Your Goal Guide is a workbook aimed at people who know they want to do something, but they aren’t quite sure what. Debra Eckerling developed the concept after running goal-setting workshops and discovering that, guess what, most people don’t find the process very intuitive. If it were obvious, everyone would constantly be setting and achieving goals. This book, then, is designed for exploration, and it even has a road-trip theme to remind us to see goal-setting as an adventure.
I like to skip January when I plan my annual goals, because as much as I love making New Year’s Resolutions, I believe that January is a terrible time to try to get anything done. I set aside the entire month for poking around and doing a bit of research and experimentation on goals in each area of my life. By the time February rolls around, I finally feel ready to get started. I remind myself that it’s much more important to have my goal integrated into my life at the end of the year, when I’m likely to keep on going, than it is at the beginning, when there can be a temptation to obsess over unbroken streaks and then quit at the first obstacle.
Your Goal Guide supports this approach. Using the road trip analogy, obstacles might be like taking the wrong exit, having a flat tire, or needing to stop for gas. We expect these things, so we don’t quit and go home the first time the plan is disrupted. We also recognize that we can only go a certain distance before we need to eat and sleep, where, again, we often design our resolutions with unrealistic expectations of our physical stamina.
This book feels like the product of a lot of reality testing. The planning exercises are useful and they feel like they evolve naturally. I particularly appreciated Eckerling’s focus on research and her reminders to schedule check-in sessions. When the first month has rolled around, it’s a better idea to ask ourselves what we need, and then rework our plans, than it is to shrug and give up on our dreams.
Don’t leave your goal on the side of the road. Pick up Your Goal Guide and don’t get towed!
Give your plans a chance and give yourself a break.
Remember, everything will get done.
This year I declared that I want to learn Dutch. Why? Why not? I’ve studied several languages in the past, and I thought I would share my methods before I really get rolling.
Languages are ranked by complexity, and there are four categories. Japanese and Arabic, for example, are both Category IV, partly because they have their own writing systems. There are serviceable estimates for how many hours of study it takes to become fluent in various languages. Dutch qualifies as a Category I, and that’s why I’m comfortable choosing it as a project.
Usually when people say they want to learn a language, instead of “I want to learn this language,” they say, “I want to get the Rosetta Stone” for it. I’ve heard this from dozens of people, but I’ve never actually met anyone who claims to have learned a language this way! I single it out because it’s expensive, and with the internet, there are tons of free ways to learn any language.
There are two important questions to answer that have already come up in this post.
There are four categories of language comprehension: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. We tend to be better at some categories than others, even in our native tongue. Most people picture themselves “speaking” their chosen language.
The basic problem with this, as I have found from experience, is that the better you sound, the more fluent people assume you are, and the faster they start talking to you! They will not realize that they should filter for you, so they’ll use slang, big words, and idioms. I’m a good mimic, so I purposely talk slowly and flatten my accent. If my vocabulary only has like twenty words, then I want to make sure that’s obvious to my listener.
This is why, for my purposes, when I say “learn” a language I really mean I want to be able to read it. I would only consider myself fluent if I could listen to a casual speaker and grasp 80% of what they were saying.
Fluency doesn’t mean we need to know a bunch of obscure surgical terminology or be able to have a conversation about numismatics - unless, of course, that’s the reason we’re trying to study.
This is where most beginners could use more specificity. We think of learning a language as a bucket list type of a goal, but we don’t necessarily color in the whole visual. Who are we talking to, and what are we talking about?
When we study languages in school, we start with grammar and classroom nouns, like ‘paper’ and ‘pencil.’ We might spend a year in class, get straight A’s, and still not be able to use the past tense. We get few opportunities to listen to natural speakers having casual conversations, which is probably how most of us would imagine fluency feels.
What I’ve learned from travel is that almost all of my opportunities to practice speaking are totally predictable, utilitarian transactions. Buying stuff. Getting directions. Getting directions in order to buy stuff. Asking what ingredients are in something. I realized that I needed to spend much more time listening, like 3:1, rather than speaking. I also realized that I needed to spend about 5x more effort memorizing lists of nouns.
This is where I get around to why I chose the Dutch language, out of all others, and how I picture myself using it.
The first time I traveled to a country whose official language was not English, I was blown away to realize how many travelers there are from other countries. Wherever you go, if it’s a tourist attraction, there will be French and German visitors! I had the opportunity to try to help a French tourist read an Icelandic map, and I realized that the French I studied as a 12-year-old kid actually had a real-world application. It was more than a thing of beauty and complexity, an interesting puzzle; it was a legit code for altruism and human connection. Whoa.
I went home and picked up a bit of French and German. As I did, I pictured all the friendly French and German faces I had seen on the trail and I imagined being able to trade travel notes and birdwatching tips. It was motivating.
Adding Dutch, for a linguistics nerd like me, is a way to stretch my circle.
The reason I’m focusing on a language for my first declared ultralearning project is that I’ve felt like I have neglected an innate talent. For other people, this might be something like drawing, singing, woodworking, playing guitar, dance, or a sport like tennis or swimming. I’m pretty terrible at every single one of those things, but language is something I can get into. Also, it’s supposed to help fight dementia.
Why Dutch, just to meet backpackers in other countries? Because it’s a Cat I, that’s why, and the grammar is similar to English. Later I intend to bone up on my high school Japanese. I can still read hiragana and katakana, I’ve had a couple of quickie conversations over the years, and my accent is understandable. I’m pretty excited to take on more Asian languages - I’m just rusty.
My ultimate fantasy would be to travel in every country on Earth, and spend enough time studying in advance that I could exchange greetings with someone there in their own language. That’s not necessarily a dream of unity, though. Why should someone else drop what they were doing just to entertain me?
“HI! GUUUD MORGNIEEN” *tries to wave, instead makes rude gesture*
“Uh, hi?... Do I... know you?” *rolls eyes*
In the meantime, I’ve started my project. I’ve chosen my language and I know why I want to learn it. I can picture the types of transactions and conversations I might have.
At this stage, I assemble my materials.
I don’t believe in going out and buying “foreign language dictionaries.” I used to! I used to check them out from the public library in stacks up to my chin. Instead, I start with the Babbel app. When I feel like I know a bit more, I go to TuneIn Radio and try to find a local station. I try to sound out news headlines. The next step would be to find a language partner for chatting online, and that’s where I balked back before I became a Distinguished Toastmaster.
That’s what is so funny about linguistics. A lot of us with a great passion for languages are actually really shy about using those languages to, ya know, talk? To humans?
All right then. My ultralearning language project is to study Dutch until I can test at the A1 level. I’ll also try to find a real Dutch person who will chat with me in Dutch for a minute or two, next fall or winter.
I had to take my husband to the emergency room on Friday night. This is the year that I turn 45 and he turns 52, so it’s unsurprising, right? Two middle-aged people in the ER?
What may be more surprising is that, as usual, we were in there for a sports injury.
Friday night is sparring at our martial arts school. Muay Thai. We also have an MMA team. The rest of the time slots are for organized classes, and sparring is the one time that students have license to fight “for reals.” My husband took a boxing glove to the surface of his eye, probably the thumb but maybe part of the strap. It happens.
That’s dangerous! I’m thinking it so I know that everyone else is.
It’s his body to ruin, though. Bodily autonomy means we accept one another’s right to get tattoos, donate blood, have cosmetic dentistry, and, yeah, sign the waiver to get punched in the eye if we want.
The guy who “did it” is my husband’s good friend. He doesn’t know yet that his errant blow put my hubby in the hospital. We probably won’t tell him because he would be horrified. He’s a middle-aged dad and he certainly didn’t do it on purpose.
The injury was a corneal abrasion. It will likely heal so completely that a couple of weeks from now there will be no evidence that anything ever happened. The copays for the ER visit and the antibiotic eye drops were under $100. No harm no foul.
We accept these types of outcomes as acceptable risks for our hobbies.
What’s strange to me is that most people would shy away from such a dangerous sport, and yet the likelihood of being in the emergency room on a Friday night is far higher for other, more ordinary, types of activities.
I would have assumed: bar fights, car accidents, maybe an overdose or alcohol poisoning?
It hadn’t occurred to me how full the room would be simply due to flu season. There was also a large notice on the door in red ink, giving special instructions to anyone who might have MEASLES.
Oh great. One of us gets punched in the eye wrong and now we’re both at risk of exposure to freaking measles because a bunch of our neighbors can’t comprehend the concept of herd immunity. Get your shots, people!
It seems obvious to both of us that infectious disease epidemics, or pandemics, are far more dangerous and deadly than a punch in the eye. It’s just that we’ve all seen a lot of action films but, in our generation, we haven’t yet seen many of our relatives, neighbors, and coworkers DIE from measles, whooping cough, mumps, influenza, etc. Not yet anyway.
The other thing it’s hard not to notice is that we are likely the only people in the ER who got there due to a sports injury.
In our culture right now, it’s almost impossible to say anything true and useful about my observations without risking an affront to someone’s sensibilities. Instead I’ll try to skirt around it.
At our age, nobody would be surprised, at all, if either my husband or I had to go to the emergency room due to a heart attack, stroke, or other coronary type event. I know that’s true because we hear about this kind of thing all the time in our social group, among our colleagues and neighbors. After age forty nobody is surprised by anything.
When we go to the doctor, they ask us what medications we’re on. I can still pass for somewhere in my thirties, so I can say ‘none’ without pushback. When my husband says ‘none,’ they always assume he didn’t understand the question. “NO, what PRESCRIPTIONS are you on??” “NONE!” Medical professionals can’t believe that my husband, in his early fifties, doesn’t take anything. At his age he’s supposed to be on statins and a raft of other stuff, at least five separate prescriptions on average.
With his heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol level, it doesn’t compute. They think there’s no way that a guy of his age group can have those results without medication.
I can also say that nobody is asking the right questions. I’ve been plant-based for nearly thirty years, since I was a teenager, and my hubby has been 98% plant-based for the past decade or so. It literally never comes up. Nobody is testing us, or enrolling us in any studies, or even asking, “So, what do you eat?” There are absolutely no data being generated about our lifestyle for the rest of the world to ponder.
We’ll just keep waiting. If he’s still practicing Muay Thai in his seventies, like our friend B, maybe then they’ll ask. If I’m still out trail running in my sixties, maybe then they’ll ask, but I sincerely doubt it because all kinds of people run ultras at well above that age.
The data come from the people with the worst outcomes. Data come from “patients,” not from healthy people. Not from men who can kick a target six feet off the ground in their fifties. Not from women who can crank out fifty full push-ups in their forties.
Why? Because people hate hearing about it!
I think this is because we aren’t able to connect emotionally with the image of Old Me. We can’t truly imagine ourselves being elderly. It’s also very, very difficult to extrapolate from our minor daily behaviors to any kind of decade-long trend line. We hate nothing more than the idea that what we do today can add up to trouble at a later point. It’s preachy! Stop talking about it!
When we think of bodily autonomy, and the concept that it’s “my body to ruin,” what we mean is “hey, everyone buzz off and leave me alone” as far as body image, habits, food intake, sleep schedule, how dirty my coffee mug looks, or anything else, anything else at all. I DO WHAT I WANT DO WHAT I WANT. It’s much harder to think of in terms of, “I have the full and total right to wreck myself doing burpees in the mud, sparring, and going on wilderness expeditions.”
We think exertion is more dangerous than what everyone else is doing. Though personally I’d rather go blind from martial arts than from diabetes.
One thing I did notice in the emergency room was that almost everyone had a buddy. A spouse, kids, grandkids - everyone had someone to call and ask for help. Everyone had at least one person who was willing to sit with them in the middle of the night on a Friday. Probably what is really dangerous is to become isolated, to refuse to connect or engage, to avoid ever asking for help.
It’s worth thinking about. What do we think is truly dangerous, and how do we structure our lives to include or avoid certain things because of our perceptions?
Let’s say there are four kinds of time.
One. Fun. High Quality Leisure Time, or HQLT.
Two. Work. What we do to get paid or move toward important goals.
Three. Productive time. Getting things done that do not lead to financial gain or tangible goals.
Four. Junk hours.
It’s worthwhile to think about this, because we don’t get a rebate on time. Once it’s spent, it’s spent, no rain checks or coupons or returns. It’s up to us to make our own plans. If we don’t, if we don’t create our own structures or wallow in our own definition of leisure, then we’ll wind up living out someone else’s plans.
What fun is that?
While we all get the same twenty-four hours a day, our experience obviously varies. Some people love doing things that drive other people to distraction, and vice versa. Personally I hate driving, but I don’t mind cleaning the bathroom. I hate folding laundry, but I don’t mind ironing. I kinda love stain removal and mending and building furniture kits. It would be easy to imagine someone who would trade with me straight across.
It’s also easy to imagine a bunch of people who loathe their jobs, and a couple who can’t believe they actually get paid to do what they do.
That’s why it’s so personal, what we define as ‘leisure’ or ‘productive time.’ It’s very helpful as we try to identify our junk hours.
What makes HQLT is that pleasant feeling of satisfied, total relaxation that is so rare in our culture. We share with each other how “crazy busy” we are. We’re discouraged from bragging about how relaxed we are or how much we sleep, because what could possibly cause more envy than that?
I slept sixteen hours one day in 2019, and I don’t even feel guilty. It’s safe, legal, and free, and you can try it too.
On the other hand, I’m sure I wasted at least sixteen hours mindlessly scrolling on my phone last year, without even noticing I was doing it. That’s almost the definition of junk hours.
Junk hours are the hours we lose that aren’t fun, yet also don’t turn into any kind of accomplishment or money.
When I was a kid, I probably watched every single episode of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Yet, try as I might, I can’t tell you the plot of any of them. I can only recall a couple of quotes or roughly describe most of the characters. On the other hand, I have a pretty good recollection of many of my childhood drawings, times I spent petting the neighbors’ cats (and their names), and all the Nancy Drew mysteries I read. I can still vividly picture the old apple tree we used to climb and all the crags where I put my feet. For me, there’s a pretty big difference in emotion and mood between the stuff I enjoyed and the stuff I did by default.
I didn’t have a lot of junk hours as a kid because TV was the major time suck that was available. It was the only kind of tech with the power to steal our attention.
That all obviously changed with the invention of three things: cable TV, the internet, and the smartphone.
These are the three that interfere with our sleep. Starting with the first of these, we collectively stopped inviting our friends over to our homes as often, stopped going out to socialize as often, stopped sleeping as much, stopped joining as many clubs, and stopped having as many hobbies. I can speak to this because I’m (just barely) old enough to have conscious memories of the late 1970s and I was here for the change.
There are three things we can do once we’ve identified our junk hours. We can shrug and accept them, we can try to schedule them out entirely, or we can pair them with other things that we find more productive.
Junk hours aren’t necessarily bad, and they aren’t necessarily all tech-related. For instance, my chronically disorganized clients tend to burn a lot of time either searching for lost objects or rearranging their clutter. Indecisive people will burn time trying on multiple outfits and trying to choose what to wear, or spinning their wheels on what to have for dinner. Highly stressed and over-committed people often burn time on extra errands, because their stretched mental bandwidth interferes with their attention. Out of groceries, out of gas, need that missing item or the (extra) project is stalled out.
Typically these kinds of junk hours cause stress in a way that productive time does not. It’s not necessarily doing a gross or annoying chore that’s the problem; it’s having to do something on a tight time constraint when we feel like we’ve messed up somehow. Cleaning up spills when you’re already late, making extra phone calls because a deadline somehow slipped, running last-minute errands as a result of being too busy in the first place.
This is why I celebrate the bonus time that comes from being organized. I can almost completely eliminate those frantic feelings of being late or scrambling to find something. Instead I can yawn and stretch luxuriously. Sometimes I can actually take a long nap.
Total relaxation in a tight time window is almost impossible.
What makes HQLT high-quality is somewhat nebulous. That feeling of knowing it’s perfectly fine to take a nap, even a three-hour nap. That feeling when there’s nothing to do on your day off but finish the doorstopper novel you brought home.
How many times have we burned through a solid hour of time (or two hours, or three hours) and we’re not sure where it went, but it sure didn’t go toward a nap or any other feeling of complete enjoyment and relaxation?
A trick that can help with this is to identify where we tend to get sucked into the black hole of junk hours. For me, since I don’t really engage with social media, it’s my news feed, so I limit that time to either waiting at the bus stop or working out on the elliptical. The time I was losing to endless scrolling now goes to reading actual books, which I prefer. I don’t burn much time choosing meals or outfits or searching for lost objects because I have policies for all that stuff.
The best way to search and destroy junk hours is to have a clear vision of something you’d much rather do. Maybe it’s something you used to love as a kid, like drawing, or lip syncing to your favorite songs, or roller skating. If you can see yourself doing this thing that is total fun for you, just make sure you have all the stuff you need (like bigger skates) and go out and have fun.
I knew something was wrong the moment I walked in the door. I had about three steps in the hallway to feel that sense of impending dread, and then I saw him.
My husband was sitting on the couch, head hanging down, eyes closed, with his hands in his lap. He was holding a napkin. I knew he was hurt. Because of the napkin, I assumed it was his hand. “What happened? Did you tear off your thumbnail?”
“No, it’s my eye,” he replied, and it was almost like a lever switched over inside me into Action Mode.
There were just a few problems: I was pouring sweat because I had just come back from my workout; it was dinnertime; and our dog had apparently been extravagantly sick in the bathroom.
The other set of problems: I was scheduled to teach back-to-back workshops at a conference the next morning, and I had planned to spend the rest of the evening running through my slides.
What I do in crisis situations like this is to start talking to myself. I ran through the next obvious steps and made sure I had them in order. Call advice nurse. Find health insurance card. Take dog out. Give him a dose of metronidazole. Cut the pill in half. Clean up disaster on bathroom floor. Microwave quick dinner, feed man. Take shower and get dressed. Write down instructions from nurse. Make sure we both have our wallets, keys, and phones. Call Lyft. Most of those steps hit the list in random order, as I thought of them, and I mentally shuffled them into their correct place in the task list. Somehow I had accomplished all of it during the 40-minute hold for the advice nurse.
I did a perimeter check and two bag checks, grabbed a protein shake for myself, and we were off to the emergency room.
My husband was effectively blind. He couldn’t even open his eyelid, it was so swollen, and if he tried to use his good eye, the injured eye tracked with it. When the admittance nurse asked him to rate his pain, he gave it an 8. “He has a very high pain threshold,” I added, because we had both had a casual discussion about the pain scale recently and we agreed that a 9 was “involuntary screaming.” I knew he would never claim an 8 unless he had to.
We got to the ER at 9:00 PM, in the midst of flu season. An injured woman took one look at my husband, leapt up, and offered him her seat. I found us two adjacent seats around 12:30 AM. Until 2:00 AM, I was still thinking about how I was going to make use of this experience as an anecdote to introduce my workshop on “The Organized Leader.” We got to see a doctor at 4:30 AM.
By that point, my dreams of glory had been let go. I was prepared for a series of outcomes, including an admittance to the hospital; emergency surgery; the loss of my husband’s eye; and permanent damage to, or loss of, his vision. I had run through fallback plans for each of these, thinking of next steps and calls to make. Of course I had the good sense not to tell him any of that. I know him well enough to know that he was doing the same, and also thinking, of course I would never tell my wife any of this. We wouldn’t want to scare each other.
We’ve both learned many of these planning skills together, through life lessons and by seeking out information for the advanced scenarios. We spent three weeks backpacking through Iceland together; we took first aid and CPR classes together; we went to martial arts classes together. We both recognize ourselves as leaders, and leadership only really matters in emergencies, such as Someone Might Lose an Eye Tonight.
It turned out okay. My husband had a corneal abrasion, quite large, and I got to see it enhanced with glow-in-the-dark dye under the special lamp. Oddly, both our dog and I had had the same type of injury in the past couple of years! What I had, compared to my husband’s, was like a small paper cut versus scraping all the skin off one’s knuckle. Our dog had to wear a cone for a week. In this situation, I had true empathy, because I had literally shared his experience.
It helped me deal with the frustration of having to let go of my big opportunity.
We got home at 7:00 AM. The sun was already up. I helped my temporarily blind husband up the steps and got him home, just in time to take our dog out again. The veterinary medicine had worked, so at least we had that going for us. Then I emailed everyone on my team and texted my director to alert them that I wouldn’t be attending the conference. We finally got into bed at the time I would have been finding my seat for the keynote.
I knew I would be missing a lot. I had scheduled a planning meeting and a group photo with my team, all of whom were volunteering in various slots. My workshops were the result of a month of campaigning to include a new category of topics on the slate. Not only had I succeeded in making my case, but I was chosen to teach them myself. Plausibly I would be called onstage for a minute for one reason or another. It was the four-year anniversary of my foray into public speaking, and I had looked forward to celebrating this, vanquishing a fear and turning it into a strength. I’d stride confidently into a ballroom and deliver the material I had been polishing all week. I’d change lives! I’d send my audience out, transformed and inspired to tackle tougher problems!
Instead, I graduated into a new level of leadership. I passed the test. I demonstrated the value of everything I had put into my slides. It’s not our stuff or our calendars that we are “organizing.” It’s our relationships and our values. I was able to keep my head on straight and get us to the hospital largely because I keep an orderly home and manage my mental bandwidth. I strengthened my marriage. I even remembered the dog.
One day, I’ll present my workshop. Maybe I’ll be asked to teach it more than once. The material will only be improved by this experience, and my motivation will only have intensified. Being organized isn’t about making pretty binders or choosing just the right paperclip tray. It’s not about getting promoted. It’s about mastering the situation, about knowing what to do even when everything feels impossible. Leadership is about realizing the infinite power you have to help others and work toward a better outcome.
Unbelievable! I thought when I saw this book. The great and powerful BJ Fogg has finally written a book!!! This guy’s research on habit formation is mentioned constantly by other writers, and I used to wonder how they were able to get this special access. How Tiny Habits finally got written is addressed in the book, and it’s like meta-proof that this stuff works.
Of course habits have nothing to do with how fascinating, moving, and endearing this book is.
Personally I’m pretty good at starting and stopping habits, as soon as I realize what it is that I want to do. Tiny Habits had an interesting explanation for why that might be. I often do a little dance, make up a little song, jump up and down, or otherwise physically express how excited I am that I did a small thing, like hitting Send on an email that I struggled to write. Apparently this is the key to building a habit, teaching the brain that YES, this is the right step. Then I realized that I picked up this habit from my mom and it cheered me right up.
This book is loaded with diagrams and exercises that I found truly helpful. It’s designed for someone to learn it and also teach it to others, such as a team at work. I particularly liked the brainstorming method of the Swarm of Behaviors. The lists of sample habits aimed at people in different situations is terrific, and I think the list of little ways to celebrate is best of all.
Tiny Habits is based on years of extensive research, and it’s been tested on real people with real, shall we say, situations. It works on the tough stuff, like caregiving, grief, parenting for special needs, and health issues. It also works on the more light-hearted stuff, like wanting to eat ice cream every night. Amazingly, Fogg even includes research on how to help other people build their habits.
It is no surprise that Tiny Habits hit the bestseller list. I fully expect this book to stay in print for many years, to go through multiple editions, and to help millions of people create positive changes in their lives. Starting with me, and, I’m hoping you’re next!
There’s nothing wrong with taking bold action. Life and happiness occasionally demand it. But remember that you hear about people making big changes because this is the exception, not the rule.
One of my personal themes for the last year has been to “strengthen others in all my interactions.”
It’s a simple question. Why him? Why this guy?
If you’re a hiring manager, I’m obviously asking you why you want to extend an offer to this applicant. If you’re a police officer, I’m asking why you think this suspect did it. Fair to ask, right?
If you’re dating a male person, and someone asks, Why him?
...shouldn’t it be immediately obvious? Wouldn’t you have a list of reasons?
Wouldn’t you also wonder why the question came up?
I can think of several happily married friends about whom nobody ever asks, why that guy? Why him above all others? That’s because you always see them laughing together. They have a happy home and, if anything, they’re maybe a little smug that they’ve found each other.
Unfortunately, I keep meeting others where it isn’t so clear. I mean... really... why him? Can you please explain what you like about him?
The toughest of these cases are when the guy is checked out. Either you never see the two of them together, or if he is there, he isn’t participating in the conversation. He’s making no effort to make friends, share anything about himself, be amusing, or maybe even grunt in response. It’s always surprising how many couples don’t like each other’s friends! Like, what, did you expect that when we got together it would be JUST US forever, no social life?
Worse is when the guy is rude. Pointlessly rude to basically everyone: friends, coworkers, waiters, innocent bystanders.
Worse still is when the guy is rude TO HIS DATE.
Do you ever notice this? When someone is dropping little snarky remarks and sarcastic observations, about the person they’re supposedly in love with? When you stop to think about it, you can’t recall a single nice thing this person has had to say?
Maybe it’s just me. I feel like this happens a lot, though.
What I’m looking for when I see a couple together for the first time is simply what kind of connection they seem to have. Most couples have a hidden language, where they don’t even need to make eye contact to communicate. They have body language and facial expressions that nobody else can read. They may not always agree, but they do know what the other is thinking. A lot of family members can do the same. If these shared signals seem to be missing, then maybe this couple hasn’t been together long enough yet.
The next level is any sign of mutual positive regard. In a good relationship (friends, family, and especially romance), they should like each other, respect each other, and love each other. That seems pretty basic, not much to ask, but in reality it’s not all that common. You usually only see two out of three, sometimes just one, and sometimes zero.
Like him. You enjoy his company and think he’s fun to be around. You find him interesting. His sense of humor works on you. You can talk to him about anything. Ideally he feels the same way about you.
Respect him. You believe he has a value system and that he lives consistently with those values. You may not share all of them but you have a pretty clear idea of what’s important to him and what he believes in. The more you know about him, the more impressed you are. You’re proud of him for at least one reason. You’re pretty sure he feels the same about you.
Love him. You feel affectionate toward him, you feel a warm regard and want the best for him, your heart swells a little when you think about him. No question, you know he feels it too and he’ll say it loud and proud.
It’s a match when you both can check off all three boxes.
What tends to happen when someone is in a bad match, but doesn’t want to admit it, is that they start making excuses and trying to explain away evidence that this guy actually kinda sucks.
Why is he never around? Wherever you are, he’s not there. If you go to a party he doesn’t come. Doesn’t he share any of your interests?
Why does he keep making those negative comments about you? Does he think he sounds funny? Doesn’t he realize we’re your friends and we don’t want to listen to him pick on you?
So uh, no offense but what exactly attracted you to him?
(Since he doesn’t seem particularly into you, and he also doesn’t seem all that nice, or charming, or funny, or smart, or good looking, or...)
Is it true that he still refuses to say the L word for some pretentious adolescent reason? Like the normal type of relationship that every other human being has is somehow beneath him? He’s capable of some rarefied and pure love from another dimension, only nobody has reason to believe it because he acts cold and withholding?
It’s honestly shocking how many dudes hold back the L word (for months or years or forever) and still get 100% of the affection and attention of a normal man capable of normal behavior. You’re not original, you’re a manipulator. Just say it. Or if you refuse, get a bunch of t-shirts printed that say I WILL NEVER SAY I LOVE YOU, EVER, I MEAN IT and wear them on your next two hundred first dates.
What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that a love match is about mutual connection. It’s about the other person’s behavior and how willing he is to engage, to reach out, to put in emotional effort, to communicate and build something just between the two of you.
It doesn’t matter what he looks like, what’s going on in his life, what job he has, where he lives, whether he’s a good cook or a talented musician or whatever. All of those things would be true whether he was single, dating someone else, or with you. The only thing that matters is what the two of you are like together, and it should be obvious. It should be obvious that you’re a good match together, that you like each other and you have fun together. You should be able to describe each other as friends.
When someone asks, Why him? What do you like about him? I hope you can say, He makes me smile.
Revenge doesn’t get nearly enough appreciation.
There are few motivations as deep and pure as the desire to get back at someone, to prove a point, to feel like you’ve come out on top. This energy can be harnessed for a lot of amazing things. In fact, for some of us, it’s the main reason we’ve ever accomplished anything.
This I’LL SHOW YOU energy can help propel us to better jobs and better relationships. It can make us walk taller, and certainly walk faster. It can also turn into one hell of a good workout.
Anger is not much good on its own. Stewing over something without doing anything is just punishing yourself. Like the original problem wasn’t bad enough! Taking action and focusing on a solution is much better, and in that case, anger can be like rocket fuel. For instance, we used our anger at our dishonest property managers to organize a rapid relocation. They quit being our problem at that moment. As much as we love our new apartment, we have an added dimension of satisfaction because our rent is no longer going to the old place.
Moving is one kind of strenuous workout. If we’d had to move away unexpectedly, we might have felt sad and mopey. Our reluctance would have made the job of packing and hauling boxes feel endlessly exhausting. Instead, I had us half unpacked on the first day.
HA! TAKE THAT!
In the gym, I call this type of workout “tantrum yoga.”
There’s an exercise I learned in kundalini class in college. It is extremely effective to do with little kids. Lie on the floor, legs together, arms at your sides. Set a timer for two minutes. Think of something that seriously makes you mad, like social injustice, your worst boss of all time, a traffic incident, or the random person who stole your lunch out of the office fridge. Physically tense up and tighten every muscle. Holding that angry memory in mind, pound your fists and your heels over and over as hard as you can, as fast as you can. Go ahead and vocalize if you’re in a place where you can do that. AAAARRGGHHHH!!! RAWWWRRRRR! Pound pound pound thud thud thud.
The trick is that you have to keep going for the entire two minutes.
Really get in deep into the memory. That wasn’t fair! I hate that guy! Hey loser, you suck! You just don’t DO that! Work yourself up as much as you can.
Inevitably, and I’ve seen this in class several times, everyone starts to wind down after only a few seconds. We have to keep being reminded and encouraged to sustain the tantrum energy.
Afterward, it’s possible to lie on the floor feeling totally washed out, rung out like a dirty rag. It feels impossible to carry that amount of raw anger. On a somatic level it starts to make sense that our anger only hurts us, that the person who inspired it walks away clean every time.
Many of us have such a storehouse of swallowed pain that we can generate dozens or hundreds of specific incidents like this, enough to sustain us through months of revenge workouts.
This is part of what I love about intense exercise, even though I used to hate it. I hated it when it was mandatory, when I felt like the indentured servant of rude mean gym teachers and school bullies. Anyone would want to avoid getting slammed with a dodgeball. It wasn’t until I discovered that I could choose my own workout and leave my bad feelings somewhere out on the trail that I got into it.
Forgiveness feels terrible when the concept is misunderstood. You mean they’re just going to get away with it?? It’s easy to buy into the idea that forgiving someone means letting them off the hook, making excuses for inexcusable behavior, turning into a doormat. Really all it means is freeing yourself from living in that moment forever.
It was bad enough when it happened. But then to live it over and over again hundreds of times? How unfair is that?
Forgiveness just means making sense out of it. It means turning to a new chapter and saying, That was then, this is now. It means, this would never happen to me again because now I can see it coming and I have a few... shall we say... nice little backup plans.
This is what I discovered in martial arts. I tapped into this well of hidden rage that had built up in me, from feeling bullied and victimized. I was always on the small side, one of the littlest kids in my grade, and I never knew what to do when some young punk decided to mess with me.
Oho, but I do now.
There are other things that ignite that desire for revenge inside me, but they aren’t personalized. I have a lasting vendetta against chronic pain, for example. I see my night terrors as an almost tangible force that I can punch. I used to ride my bike around town actually yelling at my thyroid nodule, YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! GET OUT OF MY BODY! (Which it did).
The feeling that I’ve found through revenge workouts is total bodily autonomy. This body is MINE, not the plaything of some external force. It is my birthright to live in this mortal vessel. Any kind of diagnosis or health condition is an invader and interloper. It does not belong in me. Or at least I can get myself good and worked up thinking about it.
I had a client, when I was doing fitness coaching, who asked for my help. She was going to a New Year’s party and she knew her ex would be there with his new girlfriend. She had a clear vision of herself walking in, looking like a million bucks and strutting her stuff. I don’t need you, I can do better, good luck with him honey. That burning desire for revenge got her straight to her goal in only a couple of months. She sent me a picture of her party dress, and she looked like she felt: a winner doing her victory lap. I bet she thought of some little way he disappointed her during every workout, until you know what? She was done and ready to move on.
That’s how I feel about my cancer scare, and my fibromyalgia diagnosis, and my ankle injury, and all my various other physical setbacks over the past twenty years. The same way, in fact, that I have felt about my ex-husband and a few political figures. Get out of my life! Begone! Eventually, those emotions are no longer as fresh or vivid. What’s left is physical power, a higher energy level, and the inner knowledge that whatever it was can never catch us again.
Right around now, everyone deflates. Aw geez, I had all these great feelings on New Year’s Eve and now they’re gone. There was only one magic moment to make the perfect wish, but I didn’t have a tidal wave of motivation, I broke my only chance at a perfect streak, and now it’s too late for me.
I wish we all had this feeling around the entire concept of the perfect streak. Aw, gee, it sure had us all fooled. What a con job. Disappoint.
What is true is that we all have a tendency to let consensus opinion influence what we do or don’t do.
EVERYBODY KNOWS that resolutions don’t work, therefore I can only do an extremely narrow set of activities for the rest of my life no matter what.
Part of a resolution really does work, and it’s confirmed through research. That part is the ‘implementation intention.’ State the thing you plan to do. Most of us do it all the time, routinely. “I’m going for a coffee, care to join me?” “I can’t wait for the new episode.” “Going to Costco to eat all the free samples.”
All of these are clear and bright implementation intentions.
Does anyone doubt that these are going to work? Do we doubt that someone is going to go out for coffee, feeling convinced that they’ll come back with zero coffee every time? Do we doubt that someone is going to finish watching their favorite show? Do we doubt that Costco will continue to hand out free samples?
What’s the difference between these classic, common, and practical implementation intentions, and our New Year’s Resolutions?
Answer: they know HOW, they know WHEN, they know what to do if Plan A doesn’t work out, they’ll keep trying because any obstacle would feel like an anomaly, and they probably don’t have any naysayers. Unlike, in every way, all our shiny new resolutions.
I don’t know if you remember the first time you ever ordered your own meal, either from a restaurant or at a food counter. I do. It was hard! When I was a senior in high school, I decided to learn how to take myself out for lunch. I went to a cafe at the mall and I got a bagel sandwich. I sat down and ate it and read a book, and then I sat there for another 25 minutes because I didn’t understand what happened next. Do you wait until the server comes back to the table and brings you the check? Do you go up to the counter? How can you tell which kind of place is which? What do they do with your change? I felt very alone and young and dumb and incompetent, that is until I pulled up my socks and went to the counter. I FIGURED IT OUT! All by myself! I even left a tip!
The point of this is that at one point, every single thing that we think is easy, routine, or obvious was a part of the unknown.
What that means is that everything we’re unsure about today, is something we are still able to learn how to do. There are other people who know how, just like we know things that are confusing and unfamiliar to other people.
The question is really when.
When are we going to do all these great things?
The middle of January is when most people tend to give up on their resolutions. I think that’s because they realize they haven’t really made much progress yet. We often feel locked in to one single version of something, and if we can’t make it work then we think we’re just not cut out for it. Some very common examples are trying to wake up earlier (rather than go to bed earlier), trying to do one specific kind of workout, or trying to go from “zero to sixty” and become an instant expert.
It’s the new me! I wake up at 4:45 AM every day from now on, so I can run uphill in sleet and hail in the pitch dark, and then at the end of the day I cook gourmet meals entirely from scratch. Perfection or bust.
The vision that we have is a fictional character from a movie that nobody would watch.
Personally, I am useless in the early morning and I know it. I have been on the receiving end of absolutely dozens upon dozens of lectures about early rising, and always being early for things, and sleep hygiene. I don’t care because of three reasons: 1. I know what pavor nocturnus is like and I know that they don’t, because if they did they would definitely say so; 2. I’m probably more productive than this person and I have no shame around my schedule; and 3. I don’t care if other people disapprove of my habits in general. If you have the time to lecture me, that is proof that you have nothing better to do, which then automatically invalidates your opinion.
You know who sleeps from midnight to 8:00 AM? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and moi. Billionaire hours.
The first answer to the question of when is, when do you feel the best and when do you feel the worst? What time of day are you more likely to be in the mood to do things?
Where we mess up is in punishing ourselves, trying to frame our desires in terms of willpower and motivation and moral fiber. What happens then is a series of fashion don’ts: feeling cruddy, not doing the awesome thing, and being less likely to attempt awesomeness the next time.
What works is to focus on how appealing you find the thing, whatever it is. Remind yourself what you like about it, what makes you curious, and why you’re drawn to it. Play around with it, exploring and learning before you attempt any kind of actual commitment.
Then, ask yourself, what time of day are you most likely to do this little experiment? For instance, if you want to learn hula hoop tricks, are you more likely to play with the hoop in the morning, at lunch, after work, right before bed? On the weekday or on the weekend? At a party or alone in your living room?
It really is that simple. If you aren’t sure what time of day you might do something, then you probably won’t do it until you can see yourself fitting it in somehow. No doubt you’ve always spent all twenty-four hours of every day of your life. You’ve spent them somehow. The question is when you’re going to take hold of your hours and use them toward what you want the most.
This is a window into possibility. There are infinite ways to think about money and to talk about it. This is ours. Maybe our way will make you feel cheerfully smug about how much better your way is working. Maybe it will boggle your mind. Either way, please accept this invitation to have your own strategy session.
We started talking about money together at the very beginning of our friendship, long before dating each other had ever crossed our minds. It was how we bonded. We were both stressed out and feeling broke and victimized, both recovering from divorce. I was sleeping on an air mattress at the time and he had two metal folding chairs at his dining table.
Part of what we both had in common was that we didn’t trust our exes about money. Both had been secret spenders and both resented us for wanting to save money or make financial plans for the future. We both resonated with the feeling that total transparency is good. It feels easy and light and clean to us.
We like talking about money and strategizing together. It makes us feel like a team and it makes us feel smart.
Not everyone is going to feel this way, and that’s good to know. If you’d like to avoid these kinds of discussions because your partner is not as focused on financial security as you are, then you can. You can just plan your own finances and set a good example. Maybe try to find a way to make the discussion lower-stakes and less tense. Or, like we eventually did, you can come to the hard realization that the two of you simply are not compatible.
Sometimes someone just can’t give you what you need.
No matter what you say or what you do, no matter how hard you try, another person may never fit with you. They have zero ability or intention to change because they are who they are. Their values are not your values, and they never will be.
The tough thing to realize here is that in this kind of situation, I may be the villain! My desire to change another person may make ME the bad guy. This other person never claimed to be any different, never agreed to change, never endorsed my values, and never signed onto my plan. Maybe this other person will have a difficult life because of this, but that is their right. Autonomy is their right. Why waste my time and life energy on this person, out of seven billion possible partners, when they don’t want what I want anyway?
On the other hand, maybe I’m the sloppy one, maybe I’m the one with no plan. In that case, it’s my job to figure out what to do, because it’s my responsibility no matter who I’m with, whether I’m single and alone or in any kind of shared situation. Trusting someone else to figure everything out for me means trusting in the illusion that that person is immortal, omnipotent, and immune to change.
The bedrock of financial strategy is asking, “Can I handle it?” In response to a list of scenarios, what would I do if that happened? If there is a way for money to fix that type of problem, do I have that money? If not, could I get it?
This is why we keep some small, crumpled bills in our go bags. We start with the assumption that in a major crisis, the internet may be out for at least three days and we may not be able to access any of our accounts. We need food and water and we need a way to pay for transportation. A gold brick would be useless in that kind of scenario, and so would a ten million dollar house or a fat stock portfolio.
After the emergency cash comes the default strategy. What if everything is basically fine and crisis-free for the rest of our lives?
We make sure our expenses are lower than our income, that we’re on track. If we kept doing what we’re doing, and we ignored our finances for several months, what would happen? Would it be okay or would it be a disaster?
Next is the part that takes actual concentration, and that is tax season. We sit down and do a little research. As time passes, our ages change and regulations do, too. Can we put more away for retirement? Have the contribution limits changed for our IRAs or our 401(k)?
There was definitely a time in my life when I felt like this type of question did not apply to me, and never would. I felt so broke that I could not imagine a different future. As a result, I missed a lot of opportunities to apply for better jobs, build credentials, or even make a new and improved financial plan.
Assuming I would always be broke almost guaranteed that I *would* always be broke.
There are two things that my husband and I do that most couples do not do. One is that we have a weekly Status Meeting when we talk about our finances. The other is that we took a financial workshop together a few years ago, and as a result we are living on about half our income.
We’re able to talk about our shared accounts cheerfully and with enthusiasm, because we have a working plan. Since our expenses are so much lower than our income, we have a lot of leeway. We can handle surprises (which, financially, are almost always the bad kind of surprise) and we can also “afford” vacations and treats. We live radically, in a tiny home, with no vehicle, and because of that we have almost no financial worries or stress.
Talking financial strategy raises a few extremely salient questions. Can I have that kind of discussion with my partner? Am I at least as focused and prepared as I expect anyone else to be? Am I ready to make changes to my core lifestyle? Do I have reason to feel optimistic about my situation and the future, or is this more of a time for brutal truths?
Financial strategy means caring for Future You, both yourself as an individual and “you” as future partners. It can be a loving gift that leads to long-term contentment. Eventually. And maybe with someone else?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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