Why do we wait when we know we should act? What makes us hesitate when every fiber of our being screams for us to seize our dreams? Do we want to grieve time lost and ask ourselves “what if”? What if we dared, acted courageously, ignored fear and naysayers who undermined our enthusiasm? We can’t afford to accept other’s opinions and discount our belief in ourselves. We have today with no guarantees for tomorrow, next week, or years from now. Why should we compromise, settling for a path which forsakes our true vision?
We are creatures of habit, and we love predictability, structure, and routine. It can be difficult and stressful, but continuing along a route that does not honor our inherent integrity creates deep-seated anxiety. Personal transformations require conscious intention, trust in the reason and purpose for the alteration, and a viable reward for enduring the struggle. But change can also be a positive force. Transformation exhilarates us, producing dramatic shifts and relieving stress as we move toward creating a life that reflects our inner truth.
There is a “Thing” I should be doing daily. From a logical standpoint, I’m committed, onboard, and in total agreement. I have valid reasons (ahem—excuses) for not starting. I’m not a morning person. It’s hot outside, and I might sweat. It’s raining. I went to bed too late, and I’m tired. Instead of kicking my butt, putting my feet on the floor, and moving toward the door, I pull the covers over my head. My “Thing” is not rocket science. It is a simple 2.25-mile walk every morning. A few weeks ago, it was a habit, and for some inexplicable reason, I stopped.
Just do it, they say. It’s easy. Decide to start. But sometimes, starting is the most challenging step of the process. The motivational gurus are full of helpful advice aimed at pushing yourself into beginning your project. One tactic is to set up a reward or a bribe. Somehow, dangling a chocolate chip cookie in front of my nose to encourage me to take a “healthy” walk seems absurd.
Another strategy is to simplify the task, making it so easy to complete you can’t say “no.” I’m wise to that bait and switch scam. A five-minute walk isn’t worth the effort of tying my shoes, and I resent the mental manipulation required to trick myself into completing the entire circuit. If I get five minutes away from home, I’ve locked myself into at least a ten-minute walk. If I’m in for that long, I’m in for the whole 2.25 miles.
I stare at my Habit Tracker and the long line of big black X’s marking the days I didn’t walk. It occurs to me I have been obsessing over my failures this month. I know failure isn’t fatal, and it isn’t a permanent designation. I only need to review my prior month’s Habit Trackers to remind myself of my successes. My mind shifts and I realize what I must do to seize the day.
Yesterday was Day 3 of my virtual writing retreat. I got off to a slow start because I indulged in one of Sunday’s special perks and slept late. Once I was awake and properly caffeinated, I dug into my project notes and got some writing done. That is when my best-laid plans went sideways.
A friend called and proposed an impromptu visit for the afternoon. I couldn’t decline the opportunity, and so I launched into an unscheduled flurry of activity. The prospect of company arriving on my doorstep triggers a whole-house tidy mission. The afternoon stretched into the dinner hour, prompting us to root around in the fridge and discover hamburgers and marinated veggies for the grill. Sometimes a wonderful surprise materializes, even though we have made other plans.
I always remember my number one priority. My core habits are strong, and writing a little every day is my secret weapon. Yesterday I wrote 455 words.
On Sundays, I schedule a block of time to complete my planning for the entire week ahead. I make audacious plans and try to stuff 20 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack. Sleeping is overrated, bathroom breaks are an inconvenience, and eating is optional. Aren’t they? Every project on my list should only take a couple of minutes. Right? Oh, how very wrong. I know the trap of this misconception going into my planning session. I expect projects will require extra, unforeseen work, and I allow for my over-optimistic projections.
My first task is scheduling the non-negotiables. The dreaded 9-5 work hours, meetings, solid, unmovable deadlines, and self-imposed promises sort into this category. On days heavy with meetings and lots of interruptions, I put on my manager’s hat. I try to load these days with meetings, errands, check-in phone calls, and other short-burst administrative-type activities. If I must work in hourly task-changing mode, I pile it on and get as many of those annoying requirements handled as possible.
Where I have large blocks of uninterrupted time is when I put on my creator’s hat. These days I schedule tasks that demand deep concentration, require attention to detail, and kicking my critical mind to the curb, so I can allow my creative side to take over. Knowing I can focus and ignore the clock frees me and lets me find my project’s flow state.
Since I began scheduling my weeks, my productivity has soared, and the number of tasks I complete during the week has left me speechless. The main factor in effecting the changes lies in taking control. Grouping like tasks together and creating uninterrupted chunks of hours for time-intensive activities has made an enormous difference.
Yesterday I participated in a virtual writing retreat with one of my online writing groups. I accomplished little writing per se, but it wasn’t my focus for the day. Instead, I completed several modules for my class and printed every worksheet for the course. I sometimes find handwriting the answers for these types of exercises yield better results than when I work with a word document.
I also reviewed many of my project notes and collected countless scribbles of errant thoughts jotted onto odd slips of paper, envelopes, and in various notebooks. Of course, my review kicked loose new Ideas I felt compelled to add. There are still so many things I want to tackle during my virtual retreat, and I have barely made a dent in my long laundry list.
I always remember my number one priority. My core habits are strong, and writing a little every day is my secret weapon. Yesterday I wrote 484 words.
The only thing better than selecting a book on Saturday afternoon is grabbing one on Saturday morning and spending the entire weekend reading. It is not indulgent. My decision to spend quality time with my nose buried between actual paper pages is supported by lots of research.
Studies show a regular reading habit improves brain connectivity, increases your vocabulary and comprehension, empowers you to empathize with other people, aids in sleep readiness, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, fights depression symptoms, prevents cognitive decline, and contributes to a longer life.
Who am I to argue? Especially since my favorite benefit from reading is it supposedly makes you a better writer. The specific genre doesn’t change the positive benefits. But the prevailing consensus is reading a physical book in the same genre you want to write is better than reading from a device. These are not the sole reason I love reading physical books. There is a tactile component, the smell, and I can write in the margins, highlight text, and (horror) dog-ear pages. I try to limit my “book mutilations” to copies I own, but sometimes I forget myself.
It is something I have done for as long as I can remember, and it turns out it is a “thing.” Marginalia or Scholia are the marks or comments left in the margins of books. The earliest scholia date to the 5th or 4th century BC. In college, I scoured the used textbook section where I searched for annotated texts for my current semester’s courses. Some of those “defaced” texts were pure gold.
There is another aspect of reading I enjoy. I love speaking with fellow readers, discovering we have read the same book and discussing it at length. Those conversations form bonds, develop connections, and reveal personality traits, beliefs, and thought processes like few other types of communications can. Is it any surprise some of my best friends are avid readers?
Yesterday I prepared for my weekend. One of my online writing groups is holding a virtual writing retreat, and lucky me, I’m going. While I won’t be writing per se, I plan to work on my outlines, character sheets, and I have a whole long laundry list of things I want to accomplish. From years of experience, I have learned a valuable lesson. I get so excited about trips that I overpack, over schedule, and try to squeeze every second of fun from my adventure. No one is surprised when I come home, more exhausted than when I left. It doesn’t matter. I always have an unforgettable experience, and I can’t wait to return so I can finish the activities I never even started.
I always remember my number one priority. My core habits are strong, and writing a little every day is my secret weapon. Yesterday I wrote 448 words.
No one ever mistakes me as a patient person. Never. I don’t know why everything didn’t happen yesterday, but I also have high standards. Trust me, the desire for perfection and quick results is a tricky recipe to execute. I stand in front of the microwave, beg it to hurry, and am constantly disappointed by an abysmal dinner that looks nothing like the picture. I force myself to remember the adage about the three kinds of service. It can be good, cheap, or fast. The catch is you can’t have everything. Good and Cheap, won’t be Fast. Cheap and Fast won’t be Good, and Fast and Good won’t be Cheap.
Life is a balancing act, a decision-making exercise. Is this a champagne occasion, or will water suffice? Do I imagine the item I’m creating will endure for generations, or does completing a task and removing it from my To-Do list make me jump for joy? My Achille’s heel is I have a quality gene running through my DNA. No matter what logic tells me, my heart never wants to settle for second best.
The struggle extends to my writing sessions. I believe every word matters, phrases should be beautiful, and I should convey ideas, thought processes, and information in ways designed to inspire readers. I can spend hours editing, polishing, and analyzing every nuance in a few hundred words. I want to create masterpieces. But I also want to complete the piece and send it on its way. In my world, there are deadlines, projects competing for my attention, and a limited window of productivity before my body shuts down and requires sleep. So, I take a deep breath, deem it good enough, and hit the publish button.
Yesterday is a blur. I’m not sure what I did all day, but I know I was so busy it left me exhausted. Or maybe the entire week is catching up with me. I suspect the actual cause of my blurry memory is the consequence of a day consumed with a long line of tasks that did not fully engage my brain. Yep. The old gray matter got bored, and it zoned out on me. That can happen when you perform rote tasks—the body knows what to do, and it leaves the mind free to meander. I hesitate to admit one bright spot. I reached my word count goal during my writing session in record time.
I always remember my number one priority. My core habits are strong, and writing a little every day is my secret weapon. Yesterday I wrote 431 words.