Why I’m not interested in resolutions or themes or chains

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.

An example?

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.

Your turn

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

Join the Writer's CircleIf 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!

Warmly,

 Jenna
 

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Comments

  1. Great article!

    I think the thing to keep in mind (as we discussed on Twitter) is that each person needs to find the systems that work best for them. For instance, the Don’t Break The Chain calendar may be perfect for a person who can’t seem to get his butt in the chair, but exhausting to a person who’s already writing like crazy and needs breaks.

    For someone who needs rest days, I might suggest taking the calendar and pre-scratching the rest days, counting them as writing days. Or, let yourself have one per week that you scratch guilt-free, whenever it may occur.

    For me, however, I know that a million dollar idea may come when I least expect it — most likely when I’m resting or focused on something else. I think it’s helpful for me to always have a notebook with me, even on my days off, and make it my goal to jot at least one thing down. It might be just a title — the title that envisions the poster that sells the movie. Or a unique character — who drives a TV series to a 6 season run.

    But that’s me… and you may need a day that is COMPLETELY off to recharge your creative batteries. In such a case, that notebook may be a curse, preventing you from unwinding completely.

    Whatever the case, I suggest to everyone to experiment. Try different systems (modifying if necessary), different habits, until you find the one that works best for you.
    Gray Jones recently posted..HAPPY NEW YEAR! Now, what?My Profile

  2. These are great ideas, Gray! Thanks for posting them. I totally agree with you that everyone is different and we all need to find what works best for us. To me, the idea of having a notebook to jot down ideas (or in my case recording a voice memo in my iPhone) is all part of the process and I would definitely do that on a day off. If an idea comes, it comes, and it’s worth capturing in the moment. Somehow for me, I don’t “count” that as writing. But that’s an interesting conversation in and of itself.

    I do like to have whole days off where I can really put my feet up and rest. Those are so good for keeping the ideas sparking.

  3. Hi Jenna,
    I wanted to thank you for extending your Creative Productivity teleclass series a couple more days. Although I wasn’t able to be there “in person” I have already listened to the recordings twice and can now go back to clarify a few of my notes. So much valuable content.

    As with all your courses I’ve taken, I become a little more aware of what can trip me up and hold me back, why I do it, and what I can do to change it. I really appreciate how you provide so many useful and practical tips. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all the valuable information, you somehow manage to inspire me to take those first steps towards change and then continue on persevering when it gets a little tougher.

    Wishing you a creative and productive new year filled with many moments of contentment and joy.

    • Laura, You are so welcome and so kind to post a note about it. I’m thrilled to hear you’ve taken the time to deeply “mine” the classes for information. That’s fantastic! And it always makes me happy to hear you feel inspired rather than overwhelmed. I DO have a tendency to want to share EVERYTHING so it’s hard to rein it in. Glad to know it works for you. Happy new year to you as well!

  4. Hi Jenna,

    Resolutions don’t work for most because it’s too extreme. On January 1st, you’re suddenly supposed to do 8 things differently. It’s designed to fail. Like you, I’ve made changes by taking baby steps and by not announcing it to the world with a megaphone.

    For example, I hired a personal trainer and I didn’t jump in and do leg presses at 150 pounds, I started with no weight, then put on a little bit more, etc. Now, I’m looking almost buff but it’s taken over six months to arrive at that place.

    And my book is coming along chapter by chapter. And I’m learning Donna Summer songs one at a time, each one building on the one before.

    Would we woof down an entire turkey? Know, I cut it into bite size pieces or I’d choke on it. Resolutions make folks choke.

    Besides, the time to start something is when you get the urge, not three months later because you need to wait for January 1st.

    Fun!

    Giulietta
    Giulietta Nardone recently posted..Eat, Pray, Love Yourself More!My Profile

    • Giulietta, I’ve been doing the same with exercise — a little bit at a time, building confidence, building strength, getting my body back. It’s great. I agree, resolutions are designed to fail. I do like the new year energy of a fresh start, but I think we take it to extremes. I like your turkey analogy. Makes me think of the one about eating an elephant one bite at a time. And also of my old post about chocolate cake, and how eating the whole thing at once will make a sick, but a little bit? Oh so delicious. :)

      How fantastic to hear about your book, good for you!

  5. Jenna,
    Great post.
    I agree with your experience in that I find it takes a little experimentation to really identify what method works best for you. I think this is true for most – as we are all individuals with different working, learning and resting styles.

    However, I do think there are things common in pursuing what you want for the sensitive woman:
    Incremental steps, and lots of room for creativity and sacred space to be in lightness.

    I know from my experience, there is nothing worse than feeling tied down by something that is so meaningful. So, so much better to feel inspired by the process of pursuing what you want. After all, I believe personal fulfillment comes mostly from the journey anyway.
    Anne Preston recently posted..3 Alternatives to New Years ResolutionsMy Profile

    • I love what you said, Anne, about the commonalities in pursuing what we want as sensitives. I agree with incremental steps, lots of room, and sacred space. I find that many people (not just sensitives, though I think we can shy away from things) don’t always make the deep commitment to see the work through the rough patches too, and there’s so much focus these days about things feeling good and easy that sometimes we forget that a lot of the satisfaction comes from weathering the tough times with a project too. That’s a big part of where that personal fulfillment on the journey comes from, in my opinion.

      As I write this, I’m reminded of my international travels. What made them so good was BOTH the beauty, joy, and light and overcoming the challenges and adversity. The contrast was delicious and rewarding.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Wow, Jenna! You sure do have a lot of code crackers in your following! Such rich experience and wise insights here.

    I’d like to simply share my deep appreciation for YOU. This post (and the comments that followed) was not only an astute reminder of how to find and stay attuned to the creative process in a way that meets us where we are, in all our uniquenesses, but a wonderfully succinct and VERY inspiring summary statement for ME! Thank you for all the hard time you’ve put into developing and decoding your creative process and sharing your learnings and experiences along the way. You are an absolutely godsend!
    xoxo
    Lydia Puhak recently posted..What’s here, right now?My Profile

    • Lydia, how gracious and wonderful of you to post this note. Thank you so much for your lovely comments. It feels good to be seen and to know it’s making a difference in your world. xx

  7. I’m not sure how long it’ll last but I’m starting 2014 with a day planner. There are already a few goals in it…finish the current screenplay, rewrite the one my readers are waiting for… Perhaps the most inspiring thing was when the dog pulled it out and dropped it in front of me as if to say ‘you’ve got my full support.’ (Of course she might have just liked the smell of leather but writers take encouragement where we find it.)

    Jenna, thank you for being a beacon of help and encouragement in a publishing world that often discourages writers.

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