Do you also have a ‘stop doing’ list?
Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding ‘to do’ lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more. It rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of ‘stop doing’ lists as ‘to do’ lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.”
— Jim Collins, as excerpted from Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (via Steve Layman)
Related: Rita Schiano on talking about joy.
I’m feeling exhausted today but the worst of the week is over, I hope, and I am looking forward to more writing hours. Starting today I’m taking harsher measures to avoid distraction. No phone and no internet for 1 hour today. It’ll just be me and the blank screen and if I can’t be trusted even then, it’ll be me and the blank page instead.
Nothing is going the way I scheduled it to. I hoped for an easy midday and a peaceful lunch but the things other people want are getting in the way. So instead I have 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there in between people walking in to ask me questions, wanting me to do something, making loud comments, or simply wanting to visit.
But all those five minutes here and five minutes there might add up if I could keep in the back of my mind what I’m trying to do and where I am trying to go before they slip away.
Lately, I have been feeling like nothing is within my control. Not the way I spend my time, not my moods, not when I can eat, where I can go, not even my finances. I feel like I’m being blown here and there by everyone around me from happiness to anger to loneliness to frustration to excitement to hopelessness and back to happiness again without warning and without a way out or up for air.
I guess that is why the choices I have been making—when I can make choices—seem to always be wrong or detrimental in some way. I don’t choose to eat when I should. I don’t choose to sleep when I should. I don’t choose to write or read when I can. I don’t choose to express my feeling in constructive ways and I don’t choose to be brave when I have the chance.
Perhaps doing what I’m not supposed to do or what others expect me not to do feels like the only thing I can control but I know the things I am doing aren’t really what I want.
I want to learn how to let go of what I can’t choose and to focus more on choosing the right things. I don’t want this illusion of control that’s really nothing more than weakness and spite. I want to choose to be focused, hardworking, and strong in every instance where the choice is up to me.
Shifts // June 2019
1. Write about what you love as much as what you hate. Write about the good things you have as much as your pain. Your perspective is the way you habitually see the world. It is adjustable with practice and perseverance. Practice gratitude more often because balance is how you get closer to the reality of things. It helps to take stock of what is good and to remember that things are never as bad as they seem right now.
2. Start cooking at home again. It isn’t easy, I know. Working long hours and fighting back the exhaustion and the disappointment of another bad day make it hard to even want to cook. It’s easier to “pick up something”. It’s easier to snack or rely on foods from the freezer to the microwave, but it’s awful for you both physically and emotionally. Instead, change the way you think about cooking. Make it your “me time” or your “us time”. Open a bottle of wine, play some music, talk to one another and then share your delicious and good for you creation with each other.
3. Leave your shelter more often. Anxiety and chronic fatigue make it hard but getting out into the world really is the best thing for you. Stop wallowing. No more weekends spent entirely indoors. Get out of bed, fix yourself up, and go meet the sun. Go where the people are, where nature is. Find places where you can be a part of the world and where your problems look a lot smaller from.
4. It’s okay not to know. There is always something that everyone of us does not know and so much of that unknown is found not in lofty and elite places but all around us in the everyday and ordinary. Not knowing is not just human, normal, and understandable, it is also admirable. Not knowing is part of the work, the journey and the joy. Share what you don’t know as much as what you do. It’s infinitely more relatable.
5. Return to your bliss station. You cannot create from the couch, while you watch this movie, or this show, or even the news. Stop lying to yourself. You do not even enjoy trying to write or read or learn that way and you always regret the decision. You know where you would work best, away from the what distracts you, what exhausts you, what stunts your creativity and ability to think. Go there, work there, make it a place where happiness, inspiration, and your spark can be found time and time again.
6. What you want is not always the path to what you need. Humans notoriously want what is bad for them and we justify it by calling it what we need. We start from the wrong end trying to get the wrong things but when we take the time to dig beneath those excuses, those rationalizations, and those lies we find the core of need. Start there instead and work your way back out to a better, healthier, more efficient and effective solution.
7. Learn to love all the seasons. Try to love all the ways they change you and make you feel too. Spring isn’t the only season of growth and summer isn’t the only season in which we can find joy. There are versions of you and ways of living that can only be accessed in the winter in fall and the days and seasons we’ve yet to name that exist in a space between. Give all these seasons attention and cultivate a habit of studying all the ways you exist in them.
Post inspired by Nicholas Bate
Photo by Lenart Lipovšek on Unsplash
Shifts for May 2019
1. Appreciate the work your heart does for you. It isn’t broken, or weak, or a burden. It has loved you from the start and it works just as it should, every day. It loves because love is what you need and sometimes the hurt just means it’s doing its best. Don’t smother it, harden it, or wish it away. Give it space to do its job and take care of it in return.
2. Get some distance from yourself. It’s important not to make yourself the center of the universe, for good or bad. You are not the most anything or the worst anything either. Your perspective, feelings, and priorities are not the only ones and they are not the sole right ones. Nothing revolves or relies solely on you either, and this is a good thing.
3. Take notice of who you become when you are around other people, certain people, and no people at all. At first, you may feel ashamed watching yourself act in such degrading and humiliating ways as you imitate and perform to please but do not be overcome. Learn from that weaker version of yourself and build a stronger sense of self and character.
4. Having mixed feelings about the people you love is okay. From parents to friends to role models everyone we love makes mistakes, lets us down, and sometimes they even hurt us, a lot. The internet would have you believe boundaries are simple and that only the people who meet our expectations and needs perfectly should be allowed in our lives, but life and love are messy and there is never one simple way to react or proceed. We can feel many often opposing emotions at once and people who make mistakes can still make us happy.
5. Make promises to yourself and commit to not breaking them. When we put the needs of others (and our need to please) before our personal passions, goals, and needs we are the ones who suffer. The commitments you have to yourself and your one and only future are important, the most important and must be treated as sacred. A promise will keep your priorities in focus and the covenant will keep you accountable.
6. Stop apologizing so much. Stop explaining yourself all the time. Stop giving away your self-worth to everyone you meet for every trivial transgression. Your boundaries are valid. Your mistakes are human and normal. You don’t owe anyone everything all the time. Learn to discern when you are truly in the wrong and when your explanation and excuses are unwanted and unwarranted.
7. Remember to “thank those who make your day easier”. Too often we view others such as service industry workers, our coworkers, and even our friends, family, and spouses as people who “owe us” their time, attention, care, and assistance. As a result, when they cannot, or will not, deliver we lash out. Remember that no one owes you anything, and the people who give you their time, attention, care, and assistance deserve a sincere display of your gratitude and patience at the very least.
Post inspired by Nicholas Bate
Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash
Shifts for April
1. Focus on the reality of the process and not the end result in your dreams. Too often we circumvent discomfort, doubt, and fear by playing perfect scenarios over and over in our minds. We enjoy a sense of accomplishment without having to do the dirty work. Dream, and then put the dream away leaving nothing but space for the real work.
2. It is true that you should not waste time reading books you don’t like, but before you give up, you should consider first whether what you are reading is simply challenging. Reading, like anything, shouldn’t just be about what is easy. Sometimes what you don’t like is that it’s hard and sometimes you will find that greater joy can be found by sticking with what challenges you rather than giving up because it’s “not for you”.
3. Begin before you are ready. The truth is the first attempt will be bad, no matter whether you start now or a year from now. No matter how much you plan or research. No matter how you rework or rewrite. No matter what classes you take or how many “how-to” articles you read. The first attempt will suck because no one is ready the first time. Better to fail now than later.
4. Don’t be afraid to write about it more than once. Write about the same thing every single day if you want. Study it from all angles. Practice it until it’s right. Put it in a new order, a new light, a new place, context, and time. Write it for me, for her, for you, for people living a long way ahead, and write it again for people long gone. Write it as a poem, an essay, a letter, a story. Write is as a truth, then write it as a lie. Write it to death.
5. Don’t give a second of your time to feeling guilty for giving up what other people want for you. Your aspirations may only be comprehendible to you but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid, worthy, or possible. People can be pushy in their bid to control the direction of your life but don’t feel bad for giving up the opportunities and advice they offer if they do not lead to the life you want for you.
6. Know when to rest. It’s good to have so much expectation of yourself and to work so hard building so many good and admirable habits, but not everything can be done every day and it better to fall a little behind and rest, that to fall far behind when you finally collapse.
7. Move your body. Sweat. Get up from your desk and exhaust yourself. Cultivating the mind and living in virtual and abstract spaces is not the only way to improve the self. There is much to be learned in nature too and the mind appreciates physical exertion as much the body. Balance the mental and the physical, both are part of you and both need the other.
Post inspired by Nicholas Bate
Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash
Seven Shifts for March
1. It’s all about discipline, for everyone. Sure you have had your setbacks, you have your shortcomings and your challenges, but when you assume that everything is easier for everyone else across the board you commit a cruelty against yourself. You can do things, you just have to make the necessary modifications and persist through pain and disappointment until the new habit is established.
2. Do better for you. Do better not because you want to be liked, not because the people you love deserve better, but because you deserve better. Love yourself better. Spend more time with yourself. Do the things you love more. Encourage yourself. Go the extra mile and show yourself a grand gesture. Get help, get well, imagine new possibilities and chase impossible dreams, for you.
3. Take what is sucking you in and delete it. If it’s wasting your time, if it’s keeping you from doing the important work, if you regret it at the end of the day, get rid of it! Life is too short for you to waste your time racking up advertising dollars for websites and apps you aren’t getting anything substantial from. Delete it and replace it with something that makes you feel good.
4. Carbs are not the enemy and healthy eating is not so simple. What works in the short-term is not always good or sustainable for the long-term and diets are never one size fits all. Start simply with more fresh ingredients, more fruits, and vegetables. Move more and dedicate real-time to pushing your body and getting your heart rate up. It’s that easy and that hard.
5. If you can’t say something nice, at least don’t say something mean. Your honest take isn’t always what people want and not every criticism of you, your work, and your likes need to be defended against. Save your breath and move on.
6. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the fact is you may be a racist, or a misogynist, or a homophobe, or a transphobe, or a xenophobe, and more and worse and in any combination thereof. It’s nothing to get offended over. You weren’t born this way and you aren’t even necessarily a bad person because of it. You’re just part of an oppressive system that groomed you to think the way you do. It’s nothing to get defensive about. It’s common, normal, and perfectly changeable.
7. Doing better starts with allowing yourself to feel, acknowledge, and accept that you are utterly incompetent. You lack the knowledge and the skill to do something, many things in fact, and that is okay because, from incompetence, there is nowhere to go but up. From ineptitude comes capability and the unskilled have all the chance to become experts, but first, you have to know what you don’t know and begin from there.
Post inspired by Nicholas Bate
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Seven Shifts for February
- Take yourself seriously. Your dreams are not silly and although you are only starting out, and you have no idea what you are doing or where you are going, nothing about your journey is trivial. What you do is of the utmost importance, you have to be the one to acknowledge it as such even when no one else will.
- Don’t be afraid to ruin what is perfect. Mar that journal with your ugly words. Destroy that sketchbook with as many imperfect drawings as you can. Spoil that perfect dream by bringing it into this messy reality. Destruction is a facet of creativity after all.
- Chip away at it. Think past one day’s work to a week’s worth, a month’s worth, a year’s worth of daily work. Do not move too fast or burn out by trying to pack more than you can into 24 hours and likewise do not forget that there are only so many days you are given to work in.
- Stop taking the convenient viewpoint, stop spreading the easy explanation. Don’t accept oversimplification, isolated sound-bites, headlines, and quotes. Champion context, dig into the nuance, give the story, the idea, the concept the time.
- Make for yourself some small happiness, something no one can take from you. Make for yourself a small place of peace and joy in the world and within yourself to run to, to ground you, to heal you whenever you need.
- Don’t believe everything you think. Your thoughts don’t always come from within you and it’s not always clear why you think the way that you do. You carry biases, prejudices, and beliefs that are not your own and do not accord with whom you wish to be. Examine them. Question them.
- If you care about your thoughts, keep them. Don’t keep them on an app, or a timeline. Don’t keep put them where they don’t belong to you. Keep them in notebooks, carry them with you, display them on bookshelves, and pass them on to the next generation.
Post inspired by Nicholas Bate