Practice Makes Perfect

practice, piano, playing

On September 14th, 2017 I started a daily gratitude practice. Every day since, I have celebrated at least five things that I am grateful for.

I’ve written about my gratitude practice before, but the truth is, I still feel a bit awkward talking about it. It’s a complete one-eighty from where I came from.

I’d be willing to bet that a few of you will stop reading right about here, and that’s OK. It’s like anything else; you have to experience it for yourself to see the true value in it. But, gratitude isn’t a quick switch. It’s a gradual progression.

I have celebrated over 2,000 things that I am grateful for since I started this habit and it is easily one of the biggest shifts I have made to improve my mindset, ever.

While gratitude enhances the things I am already inherently grateful for yet often overlook, the real gold in this practice is found on the difficult days. The perspective that it gives me in challenging situations, and the shift that I have witnessed on more than one occasion in those who are involved in my gratitude project with me, is remarkable.

I try my best to weave gratitude into my days; there are those days where this is certainly easier than others. I take notes throughout the day to reflect on at night, when I compile my list. It’s the best punctuation on any given day, but especially for the less than ideal ones.

Find a reason to be grateful. Find several. Don’t just cherry pick them, although some days you will find that you must; dig in and find the good in the challenging.

It’s there. I promise.

 

Passing Go

monopoly, passing go, playing, board game

Two months ago, I jumped into a fitness challenge. I joined a gym with a three-month commitment. I signed up with a team, forcing my hand in accountability.

I have never belonged to a gym; my experience has been, at best, an intermittent affair with the gym at work. I have never taken fitness classes. I have never lifted weights with any real intention or direction. I have never shared space with people who push themselves so physically.

Up until about two weeks ago, I was the only person, and in some cases the youngest person, in my classes using pastel dumbbells; the 2, 3 and 4 pound weights. Week after week, in a series of movements, there were my two pastel dumbbells in a sea of black dumbbells in the mirror reflecting back at the class.

To say I have pushed myself out of my physical comfort zone would be an understatement. Not only was I in a new environment, I was carrying around the symbol of a beginner, and – in my head – the symbol of someone who is weak. There were moments where my internal critic’s shouts echoed off the walls of my own head, mocking me, trying to make me uncomfortable. That’s her job after all.

Without that discomfort, though, there wouldn’t be any growth. Without pushing past that unease, there would be no success, no fulfillment, no satisfaction of accomplishment. And that critic, the one telling me that I was weak, that everyone was judging me with those pastel dumbbells as not working as hard or pushing myself enough?

She was full of shit.

The truth is, no one gave a second thought to me and my pastel dumbbells.

There aren’t any pastel dumbbells in the mirror that belong to me now, but I will be the first to encourage and applaud the woman who walks into the next class and picks them up. That is, if I even notice her; what I have realized is that the serious ones, the ones who are working the hardest, are wrapped up in their workout and focusing on one thing: themselves.

Everyone who is inspiring you to grow started somewhere, were beginners at some point. It takes courage, self-worth, self-value, and passion. It takes believing that the journey is better than any momentary discomfort. It takes grit. It takes keeping your focus and your energy in your own lane.

And it takes being able to step out of your own comfort zone and tell your inner critic to take a muzzled seat.

I launched this blog after thinking about it for months. I consumed a variety of opinions on what a blog should look like, how a blog should be managed and found that there were already plenty of people talking about the things that I wanted to talk about. I could have worked myself right into inaction. This blog isn’t perfect, there are people out there doing it better than I am, and I’m happy with that because if I had waited until it was perfect I wouldn’t be in this space at all. I’m here and being in a space where people are doing it better than I am both pushes me harder and assures me that I have room to grow.

If my value in this space was wrapped up in other people’s validation or approval of it, I’d be doing it for all the wrong reasons. I’m here for me. I’m here for the women who have reached out to let me know that my words have had an impact on them.

Without starting, you’re only guaranteed one thing: you’re not going anywhere. Your internal critic doesn’t want you to pass go; she is extremely comfortable and content with where you are. She wants you to think that it’s everyone else that you have to prove yourself to. She’s banking on your not being able to overcome the discomfort of judgement.

One of the most fulfilling actions you can take is the first step in proving that she’s wrong.

Noise

jason-rosewell-60014-unsplash

There’s a lot of noise out in the world. Today especially.

Everyone is trying to be louder than the next.

Social media feeds, Instagram stories, Facebook lives, radio, TV, podcasts, books, magazines, articles, blogs.

Whose noise are you listening to?

Perhaps a better question is, what’s it doing for you?

 

Survival Mode

There is some sort of twisted satisfaction in doing multiple things simultaneously, in serial multi-tasking.

“Look at me, I can do five things in the span of five minutes, all while doing this other thing over here.”

It’s an addictive habit. There’s a sense of accomplishment in the number of things we can do. The hours in the day are numbered, and if we can get through this checklist (and add things just to check them off to make ourselves feel even more accomplished) we’re “successful”.

But, successful at what?

If you’re multi-tasking at two things, you’re giving fifty percent of your energy to each thing. If you’re working on dinner, running a load of laundry, helping your daughter with her homework and scrolling through Facebook, you’ve dropped to an attention span and energy level of twenty five percent for each task. If you’re consistently operating at less than one hundred percent in everything you do, you’re skimming the surface.

You’re in survival mode; meeting the barest minimum requirements to keep your head above water.

water, hand, drowning

Survival mode is not sustainable.

For a time, it might feel like you can operate at a sprint, accomplishing everything you need to, valuing the completion rate above the quality rate, but burnout is inevitable; it shows up in the form of sickness, a lack of energy, frustration, anger, irritation.

Sound familiar?

It’s not all about time management, it’s also about energy management. When we’re trying to fit so many things into our day, and the focus becomes how much more we can accomplish, the important things like connecting with our families, chasing our passions and taking a breath every now and then to connect with ourselves becomes an oversight, or – even worse – an inconvenience.

The meaning is not found in the “doing”. Overloading ourselves with doing lends a false sense of importance and value to the superficial success found there.

Take inventory of your days. Are you consistently pushing your energy into the busyness of life? Are you spreading yourself thin by over-committing, holding expectations of yourself that are perhaps too high, feeling guilty or as though you are a burden if you ask your spouse or a family member to shoulder some of the load so that you can carve out some time for you?

Stop. Start with this.

How do you want to feel?

And then start building your days around that feeling.

Not sure how to get there? Start saying no. Start prioritizing the things that matter to you. Delegate a task or a chore. Outsource the work. Ask for help.

You’re more valuable to everyone when you’re not worried about keeping yourself afloat.

Direction

Compass, wood, direction, path

There are times when I feel a bit lost in the pursuit of growth. The more podcasts, articles and books I consume, the more ideas I am given.

Note that I did not say, “the more ideas I have.” There is a difference.

There are times when the waters that seemed so clear become muddied.

Seeking inspiration, knowledge or education is not in any way a bad thing, but without a solid foundation you can lose your voice when you’re relying too heavily on external direction. By listening to every message, trying to apply what works for each person that inspires you, and following the path that this woman took or that man followed can lead you to a junction at the intersection of lost and confused.

To help mitigate the noise, I have been journaling more lately; sometimes I write around a certain topic or idea, and sometimes it is more a capture of a stream of thoughts. One of the more clarifying topics I’ve been focusing on is who I want to be in five years, when I turn 40. Envisioning that woman – who she is, what she values – holds power and importance to me. It has helped to identify the goals I want to pursue and how I want to pursue them.

A step in the journaling process that has helped me define the woman that I am becoming is in defining my core values.

In order to know what you want to chase, you have to know what is important to you; you have to have a good handle on what you value.

You might think, “Well, that’s easy, I know what’s important to me.”

But do you, really?

If you don’t know your values, you are more apt to vacillate between options, to become torn between decisions. You’re more apt to make decisions that don’t align with the direction of your growth.

For example: You’re invited to go out Saturday night with a group of friends. You know that you want to get up early and have a productive Sunday. The arranged time to meet is later than you’d like. You know the invitation comes from a good place, and you’d actually like to get together with the group.

If you don’t have your personal principles in place, you’re more likely to fold.

And then, when Sunday morning rolls around, you sleep in. You crawl out of bed with a headache. You got in much later than you would have liked to, you had one or two more drinks than you would have normally, and as a result you have zero ambition.

Worse yet, the guilt creeps in. You start beating yourself up for being weak, having no resolve, not being as productive as you could have been. The inner critic starts chirping.

Having solid values established allows you to gauge your response to any situation to align with what you ultimately believe is most important. Making time for your friends can be important; building community and connection could be a core value you honor. Does it, however, come before a promise or commitment you have made to yourself? That depends on your hierarchy of values.

For instance, in the example above, weighing your decision against your core values would have better aligned your response to the invitation. If your higher core value is connection, community and friendship, you wouldn’t necessarily have felt so guilty the next morning. Or, you might have recognized that, while there is importance in those values, committing to yourself is of utmost importance; you might have suggested an alternate time or plan. You might have agreed to go out, but not been swayed from leaving early or having only one drink. Or, you might simply have said no.

I have a friend who does this admiringly well; she communicates her values, and those closest to her respect this. Those that don’t she has had to learn to give less energy to; ultimately, they don’t have her best interests at heart.

Creating core values creates a hierarchy of decision-making and refining tools, and depending on what your core values are, every decision you make is either working towards or against who you want to be. Basing your decision-making process on your core values allows you to create goals that resonate with who you are.

Defining your core values can be more complicated than it may seem on the surface; they may be buried under years of conditioning, of upholding the values of others, of trying to meet certain standards or fitting into a certain mold.

Distinctly defining your core values can help you focus, cut through the noise, and ultimately choose the voices that definitively align with helping you grow and be successful in your pursuits.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Right

We like to be right. Our rigidity in our perspective varies from person to person, but we’re all attached to it in some way or another.

I used to fiercely believe in the fact that I was not a morning person. I very much believed that I needed to hit snooze five times. Or more. I also believed that I needed coffee before I could speak to anyone; I have witnesses that can attest to this. I couldn’t possibly even entertain the idea of productive work in the earlier hours, much less physical exertion.

I didn’t believe that I could be a morning person. I believed very strongly that I could not.

And, I was right.

There are parts of ourselves that we know we can improve upon, but most of us ignore them, or chalk them up to “who we are”. Status quo doesn’t require any work, of course.

As my interest in self-development has progressed and I have explored a bit further, I have had to take inventory of my habits and my patterns.

Somewhere along the way, a shift began. This has not been an instantaneous change, and I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment it started; it has been an increase in awareness that has developed over time and is still developing.

At first, I tried – and failed – to change everything at once. What you inherently identify with, characteristics that you have owned for months and years, are not easily challenged.

Less than a year ago, if you had told me that I would be the type of person who was getting up and getting a work out in (a barbell workout, no less) BEFORE 6am, BEFORE having a sip of coffee, I would have laughed. Hard. I also never believed that I could find the time to get two or three workouts in a week, so I didn’t even try.

However, for the last three months of this year, I am focusing solely on my health and wellness. I joined a gym that offers a range of classes, a few being 5am classes; that means I have to be out of bed at 4:20am to make class. And I have done so multiple times. I’m committed to showing up, and it’s becoming a habit.

Here’s what changed: I believe I can. I believe strongly that I can. I broke down the self-imposed limitation that I built up about myself.

And, I am right.

This is not about fitness or motivation to exercise or even about getting up in the morning.

This is about what we identify with, and how we create our reality. It’s about being right, but also about aligning ourselves with the things we want to be right about.

For years, I was a smoker. Until I wasn’t. For years, I believed that I couldn’t get through a social evening or event without drinking alcohol. Until I could.

If you identify with those things, you are right. If you don’t, you are also right.

I’m a blogger; even after I started this blog I didn’t identify with that title, however after week upon week of commitment that is now habit, I do. It doesn’t matter what stage I am in, whether I have an audience or not. I believe I am a blogger and therefore I do things that bloggers identify with doing.

And, I am right.

Other people don’t get a say in what we are or aren’t, what we do or don’t do. They don’t get to play that role in your life unless you allow it, unless you accept that they are right.

I’ve written about the stories that we tell ourselves; that we are this, we are that, we do or don’t do this because of that and the other thing. We believe we are inherently right in our beliefs. We have become attached to them; they were given to us years ago, they were never our beliefs to begin with, but we took them on because someone whom we viewed as admirable, more influential, more intelligent, more authoritative than we were at the time passed them along and asked us to pack them up and carry them. We believe that they have become pieces of who we are.

belinda-fewings-977695-unsplash

The problem with many of the beliefs we have picked up along the way is that they are not beneficial to us. They are not positive, productive, aspirational, or particularly enjoyable.

Who we inherently believe we are, the identifiers we use to define ourselves, is built upon years and years of habit, of thinking in ways that support those beliefs. They have become ours, we have groomed them, we value them, and we identify with them.

You can continue to allow these beliefs to hold value. You can believe that they are what make you who you are.

Or, you can believe that you can be something else, and you can practice at that until it becomes a habit, until it becomes inherent.

Either way, you’re right.

 

 

 

Choosing

We often feel at odds with where we are in life because it’s not where we want to be. It’s not what we envisioned, it’s not what we planned, we’re stuck doing something that we don’t want to do when we want to be doing something else.

We might feel that way, and yet, we don’t do anything about it.

Somewhere along the line, we made a choice; several, in fact. We chose the easier path, where we were met with less challenge, less resistance, less fear. It might not have been a stepping stone to what we wanted, but it was less work to get there. We can think of a number of points to justify it, but we’re here just the same.

woman, cornfield, choice, paths, choosing, direction

 

You might instantly react to that. You didn’t make this choice. You’ll accept any challenge, and you’re certainly not afraid. You’re here because of some outside influence, some reason existed or force was applied. Someone else made the choice for you, circumstances arose, you didn’t have the right status, you experienced love, you experienced loss. Other things were to blame.

Or, perhaps you didn’t know where you wanted to be, and were simply on cruise control. Maybe, thinking five, ten, or twenty years down the road, you see only vague shadows.

That’s a choice too. It’s a strategy you’ll succeed at for sure; you’ll successfully end up exactly where you are at, with a few year less to lose.

Clearly defining who and where you want to be often feels wistful; fear and the inner critic step in at this point and have a good laugh. Self-doubt knows you can’t be serious. Confidence has run off at the first sign of doubt, and is curled up with its blanket, hiding somewhere.

Soon enough, you’re so busy wrapped up with these characters that you’ve lost sight of what you envisioned.

You’ve chosen to let them cast a vote in your story.

You have to choose to stop chasing what you saw before fear, the inner critic, self-doubt and lack of confidence showed up. You have to decide to chase it knowing that they’re there; they’re the companions of anyone with any sort of meaningful goals.

You have to be judicious with the energy and attention you give them. Acknowledge them, tip your hat and continue to move along towards what you want.

Continue to define that version of yourself and choose to move towards it. Over time, you might define multiple versions before you decide which you want to pursue.

That’s a choice you have, too. But, first you have to make the choice to try.