My favorite things to do while snowed in: write, cook, and organize.
My favorite things to do while snowed in: write, cook, and organize.
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!
And I’m so over them now.
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.
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.
I cannot think of any better time of year to contemplate the mystery of ideas. For at least a moment, but preferably for a lifetime, I am asking you to consider the possibility that ideas and inspiration may come from an inexplicable source, from something divine and alive, perhaps from your own soul or as some may say, even from God Herself. An idea can come out of a desperate plea or, more often, from a simple opening created in stillness.
However you choose to think about the concept of ideas that come to us, or through us, there is this universal truth: we all get them.
But we most definitely do not always notice them, or invite them, or act on them. I think that much of the time we swat them away like flies. Why? I guess we are often too busy, too comfortable, too skeptical, too insecure, or just too darn attached to inertia. It’s just easier to ignore an idea than to engage in it.
In her newest book, Big Magic : Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert has this to say about ideas:
Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way…is through collaboration with a human partner.
Ideas can be as varied as the people who host them, but I am talking about the creative ideas that spur us to make something new, or change something old. An idea may come as a whisper or it may include a bodily sensation such as excitement mixed with nervousness. And when you’re truly lucky, the idea may grip you with such force that there is only one way to go with it: forward.
We are all creative beings after all, and I think we are just happier when we are creating something, even if it just a clever and satisfying tweak to our environment or routine, but especially when it is something even bigger.
So how can we invite ideas, the kind of another realm, the ones that bring joy and change and creations of all kinds?
Well since you asked, here’s my answer based on my own experiences as well as a boatload of reading on the topic (because it intrigues me to no end).
Eliminate Chaos. Eliminate all of it, or as much as you can. Clear the decks, because ideas prefer a clear path. They cannot reach you if they are tripping over the clutter in and around you. Clean up the mess, literally and figuratively, and ideas will stand a chance of getting your attention.
For the love of ideas, Take Care of Yourself. You know what to do. Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, keep a reasonable schedule.
Pay Attention. When you receive that idea, don’t swat it away. It may hang around for a while, and you may get another chance at it, but eventually it will give up on you and move on. We’re all going to miss out on some ideas, but don’t let them all get away; especially not the big, scary ones, because those are rare and amazing. The bigger the commitment, the bigger the payoff.
Follow Your Curiosities. Every new invention, creation, positive change or idea started with a question. What about this? What if..? What really happened? What if I tried that? I wonder who, what , where…? Consider that your curiosities are gifts, leading you somewhere new. I don’t care if you are ninety years old, we all have curiosities. Have the conversation, take the new road, ask the darn questions. Even when it is inconvenient or unsettling or out of your comfort zone, don’t accept what you know as all you want to know. Allow curiosity. Follow it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it brought the human to life.
Take Your Ideas Seriously. Please. I don’t mean in a rigid, stoic sort of way. I mean consider them. Play with them. Don’t be quick to dismiss them. Ideas come to us for a reason. Focus on it. Obsess over it if you have that luxury, but at least commune with an idea in a consistent manner, as soon as you can. Devote yourself to an idea and watch it grow. Be afraid if you must, but do it anyway. Make mistakes, ask for help, feel silly trying, inconvenience someone, but follow that damn idea. It’s yours.
That’s the best I’ve got.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and most of all, I hope you enjoy the mystery. Love the mystery. Leave some room for a new idea, and pull it close. It chose you.
Simplifying 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I know National Novel Writing Month is not really a holiday, but in a way it’s even better than one.
Many writers use National Novel Writing Month to draft a new novel, but there are no enforced rules, except to sit and write, every day of the month if possible, at the rate of about 1,660 words per day. Some writers, myself included, are partaking in order to get closer to the end of their already-in -progress work.
November is magical. While all the hoopla is gaining momentum for the real holidays, writers everywhere are preparing for NaNoWriMo. Participating in it feels like an act of self-love. I will not abandon my writing goals in order to bow to the holiday gods; they cannot take me until I am good and ready. And that means after I have thrown myself deep and long into November’s writing abyss.
I just cannot resist the spirit of NaNoWriMo, so I am jumping in once again. NaNoWriMo is an every day kind of thing. Every day, for a solid month, I will be moving forward faster than I would be if I weren’t participating.
This annual event gives me permission -not only permission- but support and encouragement- even pressure – to live my passion, above all else, for a solid month. Who doesn’t love that?
This starts in four days. Four days. My heart is fluttering, for real. No matter that I have the daunting task of editing and rewriting huge chunks of work ahead. It is still as if the Muse herself is knocking at my door, telling me it’s time.
The spirit of National Novel Writing Month gives me that feeling of I get to write. And at the end of every day comes the fulfillment of having written. It is a fabulous excuse to squeeze the rest of life around my writing, instead of the other way around. And that is how books get written.
Four more days to get everything in order so I can disappear into that magical writing abyss. I can hardly wait for my favorite “holiday”. I will see you on the other side of November.
It 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.