Making Room

small_4355223864It seemed that as I made the decision to spend more time working on my book and less time with other things, including blogging and writing essays, I was tested. I had a flood of blog post ideas, a request to write for Mamalode appeared in my inbox as well as an invitation to speak at a conference in the spring.

What should I do? Keep my goal very simplified, nose to the grindstone until I finish the book and ignore anything else that comes my way, including many of my other writing impulses?  Or say yes?

As luck would have it, I happen to be following the career of Mel Robbins. She is currently my mentor, though she doesn’t exactly know it. I think a mentor has to be someone who is not so unlike you that can’t relate, but who has much more of what you are aspiring to. As a CNN commentator and legal analyst our career paths differ hugely.

But she is also an author and a speaker and she loves motivating others with her words. She is happily married, has three children, and lives in the Boston area (me too!) She loves clothes and Martha Beck (so do I!) And I’ll bet she’s organized.

She has a no BS approach to getting what she wants and to helping others get what they want. And in addition to her great practical approach, she has a strong belief in the power of intuition, as I do. Career-wise, she is leaps and bounds ahead of me. But I can relate to her.

Mentor? I guess you could say she is my girl crush. I read her book and watched all of her videos on You Tube. I wanted to hear what she has to say. During one of her interview videos she spoke of saying Yes to all invitations during the first year of her speaking and writing career. She mentioned how one opportunity led to the next and so on, and that saying Yes was what really moved her forward. She advised against either-or- thinking in the face of opportunities and goals. Often, we can do this and that.

So I said Yes to writing for Mamalode (I get to choose how often) and Yes to the speaking invitation (it’s not until spring after all, and will only take up one day). I am saying Yes to my blog post ideas when they come to me (like this one) instead of putting them off until the ideas fade. I can do these things and consistently work on my book.

But only if I keep saying No to other things. I have to stay vigilant of all the ways clutter can sneak in- to my head, my home and my days. Simplifying is a must for me, in order to avoid overwhelm and to keep moving forward.

To refresh my resolve to keep my life uncluttered of things that don’t matter much to me, I watched several videos on minimalism. There are so many out there, and like a junkie, I could have watched them all night.

The Marie Kondo method of decluttering.

Peter Walsch, the professional organizer, writer and media personality.

There are even very young people on YouTube, speaking about how much happier they became when they went from being recreational shoppers and accumulators, to minimalists.

Matthew Williams of LifeEdited has some really cool stuff for city dwellers: http://www.lifeedited.com/about/

Minimizing beauty products, kitchens, closets; the possibilities go on and on. There are videos of encouragement and suggestions for every area of life. But alas, as much as I enjoy them and find them inspiring, I could not watch them all. At a certain point, watching more would be wasting too much time, something that simplifying is supposed to help us avoid. So I stopped when I found a favorite and I am posting it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-nMDzccJwc

Andrew Mellen is a professional organizer in New York City. His words resonate with me. I love what he has to say about simplifying, and I think you will too. He leaves a lot of room for personal preferences and values, and the guy makes sense for everyone in my opinion. Although his video is forty-four minutes long, you can get his whole message in the first twenty. The second part is just a question-and-answer session with his audience.

One of my favorite points that he makes is this: If you are embarking on a new path of simplifying or getting organized, you do not have to fit that in your schedule on top of everything else you already do. You simply need to stop doing the things you don’t want or need to do in order to make room for the task of organizing. Here is the link again. I hope you enjoy it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-nMDzccJwc

Whether our goal is to get organized or to change careers or write a book or cook more meals or anything at all that we find worthwhile, we first have to let go of all that is not serving us. We have to make room.

When I feel stuck or overwhelmed, I ask myself, what do I need to let go of? Usually it comes to me, and often it’s obvious. I am forever a student on this path.

So I emailed Mel Robbins, commenting on her work and asking her a question about mine. She responded with great enthusiasm, gave me some good advice, and then asked if I would contribute to the research of her next book by writing my responses to ten questions she would send me.

I said Yes.

The Virtue of Obsession

The creative habit is like a drug. The particular obsession changes, but the excitement, the thrill of your creation lasts.

 The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.

 I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.

-Henry Moore

I received an email recently from a local publicist who interviewed me about the book I am writing. How is it coming along? Would you like to come back when it is finished? She asked.

I was gearing up for a marathon writing session anyhow, but her inquiry was just the push I needed into creative obsession. The initial interview took place early this summer, and for the rest of the summer, I wrote at a snail’s pace. I had all kinds of excuses. But today there is this magical lull. Things are quiet. Nothing else is pulling at my attention. My family is happy and healthy and self-sufficient. No big holidays are bearing down on me yet. There is nowhere I have to be. I know things can change in a heartbeat, a phone call, a minute. For now, endless possibility.

There is no time like the present to obsess over my creative project and make some rapid progress, so I am jumping right in. To hell with balance. Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb by having balance. He obsessed. Obsession gets things done. I’ve eaten the same thing for the past five meals. It’s healthy and delicious so the sameness doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s way easier to obsess when you keep everything else simple. The only things I’m requiring of myself are drinking water and getting some exercise. Is it possible that I really don’t have to think about anything else? For this moment in time, a writer’s dream. I’m taking it.

More than education, intelligence or ability, sticking to something, believing you can accomplish it, and then applying a single minded focus to your goal- in short, tenacity- is key. So there you have it. Two glorious days, maybe more, heck, maybe a week, to obsess, live like a recluse, and focus on nothing else but the words in front of me. I’m even putting off my haircut, because let’s face it, even benign social interaction can dilute the creative process.

No room for fearful or negative thoughts, either. Will I finish? What if this book never makes it out of the slush pile? What if I piss someone off? Worries be gone. They are mind clutter, distractions, and excuses. The luxury of these days, to think of almost nothing else- to do almost nothing else- is liberating! It’s exhilarating. It’s passion. It’s giving the proverbial finger to all the stuff of life that is really okay left undone, at least for the time being. To put a creative project front and center, to make one’s thing the only thing, even for a short time, is a beautiful moment.

Simplify: a discipline alternative

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most. anonymous

I recently had a revelation. I simplify because I lack discipline. It’s one of those facts that you’ve known all along but comes into focus one day. For me, simplifying takes the place of discipline, and then leads to happiness.

Looking back, I’ve never really been disciplined.  I can blame that on my temperament, my upbringing, or anything else I can come up with, but it just never came naturally to me.   I remember starting on a strict diet when I was a teen, and how my parents did not have to worry that it would get out of control.  My diet lasted three days. I got consistent exercise only in the fall, because that is when I played a sport. If I didn’t show up, there would be consequences, people mad at me. I required structure, demands, few choices.

Fortunately for our daughters, they seem to take after their father.  I’ve never had to remind them to do their homework, eat their veggies or get some exercise.  They dedicated themselves to rigorous ballet classes and AP courses. And they studied their way through freshman year of college.  I remember sitting through a preprofessional ballet class with one of my daughters when she was contemplating switching to a more serious and structured dance school. I thought the class seemed dreadful, confining, boring. When the long ninety minutes was over, we left and I thought well, that takes care of that. I thought of the time and money we would save by not ever coming back. Her response was just the opposite. “I have to have this”, she said, longing in her eyes.

I don’t like stagnation and I know that to move forward, to fulfill my goals, to be happy, demands commitment.  So I do some things that seem to require discipline and focus, like practicing yoga, for instance.  And simplifying in ways that make sense to me.  But I don’t do these things because I am disciplined.   I find discipline only because I do them.

Without simplifying, I don’t stand a chance. I know that if I have too many things in my own way- on my agenda, in my head, on my plate, I will never make it to that yoga class. I won’t sit down and write if I am distracted by all the things I have to do afterwards or did before that. If I am tripping over things on the way to my desk, I may never make it into the chair. Eliminating all that I can, except what matters the most to me, is how I actually stay consistent with those things that matter.  Like most people, when I’m overwhelmed or tired, I am at my weakest. So my method of finding- or rather replacing- discipline is to remove the things that I can which keep me from what I want most.  If I am clogged and cluttered with the extraneous, I can’t see the path I know I want to be on, let alone move forward on it.

I simplify my diet by organizing my pantry and fridge. I streamline my wardrobe by only keeping what I like. I unriddle my exercise routine by committing ahead of time to a workout or scheduled yoga class.  I focus on what I want by eliminating from my agenda that which I don’t, as far as it is in my control. And only then, when I have pared down as much as I am able to, will I make the choices that give my life a forward momentum. One good choice leads to the next, and good things happen. Dreams come true.