The best way I could describe how I was feeling, six months ago, was that a steamroller was coming downhill and I was trying to outrun it.
I had taken on a year-long commitment without realizing exactly how complicated it was. It was taking about quadruple the amount of time and concentration that I thought it would. I had information coming at me any time between 5:30 AM and 12:30 AM. Email, text messages, phone calls, more email in another account, binders and calendar updates and meeting requests and attached files and polls and votes and RSVPs and paper notes. Seven days a week!
As soon as I pictured a steamroller coming at me, downhill, fast, I understood.
Somebody had better be driving that thing!
Someone who knows how to drive a steamroller!
The good thing about earth-moving equipment is that it doesn’t need a key. If you know what to do, you can basically climb up in there and get it going. My background is such that I know I should be wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots. I’m ready to get muddy.
How ready to get muddy am I?
I’m a backpacker, adventure racer, and marathon runner. I’ve trained in hail, snow, ice, rain, and mud. I’ve waded chest-deep through brown water. I’ve hurdled over open flames. I can carry over 50 pounds up a hill for eight hours and pitch my own tent afterward. (Consider that I’m 5’4” and I weigh a buck thirty. I’m basically an ant). I also hold belts in two martial arts. I’ve been elbowed in the face, been stepped on and smacked in the mouth and punched in the nose and hit in the eye and tagged in the throat. I routinely fight five people in the shark tank.
So, what? I’m feeling a little dread and anxiety over... some texts and emails?
Is a deadline going to kick me in the stomach? No.
Is a deadline going to come up and shove me in the back while I’m blocking a strike to the face?
Is a deadline going to give me a black eye or a fat lip? No.
This is what stress inoculation can do for you. It reminds you that you’ve survived worse. If the scariest thing you can imagine is a physical attack or survival in natural disasters, then there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the business world that should feel all that intimidating.
As soon as I realized that I felt like I was about to be crushed by a steamroller, I determined to get in and drive.
I needed to get out of reactive mode and start taking the initiative. I needed to be the one making the plans. I needed to be the one looking a few weeks or months down the timeline and anticipating questions that would come up. If there was a steamroller to be driven, and anyone was going to drive it, then I wanted it to be me.
It turns out that nobody cares who is driving the steamroller, as long as the right stuff gets flattened.
What a steamroller does is to smooth the path for heavy traffic. It eliminates bumps and fills in potholes.
That’s management. Find the road that handles the most traffic, the one that’s in the worst condition, and pave it. Roadwork is stressful but it needs to get done. The longer it’s delayed, the worse the conditions, until traffic eventually grinds to a halt.
People don’t like uncertainty. They don’t like feeling uninformed. They especially don’t like the feeling that nobody is in charge and that nobody is addressing their complaints or suggestions. Whenever someone steps up and says, “Let me find out and I’ll get back to you,” or “Let’s fix this,” there’s an audible sigh of relief. Finally!
The first time you claim that you’re handling something, and then you handle it, you find yourself behind the controls of that big old steamroller. At least for that day. The second time you do it, you find that others expect you to operate it. The third time, well, guess what. Your name is painted on the side.
You’d better like driving steamrollers!
As a more, ahem, “concrete” example, I was having an issue with evening meetings. Stuff kept being scheduled that conflicted with EVERY SINGLE THING IN MY LIFE. I started missing classes at my gym and feeling like I never got to see my husband or eat dinner at a normal time.
Then it occurred to me that if I went first and suggested the meeting time, maybe it would work for everyone else. Sure enough, I was the one with the most complicated schedule. I didn’t have to say why. All I had to do was say, “How about 6:30?” Not only did I get what I wanted (having it all, my way), but I took a task upon myself that other people no longer had to do.
Once I started visualizing myself driving the steamroller, everything got easier. I created enough cushion in my schedule that I could do more strategic planning. That helped me on my quest to always be ahead and on top of everything. I finally started to feel like I knew what was going on.
The most important thing about driving a steamroller is to make sure that nobody is standing in front of it. The point of the steamroller is to pave nice, flat roads. The steamroller is there to make it clear which direction to go, and to make it easier to go that way. If I found myself running from the steamroller, it was only because I found myself on the correct roadway, a little farther along where it still waited to be paved.
If all of your projects were cats, what would your house look like?
I have no idea, because I have a parrot and a dog, and that’s probably more along the lines of where my project list is right now. A bizarre menagerie that somehow manages to play together, however unlikely it might sound! Imagine, though, the muddy paw prints, the loose feathers, the shredded newspaper and chewed toys that come from these two curious beasties.
That’s the thing about projects, and why they are like pets. They are entities unto themselves, they deserve respect, they require constant care and feeding, and they... they generate unpredictable messes.
One cat. One cat can jump up on counters, claw furniture, tear up carpet, knock things over, wake everyone up in the middle of the night yowling for no discernible reason. One cat is always, always on the wrong side of the door. One cat makes sure everyone knows there IS a cat, a pouncing bouncing flouncing cat. One cat!
That’s your one project.
Two cats! Two cats either like or dislike one another. I had roommates, once upon a time, and they had two cats. One was a shy black cat and the other one was a drama queen tortoiseshell with an over-the-top silent meow. At some point, they were best friends and they would nap together and bathe each other. Then, they quit getting along. They managed to lock themselves into the upstairs bathroom in a chase game. One knocked the other’s front tooth out. That’s the kind of thing that can happen with two cats.
That’s also the kind of thing that can happen when you have two projects. You don’t foresee, when you adopt them both, that they might start to have conflicts. The presence of one irritates and annoys the other. They get in each other’s way. Then the fur starts to fly.
That’s when you have two projects.
They start to add up, don’t they? When there are two cats, there can just as easily be three. After that, the more porous the boundaries of the household, the more likely there are to be more and more.
More and more projects.
At a certain point, nobody can count them. Then you find a surprise basket of frail blind mewling baby projects hiding behind the dryer. Where did they come from??
Projects that demand food. Projects that knock things over. Projects that wake you up at all hours. Projects that make a mess. Projects that take over your entire house. Projects that somehow seem to reproduce behind your back. Projects that generate surprising expenses. Projects that may still be around 20 years from now!
This metaphor, cat = project, makes a lot of sense to me right now. That’s because I’ve become the neighborhood Crazy Project Lady.
What does this look like in action?
I’m constantly moving one on and off my desk.
They demand my attention at any time between 6:00 AM and 12:30 AM. Avoid making eye contact! Pretend to be asleep! Oh, yes, yes, you’re starving, you can’t possibly wait until breakfast time, I get it.
Every time I think I’ve found a home for one, another one shows up.
That’s how my parents wound up with their third cat several years ago. Suddenly this mysterious creature they had never seen was using the litter box. Their second cat befriended her and ushered her in. She and First Cat became inseparable, so what were they supposed to do? And a ten-year commitment was made.
That’s what happens with your projects when it doesn’t occur to you to say a clear and firm UM, NO.
What kinds of projects are going on, O Crazy Project Lady?
Volunteering for an office,
Which leads to
Joining a committee,
Which leads to
Chairing a committee,
Which leads to
Running an event
Which leads to
Being nominated for a higher-level office
Which leads to
Being volunteered for more committees
Which leads to...
Once upon a time, the projects were things like “knit booties before baby shower” and “plan vacation” and “plan Thanksgiving menu” and “send New Year’s cards.” Now most of those projects are STILL ON THE LIST and there’s another basket of little blinking new projects behind the dryer. The big one is carrying a little one by the scruff of the neck.
At a certain point, either you realize that your house is full of projects - striped projects, calico projects, orange projects and gray projects and black projects and white projects - or someone points it out to you. At some point, you either need to shut the door and quit bringing home new projects, or start finding homes for them. There has to be an exit strategy.
In my pet life, I learned early on that I needed to practice planned parrothood. I LOVE BIRDS and at least once a year, someone asks if I can give a “forever home” to another one. If I had said yes to all of these birds, parrots that can live for thirty years or more, I’d have to have a bird sanctuary out in the countryside. You’d be able to hear the squawking from five miles away. And I’d have to do it as a single woman because that’s an extremely specific life path, the kind of thing you don’t just sneak past a husband. My choice was one parrot, one husband, because the alternative would be infinite parrots, no husband.
It’s sort of that way with any tendency to collect projects. There has to be room for the rest of your life. An accounting has to be made of your schedule, your finances, your sleep, your housekeeping, the other projects you have already adopted, and, of course, the feelings and needs of the other members of your household.
That’s what’s crazy about the Crazy Cat Lady, just as with the Crazy Project Lady. We’re talking about a person who does not know how to say no. A person who does not know how to set boundaries, a Crazy Project Lady may be saying YES to adopting every cute project that shows up crying at the door, even at the expense of everything else in her life.
This is what I’m doing now. I’m standing at my threshold, peeking out the door and blocking it with my body. No, no, I can’t possibly take in any more, my house is already full of these darn things. Thanks for thinking of me!
Decisions, decisions. What is it about decisions that is so difficult for people? We’d rather suffer than have to make a choice that involves a tough decision. Avoiding these choice points has a tendency of adding up, and that’s where decision debt comes from.
If you hate your job, why are you still there?
If you’re unhappy in your relationship, why are you still together?
More to the point, how many times do I have to get bangs before I finally realize that I can’t have bangs?
Decisions are easy for me because I enjoy change for the sake of change. I’ve moved over two dozen times, for instance, and I’ve literally tried every flavor of every brand of toothpaste at my store. Even apricot. Frame decisions rather as a series of experiments, and it feels less like risk and more like... fun.
Go to a restaurant and make a point of trying every dish at least once, unless of course you realize you don’t care for their food. Maybe make a point of going to every restaurant in your neighborhood instead. There was a Mensa group in my old city that had spent over a decade attempting to sample every single Chinese restaurant in the greater Los Angeles area. Fun, right?
Under those circumstances, getting the occasional uninspiring dish can be funny, rather than disappointing.
Maybe that’s one of the big problems with decisions? Being afraid that it won’t work out well? But then, what happens after that? Time continues to travel onward and other decision points continue to turn up, right?
The haircut grows out, there’s another lunch and another dinner tomorrow, there are more jobs to be had, and there will always be another musician to date.
When you’re driven by curiosity, it takes a lot of the dread out of decisions, because you can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next! When you’re eager for the result, the decision is no more of a big deal than flipping a switch or fastening a button. It’s just a small piece in an overall grand plan.
As an example, when my husband got his dream job, a whole series of decisions popped into position. In under two weeks, we had given away or sold almost everything we owned (including OUR CAR) and moved into a tiny apartment at the beach. Other people might have agonized over whether to keep or get rid of each and every tiny item, from a pancake flipper to a pair of pants, and wept bitter tears. We were so fired up about DREAM JOB + LIVE AT THE BEACH that we couldn’t throw stuff over our shoulders fast enough.
Decisions are easier when there’s a total paradigm shift. First there was “the time we lived in the North Bay and went running together a lot.” Then there was “the time we lived in the Sacramento area and did a lot of gardening and canning.” Then there was “the time we moved south and I finally lost my weight.” After that there was “the time we got rid of everything, went car-free, and moved to the beach.” Very different lifestyles in each case, same people, same marriage, different home, different stuff.
We don’t tend to build up much decision debt because we do a lot of strategic planning.
Every New Year, we spend at least the few days around New Year’s Eve going over the past year and making plans. What worked well? What didn’t? What do we want to change? Where do we want to go on vacation? Do we need to save more money or cut back on the french fries for a while? We check in every weekend at our breakfast status meeting. It’s fun because these are our plans, plans that we made in order to have more fun and a better quality of life.
Decisions are lifestyle upgrades!
I keep an actual list, a page in my day planner called DECISIONS. They go in the format “which,” “when,” or “whether to.” I write out the decision, and then I put a check mark next to it once I decide what to do. Later on, these decisions always seem hilarious to me because they’ve worked out, like when I couldn’t decide to upgrade my desktop but it turned out to cost half of what I had expected. Sometimes the passing of time makes the decision for me.
I’ve just checked my decision list, and the undecided decisions all have to do with time-consuming activities. These are things I really want to do, but realistically, I’m overextended already. If I had the time to do them, they’d already be in my calendar. Calling them ‘decisions’ is a way of saying “I’m too busy but I don’t want to rule this out.” For a lot of people, decision debt may be more of a question of time debt, or even financial debt.
A case could be made that both time debt and financial debt are also cases of decision debt.
At some point, a strategic decision needs to be made, because at some point, being too busy and overbooked can make you ill. Being overextended financially can lead to progressively more expensive problems. Something’s got to give.
Making a decision list can be a big help in paying off decision debt. It makes the choice point real in your mind. Secretly writing something like “whether to stay in this relationship” or “when to see the doctor” is a way of admitting that the current situation is not your ultimate fantasy.
Why not be working at your dream job? Every day you stay at a job you hate is cheating both your employer and yourself, not to mention your clients, customers, and anyone who depends on you.
Why not be in your dream romance? Every day you stay in a relationship that has died for you, you’re cheating your partner and yourself, not to mention the other people you could both be with instead.
Why not be thrilled and blissed out by your life? What would have to happen in order to feel that way, to be in love with how lucky you are?
What decisions do you need to make? How much decision debt do you have to pay off in order to move forward?
I found this book originally under the title The YOLO Budget. Jason Vitug reminds us that living a life of meaning and purpose involves money. This perspective might help to make financial education more appealing, especially for Millennials, whose economic reality is different than that of previous generations. What’s true for them is true for all of us: We’ve lived through the financial meltdown of 2008, we need to plan further in advance for longer lifespans and longer retirements, we’re overwhelmed with information overload, and we’re learning that experiences are more fulfilling than material things. It’s time to adjust our attitude toward money.
Why aren’t people able to apply simple financial advice to their own lives?
It starts with awareness. Vitug gives the example of a man who claimed to check his bank balance every day, yet believed, incorrectly, that he wasn’t paying any fees on his account. Another man claimed that he knew exactly where his money was going, but admitted that he didn’t actually track his expenses. Another said he was “on a budget” but turned out not to have one in place. Specific terminology can mask vagueness. It’s possible to have a high degree of certainty without it being based on reality. This can be amplified by being organized, in the sense of paying bills online, checking account balances, and other activities without any real strategy behind the efficiency.
Why don’t people like budgets? Vitug says they can be reminders of past mistakes, that they can reveal there isn’t enough money for current spending habits, and that ultimately people feel that they aren’t necessary. I would have guessed (based on my own life) that the main reasons might be feeling too busy, not being all that great at math, and feeling annoyed at the “preachy” aspects that make budgeting feel similar to dieting. The difference is that Vitug actually traveled around and talked to people about their emotional connections with money, so his work is based on data, not guesswork or intuition.
Vitug saved $35,000 and took two years off to backpack around the world. The realizations and habit changes that paid for his trip are what inspired him to try to help others fund their own dreams. A big part of this comes from challenging people’s perceptions of their situation and whether they are really fulfilled by their choices. We can make emotional choices that make us happier when we are more aware of what it is that we really want. After all, You Only Live Once, and if you do it right, once is enough.
Here are some key questions from the many in the book:
We should prioritize spending on things that contribute to our quality of life and help us progress toward our goals.
Make Anything Happen. Isn’t that the best name for a book? Carrie Lindsey has made the perfect introduction to vision boards. It’s so approachable and attractive that it’s inspiring even to people like me who are not visual artists.
Vision boards are more than just a fun craft. First comes the vision, and that includes goal-setting. One of the strengths of Make Anything Happen is the clarity it brings to choosing goals, planning, and scheduling. My own annual goal-setting process takes a month and results in something like a six-page document. Carrie Lindsey’s approach is so simple, yet exuberant in comparison!
This is as much of a lifestyle book as it is an art book. It’s very personal and approachable, and gives the sense of how Lindsey fits her home-based business into her buzzing family life. She has advice for everything from how to deal with distraction and feeling stuck, to how to work around kids and their chaos. Note: don’t fold your kids’ socks for them when you could be making art!
Make Anything Happen includes some well-designed planner pages, like Goal Trackers and Vision Board templates. It teaches how to make art journals with multiple vision boards. There are plenty of examples for inspiration. I’ve already made my first vision board. Let’s imagine lots more!
“Whenever I don’t know where to start, I start with cleaning my desk.”
“...there’s nothing magic about hard work.”
If you call it a to-do list, you might be doing it wrong.
Might be working on the wrong stuff
For the wrong reasons
At the wrong times
For the wrong people.
This is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. My task list has grown lately to the point that I’m exploding out of a textbook-sized day planner with pages for twenty distinct projects. Unlike my pants, it even has pockets.
These are the problems of the multipotentialite. Everything sounds good and everything seems possible. It IS, it is, just maybe not all at the exact same minute.
Darn you anyway, Time Dimension.
I’m working on a particular project, something big. It’s the kind of thing that takes six months to plan. I’m doing it because it fits into a larger plan that is really important to me. I’m doing it because the skills involved are directly relevant to my interests. I’m doing it because it gives me the chance to work with a good friend. I’m doing it because that friend really needs my help and I want to be reliable for her.
Other than that, everything about it is driving me up the wall. The WHY is perfectly in place, the HOW is a continual stream of hassles and frustrations.
Meanwhile, I have another set of potentially extremely interesting projects that I really want to do instead.
Just like the frustrating project, these interesting projects involve a lot of steps that are the kind of task I don’t like.
Focusing on only one thing at a time!
Reading complicated instructions in fine print!
Filling out applications!
Putting dates in a calendar!
Choosing photographs of myself! *ugh*
Why can’t there be a super-interesting, super high-value project that involves me sleeping late, reading in the bathtub, and eating cookies?
What I’ve found out so far about GETTING WHAT I WANT is that it almost always involves my three least-favorite things:
Travel. Foot races. Trainings. Workshops. Hikes. Even a panel interview I did recently - yep, Saturday.
Why isn’t there more worthwhile stuff to do late in the afternoon??
Poor me, highly ambitious person, born into the body of a night owl. (Note: owls do not usually wear shoes) (Also note, not one minute after I wrote this, a child walked into my cafe wearing an OWL HAT and RAIN BOOTS)
I’m doing what I can to cope with all of this. Not the owl hat, the burgeoning project list. Try to stay focused.
The first thing is to always subvert the project in some way. That means I look at the desired results and ask, is what I’m being asked to do really the smartest way to achieve these results?
Surprisingly often, it isn’t! Perhaps more surprising, my ideas for ways that I’d prefer to do these things, my ways are often accepted or regarded as an upgrade. The trick to getting this across is first to explain that you want the same thing as everyone else, the highly valued end result. Also compliment specific things that are going well and thank everyone for hearing you out.
Each instance in which you save other people time, money, or resources is an opportunity to build a reputation as a solver of problems and an idea-generating machine. (Problem: then they bring you more of their problems to solve).
The second thing is that if you can’t subvert the project in tangible ways, you can still do it privately.
There might be a requirement to do certain things or take certain steps toward your desired end result, things that you have no interest in doing. There is not, however, a requirement that you refer to them as ‘tasks’ or ‘chores’ or ‘to-do’s’ or ‘honey-do’s’ or what-have-you. You can call them whatever you want.
You can also abandon ship and abdicate on the project, if you really hate it that much.
As an example, I simply would not do something if it “required” me to wear high heels, cancel my travel plans for my wedding anniversary, work in a room with cigar smoke, or probably a bunch of other things. Nope nope, that’s a big nope.
What I’ve been doing lately is to shift more and more of my focus to the desired end results, while I try to forget that I am often doing annoying things early in the morning when I’d rather be sleeping.
This is why I call my “to-do list”:
JUICY PROJECT OPTIONS!
There’s something that I do that most people don’t, and that is to remind myself that I have control over how I spend my time. It’s my choice whether to work on something or not. I didn’t feel that way when I worked at a convenience store, but I did start to feel that way as a young office temp. I was broke as could be, I didn’t have two nickels until I was thirty, but I always felt that I had the power to walk away from a truly cruddy job or a bad boss.
I often did!
I figured, if I was going to be broke one way or another, at least I could choose the job with the least-bad boss and the least-worst commute. So I did.
It’s my sense of power, control, and high agency that has brought me forward, onward and upward.
One of the saddest things in the world is untapped human potential. It’s deeply sad when someone with massive gifts feels trapped, forced into a power struggle with a bad boss for low pay. Sometimes, of course, that is literally true - modern slavery is one of the all-time biggest targets for people with great gifts to tackle, should anyone be looking for a worthy project. Mostly, though, we are dragged down by the power struggle, to the point that we utterly forget about our ability to imagine something better into being.
This is why it is so vital that we reimagine what we are doing. This is why we need more... JUICY PROJECT OPTIONS.
It’s probably because I like to sleep late, and I know I can’t think straight for the first couple of hours of the day, but I don’t think January counts toward New Year’s Resolutions. I think of the first month of the year as a sort of warmup. For me it’s the equivalent of stumbling toward the shower with drooping eyelids. I know I perk up in the afternoon and evening, and summer and fall are like the afternoon and evening of the year.
Yawn, stretch, smack your lips, because there are still eleven months of 2019 left to wake up and get busy!
We did our annual planning in Las Vegas this time. That was exciting, because usually we just stay home. When we came home on January second, we were pumped up and ready to put certain plans into motion right away. We did a couple of projects that first week. Our daily life changed as a result.
What’s important about this is that we led off with dramatic change, and that set up a structure that supported other things we want to do with the rest of the year.
First, we had a list of metrics we want to track all year, so I got a sleep tracker and a body fat monitor. I created a sleep routine on an app with timers, and made some grids in my journal to write down stats on stuff like whether I went to the gym, how many news articles I read, and how many SPJB I do each day. (Sit-ups, pushups, jump squats, burpees). It doesn’t take long for patterns to reveal themselves.
Second, my hubby ordered a folding screen to set up on our tiny porch. The weather has been nice enough for most of the month that I can take our pets out there, at least in the afternoon. Unexpectedly, it works as a blind, and I’ve surprised a wee bird and a squirrel who poked their heads under the screen. Not a single person has interrupted me while I’m writing. Magic!
We have a set of “bonus goals” for camping, travel, and bicycle outings. The other night, we rode our bikes along the beach to a local restaurant that just added the Impossible Burger to their menu. Felt like the early days of our dating life all over again, laughing like loons. No way would we ever have had that kind of fun in a car.
How is 2019 going so far?
Personal Resolution: submit a book proposal this year. Progress: I went through my manuscript and realized I have 183 pages of the book in question, more than I thought I had. That information seems to have stymied me. I’m admitting it because I need to have forward motion on this thing, and I can’t let myself pretend I’m doing more than I am or another year will go by with nothing to show for it. ACCOUNTABILITY.
Career Resolution: finish the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. I was just invited to apply for a position as Division Director. This is what happens when you put that kind of thing under the “career” category.” It’s a competitive process, and I doubt I’ll get it, but it has been interesting to fill out a job application and go over my resume again. [I wrote that, and then I passed the application process and was invited to interview, which just goes to show how our self-assessments match with reality].
Physical Resolution: work on hip openers. I finally started doing these, and I’m clear on why I was procrastinating. It hurts! I also feel worse on the days I don’t stretch. Still very much in the Don’t Wanna stage that I call “the gauntlet.” I remind myself that a year from now this will be easy, but only if I keep going, a few minutes a day.
Home Resolution: set up an outdoor writing area. Results: instant “princess with talking animals.”
Couples Resolution: meal prep. I found a recipe for a “lasagna soup” that had us losing our minds. Hubby made five pounds of mashed potatoes in our stock pot. Our freezer is full and almost all of our containers are out of circulation because they’re full of food. This is definitely a system that is tailor-made for engineers.
Stop Goal: stop being sick and tired. Back in the gym after a week of virally induced unintentional rapid weight loss, and finally feeling like I have my feet back under me. Really feeling the post-holiday winter slackness. Delayed-onset muscle soreness is a great reminder not to take extended fitness breaks... and then I caught another cold and slept 22 out of 34 hours. CAN I CATCH A BREAK PLEASE
Lifestyle upgrade: get a new desktop computer. In the short term, this did not feel like a lifestyle upgrade, because it took so long to download everything I needed. I am wondering, though, why I went so many years without a number pad on my keyboard.
Do the Obvious: schedule time blocks. Results are promising. I’ve been going to bed earlier, I had a friend over to hang out in the hot tub one night, and I even went to see a movie on a Thursday. The meticulous process of tracking your time use and following schedules and systems would seem to be stressful, annoying, and time-consuming. Instead it’s given me the gift of more time to relax.
Tracking metrics: more sleep, better gym attendance, more speeches given, and fewer news articles read.
SleepQuest 2019: IS WORKING! Sleep is the best.
My Wish is to be signed by a literary agent. I’m starting to have a very strong feeling that I’m going to meet someone soon.
It’s about that time, the time when average people sigh and give up on themselves because they think they’ve screwed up their New Year’s Resolutions again. That’s because people seem to think that a first draft is somehow typeset, bound, printed, and archived. We think if we made a typo, it’s carved into the base of a statue somewhere. We think if we misspoke, it’s recorded and played back before Saint Peter at the pearly gates. Or whatever.
Look, if you want to win at this game, make your own rules.
The point of this whole “resolution” thing is for you to decide, for yourself, that you want to upgrade your experience of this life. You choose your values and your standards and you choose your behaviors to match. You set up your own environment to support your choices.
That’s where revision comes in!
This is perfect. You came up with a really good idea for something you want to do. Now you’ve tried to put it into practice in your daily life, and you have more information on how that’s working out.
As an example, I made a resolution to work on hip openers, which means various kinds of leg stretches. I want to do it because when I do, it feels good, and when I don’t, I get plantar fasciitis, I’m asymmetrical, and I suck at roundhouse kicks, which embarrasses me in the gym because everyone is constantly trying to give me advice.
Right now, we’re two weeks into the year and I haven’t done a single stretch. Not one.
Does that mean I’m a stinking failure loser and that I should quit making goals? Well, maybe. Too dumb and stubborn for that, though, so I’ll keep trying.
What I learn from my own experience is that I set out to make a bunch of changes to my schedule all at once this year, and some of them I’m already doing and some of them I’m not. Everyone who reads this should take away the message that the more stuff you try to change at the same time, the harder it is to get any of it right. By “right” I mean, “done in a way that will easily work for you, year in and year out, and feel like an improvement.”
The other thing I learn from my own experience is that I don’t do fitness-related activities when I am ill. This is a GOOD THING!
I made the mistake, when I set the goal of running a marathon, of pushing myself and overtraining. I made my goal, sure, and this is why goals are not as good as resolutions. I injured my ankle and couldn’t run for three years. If instead I had framed the resolution as “run four days a week, aiming to increase my endurance,” I might have been able to keep running all three of those years (and maybe run a marathon the following year). Instead I got a marathon medal and an ankle brace.
One of my toughest resolutions has become, “respect my physical vessel and aim for the long term.” My main fitness goal is longevity.
The bigger and more long-term the goal, the more challenging it is, which is excellent. I mean literally excellent. If you want to excel, it doesn’t happen by doing ordinary or average things, by definition! Doing anything out of the ordinary means doing something different, and that means you don’t already know how to do it, and probably nobody else you know does, either. (Though that won’t stop them from turning into total naysayers).
Knowing how to instantly make new stuff fit into your regular routine is exactly the kind of thing nobody knows how to do.
Say your resolution is to finally organize your photos. Have you decided what you mean by “organize”? What does ‘done’ look like? How long is it going to take you? When are you going to do it? My guess is, it would take a couple of hours a week for a couple months. That doesn’t come out of a wormhole from space. You don’t suddenly get extra pages in your calendar. It has to come from rearranging your schedule, or cutting out something else you normally do. What thing that might be, it’s not obvious to me (since I don’t know your life) and if it were obvious to you, I’m guessing you already would have done it!
Looking at my resolution to do these special stretches, I have a few entirely separate issues. One is physical space. We live in a studio apartment, and there is only one space big enough for a person to get down on the floor and stretch. Issue two, my hubby is also doing a floor thing, using a foam roller to work on his neck. In a different home, we could be accountability partners and do our exercises side by side, but here, it’s a zero-sum game. Issue three, our dog loves to participate in floor stuff. Issue four, I get bored quite easily and I know I need to give myself something distracting to do while I stretch, especially when it hurts! Issue five, I’m constantly rushing around doing other things, and right now it doesn’t feel like I “have time” to do this.
The whole entire POINT of taking time to stretch is that I feel so rushed and busy. I’m REQUIRING myself to recast this attitude and change how I think, not just how I act. I must keep at it.
What I resolve to do is to keep reframing and adjusting until I’m satisfied. What will probably happen is that I’ll test out a way to anchor something I like (reading the news) with this new thing that “doesn’t come naturally” yet. Then I’ll find myself down there, stretching away for 40 minutes at a... stretch.
What are your stretch goals? What is it that you’ve been resolving to do? Remind yourself why you wanted it. Now revise your approach and see if you can fit it in at some point this year.
Two weeks into the New Year, and how is it going? Personally, I think all of January should be dedicated to hanging around the house, catching up on sleep and maybe reading a few articles about your resolution for the year. In my life, the first couple of weeks of the New Year always seem to include a bunch of dramatic change, and this year has been no exception.
We came home from our New Year’s in Las Vegas, carrying a stack of index cards with our carefully wrought Resolutions and plans for the year.
Then I got sick (AGAINNNNN) and lost seven pounds in a week. The hard way. On the other hand, that sure was a quick way to deal with the excess I accumulated over vacation and the holidays...
Despite this pretty annoying setback, having plans has helped both of us stick to our vision. We remind ourselves that we have a 52-week year every year, and that even a rough month is only 12% of the allotted time.
While it doesn’t show up in our Resolutions, we have some tentative ideas for camping, travel, and bicycle outings. We decided that given my hubby’s travel schedule for work, we need a new strategy if we’re going to be able to plan trips together.
How is 2019 going so far?
My personal Resolution is to submit a book proposal this year. I bought a course, downloaded some software, and started going through my notes for the book. It turns out I have 183 pages JUST SITTING THERE. This is starting to sound much more straightforward than I had thought. (Famous last words). I’m framing it as a “book report for school” that has to be done before the end of the academic year.
My career Resolution is to finish the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. So far this year, I have won two Best Table Topics ribbons and one for Best Speaker, and I’ve completed another speech toward my ACG. I also won an award for Area Director Excellence and they made me a special custom travel mug. We also got a new member in the club I’m coaching. Considering that we’re only two weeks into the year, this is bananas! I may be able to pull this off after all.
My physical Resolution is to work on hip openers. I can honestly say that I have made zero effort toward this.
My home Resolution was to set up an outdoor writing area. My hubby ordered me a folding screen, and the weather was nice enough the first week back that I was actually able to sit out on the porch and work! It was magnificent, and then the rains came. But the screen definitely does the job and my bird loves it.
Our couples Resolution was to start doing meal prep. This is going better than expected. Marry an engineer and show him an Instant Pot and your troubles are over. Our freezer is already fully loaded with soups and stews, a nice activity when it’s rainy and cold, and we’re both remembering how much we love our home cooking. Definitely a keeper. (The resolution, and also him of course)
My Stop Goal is to stop being sick and tired. Really not making much progress here yet, at least on the illness front. If I could just go a month without coming down with something, that would be great.
My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new desktop computer. I should have done this last year but I always procrastinate on spending on myself. I went out and got it, despite my eyelid twitching, and was stunned to find out that it cost only half what I had thought it would. Well in that case!
My Do the Obvious is to schedule time blocks. This is indeed working, as I’ve been steadily chipping away at a backlog of random dumb tasks. It actually looks like I may get through everything by spring.
I’m tracking metrics, and I added a few more to see what would happen. The first thing was that I got really embarrassed about tracking how many news articles I read every day, and that’s dropped to about half. We ordered a handheld body fat measuring device, which has been motivational for my husband and a wakeup call for me, since I am nowhere near the range I was in during marathon training. I also got an older-model Fitbit to track my sleep.
My Quest is a sleep project I’m going to call SleepQuest 2019. This is going better than expected already. I quit taking melatonin after 8 years *gasp* with very surprising results. It seems that I’m getting close to managing 8 hours of sleep a night!
My Wish is to be signed by a literary agent. I keep reminding myself of this as I work on my book proposal.
That’s it for me so far. I didn’t have a great start to the New Year, in one way, but in another I did. That’s because I laid the foundation by doing so much planning throughout December. It’s also because I keep myself accountable by reading my goals over and over, and publishing my progress (or lack thereof).
There are still fifty weeks left of 2019. How are we going to use them?
Boring goals are the guaranteed way to quit and fail. If you want to do anything worth doing, it has to matter to you. That means it’s probably going to take more than a year to do it. Goals that take longer than a year need more planning and more check-in sessions. Think about how you can sustain your interest into a second year, expecting that it will be different than the first year.
Three years seems to be the best timeline for the biggest goals. Almost anything can be done within a three-year span, except college, and if you assume that freshman year is for being undeclared, then you’re back to three years. Not every goal is worth spending three years of your life on, though. If you want to preserve your energy and attention for only the best goals, then you have to write in permission to break up with goals that aren’t working for you. You cannot allow a goal to continue to distract you once you realize that you aren’t into it anymore.
This is why an annual review is so important. You have to take the time to pause and reassess. You have to be willing to mercilessly throw some of your old projects overboard and sail on without them and let them sink to the bottom of the sea.
Never let the time you’ve invested in something force you into a lifetime commitment to it. Life is for learning and discovering new things. You can always go back. (Though sometimes the effort of applying again and starting again is so complicated that it’s better to push through to the end. Building momentum is hard, so sustain it as long as you can).
One year, I decided that it was time to learn to read technical diagrams. I had been knitting for a million years and I realized that all I could make were scarves and potholders. Boring! I realized that if I could learn new stitches from a book, I could make anything. I didn’t know any more accomplished knitters who could demonstrate more stitches in person. I was right about the skill of reading technical diagrams, and I eventually used that skill to learn to put together furniture and to use backpacking equipment. In the shorter term, I upgraded my knitting and made hats, mittens, slippers, socks, and poseable children’s toys. I quit knitting, though, several years later. I gave away all my yarn and all my patterns and all my equipment.
There was no way I could turn knitting into anything else. The only way I could sustain my interest in knitting would have been to make some kind of award-winning art project or something else I couldn’t imagine. I didn’t care enough to find out. I quit quite easily, knowing the twenty hours a week I had been knitting away would be better used doing something else.
Nobody ever came for me when I quit knitting, demanding answers. Nobody cared. Nobody cared at all. It turns out that you don’t need permission to quit things, any more than you need permission to initiate new projects. That’s important.
A three-year goal should be big enough that it transforms you. It should make your world bigger in some way. It should demand spiritual progress, in the sense that you have to rise up to it. The person you are when you start, the person you are after the first year, will not be big enough, experienced enough, smart enough, or skilled enough to carry you through to the third year. If you already know you can do it, then you already know you’re playing it too safe.
Why three years and not five? Isn’t there a thing called a Five-Year Plan? Ahem. Well, yes. The thing is, though, that by the fifth year, if you chose well and you worked hard, you will have changed your event horizon. You’ll have learned new skills and met new people, and everything about your options will be far beyond what you could have pictured when you started. Also, you’ll have learned so many things that you didn’t know, that your picture of that ultimate fifth-year goal will be far more accurate.
As an example, when I started public speaking, my purpose was just to get over my paralyzing terror of public speaking. I didn’t have any real plans for it. A few months in, people kept saying how funny I was. (Am I??) They started encouraging me to try stand-up comedy. Much to my shock, I was able to perform in public under the hot lights, and I didn’t feel nervous at all. In the second year, the topic of a podcast came up. In the third year, still on plan, I started to understand that I had a knack for leadership and that people relaxed when I took charge. Wherever this is going, it seems to be somewhere good. Why quit? What happens when I double down? What would this look like after another year, or two or three?
There are tricks behind choosing a goal of grand enough scale that is also rational and practical enough that you believe in it. First, don’t run it by anyone you know. The closer people are to you, the more they will freak out and immediately try to talk you out of it. They’ll do this by telling you that your goal is stupid, that you aren’t good at that kind of thing, and that you’re being selfish. These are amazingly clear and bright signals that you’re onto something.
They probably don’t know what they’re talking about, which is proof that you don’t need to listen to them. If they do by chance have credentials in the area of your chosen goal, then you can also ignore them because they will probably be motivated by jealousy of their turf. Do not let other people define you. It is irresponsible.
Thinking about your larger-scale goals should compel you and scare you a little. You won’t be able to quit thinking about them even if you try. These are signs.
Your larger-scale goals should snap your tinier goals into perspective with almost instant clarity. You need somewhere to write, and you transform part of a room into a workspace and it only takes two hours. You need a workshop, and you’ve gutted the garage over the weekend, and you walk out there on Monday after work and sit down and get started. You know you need to train, so you sign up for classes and you’ve made arrangements for your domestic responsibilities over a single lunch break. You can do the basics. You know how to sign up for things and pay for things and make a schedule; you’ve done it for television and now you’ll do it in service of your dream instead.
Never ask “how,” ask “when.” Which month, which day, which hour of the day will you be doing your thing? When do you do this in the time dimension?
In the first year, you experiment and realize that this thing could be a bigger part of your life. It’s real to you.
In the second year, you understand that this thing is worthy of your focus. It interests you more than most of the other minor things in your life, and you double down.
In the third year, you can see a specific outcome, something with a deadline. You clear the decks and put all your resources toward finishing this thing, no matter what. You tell people over and over again, “I wish I could, I’m doing THIS right now. I’ll be free again in [July?].”
What are a bunch of things you can do within a three-year time horizon?
Some examples would be:
Getting a graduate degree
Building a house
Going to the culinary institute
Becoming fluent in another language
Training from zero to run a marathon
Becoming a competitive bodybuilder
Writing and publishing a book
Getting a black belt in a martial art
Becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster
Launching a career in a new profession
Training a service animal
Recording an album
Some of these can be done faster, and some realistically take most people longer than three years. It depends more on how focused you are, whether you begin with a workable plan, whether you are coachable and receptive to criticism, and how many hours a day you can work. Certainly, though, you’ll have a good idea by the second year whether you’re into your project enough to take it farther. You’ll understand how putting more time and effort into it would be more interesting and get you further.
Double down on your second-year goal, because if it’s worth doing for a second year then it’s worth more of your time. Put your heart into it and let it take over your life.
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.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies