It’s the second day of the new year.
I spent a little time yesterday wondering about whether or not I wanted to make any resolutions and found that the answer was no. What I want to do, more than anything, is keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is making lasting change in my life a little bit at a time. I thought it might be interesting to talk about why these other ideas — resolutions, themes, and chains — don’t work for me.
Why resolutions don’t work for me
The idea of vowing to take on improvements in my life from the resolution perspective just doesn’t work for me anymore.
I think it’s because it’s too vague. Maybe it’s the way I think about resolutions. I’m not 100% sure.
What I do know is that in the past when I’ve made resolutions, I’ve failed to make concrete plans for taking steps to achieve them. I didn’t understand the massive levels of resistance that would come up or have the slightest clue about how to deal with it. I didn’t know what specific actions I’d be taking.
I can remember one year when I promised myself that I would eat better, and caved in to a tasty treat on January 1st. I gave up then, figuring that if I couldn’t do it on day 1, I wouldn’t be able to continue.
I can remember another year when I resolved to journal every day, and it maybe lasted for a week before I “blew it.” So I didn’t bother to try again after that.
Now granted, I’ve grown a lot since then and I think I’m certainly more self-aware than I was 20 years ago when I was making those resolutions, but at the time, my thinking was, “I’ve already blown it, why continue? It’s already too late to get it right.”
Inherently I think the concept of a resolution can be difficult to sustain, and can set us up to feel like failures.
Why themes don’t work for me
I’ve also taken classes and worked with coaches where I’m supposed to pick out themes for the year. The classes and concepts are lots of fun. We came up with themes like “Focus. Fun. Spirit.”
But I never stay connected to the themes I identify. They don’t have specific meaning for me. Or specific action steps associated with them. Too vague again.
Don’t break the chain?
There’s a neat calendar and article out there created by the Writer’s Store, based on Jerry Seinfield’s idea of “Don’t Break the Chain,” and an even better calendar for 2013 made by my colleague and Twitter pal Graham Jones.
Last year I toyed with the idea of writing every day. As you probably know, I run an online Writer’s Circle, which is designed to promote that kind of regular, consistent accountability. But in our Circle, we ask our writers to write at least five to seven days out of every seven days, not to commit to writing every day.
At first I railed against the idea of taking days off. I figured we “should” all write 7 days per week (and you probably know how I feel about “shoulds” — big red flags).
But over the past 16 months we’ve been running the Circle, I’ve discovered a few important things and changed my mind:
- Resting replenishes my creative well.
- If I take more than one day off from writing per week, I have a much harder time getting started again.
- If I don’t take off at least one day per week, I start to get rebellious and cranky and want to quit altogether.
- Writing every day makes me feel worn out. It’s a grueling path. Marathon runners know the importance of rest days. And writing is certainly a marathon.
- Taking guilt-free, planned time away from writing keeps my mid-brain calm (that part of your brain that freaks out and puts you into fight-flight / procrastination mode) and allows me to subconsciously work on my project in my back-brain.
Certainly you and I are different. For some people, writing (or working creatively) every day is a must. For me, it’s a no-no.
Six days a week? Sure.
Seven, not so much. My biggest concern about the “don’t break the chain” idea is that if we DO break the chain, it’s far too easy to fall into the well of despair and struggle to get ourselves back out of it. I’d much rather plan a day off, almost like a “cheat day” with a diet, to keep me from getting mired in perfectionism, guilt, or shame.
What does work
What does work for me is taking incremental steps to make lasting changes.
I like to identify my big vision, or my projects, like “rewriting my sci-fi script” or “losing 25 pounds.” If I’m feeling really inspired, I might craft inspiring intention statements, like “I intend to knock this script out of the park” or “I intend to be feel great in my own skin.”
But the most important step for me, as I mentioned above, is to come up with specific, frequent action steps and to work on “cracking my own code” when it comes to overcoming my resistance to taking those steps.
Layering in new habits
I also like to “layer in” improvements over time.
Sure! Glad you asked.
Sixteen months ago when we started the Writer’s Circle, I focused first and only on building the habit of regular writing. I didn’t worry about quantity of words, or even quality for that matter. I also made a decision not to try to do more than one kind of habit-building at a time. So I just focused on writing for 15 minutes a day, 6 days per week.
Approximately 4 months later, I started layering in a new habit of exercising. Over the years, I’ve finally realized (aka cracked my own code) that I won’t work out unless 1) I’m paying someone to “watch” me do it, e.g. a trainer or in a paid class, 2) there’s a specific schedule to do it, or 3) I’m already out of the house. So I hired someone to do Pilates with me on a weekly basis.
Then about 6 months after that, I started adding in time at the gym. At first I just aimed to go once per week. I figured out pretty quickly that I could put on my workout clothes, take my son to school, and then go right to the gym. I started rearranging my schedule to make that doable. I don’t start coaching or working with anyone until 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, which gives me plenty of time to get him to school, get in a good workout and get back to my office in time to get started. I also set it up so I could do that five days per week and put my two favorite movies (Star Trek 2009 and Serenity) on my iPhone so I can study them while I’m on the elliptical. Great motivation to get there.
It’s easier once you build the habit
What fascinates me about this is something I talked about in my Creative Productivity teleclass series over the last couple of weeks: Once I got going, it was much easier to continue doing it, than it was to stop. I’m now compelled to keep writing and to keep exercising, two of my biggest bugaboos over the last 20 years. The more you do it, the easier it is to keep going.
So what I like to do instead of all these resolutions and themes and chains is to come up with small, almost ridiculous steps that make it easy for me to do the thing I said I was going to do, a little bit at a time and to view it like a giant experiment, where I’m observing what worked and what didn’t. One of my writers says that the Circle is like we’re in our own laboratory, and we are the lab rats, experimenting on ourselves. It’s a terrific analogy.
I wonder how you might apply the same ideas to your own transformations, a little bit at a time? Tell me what you think. I love reading your comments and insights.
Build your writing habit
If you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com
Thanks for reading and Happy 2013!
You might also be interested in: