Minimal Monday

Here are four things that having a deadline for finishing my book is teaching me:

#1 I should have stopped procrastinating long ago, and taken my creative work more seriously. Now that I have a guarantee of publication, I have to acknowledge all of the time that I could have been working on my book but didn’t. Then I have to let that go.

#2 Doing my craft consistently and for reasonably large blocks of time makes me present, fulfilled, and at peace. I am pretty sure no one promises this more completely than Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art. I read his book at least twice, and I knew he got it right, but now I am living it.

#3 FOCUSING my ATTENTION is the most important factor in getting something done and it is also the action most likely to be sabotaged and stolen in modern times. Focused attention needs to be planned for and protected. Without it, I am rendered useless, at the whim of every distraction.

#4 I need breaks, and when I’ve written for a good chunk of time, the simplest things feel like the most satisfying indulgences: Basking in the sun for a few minutes, playing with my granddaughters, cooking a meal, taking a walk.

Happy Monday!

Minimal Monday

I have a deadline of October 31st this year for completing the final edits to my memoir. I’ve got a lot left to do and now Halloween is hovering over me like a taunting ghost, as if writing down my deepest thoughts and memories isn’t spooky enough.

Fortunately, I have fallen madly in love with Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner, a productivity system like no other. Newport is the author of Deep Work and he has created this tool in order to help us focus deeply in a distracted world. This unique planner is helping me to be intentional with every block of time in my day. It does not replace my calendar, or my regular “to-do list”, but it makes it simple and clear what will happen and when. The objective of the planner is to get the most out of the time and attention that you have. It is the best way I have discovered to Get. It. Done.

I was gushing over this planner so much to one of my daughters that she suggested I give it a name. So naturally, I’m calling it Cal.

And since my memoir is the most meaningful and in- depth work I’ve done yet, I am embracing this method every day from now until October 31st. If all goes as planned with Cal, I will surely be celebrating Halloween this year, ghosts and all.

Minimal Monday

My very first memory of sugar is of being about three and a half years old and finding an open jar of butterscotch sauce in my family’s refrigerator.  Where was the lid? What luck! I don’t recall any other time of helping myself to the fridge at such a young age, but on this day, I recall sticking my index finger as far in as I could, swirling it around and bringing it to my tongue. I could not believe anything could taste so good. Why hadn’t anyone told me of this? I put the jar back and scurried away, dizzy with pleasure.

This was the same year that my mother disappeared from my life, and as the adults around me catered to my sweet tooth, my brain began to create a neural pathway that led straight to the cookie jar.  

If we think about a difficult time in our early lives and then think of what we did for relief, we will often find our coping mechanisms.

 Painfully shy as a teen and beer helped you feel more comfortable and social?

Lonely in childhood and food brought you comfort?

 Felt insignificant until you scored that perfect grade/position/career that demanded all your time and energy?

Feared being rejected until you learned to people please?

I think it can become questionable whether we chase something to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. Perhaps it is often some of both.

~

I never did outgrow my fondness for sweet food, and I seem to have gotten away with it so far.  According to numbers – the scale, blood sugar level, etc. I am healthy. For now. But I am also well aware of how inflammation can be brewing within the body and sneak up on you one day with a devastating disease. Our habits of today are contributing to our sickness or health of tomorrow.

There is something I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of called a spiritual bypass, a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved issues, or psychological wounds. While the practices can be very healthy in general – Be positive! Let go of the past! Forgive!  – they can also be used to sidestep the psychological work of facing our wounds.  And although I’ve generally had a “bring it on” attitude toward inner work, priding myself on not having the spiritual bypass tendency, if I am being totally honest, I have still denied the fact that I have been harming myself by hanging on to my very outdated vice.

 I am finallyfor real this time- ready to let go of my last line of defense between me and my true self.   I know it won’t be easy; I’ve tried and failed in the past, many times. But here I am, ready to try again, armed with an arsenal of tools.

One of my favorite tools is good old knowledge.  I’ve been listening to Dr. David Perimutter, a neurologist and author of the book Brain Wash.  I can hardly wait to dive into his book for more of his brilliance and sound advice. Hearing him describe how sugar disrupts our metabolism, and puts our reptile brain in the driver’s seat, speaks to me clearly. I not only want to avoid the pain of a foggy brain, heightened risk of Alzheimer’s, or other sugar-induced fears at my heals; I want to enjoy the pleasure of clarity, vibrancy and heightened intuition.

 It is only day #2 but I am curious, and optimistic. I want to put the lid back on the sweet stuff, and walk away into my healthy future.

I will let you know how it goes!

Minimal Monday

It is amazing to me how our attitude about time can actually change our experience of time.

In his book The Big Leap, psychologist and author Gay Hendricks writes that “Time feels like an ever-present entity, hovering in the background of our lives.”  But to expand time, he explains, we simply need to bring our full consciousness into the present moment.  In this way, we can make time.

Part of what I love about simplifying life is that it leaves more time for what matters most to me. But I had never fully grasped what Hendricks describes as “Einstein time” until I consciously set my mind to it.  One day, while starting to fret about the seeming lack of time for everything that I wanted to get done, I stopped.  I shifted to a belief that I had all the time that I needed.  Then I set about doing one thing, then the next and the next, mindfully.

I was present and relaxed that whole day and everything that I wanted done got done.  My shift in attitude had made a remarkable difference.

Minimal Monday

Several years ago, I worked at a college as an academic coach. My students needed assistance with organizing their workload, breaking down large assignments into logical small steps, making lists and recording important dates in their academic agendas. Sometimes I would help them with assignments such as writing papers, but mostly my job was to help them with executive functioning skills and meeting goals.

Their parents were paying the college a premium price for this coaching, and for some of them it worked very well. But for many others, there was a glaring problem that was getting in the way of their success.

The goals weren’t theirs.

One particular student comes to mind (though there were several). He had wanted to go to a film school in California with his best friend.  He was a kid who did not make friends easily and this friendship was important to him. They shared a passion and he lit up when talking about his dream. His friend went off alone to this California school and my student talked about it with a  mix of excitement, longing, and resignation. His parents wanted him to go the more practical route of this traditional school and so here he was. Unmotivated. Sad. Bored.  No matter how detailed we made his agenda, no matter how much encouragement and perfect to-do lists I gave him, he would return to our next session with very little crossed off his list. He would make the least amount of progress towards “his goals”, and carry the same sad look in his eyes. There was no joy, no energy, no flow. The most alive I had seen him was the day we talked about what he really wanted to be doing.

Isn’t it true for all of us that working toward someone else’s goal is like swimming upstream? A goal we think we should go after, rather than the thing that our heart is calling us to try may lead to some success, but at what cost? And more importantly than what we are doing, is who we are becoming while doing that. Are we meeting challenges with optimism and courage, growing and changing, or are we on automatic pilot to attain the goals that we don’t even recall truly having a longing for in the first place?

My student’s parents were well intentioned and I certainly understand the fear and desires of a parent. It is scary to let go of control and honor our own or our child’s heart desires. But we have a finite amount of time on this earth, and our desires, curiosities, and interests are seeds planted within us like precious breadcrumbs leading us along our journey. How many of us jumped on a path that was never our own?

The more we can silence the fears, the distractions, and the doubts, the clearer the path becomes.