I prefer posting my first quarter check-in on any day other than April 1, because it makes everything I say seem like a potential April Fool’s joke, but not this year. I’m only bothering at all because I’m thinking ahead, hoping that I will live another quarter and that one day all of this will be behind us, collectively. Five years from now we’ll be living in a different world, so let’s make it a better one and start planning.
Starting with: what theme song will you play on the first day out of isolation? What outfit will you wear? Where will you go and who is the first person you will see?
I’m going to play “Walking On Sunshine” and walk down to the beach, where I’m going to get a non-dairy strawberry ice cream. Then I’m going to get my phone screen replaced and reschedule all my periodontist appointments, because priorities.
Thinking about all of that right now is distracting me from the biggest thing on my mind, which is that I just found out I was exposed to COVID-19 and now I’m starting to feel ill. I have a phone appointment right around the time this will post, with no idea whether it’s possible to get tested in my area, how long it would take to get results, and whether I infected my husband.
This tends to have a way of putting things into perspective.
I’ve spent the last few years of my life focusing on goals major and minor, trying to transform myself from bookworm to badass. I ran a marathon, ran adventure races, climbed a rope, jumped over open flames, took martial arts and learned knife fighting, worked on my public speaking skills... only to find out that I already had the skills of hiding out in my room, reading all day, and avoiding people that I would actually need to fight the great crisis of my generation.
All that work for nuthin.
What really gets me is the thought of dying of a pandemic when I am a full body donor. Now nobody will want my organs and that is making me feel some kind of way. In the back of my mind I thought giving away my corneas would make up for never having created a legacy that would outlast me. Now it’s feeling like the time for dithering is done. Will I be more than a sad statistic one day?
The truth is, this year was going badly for us already. A month ago I thought I had a lot to complain about. In the past four months, I’ve been in urgent care three times, had an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, had surgery to remove a cyst from my chest and got four stitches, had three grueling periodontal procedures (after two oral surgeries last year), spent the night in the ER when my husband had a severe eye injury... and then we both had the flu for a week, and then we had to put our dog down. Poor Spike. We were definitely feeling like we needed to send 2020 back and ask for a do-over.
Honestly self-isolation has not just put it all in perspective, it’s been almost relaxing... though of course the perspective is changing every day. New Year’s Eve feels like nostalgia and wasn’t it just a minute ago?
In reading through the goals I posted so giddily only three months ago, I realized I had forgotten that I made decade goals as well. *snif*
Personal: This year my goal was “body transformation,” or getting back to the Healthy Weight for My Height. I have succeeded in losing 6 pounds so far this year. Now that we’re all in quarantine and the grocery stores are picked clean I assume that this is a goal that will sort of achieve itself. I’m just going to call my new decadal personal goal: Living to be at least 55.
Career: My career goal for 2020 was to learn how to do webinars and that is basically all I have been doing with my time. We’re partway through having to switch our Toastmasters public speaking competition season to 100% virtual, and guess whose team got to go first and lead the transition planning. I have now spent at least an hour on no fewer than five online meeting platforms, and I know all the tips and tricks.
For 2030, I want to be a published author... and my book is going to look a little different now than what I had in my outline.
Physical: My physical goal for 2020 was to get my weight back to 125. Allow me to be a little more specific on that and say that it appears extra body weight is a risk factor for full-blown COVID-19, it certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors, and while my main motivation is to simply survive, I am doubling down on my commitment to get my body back.
My decade physical goal is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon. If I get through this thing, distance running is one of the only physical activities that is allowed under isolation, and I’m going to be so happy to be able to run the first mile that I might just keep on going.
Home: We decided to start saving to buy a house. Since there is now literally nothing to buy but groceries, our, um, savings goals are right on track?
For 2020, I was working on automating more household chores as part of my book project. I’ve had plenty of time to do this research and I *still* can’t get the stupid hard water buildup off the shower doors.
Couples: Our couples goal was to build an app together. Not sure if this will happen, as he has been working 50+ hours a week.
Over the next decade, we had a shared goal to do more camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling adventures together. He had been traveling over half-time and we were missing each other and wishing to spend more time together. We have actually ridden our bikes together with backpacks on because we’ve been terrified to take the bus and we needed groceries. Um, ta da?
Stop goal: My “stop goal” for 2020 was to stop procrastinating about text messages and voicemail. Yep, another success. I’ve been in touch with people I haven’t heard from in years and realizing how much I’ve missed them.
My ten-year goal was to stop procrastinating in general. Now it seems like there’s nothing TO procrastinate and everyone in the world just got a giant reset. I talked to one of my hoarders who has been evicted at least once, and she said she “finally broke through her block” and completely cleaned out her place!
Lifestyle upgrades: Our ten-year lifestyle upgrade goal was to have a garden again. This seems like less of a hobby now and more like a civic duty. We’ve already been talking to a couple of friends and family members about putting in or expanding gardens in their space, so in a way we’re doing this virtually.
For 2020, it was a bummer to think about but my big lifestyle upgrade was “probably” going to be gum surgery. Now my fourth of four scaling and root planing appointments has been rescheduled indefinitely. I actually found myself saying recently, “Thank God I had that root canal last year.” My NEW big lifestyle upgrade for the year will be to walk out our front door.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing to do in my life right now was to plan around constant travel. That changed almost immediately to “zero travel for who knows how long.”
I was right about one thing though: No normal weeks.
Ultralearning: This was the first time I tried to set up an ultralearning project. I was going to learn Dutch. Then, suddenly, someone else was in the room with me basically every minute of every day and this sort of got derailed. Will I start again now that I have no excuses? Depends on how sick I get, honestly. It’s lovely to picture open borders and a reason to travel to the Benelux countries and casually speak Dutch with the people I meet.
For 2030 I had planned to learn to write screenplays. Now I’m wondering how to reinvent the entertainment industry to be contact-free.
Quest: My quest was to train for an ultramarathon between now and 2025. Now I will be delighted to LIVE until 2025 and running fifty miles seems like a testament to survival and the fighting human spirit.
My decade quest was to visit Antarctica, and I wish I was already there...
Wish: My wish for 2020 is to get a publishing deal. Our wish for the next decade is to become millionaires!
Why the heck not. Honestly why not wish for anything and everything right now.
Goals, wishes, quests, visions, and dreams are technicalities. They’re a game. You win if you set yourself up to win, such as, I wish to find a penny. Something specific. On technicalities, I’m accidentally crushing several of my goals this year.
Personal: Body transformation - IN PROGRESS
Career: Learn how to do webinars - SUCCESS
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs. - IN PROGRESS
Home: Automation project - IN PROGRESS
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery - IN PROGRESS
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
Two months have elapsed and I am totally not getting anywhere on my main goal for the year.
This is the important part to remember, because it’s not the nature of the goal itself that is the issue; the issue is that if I choose something for myself, then I need to know whether I am going to get it or not.
Am I making stuff happen, or not?
Is what I am doing getting me anywhere that I want to go, or not?
Am I making false assumptions as to what it takes to make my goal happen?
Do I actually know what I’m doing?
Have I been taking advice from “experts” and believing that it will work, when it actuality it doesn’t?
A month is both a very short period of time and also a really long chunk of time, depending on what you’re doing. If you skip brushing your teeth for a month, you’ll definitely notice, so will people around you, and your dental hygienist is going to tell you all about it. Same if you decide not to wash your dishes or anything else related to cleanliness.
On an academic calendar, a month is a huge chunk of a semester, term, or quarter. You can probably still pull at least a minor success out of the bag if you refocus and work hard, but skipping a month of study is making life harder on yourself.
If you’re trying to pay off debt or save for a big goal, a month isn’t necessarily going to make a huge difference. While it is one more month of stress and not yet being able to experience the victory feeling, in the grand scheme of things it’s okay. When you’re seventy, you probably won’t remember exactly which month you made your savings goal, and maybe not even which year.
If you’re doing another big project, like remodeling or landscaping, a month also isn’t going to make a huge difference. It is virtually impossible to plan well enough on a large-scale project to finish on a precise date.
I’m thinking about these things because I am trying to put my project into perspective, yet I am so frustrated with myself that this is hard to do.
What I am trying to do is to burn off the extra weight I put on over the past two years. I had a goal to lose five pounds a month, which is a very modest goal. It’s considered safe to lose two pounds a week, so I could have hit 8 or 10 pounds a month without putting myself in any kind of danger.
(Why are we actively encouraged to think of weight loss as potentially dangerous, yet we are definitely not allowed to think of weight *gain* as dangerous?)
I feel a sense of urgency about my goal, because I have a health issue that is being exacerbated by my weight gain. It’s actually been getting significantly worse. When I think about dealing with this problem for even another week, I feel almost panicky, and when I think that I added another month to my stress and suffering it makes me want to throw a brick through my own window.
My problem is night terrors. I had a couple in December and January, and I wasn’t happy about that at all. Then it happened again in February, which why wouldn’t it if nothing else changed?
Then one day my husband asked me, Do you remember what happened last night?
*cue horror movie music*
Okay, apparently I woke up screaming, tried to get out of bed, had an entire conversation with my husband, and went back to sleep. No memory was formed on my end. As far as I was concerned, I had a completely normal night.
This is the worst-case scenario, that I’m causing someone else to suffer because of my problem without even knowing I’m doing it. So, so not a great sign. I told him if it happened again, to definitely ask me about it, and I would make an appointment with my doctor.
On that note, I found a recommendation in my health records to get my weight down through diet and exercise. I just stumbled across it. Nobody called me or sent me a letter, I didn’t get a notification on the app, and no health professional mentioned it to me during any of my office visits over the past year. Officially, though, health advice corresponds with what I have already been trying to do.
Am I mad? No. Did this hurt my feelings? No. Do I want to rebel because how dare someone else tell me what to do? No.
Really it just makes me wonder, how many other people are failed when they pass some health threshold without realizing it. I wish I had known when I was younger that losing weight could help me get rid of my migraines! It makes me question the entire system. Why are so many people having so many health issues, so many issues with their quality of life, when health care costs so darn much? Is it actually doing us any good or are we just getting pushed to take more prescription medication?
I lost five pounds. It wasn’t enough to get back under the threshold for night terrors, which I had successfully beat for four years. Then I blew an entire month barely maintaining. We had guests for the weekend, went out for Mexican food, and I gained four pounds overnight. It took me two weeks to get it back off. *facepalm*
This is why I find the whole issue so distracting and frustrating. I don’t know whether it’s my underactive thyroid, or my age, or some other factor, but it seems to be much easier for me to put on weight now than it was when I was younger. It also seems to take superhuman effort and a million years to reverse the process.
What I want is a whole list of great stuff. I want to reach my goal so I can go out and buy several pairs of pants. I want to start running outdoors again without worrying about putting extra stress on my ankle. I want to sleep normally without sleep-screaming and waking my husband up on work nights. I want to “check the box” and be done with this goal for 2020.
I keep reminding myself of my goals, even as I feel discouraged, troubled, and generally irritated with myself and my glacial rate of progress.
Groundhog Day is my second New Year. First you have 1/1, then you have 2/2, right? It’s also a great way to tie in the Harold Ramis movie and themes of fighting boredom by learning all kinds of cool new skills.
I need a second New Year because January somehow always seems to be a disaster. It’s like chaos is determined to disrupt any plans and projects I might try to make. Since there will never be a perfect, uninterrupted streak of routine and a smooth supply of both mood and motivation, might as well accept it. Skip January and wait until it’s finally February.
Which it is!
I’ve done what I planned to do, which was to waffle around and come up with a loose outline of how I sorta roughly plan to attack my goals and projects for 2020.
Ultralearning: My ultralearning project for 2020 is to get to A1 level in Dutch. I am on track! I downloaded an app and loaded up the lessons, and, toughest part of all, I figured out a time of day when I can practice. Mealtimes? No, mouth full of food. Evenings? No, husband is home. I’m going to do my lessons either first thing in the morning, or while my hubby is in gym class on weekends. I already know some basic greetings and pronouns, and the app says my accent is good! Now that I’m over the part where I debate scheduling with myself for weeks, I’m having fun and looking forward to each lesson.
Personal: My big personal plan for 2020 is to Get My Body Back. (Recovering from surgery in December). New urgency behind this as I had night terrors twice in January, and one of those definitely woke up my husband on a work night. Unfair. Years of tracking my metrics have led me to the conclusion that I only experience night terrors when I: [eat after 8:00 PM] + [weigh over 135 lbs]. + [did not do at least 45 minutes of cardio training that day]. While I always feel stupid when I eat something late at night and then immediately have night terrors, I have other reasons to feel that my current body composition is not serving my needs. My “low-side compliance” bare-minimum goal is to lose five pounds a month until I hit goal, and I am on track for that.
Career: My career goal is to learn to do webinars. This may be escalated on the timescale because, due to misfortune, I lost out on a speaking opportunity. Instead I may be able to present the same workshop online. With an external deadline involved, I may be able to find support to learn what I need sooner than I would on my own, i.e. late November.
Home: My home goal is to work on automating more chores and researching methods for my upcoming book. The result of this is that the place looks great and hubby has been doing odd jobs like fixing door handles. Bustle is contagious.
Couples: The only thing I really did as a couples goal in January was to take my husband to the emergency room when he got a corneal abrasion. I did earn major wife points that night but I would recommend something, anything, else as a bonding experience.
Stop goal: My stop goal for 2020 was to stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I am really proud of myself for having a perfect track record on this. It has been challenging, though, as it seems that my rate of received text messages has literally tripled since I put the goal in place. Schtaaaappppp!
Lifestyle upgrades: I put on my list that my major lifestyle upgrade for the year would probably be gum surgery. I went for a checkup with my endodontist, got a referral for a periodontist, called to clear the insurance, and actually scheduled the appointment. I keep reminding myself that the sooner I get an answer, the better, and the sooner I can put it all behind me. Also that there are few things more middle-aged than having one’s own periodontist.
In another area, my hubby and I rearranged our living room (which we often do in January) and we love it!
Do the Obvious: I put down for Do the Obvious that I should accept the reality of constant travel and No Normal Weeks. This has to be at least the fourth time I have smacked my forehead for picking the stupidest, worst slogan for my year. Let’s see, so far this year our dog almost died, my husband almost lost vision in one eye *the night before* my first big-time speaking opportunity, we both got the flu just as a major remodel began on the apartment downstairs, and, yes, he already has at least a week of travel on the calendar. “No Normal Weeks” [glares at self]
Quest: 50 for 50! I have done no outdoor running yet this year, but I have put in considerable time on the elliptical and actually walked out part of my proposed training route, visualizing how much I am going to enjoy it.
Wish: My wish for the year is to get a book deal. I have been unusually productive on the book outline itself and I feel a lot of momentum around this.
For anyone else who is thinking about resolutions and goals and plans and projects, take heart. Whatever you are working on, it’s probably best that you do it seasonally and take a few months off each year. Accept the natural rhythms of your life. Allow yourself to start at zero, feel like you have no idea what to do, have no concrete plans or structures, and just LEARN about your project from a place of curiosity. If it’s something that will continue to appeal to you enough to do it, let it draw you in and become more interesting to you.
Everything I do, I do with bumbling, fumbling, stumbling, ludicrous misunderstandings of what’s involved, missed deadlines, bungled introductions and mismatched networking, purchase of inappropriate supplies, and every other possible mistake. These are the compost of the garden of creativity. Even the most glorious botanical tourist attraction has a lot of bare branches in winter.
Your Goal Guide is a workbook aimed at people who know they want to do something, but they aren’t quite sure what. Debra Eckerling developed the concept after running goal-setting workshops and discovering that, guess what, most people don’t find the process very intuitive. If it were obvious, everyone would constantly be setting and achieving goals. This book, then, is designed for exploration, and it even has a road-trip theme to remind us to see goal-setting as an adventure.
I like to skip January when I plan my annual goals, because as much as I love making New Year’s Resolutions, I believe that January is a terrible time to try to get anything done. I set aside the entire month for poking around and doing a bit of research and experimentation on goals in each area of my life. By the time February rolls around, I finally feel ready to get started. I remind myself that it’s much more important to have my goal integrated into my life at the end of the year, when I’m likely to keep on going, than it is at the beginning, when there can be a temptation to obsess over unbroken streaks and then quit at the first obstacle.
Your Goal Guide supports this approach. Using the road trip analogy, obstacles might be like taking the wrong exit, having a flat tire, or needing to stop for gas. We expect these things, so we don’t quit and go home the first time the plan is disrupted. We also recognize that we can only go a certain distance before we need to eat and sleep, where, again, we often design our resolutions with unrealistic expectations of our physical stamina.
This book feels like the product of a lot of reality testing. The planning exercises are useful and they feel like they evolve naturally. I particularly appreciated Eckerling’s focus on research and her reminders to schedule check-in sessions. When the first month has rolled around, it’s a better idea to ask ourselves what we need, and then rework our plans, than it is to shrug and give up on our dreams.
Don’t leave your goal on the side of the road. Pick up Your Goal Guide and don’t get towed!
Give your plans a chance and give yourself a break.
Remember, everything will get done.
This year I declared that I want to learn Dutch. Why? Why not? I’ve studied several languages in the past, and I thought I would share my methods before I really get rolling.
Languages are ranked by complexity, and there are four categories. Japanese and Arabic, for example, are both Category IV, partly because they have their own writing systems. There are serviceable estimates for how many hours of study it takes to become fluent in various languages. Dutch qualifies as a Category I, and that’s why I’m comfortable choosing it as a project.
Usually when people say they want to learn a language, instead of “I want to learn this language,” they say, “I want to get the Rosetta Stone” for it. I’ve heard this from dozens of people, but I’ve never actually met anyone who claims to have learned a language this way! I single it out because it’s expensive, and with the internet, there are tons of free ways to learn any language.
There are two important questions to answer that have already come up in this post.
There are four categories of language comprehension: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. We tend to be better at some categories than others, even in our native tongue. Most people picture themselves “speaking” their chosen language.
The basic problem with this, as I have found from experience, is that the better you sound, the more fluent people assume you are, and the faster they start talking to you! They will not realize that they should filter for you, so they’ll use slang, big words, and idioms. I’m a good mimic, so I purposely talk slowly and flatten my accent. If my vocabulary only has like twenty words, then I want to make sure that’s obvious to my listener.
This is why, for my purposes, when I say “learn” a language I really mean I want to be able to read it. I would only consider myself fluent if I could listen to a casual speaker and grasp 80% of what they were saying.
Fluency doesn’t mean we need to know a bunch of obscure surgical terminology or be able to have a conversation about numismatics - unless, of course, that’s the reason we’re trying to study.
This is where most beginners could use more specificity. We think of learning a language as a bucket list type of a goal, but we don’t necessarily color in the whole visual. Who are we talking to, and what are we talking about?
When we study languages in school, we start with grammar and classroom nouns, like ‘paper’ and ‘pencil.’ We might spend a year in class, get straight A’s, and still not be able to use the past tense. We get few opportunities to listen to natural speakers having casual conversations, which is probably how most of us would imagine fluency feels.
What I’ve learned from travel is that almost all of my opportunities to practice speaking are totally predictable, utilitarian transactions. Buying stuff. Getting directions. Getting directions in order to buy stuff. Asking what ingredients are in something. I realized that I needed to spend much more time listening, like 3:1, rather than speaking. I also realized that I needed to spend about 5x more effort memorizing lists of nouns.
This is where I get around to why I chose the Dutch language, out of all others, and how I picture myself using it.
The first time I traveled to a country whose official language was not English, I was blown away to realize how many travelers there are from other countries. Wherever you go, if it’s a tourist attraction, there will be French and German visitors! I had the opportunity to try to help a French tourist read an Icelandic map, and I realized that the French I studied as a 12-year-old kid actually had a real-world application. It was more than a thing of beauty and complexity, an interesting puzzle; it was a legit code for altruism and human connection. Whoa.
I went home and picked up a bit of French and German. As I did, I pictured all the friendly French and German faces I had seen on the trail and I imagined being able to trade travel notes and birdwatching tips. It was motivating.
Adding Dutch, for a linguistics nerd like me, is a way to stretch my circle.
The reason I’m focusing on a language for my first declared ultralearning project is that I’ve felt like I have neglected an innate talent. For other people, this might be something like drawing, singing, woodworking, playing guitar, dance, or a sport like tennis or swimming. I’m pretty terrible at every single one of those things, but language is something I can get into. Also, it’s supposed to help fight dementia.
Why Dutch, just to meet backpackers in other countries? Because it’s a Cat I, that’s why, and the grammar is similar to English. Later I intend to bone up on my high school Japanese. I can still read hiragana and katakana, I’ve had a couple of quickie conversations over the years, and my accent is understandable. I’m pretty excited to take on more Asian languages - I’m just rusty.
My ultimate fantasy would be to travel in every country on Earth, and spend enough time studying in advance that I could exchange greetings with someone there in their own language. That’s not necessarily a dream of unity, though. Why should someone else drop what they were doing just to entertain me?
“HI! GUUUD MORGNIEEN” *tries to wave, instead makes rude gesture*
“Uh, hi?... Do I... know you?” *rolls eyes*
In the meantime, I’ve started my project. I’ve chosen my language and I know why I want to learn it. I can picture the types of transactions and conversations I might have.
At this stage, I assemble my materials.
I don’t believe in going out and buying “foreign language dictionaries.” I used to! I used to check them out from the public library in stacks up to my chin. Instead, I start with the Babbel app. When I feel like I know a bit more, I go to TuneIn Radio and try to find a local station. I try to sound out news headlines. The next step would be to find a language partner for chatting online, and that’s where I balked back before I became a Distinguished Toastmaster.
That’s what is so funny about linguistics. A lot of us with a great passion for languages are actually really shy about using those languages to, ya know, talk? To humans?
All right then. My ultralearning language project is to study Dutch until I can test at the A1 level. I’ll also try to find a real Dutch person who will chat with me in Dutch for a minute or two, next fall or winter.
Unbelievable! I thought when I saw this book. The great and powerful BJ Fogg has finally written a book!!! This guy’s research on habit formation is mentioned constantly by other writers, and I used to wonder how they were able to get this special access. How Tiny Habits finally got written is addressed in the book, and it’s like meta-proof that this stuff works.
Of course habits have nothing to do with how fascinating, moving, and endearing this book is.
Personally I’m pretty good at starting and stopping habits, as soon as I realize what it is that I want to do. Tiny Habits had an interesting explanation for why that might be. I often do a little dance, make up a little song, jump up and down, or otherwise physically express how excited I am that I did a small thing, like hitting Send on an email that I struggled to write. Apparently this is the key to building a habit, teaching the brain that YES, this is the right step. Then I realized that I picked up this habit from my mom and it cheered me right up.
This book is loaded with diagrams and exercises that I found truly helpful. It’s designed for someone to learn it and also teach it to others, such as a team at work. I particularly liked the brainstorming method of the Swarm of Behaviors. The lists of sample habits aimed at people in different situations is terrific, and I think the list of little ways to celebrate is best of all.
Tiny Habits is based on years of extensive research, and it’s been tested on real people with real, shall we say, situations. It works on the tough stuff, like caregiving, grief, parenting for special needs, and health issues. It also works on the more light-hearted stuff, like wanting to eat ice cream every night. Amazingly, Fogg even includes research on how to help other people build their habits.
It is no surprise that Tiny Habits hit the bestseller list. I fully expect this book to stay in print for many years, to go through multiple editions, and to help millions of people create positive changes in their lives. Starting with me, and, I’m hoping you’re next!
There’s nothing wrong with taking bold action. Life and happiness occasionally demand it. But remember that you hear about people making big changes because this is the exception, not the rule.
One of my personal themes for the last year has been to “strengthen others in all my interactions.”
Right around now, everyone deflates. Aw geez, I had all these great feelings on New Year’s Eve and now they’re gone. There was only one magic moment to make the perfect wish, but I didn’t have a tidal wave of motivation, I broke my only chance at a perfect streak, and now it’s too late for me.
I wish we all had this feeling around the entire concept of the perfect streak. Aw, gee, it sure had us all fooled. What a con job. Disappoint.
What is true is that we all have a tendency to let consensus opinion influence what we do or don’t do.
EVERYBODY KNOWS that resolutions don’t work, therefore I can only do an extremely narrow set of activities for the rest of my life no matter what.
Part of a resolution really does work, and it’s confirmed through research. That part is the ‘implementation intention.’ State the thing you plan to do. Most of us do it all the time, routinely. “I’m going for a coffee, care to join me?” “I can’t wait for the new episode.” “Going to Costco to eat all the free samples.”
All of these are clear and bright implementation intentions.
Does anyone doubt that these are going to work? Do we doubt that someone is going to go out for coffee, feeling convinced that they’ll come back with zero coffee every time? Do we doubt that someone is going to finish watching their favorite show? Do we doubt that Costco will continue to hand out free samples?
What’s the difference between these classic, common, and practical implementation intentions, and our New Year’s Resolutions?
Answer: they know HOW, they know WHEN, they know what to do if Plan A doesn’t work out, they’ll keep trying because any obstacle would feel like an anomaly, and they probably don’t have any naysayers. Unlike, in every way, all our shiny new resolutions.
I don’t know if you remember the first time you ever ordered your own meal, either from a restaurant or at a food counter. I do. It was hard! When I was a senior in high school, I decided to learn how to take myself out for lunch. I went to a cafe at the mall and I got a bagel sandwich. I sat down and ate it and read a book, and then I sat there for another 25 minutes because I didn’t understand what happened next. Do you wait until the server comes back to the table and brings you the check? Do you go up to the counter? How can you tell which kind of place is which? What do they do with your change? I felt very alone and young and dumb and incompetent, that is until I pulled up my socks and went to the counter. I FIGURED IT OUT! All by myself! I even left a tip!
The point of this is that at one point, every single thing that we think is easy, routine, or obvious was a part of the unknown.
What that means is that everything we’re unsure about today, is something we are still able to learn how to do. There are other people who know how, just like we know things that are confusing and unfamiliar to other people.
The question is really when.
When are we going to do all these great things?
The middle of January is when most people tend to give up on their resolutions. I think that’s because they realize they haven’t really made much progress yet. We often feel locked in to one single version of something, and if we can’t make it work then we think we’re just not cut out for it. Some very common examples are trying to wake up earlier (rather than go to bed earlier), trying to do one specific kind of workout, or trying to go from “zero to sixty” and become an instant expert.
It’s the new me! I wake up at 4:45 AM every day from now on, so I can run uphill in sleet and hail in the pitch dark, and then at the end of the day I cook gourmet meals entirely from scratch. Perfection or bust.
The vision that we have is a fictional character from a movie that nobody would watch.
Personally, I am useless in the early morning and I know it. I have been on the receiving end of absolutely dozens upon dozens of lectures about early rising, and always being early for things, and sleep hygiene. I don’t care because of three reasons: 1. I know what pavor nocturnus is like and I know that they don’t, because if they did they would definitely say so; 2. I’m probably more productive than this person and I have no shame around my schedule; and 3. I don’t care if other people disapprove of my habits in general. If you have the time to lecture me, that is proof that you have nothing better to do, which then automatically invalidates your opinion.
You know who sleeps from midnight to 8:00 AM? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and moi. Billionaire hours.
The first answer to the question of when is, when do you feel the best and when do you feel the worst? What time of day are you more likely to be in the mood to do things?
Where we mess up is in punishing ourselves, trying to frame our desires in terms of willpower and motivation and moral fiber. What happens then is a series of fashion don’ts: feeling cruddy, not doing the awesome thing, and being less likely to attempt awesomeness the next time.
What works is to focus on how appealing you find the thing, whatever it is. Remind yourself what you like about it, what makes you curious, and why you’re drawn to it. Play around with it, exploring and learning before you attempt any kind of actual commitment.
Then, ask yourself, what time of day are you most likely to do this little experiment? For instance, if you want to learn hula hoop tricks, are you more likely to play with the hoop in the morning, at lunch, after work, right before bed? On the weekday or on the weekend? At a party or alone in your living room?
It really is that simple. If you aren’t sure what time of day you might do something, then you probably won’t do it until you can see yourself fitting it in somehow. No doubt you’ve always spent all twenty-four hours of every day of your life. You’ve spent them somehow. The question is when you’re going to take hold of your hours and use them toward what you want the most.
I still haven’t done anything so far this January! I’m proud of this because sometimes it’s a difficult commitment to keep. It’s more important to me to work my goals ten months of the year than it is to try to maintain some kind of “””perfect””” “””streak””” starting on Day One. Because January is a basically impossible time of year to do anything, other than maybe sleep more or spend less money.
The one thing I have done is to reframe one habit by thinking of it as something else entirely. That’s where the News Machine comes in.
I have a terrible habit - actually many of them - and I also have a good habit, or at least one that I can invoke from time to time. This is part of my secret of habit change and personal transformation, the discovery that a good habit can be harnessed to flip over a bad one.
It’s called “anchoring.”
Peanut butter and... jelly.
Socks and... shoes.
Floss and... brush your teeth.
Trampolines and... ice cream cones. (Ooh, messy).
There is a reverse of this, as there is of most things, and that is when two bad habits are anchored together, or when a good habit triggers a bad one. If a pattern like this is recognized, then it’s time to brainstorm and figure out how to separate the two things. Like, every time I walk into the craft store I spend $40, or, every time I get a coffee I also get an ooey gooey pastry.
Usually the “bad” habit is the thing that we feel is an intrinsic part of our very personality. I quite literally AM an ooey gooey pastry! On the molecular level! I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who is not that!
This is why I usually refer to them as cute habits. Not “bad.” We weren’t born bad, we were born interesting!
Okay, so, confession: my cute habit is that I’d rather be reading than doing basically anything else. And the bad version of that habit is that the more I read, the more I bookmark, and the longer my “to read” list gets. The reason this is bad is that it interferes with my enjoyment. I start to think of my favorite thing as a must-do. Rather than having 100% fun, I start to feel like I “need” to get “caught up.”
Do you ever feel that way?
Crafty people often start to feel like they “need” to “finish” projects, like they’re “behind” on scrapbooking or “finishing” a quilt. What is supposed to be nothing at all other than a relaxing hobby somehow transmogrifies into a guilt machine. I promised! I owe! It’s late! Those emotions come from anchoring the hobby to something else, like giving gifts, showing affection to friends and family, trying to save money, or earning approval. The pressure also comes from shopping for materials, where the more focus there is on the hobby, the more accumulation of materials, and the more space they take up in the home. We think the only ways to relieve those practical and social pressures are to craft faster, rather than to stop buying supplies and stop trying to create 100% handmade gifts. Get back to making it about relaxation!
That’s turning into an entire separate piece, but I’m not going to claim that I’ll ever write it because I’m trying to reframe my personal concept of procrastination.
Why do I feel like I’m procrastinating on personal projects? Why do I sometimes feel this way even when there’s no deadline, nobody is asking for anything from me, and literally nobody cares but me?
Is this true for you, for anything in your life?
As with a lot of things, it’s easier to just go with it than it is to try to change the emotion. I recognize that I feel “behind” on my reading, and I figure out what I can do with that feeling that will lead directly to a positive action.
In my case, I use it to work out on the elliptical.
There! I said it!
I lied, I cheated! I’ve actually been crushing it this month down in the workout room!
I just didn’t want to admit it while talking about New Year’s Resolutions, because it makes other people feel bad. Like my weird little goals have anything to do with anyone but me...
I’ve found that I seem to read faster when I’m on the elliptical for some reason. It makes the time pass quickly.
I’ve tried other types of habits to keep me working out. I tried running on the treadmill, and it makes me feel like my brain is slowly dying. (Current gym does not have a treadmill). I tried the exercise bike but it makes me sore and I don’t think it gives me any results. I tried watching TV shows on the elliptical, but it makes me feel like every minute is really 18 minutes. The thing I’ve settled on is that I can read through news articles.
I can’t emphasize this enough. If you think in terms of “supposed to” and “because” and “everyone else” and “not doing it right” and “fail,” you’re stopping yourself before you start. Try thinking in terms of “works for me” and “not sure why, but” and “for some reason.” You like what you like and you’re allowed to like it.
This is why I’m not thinking about my workout as a workout. I’m thinking about it as the News Machine. When I change clothes, I’m thinking about how many articles I’m going to read, and *that* is my personal burn rate. My metric is that I started out with nearly 400 articles in my news queue, and now I’m down to 120. Yay!
After that, there’s my *other* news queue, and then my “read at leisure” email folder, and then my open tabs...
According to my phone, I’m burning 18% more calories per workout after only two weeks. That comes from the feeling that I call “getting the lead out.” Like I threw off some lead weights. If my starting goal had been to “burn calories” or “move faster” I’m sure I would have been discouraged and I would already be feeling like I aimed too high.
Instead, I’m really just excited about finally feeling that elusive satisfaction of being “all caught up.” I can see it, a month or two from now. If I can keep reading this fast, if I can keep getting a spot on the News Machine...
I’ll probably just keep adding more stuff and making my list longer. Because who would I be without a to-do list or a never-ending stack of things to read?
It’s January, the best month to DO NOTHING except explore, learn, and develop your curiosity about goals and resolutions. I’m proud to say that I haven’t really done anything toward my annual goals yet, just like most years. This is because of everything I’ve learned about “productivity” and habit formation over the years. Perfection be gone! Death to unbroken streaks!
The War of Art utterly changed my life. You can read it in one sitting, or you can listen to it on audio like I did and walk around with your mouth hanging open.
For those of us who want to DO ALL THE THINGS at the same time, multipotentialites who struggle to stay focused, generally people who feel stretched too thin - try The One Thing,
There is no way to read Better Than Before without finding several helpful insights. Plus Gretchen is a really sweet person with a gentle approach.
Getting Things Done is the one to show off at work, although only after you’ve read the first couple of chapters. This is an analog sort of book and I don’t really agree with Allen’s tech-free focus; that being said, it’s great for pencil-and-paper people.
This book helped me see that Getting Organized actually mattered. I didn’t really see the point of it all before I read this. It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, indeed.
The one true clutter book! I have this practically memorized. Flip through it and read any section of any page.
Apparently quitting social media in some form or another is a common resolution at the New Year. Who knew? If this is something you’ve thought of doing, this is what it was like for me.
I didn’t make a resolution to quit Facebook. On the contrary. For a couple of years I felt really guilty for not spending more time there. I just couldn’t make myself. I tried forcing myself to make the occasional token appearance, but each time it would end the same way. Finally I realized that I was done and I should stop pretending I was ever going to treat social media like a commitment again.
My reasons for feeling ill at the thought of logging in to Facebook might overlap with yours, or they might not. Reasons for doing something else with your time can vary and cover quite a lot of categories.
I realized I was losing an average of two hours a day, and I’d rather spend that time reading
I kept seeing rants about unwanted game invites and it seemed ironic
I got tired of looking at pictures of meat and other badly lit, uninspiring amateur food photography
I started thinking that Mark Zuckerberg is a supervillain, that or a cyborg belonging to a supervillain
Ultimately I decided to replace the unsatisfying time I had been burning on Facebook over the past few years with in-person social activities instead.
The thing I dislike about Facebook the most is the way that people relate in text. The more time I spend away from what used to be a regular part of my day, the more I realize that people truly never act in person the way they do on social media. In so, so many ways is this true!
I would be reading through a thread on a friend’s wall, and someone would insult someone else. This happened countless times. There would be this perfectly reasonable, interesting conversation that might have continued for hours or days. Suddenly, someone would pop on and be really rude.
This is often the root of “unfriending,” a social phenomenon for which there was not even a word until Zucky came along.
It’s not so much that I cared about people insulting *me*, although it happened. It’s that it was so hard to read through a single thread anywhere, on any topic, without it happening. I didn’t even participate in the vast majority of discussions; as a rule, I would only comment if I felt I had something new and different to add, a point to make that hadn’t already been covered.
That’s actually another problem entirely - how many times someone would pop up to make a comment that had already been made by someone else. It proved they hadn’t read the whole thread, and sometimes what they said wasn’t even relevant or made no sense.
It seemed that out of all the people I knew socially, only a handful would moderate the discussions on their threads in any way. Almost all tolerated routine rudeness or impertinence.
I don’t think I’m being too sensitive in this, because as I said, it wasn’t being directed at me. It was tiresome to read through it even when I had never met the arguers involved.
This was by no means limited to political discussions!
People argued about dog breeds and travel behavior and brands of cell phone and wheat and a thousand other things of little to no consequence.
I didn't find it cute or funny. Well, sometimes I did. Mostly I just shook my head and wondered how such innocuous conversations could turn on a dime so quickly. What was making previously ordinary people suddenly so combative and belligerent?
Text-based conversations, that’s what.
What finally happened in my life was that I replaced Facebook with a social club. It could be anything at all, for others, like pickleball or a book group, a band or the dog park or a yoga class. In my case it was Toastmasters.
I started talking to more people face to face. That has always been hard for me, because I’m a shy person and I have struggled quite a lot with social anxiety.
It turns out that, at least where I live, most people are really pretty nice.
The great advantage of being a shy person is that it can make you into a great listener. If you learn to ask thoughtful questions, you can become a sort of interviewer and draw fascinating stories out of people. They flourish under the attention. Sometimes they say they’ve never told that story before, or that they hadn’t thought about it in years.
Storytelling is so much more interesting and fun than arguing!
One story inspires another. We get each other going. We laugh, we cry. We pull each other aside to share observations and compliments. We learn, eventually, how to turn even the most innocuous and minor incidents into well-structured anecdotes.
Example: earlier today I was walking my dog when a slice of toast landed on the sidewalk right in front of us. I looked up, wondering where it could have come from. Did a gull drop it? Then a woman’s head popped over a balcony. She started calling out apologies. She’d thrown the toast “for the birds” and didn’t know we were there.
I laughed so hard!
I could easily imagine myself doing the same thing. I wasn’t mad, I was amused and grateful that something mildly entertaining happened that day.
Without a storytelling group, I might never have thought to share that with anyone. Not the most fascinating story ever told, but I’m sure it has the potential to remind someone else of another story, and then we’re off.
I have never once, not a single time in three years, heard someone insult someone else in Toastmasters.
People do give speeches on sensitive topics, definitely including politics at times. Sometimes these are formal assignments in our program. Pick a controversial topic and try to persuade people of your position. I did mine on outdoor cats, and one guy still wanted to talk about it two months later. It happens. But, we laugh about it because we can see each other’s facial expressions. We can hear each other’s tone of voice. We have a history of liking each other and enjoying one another’s company.
Is that still true of your experience on social media?
Most of my social media “friends” are people I know in person. We friended each other because we met and we liked each other enough to stay in touch. In a lot of cases, though, I think we lost that affectionate regard because our online personas annoyed each other. We liked each other better before social media came along and messed it up.
In a few cases, friends have reached out to DM me, or text me if we’re close enough that they have my phone number. Some of them have arranged to come for a visit. This is part of how you find out who your real friends are, the ones who miss you and like you the most.
Mostly, though, you find that you care more about them than they care about you.
I traded my former Facebook time for a bunch of other stuff. I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. I started having board game parties from time to time. I have text message threads with my family. I also read a lot more books and started up a technology newsletter.
When I was active on social media, I realized that it put me in a worse mood almost every time. There would always be something that irritated me or made me sad. When I traded that in for hanging out with other people face to face, I realized that it left me feeling better every time. Laughs and hugs and food for thought, great stories and light hearts. If there was really a way to capture all of that through text, over social media, believe me, I’d never leave it alone.
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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