Back to awesome

I’ve been slacking. (Not slack-lining. That would be cool.)

This is not cool. I put my good habits aside for a minute, which is perfectly okay in moderation. But that minute turned into weeks.

I’ve not been diligent with what I eat and how I move. Too much sitting. Way too many food-like substances. (Curse you, Ben… and Jerry.)

Not focused enough when I work. Not present enough with my family.

Just not aiming for awesome often enough.

No one seems to have noticed. But I have. And I want to rededicate myself to habits and systems that lead to excellence, for the sake of those I love and those who expect the best from me and for my own self-respect.

“Get it together, man.” Indeed.

Awesome doesn’t happen in an instant. But deciding to be more awesome does.

Just start

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“JUST DO IT” is a compellingly catchy slogan, but it’s a bit overwhelming and slightly frightening for some of us.

“Really? I don’t think I can do it. So, I just won’t even try.”

But, just starting, that’s not so risky or intimidating.

Just attempt one push-up. Just take a short, easy walk. Just start writing something, even just a sentence, that you don’t have to share with anyone if you don’t want to. Just say “Hello” to that person. Just try that new habit for a week or two and see what happens. Just begin that hard thing you don’t feel confident about or eager to do.

Don’t even think about the entirety of the project or the goal. Most goals are arbitrary anyway. And imagining the steps down the road can take your focus off the one step right in front of you now. And that step is not so hard.

Thinking about starting is not the same as starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or getting it just right. The audacity of beginning something that could end up being awesome might give you enough oomph to get over the hump of meh.

Meh is a good place to begin, actually. You can trick yourself by saying, “Let me start with this awful, unimpressive, tentative first step or first draft.” Intend to be mediocre if you have to to take the pressure off. And then you can’t help but get better if you keep going.

But you can’t keep going if you don’t get going.

Just start.

 

Last day of 2014: A strong finish

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Ten weeks ago I decided to go for a strong finish to 2014. Too often the end of the year gets muddled through and written off with all the distractions of the holidays. So, I made a commitment to focus on getting better as the year wound down instead of slacking off.

I established new habits and stuck with them. I am physically stronger than I was ten weeks ago. I’ve walked at least a mile every day for the last two months. I can do significantly more push-ups now than at any point in the past two years.

I’ve kept to my writing routine. I’ve started meditating. I’m sold on the power of intentional habits, of building systems around my priorities, not just aiming at arbitrary goals.

Act like you are who you want to be. Do those things the ideal version of yourself would do. Take action. Don’t wait for inspiration or until it “feels” right. Doing the thing you know you need to do is likely to summon the feeling you want. Even if you’re not ready. Especially if you’re not ready.

I want to live an excellent life. The basic building blocks of an excellent life are excellent days. It is in my power to craft my days around actions and habits that are most likely to make me a better person. We all have this power and the freedom to choose how we want to live and who we want to be.

Every morning promises a fresh start, another chance to make a day worth talking about, that marks your life with some bit of honor in living well and nobly. And tomorrow morning, though just another morning, is a chance to view the much larger canvas of an entire year of days.

I feel good about the finish to this year. Now, I want to start strong and string together some great days in 2015.

How we spend our days is, of course, how spend our lives. –Annie Dillard

One week left in 2014: Finish strong

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I’ve been counting down the weeks in 2014, aiming to finish strong with new habits and some momentum for the beginning of the new year. Rather than goals, I’ve been focusing on habits and routines because systems are more powerful than goals.

What kind of person do I want to be? How does that person spend his days? What would be the habits and routines of my ideal self? These are the questions that are guiding my pursuit of a more excellent life. If I can craft my days so that I go to bed satisfied more nights than not, laying my head on my pillow without regret for how I’d spent my day, I will be on the right path.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard

These past nine weeks have been focused on wellness. The habits I’ve been locking in are a daily mile walk, daily meditation, a pushups routine three times a week, and posting on this site daily. The hardest one to keep by far has been meditation. It’s easier to put on my shoes and head out the door on a cold night at 10:30 p.m. to get my mile in than it is to sit quietly for twenty minutes. But meditation is proving to be the habit with the most transformational potential. I can see where sticking with it can begin to train the mind and build mental and emotional strength that will be foundational to an excellent life.

With one week left in this year I can already say I’ve finished this year stronger than any year in recent memory. I’ve stuck with new habits for a couple of months, habits that I plan to continue indefinitely. Habits that will make my days better and more meaningful.

I’m looking forward to this holiday week and the final week of 2014. Let’s celebrate how we’ve grown this year and use the next few days to imagine bold new possibilities for the year ahead.

 

Merry freaking Christmas!

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One Thanksgiving morning years ago when our oldest child was a newborn, my wife and I were struggling to get our act together and get out the door for a drive across the state to a family gathering. We were late. Really late. And figuring out how to get things done with a baby in our life complicated everything.

As we finally got in the car and started down the driveway, my wife, with her frustration finally spilling out at the end our frantic scrambling, looked at me and said, with some intensity: “Happy FREAKING Thanksgiving!” She wasn’t smiling.

I didn’t laugh. On the outside. Until about an hour into the drive.

And then, after a safe time for cooling off had passed, we had a good laugh together. Yes, we were really late to the family Thanksgiving gathering. But the dinner ended up being delayed by a faulty oven (for a very long time, actually), so we didn’t miss anything.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of love and joy and peace on Earth. A time for family and friends to reconnect and annoy each other. And spend money. And travel and decorate and undecorate and toil in the kitchen and spend more money on things that often bring little delight to the recipient or the giver.

Humbug, you say?

No. Me, neither. I mostly love this time of year. But as I count down the final weeks of the year I’ve come to the point where plans for Christmas have swallowed almost everything else in our lives. There is little down time without a to-do list occupying actual attention or tugging subconsciously and invisibly leaking life energy drip by drip.

I will end up loving the season, though the only holiday music I’m tuning in willingly at the moment is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a delight no matter the season.

The year ends in a rush of activity and distraction unlike any period in the previous eleven months. It takes some effort to maintain discipline and stick with your habits. But I’ve been keeping at it. So far. (I’m about to go take a 10 p.m. walk just to check off my daily mile habit. I don’t want to break the string.)

What if we embraced the chaos of the season, the good and bad deviations from routine, and found opportunities to grow and get stronger. Sticking to a habit when you’re tempted to use the excuse of the busyness of the season to ditch it will give you greater strength for the rest of the year when routines are more consistent.

This holiday season, why not face your family and friends as you never have before? Be as present as you can. Engage in meaningful conversations. Sit at the kids’ table. Ask great questions of the often ignored senior citizens in the family. Try to get the hipster teenager to crack a smile.

Stress will come. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Just try to observe and notice it and bring yourself back to the present moment, to some perspective about the stillness of the enduring now, where all is always merry and bright.

Stay strong in these final two weeks of the year. Stick to your good habits. Keep bringing your focus back to how you want to finish this year.

And if you’re on the verge of a George Bailey-esque meltdown. Don’t even think about jumping off a bridge.

“Merry freaking Christmas!” to you all.

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Less, but better

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“Less, but better” was the design philosophy of the iconic Dieter Rams, whose work has inspired some of our greatest creators, including, and especially, Apple.

Focus on the essential. Eliminate the inessential. In your work, in your relationships, in your life. Go for quality over quantity. (Of course, quantity can lead to quality.)

Emptiness has energy. Clutter sucks energy.

Simplify. Hone. Get rid of what doesn’t add value.

We are living in a time of sensory overload. Harmony lies beyond the overwhelming complexity and distraction of too much. Instead of trying to do it all and have it all, do less, better.

Three weeks left in 2014: Incremental change you can believe in

december-31stThere are only three weeks left in 2014. (By the way, I say “twenty-fourteen”. You? It’s saving just a single syllable, I know, but it feels less unwieldy than saying “two-thousand-fourteen”. And no one ever said “Let’s party like it’s one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine”.)

I’ve been counting down to the end of the year in an attempt to finish strong, to end the year with momentum rather than in a carb-fueled haze of regret. I’ve been grooving some new habits into my daily routine and building my days around them. I wake up and check my Habit List app first thing and know I’ve got to check off those habits I’ve chosen for the day. And it’s been a success so far. I’ve transformed my mornings by rising early and meditating daily. (This habit is the one that has the potential for the greatest impact over the long term. I’m starting to get what a game-changer meditation can be.) I’m walking at least a mile every day. I’ve stuck to my push-ups routine. And here I am posting every day.

Granted, this is over a fairly short period of time. But as the new year approaches, I’m now excited about the possibility of building habits and routines to stick with over an entire year and seeing where that gets me. I can see the power of just plugging away at a habit or a simple routine without worrying about some distant, possibly arbitrary, goal. And then I imagine looking up months from now and being surprised at the transformation.

Doing a small thing consistently over a long period of time can lead to a big change in a way that trying to cram big things into a short time never will.

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