So it’s been almost 8 weeks since New Year’s Day. Since you made your resolution to reward yourself with bubble bath every Tuesday night … as long as you lost 2 pounds the preceding week. Since you made that resolution to get along better with your annoying coworker or have the perfect vacation with your family or whatever your resolution was. How’s that going for you?
The fact is, if you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably taken fewer than 8 bubble baths, eaten more Twinkies than you’d care to admit, and your Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies video is probably still sitting on your DVD player, untouched (and covered with dust – oh yeah, be the perfect housekeeper – there’s another resolution that’s slipped away).
According to statisticbrain.com, 41% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, while only 9.2% felt they were successful in achieving their goal, and a whopping 42.4% feel like they “never succeed and fail on their resolution each year“! Fail. Every. Year.
I know misery loves company (and a great double-fudge brownie), but before you go and bury your remorse in a gooey, warm hunk of unnecessary but delicious calories, finish reading this and you may find yourself sitting in a steaming, luxurious bubble bath every Tuesday night for the rest of the year and beyond!
Eh? Let me explain. You’ve probably read about S.M.A.R.T. goals (and if you haven’t, where the heck have you been every week before New Year’s Day??) They are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time Bound. So, “I want to lose weight” is not a S.M.A.R.T. goal since it doesn’t hit any of the requirements.
“I want to lose 10 pounds by Memorial Day” can be considered a S.M.A.R.T. goal, except it focuses on the wrong part of the equation – the result. For you to reach your S.M.A.R.T. goals, or any other goals, you need to focus on the A – Actionable. You also need to focus on the W – Why. (I know there’s no “W” in S.M.A.R.T., just pretend it’s there and stick with me.) Your “Why” + your Action = your Results. Focusing on the goal won’t get you anywhere if you don’t know why you want to succeed and if you don’t take action.
“One of the biggest reasons people fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions is that they focus on the wrong end of the equation.”
Knowing your “Why” should be a no-brainer, but often it’s glossed over, or it’s someone else’s why. You can usually identify “other people’s whys” because they’re “should” goals – I should have a perfect house/body/vacation/winning streak playing pinochle.
Asking yourself why you want to lose 10 pounds is the first place to start. Do you have a class reunion coming up (don’t worry, I won’t ask which one…). Maybe none of your favorite clothes fit, or maybe it’s something a bit more serious, like a health scare. Whatever the reason, make sure it’s a vitally important reason to you. If you don’t have a powerful why, you’re not too likely to put a lot of effort into achieving your goal.
“Focus on the Action and the outcome will take care of itself.”
The second part of the equation is action. By focusing on the action, you’re focusing on the part of the equation you actually control. Break down the goal into manageable chunks, and you’ll be able to check them off on your calendar as you work your way closer to your goal. Using the examples in the opening paragraph, you could
- Reward yourself with a bubble bath every Tuesday night if you worked out 3 times in the previous week
- Say “How are you this morning” to your annoying coworker. You may not ever become best friends, but you may discover that she’s annoying because she’s on a short fuse because she’s a single mom taking care of her elderly mother and her 6-year-old daughter.
- Sit down with your family before planning your vacation and discuss what makes a great vacation (and what you can do to avoid past disasters that left you feeling like someone was secretly filming you for a sequel to those Vacation movies with Chevy Chase).
By focusing on the actions you control in each of these situations, you might just find yourself in very rare company – the “9.2% of people who felt they were successful in achieving their resolution”. You don’t have to thank me, just enjoy your bubble baths.
Liz Gilbert is an amazing writer. Along with most of the other women in the free world, I was captivated by Eat Pray Love. I adore her book Big Magic – I even “know” Liz, having met her a few times at her parent’s home, which is directly across the street from our old farm in Connecticut. Her writing apparently comes from a deep and fulfilling relationship with Inspiration – (deep almost to the point where you want to tell them to get a room….)
Her book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear is a guidebook for creatives, a how-to that is so beautifully written, and so on-point, that you know that she’s seen straight into your soul and written the book just for you… except she didn’t – not for me. You see, I was an imposter.
I finally owned this rather depressing reality while listening to Liz’s podcast, Magic Lessons. She spoke with her guests of the need to create art. Creating art because that was their vocation – a calling, the reason they were here on earth. As I listened from the outside of this hallowed circle, I realized a horrible truth – I was a fake.
Yup, that’s me – a fake creative. I wasn’t writing for my art – I was writing because it’s my business. Writing is what a freelance writer does. This much per word, that much per newsletter, and so much per month for managing your social media. I was writing because I needed the money, not because I needed to feed my soul. In short, I was a hack.
Although I frequently say, “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body”, I’m always hoping someone will correct me – someone will say, “But you write! That’s art!”, “You take such beautiful photographs, that’s art!”.
And sometimes people do – but I never believed them. I realized I had long since abandoned any relationship with art. My writing was to spec, my camera hung on the back of my closet door, and the coloring books and beautiful colored pencils from my daughter lay under a pile of “to-do” paperwork on a table in my studio. (I had always insisted on calling it a studio instead of an office – I wasn’t ready to give up this last tenuous thread which connected me to Art.)
I had pretty much settled into this existence. I was giving a large chunk of my attention, time, and soul to my job teaching therapeutic riding, and I was pretty much OK with that. I was working on my editorial calendars for my business blogs, trying to get into a rhythm of planning, posting, and promoting. It was, after all, one of the ways I helped pay the bills. Art? No, not right now, thank you – I have medical bills to pay, which means I need to get to that book launch and course launch and 2 blog posts per week and newsletters… oh, yes, and the social media….
So Liz, despite you doing your darndest to convince me that I am, in fact, an artist, I appreciate your trying, but it’s just not going to work. I’ll keep listening obsessively to your podcasts, but only as fascinating stories of other people’s lives. This isn’t about me. No art. Not me. Not now.
Until this morning.
This morning, something happened to me. Actually, something happened in me and through me and it became me. My Muse returned. I returned.
Despite the fact that I had forgotten about my Muse the way we sometimes forget about our favorite books from childhood, she was still there, waiting patiently in the corner for me to remember her.
Was it the beauty of this morning’s sunrise? Was it the growing swell of birdsong this pre-Spring morning? Was it the daylight hours beginning to stretch both ends of the day, pushing away the darkness in which I rose and retired? Was it, in fact, Liz and her luminescent words, her unshaken belief that I’m as creative as the next person? Did Liz Gilbert change my life?
Much as I love Liz, the answer is no. Liz didn’t change my life. She provided me with interesting stories, strategies, and soul searching exercises, but she didn’t change my life. Nope, that was all me.
When I told my daughter this morning that the sunrise was almost too beautiful to absorb, I stopped and photographed it. When I did, a tiny crack opened in a shell I didn’t realize I had formed, and a sliver of light appeared. That light from within outshone the sunrise, outsang the birds, and made me feel like I was going to burst. I suddenly realized I was changing! The sameness of my life shattered in that moment and I knew that life never had to be the same, I could change anything.
In a heartbeat, everything I knew about myself became open to discussion. Yes, I can change my weight. Yes, I can become more secure financially. Yes, I can finish re-doing my studio. Yes, I can make time to write because I love words and I love the fact that sometimes the words that flow through me are almost as wonderfully crafted as the words which flow through Liz. I can create art.
I chose to listen to Liz’s podcast, to read her books, to see the sunrise a little more gratefully this morning. I chose to come back to this blog, my un-monetized blog that is, as of this writing, still hosted on WordPress.com, and not WordPress.org (which is where those who truly understand blogging tell you you must have your blog). I chose to spend some of my carefully doled-out minutes this morning to come here and record what happened. (Footnote to the un-monetized comment above – the links to Liz’s books on Amazon at the beginning of this post are affiliate links, and if thousands of you rush straight to Amazon and purchase those books for yourself and all of your friends, I’ll retire happy and head to Tahiti for a very long vacation).
No, Liz Gilbert never changed my life, but I’m immensely grateful that the Universe put Liz there as one of the guides who pointed me to the path where I now find myself – creating the most important art possible – my own life.
Photo credit: GollyGforce per Creative Commons license.
Note: I wrote this post last week, before my husband, our daughter and I all lost our jobs this week. I hesitated to post it because, quite frankly, I’ve been spending some time catastrophizing about losing our house, etc. I do still believe that negative energy attracts more negative energy, so I’m doing my best to keep a positive outlook. It’s just a lot more challenging when our little family is facing this situation.
While listening to Says You a few months back, I enjoyed their discussion of the phrase “Waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It’s an expression with which I’m very familiar, had often used and understood, but had never considered its origins. As it sounds, it actually does come from hearing a person (perhaps in an upstairs apartment) drop their shoe, and then waiting for the other one to drop. I know, pretty straightforward, right?
Recently, I realized I seem to spend a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something goes really well in my life and I’m waiting for it all to end or for the next catastrophe to befall me. Something goes wrong, and I’m girding myself for the other two disasters (we all know that bad things come in threes…)
Considering I’m rather optimistic by nature, I find this rather strange. I mean, I’m the ideas person, the one who always has a creative solution to most problems, the one who performs really well when my back is against the wall. I like to think of myself as the ideas version of MacGyver – I couldn’t escape from an enemy compound with a paper clip and a piece of baling twine, but I can usually find creative ideas that prevent me from needing to go that route in the first place. I can always find a way to “Make it Work”.
In my examination of this mindset, I may have found part of the key: I expect to have to find a way to “Make it Work”. I have developed the belief that the other shoe will drop, it’s only a matter of when.
Photo credit: Commons.Wikimedia.org
But then an interesting, perhaps even life-changing thought came to me – What if the man upstairs only has one leg? What if I’m waiting for a disaster that never comes? What if I’m missing out on being truly happy right now because this little corner of my brain insists on holding on to its fear? By waiting for the thump of that other shoe, I’m ransoming the happiness of fully experiencing the joys of the moment to fears created by my own mind.
Bringing this formerly undiscovered belief to the surface is the first step in eradicating it. I’m now focusing on creating “What if’s” that end in a hopeful possibility as opposed to a dance with doom. Being a student of many things New-Age and touchy-feely, I fully believe (at least consciously) that if I spend my energy negatively, I’ll attract more negative energy. So today, I’m going to tap into the positive nature I know is the real me. I’m going to enjoy this day. My “what-ifs” will travel through the realms of delightful possibilities and positive outcomes; and if I hear a shoe drop, I’ll just know that my one-legged upstairs neighbor is home.
At a recent doctor’s appointment, the nurse and I were discussing her daughter’s job – working at a doggie day care. As Sarah had worked at a very nice boarding and grooming kennel for a few years, I asked if the girl was enjoying her job. “NO!” came the emphatic reply. The nurse, a wise and wonderful woman, went on to say that her daughter, who graduated from college with an Art degree, had “finally” decided to take a few business classes this semester. “Finally” because both her parents had suggested (more than once) that, while it’s a wonderful thing to follow your bliss, you still have to eat. Lee was grateful that her daughter had “finally listened”, but I suspect something other than parental advice had brought about this turn of events – I suspect it was wisdom.
The world is filled with intelligent people (contrary to what I see displayed nearly daily either on the roads or in Wal Mart), but wisdom is a scarcer commodity. Dictionary.com (my online replacement for Funk and Wagnell’s) describes wisdom as: “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what istrue or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” Intelligence is a slightly different kettle of fish: “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.” The real difference between the two? The phrase “coupled with just judgement as to action”. In my mind, I simplify it by thinking of intelligence as “book learning capacity” and wisdom as having learned something experientially from the school of life.
Admittedly, not everyone who has experienced things through the school of life actually learns anything, but everything from archetypical folk tales to sayings your grandma used to quote reflect the importance of wisdom. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a perfect example. You can be warned about a situation over and over, but have that situation cause you direct pain and you’re going to be much more likely to use that pain to shape your judgement of similar situations in the future. And who ever heard of a hero’s journey that didn’t involve using experience, and not just “book learning” to get the job done. Whether slaying the dragon or rescuing the maiden, each part of the tale is based on what our hero learned in the preceding trials. Those archetypical tales didn’t just pop into someone’s mind one day to be scribbled on the back of a napkin and sent off to a publisher – stories such as these originated not just to entertain, but to teach. While I’m a huge fan of acquiring knowledge, (I’m always looking for, and finding, new things to learn), I also believe that too many people deify intelligence at the expense of wisdom.
In many other cultures, elders are held in great esteem. They are looked to for advice, and the wisdom they have acquired over their long lifetimes is passed along and respected. Even shamans and medicine men (and women) rely much more on wisdom than “book learning”. With our current medical system consisting of specialists for every organ and system in our bodies, there’s a whole lot of intelligence; but I must say I’m incredibly grateful that my doc, who practices Family Medicine, has a ton of wisdom to go along with his incredible intelligence. Same for my vet – it’s nice to have a horse doc who actually has some “horse sense” and not just all the latest diagnostic tools at his disposal. Please understand that I’m not saying that using an ultrasound, or radiograph or nuclear scintigraphy is a bad thing – I just think it’s better when it’s coupled with the “sagacity, discernment or insight” that comes from life and not just med school or vet school.
As I said to my nurse the other day while we were discussing her daughter, “Advice and knowledge can be handed down, but wisdom has to be earned on one’s own.”