Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Think Small

I’m miserable at goal setting, but I do it anyway.

Every coach I’ve worked with; every personal development book I’ve read; every self-improvement workshop I’ve sat through, has driven home the same point: if you have no goals, you’ll achieve nothing of value in your life. So I dutifully set goals. Fail to achieve them. And rinse and repeat.

A sane person might wonder why I keep doing it. I’m well aware that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different outcome. But I seriously want to leave this world feeling at peace with how I spent my time. So I keep at it in hopes that I’ll make some headway.

In my own defense, I do mix it up a bit. I’ll change the goal-setting process. Or try different implementation approaches. And there are plenty of times when I’ve hit the jackpot! Without a plan, I’d never have gone to art school. Moved to New Jersey. Started my own business. Completed a triathalon. Or met Jim.

The problem I’m having now is that the goals I’m dancing around aren’t as clear-cut or sexy as “get married” or “hike the Grand Canyon.” They’re more along the lines of “rekindle my creative fire” and “successfully manage my money”. Just writing them down leaves me feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at once. I make matters worse by coming up with outcomes that are a recipe for disaster: Change a lifetime of overspending in 30 days! Paint a masterpiece on the first try after not picking up a brush in 10 years! Launch a blog and have dozens of followers overnight! Yikes! No wonder I just want to pull the proverbial covers over my head.

As luck would have it, my current coach, Becky Rodskog, is just the woman you want in your corner when you step into the middle of this ring. She's incredibly positive, energetic and accepts no excuses. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that last night, when I was feeling so discouraged I wanted to trash five months of painstaking progress, she reminded the group of us that she’s working with about a little thing called the Kaizen principle.

Kaizen (Japanese for "change for the better") refers to a set of specific business practices that focus on continuous improvement. You can Google it and read about its applications in the world of personal development (Robert Maurer’s “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” is a sort of guidebook.) But as Becky deftly summarized it, the Kaizen thing is about focusing on one tiny step you can take each day to move toward your goal. There it was: my life preserver!

This morning I got one of those random inspirational emails that talked about how messages come in all forms. It advised me to pay attention to the stuff strewn across my path. So I did one minute thing to inch closer to a seemingly impossible goal: I wrote this post instead of diving under the covers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ticket to Ride

I had a massage the other night, and before I left I booked the next one. You might ask how this falls into the realm of amazesurprisedelight, and I wouldn’t blame you. But I’ve actually never done this before—set a definitive date in advance for indulging in this relaxing and restorative experience.

Why the change? I blame it on Ann Tardy. I sat in on one of her motivational talks back in January, and to my surprise, some of the things she touched on have stuck. Ann has dubbed her business LifeMoxie! Enterprises, and she is the embodiment of everything I imagine “moxie” to be. She has a sort of “get out of my way” style that perfectly blends boundless enthusiasm and total fearlessness. It’s so infectious it’s a shame she can’t bottle and sell it. She’d be set for life.

So she has these nine strategies for creating your own damn moxie, and many of them aren’t news to me. But you know how some stuff just sounds better coming from one person vs. another? Well that’s how it was for me. She got me right out of the gate with Strategy #1: “Beat the Alarm Clock.”

I’ve been wrestling for some time with rediscovering a sense of passion in my life, and I latched on instantly to the notion of drilling the whole thing down to something for which I’d gladly set the alarm to 6:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m. I remember rolling my eyes at Ann’s over-the-top excitement about this concept, but by the time her hour was up I felt determined to find something that fit the bill. That I looked forward to that much.

Then she told a story about how her mother “always has a ticket in her hand.” I could have walked out of the room right then, because I knew this was an image that would become my talisman for doing things I feel excited about. I love the idea of literally having a ticket in my hand (or pocket or wallet): to a concert or movie or museum. Or a trip by train or plane. But a metaphorical ticket will do just fine. A date for dinner with good friends. A haircut. A walking class. A weekend at the beach. An evening dedicated to sketching instead of turning on the TV.

My friend Maryanne’s husband always has their next vacation planned before the current one has ended. I used to think that was akin to wishing your life away and not allowing yourself to be fully present in the moment. But now I understand that it’s about giving ourselves the gift of knowing that we’ll do things that make us happy. It’s more than just a reason to get out of bed in the morning: it’s about living with passion and the commitment to diving in to life's limitless possibilities.

I shared the “ticket” story with my sister Deborah that day we were in Ocean City. And in one of those inexplicable moments of synchronicity, she told me she had made a birthday card for me that included a “Ticket to Ride.” I keep that ticket, with it’s shiny ribbon trim, on my desk. The same desk where, for the past two months, I’ve been sitting down to write in the extra hour I’ve gained by changing the time on my alarm clock to 6:00 a.m. It may not be a plane ticket to Machu Picchu, but it’s a start.