Feb 292012

Goal-achievers in my garden!

This month we discussed various strategies to put goals into action.  I chose the words “execution strategy” to introduce my techniques but the gallows humor of these words is not lost on me.  It can feel like torture to do the work necessary to achieve your goals but ultimately we hope to get to a point where we don’t mind the work as much.  Perhaps we learn more about how to do something and it is easier or faster for us to do. Perhaps we commit the new action to routine and we just do it without thinking about it.  Perhaps we don’t find the task as awful when we know the great results it brings or perhaps something in our life changes for the better and we don’t need to do the dreaded task anymore.

Below are the 6 execution strategies we discussed this month:

1)      Get in the right mindset.  Examine your words and behavior to make sure they are supporting and not sabotaging your goal.

2)      Document your progress.  Use a calendar, online tool, or my free printable checklist.

3)      Restart.  If you are experiencing a perfectionist hang-up about how you have failed in the past at your stated goal, “fuhgettaboutit” and make the same goal again today.

4)      Practice.  To get better at anything, there is no getting around the fact that practice and repetition are necessary.  In our mental planning, aiming to practice more than necessary can be a great way to see faster changes.

5)      Surround Yourself with People Who Inspire You.  Look not only to those in your “real” life but on the Internet as well.

6)      Minimize Distractions.  If you are going to fit in time and energy to change your life with a new routine, you may just need to eliminate something else.  For me, it was too much Internet browsing.


Favorite comments:

There were many excellent comments this month and I enjoyed reading all of them!  One that was particularly humorous was this one from Lou.  On the “Restart” post, I used a screenshot of a blue screened Windows computer as the image at the top of the post.  Lou commented:

“. . . I thought the blue message at the top was for real and happening to my computer. Twice I shut down to see if it would go away. Then I finally scrolled down . . . . oh my, no wonder I’ll only ever own a go phone.”

I sincerely apologize for any confusion and hope it did not cause anyone else this problem!

I also received a great comment on a post I did on spring cleaning rituals.  Blogger Margaret Cook indicated she used it as reference for her spring cleaning ritual on her Victorian-themed blog, where she is attempting to live like it is 1865!


Ruly Ruth

Ruly Ruth continued the healthy eating series for the year by testing a healthy Crock-Pot stew for us.  We also learned a little about the health differences in meat choices.


Organizing in the News

We looked at an example of online organization by reviewing how the first-time ever online SuperBowl broadcast fared.

Republican Presidential  candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum squared off this week in primaries in Michigan and Arizona.  The Washington Post had an interesting article about the organizational style differences of the candidates.

“When Mitt Romney arrived for a rally in this Detroit suburb, he needed a crew of roadies to unpack him. . . . The big pieces of Romney’s stagecraft are always impressive: the DJ, the American flag as tall as a house. But his campaign also does the little things. The folding chairs are tied together with zip ties, so you couldn’t unstraighten Romney’s rows if you tried. . . .The Romney people even brought their own doughnuts: 35 dozen of a Detroit favorite called paczki (“punch-kee”), in flavors including strawberry, rose-hip and prune. . . .

Santorum, by contrast, uses a modest campaign to espouse deeply grandiose ideas. . . Rick Santorum does not provide doughnuts. He does not provide music, either. Or flags. Or chairs. . . . [T]he candidate brought a sweater vest. Three of his children . . . And a banner that wouldn’t stay on the wall. . . . His premise is that only he — a man who lacks the logistical wherewithal to rustle up snacks — can manage to rebuild the nuclear family and save freedom itself.”

–David A. Fahrenthold, “Two Michigan rallies reveal Romney, Santorum flaws,” The Washington Post, February 25, 2012.

It will be interesting to see how organization figures into the political campaigns.  From the above two examples, there is a clearly a connection between an organized appearance and money.  In this particular matchup, more organization seemed to have an edge but it was also interesting that the votes were extremely close.  Would a small organizational (and expense) tweak like providing snacks have made the difference?

Today is leap day, a reminder that this year we get an “extra” day to achieve our goals.  Tomorrow we start a new month and a new theme.  Please check back then to see where we are headed in March.

P.S. An extra reminder to my Facebook fans that, as I mentioned in my “Minimize Distractions” post this month, I am going to make Facebook my vehicle for posting monthly summary updates only.  If you would prefer to receive more frequent updates as each post is made, please join my e-mail list or Twitter feed.

 Posted by on February 29, 2012 General Tagged with: , ,
Feb 242012

distracting the truth. Photo by may ishii. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

This strategy to aid in achieving your goals is in some ways the complete opposite of the prior post.  While sometimes we need to look for external motivators to help us stay focused, other times we need to strip all of that distraction away.  (This is one of those delicate “balance” items that is truthfully never balanced but rather in various states of imbalance all the time.)

In January as I sat down and created my resolutions/goals for the year, I realized that my organizing efforts needed to extend to decluttering my schedule.  As I pondered how to fit even more activities into an already full schedule, the only area I really had open to cutting was my goofing off time on the Internet.

This was going to be tough for me since I am a firm believer that downtime is necessary for the proper mental health functioning of a person.  We can’t be productive 100% of the time.  Sometimes you just need a well-deserved rest, or time to ponder things or just veg out and enjoy yourself.

Two of my particularly terrible vices are celebrity gossip and Facebook.  I wasn’t spending all that much time on Facebook itself but I found that often my brain would get wrapped around some trivial thing mentioned on Facebook and it would preoccupy me for hours, thinking about its implications.  It was becoming a huge distraction.

I told my husband I was going to restrict my Facebook time as well as my other recreational web browsing.  “Sounds great,” he said.  He then volunteered to aid in that effort by using technology to block various websites on our home network, opening them up for only one hour each day in the evening.  Before I could process how that would impact me, he had the blocking software up and running and the fix was in.

Naturally, there was a withdrawal period where I kept instinctively typing in the name of blocked sites.  I also had to use some self-discipline to not use my iPhone to get around the blocks.  Gradually, I found I was checking Facebook less and less.  Facebook also started to lose some of its appeal.  When Facebook time becomes scarce and you really look forward to checking it, it is an enormous disappointment when you finally log on only to find it is a slow “status” day and there is nothing much of interest.

I am nowhere near the prospect of recapturing all that recreational browsing time and transforming it into productive activities like cleaning and organizing but perhaps in time.  So far, I have begun to substitute other websites for the blocked sites.  My entertainment now comes from news websites.  The quality of writing is better and the content is more complex.  It was like switching from sugar to vegetables.   I still crave the sugar sometimes but it has also been interesting to see that once you are accustomed to more demanding content, celebrity gossip just isn’t as interesting (still interesting, mind you….just not to the same extent as before!).

As another example of my content dieting, I have so far resisted joining Pinterest.  I know that I would absolutely love Pinterest and I would probably get a ton of ideas from it.  Google Analytics tells me some of the projects from this blog have been “pinned” and are generating visitors to my site.  (Thank you, by the way, to anyone who has been doing this!)  But since every conversation I have with a Pinterest user always results in the other person saying, “I spend way too much time on Pinterest.” I knew that I could never join it.  A recent Washington Post column comparing it to “digital crack for women” is probably right on target for me.  I don’t begrudge anyone else who uses the service.  I just know I lack the self-discipline to use it wisely.

Some of Ruly’s Facebook fans may have felt the effects of my content diet. I stopped posting Facebook updates for each blog post since I never seemed to be posting when Facebook was accessible to me.  Curiously, however, this situation ended up solving a problem for me.  I have always wanted to offer an option for people reading my blog to just subscribe to the end-of-month summaries.  It was an easy decision to make Facebook this vehicle.   So, if you only want to receive the end-of-month summaries, becoming a Facebook subscriber is the route to go!  If you want individual posts, join the email list or Twitter feed.

My content dieting methods may not be popular or fun and I have to give them more time before I can definitively say whether they are helping me be more effective or not.  As of now, I can say that there are times my mind feels more “settled.”  I still get easily distracted and I still waste way too much time browsing the web but I do find myself focusing  a little better on mentally challenging tasks.

What distractions are pulling you away from the goals you want to achieve?  What have you given up to gain more time?  Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on February 24, 2012 General Tagged with: ,
Feb 232012

When you get stuck trying to achieve your goals, it is a wonderful thing to reach out to a community of friends for help.

In the Internet age, sometimes those friends are real people whom you have met in person and know well and sometimes they are people that you have never met but you feel like you know because you read their blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, etc. I hope for some of my readers I am that “friend” to you.

Surrounding yourself with people who inspire you is a terrific way to stay motivated. If you can’t find the people you are looking for in your “real” life, there is such an abundance of personalities on the Internet that there is absolutely no excuse for not having your own virtual salon of artists and visionaries in whatever field you are interested in. Honestly, if you haven’t found at least one personality on the Internet who continually inspires you, you haven’t looked hard enough.

This past weekend, I helped one of my older neighbors set up her very first computer and email account. Waves of nostalgia overtook me as I went over basic things like explaining that the Internet is full of spam and that you should never pay attention to anything about a person in trouble or a credit card transaction that comes to you by email; that using all caps is shouting, etc. I received a terrific e-mailed thank you from her . . . written all on the Re: line. I was so proud of her effort and so excited for all the things she was about to discover and all the people she would surely connect with. The Internet has truly changed the world.

Recently, the Internet came to my rescue with a baking project for my daughter’s preschool. I signed up to bring the sugar cookies for the Valentine’s party, perhaps forgetting my previous baking failures in this area. I remembered a great baking blog that I had run across and looked up sugar cookies. Sure enough, the author promised “I am a sugar cookie snob.” and then gave very detailed instructions about exactly how to make good sugar cookies.

Even with this expert guide at my side, coaching me through measuring the flour and refrigerating the dough, there were a few mistakes, like this first batch of overly-browned cookies.

The burned sugar cookie heart has to be up there with black roses as the ultimate Valentine’s revenge gift.

It took 3 batches to finally get the oven timing right but it really was a good sugar cookie in the end!

Sometimes we need a reminder that there are people out there right now achieving the dreams we want to achieve. Sometimes we need to see their struggle and failures and sacrifices as we admire their example.

Sometimes we just need a pat on the back from a real friend who has no intention of achieving the dreams we want but likes us anyway. Sometimes we need a reminder that people are rooting for us in the struggle, whether we achieve our goals or not.

My wish for everyone is that they have a strong support network to turn to, real, virtual or a blend of the two. It is probably the motivational tool that makes the most difference.

Who do you include in your inspirational network? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on February 23, 2012 General Tagged with: , , ,
Feb 172012

"practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice." Photo by woodleywonderworks. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

When you are trying to implement a new goal often you are really trying to implement a new routine in your life—something that you will eventually do by rote without really thinking much about it.  In order to get to that point, however, you will need to practice your new skills repeatedly.

One way to fast-track this process is to practice your goal skill more often than necessary.  I learned this last fall when I was exercising every day for 20 minutes.  Generally, most fitness experts don’t advise that you exercise every single day.  Rather you hear something more like 3-5 times per week as a recommended guideline.   But if you are trying to learn how to fit exercise into your life, forcing yourself to do it every day means that you are going to learn quickly how to exercise when you are tired; how to exercise when some life event has turned your world temporarily upside down; how to exercise when you don’t feel well; how to exercise when you are injured, etc.  You also gain the fitness benefit of making a rapid change to your endurance and muscle strength.

I found that when I made an everyday commitment, a routine began to fall into place.  When I backed off the everyday commitment, it became so much easier to say, “Well, I didn’t get to it today but that’s ok because I only have to do it 3 times a week and I can just do it tomorrow.”  That then backslides into a pattern of delaying and delaying until the goal doesn’t get done at all.

Another way to think about this strategy comes from a medical experience I had in law school.  As a stressed-out law student, I managed to give myself a silly Q-tip injury (Tip: never leave a Q-tip in your ear and then do something else like brush your hair.) that required some not so silly (but still minor) attention from an ear surgeon.  To prepare for the quick procedure to remove a scab from my eardrum, the surgeon prescribed ear drops to be administered 3 times a day.  Now, asking a law student to do anything other than study is just about impossible.  In between classes and exams and projects, it was hard to remember to use the ear drops at all.  When I went in for the procedure, the surgeon asked if I had been using the drops.  I confessed that it was not to the prescribed dose.

“Well, did you use them at least once a day?”

Yes.  I could say that I had.  “Well, that’s good enough,” he said.  “Sometimes, doctors prescribe a course of treatment more often than necessary to account for patient noncompliance.”

“Noncompliance” is the norm for most of us when we are taking on a challenging goal.  While it is harder for us to trick ourselves to do more than required to meet a minimum standard, sometimes we can make this strategy work.   Some ideas include:

  1. Take your normal goal and cut it down into smaller tasks or chunks of time that convert it to an everyday goal.  (For example: the way I was exercising 20 minutes daily rather than one hour.)
  2. Schedule your goal and announce your overly-ambitious goal publicly (to a group of friends, your family, your spouse or children, on your Facebook wall, your personal blog, etc.).  It’s like a “prescription” to yourself with others serving as the “doctor” monitoring your progress.

How do you institute difficult, new routines in your life?  Have you tried any of the above strategies? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on February 17, 2012 General Tagged with: , ,
Feb 152012
Blue Screen of Death

"Blue Screen of Death." Photo by Taber Andrew Bain. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

The act of setting a goal triggers a perfectionist reflex in many people and particularly in successful people. If your goal is targeting an area of weakness, you may unrealistically assume that you can easily achieve the same stellar performance in your area of weakness as you do in your areas of strength if you just approach it in the same way.

Sadly, we often find that there is a good reason why it is an area of weakness for us and that perhaps part of the reason why it is an area of weakness is because the same strategies we are comfortable with and that lead us to success in other areas of our lives just don’t work for this particular problem.

So, when failure inevitably occurs, it is tempting for a perfectionist to assume:

1) “This must be a sign that I am a ‘bad’ person and that the way I do things in general is wrong.”
2) “This is something that I will never achieve.”

Both of these assumptions lead to general feelings of depression and often the perfectionist assumes that the way to feel better is just to forget about this depressing goal.

Remember that the perfectionist has an “all or nothing” mindset. Either everything goes perfectly 100% of the time or it is a complete failure. There is no middle ground, no baby steps, no milestones and no room for improvement.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, it may be helpful for you to think of “restarting” your goal process. In the restarting process, you re-energize yourself by applying selective amnesia to all that has come before. Forget about the fact that you had a prior goal. Forget that you failed to achieve it. Make the same goal today with new energy and try it again.

In many ways this technique is similar to rebooting a computer. You may have lost some data that you will have to painfully reenter but in the end you will probably end up with something better than what you started with.

Sometimes giving yourself this gift of forgetting is all that is necessary to shed all the negativity and doubt that holds you back and to go attack and achieve that goal with new energy. But often it’s not. For the best results, you need to restart but with a smarter or different goal than before.

For example, if your New Year’s Resolution was to exercise 3 times a week and as of today you have yet to exercise even once, give yourself a break and “restart.” Your mindset would be to stay, “As of February 15, my goal is to exercise once a week.” If, by the following week you still have not made your goal, “restart” again. “As of February 22, my goal is to exercise 20 minutes every Saturday by going for a brisk walk with my dog.” You can still work your way up to exercising 3 times a week but it may take you a while before you get there. Documenting your different goals and their results (like a human science experiment) will really help you to learn the boundaries of the mindset that will ultimately work for you.

Mental traps can be so detrimental to our achievement potential. Giving yourself a break and a fresh restart can be one simple and powerful way to refocus and a great coping technique if you find yourself adopting a perfectionist approach to your goals.

Do you struggle with perfectionism when it comes to achieving a difficult goal? What techniques work best for you to cope with failure or subpar results? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on February 15, 2012 General Tagged with: ,