Day by Day

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

Someone asked me the other day about the Happiness Project. I talked about it for a few minutes, about why I paid to join a coaching system and what I hope to accomplish. Then there was a follow-up question: So how many “resolutions” do you have this year?

I don’t know. I’m taking it day by day and month by month.

In years past, I’ve launched all my initiatives at the same time. Do all the things, every day! Do them without missing a day! If you skip a day you’ve ruined everything! Friends, perfectionism ain’t no joke. She’s a terrible life coach.

In my divorce from the rules and regulations of religion, I’ve developed softer lines and fuzzier edges (not just from stress eating and Sunday morning mimosas). My inner voice is softer. I’m no longer thinking in all or nothing terms. I believe not in transformation but in evolution.

This year will bring changes, some of which I will plan, but many of which I will not.

These changes will not all happen at once, but they will happen.

I will hold space to welcome the unknown and the unexpected.

For January, I have four foundational habits I am forming:

  • Pause morning and evening – these are moments of planning, meditation, and evaluation. Sometimes I journal, but if I’m tired or in a hurry, simply a moment or two will recenter and redirect me on the path I intended for the day, or create space for a new intention. Yep, I’ll change a whole plan mid-day if unforeseen events require it, and call it a win when I adapt rather than resist.
  • Keep a bullet journal – I’ve planned and failed at this more often than I care to admit. But my pausing habit facilitates my bujo habit. I’m experiencing more success by pairing the habits and more happiness by tracking, recording and remembering things by keeping them all in one place. And it’s pretty yellow, which makes me smile each time I pick it up.
  • Plan Dinner – This habit pairs with my bujo. I don’t know about you, but when I know what’s for dinner on a daily basis, we eat better and shop better. Also, it cuts down on cranky late afternoon texts with my Hunky demanding a dinner plan. We are both more inclined to cook rather than eating cereal when we know what is prepped and available. Eventually I want to plan out a couple weeks or even a month at a time, but for now, I plan dinner down one side of my bujo page and the groceries required on the other. In a month or so, this will make grocery lists so much easier and that will also make me happier.
  • Move – I do have some physical goals this year that will involve more specific and intense habits, but those habits aren’t for this month which is already pretty full. Instead, I just need to get my ass out of bed, off the couch and away from the desk chair. I follow a 7-minute HIIT many mornings or a 4-minute kettlebell routine. I step out for a 4 o’clock walk, take the stairs, park farther away, walk if it’s under 5 minutes, whatever comes to mind to make motion part of my daily experience, I do it, and I don’t think too hard about it. Good enough is good enough, right now.

Day by day these four small things are making me happier and making my life flow more smoothly. Doing them regularly may take an extra 30 – 40 minutes, but generally save me well more than that amount each day. They are investments in myself, my family and my time. They make me happier which is what the Happiness Project is all about.

For the months to come, I have some general ideas and a rough sketch of what goals will fit where, but I’m taking it day by day and month by month. Change will come whether I want it or not, the question is, will I have the tools to shape those changes or will I simply let them roll me along with them? I’m choosing my tools this year, but prepared to enjoy the rolling along for a short time, if and when it comes.

What changes are you making this year? What tools are you using?

This is the Work

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

On Monday of this week, we held job interviews for a couple of positions we had open at my workplace. Truth be told, I really, really love being part of a team that gives people jobs. It’s amazing. However, the day of the interviews can be long and tiring. It’s an enormous amount of social energy for me (hello, introvert) and our interview process has several steps which require set-up and recording scores and printing rubrics and just lots of little details.

And all the while, the work of the library flows around me so my train of thought is often interrupted and side tracked, which isn’t an ideal mental situation for me.

I love helping people get a job, but the process can be exhausting. Isn’t it funny how so many worthwhile things are like that, and so we avoid them? Or maybe you don’t, but I do.

Anyway, we had a bit of a mid-day break between interviews where I grabbed lunch and dropped one of my people at their job and tried to spend a little time with the dogs who aren’t loving the 5 people at school and work most days schedule after Christmas break. When I returned to the building, I began setting up for the final interview of the day, and I thought to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today. And then my entire mental momentum came to a screeching stop.

All I had done all day was work, and work well, and work hard. I do a good job, sure I have loads still to learn but I am good at what I do. Still, I literally told myself: you haven’t done any work today because you haven’t really done anything visibly productive or which was in your wheelhouse routine. I considered this terrible message I was selling myself and I realized:

This is the work. Enjoy the process.

How often do we do this? How often are we involved in something which is large and complex with many moving pieces, which requires a great deal of energy and time and which carries some pretty serious weight but because the visible product is small or perhaps even non-existent, we think to ourselves, I have to get back to the work, the real work. We are selling ourselves a great big load of bullshit, and most of us are buying it most of the time.

I stayed home for almost twenty years to raise my ladies, and there were many days where I fell into bed exhausted and thought to myself, I didn’t get a single thing done today because I missed the point that this is the work – not the to-do list or the product, but being fully present for the most important thing at the time.

The work is not the product; the work is the process.

I’ve embarked on a pretty big project this year, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience. The point is not only to explore things which increase my happiness but to actively engage in those things and measure the result. I expect to have as many failures as successes. I expect to sometimes expend a great deal of effort with very little product other than my own personal satisfaction. I know there will be days when I think to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today.

And hopefully when that happens I will remember that crystalline moment standing at my desk with the whole library buzzing around me and remember:

This is the work. Be present for the process.
This is the work. Don’t miss it rushing to cross off the list.
This is the work.


Creative tension: a call and response to living in the unexpected

Learning, Living

You know what would be fun to write about? How to have it all together. I’d like to write about that because it would mean I am on a journey in that general direction. It would feel as though I am beginning to figure some things out.

But, no.

Last week was a nutso butter and crazy sandwich.  I worked weird and wild hours, tried to maintain a low-level walk/run routine, wrote hardly at all, didn’t read as much as I wanted to, didn’t log my hours regularly and generally don’t feel as though I accomplished very much. Oh, and my husband started a brand new career, at 46. As you do.

But I did survive, and that’s saying something.

Amongst other things this new career means the nice self-centered existence I have been living since starting my own brand new career at age 45 – yes, I do feel one-upped – is about to be flipped on its ear. Friends, I haven’t made dinner since March. MARCH. I’ve barely done laundry, cleaned house, or handled any of the transportation issues faced by a 3 car,  5 adult family. While I re-learned what it’s like to be a professional person in a professional world, my husband took care of the domestic details of life. All of them. This is a definite advantage of him leaving his career the day mine launched (it’s also a super-cool story which I will share another time).

But isn’t this always how life is?

Life. Love it or hate it, her favorite pitch is the curve.  Sure it’s nice to go along knowing what’s next, knowing how it will all work out, knowing exactly what’s for dinner and that all the ingredients will be there and someone else is cooking them and all you have to do is show up. I like that, too. In fact, I love the predictability of routine. I love always having clean laundry.

But to expect that life will always flow towards the smoothest path is to set ourselves up for constant and profound disappointment. I have often commiserated with moms of the little guys that just as soon you develop a nice schedule, there’s a growth spurt, or a developmental leap and BAM, you’re figuring things out all over again. What we often fail to realize is that this pattern isn’t exclusively for the new mom. This is the pattern of life. Just when we get things all figured out, a new piece is thrown into the pattern and we’re juggling all over again, trying to make art instead of chaos.

I actually think it’s kind of brilliantly beautiful.

See, I’m not the same person I was when I was twenty-five. I’m not even the same person I was in January.  I often don’t welcome the shifts the which generate this slow and steady evolution, but I know for a fact that it’s the unpredictable moments, and our response to them, which create the friction that changes the shape of our souls. Our souls are shapeshifters and this is a good thing. Just as a garden goes through cycles of life and death, our souls cannot maintain the abundance of a constant summer, no matter how much we may want them too. Routine and preparation have their place, but they are neither the source of growth nor the better path.

For several years now, I have struggled with anxiety. I used to think it was because I was afraid of the unknown. but my anxiety wasn’t caused by unknown patterns, it was the known which had me freezing up and freaking out. Known patterns which I felt I could not escape left me unable to take another step. Yes, the unknown is frightening, but sometimes it’s the learned patterns of existence which damage us far more.  Yet we stay because the routine is familiar. We know the steps, the roles, and the rules, even if they are slowly killing us.

By the way, I also haven’t had an anxiety attack since March, and I don’t think it’s just about the dinners.

I still love routines and I do often wish I had a peek into life a bit further ahead than, say, Wednesday.  But if that were the case, I would lose all the creative effort I put into every day, deciding who I will be, where I will find beauty and joy. These ways of responding shape my soul into something unique and lovely, something routine and answers never will. Routine is safe and comforting, a necessary element of life, but it’s when we’re off the map that we learn who we really are, and where we learn the skills to become someone different if we don’t like who we find.

So I hope to run and read and write and work in ways that are a bit less crazy this week. But I’m also really looking forward to enjoying those unexpected encounters, the surprise belly laughs, and the sheer pleasure of not knowing exactly what’s next but knowing whatever it is, all will be well.

 

How to make friends with Time

Learning, Living

I’m a big proponent of self-examination. Honestly, that’s pretty much a guaranteed part of the introvert package. We’re introspective all the way down to our genetic code. It’s a great asset and also sometimes my worst enemy. But personality tendencies aside, I believe in seasonal life-examination. It’s humbling, for sure (I am forever fretting about how much time I “waste” and working on shifting that mindset), but it also helps me re-focus and re-direct when I begin to drift aimlessly, which I am wont to do.

My natural daily inclination is to relax to the point of laziness despite the fact that I find that an unsatisfying lifestyle over longer periods of time. It’s taken me forty-five years to fully accept and act on the fact that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I actually thrive on ticking off accomplishments and completing projects, two things which never happen accidentally.  There’s obvious tension between daily-me and long-term-me in light of these two facts.

Recently, I’ve been following Laura Vanderkam’s advice (as an aside – her new book Off the Clock is very enjoyable and not at all a ‘how to be more productive’ manual.  Thoughts on the nature and theory of time and how to make life more meaningful? Yes, please! ) by keeping a log of my hourly activities. Sometimes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But more often, it helps me to realistically understand the ways I spend and, yes, waste my time.

For instance, in May, I read fourteen books, averaging around 300 pages apiece. Granted, I  read ridiculously fast, not to me but in comparison to others. This isn’t something I feel competitive about as in ‘My Reading Speed can Beat up Your Reading Speed’, it’s simply something I’ve come to realize over time as I talk to other readers, but I digress. I also worked forty hours a week, hosted a family gathering weekend, graduated two children, traveled to Kansas City for three days and watched the first season of Lost in Space on Netflix ( SO GOOD!). Yes, I also slept a decent number of hours each night and wasted time in various ways online.

By tracking my time, I’m finding little windows of opportunity to finish more books than I believed, and what other people assured me, were possible each week. Reading is important to me. It’s not only a big part of my job, it’s how I learn, relax, relate and enjoy myself. I’m never going to be productive every moment of the day, a ridiculous goal to set for anyone, but knowing I am making time for the things that matter to my well-being, means those hours where I write ‘scrolling’ or ‘puttering’ in my log no longer lend as much volume to my inner-critic. You know the jerk I’m talking about? The voice who tells you all the things you’re doing wrong and all the ways you’ll never be enough? That voice. For me, words on paper – or on my computer screen as it were – do a great job of refuting his nonsense.

As we celebrated my birthday this year, my youngest daughter said, ‘Whoo-hoo! Half-way to fifty!’  Which caused my oldest daughter to retort, ‘Nope! Half-way to ninety!’ And truly for a moment, my brain said, ‘Oh shit; she’s right! I AM halfway to ninety!’ Age jokes aside, we’re right in the middle of many major transitions right now, not just mid-life realizations. It seems the perfect time to consider, re-create and re-imagine the kind of life we want. I want to use my time wisely and also enjoy as much as I possibly can. I want to know where the hours have gone because the inner critic plays dirty using shame and lies.  I want to experience as much as I can of the things that matter most, not putting everything off to a more convenient, more perfect time.

Being half-way to ninety doesn’t bother me. When I was a half-way to forty-five, I had cancer and turning forty seemed an impossible goal.  And yet the hours and days and weeks and years rolled by. Some of it I remember vividly, a lot of it is gone, whether wasted or well-used. Time is like that for all of us. But now that the pace of early motherhood is long gone, now that a job I love lays claim to forty hours of every week, I need to see that I’m not still waiting for a ‘better time’ to make time for what I want.

The better time is now. We’re as financially independent as we’ve ever been. We’re starting new journeys which we hope will be our last in the professional field (early retirement, we’re looking at you!). We have trips to make and places to experience. Books to read and relationships to cultivate. None of these things happen when I’m simply sitting in the hammock – though I make plenty of time for that as well.

How are you spending your time and what would you like to change?

What are you waiting for?