WHY

Mid January. Two weeks into the New Year. Somewhere between establishing new habits and abandoning them completely.

Yes?

Yes.

Here’s what keeps coming up for me:

Start with the end in mind.

Everywhere I look. Everywhere I turn. Everything I read. Every time I create a marketing piece for the studio, program a workshop or training, or set quarterly goals. Some variation of setting an intention and creating action around that energy. I hear my teachers sharing it. I see it on other blogs, and posts, and in curriculum, and in the books on my nightstand begging me to finish them.

Start.With the END.In Mind.

And, I’ve been trying this out on a daily basis, instead of just big picture, zoom out a year from now, what am I inviting into my life kind of work. I’ve been applying to my daily interactions, habits, actions, and thoughts. And, I’ve been writing it down using my Best Self planner, which was a suggestion from my teacher.

This planner works differently than most. It’s not about listing shit to do, or prioritizing the shit, or labeling and categorizing the shit. Or tasking the shit out of the shit.

It’s not about the shit itself, it’s about identifying WHY you want to do the shit in the first place, and then choosing your actions based on that.

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HEY THERE, YOU’RE AN ALLSTAR

Have you ever observed a spinning top? It leans one way, and then another until it slows and topples. Notice that it never simply spins in the middle, centered, perfectly balanced in all directions.

Let’s take a look at that little metaphor of life, shall we?

How many things are you doing right now? How many jobs, titles and responsibilities all fall under the label of “MINE” at present?

Can you even count them?

I can’t.

Seriously. I can’t. Mom, Yoga Teacher, Professor, Writer, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Student, Yogi, Runner, CrossFitter, Athlete, Housekeeper (a bad one), CFO (equally unskilled in this department), CEO, Amatuer Chef, Mid-level Baker, Wannabe Standup Comedian, Grown-up (shiver).

The list goes on. And on. And on.

I wonder if I can fit that all on one business card? Oh wait. I know. I CAN. There is one title that covers all of that.

I am. . . DELUSIONAL.

Ha! But really. To be honest, I cannot possibly continue to do all of that all the time at a level of satisfaction that I would prefer. I (big surprise coming here, brace yourself), like to do everything right. I like to be the best. I want to be the winner. The example. The Superstar. Wonder Woman. Yep. For sure that’s me.

Or not.

Or, I am learning, that just like a top, when I lean one direction, I am leaning away from another. If I give my time and energy to one thing, that by default, it means I am not giving it to something else.

I physically cannot lean in two directions at the same time.

That does not mean I haven’t been trying. I mean, I have a pretty decent Warrior Two pose and all but. . . Yeah. I still fall over. Often.

The solution? Change. Let go. Shift my priorities and change my expectations.

To tie it up nicely with a bow, I engage in the following:

  1. Calm
  2. The
  3. Fuck
  4. Down

For real. I mean it. Chill.

What does this really look like?  Well, like this, actually:

1. Save yourself and get out of the pool, Narcissus.

Take a big breath and cut yourself a little slack. Despite what your ego may be demanding, you are human, actually. So, you know, take of the cape, offer yourself a little grace and get comfortable with not being numero uno in every.single.category.ever. You are enough. Accept that. Stop fighting for first. The leader of the pack blocks the wind for those behind him, enjoy a little reprieve from the full gale force now and then, would you?

2. Pick teams, choose sides and then rally.

Determine your priorities, both short and long term. Be clear and limited in scope. Depth not breadth. Decrease your bandwidth. Stay in perspective. Not everything has to be done RIGHT NOW, at the speed of light and before the kids get home from school. One step at a time. The journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step, remember? Maybe figure out what step one is, eh?

3. Set your intention.

If you don’t know where you are now it will be difficult to recognize where you’re going and how you got there.  Spend some time identifying your current reality then take a look down the path a few steps. Decide what you want. Be very very clear about how you would like your future to look and ask for it. Be specific and open to interpretation. We usually get exactly what we ask for, whether we recognize it or not, and dependent largely in part on the energy we are sending out into the universe. Be aware of your thoughts and stay positive in your intention so when that karmic boomerang comes back around you can catch it , and with open arms.

4.  Clean your (metaphorical) house.

Get organized. Get rid of clutter, both tangible and intangible. If it’s not serving you, let it go. If it can be done by someone else, let it. If you can use help, take it. If you can give it away then let it find a new home. If it doesn’t help you, or the people in your lives in growth, then drop it, no matter how hard it is.  

Less is more. I repeat. Less.Is.MORE.

5. Change your Mind(set)

If you can’t reasonably let something go at the moment, then change the way you think about it. Remember, everything is impermanent. Everything. Let work just be a means to an end and not an identity. Allow pain and fear to bring wisdom and experience. Let dealing with difficult people in your life be a lesson in patience and humanity; find the cry for love in every angry face.

“When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless.”

Byron Katie

My friends, be Dory- just keep swimming.

SITTING WAITING WISHING

It has come to my recent attention that I, like several others I know (yes, that’s you I’m talking to) am putting the “pro” in procrastination.  Seriously. When life gets overwhelming, sometimes a little impromptu game of hide and seek occurs. The problem being, of course, everyone is hiding and no one is seeking. . .  Oops.

I’m not saying I don’t get things done. I do. I am a Task.Master. I do more in one day that most people do in a week (she said ever so humbly). But, I also, um, seem to have the attention span of a five year old during center time when it comes time to sit and work for more than an hour.

This is hardly a problem unique to me; there’s a reason that a Google search for “procrastination” brings up “About 3,930,000 results.”  As a matter of fact, I think we ought to make our nationwide motto:

America: avoiding dealing with our own shit since 1776.”

Stop laughing. Seriously. At least try. You laugh because you know it’s true. This is learned behavior, to be sure, and learned in response to the desire to manage our emotions. When faced with a task, our brains immediately react in certain predictable ways, triggering a fight or flight response pattern, a growth or a fixed mindset, a pessimistic or optimistic point of view, and a work ethic we have trained ourselves to hold.  In sum, there are certain patterns of thought and action that either help, or hinder a person in their attempt to get ‘er done.

To clarify, let me provide an illustration, organized in a compare and contrast method to best enlighten you.  Let me present:

The Pedagogy of Procrastination: How to make difficult things take longer and get more complicated.

1. Identify the task, project or assignment. Write it down on your to-do list. It is now

o-f-f-i-c-i-a-l.

2. Stare at said herculean task. Turn it into a metaphorical monster by thinking immediately of the end result. Focus only on the outcome, that MUST be achieved, right away. Because.

3. Be sure to set a shit ton of expectations for yourself surrounding said outcome.

4. Panic a little. Slump shoulders. Complain a bit. Sigh several times, loudly. Announce to the world that those were really “deep cleansing breaths,” just to make yourself feel better.

5. Get up and do something else. The dishes look dirty. Pretty sure the laundry needs to be swapped out. And those baseboards? I mean, have they ever even BEEN cleaned? Now is a good time for that. For sure.

6.  Come back to the list. Reorder it. Do something else that looks more fun and cross it off, in permanent ink. Look at you, getting things done. #superstar

7. Give self a pep talk. Remind your reluctant brain of the super high stakes (that you set) and why it is super critical to do it. NOW.

8. Sit down, resolved to get to work. Open up five other tabs on your computer screen. Music, work e-mail, personal e-mail, other, other e-mail, social media, you know, important stuff. Respond immediately to all pings, dings, and beeps from said apps.

9. Remember that you: a) were supposed to be somewhere else right now, b) pick something up for a friend, c) are missing some material for the task, d) haven’t worked out yet.  Get up and go do that instead.

10. At 9pm walk into to the shitstorm you have created for yourself. Pull an all-nighter to get task done. Spend the entire next day completely exhausted and unproductive. Unless sleepwalking is a skill, then you get an A+.

Sound familiar? Yeah. Thought so. Let’s work through that, a different way. In other words:

Let’s do this, bitches.

HOW TO BREAK UP WITH PROCRASTINATION: ONE STEP AT A TIME:

1. Make the list, if you’d like, but limit it to what you can realistically accomplish today. No more than five items (second reference to this method) as the key here is to prioritize.

2. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  Focus on the first task. Not the fifth. Not the end result, the FIRST task. If it requires multiple steps, do not, I repeat, do NOT, get hung up on the enormity of the end product. That immediately raises our affective filter and we respond in a number of negative ways, including anxiety, avoidance and sometimes, a total meltdown. Instead, turn it into a performance goal in lieu of an outcome goal. What can you do, right now, to make progress? Do that. Save your energy for the next steps when it’s time to do them.   Sidenote- I hold to this philosophy (one step at a time) so strongly I got it tattooed on my foot written like a heartbeat; it’s my lifeline, literally.

3. Speaking of tasks… When choosing the first task, it can be very helpful to choose one that is easy to complete first. This gives you a sense of accomplishment, gets you moving in the right direction and puts your brain in happy place. Happy=productive=work=success. Bing, bang, boom, done.

4.  Work with your natural rhythm, stop fighting with yourself.  If you are a morning person, do important tasks then. Night owl? Do your work in the twilight hours, if you can. Know yourself and when you will work best and use your less productive times to do things that don’t require significant effort.

5. Set a time limit. Seriously. Ten minutes even. Think this isn’t enough time to get stuff done? Really? How much can you get done in a microwave minute? How about a treadmill minute? Yeah. Thought so. If you give yourself an end point, then devote 100% of your time and energy for that duration the quality and quantity of your work will improve, significantly. The same rule that applies to “how many miles left,” “how many more sit-ups do I get to do” also holds true to e-mails, phone calls and projects. Set a reasonable amount of time to get work done, then do it. Our brains are comforted by quantities; when we know how long or how much of something we get to endure we can better prepare ourselves to endure it.

6. Speaking of minutes and natural times of productivity- try this method for small tasks when you have a bunch of “little” things to do – if you can do it in two minutes, do it now. If it takes longer than two minutes, put it on the list for later. This adds up fast- really fast- you’ll be amazed at how many little tasks you can get done in an hour with this approach. Just remember- this is for times of low productivity. This is NOT meant to be used to avoid the big stuff. Nice try though.

7. Take frequent breaks to move after you finish a task or your timer hollers at you.  Take a ten minute walk. Do 20 push-ups, use a foam roller or a mobility ball to break up lactic acid in your arms and legs. Do not simply choose another time-sucker such as Words With Friends. Nope. Get your ass up and get moving. The blood flow will go to your brain and increase your mental productivity, energy, and mood. Don’t believe me? Dare you to try it.

8. Go incognito when you work. No phone. No e-mail, no apps open. Ignore the beeps. You can even set your browser to incognito mode to help yourself. This means, gasp, you will only have one tab open at a time. I know it looks weird to only see one label up there, get over it.

9.  Stop eating like shit. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You are what you eat. Sugar makes you crash, hard. Ditto on empty carbs.  Eat a balanced meal that won’t upset your stomach or make you fall asleep on your keyboard. Drink lots and lots of water and minimize your caffeine intake. Really. Quick “energy boosting” nonsense labeled as “food” gives a short burst of artificial energy that dissipates quickly. Even worse, it flushes your natural endorphins out and then actually cycles your body into a craving mode leaving you tired and wanting more and more each time. Basically, it works just like a drug. Not kidding. The easiest way to avoid this problem is by not consuming it in the first place. One cup of coffee- healthy. Five? notsomuch. Remember- a fueled body is a productive body. A tired body gives up quickly and has an attention span rivaling a small furry rodent. Be a turtle, not a squirrel.

10. Hold yourself accountable to the realistic commitments you have set. Be your own boss, even if you’re not really. Work like you’d expect an employee to work. Would you pay yourself to browse the Twitter feed? I think not, unless you are in content marketing, like uh, me. Work with integrity, and let that be your guide. Walk your talk, do the right thing, even when no one is looking, because the truth is, someone probably is. Be who you want to be, all day, every day. #youcandoitputyourbackintoit

Well alrighty then. I can cross that off my list. Ahem. Sitting up straight now. About to take a break. Phew.

I’ll swear I’ll stop procrastinating. Just you wait and see.

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PLOT TWISTS

“The whole magic of a plot requires that somebody be impeded from getting something over with.”

– Renata Adler, Speedboat

Okay, I admit that I’m struggling a little bit with the concept that it is 2014, and I am still wrapping my head around the gratitude bubble of where I am right now. I just wrote my rent check, and it kind of blew my mind. One- because I almost wrote 2013 as the year, and two- because it’s a rent check. As in, not a mortgage check (thank GOD), and for a rental home, in East Sacramento, in the most quintessentially charming abode in which I have yet to have the privilege of dwelling. This is kind of a big deal, like I’m borderline concerned someone is going to knock on my door and tell me that the movie set I’ve been living on (in?) is getting packed up without me. But the cool part is- it’s not.

Because for sure my life is just like a movie script. Totally. Like I think this might be a blockbuster hit. Actually, in the last year during this journey of self-actualization, my life kind of has been legitimately like a movie. It’s been surreal almost. I have had more moments in the last twelve months where I have stepped back and thought “holy shit, this is my life? This is f#cking awesome” than I did in the previous 32 years combined. It’s not that I was never happy before, I just didn’t really, well, get it, or at the very least I didn’t understand how to recognize and appreciate it like I do now. And for full disclosure, it also had several “ow, ow, ow, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, now what?” temporary panic moments; I have just learned to deal with them differently.

You know when you see a movie again that you watched for the first time as a kid and all of the sudden you get it, like really get it? This was probably followed by some uncomfortable realizations (awkward, much)as you realized there were layers of understanding that you just plain didn’t understand the first go around and now make infinite sense to you? Yeah. Ditto. And that keeps happening in my movie life too. Those lessons that the universe keeps handing me – they are starting to get a little clearer. The focus has improved, the lens magnified and the stage readied. Apparently reliving critical scenes a half dozen times is finally working out because my understanding of the lessons keeps improving (and yeah, it’s about damn time).

My personal life has been a fairly standard drama to date, a comedy in large part and a thriller at times even. Whooo. Goosebumps. Damn if there haven’t been a whole lot of high speed chases, boy-meets-girl screenshots and romantic blunders, dramatic pauses, legitimate brushes with death, epically bad parenting fails, screenwriter award worthy arguments, and a whole lot of comedic montages. But mostly, there have been a solid set of incredible, powerful, unexpected, unanticipated, and sometimes undesirable, changes in the storyline.

Try as I might to plan my future, a great deal of what I have done has had nothing to do with where I had envisioned myself actually being and a whole lot to do with experiences, relationships and opportunities that arose. Plot twists, as they were. And there are so many more to come. This show ain’t anywhere near over yet. The movie reel is still rolling, the suspense is building and the main character, having finally sorted most of her shit out, has emerged.

I could choose to see this as terrifying, but I don’t. I think it’s pretty damn awesome. I am in awe of, inspired by and motivated because of the juxtaposition of forces in my life and the sheer serendipity of it all. By the balancing act of wants, needs and facts. Of where I want to go with where I’m actually going. Of what I want to happen with what is and will. I am fascinated by the fact that the more positive energy I put into creating my own happy reality the more happy my reality becomes. That when I visualize, it materializes.

While I certainly don’t have any control over a large majority of the script, I do get to write my own dialogue and at least to some extent, choose the characters with whom I interact. I hold sole charge in my reactions and responses to each new climactic convolution in screenplay. This is where the message lies and the way in which I will ensure my own success in whatever situation, be it perceived fortuitous or not, comes my way.

Witnessing this, seeing it, especially when and while it is happening, has been undeniably impactful. Living through an experience present and mindful enough to keep it chill, hold it down or otherwise simply breathe and recognize is what is allowing me to star as the protagonist in this feature film. It has turned category five storms into scattered showers, tiny accomplishments into giant celebrations, mountains into molehills, an opening act into the headliner.

On a keeping it real level, it has reduced my stress so significantly that I went from taking OTC heartburn medication daily to not even remembering which brand I used to use. From borderline dangerous blood pressure to the kind that is so low the nurse comes back to check to make sure the armband is actually in the right place. From surviving, cup to cup, on caffeine, hardly sleeping, and overreacting when I faced adversity at work or home to consuming one cup of coffee a day (usually), getting 6-7 hours of solid sleep at night and managing most stressful moments with a calm and composed demeanor and tone (disclaimer- I said MOST, not all. MOST, as in I have made improvement here people, like passing the 50% mark, finally).

For example, when I’m driving and some assho-, I mean, uh, someONE, cuts me off, I don’t get upset and yell at them anymore (as if they could actually hear me anyway . . .). I just chalk it up to their own agenda resulting in their mistake, watch to see that it doesn’t impact me any further and shrug it off. When someone makes an asinine remark at a social event I don’t take it personally, their perception has to do with their issues, not mine. I am who I am and I’m good with that, if you don’t like me that’s YP baby (and don’t worry, I’ll like you back anyway, I’m cool like that).

When people don’t live up to my expectations I remember that the problem in the first place is that I held expectations for them at all (oh, and I totally crank up “Hang Me Up To Dry” if I am having a little trouble letting that one go. . . I think a four minute session with the Cold War Kids is reasonable, if not recommended, when one really wants to get.that.shit.out., just sayin’). If I miss a deadline I don’t waste time beating myself up about it, I just keep moving forward and get it done already.  When my day doesn’t go like google calendar said it was going to, I just (gasp) delete or rearrange the boxes that didn’t end up on the day’s Hot Ticket list.  Scary, I know. Shiver. All this flexibility and positivity and zen and go with the flow nonsense. One might think I was regularly practicing yoga or something. . .

I am working on teaching these skills to my children, but more about that later. For now, let’s just say that I am making solid progress on mastering the art of contortion. I am learning to be flexible when things don’t go my way, to stay focused on the big picture and to generally maintain the leading role in my real life cinematic production.

In the spirit of visceral wisdom that all good Pinterest quotes carry (insert snarky remark here . . . ), let me suggest that “when something goes amiss in your life, yell PLOT TWIST, and move on.”

“When all the details fit in perfectly, something is probably wrong with the story.”

Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction

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