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

I’ve noticed for a long time now, that when I refuse to engage my ‘worry thoughts’ and simply and truly Let Go, the issue or outcome tends to work out. It has been such a strong and welcoming truth for me, in fact, that I have been consciously practicing the Art of Letting Go.

Write it down & let it go

Like most things that matter to me, I write down whatever it is I am letting go of. I’ve started using a small notebook that my daughter had given me as part of a gift. It is a thin, forty-page notebook but it now holds my biggest dreams and every concern that would otherwise weigh on me. Each page now holds a single desire or a problem. The act of writing them down is my ritual just before I let them go.

The trickiest part of letting go is not taking it back. But I have found that the more I practice this, the more evidence I gather that it works, and then the easier it is to repeat.

One of the “wants” in my little notebook was to find a publisher for my memoir. I could have easily continued procrastinating and fretting the rest of my life away; It’s too late, too overwhelming, too scary, to difficult, too unlikely…. But I had become so sick and tired of that soundtrack in my head, that I finally let go. I found myself sending my proposal out to a handful of publishers. Letting go doesn’t mean there won’t ever be actions to take; but when I’ve let go, those actions are taken with no stress, no attachment to outcome, no overthinking it. They just happen.

And guess what? On a beautiful sunny day when those proposal submissions were the furthest thing from my mind, I received a contract! My memoir will published in April. (*For updates, subscribe to this blog)

Not every outcome is as exciting as this, of course. But I have found that the letting go – for real letting go – of desires, attachments, worries and anxieties, brings a peace and a presence of mind that invites and allows a more natural and perfect outcome.

Oftentimes, we just have to get out of our own way.

Minimal Monday

Summer can be a fun season with all the events, activities, mini-vacations and days in the sun. But for someone like me who lives a healthier, more productive and creative life when I follow a routine, summer can easily throw me off my game. It’s not that I want every single day to be the same, but as a writer, I’ve got plenty of adventure going on inside my head, thank you very much.

So here are a few things I like to do to try to keep the words flowing, and the good habits going, even in mid-July:

#1 Before I go on vacation, I put everything I can in order at home first. This makes for a swifter transition back to home and to the projects I may have left behind. It also enables me to “let go” more completely, and enjoy the time away.

#2 If I am going away, even if I know I won’t do a lot of writing, I at least bring a notebook and pen to catch the inspiration when it strikes. I also bring my walking/running sneakers and my yoga mat.

#3 Even during lazy summer weeks, I keep up with my agenda. I know where I am at with my writing, and where to pick up next time, even if several days go by before I get back to it.

#4 If you read last week’s post, you know I am trying to give up eating sweet, sugary things. If you missed it, you can read it here: https://danalaquidara.com/2022/07/11/minimal-monday-21/ . So I do my best to focus on summer treats like healthy smoothies, fresh fruit, and a refreshing swim; and I look the other way when I see something like, say, double scoop mint chocolate- chip ice cream.

Happy Monday!

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

This is the day of the Boston Marathon, a race that takes place every year on Patriots Day in Massachusetts.  I grew up just down the street from the start of the race, so it was tradition to see the runners off every third Monday of April. In later years, both of my sisters ran the race, along with an uncle, a niece and a handful of other people I know.

A half marathon is definitely my limit for running, and when I ran The Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine last fall, I gained valuable insight. When my youngest daughter enthusiastically suggested I join her in the race, I went with my very first instinct which was to grab the opportunity. Had I paused long enough to consider the likelihood of failure, or the dread of running on days when I really didn’t feel like it, I would’ve said hell no.

Once I committed, I knew I did not stand a chance of finishing the race without a structured plan to train. I had rarely run more than three miles at a time, so this was new territory. I found a beginner’s training plan online and simply followed it like a recipe. And on race day, I met my goal of finishing.

I don’t necessarily see any more half marathons in my future, but because I had been following “the recipe” for months prior to the race, I kept Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays as my cardio days. The habit was in place.

The experience highlighted my need for structure in facing any challenge, or creating any habit that is important to me. Without it, I set myself up for failure. I believe this insight is what led to my intermittent fasting which I wrote about here: https://danalaquidara.com/2022/03/07/minimal-monday-4/

It is also why I recently joined an accountability writing group in which we check in each week to demonstrate our individual progress.

Left to my own devices, I can be unfocused and unproductive. Alternately, creating structure around my goals – imposing some deadline, accountability, or “recipe” to follow – I stand a chance of succeeding.

I think this is a common human trait.

Do you agree? What structure serves you well?