Step in a Puddle Early

country lane field meadow puddles

Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

“My one piece of advice? Step in a puddle early,” I overheard a seasoned-looking trail runner say to a fellow racer. It had flash-flooded the day before the race and we were at the starting line, about to embark on 30 kilometers of slippery mud and flooded trails.

I’m not a step-in-the-puddle kind of girl. And we weren’t talking about little puddles that get the bottoms of your shoes wet. This was standing, murky water that went up past your ankles. And it was in the mid-40s outside. So it was cold, standing, murky water. Under any other circumstances, I would be like, no thank you, no puddles for me. I’ll be tiptoeing around those for the whole race.

But because I am not a seasoned trail runner, I was very open to any advice anyone might be able to give me that cold December morning. So, once the race started, the first puddle I saw, I closed my eyes, felt my body brace for the cold, and stepped right in it. I might have let out a little gasp from how cold it was, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. In fact it was a little thrilling. My feet were wet, but other than that I was totally fine. I could now cross puddles off my list of things to worry about. Check.

A few minutes later I hit my first muddy climb. It was a ridiculous, comical, impossible slog through heavy, slippery mud going uphill and then an out-of-control sloppy slide downhill. Repeat over and over again for 30k. After a while, I rejoiced when I saw a puddle because it meant I could rinse off some of the caked on mud that was making my legs feel like they weighed 200 pounds each.

Throughout the race I kept thinking about the advice of stepping in a puddle early and my natural inclination toward doing just the opposite–in life and in running. Stepping in a puddle feels like a mistake, like something to be avoided. It reminds me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray steps off the curb into a big slushy puddle over and over again until finally, because he is living the same day on repeat, he learns how to avoid it.

I am a puddle avoider. For me, puddles equal discomfort and fear of the unknown. They make me anxious. What if that puddle causes me to have blisters? What if it makes my toes cold? Then what will happen? It could be terrible. It could lead to failure. I might not be able to finish the race, and I will be humiliated and embarrassed and have wasted $90.

Therefore, my brain does a quick calculation and says, “avoid all puddles. I repeat, no stepping in puddles at any cost.”

But I was in such a vulnerable place at the start of that race–a trail running newbie open to any and all suggestions for how to tackle this impossible, gross task that lay before me. I was so open to ideas at that point that I would listen to a stranger telling me to submerge half my leg in freezing water at the beginning of a race. Not even telling me, telling another stranger. I was just eavesdropping, soaking up any tips anyone might be throwing out there.

That race was the hardest race I’ve ever run. It felt lonely and scary and it hurt. Each muddy step felt like an obstacle to overcome. I was so happy when it was over. But I’m also so happy I ran it because I’m still drawing on the experience of it, the lessons it taught me. That little race in the woods was one of my proudest and most favorite achievements because I pushed past my comfort zone, way past. And that, in my experience, is where the really good stuff happens (unfortunately).

Last night I read this passage in Born to Run and thought of my muddy race and the next even longer, even scarier 50k that I have coming up this weekend.

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.”  -William James

That quote sums up perfectly why I love long-distance running. It’s not that I am a masochist and just want to torture myself. It’s that I know from experience that the discomfort you feel is not a wall, it’s a door that you can choose to go through. And what’s on the other side of that door is pretty awesome.

I love this description of running a 62-mile race in Haruki Murakami’s running memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

“While I was enduring all this, around the forty-seventh mile I felt like I’d passed through something. That’s what it felt like. Passed through is the only way I can express it. Like my body had passed clean through a stone wall. At what exact point I felt like I’d made it through, I can’t recall, but suddenly I noticed I was already on the other side. I was convinced I’d made it through. I don’t know about the logic, or the process, or the method involved–I was simply convinced of the reality that I’d passed through. After that I didn’t have to think anymore. Or, more precisely, there wasn’t the need to try to consciously think about not thinking. All I had to do was go with the flow and I’d get there automatically. If I gave myself up to it, some sort of power would naturally push me forward.”

Marukami goes on to describe how during the last portion of his race he is basically able to turn off his brain and pretend like he is a running machine. Once he can separate his anxious mind from his body, he’s able to keep putting one foot in front of the other and make it to the finish line.

As someone who lets their anxious mind dictate much of the decision-making, I enjoy the way long-distance races force me to turn off those thoughts. They force me to be brave. Races force me to run through puddles, to push past what I think I am capable of, and they force me to ignore that little voice in my head that wants me to avoid making a mistake or being uncomfortable.

This blog forces me to do that too. It is very uncomfortable sharing thoughts I probably would not share with people in normal conversation. It makes me feel exposed and vulnerable in a way that I deeply try to avoid in real life. Feeling exposed and vulnerable is like a giant puddle that I do my best to tiptoe around. But on the other side of that vulnerability there is the awesome feeling of being known. When someone tells me they’ve read my blog, it makes me blush and want to hide under a chair, but then after that feeling subsides, it makes me feel wonderfully known and understood. That feeling is so good, that I’m willing to risk writing again.

What would happen if we decided to stop avoiding puddles and chose to go right through them? What wall are you up against that might actually be a door? I am all about the metaphors today, but I’m not really talking about puddles and doors in case you’re confused. I’m talking about the areas of your life that feel like barriers, keeping you safely and securely in your cozy status quo. What are the places in your life that feel like they could never possibly be different, so you avoid challenging them, stepping into the mess of them? Did you ever imagine that maybe there was something on the other side?

I love the saying “We can do hard things.” A naysayer might say, but why do hard things? Hard things are hard and might expose our weaknesses or make us look bad. Let’s stick to easy things! Easy things make us look like we know what we’re doing. Maybe that’s true to a degree. But I’m guessing the stories that you are proudest of, your defining moments, the times you felt like you were on top of the world were not easy accomplishments. And there were likely some puddles you stepped in along the way to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Choose your own adventure in 2019!

selective focus photography of person holding the adventure begins mug

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

A few years ago I stopped doing New Year’s resolutions and started setting a one-word intention for the year. Last year my word was “time.” For the first time since becoming a parent, I wasn’t working and all three of my kids were in school. I found myself with unprecedented amounts of glorious, unstructured time to work on my own writing. It felt like I had won the time lottery and I needed to figure out how to not blow it on stupid stuff like reading about other people’s lives on Facebook.

I feel like I used my time pretty well last year. I started this blog. I wrote about three-fourths of a novel manuscript. I trained for my first ultra marathon. I invested in friendships with some really awesome people who make me laugh, help me grow and help me be a better mom, writer, and person. It was a good year with lots to be proud of. I still wasted plenty of time. I didn’t finish my novel like I had hoped to (more on that in a second). But I was conscious of time as a non-renewable resource, and that guided a lot of my decision making.

Something I learned this year: Time is not like money. You can’t hoard it and save it for later. The time will get spent one way or the other, but you get to choose how you spend it.

This year my word is “finish.” I am really good at starting things and am perfectly content being in the middle of a project, but I avoid finishing stuff. My theory has always been that I’m a perfectionist, and that avoiding finishing is my way of avoiding screwing up. You can’t officially fail if you don’t finish, right?

Reading the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck has given me new insight into why I don’t finish things, particularly writing projects. When it comes to writing, I have a “fixed” mindset, meaning I operate from a belief that my success as a writer is something I have no control over and my success or failure as a writer defines me. Eek, right?

In other words I have believed that being a good writer is a God-given talent that you either have or you don’t. Writing a “successful” book (which according to my fixed mindset outlook is a book that is published by a publishing house and is well-received by lots of people) is something I have very little control over. An agent has to want to represent it. An editor has to believe in it and pitch it to her fellow editors. The publisher has to get behind the book and spend money promoting it. I can’t control any of that stuff.

I get hung up on all the pieces of this process that I have no control over, and I basically give up when the writing doesn’t flow easily. I tell myself that if I were a better writer, the kind of writer that writes a “successful” book, then this would all be effortless. If it’s hard then I must not be very good at it, and if I’m not very good then my book will never get published. I imagine an editor trying to pitch my book to colleagues in a New York City office, snowflakes gently swirling outside the skyscraper window. I imagine everyone in the meeting giving a big thumbs down. That’s when it becomes very likely I will close my laptop and turn to another more appealing project like cleaning the toilet.

sabotage

This could be the cover of my book about my writing process. Here’s to less self-sabotage in 2019!

I have a fixed mindset about writing, and that mindset is what is standing in the way of finishing my novel. And finishing lots of other cool stuff too. The good news is that I can do something about this. Mindsets, like hairstyles, are changeable.

A fixed mindset defines success as proof that you are talented or intelligent. And failure is evidence that you are not talented or intelligent enough. Sorry, thanks for playing, but you had your chance and you blew it, is what the fixed mindset tells you when you fail. Or if things go well, the fixed mindset tells you that of course you did well because you are talented and that’s what talented people do. Talent, not effort, is the reason for success in the fixed mindset framework. Performance is everything.

Have you ever praised your child for being “smart” when they do well on a test? I think probably every parent has done this. That’s fixed mindset right there. Of course you did well on that test, you are naturally gifted with intelligence. Hard work has nothing to do with it, is the unintended message.

A growth mindset is characterized by the belief that you can develop yourself, that you can learn from mistakes, bad grades, and rejections. Challenges are to be expected because you are stretching yourself to do something difficult. Those setbacks aren’t the end of the story, they are valuable feedback that help you improve. Learning is valuable in its own right.

I underlined and put an asterisk next to the following passage from Mindset:

“You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re something in your mind, and you can change your mind…think about where you’d like to go and which mindset will take you there.”

I imagine sitting down with Dr. Phil and telling him about my fixed mindset approach to writing and him responding with, “how’s that working for you?”

Well, I have zero novels published, Dr. Phil, so not very well I guess.

So here’s my new growth mindset approach to writing:

  • A successful novel is a finished novel that I am happy with.
  • Writing a successful novel is in my control and no one else’s.
  • Writing a successful novel will require me to work hard, get feedback and use that feedback to revise. “Feedback” may come in the form of rejections. No, feedback will come in the form of rejections. Those rejections are helpful to me because they will make my novel better.
  • Writing a novel is difficult, but I am up to the challenge. I do hard things all the time. In fact, I kind of enjoy doing hard things, which is why I do crazy stuff like training to run an ultra marathon.
  • Publishing is in my control. I will try to get my novel published in the traditional way, but if that doesn’t work out, I can still publish it myself.
  • Don’t worry about the outcome, just write the story you want to tell as honestly as you can write it.

I am using writing as an example, but you could apply the growth mindset to so many things. Whether your 2019 goal is to lose weight, organize your house, or start a new business, the growth mindset is your friend. Realizing you can change the filter on how you see the world and your potential is pretty amazing and so encouraging. It doesn’t mean success will come more easily, but your mindset may be what keeps you going when the going gets tough.

Are you wondering if you are more of a fixed or growth mindset person? Here’s a little quiz from the book. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
  5. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  6. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  7. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  8. You can always change the basic things about the kind of person you are.

Did you answer “yes” to questions 1, 2, 5, and 7? You are seeing the world through a fixed mindset filter.

If you answered “yes” to questions 3,4, 6, and 8, then you see the world through a growth mindset filter.

How do you view mistakes? Being wrong? Do you feel like you always have to prove yourself?

If you said that you hate making mistakes, get really defensive if someone accuses you of being wrong, and feel like the world is one big final exam, then I am right there with you.

What if we didn’t see the world this way?

Here’s an illustration from the book: Imagine you have signed up to learn a new language. A few sessions into the class you have been called to the front of the room to answer questions. Do you feel anxious? Worried your lack of knowledge will be revealed to a group of people that is evaluating you? Or do you see yourself as a novice, at the beginning of something new with lots to learn. And this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for?

This feels like a choose your own adventure story. I know which option sounds better to me…

What is the thing you’ve been scared to try? Or scared to finish? Do you make resolutions or intentions for the year? I’d love to hear!


Where Do I Begin?

The best way to get things done image

This quote is on the cover of a journal I just bought. It sounds great and super motivating in theory, but in my experience beginning is not as easy as it sounds.

Because how do you begin? What exactly is the first step?

Right now I’m doing a few hard things that force me to begin when I don’t want to begin. I’m training for my first 50k ultra marathon. Come January 20th I’ll need to be able to run 50 kilometers (that’s about 31 miles) in the hilly desert of Big Bend State Park in west Texas. I’ve run three marathons, but this distance and type of race are new to me. I’m a tiny bit scared, but mostly really excited to push myself and run in some beautiful scenery.

I wanted to try an ultra because I love long distance running, and I love having a new challenge. Without a race scaring me a little, I am terribly undisciplined and will gladly sit on the couch eating chips and watching Food Network shows. That is my natural state of being. Races force me to run, and running always makes me very happy. But I forget this every single time I am faced with the choice of sitting on the couch vs. going for a run. The truth is I dread doing my runs and put them off as much as possible. And then I do them, and I feel amazing. So races are good for me because they are the catalyst for getting off the couch and feeling good.

This month I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. The traditional challenge during NaNo is to write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel) in 30 days. I’m adapting this challenge to suit my personal goal of finishing my already-in-progress novel. I’m trying to get in 50,000 words, but I may fall a little short. My main goal is to write everyday and finish my novel. If that adds up to less than 50k words, I’m okay with that. Writing, like running, makes me feel so good, but it also holds about as much appeal to me as flossing my teeth. I tend to avoid writing even though it makes me feel happy and centered and whole, so I have to trick myself into doing it, just like running.

So back to my original question, how do you begin to do a big, hard project like writing a novel or training for a long race? It’s easy to keep putting off beginning because big goals like these aren’t accomplished quickly; they take many days of consistently doing little things that eventually add up to achieving something big.

This one day isn’t going to make or break my success, I often say to myself—so I’ll wait to get started until I get the perfect not hot, not cold, not rainy, not tired, not busy day. That’s when I’ll get my work done.

But life doesn’t give us many of those perfect days. So you have to start with the conditions that you’re given. You have to make them work somehow. And then you have to start all over again every day until you have met your goal.

So here’s how to make yourself do the thing you need to do even when you don’t feel like doing it:

  1. Stick to a ritual.

Do the same thing at the same time in the same place each time. Take as many decisions and choices out of the process as possible. Here’s what this looks like for me with writing: I go to the same coffee shop, order the same drink, sit in the same spot (or as close to it as possible), open my novel on my computer, close my eyes and try to see one thing from my story. I really try to see it as clearly as though I’m watching a movie. Yesterday, my one thing was a character using a pick ax to dig up a garden.

I write my one thing just as I see it. I don’t question it. I am just reporting what I see. There is no choice about where to begin, which character to focus on. When I close my eyes, whatever part of the story pops into the viewfinder in my brain is what I write. And that’s what gets me started. Once I’m started, I can often sit and write for a good hour or two. I just need that little push over the speed bump.

Even when I can’t get to the coffee shop, closing my eyes and seeing my one thing still helps me get a little work done wherever I may be.

But the coffee shop is like my office. It’s where I go when I’m serious about getting some real work done. When I don’t want to start, I tell myself, all you have to do is drive to the coffee shop. That’s easy. You can do that. Then all you have to do is park. Done! Then order your coffee, sit down, open Word…now close your eyes. These are all very easy tasks that I know I can do no matter how tired I am or how uninspired I feel. Ordering coffee does not require inspiration. Neither does closing your eyes.

Once my eyes are closed, all I have to do is report what I see. What does the ground look like? What is the weather like? How does the pick ax feel in the character’s hands? What is he thinking about as he swings the tool over his head and plunges the blade into the earth? Before I know it, I am immersed in the world of my story and I’m doing the work that will get me to my goal.

2. Make it fun.

I go to the coffee shop to write because it’s fun. I like the music they play. I like that other people are there typing on their computers too. It makes me feel not so much like Cinderella, toiling away on my work at home while everyone else is at the ball. I also really love coffee and love when other people make it for me. So going to the coffee shop is not a hard sell for me. This sounds super obvious, but when you pick your ritual, make it something you ENJOY. Life is short. If you are going to be doing something over and over again, you should like it!

The way I make running more fun is by listening to podcasts and books on Audible. Or I schedule a running date with a friend, and the miles melt away as we talk to each other. I love connecting with friends or going deep into a subject or story by listening to it while I run. It feeds my body and soul in a way that chips and Food Network do not!

3. Log your progress.

I don’t know about you but I love a bullet journal. And I find a deep sense of fulfillment from coloring in the little boxes next to “write” and “run” in my “habit tracker” in my journal. It is profoundly nerdy that I do this, but I see it as giving myself a report card. I can look back at the end of the week and see how much I actually did the things I said wanted to do that week. And drawing the chart and coloring it in is a little bit crafty, which is probably what will be written on my tombstone.

Even if you aren’t a little bit crafty, I would like to suggest you try some sort of system for tracking your progress towards your goal. It is positively motivating. I mean that both as “quite motivating” and that it motivates you in a positive way. #wordsaremylife

If you don’t want to break out a ruler and colored pencils (I have a hard time understanding why you would feel this way, but to each her own), you could try Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” method.  Seinfeld marks an X on the calendar for each day that he writes. His goal is just not to break his streak. He loves seeing a calendar full of X’s. I mean, who doesn’t?

Similarly, Jessica Lahey and KJ Dell’Antonia of the #amwriting podcast are always talking about how they give themselves a sticker when they get their writing work done. They simply text each other the word “sticker” and that is code for I did it, I sat my butt down and wrote today.

Whether you use X’s or stickers, do something to acknowledge the fact that you did something hard and good that day. You could have watched another rerun of Pioneer Woman, but instead you chose to move the needle a little closer to your goal.

Getting things done begins with you choosing to begin. Don’t wait for the perfect day, or permission or to feel like doing it. Just take the first step. And then the next one, and the next one. Each step isn’t much on its own, but when you put them all together, they add up to something you can be really proud of.

Okay, time for me to go running!

I’d love to hear how you get your stuff done. And if there are any fellow nano friends out there, please let me know how it’s going!

I’ll leave you with a running mantra that I love: “relentless forward motion.” That’s all it takes! Just one step after another. Keep going until you get to the finish line!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How to Win at Back to School

back to school conceptual creativity cube

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are two types of moms out there—the ones who never want summer to end, and the ones who start planning for the fall in July. As much as I’d like to believe I am an endless summer fun mom, I am decidedly not. I like structure, a quiet house, and people learning things from professional teachers. My kids actually really like school too. We are all much happier once school starts.

I want to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way that help us live our best back to school lives.

Treat Back-to-School like it’s New Year’s. Have the whole family come up with resolutions (goals) for the school year. Whether it’s learning a new instrument, trying out for a new sport, making straight A’s…harness those New School Year vibes and make some goals. Talk to your kids about coming up with goals that are within their control (tryout for the soccer team vs. make the soccer team) and that are measurable (read all 20 Bluebonnet books by December vs get better at reading). Don’t forget to make goals for yourself and share your goals with your kids. Somehow my kids did not realize I was writing a novel until I shared recently that my New School Year goal was to finish my novel by January. It was motivating to share that goal with the kids and get their encouragement.

Think about setting three big goals in three different categories (personal, professional, family). Be real about what you can do each day to accomplish those goals. This translates to looking at how much time you have and how much time it takes to accomplish your goals. When I really looked at what it would take to finish my novel by January, that translated to writing 10 pages a week, which meant I needed to carve out two hours a day every weekday for that goal. And I needed to do that at a time of day when I’m not totally brain dead. Which leads me to my next tip…

Make a schedule and be realistic about where your time is going. Look at drop off times, pick up times, soccer practice, after-school tutoring, gymnastics, church youth group. Write down everything you will be doing in a week in some sort of calendar—you could make one yourself, bullet journal style, or use a printed Google calendar set to a weekly view. But I would recommend using paper and pencil to write down a master calendar with what is happening every day at what time. Don’t forget to add the driving time. The amount of time I spend driving is always a shock to me. And it is a huge reminder about why it’s so hard to figure out family dinners during the school year. So much of my time between 4-6 is spent in the car on weekdays. This year I actually wrote down what time we need to eat dinner each day to accommodate all of our activities. The timing of everything then led to my next tip…

Make a weekly meal plan that aligns with your driving schedule. Refer to your weekly schedule. If you have to be in the car during prime dinner-making hours every Tuesday, then that is not a good night to make a dinner that requires a lot of time and babysitting. Plan to make a slow-cooker meal on days when you know you will be out all afternoon. I love to wing it in the kitchen, so this has been a hard lesson for me to learn, but, man, once I started doing this, I felt like I had cracked the dinner code. I actually went next level this month and made a month-long meal plan, which I’m going to share in my next post. Stay tuned for that.

And while I am loving having a plan, and I think plans are super helpful, I do want to add that they should serve you and not the other way around. Which brings me to my last and probably most important tip…

Be flexible. The older my children get (I have a freshman, 7th grader and 4th grader), the more I learn that parenting is not about enforcing my will and plans on them but about listening to their needs and desires and adjusting as necessary. I try to plan my time and schedule as much as I can so that I can be available for those last-minute crises that pop up, or to host spur-of-the moment study sessions or playdates or trips to get a frappuccino  when they’ve had a bad day. I am so not perfect at this. I screw this stuff up all the time, but my intent is to be able to provide a soft place for my kids to fall when life is hard. And it’s impossible to do that if you are super rigid about sticking to a routine at all costs.

So that’s how we not only survive, but THRIVE now that school is in session. I’m sure there are a lot of other new school year tips and tricks out there that I haven’t thought of. I’d love to hear what works for your family!

Happy New School Year!

Love,

Elizabeth


Nailed It!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the following questions:

What would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly?

If you dared to be a beginner, what would you try?

What’s something you would never try but sounds like fun? 

I read those questions in A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness, (love this book!) but they originally appeared in the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. (haven’t read this book, but have always meant to!)

I especially love the first question because I am a perfectionist, which for me translates into either not finishing or not even attempting a lot of things. If I never finish something, it will never be done incorrectly or fall short of what my vision of it was. If I never attempt it, I can never fail. It’s a foolproof method except it keeps me from doing a lot of the things I really want to do, like host dinner parties, finish my novel, write this blog, landscape my yard, etc.

It’s frustrating because a lot of what’s most important to me, a lot of what’s on my life list, is stuff I’m afraid to fully pursue because I’m afraid If I really go after it, I’ll just mess it up. So it keeps me stuck in this loop of wanting to do something that I ultimately don’t do because I am afraid to fail. Very annoying.

So, how do I get off this self-defeating merry-go-round and actually make some progress towards my goals?

This is going to seem like a weird transition, but stay with me. Have you seen the new Netflix show “Nailed It!”? My kids and I have been cry-laughing over this show. On “Nailed It!” inexperienced but enthusiastic bakers attempt to make impossibly difficult cakes and cookies with hilarious results. Here’s a description of a scene from the show from a recent New Yorker article:

 “I don’t mean to laugh, but your princess is terrifying,” Byer says to a contestant named Toni. She’s doubled over in laughter in front of the final reveal: a collapsed phallus of a castle tower made of underbaked vanilla cake coated in liver-beige frosting. The princess is demonic: a disembodied ball of fondant perched on one of the layers, with giant, staring white eyes, two snakelike nostrils poked in with a toothpick, and long blond hair that snakes down the buttercream walls like lumpy, overlong Cheetos.”

Image result for nailed it show images

There is something about the earnestness of the contestants trying to make these incredibly challenging cakes that just cracks us up and brings us pure JOY. It is so refreshing to see other people struggle and NOT accomplish what they set out to do, but have the ability to genuinely laugh about it right along with the audience.

I wish I could bring the Nailed It! attitude to accomplishing my goals. This, I think, would be the antidote to my perfectionism.

After all, the stakes are only as big as they are in my head. I think my perfectionist brain lies to me and tells me the stakes are enormous, that everything depends upon the outcome of whatever it is I attempt to do, whether it be writing a book or having people over for dinner. When really it’s about the process. I like the process of writing. I like the process of cooking and being hospitable. Doing these things makes me happy and helps me feel connected to other people. Why am I denying myself the pleasure of doing something that makes me happy?

I’ll tell you why. Because perfectionism is whispering in my ear, telling me it could be a disaster. It could be humiliating. Some dinner guest might wander into the wrong room and see that we actually live like a pack of animals, and the rest of the house was just cleaned up for the benefit of outsiders. My toilet might overflow and send a river of toilet water down the stairs (this actually happened at an office Christmas party I hosted. Still trying to laugh about it.) The food could be terrible and we’d have to order takeout. The book could get a bad review and it would make me cry. My blog might be trolled by Donald Trump. “There are so many things that could go wrong! Better not to try at all,” perfectionism warns.

And I totally believe all of this. This all sounds very plausible and like solid advice. So I don’t do the things that scare me. And everything stays very safe, and for the most part nothing bad happens because I haven’t risked anything.

But then again nothing happens.

And the thing is I want stuff to happen. I want to accomplish the goals that have been on my New Years Resolution lists for the past decade. I’m forty-something now. One day I will be really mad at myself if I don’t do some of the stuff I always meant to do. And there’s no telling when that one day will be. It could be a long time from now or it could be sooner.

Perfectionism has literally gotten me nowhere. It’s time to listen to a different voice.

It’s all about the story you tell yourself. I have been telling myself a pretty intense story. My current story is like Mission Impossible, where everything depends on me and the stakes are very high and I’d better not mess it up or else the whole world could blow up. The Nailed It! story is way on the other end of the spectrum. Nothing is at stake. Maybe you could win $10,000 if you are the winner, but that’s like a bonus. Nothing bad will happen if you are not the winner. And either way you will have had a blast and probably spent some time doubled over in laughter. So why not give it a shot?

If I could just scooch my story a little further towards the Nailed It! side of the spectrum and away from Mission Impossible, I think I would be much happier and get a lot more accomplished. So that’s my new goal.

Back to the original question I’ve been pondering: What would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly?

The answer is anything I want. Everything. Because nothing is ever going to be perfect and that’s ok. It’s not just ok, it’s wonderful! It’s such a relief. It’s the kind of news that makes me want to cry happy tears.

What’s the story you tell yourself? Do you struggle with perfectionism? What would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? I’d love to hear.

Nailed it!

Elizabeth

 

 


Goals Part 2: What’s on your life list?

 

My friend Meredith is such an inspiration to me in so many ways. One way I want to be more like her is to be the kind of person who gets up early and journals. Meredith gets up early every day and writes all of her prayers, her worries, her goals in one place. It’s more than a habit for her. It’s a daily spiritual practice that sets her compass on the things that matter most to her.

Recently I was talking to her about some worry I was having about one of my kids. I think it was something silly like a standardized test score, but at the time it was feeling like a big deal. She gently reminded me that everything she has heard me say about parenting rejects the idea of reducing kids’ achievements to how they perform on a test on a certain day. She reminded me of a Facebook picture I had posted recently of my boys hugging each other goodbye before one of them went away to camp.

IMG_0528

“That’s what you care about,” she said. “That picture. That’s who you are raising.”

Oh yeah. I forgot. She’s totally right.

But if Meredith hadn’t reminded me I might have spun myself into a little shame cyclone, and you know my kids would have had to bear the brunt of all that craziness. I mean, I had already gone out that day and bought a workbook. Who knows what other tiger mom shenanigans I was capable of if left to my own spinning, anxiety-fueled thoughts? Instead, Meredith was able to help me steer my rudder back to what I actually care about–raising loving kids who love each other–and focus on that.

She told me that on the inside cover of her journal she always writes a list of what she hopes to accomplish. These aren’t goals that you cross off of a to-do list. Meredith’s list is basically a catalog of what she values above all else, so that when she gets herself worked up about something and feels lost, she can go back to her list and see clearly again. She can remember, oh right, this is what I care about.

Here is Meredith’s journal that she very kindly shared with me and gave me permission to share with you.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I am calling this a “life list” because I want to distinguish it from just a normal to-do list.

I love this list so much. I want to steal all of Meredith’s things because they are what I want too, but I feel like this would be cheating, so I decided to create my own life list. Like Meredith I am starting each sentence with “I want.”

My life list:

  1. I want to make the people around me feel safe and loved exactly as they are.
  2. I want to show the love and grace God has shown to me to others.
  3. I want to connect with nature by gardening, hiking, trail running, and being outside as much as possible.
  4. I want to take care of my body by eating foods that fuel me and by exercising regularly.
  5. I want to use my love for writing to connect with other people and feel known.
  6. I want to raise children who know they are loved by their parents and by God no matter what they achieve, or do, or don’t do.
  7. I want to raise children who love their neighbors as themselves and who use their gifts to make the world better than they found it.
  8. I want my actions to reflect that God is at the center of my life.

Now the nerd in me really wants to make an algorithm out of this list. Something with lots of boxes and arrows that I can pull out whenever I want to take on a new goal. But Teddy is waiting for me to finish this post so we can go to the library. I will have to geek out another time.

But I would encourage you to make your own life list. These are the big things you want to accomplish with your life. The values you care about most. Not to be morbid, but think of this as a list of what you will care about most when you are taking your last breaths.

Eek. Pretty heavy stuff. But I did say you should always start at the end when making a new goal, right? 

When you want to start on the journey towards accomplishing a new goal, first check that this goal aligns with what you truly value and what you want your life to be about. Because what’s the point of chasing a dream that in the end doesn’t line up with who you want to be?

Ok, off to the library now.

Please share your life list with me! I would love to be inspired by you! You can comment below or on my facebook page.

Happy list-making!

Love,
Elizabeth

 

 


GOOOOOOAAAALLLssss!!!!

This is a post about making goals (not the soccer kind, but the life kind).

I am a dreamer. I love thinking BIG about what is possible. I see potential in everything. I love brainstorming, envisioning something as new and better than what it is today. I love extreme makeover shows where in one 30-minute episode someone conceives of a complete home renovation and then makes it happen practically overnight.

I wish real life were like Fixer Upper. I wish I could just sketch out a plan for some huge thing I want to accomplish, have a quick convo with my team of experts and then boom everything happens just as I had envisioned.

But of course real life does not work this way. For most of us goals take a long, sometimes boring, tedious slog through self-doubt and long stretches of  asking yourself “why am I doing this?” Until hopefully you get to that glorious finish line.

This post is the first in a series that will explore how to make goals that are achievable and strategies for actually accomplishing what you set out to do.

So, let’s say you have a goal in mind. You want to run a marathon, write a novel, start a business. You didn’t just come up with this goal on a whim. It is something that has been tapping on your shoulder for a while. It is something you feel is worthy of the time and energy it will take to accomplish. Great! Now, it’s time to figure out where to start.

STEP 1: START AT THE END

I have run three marathons and trained for each one somewhat differently. During this last training I learned the importance of starting at the end. One of the biggest mistakes people make when running a marathon is to do their longest training run too close to the race. I made this mistake when I trained for my first marathon. People are understandably nervous about running 26.2 miles and want to make sure they can run the distance, so they sneak in a really long run of 20+ miles right before the race, thinking that having that distance under their belt will give them confidence come race day. It makes perfect sense intellectually. But physically it puts you at a huge disadvantage. You need about a month to recover from running 20-something miles. You have broken your body down right before you need it to perform at its best. Not a good plan.

So what I learned with marathon training is to start with the end and work back. If my race is January 1st, then I know that my longest training run needs to be no later than December 1st. I plug that distance into my training calendar and then work backwards from there decreasing mileage each week until I get to my starting point.

To use another example, if I know I want to submit to a writing contest, I would work backwards from the submission date creating a timeline of drafting and revising milestones from there. Sometimes this process forces me to come to terms with the fact that my goal is completely unrealistic. Kind of a sad face moment to be sure, but it allows me to not waste time and move on to a new, achievable goal.

Sometimes goals don’t have an obvious end date or deadline. This is when you have to invent one for yourself. Maybe there’s not a contest that you are submitting to, but you need a deadline for finishing that book anyway. That’s when you make a pact with a friend that you will send them a finished manuscript by X date. You create your own deadline, and you stick to it.

This strategy is hard for me because I have really nice friends who I know will still love me if I miss our deadline. It works better for me to find a contest deadline. And thankfully there are always writing contests and grants to apply for.

STEP 2: BUDGET YOUR TIME

In a previous post I wrote about the limitations of time. We have more time than we think we do, but time is still a finite thing. If you start a new goal, the time you will need to accomplish that goal will have to come from somewhere. You are spending time on something new, and that means you will be spending less time on something else. Sounds super obvious to say that, but we don’t like to think about the nitty gritty of how much time something will take. (Hence, the popularity of the 30-minute home renovation shows).

So, in the case of training for a marathon, you need to crunch the numbers and see where that training time will come from. Ditto for any other goal. Figure out your end point, work backwards and plug that time into a schedule. Doing Laura Vanderkam’s time log is a great way to see the cold, hard facts about how you currently spend your time and where there is wiggle room. Think of it as your budget. If you wanted to buy a new car you wouldn’t just go buy whatever car you wanted regardless of what it cost. You would look at how much money you have and how much you can afford to spend. You have to budget your time the same way.

Hopefully these first few tips will set you up for success! More goal making strategies are forthcoming, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, keep taking those daily baby steps on whatever bigger journey you are on. I am right there with you.

Love,
Elizabeth

P.S. Thank you for reading! I would love to know more about your goals. Tell me what you are working towards so I can cheer you on to the finish line! You can comment below or on my facebook page.

Whatever your goal is I hope you take a step towards achieving it today!