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My first book, The Courage to Trust: a guide to building deep and lasting relationships (2005) came into being as a result of a phone call from the acquisitions editor at New Harbinger Publications in 2002. WOW! A cold call from a publisher inviting me to try out my ideas on trust and betrayal! How easy is that? Well, in only a mere three years, a book was born. It’s done well, in terms of sales for self-help category, 35,000 is pretty cool.

Somehow ten years went by, during which I almost forgot that I’m a writer. And now again, a call from the same folks: “I’ve been thinking about a book and I wonder if you’d like to work on it? It’s about how to become vulnerable.” Like a zillion others, I have been following the research of Dr. Brene Brown, who has studied vulnerability and self-esteem issues for many years. I read from her book Daring Greatly at my workshops, and send the links to her TED talks to the most unlikely of characters… they all thank me.

To be clear, an invitation to play at publishing a book means hundreds of hours of my own book searching, drafts and outlines sweated over (and some tears). And loving and hating what I wrote. And starting all over again. But, there is the possibility of a book here, and I ask for you to wish me luck.


A favorite new book is Sam Bennett’s “Get It Done!” (Samantha, but she’s called Sam). I really like the book, and it has inspired me to write my own next draft. Her premise that that if a dream or goal has NO energy, we do not procrastinate. We just don’t need to do it. But if an idea just will not go away, it has a storehouse of energy worth unpacking.

Her basic tool is to work just 15 minutes on your project. And, as she writes, “And you need to do this before you open your email, BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR EMAIL, BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR EMAIL.” Think she’s been spying on you? Nope, she’s spent too much of her time looking at my schedule.

However you perceive this idea, I encourage you to spend 15 minutes just making a list of those ideas and projects and dreams that haven’t left you alone for days, months, years, decades. Why not?

If we refuse to beat ourselves up for NOT doing something, there is pure pleasure in contemplating what those ‘somethings’ are, and to ask the next questions:

  1. What could be holding me back from beginning one of them?
  2. Which one would I choose, and I wonder why… that one?
  3. If I were to spent just 15 minutes on this one, what might I do? Where would I do it? Whom would I need to help me, if anyone?

Small beginnings mark every single major accomplishment. I wish you well.

Now, back to my outline.


 I just spent an hour cleaning out my journal and as a side effect, reviewed my goals and to-dos for the past six months. Some I accomplished, many not, and I felt a perplexing mixture of pride and defeat. I then recognized something rather obvious about my “to-dos” and it struck me as important to remember:

Some goals are to be DONE. Checked off, completed, high-five, wahoo!

Most are constantly in need of DOING.

It takes courage and intense focus to take a big step: start or grow your business, paint a wall a new color, sign up for a class, start a book, get married (or divorced), buy a car, plan an adventure.

But the real struggles come with the goals that require constant maintenance, those that must be done regularly, in perpetuity, forever, never get to take a break…. Many aren’t even worth an “honorable mention” to the world outside one’s own head. This is the arena of the start/stop of resolute habits: eating for health, exercising, daily flossing, weekly desk clearing, weeding, paying bills on time. To my mind, many of these are not worth the worry and self-loathing that they incite. Rather they stem from, and contribute to, toxic perfectionism.

            It could be lovely to move through each day, and without thinking simply put things back where they belong, do sit-ups and walk in nature a bit, and find the time for all the niceties. But having a neat desk or ideal weight cannot be the ultimate measures of a meaningful life (please the gods, let that be so!). They can either support, or detract from, the exciting ideas. Unfortunately, this category also includes the very big deals, the ones that can build or destroy the chance for your dreams to come true. These are habits can endanger your basic well-being, or connect you with what you want most, and the pressure of facing them doesn’t ever go away for long. Life will keep bringing these back to choose again and again and again.

  1. To stop: smoking, eating compulsively, drinking alcohol/taking drugs, or spending more money than you make.
  2. And to start: conscious breathing or meditating, getting outside, writing down thoughts, keeping promises to self and others.

            These are not a cookie-cutter listings: we each have our own knowledge of what our inner selves know is “right just for me.” We only  have to follow our self-loathing or peace of mind to know what is what.

            This big problem with these chronic life changers is that they do not have the built-in power of a newly minted commitment. Anything that requires us to refocus on them daily too often morphs them from new habits into dreaded chores: we lose sight of the pain they caused, and have not fully received the joy they bring. At the beginning it is easy to love the new behaviors. Then we get overconfident, skip a day, then two. Soon comes the horrifying moment when we cannot imagine how we every managed to maintain the routine, the ability to say “No, thank you”, or to look forward to a walk every day regardless of the weather.

            This isn’t your fault, really. This is 100% human conditioning, undoubtedly encoded in our DNA. The brain cannot sort and prioritize automatically: it wants to forget the pain of living the old ways, and think that everything is fine. This is why we rely on daily reminders, readings, encouragement from others, and tangible rewards. Or else our brain moves to the next immediate source of pleasure, even if we know it will ultimately cause more pain. Why in hell would anyone who has managed to quit smoking ever think she can just smoke one and be okay? Why would she want to smoke just one?

            Many who have never benefited from support groups wonder why people continue to attend twelve-step meetings when they’ve been abstinent for a decade or more. “How do you think I’ve stayed sober?!” is the standard response. At Weight Watchers the other day, the leader showed us her fat photo, and announced “I’ve been within five pounds of my goal weight for over ten years. You want to know how? I’ve been coming to meetings and writing down my food both as a participant and as a leader, consistently; and I know that without it I wouldn’t have been able to keep if off.” Not everyone has to attend a group meeting. For some of us it takes a courageous act of getting on the scale every day, or getting a dog so we have to walk. Maybe we make a promise to a grandchild who asks us to quit smoking, and we “do it for someone else.”

            Do whatever it takes. Because then you’re free to go for the lovely goals and dreams.

            


My relationship with the To Do list is rather complicated, and it goes back a long way. In the olden days, and I am talking about sixth grade in the early 1960’s, I created a poster-sized chart with lines and places for stars and check marks. I taped it to the back of my bedroom door to be reviewed every day. On it were dozens of  tasks I had to complete, including brushing my teeth, homework, cleaning my room; a wonder it didn’t include breathing and eating. This was the first stark evidence of my inner perfectionist taking charge of my life.

This vague fear of not doing my life well without constant scrutiny has been a constant companion, the creation of driven parental modeling and messages; avoiding the dreaded curse of “not living up to her potential.”

At times “the list” creates as much angst as it relieves. This happens when I don’t take the time to clarify what is truly important, and treat weed the flower bed with equal fervor as write for pleasure. I think I want to create a list in order to prioritize it. But a friend nailed this fallacy eloquently: “The big issues are SO large, it’s easier to focus on the small stuff.”

What is it about the To Do list that still triggers a shock of enthusiasm in me? Any sane person should want to crawl under the covers after creating a staggering catalog of “undone important goals.” But for me, I feel a thrill when I fill a page of neatly organized boxes, and new energy arises as I take up the gauntlet now thrown down, “I dare you to try to complete this list of twenty tasks!” Hercules must have felt the same way when told he had to check off his picayune list of three deeds.

These days, I recognize this long-held internal conflict of inner voices and Selves, and I tend to favor my inner organizer. She sees me as marvelously intelligent and capable of major accomplishments. However, my inner sloth deserves more embracing: she regards me as perfectly fine just the way I am; a message I can use a great deal more of. I think it’s time for me to go read a novel. That must be on a list somewhere.


This simple (ha!!) story from The Pocket Pema Chödrön, is on page 72. I love how specifically she details the actions that scared me, all of us, as children. “This is how I make you do what makes me comfortable and keeps you from knowing how important you really are!” could have been the thought bubble over every parent. I know how easy it is to believe that someone, anyone, on the other end of a phone call, my spouse, a clerk in a store, would do these things and I would be powerless. Of course, that is such a ridiculous thought, it adds in the element of shame and “what is wrong with me!?” As I said, “simple??”

HOW TO DEFEAT FEAR

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.


People often ask me about how to increase self-confidence so they can try new things. They imagine confidence to be a magically acquired inner quality, and that successful people are naturally fearless, willing to try new experiences, managing to look cool in the process. The real path to self-confidence is to develop COMPETENCE with practice, trial and error. To dare to follow your dreams requires the willingness to look foolish, to risk failure and rejection. Our mistakes are requirements for wisdom and true confidence. Of course, His Holiness manages to say this with much more elegance and simplicity.

Warm-heartedness reinforces our self-confidence – giving us not a blind confidence, but a sense of confidence based on reason. When you have that you can act transparently, with nothing to hide! Likewise, if you are honest, the community will trust you. Trust brings friendship, as a result of which you can always feel happy. Whether you look to the right or the left, you will always be able to smile.

I came across these quotes, scrolling quickly, then slower, then I stopped and realized I was being reminded that nothing is more important, ever, than stopping and letting in pure beauty, wisdom, or love. Enjoy…

“What keeps us from joining the dance

The dust particles do?…”

*

“We should split the sack

Of this culture, And stick our heads out.”

*

“I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door.  It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!”

*

“Hear what Sanai said:

Lose your life, if you seek eternity.”

*

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

*

“Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

*

“If you’ve opened to…love, you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.”  Amen