A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

17 January 2013


I've changed the setting on the blog here so that readers who are not registered users can comment.  Comments will still all be moderated.

We'll see if this causes ten thousand spambots to rain down on my blog -- if it does, I may need to lock it down again.  But I know it's a nuisance to have to register or log in to make a comment.

Here's hoping for some signal to make the noise worth it.

16 January 2013

Intention and Resolve

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about words.  In January, words like "resolution" and "willpower" fly thick and fast around the media, the internet, and the mouths of change-minded individuals hoping to experience outcomes in 2013 that are different from (and better than) those of prior years.

In particular, the words "resolution" and "willpower" bug me.  "Resolution" has come to mean "a thing you talk about at midnight on December 31 and have completely given up on by the end of February." As always, the gym is packed for a couple of weeks in January.  Years ago I became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers by attaining and maintaining my goal weight.  I admit it, I started in January, along with 40 or so other people.  By April, I had reached my goal and the number of people at the meeting had dropped to around 25.  Shortly after that (probably early summer of that year) I became the receptionist at my meeting.  By late December, our meeting had dwindled in size to a scant dozen consistent attendees.  But that first meeting in January brought 40 or more people through the door.  And the pattern repeated every year for as long as I worked that meeting.  Companies like Weight Watchers can forecast a massive jump in their revenue in January.  They are rarely wrong.

So we make "resolutions", and the pattern is consistent.  Sure, you can be the exception -- I was, and the 12 people who were left at my meeting in December were.  But over time, I think the whole concept of "resolution" has become part of the problem, riddled with unspoken connotations of failure.

The word "willpower" is just as bad.  It's a great word on the surface, evoking notions of heroic determination and focus.  But it, too, has become entangled in connotations.  Willpower is the thing you invoke to endure suffering.  It involves dragging yourself out of bed to go to the gym and grimly staring down a chocolate cake.  Willpower is the thing you employ "no matter how much it hurts."

Why is it that resolutions require all this pain and agony?  It's like Lent, only worse -- a post-celebration slog of self-denial and punishment, as though we need to pay a penance for living our lives in joy.

So how could we do it differently?  In my case, the long-ago lessons of Weight Watchers are still valuable.  Sometimes you mess up, and there's no point in dwelling on that.  That was yesterday. What are you going to do today?  I have some weight I need to lose as a result of choices I made last year that weren't good for my body, as well as some circumstances that were honestly beyond my control (recovering from oral surgery left me unable to chew a lot of "healthy" foods properly, and left me too knackered by pain and exhaustion to get much exercise for a couple of months).  But rather than make a "New Year's Resolution" to lose weight, I'm simply making some different choices.

My intention for the first several months of the year is to get back to my goal weight at the rate of about a pound a week.  I have good tools to do that (a step-counter I got for Christmas and some easy-to-use iPhone apps), and I have clarity in my intention, both in what I want to do and how I want to do it.  I know how to do it -- obviously I've done it before -- and I know the reasons why it's important to me.  I also know what the rewards are of doing it.  I'll feel better, I'll fit back into my favorite clothes, I'll like what I see in the mirror.  I'll enjoy the sense of accomplishment of having done this thing that is important to me.  And once I'm there, I'll be able to add back a few favorite "treat" foods that I'm choosing to avoid for now in order to realize my intention.  Notice that all of my language around this is positive.  It's not about denial, or "going on a DIE-t."  If anything, I'm going on a LIVE-it!  And because of this clarity around what I want and why I want it, I can fulfill my intention with resolve -- meaning when I'm faced with a choice of whether or not to go out for a walk, I can think about all the reasons why I love walking.  I'm enjoying the sunshine, encountering birds, squirrels and other local wildlife along the way, and even setting my distance target based on a spot down the road where there is sometimes a friendly horse in the pasture who comes and greets me.  My walk is not a chore at all -- in fact, sometimes it's the highlight of my entire day.

And when it's time to stare down the chocolate cake?  Well, I'll admit it was tough to say no to the birthday cake that showed up at church last Sunday.  But I gave myself permission to say yes, and then chose to say no anyway.  I'm pleased and excited about the progress I've already made, and I want to keep the momentum up.  No pain, no suffering, no struggle.  Just a choice to pass on the cake in favor of holding up my intention.

What are your intentions for 2013?  How will you find the resolve to carry them through -- not through suffering or self-denial, but through positive choices?

10 January 2013

Big Rocks

I'm sure you've all heard the story about the professor who did the demonstration with the big glass jar and the rocks, talking about time management, right?

For the three people left in America who haven't heard this story, in a nutshell, it goes like this:

The professor states that the jar is like your life, representing all the time and energy you have available.  He fills the jar with big rocks, and asks if it is full.  The students dutifully reply that it is.  He then adds a bunch of small pebbles, which of course fill in many gaps.  Again, the students now claim the jar is full.  The professor repeats the process with sand, and then water, then asks the students what the point of his demonstration is.  The students say the point is that it is possible to spend time more efficiently by cramming more stuff into the jar.  The professor shakes his head, saying no, the point is that you need to put the big rocks in FIRST.

To that end, I spent some time thinking about what my big rocks are for 2013, and here they are, in no particular order:
  • Writing.  If I mean to be successful and productive as a writer, obviously writing needs to be a big part of my daily life.  Hey, look!  I'm doing it now!
  • Reading.  It is the consensus of many people wiser than I, that if one intends to be a good writer, one must be an avid reader.  I read more last year than the year before, and intend to improve on that trend again this year.
  • Personal care. Making the most of my life starts with making the most of my health.  So I want to continue my efforts to eat mindfully, make physical activity a daily routine, and generally pursue wellness.
  • Spiritual community.  I have become much more active in my UU church community in the last year, and I am finding that valuable for me.  So I want to keep that as a priority this year.
  • Family.  I want to make sure my beloved life partner knows how much I treasure and appreciate him, so spending quality time with him is very important.  There is also a family project happening with my Dad and that side of my family over the next two years, in which I want to stay fully engaged.
  • Developing my professional story and platform.  In order to expand my business and my professional credentials, I need better clarity on, and a bigger audience for, what I do.  So one of my big rocks will be to apply more, and more focused time on that this year.
  • Travel. I find that getting out into the world is important for my mental health.  It helps me remember how big the world is, and it sparks my creativity.  A writer has to have things to write about, and seeing new places inspires me.
I have some smaller rocks that are important too, but these are my main areas of focus for this year.

Have you thought about yours?  I'd love to hear about them if you care to share.