Using tech to keep track of resolutions

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. ”
― Anaïs Nin

“Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately.”
― Charles M. Sheldon

Every year between 41 and 63% of us, depending on the country you are from, make resolutions, set goals and have shiny new aspirations for the year ahead. January is usually a month of promise. All our plans are firmly in our heart and mind, they are enacted with zeal. February sees us still buoyed by our visions, by March we are slipping away slightly from the goal. In April, May, June that little voice in our head tells us we really should get back on track and do that stuff we’d planned. Sadly, as the months roll on the resolution is a dim memory, discarded detritus. Most resolutions don’t see the year out.  80% are forgotten, sidestepped or bypassed in 3 months.  Does that mean it’s futile to set resolutions?  I don’t think so, though I think there are better ways to improve life.

I gave up on the resolution idea a long time ago.  It  didn’t work for me, I sucked at it and it added more pressure than was necessary to a life already complicated in other ways. I opted instead for making a bucket list to support a well lived life.  It was a long list of joyful activities, challenges and pursuits to colour and flavour the year ahead. No pressure, no strict deadlines, no do or die expectations. Some years later I started creating a photographic montage, a treasure map of sorts, a nice visual reminder of those bucket list items which I started to call my love list (giving it a more positive spin). The visual cue was  successful. I achieved way more on my love list than ever before. It was appealing, motivating and in view each day.  Some time in between I used post it notes and a big wall chart to plot my goals and progress.  The visual was good. Adding, updating and moving notes to the progressed section was appealing.  I experimented with boldly writing goals on the shower screen in non-permanent pen.  In bright colours my yearly goals were accompanied by affirmations and uplifting quotes.  There was no missing them. They were quite ‘in your face’.  I liked that too. Though I’m not sure I saw any progress.

This year, as I contemplated my visual treasure map, my son intervened.  He sent me an invitation to view his goal list for the year.  He was building accountability by sharing his goals and aspirations.  I was honoured that he would consider me a worthy ally in his quest.  The vehicle he chose to keep track of his goals is a tool called Trello.  He encouraged me to use it too. My first challenge for the year.

I have a fairly open mind when it comes to technology but I’m awkward with it.  I love pen and paper, I love building things and crafting things by hand.  So I wasn’t at first impressed by it.  It felt flat and bland and simply too hard for me to work out.  Until one Saturday morning with a cup of tea I decided to explore a little more.  I moved away from the way my son had used it and painted my own adventure.  I created something I liked. I added some images for appeal and was quite happy with my creation. Doubt lingered however. I wasn’t convinced it would be as immediate, arresting and useful as my good old A5 photographic treasure map. It required a different set of behaviours and habits on my part for it to work.  I can report, that two months later, with a little persistence and a change of attitude, I’m hooked.

I am pretty sure Trello was never designed for a middle-aged woman (despite how young at heart, vibrant and energetic she may be) to create her love list for the year.  It is, however, a brilliant project management tool that can aid the smallest personal project through to the very largest corporate projects.  It’s basically a great big empty wall you can fill with ‘post it’  notes to keep track of your stuff. You can add comments, create lists, add labels, cue due dates, send messages to other people in your project, label progress and that’s just in the free version. For a small fee there are loads more tools at user disposal.  Oh, gosh, that sounds like an advertisement, doesn’t it?  It’s not meant to be.  I simply wanted to share a new tool that is working for me that may work for you.

It’s an extremely flexible tool too.  Once you create your “post it notes” you can move them around and order them, you can insert new ones at will, discard them, batch or group them.   I am finding it a useful place to hold my ideas, I can share them, I can ask for input from my son who I share my board with.  My initial fears and concerns have been allayed.  I am referring to it regularly to keep track of my progress and add new adventures.  It’s fun and engaging.  I could use it to plan an overseas holiday.  I could also have used it to plan the multi million dollar project I am managing at work.  If you are looking for a way to motivate your goal setting or a neat project management tool, check out Trello.

If, like me, you are a novice with technology, keep Walt Disney’s sentiment in mind – don’t be afraid to keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things. Being curious leads us down new paths and who knows where that will lead?

 

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Everything old is new again

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it.
Job 4:12

I faltered as I wandered through a vintage retro store. I didn’t trip, though I did stumble; on a message, a soft whispery message. A message that fluttered so delicately on the surface of my mind that I wasn’t sure I’d caught it. It intrigued me. I grappled to hold it, teetering between understanding and ignorance.

The message, a slogan almost, comprised just five little words: Everything Old is New Again.  Now that’s not so odd, given where I was. Vintage, retro and antique items are hugely popular again.  Inflated prices and crowds in store attest to that. But this message wasn’t about the items I was browsing. It was a message to reflect upon, one to shine a light on life and to learn from.

My short inner struggle lead me to realise that at this time of year in particular, when people are looking to make change and improvements, that we should look within rather than outward.  This was a prompt to look back and remember the strategies, the habits, the tools, the rituals and routines that helped us reach our goals in the past and to reinstate those that can help us achieve the curent changes we long to make?

From observation, and acknowledging my own behaviour, we too often seek the answers elsewhere when in fact, we so very often hold the key to unlocking the casket of treasures we are seeking. What routines did you have in place in the past that supported a better work life balance?  What habits did you formerly employ to stay fit? What rituals have you previously used to address overwhelm? How did you deal with difficult people successfully before? We let go of successful strategies for all sorts of reasons; they were no longer necessary, we tried a different way, we got neglectful.  It’s okay. Life happens.

If you find yourself looking for a quick fix, an off the shelf no fail plan or someone to help ‘fix’ things, take a moment to reflect. You might find you have a wealth of knowledge and actions you can revive to make your current goal a success.  Everything old could be new again — only the best bits of course.

Create your own reading festival

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Reading has been a huge part of my life, since, well, almost forever.  I loved being read to as a child and once I could read I enjoyed learning new things that came from understanding print.  Exploring different literary periods at university enhanced my insatiable need to consume the printed word.  A few years back I set myself a goal of reading fifty books in the year. I ended up reading many more than that.  It was a great experiment and afforded me the opportunity to explore different genres and forms of writing. Since then I have been reading anything that takes my fancy: I’ve read whole series, one-off books of interest, recommendations from friends, plays, novels, non-fiction etc.  At times I’ve struggled to select books and found myself hankering for a little guidance in my selections.

Now that the new year has begun and many of us are pondering the terrain ahead and how we can make it joyful, I’ve been inspired to consider focusing my reading choices and reading with purpose.

My son was the first point of inspiration.  He discovered a book reading challenge where you read a book every two weeks from a different category.  Categories include a book:

  • you read in school
  • from your childhood
  • published over 100 years ago
  • set in your hometown/region
  • with someone’s name in the title
  • with a number in the title
  • with a character with your first name
  • you can finish in a day
  • previously banned
  • with a one-word title
  • translated from another language
  • that’s a memoir or journal
  • set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year.

Sounds like fun. Check out this link for more ideas.

Then I read my friend Nicole Cody’s blog and she had an interesting take on a reading challenge and it sits very nicely with the idea of paying it forward and donating to charity.  Her idea is to read a book a month, put aside a small amount of money for each book read and then at then end of the year buy a book and donate it to charity for Christmas.  How neat is that?

Tim Ferriss, in his 5 bullet Friday, always has some interesting book recommendations – things I would not select myself.  He is a great source for reading inspiration, as is Pinterest, the weekend newspaper and Avid Reader bookshop.

Having been motivated by the two reading challenge ideas and having good sources for recommendations (although I do have enough unread books on my shelves and in my kindle that I probably don’t need to purchase a book this year) I am going to combine the two ideas and read at least a book a month from a different category, putting aside a few dollars for each book I read to purchase one for  someone in hospital, a nursing home or shelter at the end of the year.

Where will your reading take you this year?

Two pressing questions I need answered.

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Whatever is in me is stronger than what is out there to defeat me.  Caroline Myss

What is the point of perspective? You know those times when things are pretty shitty and life seems difficult then something happens to you, someone you know or in the world and BAM everything is suddenly put into perspective.  What’s the point of that perspective gaining moment?

Numerous times I have had cause to pause and consider this, either as a result of my own experiences or those of others I have witnessed.  Numerous times I have experienced the clarity that comes from such a wake up call and the conviction that I will live differently, be different as a result. Then, as often happens, the perspective fades, the conviction dwindles and the clarity smudges and becomes murky again.  Why does the perspective fade?

In search of some answers this is what I have discovered, so far.

The definition of perspective , which originates from the Latin word perspicere meaning transparent, clear, to see through, is a term used today, especially in art, to refer to a process of representing, on a flat surface, an image as seen by the eye. From this Wikipedia definition I get the sense that perspective, related to my questions, is about seeing something in relation to where we stand and seeing something from another person’s view-point.  This led me then to the Dalai Lama (Yes, it’s a leap but go with me on this).

The Dalai Lama believes the purpose of life is to be happy. He discusses how humans naturally prefer happiness to suffering.  I do not wish to misquote the Dalai Lama but in the interests of expediency I hope to paraphrase what I learnt.  Happiness and suffering fall into two categories: physical and mental. From what I understand, our mind can influence the degree of our happiness and suffering. It’s there, in our mind, that our suffering inflates, drags us down, consumes us.  It’s there too that we can learn to heal from the tragedies, upsets, upheavals we face.

Suffering helps us develop compassion and love for others, this aids us in supporting our own sense of wellbeing too. Compassion and love help us to maintain hope. If we are discouraged and lose hope, says the Dalai Lama, we risk diminishing our ability to face difficulties. The reality of other people’s suffering helps us improve our determination and capacity to address not only theirs but our own suffering as well.  So, if I understand this correctly, when our ability to develop compassion for others grows, our own inner strength and peace increases. Therefore, regardless of the severity of what we ourselves are facing, be it minor first world problems or nightmarish injustices, these issues become easier (perhaps marginally) for us to deal with, their weight becomes less burdensome, the edges softened and, through this, our mental stability increases which in turns allows our physical wellbeing to be addressed. I guess, in this way, there is a small shift in the balance of the universe also.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. Rumi

I know for myself, whenever faced with a ‘perspective’ defining moment, I realise how very small I am in the grand scheme of things, how tiny I am in the cosmos, and then come the resolutions to live differently, to think and to act differently.   This mental state lasts for  a few weeks, or months, depending on the severity and impact of both the initial situation and the ‘wake up call’. I determine to focus on what really counts in life and then, slowly but surely small issues creep up that become over inflated problems and the cycle begins again.  Am I, through this process, increasing my resilience? Am I, through this process, increasing my compassion? Am I, through this process, making any progress or contributing in some  minute way to the greater good?

Caroline Myss talks about healing being a type of pain that allows us to become aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and of our ability and capacity to love and do damage to ourselves and others. She talks of how the most challenging person to control in life is within each of us. Myss says that if we define ourselves by our wounds (our suffering) we lose our physical and spiritual energy and therefore risk illness. So, these wake up calls, are they designed to pull us back from the brink of whatever small or large tragedy we are facing to repair us a little so we can continue to function purposefully in the world? Are they designed to allow us, through our empathy and compassion, to lighten the way for another, so they too can step back from the brink of suffering, if even just a few inches, to catch their breath?

If what Myss and the Dalai Lama say is true, that what affects the mind affects the body, is there some grand universal plan to keep us on a somewhat even keel so that what drains our spirit is not allowed to completely drain our body?  So that when one is addressed the other is also addressed?  Is this too grand a leap to make?

Is this why our perspective fades? Is it because, once we have righted ourselves a little the urgency dissipates? Is it because once liberated from the crushing weight of our problems, once our head is again just above water and we drink in more resuscitating air, our quest to change is abandoned in the luxury of the respite?  Is it because these tiny moments of grace are enough to transform us and the world by infinitesimal increments? Is it part of a beautiful and elegant design that we each must improve ourselves and make continual small contributions to  ensure the cultivation and preservation of compassion and love in the world?

I fear my thoughts have steered me off course. Perhaps my initial conclusions are outlandish and naive.  So, where am I as a result of my initial pondering?  I’m not greatly more enlightened and I now have more questions than answers.  What I do I know for sure is: that suffering is part of life; that we will have things put into perspective for us is inevitable; that this helps us regain a semblance of equilibrium in our search for happiness; that perspective will fade is also inevitable. I know too that to make change as a result of our experience is hard and not always actioned (how to address this and ensure our resolve counts is too large a question to tackle here).  Something else I know for sure is that the beauty of the human spirit lies in its strength to overcome, to feel compassion for others in our darkest times and to continue to love despite the travesties and trials of life.

What in your experience is the purpose of perspective and why do you think seems to fade?

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Living a beautiful life

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“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”  Jim Rohn

How many versions of the ideal day exist?

As we begin a new year I’ve seen and heard quite a bit about resolutions to make this the best year yet and starting as you intend to finish. But how do you do that?  How do you manage the routine, day-to-day, and still feel like you are living? How do you stop waiting for life to begin and start living it?  One brilliant idea I’ve come across several times, this week alone, is to plan your ideal day and then live it.

My friend Nicole from Cauldrons and Cupcakes recently shared a post about her weekly planning session – the Sunday session. In this time, as well as planning and preparing for the week ahead, ensuring she keeps her long-term goal in focus, identifying a to do list and nominating time for the completion of said list, she also plans a Lucky Dip activity. A lucky dip is something to make her soul sing; a reward for the week, time out for a busy mind and body.  Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, supports the idea of planning a beautiful day and then living it; it makes people happier.

Some of you might know this habit as self-care. That’s a term that, while I understand what it means, grates on me a little.  (I’m not sure why but I’m sure it reveals much about my nature 😁.)  Anyway, this habit it is not about waiting until a crisis hits to look after yourself. This habit occurs on a regular basis, it’s planned for and completed weekly.

It differs to a practice I have engaged in over the past few years where I created a list of exciting and adventurous activities, a love list, to keep the enjoyment factor of life at a high. Usually there are 10 to 12 things I’d like to do, places I’d like to visit, experiences I am keen to try out in the year.  I embrace this practice and the sense of achievement from meeting each target. The ensuing flood of endorphins, from each activity, is a huge boost. While I’m not quite ready to give this away totally, I have to admit, there have been years when several items have stayed on the list, unachieved, simply because they were not planned for.  I think Nicole is onto something when she plans one small action, activity or indulgence per week.

A time out for mind, body and soul each week, no matter how small, is a brilliant way to stay focused, recharge, and keep the positivity factor high. Julia Cameron calls these artist dates. Oh, I can hear the protests already. I’m too busy, there is no time, I’ll do it next week. STOP! If you don’t value yourself enough to plan your ideal day, your lucky dip, a date with yourself then where will you find the fun in life, the joy, the real meaning? Who will look after you and your needs, if not you?  It need not be a whole day – keep Seligman’s idea for a once a month practice perhaps – a weekly lucky dip could include going to a new cafe to sit and write for an hour, having that massage you long for, taking your bike out for a ride, going for a short hike up the local lookout or a walk on the beach, redesigning your garden, seeing a stage show, visiting the gallery, eating ice cream while reading a magazine on your back deck. When the brain is happy it is more productive and (while this is not backed by any research I have read) I reckon it makes us more compassionate, considerate and patient too.

How many versions of the ideal day exist? I could let my imagination run wild and create multiple ‘ideal’, beautiful days. I certainly have a nice list of weekly lucky dips in mind too. The options are endless and limited only by the effort and time it takes to plan. The key though is living them. You need to think it. Write it. Plan it and DO it.

Isn’t it time we stopped waiting for life to begin and start living it? Isn’t it time to bring back the joy and inject some happiness into the routine of life? If you’ve committed to making this the best year yet, stop wishing and start living.

Life, it’s a gift. So write your own rules.

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”
Pope Paul VI

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A friend recently wrote about attending the funeral of a dear friend at the end of last year. Reading her post I was moved and sobered by her loss, the passing of one so young, and the very gift of life itself.

Death forces us to sit up straight and pay attention. It makes all the little things, well, look just like little things. It gives us perspective. It’s a sharp hit of reality that forces us to focus on life. A death at a time of year when many people set resolutions and goals is particularly poignant.

How often do we hear that life is short? It is. It’s too short to live with regret. To live with fear. To live small.  Life is too short not to express ourselves fully, to feel deeply and to enjoy being crazy and daring and doing the things we love.

I wrote recently of setting some goals and creating a love list for the year. I’m going to hike a mountain, swing on a trapeze, I’m going to go to the beach and walk in the forest more often. I’m going to meet friends for lunch and take my husband out, to a different restaurant, each month for dinner.  I have plans for the year. My plans are my way of living. Of making life fun. Of honouring the lives of those I love who have lost theirs. But you know, I was thinking, as I was reading my friend’s blog, that to really honour our own life and the sweet beauty of it, we really ought to focus on giving stuff up too. I’m not talking about sugar and alcohol or cigarettes or whatever your vice might be. I reckon we need to give up guilt and shame and negative self talk. We need to free ourselves from the rules that have bound us, that have hemmed us in. We really ought to rewrite the rules of our lives and live on our own terms unrestricted by those old limiting patterns and beliefs, of the pointless merry-go-round of self sabotage.

The reality of our finite existence sometimes comes with the tragic loss of loved ones. What better way to honour the lives of those who have lost theirs by honouring our own.  Go ahead and make this year your best ever. What will you start doing, stop doing and do more if?

Shannyn