I'm freshly back from my four-week Antipodean adventure (!), and now it's time to rock and roll.
Remember how last week's letter offered a counter-balance to the magical thinking that pervades January? And how I saluted those of you who hadn't done any 2016 planning yet by raising my mug of tea in celebration? Well, several of you lovelies wrote back to express appreciation, my favorite of which went like this: "Wow! Awesome! It's like permission to not plan!" And that is correct: whether you do - or you don't - feel inspired to do 2016 plans and goals and resolutions, you're doing great. Really.
Follow the energy of your inspiration, right?
Personally, I confess that I have actually felt like planning, which is unusual for me at this time of year. Normally it's early February when I really get going. I guess, now that I think about it, that's the power of a mega-rejuvenating holiday in paradise! (Duh.)
Recently I wrote a personal reflection on 2015 (that will likely show up on my blog soon, in case you're curious). I've picked a few key words for guiding me this year, and yes, I've written them in pretty purple gel ink throughout my new planner. Today, even though I'm very much holding hands with my friend Jet Lag, I attended a lengthy business planning workshop.
As I said earlier: rock and roll.
Whether you also have some plans "on the go" already or not, I wanted to offer two key tools I use for keeping myself goal-focused AND happy.
What we pay attention to grows.
I learned this lesson the hard way during my first month of teaching seventh-graders in San Jose. At that time, I'd decided that my school-mandated "Discipline Plan" would include, as a first consequence, writing on the board the names of students who misbehaved. Pretty standard, right?
But by the third week of implementing this system, I noticed that the name-on-the-board consequence generally did not stop students from misbehaving; in fact, it seemed to supernaturally encourage my students to continue and/or possibly escalate the problem. Agh!!! (#Backfire)
I was training everyone in the room to pay attention to misbehavior, however unintentionally.
So, to help my monkey brain pay attention to things that will actually support me, I create trackers.
Mine tend toward the rudimentary, but I like simplicity. A photo of one of my old tracker templates is below - it took me about 2 minutes to make.
If you prefer complexity, rejoice! Here is an awesomely heady example from the brilliant researcher Gretchen Rubin - it's her personal tracker from 2015, which she says was highly effective.
(There are a squillion apps and other magical techie things that automatically track things like steps and calories and sleep time and goodness knows what else. But I find that taking the conscious action of tracking is what helps me the most.)
So. The main question is: What in your life do you want to grow?
Then track it.
Equally important, or perhaps even more so (!), is rewarding your lovely, hard-working self.
I mean, we're all housepets, really. Think of how happy your doggie or your kitty cat or your parakeet looks when you give her a treat! Emma the Brave rolls around on the floor, showing off her white belly and generally looking even more self-satisfied than usual.
We are the same way!
Even though our human supercomputer brains whiz around everywhere (in the future! in the past! solving complex problems! imagining the unknown! dreaming up fantasies! and more!!), our bodies are ALWAYS in the present. Right here, right now, always. Just like housepets. And we respond beautifully to treats.
If you want to grow in a new direction and make it stick, give yourself treats.
(I'm dead serious about this - I'm even willing to fire clients who refuse to give themselves treats! Treats are not "extras" - they're investments in your growth.)
The key here is to give yourself a treat every time you take even the smallest step toward your plan / goal / resolution.
Walk for five minutes before work? Treat. Eat a salad? Treat. Buy the journal? Treat!
Don't wait to treat yourself until you've hit your big goal of walking for thirty minutes, or eating an entirely raw food diet, or writing in your gratitude journal every night. It's important to feel happy (!) while you're working hard to grow - because growth challenges our balance, because we're making an effort, and because our happiness matters. Okay?
So, I'll get you started by sharing my own favorite treats. Personally, I vote for non-food treats (because it's easy for me to eat my feelings and that's not a helpful habit for me). Here's my current treat list:
- taking a bubble bath
- watching an episode of "Call The Midwife" or whatever show I'm watching
- doing a beautiful jigsaw puzzle! (the "Artpiece" ones rule)
- lighting a scented candle for the hell of it
- meeting a friend for coffee and a walk
- getting a manicure
- doing an extra-long guided meditation
- buying a bouquet of flowers for myself
...and I could keep going!!! I love treats!
ANYTHING can be a treat. What matters with treating is the intention behind it. If I find myself watching three episodes of "Call the Midwife" and then remember in the middle of the third one that I ate an arugula salad for lunch, I don't get to make the episodes a treat! Too late, man. I didn't intend it, so my housepet self is not getting the link between goal and reward. Instead, in that moment, I'll pick another little treat, roll around on the floor, and then work on being less indulgent the next day.
So, there you have it: track-and-treat. Good for any time of year.
P.S. What's on your treat list? To what will you devote your precious attention? I'd love to know!