It’s one of my coaching clients, and she has a little secret. It’s not much of a secret as far as I’m concerned, because so many people do the same thing. What makes a secret a secret, though, is the shame. That’s why they call it a ‘secret’ and not a ‘surprise.’
Guess what I’m doing?? When you find out you’re going to be SO EXCITED!!!
Nope, not that kind. The guilty kind.
She wakes up in the middle of the night, gets out of bed, and binge-eats.
Okay, not everyone does that, but I can tell you why it’s so similar to what so many people do.
She, like many people, often skips breakfast. If she does eat anything in the morning, it’s usually a coffee and pastry or, like, an energy bar.
A snack instead of a proper lunch.
Nothing until dinnertime, 6-8 hours after the last time she ate.
Any of this starting to sound familiar?
It’s incredibly common for people to eat some kind of snack, usually dessert, very late at night. Usually right before bed. I personally cannot do this because it triggers my night terrors. No amount or flavor of ice cream is worth screaming in my sleep.
Other people, though, are understandably going to be hungry again 3-4 hours after dinner, and they’re going to eat. Most people also crave sweets after a meal.
So yeah. Night eating. *shrug* Most people do it. Why be ashamed about it?
I get the shame thing, I really do. When I have night terrors, I always start crying as soon as I snap awake. I can’t imagine anything more embarrassing than running around the house in my underwear, screaming, because I had some stupid dream about a spider on the ceiling. It makes me feel like a child, like I can’t control myself. Hate it.
It’s the body telling the brain what to do.
Exactly like the craving to eat late at night.
My client wants to stop, she says. She feels ashamed and guilty and she’s not enjoying the effects on her health. (Diabetes, sleep apnea, a 100-pound weight gain).
I suggest that she might change her mealtimes and come up with things to do that will keep her in bed when she wakes up at night. Like her favorite playlist, a bottle of aromatherapy fragrance, maybe a podcast episode. I wake up in the middle of the night a lot, too, and it’s pretty boring to just lie there for 90 minutes.
My plan, of course, doesn’t work.
The problem with persistent problems is that they’re always the result of a complex web of issues. Changing only one thing usually isn’t enough to disrupt the pattern. It can be very tricky to figure out what is the root cause.
There’s another problem with persistent problems. That is that we’re in love with them.
There’s always some part of the web of issues that is our very most favorite, adorable thing.
It’s usually part of our very identity, or the one thing we’d want to hold onto if we ever had to give up everything else. Our heart’s desire and our true delight.
The thing about night eating is that it’s done ALONE. It’s a favored refuge of people who feel that they serve others all day. Workaholics and people pleasers. There is nothing that feels as good as TOTAL PRIVACY while indulging in something for yourself alone.
Hey, I agree with that, and I do it too! Showering, writing in my journal, birdwatching... The difference between me and my troubled clients is that I have no shame in indulging myself. I do plenty for other people, but I don’t owe anyone anything, and I have no problem setting boundaries and making sure I have time to myself. Otherwise, I could never deal with the emotional demands that I do.
I also don’t have body image issues, for my own complicated reasons, and I eat whatever I want. If I want cake for breakfast then I’ll eat it, and I’d actually enjoy it much more if I felt like someone was glaring at me and judging me. Ha, this is for you, *big bite*.
The simplest way for my client to deal with her night eating really would be to change her eating schedule. Start with a big hot breakfast. Take an hour off every day and eat a proper sit-down lunch, no errands, no “catching up” on work. Have a satisfying afternoon snack sometime between 3-5, or at least eat something during the commute home. Eat a good dinner.
The goal here is to eat 70-75% of your energy requirements for the day BEFORE DINNER, so that the nice dinner is a chance to put a cap on the day.
As opposed to being incredibly hungry almost all day long, rushing around, “no time” to take real breaks, and feeling starved after twelve busy waking hours.
But doing that would interfere with [everyone’s] image of the diligent, hardworking and ultra-responsible professional busy person.
How do I know how valuable I am unless I feel like I’m sacrificing for my work (my staff, my clients, my customers) all day every day?
Being hungry all day, as a pattern, is a form of self-punishment. It’s a job for a trained therapist to figure out why someone would feel that way, would want to do that. We’d never treat others as badly as we treat ourselves, and there’s something deep under that, but I sure don’t know what it is.
There are other ways for my client to set herself up to quit night eating. She could sign up for a meal delivery plan and eat only what gets delivered.
She could ask her assistant to make sure she eats breakfast, lunch, and a snack, and even have her order it for her each day. It could be scheduled as part of their check-in meetings.
She could put locks on her fridge, freezer, and cupboards, and give her husband the key. More positively, they could quit stocking food in their home, and they could dine out together at a salad buffet or whatever.
She could tell her doctor about it and ask for help. A change in medication, maybe? A doctor would see this as a straightforward health issue, not a shameful secret.
As a practical matter, eating at night is a way of annoying yourself. Crumbs in the bed: uncomfortable! Not sleeping the whole night through: exhausting! Being hungry all day long at work, every week of the year: predictable, boring, and unproductive! Exploding at other people when you’re hangry: mean, rude, and unfair to them!
There are no “wins” here except for the pure hedonism of eating alone, late at night.
As an emotional matter, what’s the deal with night eating? If you want to indulge, just do it in public and, in the unlikely event that anyone hassles you, wink at them and take a nice big grinning bite. The real issue here is probably working out why you care what other people think, rather than what you yourself think.
As a news junkie, I’ve noticed that news consumption increases to fill the time available. I would find myself reading the news over breakfast, over lunch, or even while brushing my teeth. The more I read, the more important it felt to read yet more. No matter how many sources I followed or how many versions of a story I read, I never felt like I knew enough about whatever it was. It never stopped, it never even slowed down. It took a week of vacation to step back and realize that this wasn’t a positive habit. What I needed was a news upgrade.
There are lots of approaches to upgrading a news habit. One is to replace it with something entirely different, like a cooking class or an extra hour of sleep. Another is to switch to books. Often reading a non-fiction book about a topic can bring clarity to a subject in a way that a dozen news articles never could. (A biography, the history of a particular country or region, an explanation of the stock market or self-driving cars, any number of topics could be an improvement over a news habit). One of the easiest ways is to upgrade the news itself.
What I did was to rearrange my news sources. I did this in several ways.
I have a side project, a tech newsletter that I put out on weekdays. This requires me to stay current in a few fields that are outside my area of expertise. The advantage of my layman’s perspective is that I bring in a broader range of material in adjacent subjects. I’m stronger in trend analysis than I am in STEM. Working in this field reminds me that ‘trend analysis’ is valuable and interesting in its own right, and it helps me to reinterpret what is meant by ‘current events.’
What do I cover? Robotics, astronomy, biomimicry, technology, and science news are my working categories. All of these fields are booming. Usually it feels like I can barely keep up, that there’s too much happening to fit within my remit. As with everything else, the more I know, the more I want to know, and the more I get out of what I read. Often, I’m reading about things that were pure science fiction in my childhood. I’ll think, “Wasn’t this a movie back in the Eighties, but now it’s real?”
Admittedly, science news is often over my head. That’s why I married an aerospace engineer, so he can interpret this stuff for me. (Joke). I can only handle so much in a day. That’s where the news aggregators come in.
A news aggregator pulls news on various topics from multiple sources. I simply made sure that mine included more non-current-events, non-political topics and more neutral sources.
Some of my topics? Dinosaurs, archaeology, ornithology, longevity, tiny houses, and Alzheimer’s research, among other things, fill out my news feed. For some reason, I also get quite a lot of articles about snakes and alligators.
Pulling news from international sources can be intriguing, especially when it’s health news. I’ve found that the British or Australian take on health research can be really punchy compared to the mainstream American perspective.
I read plenty of political news, and I certainly follow the headlines, but I’ve found that it isn’t productive to let this dominate my news consumption. I utterly refuse to discuss modern US politics. The reason is that it tends to destroy friendships. We have this absurd idea in our culture that “a debate” is the only appropriate format for a political conversation, and I can’t seem to dispel this notion. I don’t owe anyone a debate on any topic, from whether I have the right type of phone to whether tights qualify as pants. If I talk about politics with people who agree with me, it reinforces what I (and they) already think. If I talk about politics with people on “the other side” (as if there were only two sides, which is too silly for words), they always want to argue. I say, fine, I’ll talk pre-Industrial politics with you. Which do you prefer, antiquity, the Dark Ages, the Reformation? When someone asks which way I’m voting, I say I’m voting for myself as a write-in candidate. When in doubt, go with theater of the absurd.
What we do well to remember is that passive news consumption isn’t actually doing anything about anything. Arguing with our friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues doesn’t move the needle. Getting worked up about a topic and ranting about it all around the house doesn’t even qualify as a good workout. Staying informed is only useful if we do something with that information.
It also helps to remember that everything humans are doing, in every sphere of activity, qualifies as ‘current events.’ An invention that helps people with paralysis to walk, or congenitally deaf children to hear, is relevant. These advances are more likely to change the course of history than most election results. Every day I see news about archaeology or paleontology that claims to be one of the most important finds of the last hundred years, and that’s relevant too. I see news about space exploration and technological innovations that about blasts me out of my chair. The world is going to be nearly unrecognizable in twenty years once all these trends combine along their current arc. It’s relevant, it’s newsworthy, but are we noticing it? Or are the settings on our news feed causing us so much stress and distraction that we develop a misleading picture of the world? Upgrade your news habit and find out.
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.”
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.
So you insisted on joining that gym. You know what everyone says about New Year’s Resolutions and habits, and you believe that none of it applies to you. You signed up for a bargain membership at a commodity gym.
Congratulations! It just might work!
If you really and truly love gaming, TV and movies, music, shopping, fried foods, or any of the other cute and charming habits that people try to shed at resolution time, you can use that! You get to keep all that stuff. Well, actually you get to keep it either way. You can keep it with a fitness level that steadily deteriorates from year to year, or you can keep it while using it as fuel for your body upgrades.
Simply choose a form of exercise that allows you to indulge in your favorite activities at the same time.
Anchor the time in your schedule, the location, and the habits. Make gym time your indulgent time, time to get away with all the naughty things that are so fun to do.
Personally I like spying on people and eavesdropping on their conversations. I like checking out other people’s butts and wondering what workout they do. I like looking at their shoes and their workout clothes and mentally shopping. Would that combo work on me?
I also use my elliptical time to watch video clips, read articles, play Words With Friends, look at recipes, and dink around doing all the stuff online that I normally don’t have time to do. Sometimes I’ll read a potboiler that I only allow myself to read while I do cardio. It makes me move faster at the scary parts. I’ve tried watching movies or hour-long TV episodes, but it makes one minute feel like ten. That’s why I like the fragmented articles and short videos.
Sometimes the elliptical machines are taken. No surprise, since there are only two at our apartment gym and they’re often full of married couples. My husband will shrug and lift weights while listening to all the music I don’t let him play aloud in the house. I’ll usually hop on a treadmill and use it as a walking desk with my tablet keyboard. Sometimes I buy dog food online or make appointments. Sometimes I just write out a bunch of lists. If I bring a cable then my device will be fully charged, too. It’s not really all that naughty, but when I’ve caught up on email with a full battery, I feel like I just summoned an extra hour out of the ether.
That’s one of the main secrets behind getting your money’s worth out of a commodity gym. You have to be equally as willing to do one workout as another, because often your favorite equipment will already be in use. When I was in college, there was a strict 20-minute time limit on all the cardio equipment, and each machine had a sign-up sheet. A bouncer would come over and make you climb down if you tried to stay on longer. I’d take three slots and move between different machines and read my homework. Not having a hundred pages of assigned reading makes anything else feel like playtime.
There are all sorts of treats and indulgences and cute habits that fit people associate with their workouts, even their most boring workouts.
Cardio and entertainment! The elliptical and TV. The recumbent bike and cooking shows or video games. The treadmill and a podcast. Any fitness class that plays your type of music (although beware: I had to quit one gym that kept playing the same Top 40 pop hit every time I was there. That was before AirPods).
Mega calories and endurance sports! Do it indoors long enough when the weather is bad, and suddenly you’ll find yourself doing the same routine outdoors when it’s gorgeous out. You’ll find yourself doing it with a bagel in your hand. Everyone I know who bikes or runs does it for the beer. Every race day I have willing buddies who will hang around for me, even when I’m half their speed, because I hate beer and I’ll give them the voucher off my race bib. A friend of mine used to measure his weight loss against a little poster he had made of all his favorite See’s Candies, and now he’s a century rider.
Shopping and physical transformation! It wasn’t until I finally reached my goal weight that I realized how much less uncomfortable high heels are at 120 than at 160. It has to do with the laws of physics and pounds per square inch, which is why stilettos hurt more to wear than a stacked heel or a platform shoe. I also discovered that almost all clothes in my size will fit and look attractive on me, which definitely was not true when I wore a size fourteen. One night I tried on thirty-eight pairs of pants and not a single one fit right. That just doesn’t happen anymore. If fashion or revenge are strong interests of yours, why not? Make your shopping life easier.
It is absolutely fair game to base your transformation goals around your boyfriend’s ex or an online photo of the queen bee who tormented you in sixth grade. One of my clients made her goal with days to spare because she knew her ex would be at the same party with his new girlfriend on New Year’s Eve. Chances are, there’s an innocent bystander at your commodity gym who resembles this rival, at least a little. When you see her, you can use her silhouette to rev you up. It’s also fun to outdo the young bro at the next station. Especially if you lift.
A commodity gym can be a fantastic source of material for an artist. Caricatures, cartoons, comedy, sculpture, music, whatever it is that you do, if you go to the gym you’ll expand your net for capturing new ideas and fresh inspiration. Same with entrepreneurs and trend analysis. It’s a part of the world that is worthy of exploration.
A new gym can be a weird and uncomfortable place for someone who feels self-conscious and insecure. It can be a smelly and boring and loud place, too. Isn’t that also true of anywhere, but especially any shopping mall, hair salon, grocery store, workplace, restaurant, gas station, or anywhere else in public? Just think of your new commodity gym as a place to get your money’s worth, a place to catch up on your to-do list and your must-watch list and the games in your queue. Soon it will be just as familiar as your car, only it will take you farther.
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?
Goals are for quitters because a goal implies an endpoint. A goal implies something that is checked off a list. Achieving a goal has quitting baked in.
This can be demonstrated by how many people run a 5k or a marathon and then never run again. Not just never run a footrace again, but never run again as an activity.
The fact that goals are for quitters can also be demonstrated by how many people finally reach their goal weight and then promptly put the weight back on. (Raises hand).
Fewer than ten percent of people who take an online course actually complete it.
Picture a messy garage, and that’s another example. We’ll decide to Clean Out the Garage and then gradually fill it back up.
Goals are great when they’re a small part of an overall system, a plan and a strong visualization. Goals suck when they feel like something big, a final answer of some kind. That’s because they don’t work. A goal is like the crest of a wave in the sea, something temporary that exists and then, suddenly, no longer exists. Think of the sea, not the wave.
There are quite a lot of ways to go about life transformation that work better than goal-setting. The concept of life transformation itself is one of them.
The thing about goals is that we picture ourselves as the same as ever, “myself” as a fixed entity and “the goal” as something external. That implies that our default is working great and that what we’re doing right now is what we’ll be doing every day for the rest of our lives. This goal is going to be a little prize, a thing that can be obtained. A goal is a little sticker, a gold star or a smiley face. It’ll peel off by the end of the day.
One approach that works better is to consider the goal in the context of identity. How is this particular goal consistent with my sense of self? How does it reflect my values? How would attaining this change me fundamentally, change my perspective, make me a better person?
Parenthood is the first and most obvious example of this. Many people find that they are instantly able to change when they first find out a baby is on the way. My child, my daughter, my little son. They quit smoking or start saving money or take on the mantle of adult responsibility. Everything is different now because it’s not just me, I’m having a kid and now I’m the grownup.
That happened for me when I remarried, moved to the suburbs, and realized I had a home and a family. I was not a bachelorette in an apartment with a temp assignment. I was a wife and a stepmom. I stepped up and learned to cook nutritious meals. That concept of “woman” as “hostess, matriarch, cook, mother, and homemaker” came from somewhere out of the dark swamp of my subconscious, a primal and weird instinct. That throwback energy manifested itself in a lot of pot pies, hot bread from the oven, and steaming soups, which was quite nice.
My husband already knew how to cook. He had been a dad for a long time already. We took turns cooking, let me make that clear. It was right around that time that my stepdaughter, still in grade school, started cooking dinner now and then. It made her feel like a grownup too.
Changing my identity made me feel capable, warm and needed and useful in a new way. Caring for others is a solid excuse for self-care, a good reason to do something that many of us will not prioritize in any other way. I did it for us, and us includes me.
This is a sneaky little side approach to many goals, because anything I do to make my life better also makes other people’s lives better. If I’m happier, I’m easier to be around. If I get a better job, my mood is better and I bring home more money. If I get fitter, my energy level goes up and I’m in the mood to participate in more stuff, more often. It’s when I think that caring for others leaves zero for me, it’s then that I get burned out. Burnout is selfish because it makes us too tired and crabby for a fun life.
Fun? Since when did ‘fun’ find its way onto my to-do list?
My endless, endless to-do list?
A to-do list is a pernicious killer of goals and destroyer of dreams. We put stupid things on there like ‘buy groceries’ because checking off a list feels like accomplishing something. Like we wouldn’t buy groceries anyway at some point, because we got hungry and we know how to make it happen. We make the same to-do lists over and over and over and over and over and over again because it keeps us from wondering restlessly, could there be more?
When do we elevate with these endless lists? When do we write ‘wow myself with a gourmet dinner because I like it and it sounds awesome’?
This is where curiosity comes in, and through the same transom window comes hedonism.
Out of hedonism I resolve to sleep more, to buy another set of thousand-threadcount sheets, because I in fact am the Queen of Sheba and nice sheets are not against the law. I’ll wallow if I want and when I get up, I’ll eat blueberry pancakes, crawl right back into bed, and sleep some more. So there.
Out of hedonism I resolve to stay hydrated and well-rested, because migraines are from Satan.
Out of curiosity I track my health metrics, because I want to know if another life is possible. Is there a recognizable me without this problem, this problem that my doctor has no idea how to solve? That my doctor doesn’t entirely believe is even real?
Out of curiosity I sign up for classes, I attend them, I make new friends. I rearrange my schedule and finally delegate chores so I can find the time to get to my class. There is nothing I do that someone else could not help me do, up to and including a more interesting, more fun and better life.
It’s easy to change your life when you do it out of desire, curiosity, and a feeling of entitlement. Why should anyone try to stop you from taking a class or changing an hour or so out of your schedule every day? Why should they even care? You don’t need permission to make a resolution or transform something about yourself.
(If you do, here, I give you permission. You are allowed to do whatever you want. So say I, the actual, factual Queen of Sheba).
Don’t quit on yourself. Don’t quit on yourself because it’s quitting on life and because it sets a bad example. People are counting on you to prove that it can be done, that you can get more fun into your life without hardly trying.
I used to have a PDA, or ‘personal digital assistant.’ I loved that thing and I took it everywhere for several years. I still wish I could use the symbols I had to learn for the stylus that went with it. One day, I had it open at my desk at work. A colleague laughed at me. I happened to have a sticky note inside the cover. “Do you even know what a PDA is FOR?” he scoffed. Of course I did! It was to keep me organized, expand into an extra brain annex, and remind me to do things. It just so happened that the apps and technology available at the time weren’t a perfect fit for my productivity needs, not to mention the aesthetic. It might not have suited me perfectly, but that old PDA served as an object of power in my life. The right planner can do the same for anyone.
An object of power is to be distinguished from a tool. For instance, I can use any spoon, pencil, or cup as a tool in daily life, and none will be more valuable to me than any other. On the other hand, my dog has a tiny shred of an old stuffed toy that is a major object of power for him. It’s so small that it’s useless, it’s filthy, and it smells bad, but it matters to one little woofy heart.
A calendar can be either or both, an object of power and/or a routine tool. It can also be a piece of useless clutter.
One common feature of my people’s homes, along with a vast collection of refrigerator magnets and a bunch of coins scattered everywhere, is a wall calendar that features the wrong month or year. (I always ask before I change it, figuring it may be part of a magical ritual or something). The standard-issue wall calendar is a total fail for most people’s needs. We take them because they’re free and they often have nice pictures. Then we hang them in inaccessible places. They’re visible to all guests, so most people avoid writing anything personal or private on them. They’re extremely limited in format; for the space they take up, there’s very little room for the individual day or week. To use them, we either have to write against the wall, which leads to strained and crabbed penmanship, or take the whole contraption off the wall, where the little finishing nail inevitably pops out and gets lost. Maybe keep your wall calendar, if you really need it for the four dentist appointments and two vet appointments that get written on it, but don’t blame yourself if it fails you as a true planner.
The sorts of things we write on the common wall calendar are the sorts that don’t really need to BE on a calendar. I don’t know about you, but my dentist, veterinarian, and all other appointment-based business relationships always send multiple reminders in the form of calls, texts, emails, postcards, and business cards with peel-off stickers. This is the kind of thing most of us are least likely to forget.
I may be wrong. I generally don’t use a grocery list, a to-do list, or a schedule. I still manage to get a lot done. But then, maybe I’ve got it backward and I would do even more if I used more traditional tools? Why do I even bother myself thinking about planners?
I use a planner as an object of power as much as anything else. I’ve found that I really like a monthly calendar as a visual when I do strategic planning. Yet, although I carry an iPad almost everywhere I go, I haven’t found an app or digital calendar view that does the job. Most of the sort of activities that I want to “plan” are not specifically schedule-based, like in the time dimension and everything. I plan at the yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly level, and digital minute- and date-based reminders don’t work well for my needs.
What do I plan?
I plan my work in time blocks. Those time blocks are built around the few time-bound elements in my schedule. Classes at my gym, club meetings, and my husband’s work and travel schedule are the non-negotiables. I put those first because that’s how I prioritize my marriage, my fitness, and my educational and career growth goals. Why? My husband travels three or more days a week, so he has to come first if I want to see him at all. Classes and club meetings take up about six hours a week. Almost every minute of the remaining time is mine to squander.
Most of the things I do can be done at any time. That means if I’m not careful, they’ll never get done at all. That’s doubly true of creative projects that I can’t delegate, that won’t come into being if I don’t pull them into the time dimension somehow.
Artists, this might be useful. I think of my projects in three phases: gestation, work, and editing. Others might think of the first phase as ideation, daydreaming, woolgathering, or aimlessly staring out the window. The second phase might be anything from painting, sculpting, typing, or pattern drafting to chopping vegetables, soldering, or welding. The third phase might be called polish, styling, performing, plating, peer review, or whatever else works for you. For my purposes, the first phase requires the ability to drop what I’m doing and take notes, sketch something, snap a picture, or research something. The second phase is almost entirely typing and doesn’t even require internet access. The third phase includes formatting and scheduling, and occasionally a human intermediary.
It just occurred to me that there’s actually a FOURTH PHASE, which explains most of my problems in life. That fourth phase might variously be known as publishing, shipping, launching, or... finishing.
Everyone is most comfortable in one of these stages, and we can tend to languish, not realizing that it takes at least a minimal amount of planning to carry an idea through all four phases. I do my best work at phase one, ideation, while I always go to my husband for phase three. (Phase three and no sooner!)
See that it’s entirely possible to have multiple projects in progress in various phases along a timeline. Any or all of them might eventually become hung up on the input of another person, access to materials or facilities, delivery schedules, and so forth. A delivery driver or a waiter or an artisan in a framing shop might work almost entirely in phase four of other people’s projects, in what would be phase two of their own workday. My people, just like me, tend to work mostly in phases one and two. That’s where craft stores make all their money.
As a working artist, I don’t really use a planner for its calendar function. I use it as an adjunct brain. The monthly grid is how I try to avoid bunching up several posts in a row on the same topic, and how I anticipate writing around seasonal topics. The weekly view is where I write out errands I need to run, because it doesn’t matter what day I do them, and projects I want to get done, because I’m not always sure how long they’ll take. I’d rather look at them in my preferred format than spend a lot of extra time tinkering, shuffling, writing, erasing, and rewriting. That attention should be on my real work. The point of the planner is so I can use as much mental bandwidth as possible for making things, not for massaging and canoodling with the planner itself.
A planner as an object of power should be compelling to its possessor. It should attract the eye. It should be of a shape and size and weight that makes it irresistible, and it should suit the context. Consider whether you will use it mostly on a cafe table, at work, in your bed, at your desk, in the driver’s seat of your car, or whether it will spend most of its working life in your bag. Love the color and style, because if any aspect of it disappoints or annoys you, you won’t use it.
The more you use an object of power, the better it works. The more you use it, the more useful it becomes. The more you use it, the better you get at figuring out what you want out of it and what you’ll change the next time you choose one. There’s nothing wrong with writing on the wall or using a paper napkin, if it inspires you and brings you focus.
Every November, I convince myself I’m going to do NaNoWriMo. I’ve tried for at least seven years running. Every year, not only do I fail to meet the quota, but I fail to write ANYTHING AT ALL. November is my worst month, between family travel and the weather and cold season and irresistible food photos tempting me to try new recipes. I publish over 1000 pages a year, and I routinely write at least double the NaNoWriMo word count. It’s not like I can’t do it. It’s just that any of the other eleven months would be better for me.
January seems to be that way for most people and New Year’s Resolutions.
I can help with that. I always make almost all my New Year’s goals and keep my resolutions, and many years I do succeed at all of them. The reason 80% of people fail at resolutions is because they structure them wrong, not because they “lack willpower” or whatever sad myth they’re telling themselves. January is just a bogus time to try to start a new project.
I’ve been following a structured annual review process of my own devising for several years, which is why I nail my goals and resolutions. Key to this is that I basically spend December laying out my plans, researching and working ahead on some of them, and then I often do nothing at all in January! The main point of my plan is to keep my momentum going in the second half of the year. I schedule quarterly reviews and publish my progress. Imagining the embarrassment of giving up and even forgetting my public commitments is a dark and scary outcome that keeps me from procrastinating.
January is only eight percent of the year. If you do nothing at all for the entire month, just lie around in your underwear tossing a baseball toward the ceiling over and over while listening to Van Halen, first of all, invite me over. Second of all, that still leaves you a full 92% of the year to work on the stuff that matters to you, and that’s still an A grade.
January sucks for goals, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. It gets dark early, the weather sucks, everyone is broke after the holidays, and what’s more, it’s cold and flu season. The gym is full and yet, paradoxically, everyone is talking about failing at their Resolution. Why would anyone set themselves up for failure like that?
Don’t choose a resolution that demands total and perfect adherence forever, with no skipped days. That’s the loser method. You’re absolutely guaranteed to miss days when you try to do anything, from going to work to being nice to your mom or your romantic partner. People don’t even bathe every single day! If a perfect streak is impossible even for easy, fun, desirable things you like to do as often as possible, how could it be possible for something complicated, hard, or scary that you don’t know how to do yet?
Perfection is a terrible reason for either a resolution or a goal, for a project of any kind. It means you’ll fail. It means you’ll feel like a loser even though all you did was make up a game that nobody can win. It also means you’ll be cruel and rude to yourself. What’s the point? Just slap yourself in the face and move on.
If you start something new on January First, how much progress could you possibly make in one month? Fluency in a foreign language? A total physical transformation? Turning in a book proposal? Um, maybe, but only if you’re a goal maniac with a lot of experience and you like gonzo journalism. Stunt projects can be really fun and inspiring, but the reason for that is that the high likelihood of failure makes it feel both more risky and less important. It’s still funny if you fail, perhaps more so.
Check this out. Say you set up a resolution for something you want to do. You do zero in January. You do it 10% of the time in February, which is not even three days out of the month. You do it 20% of the time in March, because you realized it wasn’t that hard and now you know how. You do it 30% of the time in April, because the weather is getting better. You do it 40% of the time in May, 50% of the time in June, and 60% of the time in July. You’re up to 70% of the time in August. In September, you hit 80% of the time, because it’s back-to-school and that makes you feel like working harder. You’re at 90% of the time in October. By November, you’re just doing your resolution all the time, because you’re used to it, and in December, you wish you had chosen a tougher project the previous year. It’s just part of your life now.
What is this thing that you’re doing? I dunno, but I do know that you have to choose some way to measure it because otherwise, how would you know whether you won or not?
I suspect people often choose resolutions they really want to fail, just for the bonding experience of comparing notes with friends and strangers. Oh ya, I totally tried to quit [eating so much ketchup, hate-watching TV, flirting with my ex].
January is for hibernating, for doing winter the way it’s traditionally done. Wallow in the dark and cold and wish for something better, like more money and more sunny warm opportunities to have fun with your friends. Those are good wishes. Resolutions are good wishes, also, and they’re a really nice opportunity to get more of that wish energy into your life. Simply choose something for the year that interests you and makes you curious, and refuse to start on it until mid-February, when everyone else has already quit.
It’s that time again! Goals and resolutions time! This year we’re doing our annual review and planning session on the Las Vegas Strip, because we’re party animals and because planning leads to awesomeness.
This is the mistake so many people make, to choose a “resolution” that is grim and dire, the kind of thing that any sensible person would of course immediately want to sabotage. Get out of here with your “drink more water” and “Get Organized” and “lose weight,” just crumple all that into a ball and toss it over your shoulder, and let’s do this with a little more anticipation and delight, okay?
I’ve been interviewing various Las Vegan personages and asking them to tell me their “New Year’s wish.” Everyone had one. EVERYONE! A TSA agent: “To get paid.” A dreadlocked young fellow: “Growth and prosperity.” A balding guy, blushing: “A new baby.” A bearded kid: “To go back to school.” Wanting something better for the New Year is the driving force behind all human progress.
Personally, I don’t stop at one, because there is no upper limit on wishes. It’s also a technicality, because if you make a longer list, then your chances of succeeding at least once are increased. I’ve been doing this process in one form or another since I was nine years old, and each year’s failures and near misses have simply made me better at formulating my plans. First I’ll share how I did last year, and then I’ll go into my plans for 2019, because publishing my quarterly results keeps me accountable.
These were my goals and resolutions for 2018:
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS+
Career: Launch a podcast - SUCCESS
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together - POSTPONED
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop - SUCCESS?
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses - SUCCESS
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent - POSTPONED
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - SUCCESS?
I’m making some changes to my template this year. First, I tried doing a mantra for two years, and both times it wound up feeling like I somehow managed to troll myself. Dropping that. If I do one, it will be to come up with a word or phrase at the end of the year instead of the beginning. Instead, I’m publishing the metrics I plan to track. What gets tracked gets managed. I’m also being more careful about not trying for a twofer, because then if it doesn’t happen for some reason, it screws up two categories instead of one. Another thing is that I realized I keep screwing up my “couples goal” because it IS a goal, rather than a resolution, and goals are much less likely to lead to long-term success.
Goal: a specific outcome. Resolution: an implementation intention. Project: a planned piece of work with a specific purpose. Plan: the part most people leave out of their resolutions!
Personal: My personal project is typically something on what I call the Challenge Path, the specific purpose of which is to push my limits drastically and force me to run full speed in the direction of my greatest fears. Contemplating these projects in advance always makes me queasy. At some point within the first three weeks (aka The Gauntlet), I tell my husband I’m going to quit because it’s too hard and I’m wasting everyone’s time and I don’t belong there. Then I stay with it and within three years I’m as good as anyone. This time it’s to submit a book proposal to a publisher. I keep telling myself that I’m going to do many of these and that they will eventually become a regular, predictable part of my life, but bawkbawk-baGAWK! [chicken sounds]
Career: See above. Also, I’m in the final stages of completing the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. If I can hold the line on all the projects I’ve been doing over the last six months, I can finish this by June 30. If I slip on anything, it will take an entire extra year. The further I go in Toastmasters, the more I see how directly relevant these skills are to what I want to do with my life. That being said, the DTM represents a massive amount of work. It will take the majority of my focus for the first half of the year.
Physical: My fitness resolution is to work on hip openers. If this works the way I want it to, it will help me with my roundhouse kick, my goal of doing the splits, and maybe even my heartfelt desire to turn a cartwheel. Currently I have the ludicrously tight hips of any distance runner and I’m ready to leave that behind. There are a LOT of people in Las Vegas who can do the splits, and most of them can do them while doing a handstand on one hand. This is possible.
Home: My home project is to set up an outdoor writing area. I spend a lot of time on our tiny patio, so my parrot can get some nice daylight, but it makes us visible to a steady stream of foot traffic. We get interrupted a lot by looky-loos. I’m going to set up a folding screen so the wandering public don’t have line of sight with my chair.
Couples: Our couples resolution is to do bulk meal prep. We’ve been taking an evening kickboxing class together, and because it runs from 7-8 it has been making weeknight dinnertime and cleanup complicated.
Stop goal: Every year, I think of a way I’ve been annoying myself (and usually others) and decide to stop doing it. It’s always something I have no idea how to handle, or I would have already done it. Spending an entire year examining my worst character flaws and most obnoxious habits helps me to figure out how to work on them, at least a little. This time, I’m trying to figure out how to clear up the wreckage of my poor health from 2018, a year of chronic colds and the worst sleep I’ve had in fifteen years. Waking up crouched on my living room floor, crying from a night terror that lobster-sized scorpions were crawling on the bed, was the last straw. In 2019 I resolve to stop being sick and tired.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade resolution is to buy a new desktop computer. I should have freaking done it last year, after I decided I didn’t want another laptop, but I’m such a tightwad that few forces on Earth can convince me to spend money on myself.
Do the Obvious: “Do the Obvious” is my thing, because as a divergent thinker one of my best skills is overcomplicating things without even realizing it. It means looking at something so commonplace, such a routine keystone habit, that even a stranger on the street could point it out within five minutes of meeting someone. This year it’s to schedule a time block for everything, every last single thing I want to be a part of my life. I’ll write more about this as I work it into practice. Basically it means I need to have an extra “power hour” every week for random tasks that don’t seem to fit into any other category. I also need to be more protective of my writing time.
Metrics: I track a lot of stuff. It’s what helped me figure out how to eliminate my migraines, for one thing. I track my hydration, I wear a fitness tracker, I record all the books I read, and I follow a budget. This year I’m going to try out gear to track my sleep metrics. I’m going to track specific HIIT exercises, because it will be funny to know how many burpees I do in a year. I’m going to track how many martial arts classes I attend, and I’m going to track how many speeches I give. A big one is that I’m going to track how many news articles I read, because that trend line should be going down. I’m also going to track my daily word count. A whole page of metrics! If I make a project of it I’m more likely to catch everything.
Quest: My quest this year is to pursue a Sleep Project and figure out how to get more and better-quality sleep. I’m enlisting the assistance of my husband, who is willing to apply astrophysics-level mathematical analysis to my metrics, just as he did to help me finally reach my goal weight.
Wish: My wish is to be signed by a literary agent. Did I just say that out loud?
Personal: Book proposal
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster
Physical: Hip openers
Home: Outdoor writing area
Couples: Meal prep
Stop Goal: Stop being sick and tired
Lifestyle Upgrades: New desktop computer
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking
Quest: Sleep Project
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent.
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.
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