What’ll I do with my time if I live to be one hundred and eleven? Maybe it won’t happen, but then again, maybe it will. It always made sense to me to plan ahead just in case. I can’t tolerate forty seconds of boredom now, so what makes me think I’ll like it better when I’m ancient? How exciting is it to make a really long bucket list, realizing that there might actually be enough time to do it all, taste it all, try it all, live it all?
I’m making a bucket list by the decade and setting aside certain things for the age when I think they’ll make the most sense.
I’ve learned that I can only really focus on a couple of things at a time if I want to give them enough attention to make any progress. Basically I have enough brainpower to work on one artistic or intellectual goal and one physical goal at a time. That’s why it makes sense to save certain things “for later,” because trying to do everything all at once ensures that none of it is done well. At my current level, I tend to think of goals on a three-year time horizon.
I spent most of my twenties in poor health, and as a consequence (or a cause) I was totally inactive. Realizing in my thirties that I could regain and rebuild my strength, and then that I could surpass anything I ever thought possible, I started to feel more hopeful. Also, it was immediately obvious that I’d better weight my physical goals toward my younger years. I’d have more stamina and agility, and it would also help to extend my active years further into the future.
Prioritizing those physical goals naturally calls for shifting other sorts of goals toward the other end. Artistic and educational goals? Travel goals? Relationship goals? Philosophical goals? I start to wonder, what kinds of things might Future Me: Eighties Edition be into?
There are some overall epic goals that call to me, and if I haven’t gotten around to them any sooner, then I’ll make a point of tackling them in my eighties. One of these cherished goals is to teach someone to read. I just feel like that would be one of the coolest, most incredible feelings, to give someone the gift of literacy. This is something I could do no matter how much money I had or how mobile I was.
I also like the ideas of becoming a chess master or finally getting somewhere with mathematics. Both of these seem like big enough, deep enough projects to hold my attention for several years. I can save them for later, knowing that Old Me will have plenty of time.
In my twenties, I flailed around. In comparison, my life was so filled with struggle and drama, and I felt that I was barely making it. I was unhappy, confused, ill, and scared a lot of the time. Somehow I got it together, and by the time I was twenty-nine I had finally graduated from university, learned to drive, and gotten onto a career path, in that order. I also learned to knit, crochet, and use shop tools and a sewing machine, read hundreds of books, and got fairly good at ballroom dancing.
In my thirties, I started feeling competent. I learned to cook, eliminated my consumer debt, paid off one of my student loans early, got promotions and raises, adopted a parrot, moved into my own little house, got married, helped raise a teenager, ran a marathon, traveled to eight countries, and finally reached my goal weight. I became a minimalist, got into backpacking, self-published a book, started a blog, had basic A1-level conversations in a couple of foreign languages, and learned to play the ukulele.
Now I’m in my forties. I finally realized that when something interests me, I can choose it, focus on it, plan around it, study it, and maximize my experience of it. I also realized that it’s worth my time to do so. When something interests me even a little bit, I find that it’s even more interesting when I learn more. When I set a goal, it’s my own goal, a goal of my own selection. Because of that, I’ll give it everything I have.
Knowing I have the focus to carry out my goals, and assuming I have the time for them, what shall I do?
Forties Me: Become a competent public speaker and Distinguished Toastmaster. Start a podcast. Get a black belt in a martial art. Learn to swim and get over my fear of the ocean. Do a triathlon. Take gymnastics classes. Do a cartwheel, handstand, and the splits. Be completely debt-free. Make younger friends.
Fifties Me: Run a fifty-mile ultramarathon. Get serious about yoga and weight training. Do a major through-hike like the Appalachian Trail, maybe the Triple Crown. Make younger friends.
Sixties Me: Open my own gym. Compete in the Senior Olympics. Buy a house. Be financially independent. Make younger friends.
Seventies Me: Study chess. Have snow-white hair like my Nana. Make younger friends.
Eighties Me: Teach someone to read. Wear a tiara. Make younger friends.
The only one of these goals that I couldn’t potentially cram into a single decade, this current decade, would be entering the Senior Olympics, because I’m still too young.
Multi-decade goals: Travel to every country in the world (five a year for the next forty years). Write books and become a thought leader. Become a world-class listener. Learn to love my friends properly.
I hesitate to post many far-out goals, because there’s one thing I’ve learned about goal-setting. That is that once you’ve achieved a goal, it changes your vantage point. The goals you set from that point are different than goals you had set before, both grander and more specific. For instance, after traveling in Spain and using rudimentary Spanish to communicate, I understood ever so much more about how to focus my studies and where I would benefit the most, which was about 3:1 in favor of listening comprehension and memorizing nouns. This also enabled me to see that intensive study over just a couple of months could rocket me forward in my skills.
I look at my goals and feel that maybe they are too ambitious, and yet again, maybe they aren’t nearly ambitious enough. I look at my goals and think of some of my senior friends, and how they’re routinely doing a lot of this stuff. I’ve met and befriended people who’ve been to every country in the world, started businesses, adopted children, trained service animals, served in public office, become fluent in multiple languages, run foundations, and indeed, medaled in the Senior Olympics. What legacy will I leave with my life?
How about you?
Information is not motivation, and common knowledge is not common action. Basically this means that we know everything we need to know in order to get started, but it isn’t enough. No matter what it is that we’d like to do, for some reason, we aren’t doing it. Maybe we just aren’t juiced up enough about the benefits of change. Maybe we’re unsure about how getting the goal will change our relationships. Probably it’s different for every person and every situation. One thing that seems to be working for me is the contrary approach of imagining the worst version of something. How is what I’m doing as bad as it could be, and how could it be worse?
Let’s say I’m thinking about my car. I don’t actually own a car right now, so this is purely a figment of my imagination. The worst version of “my car” would be: unsafe, unreliable, smelly, dirty, filled with trash, and expensive. I’m picturing something that’s burning oil, with a black smoky cloud pouring out from behind me. The brakes are failing! The “check engine” light constantly flickers on and off. The body is rusting out, I have a broken tail light, one of the side windows is broken and replaced with cardboard and tape, and the passenger door lock doesn’t work. The interior smells like spoiled milk, the floors are covered with wrappers and food crumbs of every color, and there’s a suspicious stain on the seat. It gets 16 miles to the gallon and I’m still making payments. The glove compartment is so full of unpaid parking tickets that it won’t close.
Want me to swing by and pick you up?
Honestly, thinking about this “worst version” of a car makes me feel really smug about walking everywhere. I pulled that description from actual vehicles in which I have ridden. I could make this worst version slightly worse, although less realistic, by adding more broken windows or engine problems. At the point at which it is no longer operational, it stops being a “vehicle” and transitions to “junk.” Perhaps junk that is more valuable than other junk, like a broken and obsolete washing machine, but junk it still is.
This worst version method can be applied to other things.
Worst job: Underpaid, no benefits, unethical business practices, mean and domineering boss, unsafe working conditions, long commute, rude customers, no path to advancement, no social contribution
Worst relationship: Dishonest, dysfunctional; partner is contemptuous, hypercritical, and unpredictably disappears or cuts communication for no obvious reason. Can I say that if it’s violent then it isn’t a relationship, it’s a slow-motion crime?
Worst desk: Can’t work there, just looking at it stresses me out, covered with clutter, uncomfortable to sit there, poor lighting, not enough power outlets, other people dump their stuff on it
Worst shoes: Give me blisters, wearing them for more than an hour makes me walk with a limp, only match one outfit (or zero)
Worst lunch: Diet Coke and a bag of microwave popcorn
Worst cat: Actually an opossum
There are two benefits to using the worst version method. First, when things are bad, it can help to get at least a weak chuckle by imagining how they could be worse. Second, it can draw attention to ways we’ve been tolerating the intolerable. That perspective can be the jolt that we need to get moving, to take action and set limits.
Worst neighbor: Accidentally shot out our living room window, their dog got loose and attacked our dog
Worst landlord: Lived next door, had chronic domestic disputes
What do we do with this information? OKAY, TIME TO MOVE
Complaining is of very limited use. Its purpose should be to clarify our true desires. If not this, then what?
I had a silverware sorter in chrome. I thought it looked great. Then one day, one of the wires came loose and I managed to ram it under my fingernail. Bled everywhere. TIME TO GO! We shouldn’t be assaulted by our own stuff.
When we’re clear and certain about what we find unacceptable, we can rule it out. Nothing that makes us bleed, et cetera. It’s that response of OH HECK NO that abruptly puts a stop to ruts and habitual behavior that doesn’t serve us.
If not this, then what?
Ask that again and again.
If not this job, or one just like it, then what? How would we define a “good” boss or a “reasonable” commute?
If not this relationship, then what? Taking some time to be alone for a while, that might be good. What does “good communication” sound like? What does “functional” feel like?
If not this financial problem, then what? What will it take to reach a place of peace and clarity here?
If not this persistent physical annoyance, then what? What do we want for our bodies? Agility, symmetry, high energy, supple muscles, speed, power, strength, clear skin, a strong immune system? What specifically?
If not this room, then where? What would a dream office/bedroom/kitchen/living room look like? How would it feel to inhabit this space?
Most of all, what is the worst version of myself? When am I at my lowest? Selfish, inconsiderate, bored, envious, whiny, unproductive, not contributing or doing anything interesting, too much unstructured time, out of physical balance, no direction or purpose, making life difficult for other people, stuck and unhappy. What else?
Let’s not be our worst selves. Let’s not live the worst version of our lives, okay? If we’re ever going to make the world a better place, we’ll do it by always looking up to at least a slightly higher standard.
I’ve been following James Clear for about five years, so I was thrilled when I heard he had a book coming out. I pre-ordered it and read it as fast as I could! Atomic Habits is everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Learning about habit formation from James Clear has changed my life. New readers can pick up in one handy volume what the rest of us have had to learn in small bits over the last few years.
Pop culture has a lot to say about habits, and most of it is wrong. For instance, we think it takes 21 days to form a habit and we usually believe that successful people have unusual amounts of passion, motivation, and willpower. No wonder it’s so hard to make changes!
Atomic Habits is based on extensive research. One of Clear’s major strengths is that he will chase down a reference until he can either document it or... well... not. An example would be the oft-mentioned Seinfeld rule “don’t break the chain,” from a conversation with a fan of his standup comedy. I read recently that Seinfeld himself said he couldn’t figure out where that anecdote came from. Then James Clear references a documentary. He remains the only writer, among at least a dozen I’ve read, who has cited a specific reference to back up that particular claim. If he uses an example or a quote, he has found the citation. That’s his standard.
Another strength of Clear’s work that appears in Atomic Habits is the beautiful simplicity of his illustrations. I particularly love the DECISIVE MOMENTS diagram showing how small choices can add up to make the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Although I have been reading James Clear’s newsletter and taking his webinars for several years, I still received some surprising and valuable new insights from Atomic Habits. One of these is the concept of the “decision journal,” something that I am going to implement immediately. Another is the habit contract; I’ve seen this idea before, but Clear’s example suddenly made it relatable. I also glommed onto the concept of “resetting the room,” and I’m going to steal it and use it all the time.
If you have tried and failed to change your habits, don’t despair. Atomic Habits is here to help. This research-based book will entertain, inform, and probably surprise you as much as it did me. James Clear is changing habits, and if he keeps it up he’s going to change the world.
Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.
Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.
...I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.
Volcanic Momentum is the sort of motivational book that you don’t put back on the shelf when you’re done. You leave it out where you can see the cover, because just reading the words VOLCANIC MOMENTUM puts you in the right frame of mind. Jordan Ring has ‘it,’ ‘it’ being the mysterious factor that can transform a self-described overweight, broke gamer into a veritable productivity machine.
A lot of motivation and productivity books speak in the abstract. An example would be a single person giving parenting advice, or someone who has always been athletic offering diet advice. We believe Jordan when he talks about the “sugar dragon” or procrastination or wasting time because it’s clear he’s been there. He is us.
The heart of Volcanic Momentum is its deep focus on meaning and purpose. Why are we doing what we are doing, and who are we doing it for? This is part of what makes the book stand out. That, and it somehow feels lived-in. Some of the productivity advice is a little quirky, like having whiteboards in the living room, but we can believe that it actually works. It would make a particularly great companion for an active journal-keeper, as it provides pages of excellent journal prompts.
This book busted me up. There were several points where I snorted, laughed out loud, and at one point couldn’t stop giggling through two pages. Something to do with eating a pizza over the sink like a rat. Jordan Ring has a gift for highly relatable and somehow stealthy humor. Volcanic Momentum is approachable, surprisingly comprehensive for its length, and, best of all, really fun to read.
What we do in this life really matters.
There’s no harm in asking, other than hurt pride and a few wasted minutes.
Admit that you are probably not living out your maximum potential right now.
Everyone is called to do more than they already are.
Just thought I’d put that out there. I’m so inspired by the idea that There are No Overachievers that I just want to sing it right out. WOO!
WOO stands for ‘windows of opportunity.’ Brian D. Biro teaches how to recognize WOO and create more. This type of possibility thinking is uncommon, something that most people aren’t taught and do not naturally revert to. As a default state, it makes a massive difference between one person’s results and another’s. Why do some people seem to have it so easy? Because they understand the WOO.
There are a million things to love about this book. One that stood out to me is the concept of the ‘eager meter.’ What if, rather than being willing to do things, we actually felt eager to do them? I’m writing this one on my hand so I can see it all day.
Another concept that clicked with me was that Biro refers to ‘breakthrough targets’ where most of us would say ‘problems’ or ‘issues’ or ‘obstacles’ or ‘personal failings.’ One of mine is failing to respond to social connections. This has been making me feel like a bad person and a bad friend. When I thought of it in the sense of a breakthrough target, it was like the sun burst through the clouds. This could be a goal rather than a flaw! Goals I know how to handle, my personal failings not so much.
The premise that There are No Overachievers is that we’re all actually underachievers, that we have so much more potential within us. It’s only that we’re so tired and uninspired and conditioned to look for the risks and reasons to avoid things, that we don’t realize we could be living out our dreams. It’s terrifically motivating, a very upbeat book, and I won’t hesitate to say that I loved it.
You never know if the next idea that pops into your head or the next choice you make may change your life.
...Look for the WOO instead of the woe.
Be easy to impress and hard to offend.
In the home stretch of 2018! Anything that’s going to be attributed to this year needs to happen within the next three months. This sense of impending deadline tends to make me perk up and push a little harder.
How are things going?
Um, not great. I had a major personal loss and my family is going through some Category Five drama. Aside from that, I went down with two colds - that’s six times I’ve been sick this year, if anyone is counting - our building has been under construction almost constantly, the apartment gym is closed, and my husband has been traveling for work basically every week for two months. It’s been really hard to focus or get much done. I’m just... sad. Sad, tired, and unmotivated.
Life goes on, though. No matter how I feel, I have obligations, both to other people and to Future Me. I have to recognize that now that I’m in my forties, I probably won’t go a single year without someone close to me either being hospitalized or dying. That means I have to remember to show up for my loved ones while they’re here, while they can appreciate it. I also have to decide if my life is going to be about more than sadness and processing grief.
So, gratitude. Also in third quarter, our wedding anniversary happened. We managed to fit in a full two days in Las Vegas. This is how it happened: my hubby flew back from a business trip on a Thursday, came home, repacked his suitcase, and we flew out again the same night. We came home on Sunday and he flew out again on another trip the next day. A little crazy but with points and miles we made it work. Even when life is hard, we have each other. We have memories to make.
I added a few things to my usual yearly planning. I made a ‘43 for 43’ list for my birthday, and I’ve done a few things from that. I made another list of things to do during the last 100 days of the year, and so far I’m completely on track, because it’s fun. I also made a fall reading plan. I chose six books for September, and read four of them. In retrospect, I should have chosen the books first and then set a deadline, because, surprise, all of my choices were on hold at all five libraries to which I have access. Or, what, buy them with cash dollars? Part of goal-setting is creating rules that you can follow, setting yourself up for a win.
My personal goal was to explore a martial art. I did my second belt promotion, and now I have two orange belts. Given the way the program is structured, it will probably take me roughly a year between belt promotions now. I’m still feeling out of my depth and extremely challenged at the advanced level, but not to the point of total vapor lock. In other news, my husband recovered from his back injury and joined the school as a beginner in Muay Thai.
My career goal was to launch a podcast. Believe it or not, this is in progress! Even more surprisingly, it’s going to be two, not one, because my hubby and I are doing one together. We’ve had to learn how to use the equipment and the software, but we’re recording some good stuff and making each other laugh.
My physical goals were to do the Shamrock Run back in March and to build a daily stretching routine. I crushed that, and in addition I’m doing my advanced martial arts classes and riding my bike. I was doing a few hours a week on the elliptical trainer, which I’d like to resume when the apartment gym opens again. Now that the weather has cooled, I plan to get back to running. I’m tossing around the idea of training for a half-marathon with my brother next year. Also I lost eight pounds on the Grief Diet.
Our home goal was to lower our rent, which was a success. I’m about at my wits’ end with this apartment complex; the whole place has been under construction much of the year, in addition to all the other issues. Was it worth it? We’ve been pricing out comps and scoping out neighborhoods. I also put in some new closet organizers, which is the kind of thing I do for stress relief.
Our couples goal was to go on an international vacation together. Then we discovered that the best season to travel to the place we want to go would put us in early 2019. We probably won’t be able to count this as a win unless we have tickets in hand by the New Year.
My stop goal was to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. I think I’ve turned the corner on this. I’m reframing how I define a project and retooling how I set up my schedule.
My lifestyle upgrade was to upgrade my laptop. It took half the year, but I finally realized that I don’t want a laptop at all! It’s a combination of the keyboard arrangement, weight, and the questionable wisdom of carrying a fragile, expensive work tool around on mass transit. I’ve started to feel out what I want in a desktop computer.
My Do the Obvious goal was to speak more slowly, with more pauses. I am making considerable progress with this. Recording our podcast conversations and editing them is bringing yet more focus to this.
My quest was to travel to Asia and/or a fifth continent. This probably will not happen until after the New Year.
My wish was to find an amazing pet sitter. Our pet sitter moved, but she still has clients in our building, and we’re working it out.
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE. It occurs to me that having a cold or flu more times than usual is one way to reflect on this. Every time I choose a mantra for the year it winds up having a hidden meaning that makes me wish I’d picked something else.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - ha, yeah
I realize that this is equivalent to a full season, over a quarter of the year, but still. There’s something exciting about a countdown, isn’t there? Today is a Monday, and we now have one hundred days until New Year’s Day. How are we going to use the time?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, because I’m obsessed. I do almost all my planning around the New Year, and it’s a major milestone for me. Almost anything fun or interesting that I do is a result of this regularly scheduled strategic session. Working backward from there, I also get really into Thanksgiving meal planning, and I spend the full month of October wallowing in Halloween everything. Planning ahead is a way to remind myself to make time for celebration.
Also, I hate cold weather. The only advantage I see is that it’s finally cool enough to use my kitchen. Planning is a way to see myself through to sunshine.
I’ve come around to the idea that the main function of a calendar is to make sure the positives happen. Somehow or other, we’re going to get groceries and do laundry and clean hair out of the drain. All the crises, bills, chores, interruptions, and urgent demands see to themselves. Then time passes, and we realize we’ve gone at least a year without going to the beach, or three months without touching base with a friend, or that we can’t even remember the last time we made cinnamon rolls.
I’m “naturally” a wing-it kind of person. I’m a night owl, I lean toward ADHD, I’m a right-brain creative, and I’ve spent much of my life chronically disorganized. I have basically no concept of time and I’m useless with maps. I started picking this stuff up from my husband, who is an engineer and the kind of person you can literally set your watch by. While I’ve helped bring some spontaneity and flexibility to his life, he’s taught me that there are advantages to this clock-oriented, calendar-focused mentality. Plan ahead and you get the good seats. Show up early and you have plenty of time for the extras, like dessert. Book in advance and you get everything before it’s sold out.
There’s a whole new category of life that’s available to the advance planners. I had no idea. Restaurants you can never try if you wait until that night. Shows you can never see unless you’re willing to wait three years. Hotel rooms that are booked a year ahead. It’s an even bigger deal than the day I figured out how to put books on hold at the library.
That reminds me. I need to make some dinner reservations.
Let’s work backward, shall we?
We’re tentatively planning a vacation in spring, so we leave March and April open. That means it’s important not to put any boring stuff in for those months. We can use February as a “get it done” month, with vacation anticipation as our motivation. (How’s that for syncopation?)
Also, our lease is up in January, and more likely than not, we’ll be moving. As a favor to Future Us, we’ll push any “get it done” stuff further back. We know not to inflict anything like that on ourselves from mid-November through the New Year, because of weather, finances, and holiday traffic. This is how we start to realize that it actually matters what we do in autumn. We have the power today to make our upcoming move a little less shambolic, with the reward of a smoothly planned vacation to follow.
October is my Halloween Month. This began with an all-day Halloween horror binge, and gradually extended because I couldn’t contain myself, couldn’t force myself to wait until the 31st. Because this is super-fun for me, I can use it as both a deadline-enforcing tool and a reward system. If I know I’m going to treat myself to a scary movie or dole out episodes of a show like American Horror Story, I can assign myself an obnoxious chore earlier in the day. Maybe I’m down on the floor, grumbling and organizing the cleansers under the sink. Before I know it, I’m done, everything is wiped clean, it really only took eight minutes, and I’m wrist-deep in a bag of candy, frightening myself half to death. Yay!
Let’s run through a sample countdown. These are just ideas, many of which won’t be relevant to anyone other than me. Use it to spark your own list, and make sure you fit in plenty of time for fun and celebration, okay?
100. Make list of celebrations, traditions, and fun stuff for the rest of the year
99. Write down spring and summer highlights and wistfully missed opportunities for next year
98. Round up all unread books-in-progress
97. Clean out pool bag
96. Inbox Zero
95. Throw out old, partial bottles of sunblock
94. Write third-quarter 2018 progress report
93. Start a Halloween entertainment list, reserve and download as appropriate
92. Plan costume, convince hubby to wear couples theme costume. Squirrels??
91. Try on winter coats and jackets; check pockets for surprise cash
90. Sort through scarves, hats, gloves, and umbrellas
89. Sort through sock drawer
88. Shop for cardigans
87. Look through digital photo album on phone
86. Go through phone and delete unused apps
85. Trade in old phone (and PREVIOUS old phone, *blush*)
84. Sort through chargers, cables, and backup batteries
83. Practice a new hula hoop trick
82. Sort through pet travel bag
81. Sort and clean costume jewelry
80. Wipe down shelves in medicine cabinet
79. Try a new soup recipe. Tortilla soup?
78. Confirm plans with Halloween party committee
77. Trade in bag of books at used bookstore
76. Work on costumes
75. Make special dessert for party tomorrow
74. Costume party!
73. Make pot pie
72. Wash pillows and summer bedding
71. Sort cabinet under kitchen sink
70. Track down hubby’s favorite candy rarity as a Halloween surprise
69. Sort cabinet under bathroom sink
68. Cull summer clothes
67. Costume party!
66. Go out for hot cocoa
65. Personal candy shopping for Halloween candy bender
64. Go to movie theater and watch a horror movie
62. Kitchen inventory; start using up contents of fridge and freezer
61. Try a new soup recipe. Maybe pho?
60. Book tickets for Thanksgiving visit
59. Put heated mattress pad on the bed
58. Vacuum out kitchen drawers
57. Mushroom barley soup
56. All-candle evening
55. Museum field trip!
54. Watch The Princess Bride for special project
53. Acquire cranberry sauce for sandwiches
52. Make stew with dumplings
51. Plan a New Year’s Resolution workshop
50. Drink chai tea while gazing out the window
49. Pull together vacation ideas for our next status meeting
48. Visit a library branch where I’ve never been
47. Make some cornbread
46. Plan our vacation for next year
45. Try to teach my dog to jump rope again
44. Trade foot massages
43. Come up with my next ten speech topics
42. Last day to shop before holiday shopping moratorium. Need anything?
41. Thanksgiving Day
40. Family board game marathon
39. Put together my holiday wish list for hubby
38. Come up with gift ideas for hubby, who is hard to shop for
37. Go to parking garage and practice unicycle
36. Learn about palmistry because why not?
35. Sort and back up digital contacts
34. Purge/transfer files on old laptop
33. Curate/transfer digital photos from old laptop
32. Panini for lunch!
31. Start writing down pent-up New Year’s plans for 2019
30. Start accumulating list of 2018 highlights
29. Round up list of unread books in any series I’d like to finish
28. Make a lasagna
27. Drop off pre-New Year’s Eve dry cleaning
26. Annual file box purge
25. Scan and shred relevant paper documents
24. AC/DC and Van Halen Appreciation Day
23. Secret craft project marathon day 1
22. Secret craft project marathon day 2
21. Secret craft project marathon day 3
20. Secret craft project marathon day 4
19. Secret craft project marathon day 5
18. Secret craft project marathon day 6
17. Lounge around reading all day long
16. Practice a new updo for New Year’s
15. Work on vision board/planner for 2019
14. Breakfast for dinner
13. Tabs Zero - what are all these webpages and why did I open them?
12. Inbox Zero - hopefully enough to coast through until the New Year
11. Festivus - feats of strength
10. Festivus - airing of grievances
9. Do some cryptograms
8. Make cinnamon rolls
7. Sew buttons back on fancy winter coat
6. Pack clothes and planner for New Year’s trip
5. New Year’s trip travel day
4. Talk about highlights of the year with hubby
3. Write up New Year’s blog post
2. Confirm New Year’s goals and resolutions
1. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Start as you mean to begin! In other words, sleep in, lounge around in pajamas reading, and put off all your self-improvement projects until tomorrow.
This is bad. THIS is the kind of thing that makes me feel old. Here I am trying to do the splits, and I can barely get my legs in a V. How am I ever supposed to turn a cartwheel at this rate? I’m looking at this book with a bunch of granny ladies grinning while they stretch, elbows on the floor, and feeling like I have barely half their agility. Darn it! I’m reading Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits, and right now it feels like I’m going to need a lot more than four weeks.
I’m a pretty bendy person. Other people may have trouble touching their toes, but I can fold over and put my palms on the floor. I can sit down, stretch my legs in front of me, and grab the arches of my feet. No problem! I can reach one hand over my shoulder and the other up my back and clasp my fingers. I can do a headstand and I can spin two hula hoops at once. I like to think of myself as more agile than most.
So why is it so hard to do the splits?
This is a non-trivial problem, dumb as it may sound. My tight hips are likely behind some chronic problems. My current working hypothesis is that spending a month (or six) stretching and improving my mobility in this area will help to resolve these other issues. If I’m wrong, well, I probably won’t be any worse off, and I’ll be able to do the splits, which is rad.
What are these tight hip problems?
For one, my glutes on one side or the other will sometimes seize up so much that I start limping. This is bad for someone in her forties, and I imagine it would only get worse with each decade that goes by. I do NOT want to find out what it’s like to have a permanent limp.
Next, I sometimes have some pretty fierce plantar fasciitis pain in my heel or the arch of my foot. This is weirdly worse when I’ve been sedentary; it didn’t bother me at all during my months of marathon training, and it’s more likely to flare up after my second rest day in a row. It was worst the first year after I quit my day job, when I basically slept all day. It disappeared after I became obsessed with the hula hoop. Right now it seems to have been reactivated by my martial arts training. A couple of times it’s woken me up in the middle of the night.
I was sidelined from running by persistent ankle pain. Two MRIs and six months of physical therapy didn’t really resolve it. Talking to a personal trainer at the gym revealed some insights, and two months of weekly shiatsu massage focusing on my shins finally eliminated the ankle pain. The trainer said it originated in hip instability, and that endurance running tends to lead to weak hip flexors, glutes, quads, and core. True, that feels true.
Martial arts training is definitely, visibly building these areas. Hundreds of snap kicks and jump squats will do a lot for your hip flexors, if nothing else! I’m finding, though, that I have a lot of trouble with roundhouse kicks, and that I feel a pinch when I do it at the correct angle that my classmates don’t seem to be experiencing. Even if I get nothing else from working on the splits, it seems obvious that it will help improve my roundhouse kick.
I gotta tell you, though, it hurts. I was able to train into the headstand in only two weeks, and that just felt like fun. (Except for the one night when I toppled over, smacked my caboose on the floor, and woke up in the morning with a limp that lasted about three hours). Doing the recommended stretches to work into the splits? Is NOT fun. It’s so sore.
Where do tight hips come from? Sitting, I imagine. I spent almost all my time sitting from my teenage years through my early thirties, partly due to my secretarial job. Or driving. I think driving causes more tightness on one side because we’re pressing on the gas pedal and leaning to one side to shift gears. Also we’re wearing seatbelts that cross over one side, and we tend to wear our bags on the same shoulder all the time, weighing one side down more than the other. These are extremely common issues, and they suggest that a lot of people are having some of the same issues that I am.
I can also claim years of running and cycling as contributors. As much as I love racking up the miles in my endurance sports, they cause repetitive movement along only one axis. Forward forward forward. I want to do a fifty-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday, and it makes sense to work on my hip tightness before setting out on that type of training. I’ll be super annoyed if I have to cancel my plans due to a recurrence of the same ankle problem I had before. This is what I think about while I’m sitting on the floor, trying to coax my unwilling muscles to loosen up. Legs, I need more from you!
This is where I remind myself that twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I had trouble just getting through the day, and sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without help. I’ve come a long way! I can’t help but wonder if doing this type of stretching back then would have helped. I sure wish I had, because with twenty years of daily practice anybody could probably do pretty much anything. Isn’t that what physical therapy is, after all?
Daily practice, daily practice. My fitness role models are all over sixty years of age, and many are over eighty. This is because I’m very concerned that Old Me should be able to get around, climb stairs, sit on the floor and get up again, and carry things. She deserves to keep her independence. I remind myself that if I live to my eighties, I’ll have fifteen thousand days to get down and stretch. If that isn’t enough time for my muscles and tendons to adapt, maybe by then I can just download my consciousness into a robotic avatar and sign off on the whole project.
If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s imagining bad outcomes. We get spun up over this all the time. For every conversation, there are probably twelve sad, scary, or alarming versions that never happened. Every job interview really lasts for eighty hours, seventy-nine of them imaginary. Anxiety and pessimism are survival traits. Worry and dread have gotten us through fire, flood, famine, siege, animal attack, and all the rest. This is probably why avoidance goals work slightly better than approach goals.
An avoidance goal is phrased in a way that anticipates a negative outcome. “Don’t forget your glasses.”
An approach goal is phrased in a way that anticipates a positive outcome. “Remember to wear your glasses.”
It’s possible that certain personality types lean more toward one goal type or the other. An optimist will naturally prefer an approach goal. It’s also possible that certain types of goals are better suited for one format or the other. A personal experiment should make this clear. Are we getting the results we want in the areas that are important to us?
I’m an extreme optimist, an enthusiast by nature. I love working on annual, quarterly, monthly, and sometimes even hourly goals. My plans tend to be both broad and specific. I would have thought I made almost entirely approach-oriented goals. Then I read a blog post by a guy who made two goals and then compared his adherence to them based on whether he focused on approach or avoidance. He did better with avoidance. It made me realize that I follow a lot of avoidance-based goals throughout the day, almost automatically. I think of it as “common sense,” although of course “common sense” is never all that common.
Every single time I use a knife, I think, “Okay, now don’t cut yourself.”
Every single time I go down a flight of stairs, I think, with every single step, “Okay, now don’t slip.”
When I pack a suitcase, I bustle around my apartment, talking to myself. “Don’t forget your tickets. Don’t forget your back-up battery. Don’t forget your” endlessly, all the way up to the jetway.
There’s a distinct, gear-shifting feeling between this constant internal nattering and the aerial view, grand strategic plans that I normally think of as goal-setting.
Maybe one of the reasons that avoidance goals work better is that we can only plan them when we actually believe that the negative outcome is a firm possibility. I think that is very much not the case for a lot of common “goals.” Further, I think it’s common to “choose” a mainstream “goal” as a smokescreen, a pretend Potemkin intention, to protect our tendency to do what we want without criticism. Hey, I tried, what more do you want from me??
Research shows that we’re really poor at thinking of future versions of ourselves. We think of Old Me as a total stranger. Hey, Future Me, have fun paying off all this debt and picking up my socks! Ha, Future Me is such a sucker. We can’t really believe in a universe in which “I” am an elderly person. Surely I have better taste than to age and grow old! I’m much too smart for that! If we can’t believe in a frail, elderly, poor, and ill version of ourselves, then we have no intrinsic motivation to save money, eat healthy foods, and be more active. We do, however, believe in such things as cutting a finger or falling down the stairs. “Don’t cut yourself” is a much more believable imperative than “don’t get osteoporosis.”
My major fitness motivation is “Avoid getting Alzheimer’s.” This is a truly terrifying outcome. Why simply sit around and be afraid of something, though? That would be sacrificing all the good years for what may or may not turn out to be the bad years. It’s a logical fallacy. How can undirected anxiety possibly do me any good? That just means I suffer Alzheimer’s PLUS decades of dread. If I’m right, if my thesis is correct that Alzheimer’s is at least a little bit susceptible to lifestyle inputs, then I must do every last single thing in my power to avoid it. If I’m wrong, and I’ve done all of these actions over the years for no reason, if my efforts have been futile, I still benefit in three ways.
I could use an approach-oriented framework and tell myself “Eat healthy food” and “Get plenty of exercise.” Arguably, I do both of these things. They’re extremely vague, though, so vague as to be almost meaningless. That’s another reason that avoidance goals work a little better, because they’re unfailingly very specific.
It’s easier to “stop drinking soda” or “stop eating bagels” or “don’t eat high-fructose corn syrup.” Those are specific and simple to understand, and any of them could result in an easy ten-pound weight loss over a year.
I’m always going to make wildly positive, outlandishly optimistic goals and resolutions. It’s fun and it works much better than pop culture would lead us to believe. Past Me would have had a lot of trouble believing in my future ability to run a marathon, manage an investment portfolio, cook Thanksgiving dinner for two dozen people, buy train tickets in Spain, or lots of other things I’ve done. How would a negative version of those goals even be phrased? “Don’t screw up”? I will, however, continue to use avoidance goals when they seem helpful.
Here are some avoidance goals that I use, by category:
Don’t be in debt
Don’t carry a credit card balance
Don’t pay finance charges
Don’t buy on impulse
Don’t buy anything unless you know where you’ll put it and how you’ll clean it
Don’t outgrow your clothes, they’re expensive
Avoid getting a migraine - (body weight, dehydration, poor sleep quality)
Don’t get Alzheimer’s
Don’t trigger your night terrors - (eating after 8 PM)
Don’t run out of clean underwear
Don’t make extra work for yourself
Don’t leave crusty dishes
That needs to get eaten up before it gets wasted
Don’t criticize unless you’re open to being criticized
Don’t be a caricature
No double standards
Don’t be like his ex
Don’t do his pet peeves
Don’t be a pushover or a victim
Don’t be a flake
Don’t be a freeloader
Don’t associate with gossips
Don’t stand by and let other people be bullied
“Don’t do anything illegal, immoral, or just plain stupid.” - My Dad
“Never go viral for the wrong reasons.” - Anonymous
“Do things that are a good idea, and don’t do things that are a bad idea.” - Me
I did it! I got my orange belt in Muay Thai! The most impressive thing about this is that in January, not only did I have no idea this would be happening, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an “orange belt,” or Muay Thai for that matter. All I knew was that it felt like a smart idea to start studying a martial art.
What does an orange belt mean? It’s the second of six levels. It means I’m not a total novice anymore, but I am at the newest, least experienced intermediate level.
The basic deal with belts is that they’re a modern (post-Industrial, 1890s) innovation to represent different levels of training. Belt colors vary depending on the martial art, with some overlap. For instance, a mom was just telling me that her kids got their purple belts, something that exists in Tae Kwan Do but not Muay Thai or Krav Maga, my other discipline.
Personally, I’d prefer to have a rainbow belt? Because it would include all the previous colors?
In practice, colored belts are really handy. In every class, we divide up and choose partners, and often we do drills that involve rotating through several people. It helps to know who you’re dealing with. Along with colors, there are also stripes to show how long someone has been wearing that belt. One stripe represents ten classes, and the intermediate belts have up to five stripes.
I never understood any of this until I earned the first stripe on my white belt.
This system with belts and stripes makes a lot of sense to me, and it feels comforting. I really like the logical progression and the satisfaction of incremental progress. The first time I actually saw a “sixth-degree black belt” being worn, the penny finally dropped. OH! Anyone can earn one of these! It’s a reflection of dedication and focus, yes, but it’s also a measure of time served.
Is there something like this in dance or gymnastics? Not that I’ve seen. Those arts also depend on many years of training, but they look like PURE MAGIC. Just like the apparent sorcery involved when the owner of our school suddenly drops a student on the floor.
Many of the students at my school are lifetime athletes, and many have reached high levels in other martial arts before taking up Krav or Muay Thai. It’s a world of jocks, one that was unfamiliar to me. I’m used to hitting the books, my studies being text-based. Almost everything I’ve learned about martial arts came from asking questions and/or having things explained by other students. Sometimes I’ll make an observation that will surprise the instructors, such as that our warmups are “high-intensity interval training.” The expectation is: line up, do this, do that, accept correction, and in time you’ll be a master.
This is challenging for me. I like a big-picture view, a lot of historical context, and constant explanations of WHY I am doing something. Part of why martial arts are such a good source of humility and self-discipline for me is that I’m having to accept pure physical instruction and trust the system. I can see that more experienced students are better at this than I am, but still, I tend to want MORE INFORMATION. What, go into my body and feel it physiologically? Are you kidding with this?
Belt promotions are ceremonial. They last three or four hours. Groups of students at different levels are paired off to demonstrate their skills with an instructor. Most of the time, though, is built around extreme physical exertion for its own sake. We start with a grueling half hour warmup, its contents varying for extra stress, and we finish with another twenty minutes. This day included over 200 pushups, for example. I couldn’t do them all - it’s a lot to expect a beginner to do the same workout as a blue belt who has been training for three years - but I’m proud to say I could do forty, no problem.
I couldn’t do one standard pushup in January - or February or March, for that matter - and I couldn’t do a proper sit-up at all. I had to grab my thigh and pull myself up. When I look back and see the progress I’ve made in six months, I can look forward at the other students around me and project forward. In time, I’ll be able to do a hundred pushups before I start getting tired.
My husband doesn’t like to watch these punishing warmups. They remind him of the “hazing” from high school football. He shared how much he hated doing pointless pushups. This surprised me! “But that’s where the muscle comes from!” The part I don’t like is having to COUNT in unison, and if someone makes the dreadful mistake of shouting “ELEVEN” instead of repeating “ONE” then all fifty people have to start the count over. That’s dumb. Well, it isn’t dumb... the point is to make us focus, developing our concentration, because disappointing and annoying our fellow students is a powerful psychological consequence for distraction. We counted weirdly in marching band, too: ONE two three four TWO two three four THREE two three four, and it didn’t bother me then, because music needs order and structure. So does the body if the body is to be a tool that works toward a purpose.
I’ll continue on in both my martial arts, even though being a beginner in the advanced classes feels much harder and scarier than my first day as a total novice. The warmups are twice as hard, but I’m not twice as strong yet! I continue to remind myself that my personal goals were “humility and self-discipline,” not comfort or pride. I’ll get better and better at losing myself in these physical skills, briefly quieting my chattering mind, transforming myself into something new and different.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.