Monthly Archives: January 2011

Resolution? What resolution?

It’s the end of January.  Do you know where your resolutions are? 

Yes, your resolution.  You know, the one you were so excited about on January 1 when you said, “This is the year.  This year is going to be different.  This year, I’m really going to do it.  I can really, really feel it.”   Oh, that sweet, optimistic energy of January 1.  Hope springs eternal.

And now, it’s the end of January and, if you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are dark and cold and, very likely, the fire for your resolution is dwindling.  Wherever you live, if you’re like the majority of good-intentioned resolution-makers, by the end of January that resolution seems more like a vague dream.   Resolution?  What resolution?

If that’s the case, or if you are hanging onto your resolution by a mere thread, or just want to give it a little umph, I have an idea for you.   It’s a no-brainer:  A resolution checklist.

This is the first year that on the cusp of February, my resolution is still alive and well, and I attribute that to the checklist I made.  Here’s how it works. 

Often resolutions fail because they are too general or too vague.  We want to develop a quality like patience.  Or resilience.  Or confidence.  Or we want to drop the extra weight or stop smoking.  We want to have a more balanced life.  Or better health.  The experts warn about making your resolution too big, bold, ambitious or ambiguous.  They say that for success your resolution should be simple, specific, doable. 

But here’s the deal:  Maybe I do want to be more resilient, or confident, or balanced, or healthy, or lose weight.  It may sound general, but that is what I want.  Does this mean it shouldn’t be my resolution?

Not necessarily.  It just means I can’t stop there.  I need to put some legs on it.  I need tangible actions to walk me to my goal. 

So this year, I decided to create a resolution checklist. I brainstormed a list of specific, simple (read: easy) actions that will support resolution success.  I identified some as daily actions.  Others are what you might consider “add-ins” – ones I can select and add into my day.   It took me about 20 minutes to do it.   I asked, what things can I do to help me achieve this resolution?  And, bam!  There was my list. 

For example, let’s say you’ve been feeling stressed and that all you do is work.  You feel like you are neglecting other parts of life that are important to you.  And you see that working 24/7 is not, in fact,  enhancing your productivity.  Quite the opposite.  So, let’s say it’s your New Year’s resolution to have more balance in your life.  For your resolution checklist, you might come up with daily actions like:

  • Go to bed by 11 pm
  • Do not check emails after 7 pm
  • Wake up before everyone else and sit quietly for 5 precious minutes
  • Walk at least 15 minutes
  • Take 3 5 -minute breaks during the day to look out the window, stretch, or breathe deeply
  • Include protein in every meal
  • Have a maximum of 1 cup of coffee

You might create add-in actions like:

  • Turn off the TV from 5-8 pm
  • Do not bring work home
  • Play a game with the kids
  • Have a family meal without distractions (tv, text messaging, etc.)
  • Play the piano for 30 minutes

You get the idea.

At the start of my day, I glance at my checklist, select the actions I’ll include that day and when I’ll do them. 

Why is this working?  Mostly because I don’t have to think so much.  It really is a no-brainer.  All the possible actions are already figured out.  All I have to do is pick and choose.  It’s a buffet of resolution actions.  There are actions to suit any day, any schedule, any mood.  So, I can be sure I’ll be doing something to keep with the program.  Also, reviewing the list at the beginning of the day just takes a second and keeps my resolution at the forefront of my mind. 

So I encourage you:  Before you throw this year’s resolution on the pile of abandoned dreams, give it a shot.  Brainstorm a list of really simple things you can do to put your resolution into action (the more the merrier).   Use a resolution checklist and you’ll increase the odds that at the end of the year you’ll be saying, “Resolution for 2011?  Check!”

PRESS PAUSE ~ Productive Wisdom II

PRESS PAUSE in your day and catch your breath with this  short video I made.

(You can include this PRESS PAUSE video in your day whenever you want.  To find it again, click on the Press Pause link under categories.)

Get Your Edge Back

The Junk Drawer.   It’s that catch-all place (often found in the kitchen) for various and sundry things that don’t seem to have any other home.  The drawer for the homeless things.  

I’ve noticed that these days the junk drawer is no longer limited to a drawer. (Do you see where I’m going with this?) It has overflowed its sides and now many of us find that we are living and working in it.  The desk, the office, the dining room table, the chair, the kitchen – they’re looking a lot like the junk drawer. 

Here’s the deal:  For energy to flow smoothly and efficiently, it needs to be contained.  It has to have edges so that it flows purposefully in the direction it’s intended and doesn’t leak out all over the place. Look at the design of nature.  Blood doesn’t just pour through your body.  It’s carried with efficiency to the places it needs to go through a structure of blood vessels and veins.  If your blood vessels and veins did not have good “edges,” you’d be in serious trouble.

Look at plants and animals.  Look at rivers and streams.   When the banks of a river cannot contain the water anymore, there is flooding, and that water once en route to the ocean is going to take a lot longer to get there.   When our work and life has no clear containers, it “leaks” out and our energy and attention gets dispersed. 

Why do containers help us preserve our energy?  For one thing, containers create meaning.  The brain is a meaning maker – perpetually identifying, sorting, grouping, organizing, defining.  These skills operate beneath our awareness to help us know and navigate the world with ease.  We don’t have to learn what a tree or a road or a car is every day.   So it stands to reason that we support the mind and it’s activities when we create organizing structures in our environment.  By creating containers for similar things, we distinguish them and give them meaning.  It is the simplest trick that gives an immediate pay-off in efficiency, energy, clarity, ease, and even money.   

Before I had this container for my office supplies, they were tucked in several different places with no real rhyme or reason.  When I finally contained them in one place, I was able to see that I actually had 7 rolls of double-sided tape.  When things don’t have a clear home, it’s easy to waste and to overbuy.   

When the stuff of our work gets splattered together, the mind works overtime to refigure out what is what.  Unconsciously, a part of our brain is sorting, separating, organizing the proverbial junk drawer we are working in.  We spend more time than necessary looking for things, relooking at things, reprinting things, re-remembering things, and sometimes, re-buying things.  Our energy, time, and attention gets drained.  It subtly leaks out without our realizing it. 

Don’t let things steal your energy.  Free your energy by containing things. 

There are basically two types of containers – Home Containers and Action Containers:

Home Containers:   “Home” here doesn’t refer to containers you use at home, as such.  “Home” here refers to containers that are the home for the things they contain.  This is where these things live. Their home address. Some examples of Home Containers include:

  • Project and reference files/folders (electronic and paper)
  • Binders related to projects or topics
  • Baskets, bins, boxes for similar materials, e.g., office supplies, stationery, journals

Action Containers:  Unlike home containers, the things in these containers don’t permanently reside here.   These containers temporarily house things that require the same action.  They are more like weigh stations or a stop-over on the way the home.  Here are some examples of Action Containers:

  • In-box (physical and email) for things that you haven’t looked at, figured out, and processed yet
  • Out-box for things that are going out of your office or home – e.g., to home, to office, to be mailed, to a colleague
  • Mailbox
  • Folder or box for “Bills to Pay”
  • Reading folder for documents you want to read
  • Batch folders for any process that you consistently do related to documents eg., for signature, for approval, input into a system, to scan, etc.

So here’s my advice.  If you’re noticing that your _____________ (office, desk, dining room table, kitchen counter, home – you fill in the blank) is looking alarmingly like a junk drawer, if your stuff is mingling without meaning, try this: start small with a container or two.  There is no need to overwhelm yourself with a shopping spree at the Container Store.  Start small:  Put your tape, scissors, and stapler in a basket or box.  Or put the materials related to the project that has taken over your desk and your life in a binder or folder.  Try it out.  See how you feel when you give meaning to the stuff by giving it boundaries, edges.  

And while a trip to Container Store is great if and when you’re ready, you can also recycle containers.  I reuse glass jars from salsa or other food for paperclips, rubber bands, pens, etc.  I use a basket I received with a food gift for my envelopes, stamps, and return address labels.

Think edges.  Think containers.  Think boundaries.  If you do this, you’ll spend less time thinking about your things.  Learn to contain yourself and your energy by containing the things in your world – step by step.   Give your things a home and get your edge back.

Some easy containers: 

Perfect for Magazines & Journals

This magazine, Everyday Food, used to be scattered around my home. Now, I can easily find them here.

My In-box

Binders can keep project materials together, organized, and portable

What has lost it’s edge in your world? What can you do to contain it?

PICTURE THIS ~ Legacy Thinking

as seen on my run today

“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”  ~ William James

“We must not, in trying to think how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often, cannot foresee.”  ~Marian Wright Edelman

Have Spark, Will Travel

I went running for the first time in weeks.  In anything, it’s hard to start again. And while I can’t run as far, I notice I’m a little stronger than the last time I started again.   And something made me smile as I ran:  I felt that little spark inside that sooner or later rises up and gets me back on track. I love that little spark.  I bow to that little spark.  That little spark is going to take me to my goal. 

Starting again.  A true life skill if ever there was one.  Again and again, we start again.  Who knows what takes us off our forward progression to our goals. It may be as simple as travel, a hectic schedule, lack of sleep, or laziness; or as difficult as a big fat mistake, an unforeseen set-back, or a tragedy.  It’s humbling to start again.  But I realize I better get used to it.  So far it seems like the name of the game.   The Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, stand up eight” says it all.

And today when I ran, I was reminded of the secret agent of starting again:  that little spark.  That thing inside that gets up again, that doesn’t take no for an answer, and rises (eventually, at least) to the occasion. 

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  – Mary Anne Radmacher

Believe me, there are times when I can barely find that spark and I’d swear it has taken a permanent vacation.  But lo and behold, it eventually walks in the door on its own mysterious timetable.  People have lots of names for that spark:  desire, will, aspiration, instinct, endorphins, intention, inspiration.  Some call it the soul, grace, or even God.  Whatever the name,  it’s the thing that inspires me when I see someone overcome a challenge – small or large, or as simple as starting to run again.  Or begin a diet again.  Or try again. 

Since that little spark seems to be rather important, I’ve been thinking about how to  find it when it seems all but snuffed out.  Here are some ideas:
 
Curl up:  While this isn’t always recommended, there are times when it seems the fetal position is all I got.  Sometimes I just need to be with myself, curl up, be quiet, and wait it out a bit.  Maybe the little spark needs a little rest and recovery.
 
Move:  The opposite of “curl up,”  move is a good prescription.  As the days passed, I became evermore resistant to starting my running routine again.  So, I thought about taking a walk instead.  And then, one day, I did it.  And after a few days, I thought about running.  And then, one day, I did it.  And there was that little spark.  Movement helps me break out of paralysis.
 
Be Quiet and Listen:   The little spark can’t always compete with the chorus of inside and outside talk.  Like many, I rely on my spiritual practices to help me become quiet.  But if that isn’t your style, just take a breath or two.  Have a cup of tea (or two).    Take a little time out and listen.  That little spark may have something important to say. 
 
Accept:  You know that expression, “What you resist persists”?   I’ve found that I’m stalled until I can  accept it – whatever it is:  a mistake, out-of control email, a lost relationship or job, a bad habit.  This could also be called, “Go with the flow.”  Sometimes reality sucks, but once I accept it, it’s possible to move on. 
 
Lower Expectations:  It’s easy to get frozen in the disappointment about  where I think I should be versus where I actually am.   It’s frustrating to  get back in shape (again), lose the weight (again), kick the habit (again),  or begin a good one (again).  Here’s when I have to lower expectations.  And so, right now, I only go 1 mile, instead of two.  Or walk, instead of run.  I’ll make it up in time.  
 
Do Something.    When I’m stuck, I just need to take one small step.  Do something.  Do anything.  Send an email.  Say a prayer.  Brainstorm a list.  Research.  Ask a question.  Make a call.  It’s like moving.  It gets me out of paralysis and might just get some sparks flying.
 
Phone a Friend:   I have friends who know my goals.  Sometimes when I forget, they remind me.  They can be a lifeline back to the little spark. 
 
Love:  I think the little spark loves love.   Who knows, maybe the little spark is love.  Sometimes, it’s just a  matter of pausing, taking a breath, and focusing on that love for my goal.  “Love conquers all.”  Not to go all sentimental on you, but so far, it’s panned out that way.   And if you can’t recover that love for the goal (maybe it’s a bit fogged over), do anything you love.  Look at your baby’s face.  Dance (which also covers the “Move” suggestion).   Have hot chocolate.  Watch your favorite movie.  Watch your favorite sport.  Anything.  Just make sure you reallly, really love it.

 

And on that note, here’s a little video I saw the other day.   Enjoy!   Happy 2011.  Here’s to starting again.  And the little spark. 

What do you do to find the spark?