I did it! I got my orange belt in Muay Thai! The most impressive thing about this is that in January, not only did I have no idea this would be happening, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an “orange belt,” or Muay Thai for that matter. All I knew was that it felt like a smart idea to start studying a martial art.
What does an orange belt mean? It’s the second of six levels. It means I’m not a total novice anymore, but I am at the newest, least experienced intermediate level.
The basic deal with belts is that they’re a modern (post-Industrial, 1890s) innovation to represent different levels of training. Belt colors vary depending on the martial art, with some overlap. For instance, a mom was just telling me that her kids got their purple belts, something that exists in Tae Kwan Do but not Muay Thai or Krav Maga, my other discipline.
Personally, I’d prefer to have a rainbow belt? Because it would include all the previous colors?
In practice, colored belts are really handy. In every class, we divide up and choose partners, and often we do drills that involve rotating through several people. It helps to know who you’re dealing with. Along with colors, there are also stripes to show how long someone has been wearing that belt. One stripe represents ten classes, and the intermediate belts have up to five stripes.
I never understood any of this until I earned the first stripe on my white belt.
This system with belts and stripes makes a lot of sense to me, and it feels comforting. I really like the logical progression and the satisfaction of incremental progress. The first time I actually saw a “sixth-degree black belt” being worn, the penny finally dropped. OH! Anyone can earn one of these! It’s a reflection of dedication and focus, yes, but it’s also a measure of time served.
Is there something like this in dance or gymnastics? Not that I’ve seen. Those arts also depend on many years of training, but they look like PURE MAGIC. Just like the apparent sorcery involved when the owner of our school suddenly drops a student on the floor.
Many of the students at my school are lifetime athletes, and many have reached high levels in other martial arts before taking up Krav or Muay Thai. It’s a world of jocks, one that was unfamiliar to me. I’m used to hitting the books, my studies being text-based. Almost everything I’ve learned about martial arts came from asking questions and/or having things explained by other students. Sometimes I’ll make an observation that will surprise the instructors, such as that our warmups are “high-intensity interval training.” The expectation is: line up, do this, do that, accept correction, and in time you’ll be a master.
This is challenging for me. I like a big-picture view, a lot of historical context, and constant explanations of WHY I am doing something. Part of why martial arts are such a good source of humility and self-discipline for me is that I’m having to accept pure physical instruction and trust the system. I can see that more experienced students are better at this than I am, but still, I tend to want MORE INFORMATION. What, go into my body and feel it physiologically? Are you kidding with this?
Belt promotions are ceremonial. They last three or four hours. Groups of students at different levels are paired off to demonstrate their skills with an instructor. Most of the time, though, is built around extreme physical exertion for its own sake. We start with a grueling half hour warmup, its contents varying for extra stress, and we finish with another twenty minutes. This day included over 200 pushups, for example. I couldn’t do them all - it’s a lot to expect a beginner to do the same workout as a blue belt who has been training for three years - but I’m proud to say I could do forty, no problem.
I couldn’t do one standard pushup in January - or February or March, for that matter - and I couldn’t do a proper sit-up at all. I had to grab my thigh and pull myself up. When I look back and see the progress I’ve made in six months, I can look forward at the other students around me and project forward. In time, I’ll be able to do a hundred pushups before I start getting tired.
My husband doesn’t like to watch these punishing warmups. They remind him of the “hazing” from high school football. He shared how much he hated doing pointless pushups. This surprised me! “But that’s where the muscle comes from!” The part I don’t like is having to COUNT in unison, and if someone makes the dreadful mistake of shouting “ELEVEN” instead of repeating “ONE” then all fifty people have to start the count over. That’s dumb. Well, it isn’t dumb... the point is to make us focus, developing our concentration, because disappointing and annoying our fellow students is a powerful psychological consequence for distraction. We counted weirdly in marching band, too: ONE two three four TWO two three four THREE two three four, and it didn’t bother me then, because music needs order and structure. So does the body if the body is to be a tool that works toward a purpose.
I’ll continue on in both my martial arts, even though being a beginner in the advanced classes feels much harder and scarier than my first day as a total novice. The warmups are twice as hard, but I’m not twice as strong yet! I continue to remind myself that my personal goals were “humility and self-discipline,” not comfort or pride. I’ll get better and better at losing myself in these physical skills, briefly quieting my chattering mind, transforming myself into something new and different.
I made an executive decision to delay my second quarter check-in by a few days this year. Because: World Domination Summit!
We just got home and we have the holiday off, midweek. A lot of very exciting project ideas came out of our WDS this year. Here at the midpoint of the year, it feels very strongly like we’re getting a fresh start, which we could really use.
As usual, I’ll start out with all the obstacles and hassles of the quarter. These are the sorts of things that make me want to quit, that feel like legitimate reasons to give up on not just these goals, but any goals at all. I got the flu AGAIN (different version), plus a week-long cold and a five-day stomach bug. That one happened while my husband was out of town. I’ve spent four weeks of 2018 being sick. I got bit by a dog, tore a nail slightly away from the nail bed on four separate occasions, and got a fat lip in kickboxing class. I have a bald spot again because that’s apparently what happens when my upstairs neighbor interferes with my sleep for several months. Our dog ran away while we were on vacation, and we found out just as we were sitting down to dinner on the first night.
What’s going well? Everything else! My hubby got approved for his first patent. We may be on track to save 40% of our income this year. I got the area directorship I wanted in Toastmasters. The night our dog ran away, it turned out that he had run straight back to our apartment, where he was patiently waiting the whole time, because yeah. Most of all, we’re settling in and building a social life. One of our favorite things in life is to mentor young people, and we have some of that going on for the first time in a few years.
My personal goal for the year was to explore a martial art. The premise behind my personal goal is to seriously push my limits in a direction I’ve never gone before. It’s supposed to be something drastically uncharacteristic that feels so uncomfortable I want to quit. Martial arts was a fantastic choice! Only halfway through the year, I’ve gone through my first belt promotion (orange belt in Krav Maga) and my second (another orange belt, for Muay Thai) is coming up this month. So far I’ve noticed dramatic effects in raising my pain threshold, changing my body composition, popping out muscles I couldn’t even identify when I first saw them, and causing most general social friction to feel irrelevant. Basically, if a random person is rude to me, I feel, “Oh yeah? *snort* LOL”
My career goal was to launch a podcast. This is now officially eating my brain. I wake up in the morning and my brain is immediately preoccupied with framing a new episode. Creative projects feel like this to me, a steadily building pressure that needs to be released before it quite literally starts commanding my attention every waking moment. All this was already going on when my husband and I got the idea that we should do a show together, also. This makes it more likely to happen, since we’ll both be going through the learning curve together and we can split the research.
My physical goals were to run Shamrock Run 2018 and build a daily stretching routine. I knew not to aim bigger because this year, my personal goal is in a physical arena. Best to leave it open-ended. At the midpoint of the year, not only am I attending advanced classes at my martial arts school, I’m also riding my bike nearly five miles round-trip. I feel worse on rest days than I do on class days, just stiff and indolent. I can do physical things that I didn’t even know were a thing. My husband asks me to open jars, because it’s funny. I have no idea what I’ll be doing with my body six months from now, and I’m just dwelling in that uncertainty because it’s so weird and exciting.
Our home goal was to lower our rent. That was a success, a quick and easy one. The ramifications have been mixed, though. We’re crushing it on our financial goals, but living in a studio apartment has been, well, disastrous. Our upstairs neighbors have a deep-seated need to do all their housework between 6 and 8 AM every day of the week. We had to go to the property manager and complain. Now they generally wait until 8:01. Things did get a bit better when I identified the key gossip of our apartment complex and put it out there that “I have a sleep disorder and my hair is falling out.” True, generally private information but true. Our new home goal is to figure out where we want to move when our lease is up.
Our couples goal for the year is to go on an international vacation. Now it’s time to start making firm plans and booking tickets. We just got home from our week-long WDS trip, so travel is on our minds.
My stop goal is to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. Right now this is not working, not working at all, because instead I keep ADDING MORE. I am a glutton. I had an insight on this, though, which is that I think I prefer open-ended projects (like a blog, a podcast, holding a volunteer office) rather than Maker-type, “know what done looks like” projects. That’s probably why I published over 1000 pages on this blog in 2017 rather than publishing a 250-page book.
My lifestyle upgrade is to upgrade my laptop. Pretty sure I actually want a desktop rather than a laptop, partly because of the type of digital work I want to be doing and partly because I eat through keyboards.
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses. I finally listened to audio of myself, and I think I’m where I want to be! I’m not getting anything about slowing down in my speech evaluations any more, and in fact I got one from a visitor to our club that mentioned long pauses. Amazing to think that something like this can be an approachable goal.
Quest: Travel in Asia or a fifth continent. In planning phases.
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter. This was a success, and then... she moved. I’m reframing this as wishing to be surrounded by cheerful people who will delightedly watch our critters for us.
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE. Still.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE
I’m closing in on my first martial arts promotion. I knew virtually nothing about martial arts when I signed up in January; all I knew was that I wanted more humility and self-discipline, and that martial arts would probably be a good way to make that happen. I was so raw and new that I didn’t even know the school offered kickboxing. I signed up for classes and walked out the door with a bag of gear I couldn’t name and didn’t know how to put on. This is a reflection on what I’ve learned in four months.
First, we wear colored belts to show which level we’ve reached. The color systems vary depending on the discipline. Every ten classes, we get a stripe, which at my school is symbolized by a strip of black tape. Right now, I have a yellow belt with two stripes for Krav Maga and a white belt with two stripes for Muay Thai. This system is not traditional but it is convenient.
I’ve participated in one promotion. Students are encouraged to show up and do the workout to support those who are testing up a level, and also so we know what we’re in for. The result of this is that daisy-fresh novices like myself are doing a hundred squats with blue belts who’ve been training for years. This four-hour workout stands out as one of the toughest physical challenges of my life, right up there with hiking Hrafntinnusker, a sweat lodge ceremony, and running my marathon. Certainly it was harder than the Warrior Dash. I bonked for the first time in years. I was so tired afterward that my hands were shaking and I had to fight to tie my shoes.
Working out with people who have been training longer is a sort of emotional bridge. It can be demotivating when you feel like you can’t keep up, or if you mistakenly attribute the results of their extra months or years of training to “genetics.” I almost ran out of the room at one point, and if I hadn’t had my arms linked with two other people, I probably would have. (I made a dumb mistake and called out the wrong number, and 50-60 people had to do extra squats to pay for my error). Fortunately the woman between me and the door is a legend in our school, possibly a decade older than me and an excellent peer role model. I’ll get to train with her after I reach advanced level. I doubt she has any idea what an example she is to newer students.
That’s the motivating part of working out in a group. If you have a growth mindset and you believe that each workout brings you one step closer to group level, it helps you to push harder. One more coat of shellac on the jar. One more drop in the bucket. Water can drill through solid rock, drop by drop.
When I showed up for my first class, it had never really crossed my mind that there would be this thing called a “warmup.” We usually start with “tens,” which is a set of ten pushups, ten sit-ups, and ten jump squats. (Um, what’s a jump squat?) I thought I was in pretty good shape, for anyone, not just for a bookish middle-aged lady. Then I discovered that I couldn’t really do a sit-up. I had to grab hold of my thigh to pull myself up. Demoralized, embarrassed, and stubborn as all get-out. This is what humility is supposed to feel like, my cupcake, so get back down there and finish your set.
Fast forward four months. Now I can do twenty push-ups and holding a plank for sixty seconds just feels like a nice calf stretch. I can do fifteen burpees. I can trot up three flights of stairs in the Metro in one minute. I can do a roundhouse kick. The stuff I can do now is starting to feel like superpowers, like the day young Spider-Man wakes up and realizes he’s not ordinary any more.
Perhaps more interesting, I’m going through some wild physical changes. I can see my tricep bulge while my arm is at rest. When I assume fighting stance, my trapezius muscles make a pretty intimidating bulge. My quadriceps are starting to pop again like they did when I was a bicycle commuter. My husband says he can see my lats. I’ve gained as much as twelve pounds since I started training, but weirdly, my clothes still fit. (It’s not all muscle but some of it has to be). Most importantly for my life, my pain threshold is much higher.
Things that should hurt don’t really anymore. It’s hard to express how major this is for someone with a history of fibromyalgia and migraine. I’ve punched myself in the eye and had the pads smack me in the mouth and nose. I’ve throat-tagged myself by falling onto my own fist. I’ve kicked someone else’s toenail and cut myself, and then a couple days later I kicked a pad, cracked my toenail, and drew blood. Fortunately I’ve managed not to bleed on the mat. I generally have bruises or minor scrapes in various states of healing on every limb.
I opened a pickle jar with my bare hands for the first time in my life. I was so excited I texted my husband, who was possibly even more thrilled than I was.
Learning to fight has changed a lot about my mindset. On the one hand, I find myself automatically sizing up everyone who passes by, and I’m a little more flinchy when people stand behind me. On the other hand, I get a lot more out of fighting scenes in action films, and I have a new confidence. A drunk guy catcalled me from where he sat on the curb as I walked by, and I just rolled my eyes, thinking, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
I nearly quit after my first few weeks in martial arts classes. I felt so unfit and weak and breathless and clumsy and uncoordinated, I genuinely felt like my presence was unfairly holding other students back. My teachers and fellow students were so encouraging, though, that I reminded myself why I was there. HUMILITY AND SELF-DISCIPLINE, not confidence or pride, although those feelings are starting to surface. I stuck around and started to be captivated by the forms.
Speaking as a distance runner and endurance athlete, martial arts is a completely different type of physical challenge. I don’t get the mood elevating or analgesic effects of running. Usually I don’t even get the “good workout” tingle afterward. The mental challenge, though, makes martial arts far more interesting. It’s a much better all-around workout. At least at this stage of my training, I haven’t incurred any overuse injuries. When I ran an 8k three months into training, I set a personal best, and it’s obviously been paying off in stronger glutes, quads, core, and hip flexors. I plan to add running back into my routine as soon as I can physically handle it, because I miss it, but this is something I can see doing indefinitely.
There are students at my martial arts academy ranging in age from four to seventy-eight. I remind myself of this every time we do an exercise that is outside my current abilities. I’m in exactly the right place, which is right here and right now. I’ll never be younger than I am today, and at least my skeleton is fully grown. The work I do today as a clumsy beginner is another drop in the bucket, work that will inevitably lead me forward to my next stripes.
Happy New Year! It has now been exactly one year since May First, 2017. For those who think that December Thirty-First is too arbitrary, hackneyed, or whatever to set annual goals, well, that danger is over. Now it’s springtime. How are you doing?
It’s May. Do you know where your goals are?
Not everyone wants to set goals. That’s fine. Call it something else.
Are you doing stuff you want to do that you like doing? Are you spending as much time as you’d like on things you think are awesome? If so, carry on. If not, how do you add more fabulousness to your day? At some point, it’s good to have a built-in pause to reevaluate.
Now, for those of us who do use the traditional New Year as our annual check-in, we’re down four months. This is just long enough to have made some progress on an annual goal, while also being long enough to forget all about it and lose track. Since January First, we’ve probably had a cold or the flu, been broke, and felt totally uninspired by Northern Hemisphere winter weather. May is close enough to reliably warm weather and light evenings for us to take another shot at our plans.
Ever notice how many resolution-type plans seem to revolve around leaving the house or at least stepping outside? Everything from gardening to walking to cleaning out the garage seems to demand sunny days. Well, here they come, so let’s remind ourselves why we made these plans in the first place.
I’m a big believer in getting obnoxious things out of the way quickly. Almost nothing feels worse than procrastinating over a dreaded task. Most things can be done once and then crossed off the list. Many procrastinated tasks really only take ten minutes, most can be done in a couple of hours, and almost all can be done over a weekend. Hauling a bunch of yard debris to the dump, cleaning out the garage, tearing down a rotten deck, repairing a hole in the wall, painting a room, cleaning the oven, filing back taxes... Sure, these jobs are hard, but they don’t really take that long. In fact, when people have a list of home repair or bureaucratic projects due to deferred maintenance, the entire list can often be wiped out in a day. Ask a busy person.
It’s the stuff that can’t be done in a day that trips us up. We tend to think that our objectives count as goals, not realizing that we’ve done an unskillful job of defining the project. ‘Get out of debt’ and ‘lose weight’ are classics of the genre. ‘Lose weight’ is NOT a goal. How much? By when? How? Same with ‘getting out of debt.’ That’s merely the first stage of financial stability, financial independence, and eventually total financial freedom. Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to about weight loss seems to think it’ll come about through walking, which breaks my heart. The true goal of 90% of people with the objective of “weight loss” is to permanently avoid making any changes to the way they eat. Often a single dietary change can lead to steady weight loss with a fraction of the effort. Why not just do it the easy way?
I do quarterly check-ins for my annual goals, but the first of the month is as good a time as any to remind myself of what I wanted and why. I’ve already completed several of my goals for the year, and they were big ones, so even if I flake out for the rest of the year I can feel successful. I signed up for martial arts classes and got my first stripes on my belts, we moved to a cheaper apartment and found a pet sitter, and I ran the Shamrock Run as planned. We fully funded our IRAs before the deadline and did our taxes on time. I made some milestones in public speaking. Good job, me!
One of my biggest goals for the year is to stop having incomplete projects. It feels like major progress that I’m staying current with my active goals. I’ve gotten really good at clarifying how I spend my time, where I want to make progress, and how I’m going to measure it. Where I’m having a problem is with projects I started in the past. Am I ever going to finish them? If so, when? If not, how do I tell myself I’m done with something and it’s never going to happen? This is probably something that speaks to a lot of people, which is why I’m talking about it, even though it’s embarrassing.
The obvious next step is to round up what I consider to be incomplete projects. I’m laughing at myself right now, because this was my own personal goal and it hasn’t occurred to me until now to do this blindingly obvious task. Make a list!
My ultimate objective is to have the maximum possible mental bandwidth. I want to feel able to do interesting projects without nagging doubts or distractions. I want to know that whatever I’m working on, it is the most valuable thing I could be doing with my time. I want to feel fully entitled to relax and enjoy myself when I’m off duty. I do a pretty solid job maximizing my finances and my fitness and minimizing housework and bureaucracy. Now what kind of cool projects can I bring into being?
It’s the merry, merry month of May. How is your year going? What are you going to do to make this summer a fun one? How much can you do between now and the winter holidays? There is still plenty of time to make this an excellent 2018, and I hope you feel that you have the power to give that to yourself.
What an exciting and inspiring book! Yuval Abramovitz turned a website into a Kickstarter project. In that sense, it’s a proof of concept known as The List: Shout Your Dreams Out Loud to Make Them Come True. It works.
Anyone who is an accomplished achiever of goals will tell you that it’s straightforward and simple. Figure out what you want, make it specific, give it a deadline, and tell people about it so that they can help you bring it into reality. Ah, but if goal-setting is so simple, why do so many people try it and fail? This is one of the strengths of The List. Abramovitz has taught this material as a workshop to thousands of people, as well as sharing it with anonymous commenters on the web, and as a result he’s heard every possible objection, criticism, and complaint. For those who tend to be their own naysayers, these chapters should be really helpful.
The author credits his recovery from paralysis as a teenager to the inspiration he derived from creating lists of goals for himself. I find it very hard to believe that anyone who knows he spent two years stuck in a wheelchair would still troll Abramovitz about the power of goals, but heck, who knows what motivates trolls anyway.
Does the manifesting part of shouting your dreams out loud really help them to come true? I say YES, and the reason is my little parrot, Noelle. I took a course once in which one of the exercises was to go to the front of the room and share your “outrageous dream” with the class. I went last because I had no idea what I was going to share. I was deep in grief over the death of a pet I’d had for a decade. When I got up there, a shy person stricken with stage fright, I blurted out that my outrageous dream was “to find somebirdie to call my own.” I explained about the parrot-shaped hole in my heart. “I have an idea,” called out a woman in the back. A couple of phone calls later, somehow, this sweet little fluffball came to live with me. The course hadn’t even finished yet. Now we’ve been together for ten years and she’s the little gray love of my life.
I already published my list of goals for 2018, like I do every year on this blog, but The List got me so worked up that I made another one! I made a list, like the book suggests, of ten goals I want to accomplish in the next two years.
The book itself is a well-designed workbook full of cute illustrations. There are places to fill in your own lists; for instance, I started with the list of “Silly Things I Would Like to Do.” There are also some provocative journal prompts and ideas for general self-improvement, like when the author uses his lists to inspire him to get mad less often. The List offers suggestions for how to reconcile with family members, set boundaries, deal with naysayers, restructure goals to make them achievable, and lots more. If you have an outrageous dream, or even a minor dream, sit down with The List and start planning it today.
“SO WHAT ON EARTH IS STOPPING US FROM SHOUTING OUT OUR DREAMS FROM THE ROOFTOPS?”
“We enjoy whining! In fact, it’s one of our favorite practices.”
As a nerdy, awkward, book-oriented person, I have to use a certain amount of strategy to convince myself to do physical things. For my personal challenge this year, I’ve taken on martial arts, because it was the scariest and most demanding thing I could imagine. It didn’t occur to me that there’s a built-in gamification aspect. Every time you level up, you get a different color of belt, which is amazing because I love rainbows. In between color upgrades, there are also stripes. I’ve earned one stripe each on two belts, one in Muay Thai kickboxing and the other in Krav Maga. It’s like a badge that actually means something. These stripes represent not just extremely hard work, but also real-world skills. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything were that clear and simple?
The reason we wear belts is just like why chefs wear weird hats. Anyone in the room can tell at a glance how much you know and what you’re there to do. It’s not like it wouldn’t be immediately obvious how uncoordinated and clueless I am as a newbie. It protects me somewhat, though, in case I somehow accidentally look more experienced for a few seconds. Going the other direction, it helps me when I look at other students. If someone wearing an orange belt corrects my position, I can swallow my irritation at being told what to do and recognize that this person has advanced knowledge compared to me. I have to show the same respect that I would wish to have.
People talk a lot about how “kids these days” get trophies and ribbons just for participating. That was after my time. I’ve still never won a trophy to this day. I don’t have any plaques either. I do have two race medals, and I’m stupidly proud of them, because I didn’t make an attempt at athletics until I was 35. I know precisely how much work went into the acquisition of these symbols, as measured in sweat, blisters, bruises, and tears. I’m only competing against myself.
When I first walked into my martial arts academy, I was a bit petrified. I was committing to something specifically because I wanted to work more on humility and self-discipline. I wanted to choose something I was bad at, maybe even so bad that people would question what on earth I was even doing there. Well, I chose well. I’m almost always last in class. We do a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, and jump squats, and everyone is supposed to do the same amount. We don’t move on to the next drill until everyone is done. Imagine jumping up and down alone in the middle of the room and that’s me. At least everyone has plenty of time to get a drink of water while they wait!
The thing about fitness that unfit people like myself often don’t understand is that most or all of the fitter people in the room... STARTED OUT WHERE WE ARE. They WERE us. We look at them and see lean muscle definition. It’s not like they’re going to get custom t-shirts printed with their ‘before’ photos, right? Almost all the athletes that I have met are genuinely happy and proud when beginners commit and start to make progress. (The others are just more focused on other stuff). It’s exciting in the same way it’s exciting to teach a little kid to ride a bike. You did it! Good for you!
As a rank beginner, I’m terrible at a lot of things. With one stripe, I know what several of them are, but I’m still so new that I know I’m not even aware of some of my failings. On my first day in class, I couldn’t really do one sit-up. I had to sort of grab my thigh and pull myself up. By the time I had done ten jump squats, I thought I might fall over. I thought I was reasonably fit, because I walk an average of six miles a day, I can carry a fifty-pound backpack, I’m pretty competent at yoga, and I consider myself fairly active. I didn’t realize just how much I was missing by not doing HIIT workouts or resistance training. It was just something I planned to get around to one day. (That day: 1/5/2018). Not testing my physical limits meant I could maintain this unrealistically positive image and protect my ego. Once I understood how unfit I really am in this area, I knew I could only recover my pride by working hard to improve.
I’m not very good at watching what someone is doing and then physically copying it. I’m a pretty good mimic, and I can do voice impressions and sound effects, but none of that seems to transfer when it’s time to imitate someone’s motions.
I have trouble telling my left from my right.
I’m having a really hard time untraining all the body memory from ballroom dancing and marching band, two things that have basically nothing in common with martial arts. The center of gravity is different, neutral stance is different, balance is different. For the first several weeks I would consistently want to move backward when I was supposed to move forward, or keep my feet together when they’re supposed to be apart.
I struggle with remembering what I’m supposed to do with all of my limbs at the same time. Say I’m being reminded to keep my hands up to protect my face while I practice a new kick. I will then totally forget that I’m supposed to step forward with my foot at an angle instead of straight. When I correct my foot position, I drop my hands. Suddenly I feel like I have eight arms and legs.
Now that I have my first stripes, all of this is gradually starting to come together. I’m still comparatively weak and slow and clumsy, sure. That’s why I’m there. If I’d wanted to feel like the top of my class, I would have signed up for water aerobics. Being last and worst means that I’m genuinely challenged. It also means that when I eventually start to catch up with the more experienced people in class, I’ll appreciate how much it means.
When I get my next stripe, when I finally level up and get a new belt in a new color, I’ll wear it with justifiable pride. I’ll keep going, knowing I have it within me to work hard, to learn, and to accept the struggle.
Then I’ll probably have to pick something else that I’m bad at.
As usual, our first quarter has been full of drama, crisis, and radical change. Not as bad as last year at this time, the year of “homeless with face cancer” plus relocation, job change, and veterinary crisis. First I’ll list off all the stupid obstacles that came up for us in the first three months of the year, and then I’ll follow with the progress we’ve made on our goals and resolutions in spite of it all.
The bad stuff: Dropped a fire extinguisher on my bare foot, got the flu, had to pack and move before I was really better yet, then our dog got deathly ill before we were even unpacked. He lost over 10% of his body weight in three days, which is like a 200-pound man losing 20+ pounds over a holiday weekend. $600, five veterinary drugs, and a half gallon of carpet cleaner later, he’s fine. The hardest part of First Quarter 2018 for me was that I lost a full month, when I was only sleeping about half of what I needed and I felt like I might clinically go insane. February was not fun. Crisis every single day. Oh, and I broke my phone.
The good thing is that we actually made major progress on our goals, starting almost immediately.
I was invited to emcee a speech contest, which I did, and to be test speaker at another contest, which I also did. It’s a big deal for me to be invited to speak anywhere, because two years ago I could barely stand up at a table and say my name without shaking all over.
My personal goal was to explore a martial art. I visited three martial arts schools in my area and enrolled in one that teaches Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. I have my first stripe on both belts and I’m finally able to do pushups without putting my knees down. It took about three weeks, but I have reached the point when classes feel fun, although 10x harder than any previous workout I’ve done, other than a mud run with an obstacle course. I chose something that scared me, that felt like a major personal challenge, only to find that it’s much more of a physical than an emotional test. Much more in my wheelhouse.
My career goal was to launch a podcast. This is still on the slate as I shape the nature of the show.
My physical goals were to do Shamrock Run 2018 and build a daily stretching routine. I ran every step of the 8k race with my brother and it was really fun! I even set my first PR, cutting over four minutes off my previous time. This was great because I only did one training run and I wasn’t even sure I could handle five miles. As far as stretching, I’m finding that the HIIT workouts from my martial arts classes are loosening up things in a way that yoga never has. After just a few classes, I could suddenly do postures that were never within my reach before. I can finally do full lotus! It’s very surprising and fascinating the way that cross-training in a radically different discipline can inform something long familiar to you.
Our home goal was to lower our rent. We had all the paperwork handled for this move by the first week of January, and of course we moved in February. Good timing so that we could fund our IRAs. Consider this goal complete!
Our couples goal is to go on an international vacation together. We haven’t booked the tickets yet, but we’re “in talks” about where we want to go and what we want the trip to feel like. It’s my job to do initial research in travel guides.
My stop goal is to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. I’m supposed to be wrapping up old projects one way or another, either canceling them, scheduling them, or simply getting them done. Not much progress here yet, I’m afraid, other than reading a few books out of my stack. I’m doing pretty well with pushing forward and staying current on new things, like the move and the martial arts training and Toastmasters and this blog. Maybe I should try threatening myself that I won’t be allowed to work on any of these things until I get something old out of the way.
My lifestyle upgrade goal is to upgrade my laptop. This has not happened yet, partly due to the IRA funding deadline and partly because I always get hooked waiting for the new product release schedule. Maybe for my birthday.
My Do the Obvious goal is to speak more slowly, with more pauses. This is an ongoing struggle. Some feedback I routinely get is that I don’t pause long enough for laughter, and that’s because I don’t always realize that what I said was funny. The audience bar for “a joke” includes a lot of stuff that I consider to be filler material or transitions between stories. I’ve only just started to be able to click with specific individual audience members while performing. This “pause for laughs” issue is probably the single area where I can make the most improvement.
My quest is to travel on a fifth continent, and that’s related to planning our international trip. Looks like that will happen in the winter.
My wish was to find an amazing pet sitter. Guess what? Three doors over in our new building is a professional dog walker! She loves our dog, whose behavior magically improved after only one day walking with her pack. He gets to hang out with five neighborhood dog friends now, all of whom walk past our front door several times a day, and it’s really helping him to feel more secure. Super chill. This dog walker hasn’t met Noelle yet, but apparently she likes parrots too so we’ll see.
My mantra is to PAUSE AND BREATHE. I lost track of this during the “lost month.” Now I’m feeling competitive because my husband’s resting heart rate is significantly lower than mine, even though I’m seven years younger. Maybe that’s the metric I need to encourage me to do breathing exercises.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE
If a goal doesn’t take at least four years to accomplish, is it worth doing?
This is the question I ask myself now when I choose my goals for the New Year. I’m on the challenge path. I keep my resolutions because the entire point of what I do is to feel like a failure, at least at the beginning. I know I’ve picked the right challenge for the year if I absolutely hate it for at least the first three weeks. There are all sorts of things I would hate doing, though, mostly because they’re bad ideas. Example: walk into the woods and eat the first mushroom you see! No, absolutely don’t do that.
Every day, do something that scares you, unless of course it’s scary for a good reason.
The premise here is to push yourself to do something that is challenging because it’s new to you, because the act of the challenge helps to make you smarter and more resilient and better at learning difficult new things. That’s valuable all by itself. In the sense of the challenge path as emotional training, as mindset development tool, it doesn’t matter what you pick. Challenge makes you better.
The next level of question is, if I did this thing for four years, where would I be?
Would learning about this alien new skill or activity for four years give me expanded options in life?
What kind of person would I be if I spent four years trying to get good at this?
What are the people like, the ones who have been doing this thing for at least four years?
Why four years and not forty years? Well, that’s relevant, too. Thinking about the challenge path in terms of novice to mastery, though, was too intimidating and off-putting. I could never think of anything specific that I wanted to dedicate my entire life to. My one and only life! Four years is a time span that helps me to feel curious. It makes everything accessible. Maybe I do it for four years and only then do I realize that I’m hooked for life. No beginner can genuinely know that, or at least that’s my opinion.
This is why I don’t really start a new goal in the month of January. I can’t “break” my resolution if January is the month when I do my initial research. I haven’t even started to build momentum until second quarter at the earliest. The first year barely counts at all. Learning to think in a longer-term perspective is how I take good care of Future Me.
Past Me worked really hard to get me a drivers license and a good credit score and visible ab definition. Past Self made me a marriage. I can’t throw all that away. I have to live up to Past Me’s standards and uphold our agreement to build a better life for Future Self. I make plans over a four-year event horizon because I believe in a future.
What kinds of things happen over a four-year timeframe?
Well, let’s see. I met and married my husband in that length of time! In four years, you can build a house, build a business, or get a university degree. You can build a boat. You can train a service animal or learn to dance. All sorts of stuff can happen in four years! It’s really a pretty long time, especially from the perspective of someone who routinely gives up on New Year’s Resolutions in four weeks.
The year I chose running, I only planned to run 2.25 miles by the end of the year. I visualized my progress literally in increments of a single sidewalk square. Imagine my surprise when I reached my goal three weeks later! “Now what?” I wasn’t into the whole four-year thing yet. That’s why it never occurred to me that I’d wind up running a marathon. Even more, it never crossed my mind that I’d become interested in the world of adventure races and ultra-marathons. I started as a hater and wound up as a true believer.
I chose cooking after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. This introduced the concept of the “10,000 hour rule.” The pursuit of mastery is more complicated than that, of course, but it did feel like an epiphany. What would I want to be good at if all it took was 10,000 hours? I couldn’t think of anything. How about 1,000 hours? Wait. How about one hundred hours, or ten hours?? As soon as the thought “ten hours” crossed my mind, it snapped into perfect clarity. Cooking! In reality, I was making much better dinners in under ten hours. It got better as soon as I started doing mise en place and working on how to sauté an onion properly.
In other words, I shifted from a fixed to a growth mindset. Almost instantaneously. I stopped thinking of, say, my cooking abilities as a fundamental part of my personality. Instead I started thinking of them as something I could (and should) improve with focus and attention. It was obvious that every hour I put toward learning such a basic skill would improve my life permanently. My skills would also improve the lives of other people around me.
That’s true of everything.
Learning new skills makes you useful to have around. Not only do you quit relying on other people to do these things for you, you can also contribute at a higher level. This is especially true when you work on mastering things like time management, getting organized, improving your communication skills, mood management, parallel parking, first aid, using a fire extinguisher... You get the drift.
Over the years, I’ve used my New Year’s planning process as a benchmark. What am I going to learn next? How do I assess how far I’ve come? What are my strongest and weakest areas? I’ve set out to learn so many things, from how to raise one eyebrow to how to read more complicated knitting patterns or make decent pancakes. I’ve learned how to balance the weight in my expedition backpack, how to plan a trip overseas, how to feed twenty people on a budget, and all sorts of useful skills. Everything builds on everything else. What started as something foreign and confusing and difficult turns into a basic skill I barely realize I’m using.
Why wouldn’t I want to learn this? That’s one question. Who wouldn’t want to be a good cook? Why wouldn’t I want to be good at distance running or three-day backpacking trips? Why wouldn’t I want to be good at public speaking?
I have a rough sense of some future challenges I may or may not take on one day. Right now it’s martial arts. In the future, it might be orienteering, or chess, or voice lessons, or welding. The basic rules are whether it will improve life for Future Me and whether studying it will force me to feel true humility, at least for the first year.
I can’t control the vagaries of fate. Things will happen in the world in general, and other things will happen specifically to me. That’s reality. What I can do is to continually push myself to face challenges, to learn new skills, and to be unafraid of being a beginner. Forever, forever and always a beginner. With every year that goes by, I’m better prepared to handle or even avoid the random accidents and crises of fate. This is how to create a destiny. Who do I want to be four years from now? Four years after that?
It’s January 31. Do you know where your resolutions are?
People get this New Year’s Resolution thing all wrong. I say, first of all, skip January. January is for kinda thinking about it. January is for being broke, being cold, recovering from holiday burnout, and generally hibernating. January is the most common month for someone to get sick. These are the logistical reasons why 3/4 of people have given up on their resolutions by February.
The other reason is the visionary reason, the failure of imagination. What we think are resolutions are really objectives. “Lose weight” is not a resolution; it’s an outcome goal. Just like “get married.” If you’re single (or, heck, even if you aren’t) you could probably FIND someone new to marry by December 31st. Are you sure that’s what you’d want, though? You can “lose weight” by getting food poisoning, swallowing a tapeworm, or amputating a limb, but... First, you have to be really clear about your objective. Second, you have to choose an outcome you can control, unlike, say, “get straight As” or “get a promotion.” Third, you need a plan. Fourth, you need to accept the reality that goals and habits take tons of baby steps. Fifth, give up on January and start thinking of where you want to be around Thanksgiving.
So anyway. Let me tell you about my January.
My husband and I did a bunch of crazy stuff in the first week of the New Year. He bought a new folding bike and started using it on his work commute. I bought a new desk and got rid of my bookcase. I researched and joined a martial arts academy and started taking classes. We applied for a new, smaller unit in our apartment complex and got it, meaning we’ll save over $8000 in 2018 instead of paying a big rent increase.
In other words, within a week we’d totally transformed our daily reality.
Different home, different commute, different workout, different work habits, different furniture.
When you’re clear about what you want, it’s possible to move really quickly while not feeling like all that much work was involved.
The decision to trade a scooter for a bicycle was almost instantaneous. The purchase wound up taking half a day because each shop we visited was sold out. Using the new bike is actually faster than the previous commute.
Trading a bookcase for a desk also took about half a day. I had wanted the same desk for six months, and when I saw it was back on sale, I snapped it up. We had to move a different bookcase, assemble the desk, rearrange some books and papers, and haul out some donations and recycling. It took a few hours before someone responded to my Craigslist ad, and then about twenty minutes to give them directions and help them get the bookcase out the door. Now, most of my waking hours are spent at that desk.
Researching the gym took half a day as well. I researched what was available in our area. I visited three different gyms, talking to the owners and asking tons of questions. Then I went home and looked at the class schedules. I made my first pick, and the next morning, I took a free class, put my shoes back on, and signed up. I came back the next morning as a paid member.
I also released two new products and got my certificates for completing two levels in Toastmasters. These are the natural results of work that I do every day. What am I creating? What am I doing with my time? Is the work I’m doing leading toward something I want?
Over the course of the month, we’ve spent a little time talking about our move and going over our stuff. We had the opportunity to take photos and measurements in an empty unit like the one we’re moving into. We’re losing about 2/3 of our kitchen storage. We gave a bunch of our small appliances to an intern. Next will have to go a couple dozen canning jars, some plastic storage containers, perhaps a set of mixing bowls, and probably a bunch of baking pans. It’s annoying, but it’s hard to argue with saving over $400 a month. You can buy a lot of muffin tins for $400.
Then what happened?
I strained an abdominal, missed a day of classes, and spent four days moving very carefully.
I got the flu, even though I got the flu shot at the beginning of October. So that was annoying. I’m still hugely in favor of the flu shot, probably more so now. While I felt that sick flu-ey feeling, woozy and drained, I never got the cough or the nasal congestion. I lost my appetite but I didn’t have the gastric symptoms. I slept at least twelve hours a day for three days, and I felt bad, but maybe 40% as bad as I have with past bouts of flu. I knew I was sick when I woke up on Monday morning, and by Thursday evening, I was okay to go for a walk outside. Usually I’m down for ten days of total misery and maybe 2-3 weeks of sniffles. This time I was done in a week. My husband, who got his flu shot about five minutes before me, didn’t get sick at all. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if enough people got the flu shot to reach the threshold of herd immunity.
All told, I missed six classes at the gym and three Toastmaster’s meetings. That’s pretty bad for one month. If I didn’t have a context for my goals and resolutions, I might make the mistake of being discouraged and feeling like a failure.
These are the reasons why it’s silly to consider a New Year’s Resolution “failed” by February. Just take for granted that you’ll get sick and have an overuse injury during January, and plan around it. It’s only one month out of twelve, after all. What are you going to be doing in September? June?
My husband and I did our New Year’s strategic planning, because if we do it once a year, New Year’s feels like the most obvious time to us. It’s the end of the tax year. We got our lease renewal at the end of December. We had all the information we needed to imagine the kind of 2018 that we want to have. Then, after talking it out and making decisions, all we had to do was to take action. Gee, honey, let’s move, save money, and then plan our vacation.
PS My video course, “Resolutions for Skeptics,” is still available if you want another shot.
Any really big, audacious goal, any quest or momentous adventure, impacts other people. That’s partly the point. For those of us who don’t live alone, those of us who have subtle strings tying us to others, it’s imperative to get buy-in. Otherwise, not only are these gigundous goals not going to happen, but they don’t deserve to.
Put simply, we have obligations, and they’re real. Abandoning our duties and responsibilities without negotiation is called abdication, and abdicating means you suck. Sometimes, yeah, you find yourself doing it, out of confusion or burning passion or agony. It does incur mighty debts. Worse, it causes drama, instantaneous drama, drama that can and will drag interminably into the long term. If you can’t bear your load, negotiate it, but don’t drop it.
If you spill, wipe it up.
That being said, almost every goal is so modest that it can easily be fit around even the largest family or the craziest love life.
What is this thing called buy-in?
Buy-in means that other people understand your project and they’re okay with it. They may not be willing to pay for it, or drive you around, or make space for huge amounts of gear and supplies. Those negotiations are separate. In general, when you have buy-in it means that nobody is going to get in your way. That’s important.
When you’re trying to reach escape velocity on something, when you’re trying to burst through a boundary, even the smallest bit of friction can hold you back. All it takes is one person who takes your goal personally in a bad way, and suddenly you’ve made your project ten times more complicated.
What are some popular ways to create opposition to your goals?
Disrupt other people’s sleep. If the only way you can think of to make your goal happen is to cause bright lights and loud noises while another person is trying to sleep, go back to the drawing board. If you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you, don’t do it.
Bogart common areas. If you live with other people, they are fully as entitled to the use of common areas as you are. This includes the bathroom, kitchen, dining table, driveway, area around the front door, countertops - basically every space in your home except for your personal, private spaces. If you don’t have a big enough private space to do your project, negotiate. First make sure the problem isn’t that you just have far more stuff than everyone else in the house.
Spend more than your fair share of household resources. If you’re the bigger earner, do as you will. If you rely on your partner to fund the majority of your lifestyle, and you want more money to pay for something, it will go better if you start a side hustle and figure out a way to earn it. You’re fully entitled to your own earnings, with no upper limits. If you want a bigger share of someone else’s paycheck, negotiate. Figure out a way to sweeten that deal. (Example: wanting financial support to earn a certification toward a new career).
Abdicate on your household responsibilities. If you start a new project that involves you dumping dirty dishes in the sink and wandering off, or leaving massive piles of dirty laundry to fester unattended, or strewing things hither and yon, good luck with that. It’s not fair to other people who live with you to also have to live with your mess. Likewise, if you have children together, you need to be present in their lives. Find a way to involve your kids in your project.
If you live alone, obviously you can do what you want day and night. Pause for a moment and imagine all the hefty responsibilities that you don’t have! When I went back to school, I would often pause and think of my classmates who were single parents. It made the all-nighters feel much easier.
Okay, having talked about ways to sabotage your own project or cause an uptick in the local voodoo doll industry, what are ways to do it right? How do we get buy-in?
First, rehearse what you’re going to say. Let your talking points be crystal clear in your mind. What do you want and what are you prepared to do about it? You can probably find a neutral third party who will practice with you. Maybe a coworker or a random stranger from the internet will find it amusing to run a few scenarios.
Second, make sure the discussion feels fun and light and easy. Don’t do the “I want to talk” thing; it scares people. Say, “Hey, I had an idea I wanted to run by you” or “Can I ask you about a project I’m thinking about?” Your face, voice, emojis, and words should all drive curiosity and interest, while consciously avoiding defensiveness or nervousness in your partner.
Third, start with appreciation and compliments. “Thanks for being there for me. You’re so easy to talk to. It really helps that I know I can go to you when I’m trying to figure something out.” Make sure to mention ways that your partner has been supportive, inspirational, etc.
Fourth, say what you want. Make it clear and simple. What do you want, and what do you want from this person? “I want to start running, and I could really use your help mapping my routes.”
What DO you want?
Please don’t make fun of me
Please keep your snacks at work and don’t tease me with food
Will you get the dog in his harness while I put on my running gear?
Will you cook on school nights if I cook on the weekend?
Will you play board games with the kids while I write for three hours a week?
Fifth, pitch something that will matter to this person. What are you prepared to do to facilitate a goal of theirs? Sometimes it can help to lead with this idea. What if we both clear out the garage, and you can use the bench for your guitar workshop if I can have the back corner for inventory? If you get the kids ready for school while I do yoga, I’ll take over dinner so you can take that night class. Chances are that you know perfectly well exactly what your partner would like from you. It’s very rare for two people’s goals to be truly mutually exclusive. That’s zero-sum thinking and it’s almost always factually incorrect.
The last piece is to be prepared for a backup plan. Maybe a friend or relative or someone you can hire to fill in. The person in your life is entitled to say No to your requests. Something that you want to do does not create an obligation in anyone else. Granted, if you’re with someone who refuses to accommodate you, who doesn’t like the fuller version of you, who wishes you’d quit doing what you most want to do, that tells you some important things about that relationship. Would it be easier or better or more interesting to be alone than to be with this person?
That’s an extremely large-scale decision. If it’s the bad roommate who’s behind on rent, maybe that’s a 1 out of 5 in difficulty. If that bad roommate happens to be a blood relation, maybe that’s a 2 if it’s your in-law and a 3 if it’s your own fam. If your secret and true goal is not the pseudo-goal of your project but just some escape and distance from a dying relationship, well, it’s hard, but inevitable. Isn’t it.
Negotiating is really just another name for brainstorming. What are a bunch of different ways that everyone here can get something better than what we have right now? It’s better if everyone feels appreciated and respected. It’s better if everyone has clearly defined privacy and personal space. It’s better if everyone feels like a member of the same team, working toward common goals. It’s best when everyone involved feels like the relationship is meaningful, honest, and fulfilling. That can only be true when each person is moving toward growth and deeper engagement with all of life.
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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.