Happy New Year’s Eve Day!

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Happy New Year’s Eve Day!

It is the day of New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year’s Eve Day! I almost posted yesterday when it was the day before the day before New Year’s Eve. Maybe I will post on the day after New Year’s Eve day.

The point is humans love to make meaning and we as human beings need to keep track of time. It makes it easier to plant crops, force the populace to pay annual taxes, to tally up birthdays, and more when we know when the earth has traveled around the sun one whole time. Marking the solar return is better than counting those pesky moon cycles. Look at how random Easter and Ramadan are.

A new beginning starts…

Reality? A new beginning starts when any one of us decides a new beginning starts. It could be right now to coincide with the new year. Every year I see the gym fill up in January with new folks committed to getting thinner and more in shape. It could be that moment when you finish the most inspiring book you have ever read and it is time to do whatever you are inspired to do. Or it could be some Thursday morning in April.

It is not the pledge of New Year’s that holds magic. It is the commitment to do whatever. Change is hard. Sometimes brutally hard. It might mean slogging through hours and hours of reading websites for a solution to a programming problem. Or commenting out a line or two of code at a time until you find the bug. Sometimes it means writing every morsel of food down, going to the gym every day, and drinking gallons of water just to see the scale edge down ever so slowly. Sometimes it means writing 500 really crappy words per day with the leap of faith that if you just keep doing it, the daily 500 words per day will get better. Look for those things that are king pins. What one or two changes will make the biggest differences and motivate more changes?

So will today or tomorrow be a new beginning beyond the beginning of the new year?

If not now, when?

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I practiced the fiddle for an hour this morning. Scales– G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G and not the A. Oh Susanna! Ole Joe Clark. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Bile Them Cabbage Down.

Real advanced stuff as I am sure you can tell. My dogs would agree with you if they were in the house. I take their howling as encouragement.

I think I want to work more later on “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “I’ll Fly Away”.

I play some guitar as well. Just chords. I am learning now how to read music. When I was a kid I moved in fifth grade from a school district with a music program that featured listening to the same dusty set of records over and over again to one with award winning bands, an orchestra, and multiple choirs. The music teacher at the new school did not know what to do with me who had never even seen a recorder, so she ignored me for two years. And I never learned about how to play music and read music. Currently, my fiddle instructor, Isaac Weiss, is teaching me. He’s great.

I was thinking on stuff this morning over coffee.

Learning an instrument takes vision. And investment. And belief in yourself. If I only went on the way I play fiddle right now, I would give up because it sounds pretty bad. However, I practice a few hours a week and every week the notes become a bit clearer, the music makes more sense, and I am starting to hear melodies. It is thrilling.

Lots of skills, achievements and whatnot require this trio of vision, investment of effort over time, and belief in yourself. No one has lost weight, saved for a trip, wrote a novel, completed a 5K, learned to ski, etc. without this trio.

The way I see it, one can sit in the bath warm and cozy and getting all pruney or waste time in front of the television or whatever…

OR you can decide now is the time for __________________

Sometimes, these things have an optimal time, but if you wait for that time will it ever really come? If you don’t start socking away $20/week for that trip to Japan, will you ever get there? If you don’t start setting aside retirement money, how will it happen? If you don’t take those first steps, how will you run that half marathon? If you don’t start writing, how will that novel in your head end up on the page? If not now, when?

Obstacles to Goals

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“Fairytales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I have been writing about goal setting and achieving goals the last couple days because I have had some set backs in my current goals. I need the pep talk. If someone else benefits– woohoo!

I can honestly say that I have failed the majority of things I have set out to do. I know quite a bit about failure– how obstacles can stop you in your tracks, how sometimes you have to reassess your goals, how the expectations of others can get in the way, how you simply are not in control of every possibility and sometimes the world shifts and you have to shift, how easy it is to be distracted, how easy it is to get discouraged, etc. There are always obstacles to goals. Sometimes setting off to achieve a goal is simply an exercise of faith. One has to believe that the endeavor will succeed. But you need more than this to improve the chances of getting to your goal. After years of failing and trying to learn from my mistakes, I have come to the conclusion learning something new, reaching a desired goal, or developing a new habit requires 3 things: persistence, planning/problem solving, and self-control.

Obstacles will arise on any path to any goal.

You may think your writing is the next great sensation, while your writing group evaluates your writing as needing serious work. So you have at least a couple obstacles: 1. developing your writing ability and 2. developing your inner editor to be able to see your work more clearly. Should you simply give up because a handful of peers said your writing is not so good? No, but you may have a lot of work ahead.

You may want to lose 50 pounds, but your first two weeks of dieting and exercising every day result in no pounds lost. At this point should you decide that losing weight just won’t happen? No, but you may have a few obstacles to overcome– like maybe you need to get a better sense of portion control, maybe you have a slow metabolism and losing the weight is going to take a very long time, etc.

You may set a goal to get a job and send out 765 resumes and not get one job interview. There may be many obstacles in your way in this scenario. Perhaps the job market for your field is saturated and you will have to be more persistent, get additional training, be willing to volunteer, be willing to move to a different part of the country, etc. Perhaps, your resume needs a professional career counselor to help you evaluate and re-write it. Perhaps, your age, race or gender are negatively impacting your chances of getting hired and you need to make more personal contacts or get more creative about how to get a job.

You may want to save $100/month. Perhaps after three months  of saving, your car breaks down, requiring a $600 repair. Should you give up the goal of trying to save money?

I can name more obstacles– caring for young children so there is no time to exercise/read/go to the bathroom alone; no money to buy that thing you think you need to help achieve your goal; friends and family around you that are less than supportive and ridicule you; not getting signs of success in a timely fashion; etc.

In my opinion, addressing the obstacles that stand in your way is as important and visualizing your end goal. I think we need both. We need a vision of what we are aiming for and we need to be willing to look at, problem solve and plan for things that will stop us from getting there. I think visualizing the goal without looking at the obstacles can be too easy and has its own weird reward in the act of fantasizing. Looking at just the obstacles in the way can be demoralizing. Imagining the future and considering the obstacles can be a powerful way to create a realistic action plan.

By way of example, I have been trying to get in shape. Our bodies are very dynamic and efficient. Most people’s bodies will acclimatize to the amount of exercise they are doing and the number of calories being eaten. This means that unvarying routines don’t always work to achieve large weight losses or to maintain the weight loss. I was walking 10 miles per day and gaining weight while dieting. I decided my efficient body had acclimatized to my walking (obstacle 1) and I needed to do more strength training. I did not know the first thing about weight training (obstacle 2) so I hired a personal trainer. Money was a problem in hiring a personal trainer (obstacle 3). I chose a higher deductible on my health insurance plan to save money to pay the personal trainer. A housemate of mine lives in the room below me so I cannot use my treadmill in the morning and needed to find other times to work out consistently (obstacle 4). I planned my workouts before or after classes. I am still not losing weight, although I am in better shape, and I suspect my metabolism is adversely affected (obstacle 5). I have had tests done and am seeing a doctor. I may need to suck it up and realize that I will never be able to eat more than 1300 calories a day, will need to exercise a lot to maintain the weight, and losing weight may only be possible by eating 1000-1200 calories per day. I am still sorting this out. This is my planning/problem solving to get to my goal. I am not giving up. I may need to re-evaluate the goal.

Another example, I would like to write, publish a book, and have my book on a library shelf. I have been unemployed and need to get this sorted first. My time at present needs to be directed towards getting skills that an employer needs. This is the main obstacle that needs to be addressed before I can work on my skill as a writer (obstacle), developing a habit of writing daily again (obstacle), and developing a habit of sending material out for submission (obstacle).

One last example, I am in the process of changing careers and am working on learning to program in C++ and Java. I am taking a course through the local community college. Obstacles that I have had over the last several months: 1. I am frequently the only woman in my classes or one of a small number; 2. I have to organize my studies around caring for my children; 3. Going back to school is expensive; and 4. Not all courses are created equally and I still need to learn to code. For the first obstacle, I found a friend who was willing to listen to me vent on occasion via email and I began going to the local Girl Develop It group meetings. For the second obstacle, I plan out my week ahead of time and stick to my schedule so I do not get behind. For the third obstacle, I pulled monies from my retirement funds. This was scary to do but because of the retirement funds, I do not qualify for financial aid and student loans are very expensive. In regards to the last obstacle? I spend a good amount of time researching the material and teaching myself how to code because the coding classes are often taught by instructors who are not teachers but rather are former programmers. One instructor was self taught and then got a degree. He understands how to teach the material. Other instructors are not so good. I take the attitude that learning the code and teaching myself is just one more problem to solve on top of the coding assignments.

I think other people can help brainstorm solutions to obstacles that are in the way of getting to a goal, but ultimately the person who wants to achieve the goal has to determine for themselves what those obstacles are and what the solutions are. Ignoring obstacles or dismissing their importance is a way to set oneself up for failure.

And now I need to go work on learning Java programming.

The Art of Goal Setting

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As a child growing up, every New Year’s Day I witnessed family members kicking back on the couch to watch the parades and football games while eating full plates of holiday food. Inevitably an aunt or uncle would declare their “resolution” to lose weight. Soon the resolution conversation would begin with other family members declaring it was time to get fit, read more, clean more, etc. And mostly they never followed through.

As a young adult I saw friends declare their majors in college and layout a whole fantastic cache of fabulous future careers. Friends were going to preside over the United Nations, display their photography in New York, start communes, be the next poetic sensation and make greater impact than Ginsburg, etc. Often my college friends changed their minds a week later before going on to graduate and take the first available job that was offered. How many administrative assistants once wanted to be artists? How many accountants once wanted to be developers? How many contract lawyers once wanted to right injustices?

Goals are a good thing. Resolutions are a good thing. Putting forth one’s intent to accomplish a particular achievement or action is a good thing. It gives direction. It can be used to measure progress. It is good to fantasize and project oneself into possibilities to try them out, to figure out if they are workable, to walk in that skin and know if it is yours. Writing goals is an art form. The art of goal setting is an art form anyone can master. Ideally a goal should be measurable and achievable and something truly desired.

For instance, if you are a writer and want to work towards getting published a workable goal might be: “I will write 500 words per day. I will submit two written pieces to ten potential publishers per month.” Both parts of this goal are measurable and achievable. An unachievable goal would be: “I will write 10,000 words per day every day of the month and publish two novels per month.” This goal is unachievable for two reasons. First, writing 10,000 words per day for a month is Herculean. Secondly, no one has control over the minds of others and the publishers may have different ideas about publishing the novels. An unmeasurable goal would be: “I will be a brilliant writer.” Questions an amorphous goal like this raise are the following: by whose estimation and how do you define a writer.

I can think of many things and situations that are desirable. I would like to move to Barcelona. I would like to write and publish several non-fiction and fiction books. I would like to lose weight, get fit, and stay in shape. I would like to be able to travel on a regular basis. Etc.

Desire is important. Not so much in a warm and fuzzy or passionate way, but rather in a nitty gritty, “How much do you want this?” sort of way. When writing goals, the “shoulds” need to be thrown out. Achievable goals are uniquely personal, owned, and ultimately “wanted” in the way of committing to the effort. It requires one know oneself or be willing to learn about oneself. A goal that is based on what one “should” do won’t hold enough importance to get through set backs, the long term slog, the derision of folks who will be naysayers, etc. Any thing worth doing or achieving will take effort and will be, if not uncomfortable, downright painful at times. There are always things one has to give up to get to goals. For instance, instead of having a leisurely morning of drinking coffee and waking up, perhaps this means donning running shoes and walking out into the pre-dawn to run 2 miles. Maybe it means instead of watching two hours of television after dinner, sitting at the kitchen table and working on a manuscript or a java program. Maybe instead of taking a lunch hour to go out with co-workers to a restaurant, it means sitting in the break room and learning Spanish. One has to know oneself to set goals and create a doable action plan.

I need to work on my Java homework right now. I have a goal in a chain of goals to obtain an associates degree in computer science with an emphasis in programming. More tomorrow about thinking about the obstacles in the way of getting to one’s goals because I think these are as important of setting goals and it is important to write out or at least think about an “action plan” to get to a goal.

Time


The concept of time changes over the course of a lifetime and for different circumstances. When I was a child summer vacations felt as though they went on forever and the distance between birthdays was just unfathomable. It felt like I had all the time in the world. When I visited South Africa the time went by all too quickly. Currently some mornings I read and research for several writing projects I am working on and two hours seem to fly. Other days I have to wait for service people and the time drags. Time is very relative.

A year ago I sent my mother flowers for Mother’s Day just as a part of the annual routine. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. Currently, I am receiving daily emails from the company I ordered flowers from asking if I would like to place an order for my mother this Mother’s Day. Last Mother’s Day feels like an eternity ago. When I sat with my mother last fall as she was dying the time went too quickly. I regretted not spending more time with her over the last few years. Her death was a smack upside the head that we really do only get so much time on this earth and being conscious of this and choosing how we spend time is important.

Currently I am working on being the person I envision being. I find I need to project management my efforts and my time. I also will easily work 80-90 hours per week and not acknowledge my accomplishments. I need to make lists to both organize myself to get everything done and to recognise when things are done.

Never before have I had quite such a grasp of how valuable my time is. Currently every morning, I review my schedule for the day and create a list of things/tasks to get done. And then I start. Never have I felt so compelled to get things done and to not waste time.

I am in a kind of transition time right now. I came to the awareness a while ago that whatever we put time and energy into is what will develop. In part I came to this on my own and what solidified it was researching and writing a biographical essay about Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei is probably the most influential modern artist alive at the moment. For years he worked as a day laborer (and incidentally learned to gamble and is a top-tiered blackjack player) and refused commissions that would lead his art away from his vision. He worked tirelessly and remained committed to his ideal.

I have been reading about permaculture and ecology lately. When old growth forests are cleared, if the land is allowed to regenerate on its own a type of scrub will grow in to protect the soil and water table and begin to heal the land. Weeds are beneficial to the land because they bring nutrients to the soil, can penetrate the hard pan, prevent erosion, etc. Don’t underestimate the benefit of weeds. But then as caretakers we have to come in and make choices about the use of the land. If we are wise we will imitate the progression of a natural forest and plant plants and trees that will create a full habitat for animals, insects, birds, humans, and the plants.

During transition times for people, it is a little like the time of scrub growing in. Opportunities pop up that relieve anxiety but may not be in alignment with one’s vision for what one would like their life to be. There is great deal of flailing around and trying to figure out what will work and be beneficial. More than a few weeds will come in and present ideas and more. I guess it is this task in this time period to envision what one’s life should look like in the end and engineer backwards. And then no matter if time seems to move slowly or fast, be productive or flailing, just keep working towards the vision. Try out different things and figure out what will work.

So the quality of time is relative. Time in terms of how it feels in passing is relative. But if one invests time and energy in a vision of what one wants to accomplish this is the only way to make it happen. We only have now and I want to make the best of it.