Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Introspection At Year's End: An Invitation

It is unavoidable at our house.  At the close of every year, it seems we always end up taking stock of how things went, and how we can act to change things so that the upcoming year could go better.

And every year?

I seem to end up with the same set of regrets and wishes because my behavioral changes stretch forward only so far and then...whammo!...life gets in the way and I revert back to my comfort level or whatever is absolutely necessary to survive the illness/crazyness/loss/etc. and whatever progress had been made gets erased.

There is just something about the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one that makes introspection necessary, and yet painful, as you examine how things went as compared to how you actually wanted them to go.

How do I change my pattern so that this year I step out of that box entirely and into a new and better one of my own making?  Ahhhh, that's the million dollar question, isn't it?

Let's start with a profoundly true quote which is often attributed to Mark Twain (although I have yet to find it's original source, so take that attribution with a grain of salt until I do):
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
The fact that I got sidetracked from writing this article for about an hour trying to track down the sourcing on the Mark Twain quote is a good example of how things go with me these days.  Tangents instead of straight lines toward my goals -- my life in a nutshell.

"But sometimes you meet your destiny on a tangent instead of a straight line," you might say.  True.  But sometimes you also just get lost down a twisting path to nowhere important, too.

Lately, I've been feeling rather stagnant and unchallenged and, basically, just sort of drifting.  Which is no good for me, because that makes me broody and moody and not very fun.  And "when momma isn't happy, no one is happy," as Mr. ReddHedd says.   Drifting just isn't enough for me, I need to be working toward a goal on something that matters.

Lately, I have just been sort of on hold.  The house and the family get taken care of, the immediate tasks get done, the volunteering at school, the meals, the dog walking, the...well, you get the picture, that all gets done.

But the things that feed my soul personally?  That challenge me and force me to take a leap outside my comfort zone so that I'm growing and moving toward some goal I thought might be unreachable and, when I get there, I'm working toward yet another challenge?  Non-existent. 

And I need that day-to-day challenge on a personal level to be fulfilled.  As selfish as this may sound, doing things for others all the time just isn't fulfilling enough -- there has to be something that is my own, personal goal somewhere in the mix.  There has to be some challenge that is my own to meet and surpass, or else I feel somehow unfulfilled.

All this to say, I have come up with a plan.  Well, really, it is a plan to develop "A Plan" to move myself forward on the issues that matter most to me:  better health, happier family, and, most important, happier and more fulfilled purpose for me as an individual.

Here goes:

Step One:  Define actual, realistic, achievable goals that I not only can meet, but that I want to meet in my heart of hearts.  Toss fear out the window (she says to her inner writer-self) and, as Nike says, "just do it."  Or figure out a way to "just do it" anyway that breaks the process down, step by step, into achievable, real week by week goals.

And then keep track of my progress so that I am fully responsible to myself on what I am -- or am not -- doing.

This is not the time to come up with "goals I think other people have for me" or "goals based on outside expectations" but the honest-to-goodness things I, personally, in my little heart of hearts, want to really do for myself.  That's a tough one for me because generally I'm thinking about all the outside influences and expectations and not what I really want for myself.  Which never, ever works out in the end because I get resentful and rebel, and then spin my wheels and get nowhere.  Or, if it is my real wish, I get afraid I'll fail and...well, here I am in purgatory at year's end...again...and wondering where the time went and why I haven't gotten anywhere on the things I said were important at the start of the year.

I hate that feeling.  I mean it, I really hate it.  And just once I'd like to get to the end of the year and say, "Damn!!  I kicked serious ass this year on all my goals -- woo hoo!"

But I never, ever seem to say that, which is beyond frustrating.  Which is why there is more.

Step Two:  This is the important part:  figure out and establish actual, measurable goals instead of the usual, wishy-washy amorphous crapola goals.  For example, instead of "make healthier choices"?  I will instead come up with "lose 2 pounds per week until I reach my goal weight of ________ pounds and/or size _______." 

If I have measurable long-term goals, and week by week short-term goals that I can meet, won't that inevitably lead me to "make healthier choices" in this particular scenario?  And leave room for adjustment in behavior and diet and whatever else is necessary if the goal achievement breaks down along the way?

This seems more logical to me somehow, and especially easy to chart in terms of weight loss and health given that I can weigh myself and also chart how I'm feeling (more achy/less achy/test results/etc.).

But to really kick this plan up a notch or two?  I need to possibility of scrutiny from the outside, because if I'm being honest with myself, I really am most motivated when there is some expectation for me, some outside judgment on whether I'm exceeding expectations or falling flat on my face.  And thus?

Step Three:  I will post a weekly progress report on where I am, how I am doing, assessing strengths and weaknesses and future plans as I go forward.  And it will be brutally honest. 

At least, that's what I'm thinking at the moment for myself.  But it occurred to me that other people could be going through the same issues in their own lives be it losing weight or de-cluttering their home or getting a promotion at work or whatever.  If I've been struggling with this, then maybe others have as well, right?

So what if we take this leap together?  We all check in on a particular day every single week, we cheer each other on, we talk about what is and is not working, or maybe even how we can do something a little better...but we do it every single week.

I'm sort of fleshing this out as I write here, and it is going to require a lot more thought on my part before I'm solid on exactly what I want to do for my particular goals but...

What if we all come up with our own stuff, and then we post it before the end of the year and start out our New Year together, working toward our own individual goals but lifting each other up with support and encouragement and brutal honesty when it is needed.  Because I feel like I could really use that, especially at the start, and I suspect some of you could as well.

Here's the thing:  this past year has really sucked for me.  I mean it, 2010 really sucked.

Between some personal health issues, the day to day insanity of our family schedules and the stress that this creates day in and day out, the personal stagnation and then capping off the year with the loss of my sister-in-law at such a young age and the resulting family stress of how to best be there for her kids and my brother-in-law as we all sort of go forward together?  I'll be honest, it's been rough, brutal even at times, and we're exhausted from it.  And for me?  Stress and exhaustion are not good things because they exacerbate the health issues and it just becomes a nasty circle of ick.

I want to break that circle, find better ways to deal with all of this, and be more pro-active, more healthy, and more positive in the coming year.  I desperately need that to happen, frankly, because another year like this one is just not healthy for any of us.  Period.

Today, I'm going to spend a lot of the day glue sticking Campbell's soup label points to the turn-in sheets so that I can mail them out this week for The Peanut's school to get the year-end double point bonus.  It's a sort of mindless, repetitive task which is perfect for allowing your mind to churn and turn over goal-setting and such.  And so?  I'm going to spend the rest of the day thinking about all of this, and will post some more about it going forward.

But I wanted to throw this all out there, so that some of you could think about it, too.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll come up with something awesome.  Wouldn't that be a great way to end the year and start the new one?

(Photo via Nicolai Kjærgaard.)


Christy Hardin Smith said...

I would also love to know how you've tackled this issue in your own life -- especially if you found a method that works well for you. :)

Suzanne said...

i'm a huge, huge, did i say huge, procrastinator. its that getting started part that i have always had such difficulty with.

i now write my tasks down and break each task into smaller segments, instead of clean the kitchen i write empty the diswasher, load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, and so on. i keep that list where i can see it so it silently nags me.

baby steps -- its all about baby steps. it does not matter how long it takes me to reach that step, what matters is that i did reach that step. i empty the dishwasher and cross it off my list and enjoy the satisfaction that brings. a little bit later i load the dishwasher. i've learned with my knee and back, if i break housework down into small steps with a break in between, my body doesn't hate me so much.

i've also found that keeping time blocked out on my calendar for me as free time, written in ink so it can not be easily erased, helps. i could use that block of time for anything -- or nothing. it was my taking care of me time -- because i've learned the hard way that it is impossible to take care of others without first taking care of myself. i need alone time, quiet time to keep my batteries charged.

and most importantly -- i've learned not to guilt myself so much for things that are not under my control. i'm getting better about laughing instead of getting upset or angry when life gets in the way of my plans.

Anonymous said...

Christy, what a joy to find your blog! I've missed you so much over at FDL. I share your pain with weight, clutter, ringing out another year with "wait, what have i really accomplished?"

My year from hell was 2006 when I lost my parents back to back and got thrown into a family business. 3 years and 30 pounds later I finally started to take back my life piece by piece.

I was able to drop 15 pounds by getting back to the Y and moving my body again, and eating better. Not able to get another pound off the scale, I finally did a program this summer I'd been circling for about a year. It's called "The 6 Week Cure for the Middle Aged Middle" by Drs. Mary & Michael Eades, and is designed to reduce the fat layer around the liver and re-set your metabolism so your body uses fat in the healthy way and doesn't store it. After my doctor signed off, I started and by the end of the first week my stomach had flattened noticeably. By the end of 6 weeks I had lost 12 pounds and several inches and my stomach was - flat. I haven't had a flat stomach in...I don't know if I've ever had a flat stomach! Anyway, if the program is compatible with your health issues, I can only say it worked for me and has transformed my body and my health.

Now I'm tackling my next biggest issue - clutter! After weeks of trying to get through just the first pile, I finally got disgusted at the thought of ringing in 2011 staring at the same chaos.

I started with one tabletop of stuff, grabbed some post it notes, sharpies, paper clips and stapler, and sorted into categories. I then put the categories into colored file folders so even if I didn't have time to file the stuff in the correct place right then, it is still organized in the "holding pen" until I do. Visually and psychologically a bunch of cool colored file folders is easier to cope with then the cluttered piles.

I'm also very ruthless in throwing stuff out. It took me 3 solid months to clean out my family home, having to sort through boxes & boxes of "stuff" my mother had tucked in every nook and cranny. I became much less attached to things, and find it therapeutic to file stuff in a giant black trash bag that goes straight into the trash can.

Anyway, my goal is to clear off all the surfaces in my home by New Year's, and get everything at least into the holding pen.

for now,


Christy Hardin Smith said...

Suz -- I think blocking off some regular time on the calendar for specific tasks/to dos would be a useful tool for me. Especially for some "me time" because I'm horrible about making time for that...

Christy Hardin Smith said...

Suz -- I think blocking off some regular time on the calendar for specific tasks/to dos would be a useful tool for me. Especially for some "me time" because I'm horrible about making time for that...

Christy Hardin Smith said...

Rosalind -- I have a clutter goal myself, and am slowly working my way through things. Or I was, and then we lost my sister-in-law and then the holidays sneaked up and obliterated progress...but I swear I'm getting right back to it.

I've made a new rule for myself, that something doesn't come into the house without my getting rid of something else: either by donating or giving away or clearing off a space and throwing things away. Something has to go in order to make room for something new, or the new thing doesn't come in...period. It's helped a bit, but there is still a bit more to go in a couple of rooms. It feels good, doesn't it?