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Posts Tagged ‘goals’


 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.

            

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Multitasking is not the secret to success. A scattered, unfocused mindset sabotages the accomplishment of the major-tasking that creates lovely memories and crosses off the jobs that need doing but one time. Myriad studies prove that multitasking not only isn’t efficient in the long run, it causes stress and high blood pressure. It is the opposite of the spiritual experience of mindfulness. But this knowledge hasn’t put an end to the compulsion to confound my hands and mind with co-existing activity. My secret selves, the inner child and protector, cling to the belief that doing more than one thing at a time just has to be effective. They insist that I have to be organized before I can work on my big goals.

The truth is the adrenaline rush of multitasking is far more thrilling than boring old “Focus on one thing at a time and do it right.” I do get a lot done when in a  full-on frantic flurry, but only the mini-tasks.  I cheat myself out of the deep pleasure of seeing an important job well done.

Having a neat desk, photos scanned, files sorted, and sock drawer organized by color are mini-tasks that require focus, but bring only temporary satisfaction and come undone in a week of typical living. My friend “Lake” explained that her kitchen was never as clean as when she had a creative deadline facing her; that the hardest act of an artist/writer was to deny the small voices that told her she first had to have a clean, well-ordered house, and spent precious time completing a hundred insignificant chores before entering her studio.

The steps that lead to my heart’s desire cannot be tackled with the same mosaic of effort of cleaning the kitchen, making a meal, checking the weather channel to see if I dare hang out the laundry, all while on hold for the next available agent. Big goals, the ones that create joy, need a purer intention, a calm focus. It takes mental focus and a calm heart to consider what is important to you.

Do you know what your most precious goals are? Not for your whole life, or the next twenty years. It’s scary for me to notice that at 62, I need to plan a shorter frame. So I’ll begin to think about what I really want to achieve, this year.  Best to work on a short list, two to five, that includes the long denied joys, as well as essential obligations of adulthood. Mine include a first trip to Europe. A return to the gym three times a week. Complete the taxes without deadline stress. More vague,but still important: How can I be a terrific partner for my family members? Read more meaningful books?

When you consider yours, don’t  judge them by size–you’re looking for something that keeps pulling you toward a single sweet focus. Write down two steps to lead you toward each of  your dreams, and post them where you can see them every day. Then turn off your phone, bungee cord yourself into your chair or the treadmill at the gym. The dishes will be there when it’s time for a break. And when you do the dishes? Do them one at a time.

I will if you will! These next ten questions might give you some other clues as to what is befuddling your efforts to get to your dreams.

Self-Discovery Quiz: Mini-Tasking versus Major-Tasking

Rate your responses 0 (not me!) to 5 (how’d you know!)

1. I have a short list of important goals for this year firmly in my mind and written down.

2. At least once a week I make a small step to move toward one of these goals.

3. I believe in the motto “Do it once and do it right,” and am working to be good at it.

4. When I catch myself engaged in simultaneous activities, I stop and choose one to complete.

5. I’ve learned to seek support from my family, friends, and experts to realize my big goals.

6. While at a creative task, like writing a blog, I turn off the sounds of email and phone.

7. I keep reminding myself to “focus” and imagine how good I’ll feel after completing the current task.

8. While waiting for the microwave to ding or the washing machine to complete its spin cycle, I don’t fret, instead I take deep breaths and release tension in my upper body.

9. I don’t feel guilty when chores or family needs are temporarily delayed, because it serves everyone when we each work on our big goals.

10. This quiz is making me nervous!

If you have low numbers on #1-9, and #10 is too true, you believe multi-tasking is more effective than major-tasking. For today, you might choose one of the ideas embedded in the first nine, try it on and see how you look wearing it.

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