer, which also inevitably happens).

None of us is really ready for anything that challenges us, are we? At any stage of life, we are all sort of winging it, in a way.

Staying full of all sorts of clutter can be comfortable, like a cushion, a barrier between what we have now and what we don’t dare ask for.   That thing we want that whispers to us- or heck, maybe it screams at us- we want to hush it- because it’s too big, too scary, too improbable, or others might not like it.

OR THIS: It’s so small, so simple that it seems it wouldn’t really make any difference anyhow, so why bother?

OR IT IS INTANGIBLE: Peace. Acceptance. Relief. Confidence. Courage. Connection. Faith. How do we ask for these? We name them.

Sometimes we get what we want instantly. Often there is much work to do to get there- but at least now we are on our way. Anything I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted, came after either writing down my desire ( my form of prayer, in a way) or saying it aloud. The words I WANT hold power. They add clarity, focus, priority.

Sometimes what we want is just to know what we want. Often we know what we don’t want. But that’s helpful too. It gets us to the place of knowing what we do want.

I went through a time of not being clear on what I wanted. I tried different things and though they felt worthwhile, none were quite It. I felt I was squandering my time and energy on too many different things. I guess this was my clutter, distracting me from having to put real effort into one chosen endeavor.  It took time to get clear on what I wanted.  Simplifying helped greatly. It took saying no to all the things that just weren’t cutting it- all the things that would keep me busy but not quite fulfill me.

Now I know what I want. First and foremost, I want to keep being grateful for the intangibles that I already have so much of: love, health, faith, time. I want to always be clear on what I already have and to enjoy and appreciate all of it.

I want some less important, but still worthwhile, things. Some I may get, and some I may not, and all of that is okay. Often, the act of striving is just as fulfilling as the act of getting.

  I want to do well in the Moth Grandslam this summer and also be invited to the Moth Main stage, or some other big venue and I want to get comfortable with this idea. Okay, maybe not comfortable, exactly, but I at least want to be able to channel my nerves into something more like passion. I want to be absolutely satisfied with the way my book comes out. I want it published, well received, and to go on to write others (and it sure wouldn’t hurt to get the fellowship I applied for that would help me do this. It’s not required, but it would be sweet). And I want to know that the thing that fulfills me is adding some value somewhere, to someone else, at least sometimes. I want to keep reading good books.

I want to only crave healthy foods. I want to get clearer.  I want to have the energy, every day, to do the things I want to do. I want to get better and better at living in the present moment . I want to stop the mind chatter that only seems to cease entirely when I am writing, meditating, practicing yoga, sleeping, or listening to others.

I want a new light for my dining room because I really don’t like the gold one that’s there (we’re allowed to want petty things too). I also want a pair of white pants that are the right length so I don’t have to go get them hemmed. And while I’m at it, I want to figure out why the time on my laptop keeps changing to the incorrect time, no matter how many times I reset it. I missed yoga class today because I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually is. I want to forgive myself for still sitting here in my pajamas at noon. I thought it was eleven.

I want to let go of any regrets and judgements and worries. I want peace in every situation, every day. I know this is a stretch.

Wow, writing this makes me realize, once again, how much work I have to do and how far I am from much of this.   I know I will never quite get there. I will never have all of this. But I want to know I am trying. I want to know I am moving forward. It is natural to need to move forward, to grow, to expand in some way. And on the days I take one step backward, because I procrastinate or I give in to doubt, or I simply choose the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, carelessly or impulsively, I want to notice. Even though noticing kind of sucks. It hurts.

The thing is, when we know what we want, it becomes painfully clear when we choose something that is not that. We know when we’ve chosen in the direction that is away from our desires and it just feels all wrong, like heading east when we wanted to head west. Like disappointing ourselves. Our desires, our goals, at least the reasonably healthy ones, are a reliable compass.

Simplifying begs the question, what next? What do I want? What do I really want? It’s the best question in the world to ask, I think.   It’s the one that is always worth asking.

Not knowing is unsettling, like flapping in the wind, like living by inertia as time ticks away.

Even if the answer is the faintest of whispers, or scary or unlikely or very, very difficult, it could be the answer that is worth so much. A gift that helps us navigate the denseness of day to day life. It is the answer that only comes when we dare to ask the question.

What do I want?

Midlife and Miracles

I’ve decided to begin my New Year’s resolutions early this year. The idea of a fresh year and new possibilities thrills me each and every January. What I really love about this time are the miracles we get to create. What better month to prepare for miracles than December?

Miracles are the epitome of Christmas. Sure there is the festivity, the giving and unwrapping; family time and holiday music and the possibility of glistening snow. The joy! But the spirit of Christmas, at least for me, is also about the magic I feel when I put love and clarity and moving forward, being better, at the top of my agenda. It is an internal thing.

I love mid-life for the opportunities that come with the wisdom of hindsight and experience. I like the deeper appreciation of time that is cultivated when you realize it is not endless. I love this stage of life for the self-knowledge; when you finally really know yourself- strengths, weaknesses, desires and aversions, you are better able to create an increasingly authentic life.

It becomes so obvious that choices are being made continuously, in every moment, and that self-effacy is a damn good path to personal freedom. I mean, when we look at where we are today, though there were some things out of our control, don’t we mostly recognize a series of choices that brought us here?

Once we’re at midlife, there is no excuse for our choices to be shots in the dark. The consequence to each and every one, big and small, is a lot clearer in the light of experience.

So I’m creating my list of resolutions, or goals, or call- them-what- you- will, early. I want to have built up some momentum by the time Christmas is here, so that the great spirit of the holiday, of life itself, can find an open vessel in me. I want to breathe in the magic, so I’m meeting it halfway. If all goes well, I will be able to greet the first day of January with the confidence that my resolutions are already sticking, that my goals will be met.

I may appear to be doing less this year- less shopping, less baking, maybe even less decorating. But I know what I want, this month and in the year ahead, and it won’t come wrapped or delivered to my doorstop. It’ll be a gift, a miracle, that I invite because I know what I need to do and what I need to not do, and alas I know the difference, without question.

I know which goals or dreams are outdated and which ones are meant for now. With midlife, the ego has shrunk enough to learn from mistakes while the heart has swelled enough to forgive them. If we are good this year, whatever that means for us, we really will get what we want. I believe that. It probably won’t be easy. In fact, it may be very difficult, depending on what it is.

So Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Heck, Happy almost New Year. Soon we will have 365 new days of new moments, each one full of potential. Here’s to midlife and to miracles. They are one and the same.

 

Routine and the precious commodity of time

 

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. –Mason Currey

 I think a lack of routine leaves room for our time to be filled aimlessly, like the tide rushing in to fill the sandy grooves leading to the castle. Sometimes necessary things fill in the grooves of time, like dental appointments and grocery shopping, and work. But there are also those other things- the optional ones such as all that information, streaming in, all the time, everywhere, by mail and web, radio, and by osmosis. The Time magazines that seem to be floating around my home, reminding me I haven’t read them yet. And the newspaper, black ink scolding me for only skimming – This is the world for crying out loud! Read it all!

 Instead I’ve been reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book about renowned artists’ and authors’ work routines. I am thoroughly enjoying this book and picking up some good tips. But I’m also noticing the daily life stuff is suspiciously missing from the pages. The routines look a lot like “wake up early, have coffee, go for a walk, write until lunch, resume writing until late afternoon, break for dinner with friends” etc. Nowhere am I reading anything like this: did six loads of laundry, called the insurance company, prepared dinner, picked up the dry cleaning, brought dog to the groomer, paid the bills, made doctor appointment, shopped for birthday gift, called mother, answered emails, scrubbed the toilets, swept and vacuumed, bought groceries, took out the trash, got a haircut, went to Target, the vet, the dentist, the post office and the gas station. Exercised. Squeezed in a little writing.

 And I can only assume none of them had kids because there was also no mention of took my kids to the dentist, doctor, playground, school, soccer, ballet, went to school meeting, spent quality time with kids, helped with homework, discussed curfew, toured colleges, met new boyfriend, quietly fretted, analyzed and obsessed over choices and futures and goals, mine and theirs, but mostly theirs, doled out chores because it is really nice not to empty the dishwasher for the second time in one day.

  Perhaps they had an unmentioned, designated time of day or week that they called all the stuff I have to do if I am to consider myself a functioning adult. And all the stuff I want to do because I am a parent. Being successful artists and authors, they surely made their work the top priority, and somehow fit everything else in around that, not the other way around. Life is so full of all the extraneous stuff that can fill in our precious time, as well as the important stuff that keeps us whole. There are limited hours in a day and a finite number of days in a year. This forces us to pick and choose what the important stuff is. We just don’t have time for everything. Therefore, here is my short bucket list:
1. Finish and publish current book.
2. Write several more.

That’s it. Some other things, such as traveling to Finland or meeting Stephen King, (I’ve only read his memoir, but this was enough to make me love him) would just be pleasant bonuses.

And speaking of Steven King, here are just two of his 20 Rules for Writers:
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. The least of all (your concerns) should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
Good news. What a relief. Such a time saver too.
10. You have three months. The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.
Not so good news. Three months? I am way, way behind. How about three years? Maybe I’ll hit my stride by book two and quicken my pace. For now, I’m setting new deadlines and a firmer routine so when the tide rushes in, which it always does, the big stuff won’t get washed away.

The complete list of Stephen King’s 20 rules are here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/stephen-kings-top-20-rules-for-writers/