Refocus & Get On With It

It’s easy to get off track. No matter what you are doing, even if it is something as simple as cleaning off your kitchen table, it’s easy to get sidetracked and start sorting mail or dusting knick-knacks or packing lunches for school.

In January, I set a personal goal for myself that was reasonable and attainable, and for three months I stayed right on top of it. Then, in April, I started paying attention to other things. Important things to be sure, but still not the things I had decided to focus on.

This probably happens to most people. It’s the reason so many New Years’ Resolutions are jokes by March. It’s probably also normal to feel bad about getting off course. Unproductive and unhelpful feelings of guilt impede our already faltering progress.

It’s amazing that you can continue to learn new (and important) things about yourself no matter how old you are. My most recent realization has been that I have a self-destructive streak about a mile wide.

It happens unconsiously, but when I begin to lose focus, I seem to sabotage myself. It becomes harder with every passing moment, day, week, to get back on track. Surely this is not an unusual form of self destruction?

Hopefully being aware of this pattern will help me avoid repeating it, or at least help me notice that it is happening. Rather than spend time feeling guilty I am going to use that time to refocus, figure out what went wrong, and try again.

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Looking for Happiness In Tedium

Time. I think about it constantly, and not in the there’s-not-enough-time-in-the-day way, but in the life-is-short-enjoy-it-as-much-as-you-can way. I feel a dissonance between the two ways of thinking.

On the one hand, because life is short, it’s important to do what you love, to be with your favorite people as much as possible, to enjoy good food, notice the beautiful details around you….

On the other hand, being organized and efficient is important to get all your work done everyday. Every Sunday, I scramble to make sure the family is prepared for the coming week. Each week night, I try to get as much writing work done as possible.

Sometimes it feels like life is one long list of chores to be completed.

How do you feel the joy of each day when each day is composed of a list of tedious tasks to get through? How do you stop feeling that doing laundry, working at the office, washing dishes and running errands are not life-sucking activities that detract from your general happiness? How is it possible to “enjoy the journey” instead of just anticipating the destination?

All of that sounds so negative and depressing I am tempted to delete it.

It’s not really so terrible, though. For me, having a plan helps alleviate some of the dissonance. Figuring out what is most important gave me a beginning point, and then having the epiphany That Is Not So Outlandish Or Impossible has helped, too.

I want to work at home so that there is time to have a garden, to exercise, to cook most of my own food and spend more time with my family. Having a 9-5 job has advantages, but also eats up far more than 40 hours a week. There is the hour to hour and a half of commute time daily, the time that must be spent making sure there are clean, presentable clothes ready to wear, even the time spent preparing lunches that can be carried to work.

Living near water is something I recently realized is important. I’ve always daydreamed about a little house near a river or creek, but only within the last couple of months did it occur to me there is no reason that can’t happen. My children are almost grown and will be living elsewhere within a few short years so we will need much less space.Why not save and look for a quiet place on some water?

Working toward making Smiling Tree Writing my main source of income makes for a TON of extra work. It also gets me a step closer to working at home and being able to choose where that home is without having to worry about how far the drive to work will be. The problem I have is, how do I relax and enjoy the process of building the business while working extra long hours and missing out on some of the fun stuff?

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Quiet Motivation

As I write this, there is a girl – a young woman – resting her head on my knees, watching her  favorite TV show,Criminal Minds. The fact that Criminal Minds is her favorite show is a bit of a joke, because she is easily scared.  She can only watch it when the rest of the family is watching with her and most of the lights in the house are turned on.

She is a little smelly, after a long shift at McDonald’s, where she has worked since she turned 15 and could get a job. She works at least 20 hours a week, and pays her own phone bill every month, her car insurance, buys most of her own clothes and still manages to maintain good grades – good enough that she will likely get scholarships and grants to help pay for college.

On days I don’t feel like writing or doing the many administrative tasks related to freelancing, this daughter provides inspiration for me. She is motivated and has the best attitude about work I’ve ever encountered. Of course, she is also a normal teenager who pushes the limits and talks back and gets overly emotional now and then.

When my kids were small, I sometimes worried about what they would be like when they grew up. Would they be people whose company I’d enjoy? Or who would enjoy my company? Would they have a sense of humor? Those kinds of questions occured in between diaper changes and scuffed knees and parent-teacher conferences.

They aren’t quite grown up yet, but I’m happy to say I know the answers to those questions. They have turned into people that I not only enjoy being around but that I admire. They are funny too.

I’ve known people who were motivated to work because they want to be able to provide amply for their children, and that is a worthy goal. I want to provide for my children, of course, but feel much more inspired by their solid work ethics and willingness to go over and above what is expected.

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Being Up Against the Wall

Does being in a bad place motivate you?

Sometimes, being extra-super stressed out can be a great motivator.  If you know you have to meet a deadline or you will lose a client, most of us get pretty motivated to meet the deadline.

But what about bigger, stress-ier situations?  Like your car is broken down, you have no money to fix it and without a car you have no way to get to work and without a job you don’t get to eat? Is that kind of situation a motivator or does it make you shut down?

The answer probably depends on a set of complex factors–your personality, your situation and how long it’s been sucking, your environment and the people surrounding you. If you are like me, your reaction to adversity is different just about every time.

Usually, I just want to go to sleep. When things are just too hard to think about, it’s time for a nap. It’s not a good impulse to follow though, so instead, I usually try to do something, anything, to make things better. Even if I just write a Textbroker article for $4.

Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing in the world to do to improve the situation, or worse, that it won’t do any good to even try. Those are dark days indeed. Why bother? It has always sucked, still sucks and will continue to suck as far ahead as you care to look. Danger. Danger.

During the last year, I’ve done a couple of things to try and avoid those scariest of days. Maybe they would work for other people, maybe not.

One of the most important steps has been to cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude. Most days, I make a list of 5 good things–from simple, silly things like oatmeal cookies to important, serious things like good (wonderful, even!) children and a happy marriage. Then, I email the list to a random email contact. If it’s a particularly blah day, the list helps me refocus. In fact, that is probably the power of those lists: they help change the focus to the good stuff.

Another useful experiment was my personal 30 day challenge to exercise every day for 30 consecutive days. So, I only made it for 28 days, but the experiment taught me that exercise really can change your outlook, energy level and attitude. If you have the discipline to take a walk everyday or join a group fitness class your dark days might just lighten up.  Soon, I will try a 90 day personal challenge.

Finally, I made an effort to be more social during the last year, with mixed results. For years, my little family went to parties, had tons of company, went camping, visited friends and family and were generally out and about. The last 3-5 years, however, we have stayed home much more and our friends have come to visit less often. Maybe we are getting old. Maybe we have less money. Certainly, we have less energy.

Seeing people and enjoying social situations can be a mood lifter, but sometimes it’s not so good.  The results are still out on this one.

One goal I have for 2010 is to keep looking for ways to make the rough patches smoother, and would welcome suggestions. Are there specific things you do that help when times get hard? What works for you?

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List Paralysis

This morning I made a to-do list. Then, I sat there with it for a long time. Just feeling completely overwhelmed. I made the list fairly short, knowing that it would be impossible to do everything that needs doing today. So, I made a reasonable list of things that would make life easier in our house during the next week.

Still, the list paralyzed me. It just felt like a terrible way to spend a Sunday; cleaning and working and buying things like trash bags. I would much rather read something by Ursula K. Le Guin and nap.

How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish I could quit smoking” or “lose weight” or any number of other things people want/need/should do? My first reaction is thinking, “Well, just do it. If you want to quit smoking, stop putting cigarettes in your mouth.” For some, they need that muscle movement, which is why getting a premium e liquid and a vape could help, but the point still stands.

Now, you might be thinking that I’ve never had to quit smoking so don’t know how hard it really is, but I have quit smoking. More than once. I think the most useful tool I used was a vape. Sites like https://www.theherbcollectiveoc.com/product-page/plugplay-plug-n-play-vape-pod-cartridges-1-gram helped me find suitable cartridges so my mind would think I was having a cigarette when really I was limiting my nicotine intake. However, each time I would stay quit for about two years, then take up the habit again always telling myself I would just have to find a new way to give up. And it worked. In fact, I even lost 60 pounds the last time I quit smoking.

Personally, I found that switching to an rt4200 digital classic vape pipe made the transition process much easier. There is a lot of research out there to suggest that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes and therefore if you are trying to give up cigarettes, it is well worth considering switching to vaping until you are ready to give up nicotine for good. Plus, nowadays, you can even get e-liquids that are infused with THC if you are a cannabis user.

The last time I quit was four years ago, and this time, I think it will be permanent. I have gained 50 pounds, so now have a different goal. I really wish I could lose some weight. Somebody (a thin person) at work one day said, “It’s easy to lose weight,” and I thought “Obviously you’ve never had to lose weight.” But that person was right. If you want to lose weight all you have to do is eat well and exercise.

Why is it so hard to do the simple things that will help us reach the most important goals? Why did an easy, useful to-do list paralyze me? How do you overcome that resistance to just jumping in and doing what will help make life better? And, is it possible to be too efficient and organize? Will you miss out on opportunities for joy and spontaneity by becoming a slave to your list?

One of my favorite posts on zenhabits.com is one titled The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less. Maybe the key to reaching all of those goals is to choose to work on only the very most important things. Make the list as simple as possible, enjoy working on it, then take a nap.

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Getting Through the Hard Stuff

Choosing to take on new projects, striving to reach new goals or working to build something unique challenges and inspires but sometimes also drains and dispirits.  In deciding on topics for this blog, I make an effort to focus on those things that help me keep working toward my goals and that might help others feel motivated or inspired.  But there are days, even weeks sometimes, that I just feel too dispirited to even pretend I feel motivated.

The last week or two has been like that.  Every day has presented its own obstacles and barriers and simply getting things done has felt like winning battles.  One of the teenagers in my house has dealt with various health problems for most of her life, and it appears she may have more to face.  Nothing life-threatening, but certainly long-lasting and painful.  Watching a child suffer pain is torturous, and then add to that petty and unhelpful doctors’ staffs and insurance companies…well, it doesn’t leave you feeling like you can take on the world.

It’s humbling, though, to know that our problem is small compared to many, and we are lucky enough to have insurance coverage despite a chronic condition.  It feels petty to focus on the hard stuff when there are so many others with much harder stuff to handle.

Stories of people who overcome insurmountable odds to succeed when success appears impossible are inspiring, and maybe a little overwhelming.  Watching my daughter keep up with her schoolwork and do normal teenager things while in constant pain is inspiring in a different way.  Knowing that she smiles and gets on with it certainly means I can take a few minutes to finish writing an article or post.

Even though the last few weeks have been less fun than we like, in a strange way, it feels good.  Maybe even inspiring.

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