Right around now, everyone deflates. Aw geez, I had all these great feelings on New Year’s Eve and now they’re gone. There was only one magic moment to make the perfect wish, but I didn’t have a tidal wave of motivation, I broke my only chance at a perfect streak, and now it’s too late for me.
I wish we all had this feeling around the entire concept of the perfect streak. Aw, gee, it sure had us all fooled. What a con job. Disappoint.
What is true is that we all have a tendency to let consensus opinion influence what we do or don’t do.
EVERYBODY KNOWS that resolutions don’t work, therefore I can only do an extremely narrow set of activities for the rest of my life no matter what.
Part of a resolution really does work, and it’s confirmed through research. That part is the ‘implementation intention.’ State the thing you plan to do. Most of us do it all the time, routinely. “I’m going for a coffee, care to join me?” “I can’t wait for the new episode.” “Going to Costco to eat all the free samples.”
All of these are clear and bright implementation intentions.
Does anyone doubt that these are going to work? Do we doubt that someone is going to go out for coffee, feeling convinced that they’ll come back with zero coffee every time? Do we doubt that someone is going to finish watching their favorite show? Do we doubt that Costco will continue to hand out free samples?
What’s the difference between these classic, common, and practical implementation intentions, and our New Year’s Resolutions?
Answer: they know HOW, they know WHEN, they know what to do if Plan A doesn’t work out, they’ll keep trying because any obstacle would feel like an anomaly, and they probably don’t have any naysayers. Unlike, in every way, all our shiny new resolutions.
I don’t know if you remember the first time you ever ordered your own meal, either from a restaurant or at a food counter. I do. It was hard! When I was a senior in high school, I decided to learn how to take myself out for lunch. I went to a cafe at the mall and I got a bagel sandwich. I sat down and ate it and read a book, and then I sat there for another 25 minutes because I didn’t understand what happened next. Do you wait until the server comes back to the table and brings you the check? Do you go up to the counter? How can you tell which kind of place is which? What do they do with your change? I felt very alone and young and dumb and incompetent, that is until I pulled up my socks and went to the counter. I FIGURED IT OUT! All by myself! I even left a tip!
The point of this is that at one point, every single thing that we think is easy, routine, or obvious was a part of the unknown.
What that means is that everything we’re unsure about today, is something we are still able to learn how to do. There are other people who know how, just like we know things that are confusing and unfamiliar to other people.
The question is really when.
When are we going to do all these great things?
The middle of January is when most people tend to give up on their resolutions. I think that’s because they realize they haven’t really made much progress yet. We often feel locked in to one single version of something, and if we can’t make it work then we think we’re just not cut out for it. Some very common examples are trying to wake up earlier (rather than go to bed earlier), trying to do one specific kind of workout, or trying to go from “zero to sixty” and become an instant expert.
It’s the new me! I wake up at 4:45 AM every day from now on, so I can run uphill in sleet and hail in the pitch dark, and then at the end of the day I cook gourmet meals entirely from scratch. Perfection or bust.
The vision that we have is a fictional character from a movie that nobody would watch.
Personally, I am useless in the early morning and I know it. I have been on the receiving end of absolutely dozens upon dozens of lectures about early rising, and always being early for things, and sleep hygiene. I don’t care because of three reasons: 1. I know what pavor nocturnus is like and I know that they don’t, because if they did they would definitely say so; 2. I’m probably more productive than this person and I have no shame around my schedule; and 3. I don’t care if other people disapprove of my habits in general. If you have the time to lecture me, that is proof that you have nothing better to do, which then automatically invalidates your opinion.
You know who sleeps from midnight to 8:00 AM? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and moi. Billionaire hours.
The first answer to the question of when is, when do you feel the best and when do you feel the worst? What time of day are you more likely to be in the mood to do things?
Where we mess up is in punishing ourselves, trying to frame our desires in terms of willpower and motivation and moral fiber. What happens then is a series of fashion don’ts: feeling cruddy, not doing the awesome thing, and being less likely to attempt awesomeness the next time.
What works is to focus on how appealing you find the thing, whatever it is. Remind yourself what you like about it, what makes you curious, and why you’re drawn to it. Play around with it, exploring and learning before you attempt any kind of actual commitment.
Then, ask yourself, what time of day are you most likely to do this little experiment? For instance, if you want to learn hula hoop tricks, are you more likely to play with the hoop in the morning, at lunch, after work, right before bed? On the weekday or on the weekend? At a party or alone in your living room?
It really is that simple. If you aren’t sure what time of day you might do something, then you probably won’t do it until you can see yourself fitting it in somehow. No doubt you’ve always spent all twenty-four hours of every day of your life. You’ve spent them somehow. The question is when you’re going to take hold of your hours and use them toward what you want the most.
I still haven’t done anything so far this January! I’m proud of this because sometimes it’s a difficult commitment to keep. It’s more important to me to work my goals ten months of the year than it is to try to maintain some kind of “””perfect””” “””streak””” starting on Day One. Because January is a basically impossible time of year to do anything, other than maybe sleep more or spend less money.
The one thing I have done is to reframe one habit by thinking of it as something else entirely. That’s where the News Machine comes in.
I have a terrible habit - actually many of them - and I also have a good habit, or at least one that I can invoke from time to time. This is part of my secret of habit change and personal transformation, the discovery that a good habit can be harnessed to flip over a bad one.
It’s called “anchoring.”
Peanut butter and... jelly.
Socks and... shoes.
Floss and... brush your teeth.
Trampolines and... ice cream cones. (Ooh, messy).
There is a reverse of this, as there is of most things, and that is when two bad habits are anchored together, or when a good habit triggers a bad one. If a pattern like this is recognized, then it’s time to brainstorm and figure out how to separate the two things. Like, every time I walk into the craft store I spend $40, or, every time I get a coffee I also get an ooey gooey pastry.
Usually the “bad” habit is the thing that we feel is an intrinsic part of our very personality. I quite literally AM an ooey gooey pastry! On the molecular level! I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who is not that!
This is why I usually refer to them as cute habits. Not “bad.” We weren’t born bad, we were born interesting!
Okay, so, confession: my cute habit is that I’d rather be reading than doing basically anything else. And the bad version of that habit is that the more I read, the more I bookmark, and the longer my “to read” list gets. The reason this is bad is that it interferes with my enjoyment. I start to think of my favorite thing as a must-do. Rather than having 100% fun, I start to feel like I “need” to get “caught up.”
Do you ever feel that way?
Crafty people often start to feel like they “need” to “finish” projects, like they’re “behind” on scrapbooking or “finishing” a quilt. What is supposed to be nothing at all other than a relaxing hobby somehow transmogrifies into a guilt machine. I promised! I owe! It’s late! Those emotions come from anchoring the hobby to something else, like giving gifts, showing affection to friends and family, trying to save money, or earning approval. The pressure also comes from shopping for materials, where the more focus there is on the hobby, the more accumulation of materials, and the more space they take up in the home. We think the only ways to relieve those practical and social pressures are to craft faster, rather than to stop buying supplies and stop trying to create 100% handmade gifts. Get back to making it about relaxation!
That’s turning into an entire separate piece, but I’m not going to claim that I’ll ever write it because I’m trying to reframe my personal concept of procrastination.
Why do I feel like I’m procrastinating on personal projects? Why do I sometimes feel this way even when there’s no deadline, nobody is asking for anything from me, and literally nobody cares but me?
Is this true for you, for anything in your life?
As with a lot of things, it’s easier to just go with it than it is to try to change the emotion. I recognize that I feel “behind” on my reading, and I figure out what I can do with that feeling that will lead directly to a positive action.
In my case, I use it to work out on the elliptical.
There! I said it!
I lied, I cheated! I’ve actually been crushing it this month down in the workout room!
I just didn’t want to admit it while talking about New Year’s Resolutions, because it makes other people feel bad. Like my weird little goals have anything to do with anyone but me...
I’ve found that I seem to read faster when I’m on the elliptical for some reason. It makes the time pass quickly.
I’ve tried other types of habits to keep me working out. I tried running on the treadmill, and it makes me feel like my brain is slowly dying. (Current gym does not have a treadmill). I tried the exercise bike but it makes me sore and I don’t think it gives me any results. I tried watching TV shows on the elliptical, but it makes me feel like every minute is really 18 minutes. The thing I’ve settled on is that I can read through news articles.
I can’t emphasize this enough. If you think in terms of “supposed to” and “because” and “everyone else” and “not doing it right” and “fail,” you’re stopping yourself before you start. Try thinking in terms of “works for me” and “not sure why, but” and “for some reason.” You like what you like and you’re allowed to like it.
This is why I’m not thinking about my workout as a workout. I’m thinking about it as the News Machine. When I change clothes, I’m thinking about how many articles I’m going to read, and *that* is my personal burn rate. My metric is that I started out with nearly 400 articles in my news queue, and now I’m down to 120. Yay!
After that, there’s my *other* news queue, and then my “read at leisure” email folder, and then my open tabs...
According to my phone, I’m burning 18% more calories per workout after only two weeks. That comes from the feeling that I call “getting the lead out.” Like I threw off some lead weights. If my starting goal had been to “burn calories” or “move faster” I’m sure I would have been discouraged and I would already be feeling like I aimed too high.
Instead, I’m really just excited about finally feeling that elusive satisfaction of being “all caught up.” I can see it, a month or two from now. If I can keep reading this fast, if I can keep getting a spot on the News Machine...
I’ll probably just keep adding more stuff and making my list longer. Because who would I be without a to-do list or a never-ending stack of things to read?
I’m working on my procrastination tendencies, and something struck me. There are basically two types of procrastination: letting yourself down or letting other people down.
The most commonly procrastinated tasks are financial planning and dealing with health issues. Those come from a lack of urgency, because we can’t imagine Future Self. When we think of an older version of ourselves, the one who will be suffering the consequences of our delays, it lights up in our brains as “a stranger.” Old Me? I don’t know her.
Other than these Future Self types of problems, most of the things we procrastinate affect other people. In this light, suddenly procrastination is less about our to-do lists and more about how we show up for others.
It’s one thing to put off making a dentist appointment. It’s my mouth, after all. It’s another thing to put off doing something when someone else is counting on it.
Not returning calls, texts, voicemail, emails, skywriting, singing telegrams, or whatever is not a task, not in the way that filing taxes is a task. It’s a refusal to engage. It’s a missed connection, a ringing phone that is never picked up, to put things in 1980’s terms.
Maybe that’s the difference?
In the Eighties, most of our missed connections would literally be a ringing phone or a knock on the door. We spent time together face to face. This is hard to imagine, but kids would walk over to each other’s apartments, knock on the door, and ask whoever answered, “Can So-and-So come out to play?” We’d call each other’s homes and literally anyone in the family might answer, because the phone was an object that sat in the kitchen or living room.
Now, a huge amount of our communication is textual. Social media, text messages, email. It feels much colder and more removed. The expectation may be that we do *not* reach the other person directly, that the response will be time-delayed.
While this may work well for most people, for others (including me) I think it makes it feel more abstract. Just a few letters of the alphabet, probably on a piece of glass, rather than another human face and voice.
When we think of a task in the abstract, it’s easy to forget that our participation matters to someone. The act of setting a bowl in the kitchen sink, wandering away, and leaving it there feels like something other than “I hereby choose to proactively annoy my coworkers/roommates/spouse who have already told me that they hate having dirty dishes in the sink.”
Maybe sometimes that act is done specifically because it bothers other people? Maybe we don’t feel so much like “putting this in the dishwasher takes five seconds, I can do it faster than I can actually make the decision” but rather “I DO WHAT I WANT.”
Is what we do, or avoid doing, built around asserting our autonomy?
Personally I feel that my autonomy is a resolved state of affairs. There is no debate around whether I do what I want all the time or not. Putting my bowl in the dishwasher is a way of marking my territory, and it’s the same if I wash up after someone else. This is *my* kitchen and *I* make the rules in this room. Or, I clean up after myself in other people’s homes because I affirmatively build my reputation as a do-er and person of action. If people are going to gossip about me, I want it to be about something far more interesting than whether I am a lazy dish-leaver.
For me, physical tasks are the easiest.
I like mindless chores because I can knock them off while listening to a book. I am good at practical things like sewing buttons, assembling furniture kits, or adjusting the brakes on my bike. I do these things because they make good puzzles and I’m a physically restless person. Whether I’ve made someone else happy by doing these small jobs is mostly beside the point.
There, I fixed it!
Where I have more trouble is in communication chores. I tend to convince myself that I need to choose the perfect time to have a conversation with someone. I’m going to write that response when I can really concentrate and get the details right. The longer I delay, the more it turns into a big deal, which makes it feel like it needs even more bells and whistles.
If you are my friend and you haven’t heard from me in a year, it probably means I really like you!
It seems like maybe there are two sides to this coin. Maybe there are people who would have an easier time doing abstract chores, like taking out the trash, if they realized that it really matters to someone else. It could be a gift. Not “I am doing this annoying chore” but “So-and-So will be pleased if I do what I said I would do.”
On the other side of that same coin, maybe people like me (and are there any?) would have an easier time following through on communication if we saw it more as a task to get done. Maybe thinking of a pending call or message as a loose button or a dirty dish would make that crucial difference.
Usually when I finally get back to someone, all they wanted was to touch base and say Hi. It didn’t need to be a huge emotional breakthrough, just a one-minute “thinking of you.”
How weird would it be if my various casual friends and acquaintances knew it’s easier for me to do something like, I dunno, cleaning out a drain than it is to just say HI back?
All of this probably comes back to our tendencies, to how likely we are to meet internal vs external expectations. In my case, I know that I will do anything if I’ve decided it’s a good idea. What is it that I’m telling myself when I put off responding to text messages? How can I convince myself to see this type of communication as a simple, straightforward social task?
How about you? What type of procrastination are you prone to? Would it be easier for you to get it done with someone else to keep you company? Or are you more of a lone wolf?
It’s January, the best month to DO NOTHING except explore, learn, and develop your curiosity about goals and resolutions. I’m proud to say that I haven’t really done anything toward my annual goals yet, just like most years. This is because of everything I’ve learned about “productivity” and habit formation over the years. Perfection be gone! Death to unbroken streaks!
The War of Art utterly changed my life. You can read it in one sitting, or you can listen to it on audio like I did and walk around with your mouth hanging open.
For those of us who want to DO ALL THE THINGS at the same time, multipotentialites who struggle to stay focused, generally people who feel stretched too thin - try The One Thing,
There is no way to read Better Than Before without finding several helpful insights. Plus Gretchen is a really sweet person with a gentle approach.
Getting Things Done is the one to show off at work, although only after you’ve read the first couple of chapters. This is an analog sort of book and I don’t really agree with Allen’s tech-free focus; that being said, it’s great for pencil-and-paper people.
This book helped me see that Getting Organized actually mattered. I didn’t really see the point of it all before I read this. It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, indeed.
The one true clutter book! I have this practically memorized. Flip through it and read any section of any page.
Apparently quitting social media in some form or another is a common resolution at the New Year. Who knew? If this is something you’ve thought of doing, this is what it was like for me.
I didn’t make a resolution to quit Facebook. On the contrary. For a couple of years I felt really guilty for not spending more time there. I just couldn’t make myself. I tried forcing myself to make the occasional token appearance, but each time it would end the same way. Finally I realized that I was done and I should stop pretending I was ever going to treat social media like a commitment again.
My reasons for feeling ill at the thought of logging in to Facebook might overlap with yours, or they might not. Reasons for doing something else with your time can vary and cover quite a lot of categories.
I realized I was losing an average of two hours a day, and I’d rather spend that time reading
I kept seeing rants about unwanted game invites and it seemed ironic
I got tired of looking at pictures of meat and other badly lit, uninspiring amateur food photography
I started thinking that Mark Zuckerberg is a supervillain, that or a cyborg belonging to a supervillain
Ultimately I decided to replace the unsatisfying time I had been burning on Facebook over the past few years with in-person social activities instead.
The thing I dislike about Facebook the most is the way that people relate in text. The more time I spend away from what used to be a regular part of my day, the more I realize that people truly never act in person the way they do on social media. In so, so many ways is this true!
I would be reading through a thread on a friend’s wall, and someone would insult someone else. This happened countless times. There would be this perfectly reasonable, interesting conversation that might have continued for hours or days. Suddenly, someone would pop on and be really rude.
This is often the root of “unfriending,” a social phenomenon for which there was not even a word until Zucky came along.
It’s not so much that I cared about people insulting *me*, although it happened. It’s that it was so hard to read through a single thread anywhere, on any topic, without it happening. I didn’t even participate in the vast majority of discussions; as a rule, I would only comment if I felt I had something new and different to add, a point to make that hadn’t already been covered.
That’s actually another problem entirely - how many times someone would pop up to make a comment that had already been made by someone else. It proved they hadn’t read the whole thread, and sometimes what they said wasn’t even relevant or made no sense.
It seemed that out of all the people I knew socially, only a handful would moderate the discussions on their threads in any way. Almost all tolerated routine rudeness or impertinence.
I don’t think I’m being too sensitive in this, because as I said, it wasn’t being directed at me. It was tiresome to read through it even when I had never met the arguers involved.
This was by no means limited to political discussions!
People argued about dog breeds and travel behavior and brands of cell phone and wheat and a thousand other things of little to no consequence.
I didn't find it cute or funny. Well, sometimes I did. Mostly I just shook my head and wondered how such innocuous conversations could turn on a dime so quickly. What was making previously ordinary people suddenly so combative and belligerent?
Text-based conversations, that’s what.
What finally happened in my life was that I replaced Facebook with a social club. It could be anything at all, for others, like pickleball or a book group, a band or the dog park or a yoga class. In my case it was Toastmasters.
I started talking to more people face to face. That has always been hard for me, because I’m a shy person and I have struggled quite a lot with social anxiety.
It turns out that, at least where I live, most people are really pretty nice.
The great advantage of being a shy person is that it can make you into a great listener. If you learn to ask thoughtful questions, you can become a sort of interviewer and draw fascinating stories out of people. They flourish under the attention. Sometimes they say they’ve never told that story before, or that they hadn’t thought about it in years.
Storytelling is so much more interesting and fun than arguing!
One story inspires another. We get each other going. We laugh, we cry. We pull each other aside to share observations and compliments. We learn, eventually, how to turn even the most innocuous and minor incidents into well-structured anecdotes.
Example: earlier today I was walking my dog when a slice of toast landed on the sidewalk right in front of us. I looked up, wondering where it could have come from. Did a gull drop it? Then a woman’s head popped over a balcony. She started calling out apologies. She’d thrown the toast “for the birds” and didn’t know we were there.
I laughed so hard!
I could easily imagine myself doing the same thing. I wasn’t mad, I was amused and grateful that something mildly entertaining happened that day.
Without a storytelling group, I might never have thought to share that with anyone. Not the most fascinating story ever told, but I’m sure it has the potential to remind someone else of another story, and then we’re off.
I have never once, not a single time in three years, heard someone insult someone else in Toastmasters.
People do give speeches on sensitive topics, definitely including politics at times. Sometimes these are formal assignments in our program. Pick a controversial topic and try to persuade people of your position. I did mine on outdoor cats, and one guy still wanted to talk about it two months later. It happens. But, we laugh about it because we can see each other’s facial expressions. We can hear each other’s tone of voice. We have a history of liking each other and enjoying one another’s company.
Is that still true of your experience on social media?
Most of my social media “friends” are people I know in person. We friended each other because we met and we liked each other enough to stay in touch. In a lot of cases, though, I think we lost that affectionate regard because our online personas annoyed each other. We liked each other better before social media came along and messed it up.
In a few cases, friends have reached out to DM me, or text me if we’re close enough that they have my phone number. Some of them have arranged to come for a visit. This is part of how you find out who your real friends are, the ones who miss you and like you the most.
Mostly, though, you find that you care more about them than they care about you.
I traded my former Facebook time for a bunch of other stuff. I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. I started having board game parties from time to time. I have text message threads with my family. I also read a lot more books and started up a technology newsletter.
When I was active on social media, I realized that it put me in a worse mood almost every time. There would always be something that irritated me or made me sad. When I traded that in for hanging out with other people face to face, I realized that it left me feeling better every time. Laughs and hugs and food for thought, great stories and light hearts. If there was really a way to capture all of that through text, over social media, believe me, I’d never leave it alone.
How’ve you been?
Busy, so busy!
Yeah, me too.
January is the time of year when I think about TIME the most. The way that time is passing. Everything older people used to tell me about how time moves faster when you’re older unfortunately turned out to be true.
How can we possibly “live our dreams” or have a bucket list when we’re so gosh-darn busy?
We have to.
I think it’s time for a major cultural change. I think we’ve all passed “peak busy” and we’re ready for something else.
In fact, I think we should all start bragging about how lazy we are instead!
I don’t believe that “lazy” actually exists. I’m just saying that. The only people I’ve ever heard describe themselves as lazy turn out to be doing all sorts of things. Did you realize that you can’t be both lazy and a procrastinator at the same time? Seriously. A truly lazy person would not feel bothered by not doing something and wouldn’t feel guilty about putting anything off, either. So which one is it? Are you lazy or are you a procrastinator?
I’m picking lazy, as soon as I can figure out how to do it.
The way our current system is set up, we’re supposed to Work Hard so we can earn money so we can Retire. Retirement is about relaxing and doing nothing as a reward, right?
If relaxing in retirement is so great, then why wait??
Actually I think the idea of hanging out in a recliner in front of a television is the most boring thing imaginable. I don’t really believe in retirement in the traditional sense.
What I want is INTERESTING, not “busy.” Busy is not interesting in itself because it makes us exactly like everyone else. It usually consists of work, chores, and errands.
Why not lead with our real interests? Since surely we do and think about more than just work, chores, and errands?
I’ll tell you mine. Do you think the thylacine is really still alive?? The Tasmanian tiger?
Also, do you think Kate Middleton ever secretly attacks a heavy bag and just kicks it over and over again while screaming curse words? I would.
Anyway. We all know that somehow, in between all the “busy” things we do, we have plenty of time to play with our phones. We text and look at memes and follow celebrity gossip and play games.
Which is awesome, and also a great list of things to do while pushing pedals on the elliptical.
I go on the elliptical because I’m lazy. I could be running along the beach but there’s a really steep hill on the way back to my apartment. It’s easier to just take the elevator down to our little apartment gym, the one that basically nobody uses.
Mostly I go down there and read articles about astrology. Totally true.
So busy! So, so busy!
The thing is that everyone gets the same 24 hours, infuriating as it is. Same as Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, and the high school students riding their skateboards past my apartment. Those 24 hours are the only thing we all have in common.
Are we going to make them ours, or are we going to give them to other people and their priorities?
Pretend an hour of your life is your favorite beverage. Are you going to let someone just walk up, snatch it out of your hand, and drink it right in front of you?
My green tea soy latte NOOOOOOOO
This is exactly why I set my goals and resolutions every year. It’s my little way of saying “in your face” to every naysayer or critic or bad boss I’ve ever had. This hour, it’s mine. Not yours, mine. I decide what to do with my time and you do not. So nyah.
My first boss at my first official paycheck job assigned me to scrub the baseboards. The other employees told me they had never heard of anyone having to do that at that job. Why me? I dunno. I got a better job, tripled my income, and left. My final paycheck was under $40.
Not every use of time is deserving of our attention.
We do have to do a lot of necessary but boring stuff. Life is, what, 80% maintenance? Work, commute, fold laundry, try to figure out where all these little packets of soy sauce and ketchup keep coming from, stand in line somewhere, repeat. Thus it’s up to us to fit in anything personal, to make time for anything that actually matters to us.
For a lot of people, that magic personal thing is listening to music. For others, it’s putting on makeup or watching cute animal videos or choosing new tattoo art. We fit these personal things into our lives somehow or other.
What if we could fit in more?
What if there were more of those forgotten personal things, and it turned out that we have time for them after all?
A friend of mine started drawing again after many years without. Actually two friends of mine did this in different years. In both cases, I could not believe how talented they were, and that nobody knew. Why on earth would you ever give that up? What, not even doodle while you’re on the phone? Not even while you’re out to dinner and there’s a paper tablecloth?
Most of us associate these talents and interests with our school days. For some reason we think it’s normal to sigh and give up.
It’s true that most of us give up lounging on our beds, reading song lyrics, talking on the phone for hours, and all the other fun things we did in high school. We get home at six instead of three, and where are we supposed to find those extra three hours a day?
But then how do the statistics keep coming back that the average American spends five hours a day watching TV?
We certainly don’t need to stop watching TV if that’s what we really love to do. I doubt, though, that we should keep claiming that we’re so, so busy if that’s the main reason we aren’t living our dreams. We should instead proudly proclaim that we’re indulging ourselves, relaxing quite recklessly in defiance of social norms.
There’s time, there’s time for all of it. You can learn a new language while you commute. You can play your favorite 100 albums of all time during your shower, week by week. You can “catch up on laundry” while binge-watching every show you ever wanted. You can draw during lunch. You can even train for a marathon if you have 4-6 hours a week. Not only is there plenty of time for you to put your own fun first, but if you have kids it’s still true. Kids like fun best of all. Set a good example.
People have the wrong idea about this whole “new year, new you” thing. We feel it as pressure. Like the only way to do it is to eat a lot of celery while filing paperwork. Instead it can be a form of rebellion, of reclaiming time for yourself and your own choices in the face of that exact same social pressure. So society wants me to be busy, so so busy? I’m just going to retire early and start telling the truth about my life. The truth is that I like to spend part of my time wearing silly socks and making elaborate breakfasts, just for myself. I’m not busy every single minute and I’m done pretending.
How about you?
We always have our reasons for doing what we do, and those reasons can change. While sometimes our situations and perspectives change, that may not always be a reason to change what we’re doing, too! Anything can continue to be a good idea despite whatever else is going on.
Weirdly, we’re more likely to hang onto our negative constants, like a toxic relationship, than we are to keep up our better habits. We believe in dark circumstances in a way that we don’t believe in good fortune.
The talented person who stays in a dead-end job out of total inertia, resisting the effort involved in a resume update
The former smoker who always starts up again under stress, as though an extremely expensive habit like that is going to help somehow
The family living in a run-down rental for years, never quite getting around to calling the landlord for routine maintenance issues
We probably don’t talk enough about the emotional reality behind positive change. Cynical people don’t want to hear it because they want everything to stay down at their frequency. Skeptics don’t believe it. Positivity always sounds like someone is selling something.
One of the most convincing testimonials I ever heard came from a friend who had all his teeth pulled to get dentures. He said he never realized how much chronic pain he was in from the inflammation of his infected teeth until they were gone. Sure, his mouth was sore for a while, but his entire body felt better. He said if he’d known what a relief it would be, he would have dealt with it sooner.
His original reason for finally seeing the dentist was to move past this cosmetic issue that was holding him back. He became a true believer when this massive amount of hidden pain left his body.
I originally went back to school because I kept seeing job listings for which I was qualified in every way except that they required a bachelor’s degree. I sat down with a calculator and estimated the monthly payments on my inevitable student loans, realized I could afford them even if I never got a better-paying job, and enrolled. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I understood how much advanced education had changed me. I felt that college taught me how to think, how to research an idea, and how to write in ways that would not have arisen from my previous life.
It paid for itself in the first year, of course, but that was beside the point. I was no longer the same person I had been.
We make decisions because they seem like a good idea at the time, because they seem like the obvious next step, or because “everyone’s doing it.” We don’t usually make decisions thinking: Yes, it is time to transform completely.
When I took my first pink collar office job, all I could think about was the money. Suddenly I was earning triple what I did at the convenience store where I worked the summer after high school. I had no idea that the years of boredom and drudgery would turn me into an efficiency machine. It never occurred to me that I would develop a solid foundation of skills that would benefit me no matter what else I did.
This summer I met a kid, a teenager. He was being homeschooled, and he was going around asking everyone what was the most useful thing they learned in high school. Calculus, said my husband the aerospace engineer. Typing, said I. My typing teacher was the bitterest, most sarcastic and pointlessly mean woman I have ever met in life. She would stand against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest and rant about how naive and lazy we all were. That class was terrible. I just wanted to get through it so I could type letters to my boyfriend. Now I type 100 words per minute and it’s possibly the only skill I learned in high school that I use every day.
Two adults in that conversation said they had never learned to touch-type, and they wished they had. It’s not too late, I said, you can get typing games where you shoot zombies or whatever. Ah, but how many people in their thirties through fifties are really going to set aside three weeks to do something that mundane?
Come on. When I started marathon training, I had to relearn how to tie my shoes.
If you think that’s bad, I’ve known at least three men who had to relearn how to WALK after one catastrophic accident or another.
We’re so, so poor at testing our limits. Everyone has a limit somewhere, but how many of us ever test them out? Have you ever worked a muscle to failure, where you send the mental command to move and your muscle does not respond? It’s tiring, but you can indeed move again the next day. We could all be pushing ourselves so hard and finding out what we’re really made of, but we don’t want to. We’d rather live in our comfy little incubators, snuggling under the heat lamp.
The first time I got on an elliptical trainer at a gym, I’d never seen one before and I just wanted to know what it did. My friends invited me. The next time, I got in a row with them and we pedaled our way on our gossip machines. I moved, I went back to school, I changed gyms. The elliptical became my homework machine, the place I did my reading for history. Then it was the “avoid my ex” machine. Now it’s the place I read the news, and also the place I reset my mood. I keep finding elliptical machines with different programming and different strides, different views and different background music, because although my reasons change, the habit continues to serve.
Our reasons may change for things we do, like journaling, saving money, or staying married. Often our positive habits get cast aside, just because we changed schedules or relocated. It can take five minutes to discard years of what supported and nurtured us, just like bad habits can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Every now and then, it’s good to take stock of what we’re doing, compare it to what we were doing at different points in our lives, and remind ourselves of what works and what doesn’t. No matter what situations we might find ourselves in today, our reasons can change and so can we.
That restless feeling is upon me, the feeling that the winds are changing and it’s time to do something new. What will it be?
A lot of people channel this feeling into something pretty specific, like shopping, changing their hair, breaking up with someone, or changing jobs. I suspect others feel compelled to have a baby or adopt a new pet. For me, it’s usually moving, rearranging the furniture, and/or getting rid of a bunch of stuff.
We just moved two months ago, though, so it’s probably going to have to be a new workout.
It’s important to recognize restlessness for what it is. It can be used wisely or poorly. It can turn into a short run of sleepless nights, a quarrel, or any of the not-cute types of impulsive behavior.
Things I’ve seen people do impulsively:
Bring home a puppy, a 15-year commitment after a 15-second decision
Quit jobs without having anything lined up
Join the Army
Run a half-marathon with zero training
Go off their meds
Relocate and cut off communication with their entire extended family
Get married “in France, so it doesn’t count”
Eat at Chipotle
Of course, plenty of people have done all these things after a great deal of deliberation. There’s probably a married, tattooed, dog-owning French Army veteran somewhere out there eating at Chipotle right this minute. Well, maybe not that last part; that’s not so very French. Still. It’s not so much what you do as when and why you do it.
Does it make sense for your life?
One thing I’ve learned from coaching is that people always feel like they have an issue (probably), and they can’t deal with it alone (doubtful), but the real issue that they describe has nothing to do with the approach they want to take. It’s not that they need “accountability,” whatever that is, it’s that they need help getting perspective on their situation.
The one who wants a tougher workout, but really needs about 30% more sleep
The one clearing clutter whose household has zero income
The one who is manufacturing projects in order to delay a divorce
Everyone has a blind spot. Everyone who knows how to drive also knows that something as massive as a sixteen-wheel semi truck or a cement mixer can easily fit into said blind spot. In this sense, we’re our own worst enemies, toodling along without realizing how we are setting ourselves up for trouble.
This is why the desire for a fresh start can end poorly. We have all the emotional energy we need to make amazing changes, and we squander it on the wrong things entirely.
A serious life review can help here, if we are able to do the hard work and if we can assess ourselves honestly. It can help even more if we’re willing to seek outside perspectives, but here again we often tend to listen to the wrong people.
Just the other night, I was talking to a sweet young bunny about her college major and what she wanted to do after she graduated. She said she was a theater major so she didn’t know, because “there weren’t that many jobs in theater.” “I don’t know about that,” I replied, “think about where we live. Some of the highest paid people in our region work in theater.” (Film, comedy, music, other sorts of performance art and the tens of thousands of support positions in sound, lighting etc). “That’s not what they’re going to tell me at Thanksgiving,” she said. I told her to ask herself how well “they” were doing in life before she took their advice.
Seriously, what does my friend’s wife’s grandfather’s next-door neighbor know about me and my career path? (Wishing that were hypothetical).
If I ever say one thing that anyone ever remembers, let it be this:
BEWARE OF NAYSAYERS
(Especially at Thanksgiving)
It continues to astound me how many grown adults out there are still running their decisions past their parents, or their family as an assembled council. I hear it all. The mom trying to convince her daughter to get back together with an alcoholic who cheats. The son who is over thirty who lets his mom pick out his furniture. The brother and sister who live together in their forties because the family pitches a fit whenever they talk about moving on.
I worry when I hear about families with adult kids who are compelled to eat together every week, or more often, because this is what always comes of it. “Kids” in their thirties, forties, or beyond who genuinely feel that they can’t make a decision if they know their extended family will disagree. These are almost never smart decisions!
Whether to buy a house or vehicle, change jobs, go back to school or drop out, have kids or not, get married or divorced - why does the family council always steer people wrong? Why do people keep trusting that tribal advice when it ends badly so much of the time?
The family council is always going to push everyone to get married, have a baby, stay local, buy a house, and choose only the tiniest possible sliver of career that they understand and approve.
I feel fortunate to be solid in my contrarian convictions, because none of those choices
(except marriage) would have worked for me. When I picture my alternate lifestyle, the path not taken, it makes me feel like crying because it would have ruled out my life today under the palm trees.
It’s really the big decisions that matter, the ones we shouldn’t make impulsively but also shouldn’t make because someone else approves. Are we making them when we need to, though, or are we delaying or ignoring them in favor of the superficial?
It’s probably better, then, to use the desire for a fresh start as a sign that it’s time for an assessment. How are things going? Is my most obvious problem, what: financial, dental, situational, relational, physical, social? While I think it out, would it be a good idea to also do some space clearing and update my resume? Should I stay away from pet stores and tattoo parlors just in case?
Every day really is a fresh start. It’s never too late to ditch the naysayers. It’s never a wrong time to take full accountability for your life.
I wasn’t the one who brought it up. It’s true that I’m on a sleep quest this year, but it’s my own private thing. The topic of human hibernation came up in the context of weight loss. Someone was talking about how nice it would be to just go into a coma for six months and wake up at your goal weight. Then everyone got excited about the idea of sleeping for a year.
I mentioned Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and of course everyone wanted to read it, because for women the idea of sleeping for a year is the ultimate fantasy.
We were laughing pretty hard when a latecomer arrived, and we explained that we were talking about sleeping for a year. “Oh!” she said, “there’s a novel about that,” and we laughed even harder. “See? I didn’t make it up.”
We figured out the details: Go to sleep for a year. While you’re knocked out, have all your dental work done, get waxed, schedule a three-hour balayage session, design a full-body tattoo, whatever other boring or painful treatments you might want. Time it to miss all the election cycle news. (Maybe wake up just in time to vote).
Seriously, though. Assuming it were possible, what would it be like to sleep the year away?
Note that everyone in the discussion was a single woman, except for me, and, like everyone else, I don’t have kids. My stepdaughter is turning 25 and she’s been living on her own for years. I can easily understand why any parent with kids at home would be tired enough to want to sleep for a year, but it would be really hard to miss a year of their lives!
Being able to sleep for a year indicates that there are no four-alarm fires that you personally need to handle. Presumably even a surgeon or an EMT has days off when other people are on duty. Most of us aren’t literally responsible for life-or-death situations, we just cultivate our stress levels as if we are.
Does that feel true? Are our exhaustion, stress, and burnout levels really so chronically high that we might even be more tired than emergency room people?
First we have to imagine ourselves in a context in which none of our stress is helpful to society or to ourselves. We have to imagine that, yes, the world can go on without us if we roll over and fluff our pillows.
Then we have to imagine that waking up fully rested and restored would in fact deliver a better version of ourselves. That we could handle our daily routine again in good cheer, knowing we finally did not feel tired.
I know what I would do, if I did it. Assuming my husband was called away on some special mission to Mars and we couldn’t even communicate while he was gone, that I could sleep for a year and not hurt anyone’s feelings, I think I know what I would do.
I’d spend a day getting ready, cleaning out my fridge and putting all my bills on auto-pay. (Maybe I’d see if someone would stow my slumbering body on a little cot in their garage so I didn’t have to pay rent). Sleep for a year, no household chores or errands or cooking or laundry, right?
I’d get rid of all my clothes, assuming they wouldn’t fit the same when I woke up, and who would want that? Maybe keep one baggy sundress to wear to the store when I woke up to replenish my wardrobe.
I’d get rid of all my books, assuming that I’d be no more likely to read them a year from now than I have been so far. It’s not like there aren’t plenty more books out there for when I wake up.
I’d chuck any unread mail, knowing it wouldn’t be my problem a year from now. I don’t owe anyone any money. As long as someone else is taking my pets to the vet, and I’ve got my coma-appointments scheduled for dental work, et cetera, what is possibly coming in through snail mail that will concern me?
What the heck is actually on my to-do list? Does any of it truly need to get done? By me?
Hmm, what else is there?
I guess I’d have to tell people I wasn’t taking calls. Put a disclaimer in an auto-respond email message and change my voicemail. Hi, I’m sleeping until 2021, please don’t leave a message, try me again after I come out of hibernation.
What if this were a natural human biological process, like it is for bears and other animals? What if we all did it at different times? Nobody would be surprised or care that someone was busy pupating or whatever. “I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m emerging from my chrysalis.”
Imagine waking up. Imagine having simply gone to bed for a year, no loose ends and nothing to worry about. What would happen next?
This is a serious question. What would you do tomorrow if you felt fully rested, you had no incomplete tasks, and you understood that you had a clean slate and you could do whatever you wanted?
The truth is that we can basically do this for real any time we like. We are not indentured servants. We can always change jobs, move, consolidate our debts, and/or transform our bodies. We can cut off toxic, draining relationships and go on without them. We can do it all, and we don’t actually need to put ourselves in a coma to do it.
The funniest thing about the idea of sleeping for a year is that, partway into it, you’d start feeling rested enough to no longer feel an urgent need to sleep for a year. How long would that take? Eleven months? One month? Three nights?
It’s a good experiment. Set a bedtime alarm and go to bed at 9:00 pm for a few days. Try it out and see how it feels. Clear your schedule and nap all weekend. Maybe you won’t be tired any more, or maybe you’ll want to keep going for the gold medal and sleep for a year after all.
No one will stop you, most of the time. This is one of life’s biggest secrets. No matter what you are doing, whether good, bad, or ugly, nobody will stop you. You’re free, like it or not.
Sure, people might sometimes try to interfere with you. Usually they only do it when you’re doing something positive and constructive, though. It helps to keep that in mind. It also helps to know that their ways of being your obstacle are pretty predictable.
Tantrums. Usually that’s the method of choice. Someone will bawl you out or get angry and start shouting or slamming things around.
Maybe they’ll give you the silent treatment or be passive-aggressive instead.
When someone behaves in such an immature and loud way, it’s never going to be for a good reason. Nobody throws a tantrum to convince someone to donate blood or get an early start on filing their taxes. Nobody throws a tantrum to convince someone to eat a taco or help themselves to another slice of pie. They throw tantrums to Get Their Way.
Why does someone care whether you do or don’t do something? Either because they think it will prevent them from getting something they want, or because they simply don’t like the thought of you doing it.
What are these things, these things you might want to do that someone else might not want you to do?
Have a successful friendship
Go back to school
Go on a trip somewhere
These are things I’ve found that other people will try to talk me out of. I’ve also found that I was able to do all of them, often more than once, and nothing bad happened. The tantrum-thrower eventually gets over it. Don’t expect them to ever admit that they were wrong, because it won’t happen, but do take note that you got away with it.
As much as people love to insert their opinions, there are other areas where they won’t. I’ve found myself in a couple of situations (going on a date, taking a roommate, moving into an apartment complex with a reputation, eating at Chipotle) where I would have appreciated knowing what my friends already knew. They only admit afterward that they didn't think what you were doing was such a wise idea.
This basically depends on whether you are talking to a group of people who freely share their opinion, or a group who generally choose to “stay out of it.”
There may also be something in there about whether you thought to solicit their specific individual opinion before or after the fact. Some will seek to punish you for your supposed lack of deference.
Yes, yes, you must run all your choices by me in advance. I am the arbiter of all decisions, group or individual.
What I’ve found is that if you simply don’t tell anyone your plans, you can pretty much do what you want all the time.
Often you can also avoid telling them after the fact.
There are two things I chose to do that seemed to arouse the ire and wrath of many of my friends and family like nothing else. Nobody had an opinion (with one exception) when I married my ex-husband. Everyone had an opinion when I 1. Chose to deliberately lose weight and 2. Took up distance running.
I was baffled by this at first. Then I found out that the furor only comes up when you're in the contemplation and beginning phases of something new. After you’re up and running on your own, they lose interest and find some other scandal to occupy themselves.
The next phase of realization set in when I discovered that I could do the exact same things, privately, and if I didn't tell anyone, then nobody had a comment.
Rearrange my furniture? Try a new recipe? Color my hair? Go to Morocco? Read a banned book? Fortunately, because we are a free people in a free country, I did it all. I did it all and nobody said a word because nobody knew.
Another secret to doing what you want and having nobody stop you is to move to a new area. If you have no track record there, nobody knows your backstory. If nobody knows your backstory, then nobody knows whether what you are doing is out of character or entirely consistent with your past behavior.
There is a dark side to this, of course. Pretty much nobody will stop you if you develop an addiction or embezzle money or engage in any other sort of risky behavior. You’ll only be stopped by the natural consequences of your actions, whether legal or merely predictably unfortunate.
You can go out and get a bad haircut or wear unflattering pants or start a project you’ll never finish. You can buy a ticket to a boring movie with a weak ending. You can hoard up your house or go three years without cleaning your bathroom. You can do a lot of stuff that isn’t really all that great an idea, and no one will stop you.
What this all means is that it’s up to you. Whether you love your life or shuffle through it in boredom and resentment is up to you. Whether you live out your dreams or cringe in avoidance of someone else’s disapproval is up to you. Whether you transform your body or go back to school or change careers is up to you. You have choices and you have the power to take action on them. No one will stop you. Let your path be dictated by your own insights, not your naysayers.
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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