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How Doing #NaNoWriMo is Actually Reducing My Stress

National Novel Writing Month reduced my stressI hemmed and hawed about whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The idea of this challenge–writing a 50,000 word novel in a month–has always appealed to my overachiever side, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, until now. This year, since I’ve been working my way through some doozies of personal emotional shit storms, like my hometown literally burning to the ground, not to mention our shared trauma over numerous international and national tragedies and natural disasters, I decided this was the perfect time to push myself to commit to starting my novel. Why not pile on more, right? 😛

Why in the hell would I commit to this insane writing challenge now, during a time in my life when I’ve been especially busy and stressed? Because I needed a g-darn creative outlet that is ONLY for me.

As a creative entrepreneur and bleeding heart, I don’t always give myself the time and resources I need for self care. Shocker, I know. I go through phases where I’m really good about practicing the gospel of self care that I preach, and then there are other times when life hits hard and I feel like blob of flesh with a spinning top for brain. A slow, wobbly whiligig at that.

I look at the beautiful Instagram feeds of folks I admire like Glennon Doyle, Lewis Howes, and Tim Ferriss and see how “on it” they are with fitness and general well being, and then think, what the heck is wrong with me? Why don’t I have it all together?

For most of us, real life isn’t so curated, or expertly executed. (At least I hope it’s how most of us are and not just me and a few people I know.) There’s this myth that we too can “have it all together.”

But there’s a limit to our personal bandwidth.

I’m going to be asshole here and go ahead and say that it’s not really possible to have everything perfectly aligned in your life–or at least not for more than a short period of time. Life is seasonal, with good times and bad.

We have to stop pretending like perfection and balance is attainable.

Now, before you think I’m a total pessimist, know that I’m not saying we can’t improve our lives, or even have damn great lives. I just think we hold up this model of being wealthy, healthy, perfecto human beings like if we just work hard enough, are disciplined enough, or eat paleo, everything will change. We’ll have achieved nirvana here on earth. And because we believe this, we compare it to where we are now and push and press ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it. Then feel like failures when it doesn’t happen.

We forget that progress takes time, or that many of the celebrity-lifestyle-gurus who are doing great things also do not live perfect lives, despite what we may see in their Instagram feeds.

No one knows the personal challenges you face like you do. People may try to understand (or not) but remember no one really knows what’s going on in that old brainpan of yours. Some of us have taller hurdles to jump, or mountains to climb.

Give yourself a break and take the time you need to figure out what will work for you. Stop frantically trying all of the things. Get alone time and think on what will help you change and improve your life and career.

So what does all of this have to do with me doing #NaNoWriMo and it actually helping my stress levels? I’m so glad you asked. 😉

I do creative work and strategy work for a living and I love it. But it also drains my creative well (as Julia Cameron would say), so when it comes time for downtime sometimes I go into blob mode, incapable of making a creative decision–even if that’s just what I should make for dinner.

With all of the major disasters and events in October, toward the end of the month I was feeling like El Blobo, bigtime.

Thank god though, I was able to actually listen to this little nagging voice that kept saying, “Hey, maybe you should start on that novel you’ve been wanting to write…maybe you could use #NaNoWriMo to get your butt in gear?”

I told my accountability buddies I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and how I felt a little crazy to be thinking about it since I was already juggling so much. But this voice inside assured me that if I could figure out a way to fit it into my life, it would be a good thing, a restorative thing. So I listened. And my accountability buddies decided they’d join in too.

Here’s how I adjusted my goals: The traditional approach is to write 1,667 words every day so that by November 30th you’ve got 50,000 words written. I knew this was way out of my feasibility at this time. I settled on just 500 words per day.

This little chunk of words–which I can sometimes finish in as little as twenty minutes (this is shitty first draft status, so don’t freak)–feels like a treat rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Now I’m only a week or so in, so you know, count that for what it’s worth, but I have been enjoying this writing like I haven’t for a long time. See it’s not an emotional rollercoaster like writing my memoir or essays about single motherhood can be. And while that writing is important and I will go back to it, this feels like pure fun!

Not only does it tap into the pleasure of just writing with my imagination, but I’m writing a novel set in the 1800’s so it also hits my history-buff-research-aholic pleasure center as well.

I’m telling you all this, not because i think you should jump on the NaNoWriMo bus, but because I hope it will spark some ideas for you on how you might refill your well with something you love–utilizing a tool that will keep you accountable.

Speaking of that, I registered on the Nanowrimo website and set my personal goals, but the site also tracks your progress compared to the standard 1,667 words/day standard as well. And so, here’s where that impossible ideal of comparison rears its ugly head. And I choose to ignore it.

Here’s a recent screenshot (of my hackneyed tracking on the site):

my nanowrimo progress

I’ve also been tracking my progress by posting on Instagram, and forgot to enter my words on a daily basis on the site. So basically, I already screwed up my tracking part. LOL. But I don’t care. I’m doing the writing.

I don’t care that other people are writing more, or not. I don’t even care about the quality of what I’m producing.

I do care that I found a creative activity that is purely selfish, in the best way possible.

And guess what? That makes me better at everything in my life. A happier mother, girlfriend, dog-mama, friend, consultant, designer, marketer, brander, etc. You get the idea. And that, my friends is the stuff of real, positive change.

My challenge to you is to think about what you might do to nurture your own creative spirit.

How can you slow down enough to be able to hear that little voice inside you telling you exactly what is needed to heal your overworked, stressed, yet pressing on soul?

And hey, if you figure it out let me know! I’d love to hear what you decided to do for yourself and how you plan to keep yourself accountable.

Remember, you have something(s) amazing to contribute to this world, but you ain’t going to make it if you’re feeling like a blob with a spinning top for a brain.

Go find that restorative thing, hold yourself to it, and love your badass self.

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What to Do When You Feel Like Nothing is Working

Does this happen to you? You’re doing something new, pursuing a new goal or change and it feels like NOTHING is working. Here are some ways this has shown up for me:

  • I pitching or submitting writing all over, but all I hear are crickets in my inbox
  • I market myself, but my social following isn’t growing as fast as I want
  • I’m working on that book and it feels like I’ll never finish it
  • I diet and exercise but haven’t lost weight yet
  • I tell my teenagers to do their chores, but feel like I’m just talking into an echo chamber

Been there?

Meanwhile, you look on your Instagram feed and it seems that everyone else is killing it. This is when I usually get a little punchy.

I’m the type of person who, once she knows what she wants, wants it NOW. Of course, as an grownup I’ve had to learn–usually the hard way–that I have to wait. And sometimes that wait is looooong. Or seems like it, anyway.

Trying something new, whether that’s a diet, pitching a book, eating better, or even pursuing your dreams, is a risk.  And risks always bring up resistance.

If we don’t try anything new, we feel safe, comfortable. We know what to expect, even if that’s mediocrity.

When we step out of our comfort zones though, and take a risk, we don’t know what the outcome will be.

And waiting in silence can sometimes feel like failure, or torture.

Our bodies and minds often react to the sometimes slow burn of waiting in predictable ways.  But the good news is that recognizing those predictable reactions can be an effective way to begin digging yourself out of the anxiety or despair of waiting.

A few years back, I had a job I hated. Every day I had to prepare myself mentally to survive the day without slapping my boss and telling him what I really thought. Aside from not being treated like a human being, I think the thing that stung the most was that I was working so hard at something that didn’t matter to me. I knew I was capable of so much more; I knew I wanted to do something more meaningful, to help people.

On top of the shitty job, I had a second job in retail, and yet still could only afford to live at my mom’s apartment, sharing a single bedroom with my two kids. Of course I realize that others have it way worse and I don’t claim to own all the pain. But basically, my prior businesses had failed and I was in a very disempowered mental state.

It was a real banner time in my life. 

My stress levels were near capacity, so much so that I was practically incapable of figuring out what to do next to get back on my feet.

Funny enough though, on top of all that I had recently decided to  commit to pursuing my dream of becoming a writer and speaker.

I figured, heck what else did I have to lose? If I failed at what I thought I should do (being a successful business owner), I might as well fail at what I really wanted to do (be a writer and speaker, inspiring others).

So between two jobs and two kids, I’d carve out 20 minutes each day to do something, anything, even minuscule toward the glimmer of  life I wanted to lead.

Each morning I’d pull myself up out of my twin-sized bed, and with a heavy heart, push myself to reframe my mentality.

My mantra usually looked a lot like this: at least you have work, this won’t last forever, there are lessons to learn in this space.

Most of the time, I believed myself. But sometimes when the tendrils of negativity had dug too deep into my soul, I bawled, cursed, and complained, which if I’m honest, helped purge me, too. In any case, I needed reinforcements–I could not rely on myself alone to be positive.

Yet despite the love and support of those closest to me, I knew the only one who could shift this was me. So I had to reinforce my own mindset.

I listened to motivational speeches, books, and seminars on the half hour commute to the job I hated. When I arrived, I’d take a deep breath before I opened my car door. I’d gather my lunch bag, straighten my business casual button-down, and walk, head held as high as possible, past my bosses’ office windows on the way to the front door. I grasped for a happy thought so I could have a smile on my face when I walked through the door to whatever shitstorm of demoralization was in store for me that day.

I’m not very good at faking it. But I clung to those positive messages I’d listened to in the car on the way to work.

I survived that near year of struggle and moved on to better things, but every day was a push and pull of dealing with crap and doing everything I could to stay afloat mentally.

It felt like FOR-EV-ER!

 

~

Nowadays, I’m doing the work I feel put on this earth to do and there is a deep well of fulfillment that comes with that, but not always such a deep pocket book. Of course I’m still working hard to attain certain further goals, aka building my Empire of Empowerment. **insert non-evil laugh here**

But sometimes I still grow impatient when results aren’t materializing as fast as I’d like. Sometimes I even get in a panic and wonder if maybe I would be better off if I just had a “normal” life and the security that comes with that.

When I’m smart, I go back to those coping tools I learned the hard way. So, here are some tools that will hopefully help you in your journey.

When you feel like you've got nothing left

Weighing the Alternative

As weak sauce as it may sound, the thing that often gets me through a tough waiting period is weighing the alternative. I mean, I could be living a different life–one of predictability and stability, but never get around to writing my books, never help people with their brands, never bring hope to those who’ve had to rise above their circumstances. But I would be miserable.

So as torturous as it is to wait when you’re doing the work and NOTHING seems to be happening, it’s still better than not doing what you feel you must.

Listen to Positive People (or People Who’ve Been Through it)

Is that motivation enough, though? Aside from the shadow alternative of not trying, the other thing that gets me through is listening to, or reading, or watching inspiring people.

We can’t always have the perfect mindset, so sometimes we need to rely on someone who’s  not in the pit of despair–someone who can throw us a rope of encouragement to help us climb out of our self-imposed misery.

Did you know that for every negative thought or comment you need to counteract it with seventeen positive ones? Negativity is sticky. Positivity is more hard-won, but worth it.

Don’t Panic

The other thing tendency when you’re trying something new and aren’t getting a response or a reward is to try to figure out what you’re doing wrong so you can quickly change it.

Sometimes this is a valid approach. I mean, we all know the definition of insanity.

Sometimes it is not. More often than not, it takes more time to build this new thing than we realize.

Just because it’s taking time doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track.

We’re so used to immediate gratification these days, so if we don’t get thousands of followers, or millions in sales, or immediate recognition right now, we think we’re doing something wrong.

Often, we just need to stick with what we’re doing, make minor adjustments, and trust that the Universe will meet us halfway. Either that, or trust that miracles are possible.

One way to decipher whether you need to change your approach or just keep sticking to it is to have a group of trusted, knowledgeable peers (or a mentor), to be honest with you.

It’s not over

I think the most important thing to remember though, is that there is virtue in the work itself, even if the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped for. As cliche as it sounds there is always something to learn. Usually a lot more from the things that didn’t work than the things that did.

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve had many ventures, ideas, tries and fails. I’ve learned a ton.

Even if you’re trapped in a soul-sucking job, eventually there will be a way out if you keep your eyes open. Even if you’re not seeing results yet from your new workout regime, you will. Even if you’re not hearing back from publications on that essay you’ve been pitching, you will; or you won’t and then maybe you’ll just publish it on your own blog. 😉

We humans always forget that nothing is permanent (well, except death, but until then…). Change is inevitable, so if you’re going through a period of struggle you have to remind yourself it will end.

It’s also important to be realistic and not expect to be the next bestselling author, or Steve Jobs overnight.

Watch this:

Your WHY

Finally, the thing I go back to when I am questioning everything, including whether or not I should press on, is my WHY. I ask myself two questions to determine if I’m feeling like shit because I’m following the wrong path, or if it’s just a bump on the right road:

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. Do I really believe in it?

We can have all of the right tools in place, but if we aren’t sold on the reason we’re wanting to lose weight, or start a business, or build this brand, we likely will not have the follow through. So if your “why” is not good enough, either figure out a better “why” or perhaps it’s  time to change routes.

While the first question prompts you to remember your goal, the second question activates your own well-developed bullshit-o-meter.

We often ignore the wisdom we have deep down. Asking ourselves if we really believe in what we’re doing can often reveal clues to whether or not we should keep going.

Here’s a tip: when you ask yourself these questions, pay attention not only to your mental response, but to how your body feels in that moment. Often, our bodies reveal what our minds are sometimes incapable of telling us.

~

Listen, I know it’s hard to keep walking the path when you can’t see where it will end. There are only a few guarantees in life, and most of them do not ensure that you will be the victor. But one guarantee is change. So if you’re doing the work, things will change. It may not happen according to the timeline you set, but it will come eventually.

I keep going, despite the times where I’d rather curl up in the fetal position and never get out of bed. I remind myself that to think that I wouldn’t be met with challenges when trying something new is just delusional thinking.

I believe that: good things are coming to those who are striving for good.

Music

Finally, one of the best ways to quickly shift your emotional state is through music. So here’s my little gift to you, my own personal badass-good-mood-kick-ass-take-names playlist. I hope it makes you dance toward your vision of success!

 

 

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Inspiration is for Freakin’ Amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:

 

As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.

~

Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.

~

I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

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Nine Traits of Astonishingly Successful Authors

In a market of ideas, why do some take off while others don’t? Why do some authors have mega status while others continue plodding on in obscurity, or with only moderate success?

The literary market fascinates me. There’s this vast ocean of books, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.  published each year and just a handful of them hit it BIG. I won’t pretend to guess that I know the reasons, but thinking about this got me wondering if there are some common traits among bestselling authors.

I think if there was a magic formula we’d know. We’d know because only be those who fit that formula would get books published. But as a writer trying to make it–and by that I mean support myself with my art–I do keep my eyes peeled and my ears open to what seems to set wildly successful authors apart.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past few years or so in my work with writers, and participating in writing seminars, networking, workshops, and of course, my own research.

To be sure, this kind of mind-blowing success–I’m talking JK Rowling, John Grisham, Elizabeth Gilbert level–is not likely to just happen to most of us, but it can’t hurt to know what these authors have in common.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

#1 They write a lot. And often they have been for a while. One of the big fallacies that I wish that some successful people would stop perpetuating is the idea that they just tried something and it worked. Sure there are those lucky ducks who get rich quick. I’m not saying luck never has anything to do with it.

But read enough success stories, or listen to enough podcasts like How I Built This or Being Boss and you’ll notice a pattern that successful people worked really hard for it. Whether it was practice, trial and error, or getting a degree, more often than not, it takes time and commitment.

There’s a reason they say “building” a reputation and not “sprouting” a reputation.

Neil Gaiman offers this advice, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”  (Here’s his full commencement address at The University of the Arts: http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012)

But before you go quitting your job, please read on.

#2 They submit/pitch a lot and are in it for the long game. One of the stories that has encouraged me the most is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk where she shares how she submitted her writing to publications for almost SIX YEARS before getting something published. That’s a long fucking time to wait. And that’s real commitment.

#3 They believed in their project(s). We’ve all heard certain authors say that they didn’t think anyone would actually publish their work. This is one of those moments where I wonder if their hindsight is really 20/20.

Who writes for so long and submits proposal after proposal if they think they have absolutely no hope?

It’s likely best not to have expectations, but I have a hunch that they believed someone would say yes, eventually.

When asked about her faith in her first Harry Potter book, before it was published, J K Rowling said, “You know, I can say this now, I was quite diffident about saying it for a long time. But I did have a belief, with Harry, that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to take it, because it didn’t fit. People said children’s books had to be half the length, and what an old-fashioned subject, a boarding school. I did have this feeling that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to publish it – but that if it was, people would like it.

(Read the full interview here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/28/conversation-lauren-laverne-jk-rowling-interview )

#4 They stood for something. Often something different/unique. These famous authors have instant recognition in our minds. We know them for their style, their voice, their subject matter, or persona of writing. I think a big reason many authors don’t get there is because they aren’t deeply rooted in who they are, what they offer, what/who they stand for, or what they seek to understand. Aka they don’t know what their brand is.

This of course, is of utmost importance in the stories we write as well. Depth of plot and character, as well as intimate knowledge of themes and what both you and your writing is about is key.

#5 They are as tenacious as fuck. They made time for their writing, they got agents, they created book proposals, they wrote essays, or stories, or whatever. The point is, they didn’t make excuses for finding the time to finish their work. They did the work. Stephen King wrote every night after his two day jobs, in the laundry room, on a makeshift desk his wife made for him.

#6 They are focused. Maybe this one could be combined with the point just above, but I want to emphasize it. Perhaps because I need to remind myself of this so often. I love ideas, always have. But the problem is, I find myself jumping on too many of them and doing way too many disparate things, which makes me fall behind on finishing the things I’ve already started.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” –Ray Bradbury

What is clear is that all of these fabulously successful writers carve out time to write, consistently. They make it a priority.

#7 Most of them had day jobs, so there’s no excuse. JK Rowling was a single mom with a low-paying job who was on state assistance while she wrote the first Harry Potter book. I try to remind myself of this when I’d rather be working out a storyline than getting my other/paid work done.

Besides I think writing in a vacuum often produces navel-gazing, academic, philosophic work, whereas having other obligations while writing, however you do it (doesn’t have to be a day job), produces richer writing and more interesting work.

Here’s what Maya Angelou said, in an interview with Harvard Business Review:

Interviewer: “When you were working at those early jobs, did you ever envision what you would become?”

Maya: “No, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. I somehow got the feeling early on that if human beings did a thing, I could study it and try to do some of it too. And one thing led to another. If I had not studied Latin in school, I wouldn’t have found it as easy to comprehend the structure of language. Had I not danced, I might never have really listened to music and known I could compose something. You see? I understood early that not everything I did wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, but I would try to do it the best I knew how. I’ve listened to an inner voice and had enough courage to try unknown things. And I think everything in its time.”

And that brings us to what I think is one of the most important points of success.

#8 They had really great ideas/stories that were usually well executed. It seems to me that more often than not their stories or ideas were not only great, but were well crafted. How many times have you read a book, seen a movie, or watched a TV show and thought, well it was a good premise, but it lacked [fill in the blank]? These BIG successful books, essays, screenplays, etc. are (with definite exceptions) excellent ideas, well played.

I think we often underestimate the power of great ideas.

#9 They often felt a higher calling to write. One more quote from Maya Angelou, to sum this point up: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Whether you or I ever get to the top of our mountains, I think Ms. Angelou’s advice is always good.  If you love what you’re doing, even if you’re making your money elsewhere, you’ll enjoy this life more anyway.

Here’s hoping that someday, your name will be in lights. Or at least that you get to do more of what you love.

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Free Your Creativity with a Low Information Diet

Low Information DietI’m one of those people who naturally wants to do 4.5 million things almost all the time. Life is full of possibilities and opportunities and, let’s face it, there’s never been a time when so much information has been so available. Did I mention I’ll also love researching the hell out of things?

But, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” If I want to actually get anywhere I have to pare down.

This was a big realization to me as a I began to pursue my dream of becoming a writer and speaker. Honestly, it’s been something I have been working on ever since I read The Four-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss, back in 2008. This book changed the way I would forever think of life optimization and work–you should read it. But let’s get at the point here.

One big ‘ole important step to figuring out what you want and how to get it is by clearing your mind of distraction. Easier said than done, I know.

Post-election, I’m realizing how much more I need to do this lately. I can feel my stomach turn and my shoulders tense when I see yet one more story about Trump.

Every time I’ve gone on an information diet, whether it’s for a week, or a month I feel more at peace, more focused, and happier. It’s helped me focus on what I really want, and take bigger strides to making it a reality.

We humans aren’t meant to carry all the information that is lobbed at us every day; and science is starting to show us just how bad this problem is.

So here is the Tim Ferriss Low Information Diet, in short:

  1. No newspapers, audio books, podcasts, magazines.
  2. No news websites
  3. No TV (or YouTube), except one hour of purely pleasure viewing each night.
  4. No reading books, except one hour of fiction pleasure reading.
  5. No browsing the internet, unless it’s completely necessary.

These are pretty strict, and in the beginning, people (me, ahem) often need to go on this drastic diet in order to “reset” their information addiction. Here’s my personal version, for right now:

  1. Only check social media accounts twice/day (yeah, I’m that bad)
  2. Only listen to story-driven podcasts (like Modern Love, The Moth, and Dear Sugar), limiting “work” podcasts (like How I Built This, BinderCast, etc.) to once per week.
  3. TV: Only Netflix and Amazon (no advertisements)

I find that if I don’t go on social media much I don’t end up browsing around the interwebs aimlessly. And I don’t get caught up in the next crazy political headline.

Think about starting your own version of a Low Information Diet. And tell me how it goes!

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Parting Words of 2014 (from Amy Poehler)

I am reading Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please right now [love]. I especially enjoyed the preface, entitled “Writing is Hard: a Preface.”

amy-poehler-yespleaseThis year more than others I’m intimately aware of that statement. Writing a book is a bitch, but one that is worth it.  The thing is it’s not about the result–it’s about the work. There is beauty, bloody guts and somehow magic in it. And when you are doing something you love, even when it’s hard, it fulfills like nothing else.

Here are some words, better than what I have for you, from Amy Poehler’s preface:

“So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?

Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more. You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.

So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready…”

Keep it up my friends! Find that thing you believe in doing and do the hell out of it! Happy New Year.  Here’s to many wonderful years to all of us!

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Just Write

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this:  It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.  What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

I’ve just dipped my toe into the great book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  This quote is from the book.  More on Resistance later.

Incidentally, this applies to all arts and acts of creating something worthwhile.  So insert your chosen craft into this quote and feel the words sink in to your soul.

 

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I don’t wanna wait!

I have a confession: I am very impatient, but sometimes I also take a while to make up my mind. (I know my friends are rolling their eyes here)  It’s a one-two punch of needing  time to decide and then once I have, I want it NOW!

Over the years I have become more comfortable with being “ok” with the way I work and don’t beat up on myself as much for not being able to make quick decisions.  Still, sometimes, there’s that gnawing ache to be on with things already!  When I’m in that mode there are a few things that help me cool my jets when my impatience kicks in.  Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as well.

impatient-paulo-cuelho

“It took almost 40 years for me to become a writer.
Before that I always dreamt of becoming a writer, but I never dared to take the necessary steps.” – Paulo Coelho

1. A light at the end of the tunnel.  If I know where I am headed (sometimes even just the general direction, if not the end result)I feel so much better.  Taking the time to really think things through & feel confident in your decision can help stave off impatience.

2. A plan. Sometimes a goal seems awesome at first but then you don’t know where to start, or you like me, you research the hell out of what to do so much that you get lost in the details.  Breaking your task down into bite-sized prices and calendaring it out can give you the peace of mind to carry each item out without freaking over the entire project.

3. Do it when you don’t feel like it.  Acting on those bite-sized tasks can sometimes feel like drops in the bucket. But the reality is that each activity either brings you closer to or further away from your goal. Ask yourself this question every time you feel like making an excuse to avoid the task: Will this action bring me closer to my goal or further away? It’s surprising a simple thought like that can help you empower yourself to move forward.

4. Friends. Talking with friends not only boosts your mood in general, easing that sense of urgency, but you’ll realize how much you are accomplishing when you actually ‘catch up’ with your friends. And hey these are your friend for a reason, you’ll likely get some good advice, insights and encouragement for your goal.

5. Breathe.  Mindful practices are scientifically proven to change the way your brain works (in a good way) and improve executive functioning (ya know the part of your brain that governs things like impulse control/patience).  Yoga, prayer and meditation are just a few examples of mindful practices.  Essentially, you’re tuning out of the rat race of your daily life to take a moment to breath and make some space in your head.  Mindful Awareness is ridiculously awesome and is proven to help with mental and physical ailments.  Check out UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center to learn more.  Also, here’s a bunch of free 5-10  minute meditations (my fave is the Loving Kindness meditation).

I’ve seen how much these practices have affected my own mindset as I am finally actively working toward writing my first book.

What are you up to? I would love to hear about your goals and how you keep from letting impatience, laziness or confusion take over.

Photo credit:  http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/09/07/impatient-to-change/ (A great little post on following your dream by someone how has – Paulo Coelho)

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Who do you want to be?

10,000 hours, that’s what experts, like Malcolm Gladwell, say it takes to master a subject.  Whether it’s chess, cooking, or public speaking it takes that long to truly master your craft.  Daunting, huh?

That’s a ton of hours, if you really think about it.  For instance, let’s say you have a ton of time and can devote 20 hours per week to your craft.  It would still take you about  10 years to become a master.  Oh gee, is that all? Piece of cake.  (I figure I’ve got about 6k hours left to become a “master” at writing, and probably  9k hours left to becoming a public speaking master.)

To be honest, it’s a pretty obscure goal.  I mean, sure there’s a sense of accomplishment to saying “I’ve written for 10,000 hours!” but after your friends congratulate you and then roll their eyes, there’s not much left.  It’s not as if there’s some certificate of completion or doctoral degree to be awarded.  So perhaps it’s more useful to set a more tangible goal, like who you want to be, and then choose the goal.

In  Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed (a must read, btw) he quotes grand master of chess, Jonathan Rowson, “When it comes to ambition it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.”   If you decide for instance, that you want to become a best-selling author, you may not only not become one, but you will then suffer the disappointment and regret of falling short of this goal.  However, if you choose to become a best-selling author, then you will then “reveal your choice through your behavior and your determination,” as Rowson says, “Every action says ‘This is who I am’.”

Of course this is not new news; we’ve heard this philosophy of positive visualization before in books like The Secret.  Particularly poignant though is the idea of choice when it comes to who you will be.  There’s something especially powerful and frightening about choosing one’s destiny.  There are a lot of “what if’s” in life, and it can be petrifying to take the reins and say “this is who I will be.”  Ironically enough, there is also something equally terrifying about not choosing, effectively letting the chips fall where they may, possibly never living up to your own potential.

How can you choose to be who you want, knowing there’s a possibility you may fail?  Life is both implicitly simple and dangerously complex.   It has certain “rules;” for instance, you can say that you will be a flower, but you will never actually metamorph into a petalled perennial.  Yet someone can grow up in poverty, living in a van and then, with determination, become one of the funniest, wealthiest comedians in Hollywood (yep that’s Jim Carrey) .  So how do you know if it is possible to be the person you want to be?  In essence, are you thinking unrealistically that you want to be a flower?  This the point at which some logic is thrown out the window and you move into the realm of possibility.  Is it possible, in some way, despite the challenges you face, to become what you want to become?

Where is the possibility in your life?  I know you’ve got a million excuses for not being “where you want to be.”  I’ve had them too and still wrestle with them.  But at every crossroad you make a decision to either move closer to who you want to be or further away.  It may not be an easy journey, but it may be a possible one.

Contrary to what many success gurus say, you very likely will not start making six figures 3 months after you decide to choose your dream.  God knows I haven’t had that experience and honestly, I’d be a shitty person if I had.  There is beauty in the hard work and chaos that goes along with fighting for your dream.  Sometimes the universe just aligns with your goals and it is an unbelievable ease.  Other times the universe tests your resolve.

In order to live in the Possibility zone, it takes faith.  You have to start having faith in the possibility that you can achieve your dream – YOU, not someone else.  You can have 100 people who believe in you (and boy does that feel great), but if you, at your core, secretly do not, then you’re in for trouble.  Sure you may even make it to your goal, bolstered by the love and support of others.  Believe you me I am not downplaying that support.  I would be nowhere without the help of my support system.  However, unless you learn to have faith in yourself you will always be seeking out the acceptance of others, which is just plain draining.

On my desk, I keep a framed little artwork piece with a quote from St. Theresa, it’s an absolutely beautiful quote and this line is just perfect:  “May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith,”  Just soak in that for a bit.

Think of the unending possibilities for you if you can have even a start of faith, in yourself and choose.  You aren’t on this earth for nothing, choose who you are.

st-theresa-may-there-be-peace

And of course, I couldn’t write this post without a shout out to Incubus’ Make Yourself:

 *Read Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed to see what that foundation is.

 

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My Personal TOP 5 Get Sh*t DONE! Tips

get-stuff-doneI’ve recently been given the gift of more time (hope it’s not temporary)!  Now, that’s pretty much a miracle, especially for a single mom.  So how is it that I feel like I get LESS done now that I have more time?

It’s amazing how many “To Do” items keep cropping up now that I have more ‘free time.’  From laundry to doctor appointments to bills, there’s always something.  Have you ever felt this way?  It’s like none of these things seem really important in-and-of themselves, yet they had to get done.

I’m going to confess that I have a compulsion to get shit done.  It started when I became a single mom without child support.  I pretty much feel like I always need to be productive, except during my designated relax times.  But I get distracted too (one of my biggest distractions is the internet).  Keep me away from Facebook or reading articles online because a “quick minute” turns into hours, fast.  

So how do you keep the momentum going if you’re trying to get ‘er done?  

Here are my TOP 5  Get Sh*t DONE! tips (some from 4 Hour Work Week)

#5.  Limit interruptions.  Turn your phone off, close your email program, log out of Facebook, tell everyone you can’t talk right now, shut your door, escape to the library, whatever you need to do.  Interruptions are the devil!  You can always check your phone, email etc. once you’ve completed your task.

#4.  Dress for success.  I know this sounds silly, but for some reason you just feel more professional & focused if you prepare for your day/work – even if you work from home.  So go ahead, take a shower, do your hair and wear a nice shirt – you’ll feel more prepped for your tasks.

#3.  Create a sense of urgency by using a timer.  Think about how much more productive you are when you know you have a limited amount of time to do a given task.  (For example, cleaning up your house when a last minute guest is about to stop by)  If you’re working on your computer, use http://e.ggtimer.com to set a timer that will interrupt you when your time is up.  (I like to set a timer for each specific task, i.e. check Facebook, write an article, etc.)  This also method also gives you that bonus warm, fuzzy feeling of completing something before the timer buzzes!

#2.  Plan Ahead.  Create two things:  a To Do List and Calendar for your week ahead (I like to do this Sunday nights).  Make your To Do List first, then see where you can fit the items in to your week.  Remember to allot some “free time” for unexpected events and relaxing, and always overestimate how long things will take you.  If you can’t fit everything from your list into your calendar, then prioritize & either bump these items to the next week or see what you can remove from your existing calendar.  Knowing what lies ahead helps create peace of mind and a clear head means better, more creative results throughout the week.

#1.  Get RID of CABLE TV!  A few years ago, when I was operating two businesses, raising my kids and acting VP of Marketing for a women’s business organization, a colleague asked me “How do you manage to do all of that at once?”  “I don’t watch TV” was my answer.  Think about how often you watch TV – 1-2 hrs a day or more?  That’s at least 30 hrs per month.  Just think what you could fit in those wasted hours (Hint, hint: achieving your dreams)  Now I’m not saying never watch, I enjoy a good movie or even a TV show sometimes, just scale back and see what you can accomplish.  [If you’re more of a gamer than a TV watcher…this more than applies to you as well!]

Hope these will help in your quest to get stuff done.  Please share your tips below as well.  I’m all ears!!