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.

Chaos without, chaos within

My husband is redoing our whole kitchen.  Yay!  I am so excited to get rid of our ugly cabinets and counter tops and cracked tile floor and replace them with something pretty. It has been the one room I have never liked, and the room that is central to our home. Aesthetics are important to me.

I am jumping for joy inside!

Actually, I am not.

I am freaking out inside.

I know the chaos of the kitchen is very temporary. It’ll be done in a matter of weeks. Or months.  My husband is enjoying the challenge, and he is great about cleaning up the mess as best he can at the end of each day.

He contains the chaos. That is a beautiful thing.

20161002_151416-2But there are some parts of it, he just cannot help. Like the table needing to be put into the living room. And some of the old cabinets needing to be in the middle of the kitchen floor. Oh, and the floor being gone.

There is stuff to do in the kitchen. Like cook. And eat. There are only so many times we can go out to eat in a week. Or a day.

At least my writing room is in our basement.  I get to come down here and deny the mess that is upstairs, until I need to go upstairs. Which is pretty often.

Today has been the turning point, from how fun it is to discuss what color cabinets to buy to can we please just get whatever ones will get here the quickest? 

But this really is not just about me and my kitchen. That’s lame.

It’s about inner and outer chaos. I’ve got both right now and I suspect it may be somewhat universal. I just cannot be that unique. I think that when our outer surroundings are  too messy or too unfinished or too scattered, that is how we all feel inside as well, at least to some extent. 

I am a four year old again, with the rug…ahh tile…pulled out from under me.

I am throwing my arms up at everything now.

Where is my discipline? Where is my productivity? My peace? What is happening to me?

I did not shower this morning. I never don’t shower. I sometimes shower twice a day. I shower before I exercise for crying out loud.

But not today. Why bother?

Today I rolled out of bed and pulled on blue leggings from my pajama drawer. Bright blue leggings. And I went out in them.

I skipped exercising.

I skipped working on my book even though I’d been on a roll for weeks of focusing on it daily.

And it’s all I can do to keep myself from buying donuts for dinner.

My id is out in full force.

I am floundering. I am messy. I am scattered.

Hey, what do you know, I match my kitchen!

Chaos without, chaos within.

I’m amazed I am even writing, because I’ve been otherwise unproductive today.  And I’ve already got a Netflix movie picked out for tonight because why even consider being productive this evening? Today is a lost cause.

The whole week too.

I am afraid I might be downward spiraling.

If God is next to cleanliness, then kitchen chaos is the devil.

The struggle is real.

And though my reaction may sound extreme, I am talking wanting donuts and slacking off here. A little disordered thinking perhaps, but not drugs or other illegal activity. Not even extreme anxiety. But I am thinking of those poor souls who are struggling with those things.

For those people who are in total inner chaos, wrap them in a warm hug.

And for the love of all that is holy, someone please help them clean up their environment. I swear to God it will help. I swear on my kitchen sink.

Which is currently on the floor.

I swear on every marble counter top, on every farmer’s sink and every style cabinet there is. Just clean up the mess. Clear the decks. Bring order and simplicity to the places you dwell in. Then all the angels and saints will shine down upon you, brighter than the brightest kitchen appliance, and brighter than the  brightest blue legging, that ever was or ever will be.

Amen.

 

 

 

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.

The Art of of Self -Care

stock-photo-48674142-artist-brush-painting-picture-of-beautiful-landscapeIt has in fact occurred to me that not everyone is as passionate about simplifying as I am. Not everyone thinks that organizing a closet or an office is fun. Therefore, someone can like the idea of simplifying, but not actually ever do it. Which is perfectly fine if the idea of it is only mildly appealing anyhow.

Like so many things- exercising, losing weight, getting healthy, changing careers, creating a beloved project, giving up sugar- it is easy to like the idea of it, and quite a bit harder to do it. I suspect that to make any lasting change, we first need to fall in love with the idea of it.

We all know that doing something new, even if it’s for the best, requires bypassing that well-worn groove our old habits have created in our brain, in order to start on a new path. The new path can be steep and muddy, thick with brush, a tangle of overgrowth. We haven’t been here before, so the first hundred steps are difficult, prickly and tiring. It requires so much energy, so much of our will.

If the reason for starting down this path is not compelling enough, then who in their right mind would bother? It’s too much damn effort and life can be challenging enough without forcing ourselves to do unpleasant things on a regular basis.

If the reason for starting is not compelling enough…

The goal has to be compelling. We have to be able to envision what we want and to feel excited about the possibility. What would it look like? What would it feel like? Whatever our desire or goal is, big or small, I think that we  have to believe it will feel fantastic to reach it.

We are creatures of habit, and if we cannot imagine the rewards of something different, then that well-trodden path, the one of least resistance, will pull us back every time. Why wouldn’t it? It’s familiar, easy, and takes very little effort to travel that way. These samskaras as they are called in yoga, are deeply embedded patterns and they usually don’t change easily.

I like to think of self-care as an art. This implies that we are the artists of our own lives and have the liberty to choose our medium. Maybe simplifying does not appeal to you, but maybe something else does. (I would argue that simplifying will help you reach any goal, whatever that is, but I don’t want to be too pushy here).

I use the term self-care because I think that anything we really want that doesn’t do harm to ourselves or others is by its very nature, self-care. Greater fulfillment, a better relationship, more energy, resources, a sense of peace, a fit body, an aesthetically pleasing environment, writing a book or painting a masterpiece; getting more sleep or earning more money or having more time…..you fill in the blank… It is all self-care.

So here comes my pep talk for making your desired result more compelling:

Self-care–meeting all of your needs- does feel amazing.

It is worth it. The rewards are great.

What are they? Feeling lighter, freer, healthier and clearer, more in control of your life. Intuition is heightened, energy is increased, the right opportunities and people and ideas show up in your life.

And the momentum! One step down that new path, then another and another and it starts getting easier and then other good things get easier. For example, have you ever noticed when you work out you want to eat healthy afterwards? Or if you get rid of clutter in one room you want to go on to the next? When you get enough sleep you are clear headed and efficient, and everything goes more smoothly. One positive choice leads to the next, moving you forward. You gain traction, you notice little miracles, you put your life in order.

Momentum is awesome.

And then instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of the patterns you don’t want in your life, they are simply being replaced, or squeezed out, by the new things that you do want.

Full disclosure: Left to my own devices, or my natural temperament, I am the worst at breaking old habits and creating new ones. I have an Inner Brat who wants what she wants when she wants it (ice cream for lunch, while I sit around getting nothing done and make my blood sugar level rise? Yes please!)

I often want absolute convincing that a new pathway will be greatly rewarding before I will begin something new and good. I need research and experience and even signs from a divine source that this new way will be amazing. But the problem with this is that rewards often don’t become apparent until we’ve begun. We can’t experience it until we experience it.

I needed to know that writing and exercising nearly every day, even when I don’t feel like it, as well as mindfully choosing what I eat, and including meditation or yoga because that is what keeps my on the path-will be worth the effort.

But I couldn’t know it for sure until I did it.

And when I don’t do it, my day feels lacking, I am out-of-sorts, dissatisfied.

So if you have some desire for something new and better, whatever that is (you get to pick! ) I want to save you weeks or even years of resistance. I want to tell you that whatever it is you want, if it comes from your Better Self, your Higher Self, your Real Self, it will be so freakin’ worth it!  It can’t not be. I want to tell you that the burdensome path you may be avoiding is covered in gold, but you won’t see it until you are on it.

Self-care in every form will never let you down. Positive change is exciting and rewarding every single time, even when it starts out scary or daunting or difficult- perhaps especially when it starts out that way.

The act- the actual physical act– of beginning down that difficult new path, whatever that is, is pretty quickly rewarded. You won’t have to wait long to notice the fabulous results, and as you continue, step by step, the whole landscape comes into view, your own sweet masterpiece.

A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.

Happiness begins with a good morning

You’ve got to wake up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.   -George Lorimer stock-photo-33581722-cloudy-sunset-over-field-with-sunflowers

An extraordinary life is all about daily, continuous improvements in the areas that matter most.  –Robin Sharma

Remember, the moment you accept total responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you claim the power to change anything in your life. –Hal Elrod, author of the Miracle Morning

stock-photo-26537865-footpath-in-the-mountain-plateauMorning sets the tone for the rest of the day and habits affect every area of our lives. I am pretty attached to my own morning routine, and interested in the making and breaking of habits. Periodically, I get a little bit obsessed over how routines can be improved upon to help us reach our goals or just to feel more fulfilled in general.

So when a book called “the Miracle Morning” caught my eye, I couldn’t resist reading it. I’m glad I did. The author, Hal Elrod shares my enthusiasm for the power of a good morning routine and he pours his thoughts and knowledge into this easy read. Better still, he shares his website where you can access a sample of the book.

If you go to miraclemorning.com you can sign up to instantly have the first two chapters of his book, a video and audio program sent to your email address. In addition, he includes the link to the Miracle Morning inspired Facebook community. So if your interest is piqued, here is his link. Enjoy! http://miraclemorning.com/

Habit forming and meeting expectations: what’s your tendency?

Below is a link to Gretchen Rubin’s Tendency Quiz.  The purpose of the quiz is to give people insight into how they respond to expectations and therefore make habit forming (or breaking) more successful.  

Rubin’s four types of tendencies are:

Questioners (question all outer expectations before deciding which ones to turn into  inner expectations)

Obligers (find it easier to meet others’ expectations than own expectations)

Upholders (respond to others and own expectations)

Rebels (resist both inner and outer expectations)

So, for example if you are a questioner, you will only respond well to an expectation that you truly believe is beneficial. Don’t waste your time trying to form a habit that someone else suggested if  you don’t think it’s worthwhile.

If you are an obliger, you will do best if held accountable by someone else (a deadline for a project imposed by others, an exercise partner expecting you to show up, etc). You’re better off involving other people in your goals- announce your intentions, ask them to check in with you.

If you are an upholder,  then I guess you are all set; you will meet your own and others’ expectations almost all of the time! You don’t want to let anyone down, including yourself. Perhaps you need a break?

And rebels need freedom. They need to wake up and decide what they will do. In order for a rebel to begin a new habit, they must have chosen it and decided it is what they want, not a rigid expectation from anyone, themselves included. Here is a very short video dedicated to understanding the rebel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jli-sW5LP-Q

Here’s the quiz to determine which tendency you favor:

https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1950137/Four-Tendencies-January-2015