Have you met my cuppycake? Her name is Noelie and she is extremely gray and fluffy and she has golden eyes and she loves to kiss everything and everyone and climb on the dog. I love her. I mean, you think you love your pet, but no way do you love your animals as much as I love Noelle. It is this love that we should feel toward our treasured goals.
Goal love / pet love comparison chart:
Would do anything for her
Think about her all day, every day
Make all my plans based around her needs
Talk about her constantly
Keep a million pictures and videos of her on my phone
Work her into every conversation
Expect everyone to love her as much as I do, and if they don't, it's their loss
Sometimes people are afraid of her and I can't figure out why
Money is no object - whatever she needs, she gets
Don't really care when she chews up my stuff
Sometimes she is loud and demanding but I love her anyway
When other people fall in love with her, we become instant best friends
There is no reason why everyone couldn't have a cuppycake just like mine
In fact, I highly recommend it
Substitute 'her' and 'she' with 'my goal' and see if it still works.
Goals are BS, really. A goal is a simple, small, bite-size step toward a consuming vision. Unfortunately, we are often quite dumb when we choose goals. We make public proclamations that we are committing to goals we don't really like or want. We choose goals based on what we think we should do. When the goal is true, when the goal is just a minor, obvious obstacle between you and the vision, "should" doesn't matter. Sometimes the vision requires things we "shouldn't" do. According to naysayers, we shouldn't do anything other than complain, consume mass entertainment, and sit on our butts.
These are some things I've done in service of my larger goals:
Sleep on the floor
Sleep in my car
Run in the snow, rain, and hail
Carry fifty pounds on my back
Limp for eight miles
Climb 3300 feet
Eat when I wasn't hungry
Delay meals until my hands shook
Keep going despite an open wound
Work through a four-day migraine
Cry in the elevator, then wipe my eyes and go back to work
Give away all my stuff
Kick a 50-pound suitcase with a broken handle through two airport terminals
Scrub toilets and change diapers
Pay money I didn't want to spend
Take orders from mean people I didn't like
Work all night (many times)
Work in a tent
Work on a plane
Work in a hotel
Work through meals
Work with four devices open
Quit doing things I enjoyed to free up time for my goal
When my goal is my cherished fluffy little pet, it's worth it. When I really want something to happen, when I really really want something I can't just buy at a store, which is almost everything worth having, then I'll do what it takes. No question. On the other hand, when my "goal" is a pseudo-goal that I actually hate, then nothing can get me moving on it.
I never lost weight when I had contempt for fit, attractive, or fashionable people, but I did it almost instantly when I decided to run the marathon.
I never had any money when I had contempt for wealthy people, but it was fairly straightforward when I developed a burning desire to be independent.
I could never get organized when I associated it with criticism and perfectionism, but I did it quickly when I realized it would help me accomplish awesome things like traveling the world.
The difference there is that I moved toward something I saw as attractive, exciting, and much better than where I was when I started. Just like most people will move quickly toward a tray of free pastries, a goal should be shiny, sweet, and delicious to you. Whereas, when a goal is distasteful, onerous, or irrelevant, "trying" is failing. It's the difference between cuddling my cute little cuppycake, or pet-sitting someone's obnoxious, spoiled little monster. No thanks. You can't wait until it's gone, and many people choose goals that they secretly wish would run away.
There are tradeoffs. One goal is often mutually exclusive with another goal, just as my cuppycake keeps me from having a cat. A goal sometimes requires its own living standards, just as not everyone will rent to us or give us a hotel room due to our menagerie. A goal sometimes comes with a surprisingly large number of unwieldy accessories, and you know what I mean if you've ever cleaned a birdcage. When your goal is your true heart's delight, you take it in stride.
I have pets because I can't help myself. I'm smitten. The times when I haven't had pets, part of me has been empty and listless. It's the same with goals. They show up and we're helpless, hopeless, willing slaves of our own dreams. We're never the same afterward. They make our lives and our hearts bigger. Get one, go nuts, dote on it, and love it and squeeze it until it squeaks.
We’re halfway through 2017. Do you know where your New Year’s Resolutions are?
I like to go through my yearly goals at least once a quarter, because I am the boss of my life and this is how I make sure to get what I want. Nobody else is going to come along and lob my goals and character improvements at me. If I want positive changes in my life, I’m going to have to make them happen by myself. I do that by deciding what I want and figuring out how it’s done.
So far, my 2017 has shaped up to be radically different in every way from my 2016.
My quest for the year is to BE RIDICULOUS. This started out feeling like a terrible idea, because we had a lot of ridiculous-in-a-bad-way. I continued this thread by cutting my eyeball on a plant. Yes, it’s true, I got a scleral abrasion off a bird-of-paradise. Surely there’s a metaphor there. My eyesight measured at 20/40 in that eye, and I had to get a tetanus shot, and my vision was blurry for over a week, and I had to take these horrid eye drops o’ hellfire four times a day, and I really thought I had permanently damaged my vision. The miracle of healing transpired the way that it does, and my eye is now back to 20/20. Artificially induced gratitude. THE GIFT OF SIGHT!!! I have some positively ridiculous projects simmering right now, and I’m starting to take myself and my goals less seriously and just seeing how much I can accomplish through outright hilarity.
My major personal goal for the year has been to follow a set schedule. I chose it because I try to seek and destroy things that are difficult for me, things that do not come naturally, things I’m bad at, things that I kinda sorta hate. The reason is that deciding to turn around my attitude toward the most negative has been like rocket fuel in my life. A year ago, I felt nauseated when I thought about public speaking. Now I love it and I’m getting pretty good. What would be different if I actually LOVED what I HATE? Well, I really am learning to love having a schedule. The way it’s working out, I dedicate specific days of the week to different projects. I always know the best day of the week to set appointments. The amount of time each day that I spend on chores has contracted. I just realized that instead of cleaning one room per weekday, I really only have three rooms now… I like waking up early in the morning and seeing how much I can accomplish before lunch.
Career goals are chugging along. Right now we’re slowly but steadily filing papers for our LLC and waiting on the geological time scale of bureaucracy. Moving forward feels like moving backward. I’ve expanded my coaching business in the meantime, and it’s been fun to add some new clients.
My physical goals have been in a holding pattern. I’ve only been out running twice so far this year. I’m walking so much more since we moved that it has displaced my goal of running. I’ll simply have to accept that I have to add my running mileage to my walking mileage (currently 4.6/day) if I want to start running again. Also, I wasn’t doing P90X because our new apartment is so small, but we just rearranged the living room furniture and suddenly it looks like there might be enough room. Now to figure out how to connect the DVD player - the sort of stupid, small obstacle that one might easily use as an excuse to procrastinate on a major goal.
Our home goal of “digitize, downsize, minimize” continues, even after our dramatic “move twice in 12 days” downsizing move back in March. Living in a small space makes it really obvious when unnecessary objects are getting in the way. Also, turning paper into digital information makes life so much easier that it is its own reward.
Our couples goals are coming up in July… World Domination Summit, and hopefully making some pickles! We have two additional trips together scheduled in Third Quarter. When we moved, we decided to Say Yes to Everything, in terms of social invitations and anywhere we could expand our career options. The result of that is that now we’re both holding an office in our respective Toastmasters clubs, and I’ve been mentoring him by adding his club meetings to my schedule. This has given us a lot to gossip about together.
As for lifestyle upgrades, I went out and bought a new $20 work bag when the strap on my old bag started shearing off. This has been transformative. It’s weird how much an organized bag helps one to follow a schedule and be early, rather than late, for everything. Grab bag, go out the door. Now I’m saving money toward my other lifestyle upgrade goal of getting the new iPhone when it comes out at the end of this year.
I have already transformed my appearance, as my Do the Obvious goal, and I made such a big change so early in the year that I’ve had some time to get used to it. Now it just feels like the real me. (What a weird concept. As though a ‘fake me’ would not still be the ‘real me’ in the background). It’s occurred to me that the most obvious physical transformation I could make now would be in the form of bodybuilding. If I do get down with the P90X, I could be looking pretty alarmingly fit by the end of the year… This is the sort of thought that gives one pause. How exactly do I want to look? Do I resist certain physical changes because I’m concerned about how others would react and judge changes in my appearance? In fact, if I change my body composition in the direction of more muscle than I currently have, it would be hard for other people to complain to me with a straight face. Mostly they would only catch sight of my arms, and a little more bicep is not a crime. So I get more muscle in the midriff, and someone sees me in my swimsuit. I’m already at the “you bitch” level of visible abs. I can shrug that stuff off. Will I move forward in this direction? Will I?
I have not yet done my stop goal of being the last person to pack up my tent. My husband and I are going camping this summer, so that will be an opportunity to test myself. This reminds me that I still need to replace the mesh tent window that the raccoon tore up last year!
I have not done my wish of paying off my student loan yet. Now that the balance is below $5000, it’s starting to feel possible. The real problem is figuring out what to wish for after that!
This is the short version of my 2017 goals, resolutions, quests, wishes, etc.:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
Decisions are everything. The more I make them, the more I realize it's true. Being strategic means that we periodically have to go back and revisit our earlier decisions, checking in with ourselves, examining our results, and making sure these decisions are still what we want. Revisiting decisions may mean canceling them, sustaining them, or redoubling our commitment. Cutting off expired decisions frees up energy and focus for those that we find significant today.
Most of life should ideally consist of routines, systems, policies, and any other ways we can find to put the boring stuff on autopilot. You only decide to brush your teeth once. After that, you just do it. You brush your teeth because you know how, because it's easy, because not doing it feels gross, because nobody will kiss you otherwise, because walking around with stuff in your teeth ruins your selfies, because honestly you don't even think about it any more. The more basic things you can treat the way you treat your dental hygiene, the more mojo you will have for making the fascinating, cool decisions.
Routines would include your job, your commute, your morning and bedtime rituals, your housekeeping, your bill-paying, grocery shopping, exercise, and anything else you want to make sure you do on a regular basis to make your life easier. Please don't waste decision-power on whether to unload the dishwasher or take out the recycling.
Systems are for anything you need to streamline. That might include packing your luggage, storing stuff, figuring out when to delegate certain things, planning your goals for the year, and anything else that doesn't necessarily happen on a routine basis. Anything that takes more mental effort than folding laundry probably needs a system rather than a routine.
Policies include the social, ethical, and moral realms. You might have a policy about not hurting animals or dating married people, a policy about littering, a policy about distracted driving, a policy about whether to vote in mid-term elections. Policies are how we behave consistently with our values. Setting an internal policy about something makes it more likely you'll be proud of your choices, without arriving at the choice point unprepared and making a willpower-depleting decision.
I don't have a policy of eating cake for breakfast; I DECIDE to eat cake for breakfast.
Now we circle back to revisiting decisions. We can revise our policies, we can revamp our systems, we can reset our routines. But then it's set-it-and-forget-it. I only need to set a policy once to avoid cannibalism or choose whether I think tights are pants. Decisions are for the one-offs. A decision should be for a special circumstance.
Often, decisions did not appear to be decisions at the time that they were made. I could list off a bunch from the land of squalor and chronic disorganization that would be pretty surprising. For instance, I don't think anyone *decides* to cover half their own bed with dirty laundry and food packaging. I think it "just happens" in a headspace of distraction that does not include decision-making, and usually does not include memory formation either. It's the sort of thing that happens when we experience ourselves as floating brains that do not truly exist on the material plane in the time dimension.
We don't need to forgive ourselves for this. There is nothing to forgive. We simply notice, Hey, I actually think of myself as a floating brain, and then we try to pull on the balloon string and get the head to come back. Come back to the room, to this moment in time, and try to pop back inside this body. This is really really hard with a helium balloon because it keeps wanting to float back up and out. Also, the room and the clock-time and the body may feel uniformly terrible. This is a place from which any decision at all will probably be an improvement.
Decisions are where change comes from.
The first step in revisiting decisions is to canvas yourself and your situation. Where are the pain points? What around you have you chosen, and what just sort of happened, and what do you feel was chosen for you by someone else? Where do you feel that you have the power to exert your gift of free will, and where do you feel that you do not have free will at all? Are you correct?
The second step is to pick at least one area and ask yourself, Hey, Self? WHAT DO I WANT?
In my professional experience, most people don't know what they want. It hasn't always even occurred to them to want anything at all.
What do you want? More sleep? A vacation? Lots of money? Side abs?
Usually when people start trying to figure out how to want things, they can only come up with things they DO NOT WANT. This is a great start, a way to tune in and check with yourself. It's only a starting place, though. Don't think about a polar bear. Tell your cat you want it to stop doing bad things to your carpet. See, it doesn't really work. Think of what you DO want, always what you DO WANT. Sometimes the opposite of what you do not want is still not the thing that you do want.
The next step after figuring out what you want is figuring out how to make that happen. Sometimes you'll find that you're still stuck on figuring out what you want. Sometimes this is because you've been focusing on the wants and needs of other people for so long. You have to differentiate for yourself what you want versus what they want, and understand that these things are not mutually exclusive. It's not zero-sum. Nobody has to lose out on anything if you start getting more sleep or paying your debts down. If you want side abs, you can even keep them private and just flex them when you're alone. Allow yourself to want things and to have ownership over your own life.
It's the midpoint of the year. This is a fabulous time to revisit decisions. If you're in the habit of planning the New Year at the end of the calendar year, you can just schedule it and do it now. If not, you can use the momentum of others and experiment with it, just this one time. That's an example of a decision you can revisit. Are you living in harmony with your own values? Do you approve of your own behavior? Are you proud of the results you are getting in your life? Do you feel close connections with the people you love the most? Are you excited about your contribution to the world and the new things you are learning? What can you change to remove the most annoying three things in your day? What can you change so that you are enthusiastic about something? Revisit your decisions and find out.
By this time of year, almost nobody is talking about New Year's Resolutions anymore. We still have more than half the year left, but usually we've already given up on ourselves. Caroline Arnold has a better idea in Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently. We can make the changes we really want to make by focusing on tinier, faster, easier steps.
It isn't always obvious how to go about breaking a big project or life change into smaller, more manageable pieces. If we had the idea, we'd be doing it, right? Small Move, Big Change has countless examples of microresolutions that real people have used. Simply reading them has a tendency to spark connections and clicks that make these changes seem easy and manageable. Because they are personal, they're memorable in a way that boilerplate advice often is not. The book covers such a huge range of topics that there is bound to be at least something transformative for everyone.
Arnold starts with sleep as the best area to start making microresolutions. I couldn't agree more. Most of our failure to have perfect "willpower" (a fantasy creature that only exists in storybooks) is due to tiredness. Too tired to even get ready for bed! As she picks apart her own issue with sleep procrastination, we can't help but compare her routine with our own. A busy, married working mom with a young child, Arnold's struggles are totally relatable.
Small Move, Big Change can help us get more sleep, save money, be on time, get organized, get fit, lose weight, and get better performance reviews at work. Best of all, there are ideas for how to transform relationships with our romantic partners, family, friends, bosses, and colleagues. We start to feel like maybe we can handle this pesky old Resolution thing after all. Small Move, Big Change is definitely a path in the direction of greater happiness.
BE RIDICULOUS was my quest for the year, and the most ridiculous thing about that is that I didn't give much thought to the many ways the Universe would interpret this command. Every single thing I planned to do with my brand-new, freshly minted 2017 has already been completely upended. Our lives have been in total upheaval every single day of the year so far. I keep talking about the desire for transformation, and now I'm going to stop that for a while and talk about the desire for tranquility!
There are certain things I don't talk about on this blog, namely personal, familial, and health events. Suffice to say that we got hit with two of the three, plus a bonus veterinary crisis. It's been...interesting. Eliding over a trillion details, my husband got an offer for his dream job, and we suddenly found that we had twelve days to move to a new city. Cut to us packing up our house in between giving our dog eye drops three times a day while he can't get his Cone of Shame through the dog door and needs to be let out constantly. Most of First Quarter 2017 was an epic disaster for us, but hey! Now we live at the beach and my husband is working in the space industry!
Unconnected to any of the above, we decided to get rid of our car and try being car-free. It's been three weeks. My husband has been taking the bus to work, and he just ordered a little scooter (toy kind, not internal-combustion kind) to get around between bus stops. Our new place is within less than half a mile of almost everything we need or want, so it's been an easy transition.
My major personal goal for the year was to "follow a set schedule." I choose a counterintuitive, uncomfortable goal that is contrary to doing what comes naturally for me. That's where the juicy stuff is hidden, in the radical change of perception. I used to hate running, and then I pushed myself, fell in love with it, and ran a marathon. I used to have an abiding dread of public speaking, and then (last year) I pushed myself, and started winning ribbons and learning to work a crowd. I thought, heck, what's left on the list of things I hate and also suck at? Then our life went crazy and a schedule was the least of my worries. Then the unexpected happened. Even though our new bedroom window faces west, (my parrot and) I have been waking up around 7 AM every day. We're not quite done unpacking yet, but I'm already moving toward a more natural-feeling, biologically appropriate daily rhythm. Ridiculous.
My career goal has somehow been moving forward, despite everything, mostly because my business partner is a person of great dedication and industry. Sometimes just not saying no is enough to maintain momentum.
My physical goals of doing P90X and running five miles have not happened yet. What has happened is that I've spent the last three weeks lifting and moving heavy objects. Moving is moving! The other thing that's happened is exactly what always happens when we move, which is that I rapidly gain five pounds from eating convenience foods. Now that we're in an apartment, the dog needs to go out at least three times a day, and we're also car-free, meaning I am walking to the grocery store about 5 out of 7 days. At this rate, I can lose five pounds in roughly... three months. [(3500 calories per pound x 5 pounds)/65 calories per mile]/3 miles per day] = not quite 90 days. Or just quit eating my stress and get more sleep.
My home goal was to "digitize, downsize, minimize." I will call that a SUCCESS+. All I was planning to do was to clean out the garage! Now we don't even have a garage. Or a car. Or a yard. Or a... Our new place is awesome, but it's smaller than our tiny house, with significantly less storage. We're still getting rid of things after a yard sale and something like six carloads of donations.
We haven't done our couples goals yet, which are both summertime things. Shared adversity will either drive you apart or bring you closer, and in our case it's closer. We're feeling pretty smug about living in this tiny shoebox apartment; it's like living our twenties all over again, even though we could almost be the parents of most of our neighbors.
I haven't done my stop goal, my lifestyle upgrades, or my wish yet. I will say that my lifestyle has been massively upgraded anyway. Looking at the tiny postage-stamp sized square of ocean we can see from our balcony while wild parrots fly overhead definitely does not suck.
My "Do the Obvious" goal for the year was to transform my appearance. I am also going to call this one an early SUCCESS. Speaking of my quest to BE RIDICULOUS, I got this wild idea to apply to be on a game show, and I actually got a screen test! Of course I didn't get selected, because I am not in the least bit telegenic. But I did go out and get my hair blown out and have my makeup done beforehand. I couldn't believe the results. Suddenly I looked both younger and smarter. My husband absolutely couldn't take his eyes off me. He took me out to dinner, and I think he spent more time making eye contact with me than he did at our actual wedding. All righty then! I learned how to straighten my hair, and astonishingly, it only takes me ten minutes. I finally have the answer to my depressingly unmanageable hair, which has been the plague of my existence for 35 years. If I'd learned to do this when I was 14, I would have had a completely different life. Now I'm 41 and I already have a completely different, completely different life.
2017 has been a very weird, whirlwind year for us so far. Topsy turvy and all that. Now we're starting Second Quarter and it's like we're the ensemble cast of a TV series that just went into a new season, like American Horror Story with slightly less horror. Now I've gone off on a mental tangent, trying to figure out whether there has ever been a TV show much like our life, but there really aren't any sitcoms about engineers, and someone else would have to play me anyway.
This is the short version of my 2017 goals, resolutions, quests, wishes, etc.:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
Groundhog Day. An American tradition. A marmot-based weather forecasting device. Also one of the best movies ever made. If the only thing you do today is think about Bill Murray, consider this a day well-lived. Watching Groundhog Day would be even better. What would be even better than that would be to consider today to be a Second New Year, another chance to live up to your expectations for yourself.
A quarter of people who made New Year's Resolutions quit after the first week. That's according to statistics. I think it's because people get all wound up and perfectionistic, and punish themselves for not having an instant 365-day streak of success. My way around this is just to not count January.
January is for: getting a cold; staying home and trying to catch up financially after the holidays; decompressing after holiday travel and Fourth Quarter workloads; thinking about putting away decorations; and maybe realizing how crowded the gym is for two weeks of the year. The weather is so bad in most of the Northern Hemisphere that, if you're ever going to spend a month bundled in a blanket on the couch, then January should be that month.
My Januaries are a bit different, because New Year's is my favorite holiday and because I'd rather be lazy in the summer. I use January to finish any projects or books left over from the previous year, research my new resolutions, purge my closets, and level up my workout. By the time February rolls around, I have a sense of how I'm going to make progress on my resolutions. Then it's just business as usual, the new normal.
The worst mistake people make about habit change is to moralize. We blame and punish ourselves. We insult ourselves, saying we are lazy and that we have no willpower. We think we're weak. It's really more like learning to tie your shoes or ride a bike. It's more complicated than it looks, and just because other people can do it easily doesn't mean we're going to get it right on the first try. We'll make our changes eventually, but only because we keep trying over and over and over again. We'll change only when we really want to and when we're convinced that it's a good idea.
Plenty of people don't wear shoes with laces and don't know how to ride a bike. Clearly you can live your entire life without learning certain skills or doing certain activities. All it means is that if you can't tie your shoelaces, you'll have a tough time going hiking, or running, or wearing the most comfortable shoes. All it means is that if you can't ride a bike, then you can't go anywhere on a bike, and if you're invited to ride somewhere then you'll be left behind. If you never make the habit change you resolved to do, you can go right on living the same way you did before. All that will happen is that you'll continue to be excluded from activities that involve those skills and abilities.
Continue not to study a foreign language, and all it means is that when you meet people who speak that language, you won't be able to talk to them. If you travel, there may be situations that would have gone differently if you had the right language skills, but you'll never know.
Continue to maintain your body image, and all it means is that you'll continue on the same vector toward old age that you're on now. You might have had totally different life experiences if you were fit and strong, but you won't be finding out this year.
Continue not to be organized, and all it means is that you'll have a certain number of preventable disasters where you're late to your commitments, can't find things when you want them, and have to pay the occasional fine or fee.
Continue not to pay off your debts or save money, and all it means is that your debt will snowball. The interest charges will add to your balance and your minimum payments will gradually increase. It'll wind up costing you more and more the longer you wait. If you've been in debt a long time, this may add to your sense of futility and disempowerment, but if you're good at ignoring it, then maybe it won't.
None of these things make you a "bad person" or "lazy" or "unmotivated" or whatever. I don't believe in laziness. I think that when people don't do something that is a good idea, it's either because it never occurred to them, they don't know how to do it, or they're focused on something else. New Year's Resolutions imply that an idea has occurred to someone and that there is at least a little bit of focus on it. If the resolution isn't happening immediately, that's a good sign that it's unclear how to proceed. If it's a part of a big enough vision, then it may require more research and testing than other, lesser aims.
When I choose a resolution for the year, I pick something that I believe will give me an easier or more interesting life. I imagine that by next December, this new thing will be a regular part of me. It'll be something I know how to do, somewhere I've gone, or something I've done. I'll cook recipes I've never tried before, go to cities where I don't know my way around, get down on the floor and do exercises I've never tried, pronounce words I've never said before, and try to learn how to do complicated new things. If I've chosen something really juicy, it might take me all year to learn how to do it. Why would I quit doing something in January when the year has barely gotten started? On February Second, only nine percent of the year has elapsed. There's still PLENTY of time left. Maybe the groundhog will see his shadow and there will be six more weeks of screwing off. Get started in mid-March, then. Otherwise, spring into action and be awesome.
Quitting is highly underrated. The desire to complete every single thing we start is a neutral trait. It's purely negative when it keeps us tied to irrelevant past decisions. Sometimes, following through is simply a bad idea, a waste of time, energy, and money. The art of doing what you want includes the art of making executive decisions, and that means knowing when to quit. Quit something for the New Year. Quitting something may free up enough energy and mental bandwidth to start something better.
Quit watching TV series that aren't living up to your expectations. For the sake of all that is holy, please quit watching episodes that you've already seen.
Look at all your books. If there are any that you quit reading, and then moved on to read something else, just quit. Give them away or put them in the recycle bin.
Open your fridge and your kitchen cupboards. Anything you bought as a taste test that you can't make yourself eat should just go straight into the compost. Owning a bunch of kale that you aren't planning to learn to cook is just going to turn into brown pudding.
Go through your drawers and your closet. Anything in there that doesn't fit today should go into a trash bag. Haul it all off to the Salvation Army as soon as you're done. If you're ever going to transform your body, it ain't going to be because you're haunted by your old skinny jeans.
Look around for the relics of old projects. Craft projects. Shop projects. Electronics projects. Language learning projects. Musical instruments. If you weren't working on it yesterday, you're not into it. If there's dust on it, well, dusted is busted. You don't love it anymore. Quit and move on.
Quitting done properly should bring a sense of relief. Just because Past You made a time commitment on your behalf does not mean that you are obligated to fulfill it. Past You probably thought you'd have time in this life to audition for Cirque du Soleil, become a surgeon, and learn to communicate with dolphins, just as soon as you finish becoming a master chef and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not happening. Present Self likes to do the same stuff that Past Self did, like watching TV, playing with your phone, and eating brownie bites. Future Self is going to carry on the old family tradition.
Acceptance of reality is a necessary part of self-compassion. Look around and say, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Here you are, today, in the home that you have, the career path that you have, with the education that you have, the bank account that you have, and the body that is you. Better than it might have been, perhaps not as good as it could have been, but, here it is. Current state of affairs.
Is this what you want?
All we get is default mode. Whatever we structure into our daily routine, that's what our lives will be. Every minute that we spend doing one thing is a minute that we can then never spend on something else. Every object that surrounds us takes up a spot in the physical universe where another object can't be. Every penny we spend is gone, never to be spent on something else, such as retirement. These are the choices we made. When our choices are intentional, we shape our world to our liking. When we cruise along on autopilot, we may not always stop to realize that we haven't been setting intentions. That means we are not choosing, we are not deciding, we are not exerting free will. Things happen to us when we could be happening to things.
Commitment means what you think it means. If you make commitments lightly, with only mild interest and vague intentions, then the results of your commitments will be unimpressive or nonexistent. Gradually, the halfhearted, lackluster nature of the commitments begins to pile up. Magazines we thought we'd read one day, mail we intended to sort, classes we planned to take, projects we wanted to finish, messes we meant to clean up. We wake up one day, realizing that we're broke, out of shape, and surrounded by clutter. It's because we never stopped to make executive decisions and quit anything. We don't like to stop and declare something DONE, either because we're quitting or because we followed through until it was finished. Our dance cards are full.
Making a total commitment can transform your life. Your word becomes your bond. You know you will follow through unless you are forced to quit. When I signed up for my marathon, my brother asked me if I thought I'd make it. "Oh, I'll make it to the finish line. I'll make it if I have to drag myself by my chin. The question is WHEN I'll make it." It took over seven hours, and I had to drag my leg for the last eight miles due to an injury. They rerouted the end of the course. I had to go on the sidewalk and wait for stoplights. But I made it to the finish line, and I was still vertical. That's what commitment looks like. It's not always pretty and it's not even always a good idea. But breaking promises to yourself is what happens when you make them too readily. Only commit, only make that inner promise, when you know it really matters to you.
A commitment is a tradeoff. It means you're spending your time and treasure on it instead of something else. Accepting one job offer means that you reject the others. An RSVP to an event means declining other opportunities. In our world, this idea is falling away. We think we can multi-task, to the point that we try to text and drive. We think we can have it all, and we think we can have it all at the same time. This is why we only have what we already have. This is why our reality so rarely matches our fantasies. Doing what we were called to do means quitting everything else that is taking up our time and attention.
Goals are for amateurs. This is true for many reasons, and one of them is that goals usually aren't ambitious enough. Making goals can be like adding a minor chore to your to-do list just for the satisfaction of crossing it off. We give ourselves the feeling of forward motion in life, without acknowledging that we're deliberately going as slowly as possible. Usually, when we think about going bigger, there's no reason why we couldn't. We balk because we can't imagine what comes next, and we'd rather control our rate of risk exposure.
Another problem with goals is that they aren't always the right goals. We choose worthy goals in order to disguise the fact that the really juicy ones are being studiously ignored. We feel resentment, confusion, or anxiety about particular goals, so we put a big mental 'N/A' over that sector. We don't know what to do, or we don't want to, so we do nothing, even if this would be the area of greatest benefit in our lives.
Probably the worst flaw in goal-setting is that we don't plan what we'll do after we reach the goal. WHY are we setting this particular goal? This is part of why we don't make progress more quickly. Lack of vision for the far horizon keeps us focused on the middle distance. Often, we reach our goals, only to backslide all the way to where we started, or farther. The goal itself hasn't satisfied the inner need and is then discarded.
This is how it works for the Big Three:
Lose Weight. Worst goal parameter ever. Why? How? How much? Then what?
Get Organized. What does this mean to you? What does it look like? How do you do it? How do you know when you're done? What comes next?
Get Out of Debt. Great, good job. Now you're only spending 100% of what you earn. What next?
This came as a big surprise to me, but: Successful people don't think about these goals. Elite athletes don't think about weight loss; they think about performance metrics specific to their sport. Accomplished people (artists, entrepreneurs, athletes) don't think about getting organized; they think about making art, making money, or setting records. Wealthy people don't think about getting out of debt; they think about getting rich. They don't have weight to lose, clutter to clear, or debt to repay. What we're doing when we set these "goals" is rolling the dice to get our pawns onto the first square of the game board. We're not at the end of the game, we're at the beginning!
Lose weight WHY? Get organized BECAUSE WHY? Get out of debt AND THEN WHAT?
Clarifying what would be More Awesome Than This can unleash a massive amount of energy. Suddenly we understand that the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can move forward into an enchanting new chapter of life.
I lost and gained the same 15 pounds at least six times. Unfortunately, at the low end of that range I was still 18 pounds overweight. When I finally made the decision to find out what it felt like to be at the "healthy weight for my height," curiosity drove me. The excess weight I had carried since I was a teenager was gone in four months. The last time I weighed what I weigh today, I was 12 and not yet at my full height. Of course, at 12 I couldn't run a marathon or climb a rope like I can as an adult. My REASONS for maintaining an athletic fitness level are that I can hike to staggeringly beautiful places that are only accessible on foot, keep going all day when I travel, and avoid canceling my plans due to migraine. At this point, I don't have to think about it anymore, because the way I eat and plan my day to support my new physique feels natural. I feel like myself, like the old me wasn't the Real Me.
Getting organized was always really tough for me, and I didn't figure out why until I was out of college. I read through a description of ADHD and realized that I checked almost every box. Aha! It was so liberating and validating. I wasn't alone, I wasn't defective, and I wasn't lazy! I read some books on attention deficit and started getting a handle on it. Now I stay "organized" because it helps me think straight and enables me to do fun things. I organize my luggage, my camping gear, my writing projects, and the occasional big party as part of the process of awesomeness.
I paid off my consumer debt in my early 30s. That was a big victory. Suddenly the money I had freed up enabled me to buy a new couch, go on vacation, and move to a nicer place. I maxed out my retirement contributions at work. Ten years later, I'm starting to realize that saving at that rate is not the only option. A trend line can be predicted for different ages, different savings rates, and different rates of monthly expenditure. Another way to put that is, how much Yee-hah do I want when I'm too old to work? Now my focus has nothing to do with getting out of debt. It has everything to do with not having to eat ramen when I'm 86.
Do it for Future Self. The thing about our Future Selves is that we create ourselves by aiming in particular directions. Or not. Many of the things that happen to us as we get older are the result of not planning to avoid them. I have to plan to avoid losing my umbrella because my tendency is to leave them all over the place, like Johnny Umbrellaseed. Likewise, we have to plan NOT to be poor, sedentary, overweight, or cluttered. Not very interesting in the long run, though. We have to plan TO create a real legacy: close friendships, admiring students, a thriving business, a body of work. Poetry doesn't write itself. Let's get over the speed bumps that are minor goals and start moving toward our real destinies.
Perfectionism is the enemy. Resolutions are about transformation, not about getting an A+ on our report cards. A quarter of people who make New Year's Resolutions quit after the first WEEK. Is this because we chose things we didn't really want for ourselves, or because we thought we have to do it perfectly every single day as soon as we set the goal? Either way, there are better, more fun ways to approach this obstacle.
What we're trying to do is to make something worthwhile into something that becomes a natural part of our lives. Once upon a time, we had trouble eating with a spoon and putting our own socks on. Those are great resolutions for a baby! We master them and take these challenging new abilities completely for granted. The same thing can be true for anything we want to do, whether that's playing guitar, riding a horse, or learning to cook. What we're doing is figuring out how to redistribute our attention and our time to include the new thing. We're telling new stories about our identity. "I am the kind of person who X," with X representing "COMMITS AWESOMENESS." This is about changing our minds. With certain habits, that can happen in an instant, like when we have a bad experience and know we'll never eat at a certain restaurant again. With other habits, it takes much longer to catch ourselves in the act and redirect toward a habit we like better. If it's really worth it, then we should be willing to give it as long as it takes.
Take a resolution like learning to speak a foreign language. This is the most commonly kept resolution, one that people like well enough to carry on with it. How do we check the box and say we've completed this resolution? For me, the first moment was breaking the ice and speaking any word at all to a native speaker. I ordered food in a Mexican restaurant, and when the waitress said, "Buen provecho," I was so happy I almost cried. IT WORKED! I spoke a foreign language and someone understood me! I even got the right dish! Then we went to Spain and I was able to negotiate train tickets. Not only did we get to the correct destination, but the agent even told us about a cheaper fare and we got a 40% discount. If we can forgive ourselves for being beginners, if we can give ourselves the A+ for EFFORT and not for perfection (which does not exist, by the way), then the momentum will carry us along. Learning new things is exciting.
There is no "done" with the best resolutions. We're not going to learn to do something like playing a musical instrument and then quit just when we're getting good. Or are we? Many resolutions have to do with resuming things we used to do, things that we already know how to do. Artists who haven't picked up a sketchbook since before their kids were born may resolve to start drawing again. Singers may look for a choir or sign up for serious voice lessons. High school athletes may head back to the pool, join an intramural league, or sign up for a triathlon. When we take this approach, we're reclaiming part of our schedule and saying, I am allowed to do things for myself. I don't need permission. I'm setting a good example for my kids (or other parents).
Where we get into trouble is when we choose a major transformation without really knowing how to go about it. This is why I think resolutions are better than goals. We can choose a recurring action that doesn't have a deadline, and work it into our schedule without a specific goal attached. When we choose a specific goal on a deadline, and we don't reach it for some reason, it can be so demoralizing that we quit. We never thought about what 'done' looks like, we don't know what steps to take, we refuse to ask for help, we thought we would get results faster than everyone else does, and we insist on believing in willpower and motivation. Sometimes we know what to do, but we don't like that idea, and we want to try to reinvent the wheel and do things our own way. A way that doesn't work. Especially in the arena of New Year's Resolutions, we are conditioned to not only accept, but to expect failure. It's a low-stakes commitment. It's easier to let ourselves off the hook than it is to have to change our minds and realize that we have to do what works, even if the way that works is the way we don't like.
It's better to accept reality before we start. A 'stop' goal like nail biting or smoking is simply going to take multiple attempts. The average smoker tries to quit three or four times before succeeding. Weight loss typically happens at a rate of about 1.5 to 2 pounds a week. There's an urban myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but that has been debunked. In reality, some people make changes instantly, like the moment they find out they're going to have a baby. The more accurate figure is 66 days. That's well over two months. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and since I mentioned it, marathon training schedules are spread over four months. It would be nice if we could just snap our fingers and be transformed. I won't even rule that out. Our habits, what we think of as our personalities, have been built over time, and thus they'll only be reconstructed over time.
The secret to success is to pick the right time for the right resolution, and structure it in a way that makes it really hard to lose. An awesome goal like "visit all 50 states in the US" can be scheduled as a madcap summer vacation, or spread out over 25 years. There's no real reason that we have to fit everything into one calendar year, and in fact the really ambitious stuff takes multiple years to complete. The main thing is not to rely on memory or the spur of the moment. We have to get out our 2017 calendars and figure out EXACTLY WHEN we are going to fulfill our resolutions. Expecting a perfect streak starting on 1/1 is setting ourselves up for a loss. Half of those who make resolutions have given up within six months. We didn't make backup plans for what we'd do when the weather changed, when we got sick or injured, when we went out of town, when we had to work overtime, or when we just didn't feel like and weren't in the mood.
We still know how to feed ourselves with a spoon and put our socks on when we're not in the mood. We just learned to do these things long ago, made them part of our identity, and moved on. What we have to learn is how to fit new habits into our lives in the same way. Eventually we'll do them no matter how we feel or how much we'd rather be doing something else. It takes time, many, many, many failed attempts and forgetful moments, forgiving ourselves, picking ourselves up, and starting over.
I recommend that we just skip January entirely. Make January the month when all we do is watch videos of people doing the thing we want to do. Interview people who do the thing and ask them how they do it, what they like about it, how they get over the hard parts. Read articles or books about doing the thing. Figure out some strategies. Come up with some backup plans. Figure out how we're going to fit it into our lives during non-routine situations. Schedule things we're going to do related to the thing every month. Imagine how it will look when we're successful at the thing sometime after Thanksgiving. A year is really a pretty long time. January represents only 11% of the year. There's still time to earn a B+ even if we blow off that month entirely. Skip January and think more about December.
Year of Yes is a concept that can take over your whole life. It's also a great example of the way that resolutions are so much more powerful than goals. I had no idea who Shonda Rhimes was, but I'm a fan now. In fact I might even think of her as a guru. This book made me laugh out loud, and it also made me pause and recognize my own resistance, fears, and stubbornness. What better time to read it than at the turning of a New Year?
The thing about Shonda Rhimes is that she has what a lot of us think would solve all of our problems. She has a loving family, a fascinating and fun job, money, fame, and the ability to call the shots in most situations. Yet there she is, doing what we all do, which is to manufacture our own problems. As the book begins, her sister calls her out for always saying NO to opportunity. Where the natural reaction would be to get angry and tell the sister to mind her own business, Rhimes lets the criticism filter through. She resolves that for a year, she will say YES to everything. That's when it starts to get crazy.
Resolutions are great because we have no way of knowing how they will turn out. Resolutions can be terrifying for the same reason. We have such a strong desire to control our lives and manage risk that we will say NO to almost everything. We'll even reject many things in advance, on the off chance that they might happen. There's a common pattern of talking about what we DON'T WANT, rather than what we do want. It makes us feel discerning, like we are exerting our great taste and driving the bus of life. Saying yes to things and declaring what we want can get awfully specific. Suddenly we're rocketing past our comfort zones so fast we can't even imagine what comes next.
When the resistance goes, a lot of things go with it. The unintended consequences that follow Shonda Rhimes and her decision to live a Year of Yes make the book that much funnier. Her willingness to examine herself and let go of her desire to stay in the comfort zone ripple outward into areas she never expected. It is impossible to read this book without at least a few moments of rueful agreement. Yep, me too, me too. That's me, right there. Say Yes to a Year of Yes and see what happens.
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.