Monthly Archives: July 2015

Life Tweakings

I always have a personal improvement project going on in an effort to make my life work better.  I’m on a mission to eliminate hassles. I want a simple life that works for me and allows for serendipitous occasions.

THE FACTS:  I am retired, single, and live alone, which inherently makes my life less complicated than the lives of people with jobs and families. However, I confess that I am my own worst distraction. I get the blame and the credit for what happens or doesn’t happen at my house.

I read several blogs every week that spur me to focus on my passions, to be mindful of my habits, and to have courage to change. Some of my favorites are James Clear, Becoming Minimalist, Nosidebar, and Zen Habits.

My life is like juggling balls (which I’ve never learned to do). Every day my intention is to accomplish four things:  write, practice piano, swim, and read.  Most days I get two of these things done; on a good day I complete three.  Hardly ever do I do all four — certainly not consistently.  Reading books is the item that seldom makes it to the accomplishment list.

A few weeks ago I read a post by James Clear on how to read more books.  His suggestion was to read twenty pages a day — a simple action that is certainly possible for most of us. He also wrote about our first-hour-in-the-morning routine.

So I’ve been pondering. . .not just his words but the accumulation of wisdom from other blogs about habits and failures and time-stealers and excuses.

I like leisurely mornings.  My habit is to get up, fix my coffee, check my email, play a game or two on the computer, read the paper, and do the puzzles.  By then nearly two hours have slipped away before I’m finally ready to start my day.

Three weeks ago I created a new morning routine. I fix my coffee, then settle into my favorite chair and read twenty pages (often more).  Along the way I fix my toast, pour more coffee, and continue reading.  Then I head to the pool for my thirty-minute lap swim. Only after returning home do I check my email. Now I have the rest of the day to juggle the remaining two balls:  writing and practicing.

My evening routine has changed, too, though it wasn’t part of my original plan.

My habit had been to practice piano late at night. After I went to bed the spinning music in my head was nearly impossible to shut off.  Often after practicing I played a few games of computer Scrabble to end my day.  You know how it goes:  just one more game. . . or I’ll quit when I win.  I consistently stayed up way too late and consistently had difficulty falling asleep.

Now at 10:00 each night I finish practicing and close down my computer. I turn on some quiet music and continue my morning’s reading until my eyes are tired, then go to bed.

These simple tweakings have brought surprising results:

  • my four activities are being juggled successfully, with minimal effort
  • I fall asleep quickly every night
  • I usually wake up before my alarm goes off.

It all started with reading twenty pages in the morning.  I didn’t expect such impact from one tiny decision.

Small changes matter.  What change can you make to allow you to pursue your important stuff?

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

What work are you doing?

The last lines of Mary Oliver’s poem I Go Down to the Seashore are:

And the sea says

in its lovely voice: 

Excuse me, I have work to do.

How often do we say

  • excuse me, I have work to do
  • excuse me, I can’t do what you’re asking, I have work to do
  • excuse me, (to myself) stop your excuses, you have work to do

The even bigger question is

What is your work?

What is your work?

By “work” I mean something that engages you at a deep level, causing you to lose track of time and tune out the rest of your world.  Think for a moment about the last time you were so immersed that you missed mealtime, that you didn’t look at your watch, that you didn’t check your phone, and at the same time you felt energized and focused.

  • What were you doing?
  • Why were you so captivated?

For me, my work is two things:  practicing piano and writing. Both activities consume me so that my only awareness is the words or notes in front of me. I can spend hours with either activity.  Why?  Because I’m focused on what I’m doing, my brain and my hands are involved, and I see progress over time.  Most days I can say “I’m better than I was yesterday, or last week, or last year.”  Two years ago I couldn’t imagine writing a blog, yet I’ve written every week for the last nineteen months.  Six weeks ago I wrote about my new Beethoven piece that looked too difficult.  Today, the notes I play resemble Beethoven’s intention.  I still have a long way to go, but I’ve moved from fear and overwhelmed into the world of possibility.  I have gotten there by hours of focus and work — it’s what I love.  It’s the work I do.

I challenge you this week to identify your work and carve out time for it.  Instead of listing excuses for why you can’t do the work you love, try using your work as a reason for not doing other things that steal your time and creativity.

If we know what our work is, then it is easier for us to say, to ourselves and others, “Excuse me, I have work to do.”  And then we can get on with it.

Show up.  Do your work.  Claim your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Imperfections

I  recently finished The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri.  My favorite phrases from her book are gathered on my page titled Phrases I Love (click the tab at the top of this page).

This one caught my attention:

And so the imperfection became a mark of distinction

The author was writing about a child’s footprints in the freshly poured cement patio. Not part of the plan!  But the family decided to leave the footprints rather than redo the entire patio. The imperfection became a mark of distinction.

The phrase got me pondering . . .

  • What about our imperfections — in our person, in our work, in our homes, in our relationships, in our art and music, in our children?
  • How do we feel about our imperfections?
  • What imperfections can we live with?
  • What imperfections must be repaired or fixed?

Most of us can quickly point out the imperfections in our corner of the world – in fact we are more practiced at identifying our less-than-perfects, than pointing out the things we do well, the things that are right with us, and the things that satisfy us.

We know we’re not perfect: our thighs are too big, our hair is too grey, we need to be more organized. And my piano playing? You should hear all the mistakes I make . . .

But we want to be perfect. In this country we spend millions on plastic surgery, cosmetics, diets – all in an effort to become who we believe society wants us to be. We’re never satisfied with who we are, who are families are, or the state of our homes. Businesses are glad to sell us more and bigger and better — to satisfy our longings to be something other than who and what we are at the moment.

What if . . .

  • I loved my skin the way it is – wrinkled, freckled, and pale

What if . . .

  • I loved my home as it is – the sloping floor, the too steep driveway, the cluttered den

What if . . .

  • I loved my piano playing as it is – riddled with mistakes, low on passion

What if . . .

  • I loved my writing as it is – too many little words, lacking lyricality

Embracing my reality is a change of mindset.

When I am content with my body and my abilities and my space, I can focus my energy, my thoughts, and my passions toward living my own unique — and imperfect — life. My desire to change and improve comes my yearning to live an authentic life, not from exterior standards and expectations. Others’ perceptions no longer steal my courage to live my life.

Grow from your place of reality, acceptance, and contentment.

Claim your imperfect life.

Until next Tuesday . . .

The Habit of Savoring

This morning for breakfast I had the most delicious croissant — the kind that flakes all over the plate and table. And there was real butter and fresh raspberry jam.  And a steaming cup of  hazelnut coffee in my yellow polka-dotted cup.

I confess that I read a book, The Lowlands by  Jhumpa Lahiri, while I ate.  Yes, I enjoyed the croissant and the jam and the coffee, but reading held my attention.  After a few pages, I checked my watch.  To my alarm, it was past time for me to leave.

I looked at the crumbs on the plate.  The croissant had disappeared too quickly, with only my cursory notice.  I should have savored every bite, every drop of jam, every sip of coffee.  But no, this morning I chose to read.

Most of us don’t savor much of anything.

We’re too busy.  We’re constantly multi-tasking, cramming as much as possible into every moment in our fruitless effort to get everything done. We believe we can read and eat and text and be with friends all at the same time.  But when we do several things at once, we miss the best of everything.  We only half-hear our friends, we don’t really taste our food, and greasy fingerprints on the pages concern us.

You get the picture.

“There’s no time to savor,” you complain.

“Ah, but there is,” I say.  “You don’t need to reform your entire life. You don’t need to become a monk, meditating in a monastery from morning until night. Just take a moment here and there.  That’s all I’m asking.”

Just for a moment, give one thing your full attention:  the cold water from the drinking fountain, the feel of your soft drink’s carbonation in your mouth, the sound of rain hammering your roof, the aroma after the rain, the hot soapy dishwater, the touch of your keyboard beneath your fingertips, the person next to you in the grocery aisle, the sound of your paint brush on canvas, the magic of eyeglasses . . .

What comes to your awareness when you savor this moment? What have you habitually not noticed?

I’m suggesting that you take a moment every day, just to do one thing — savor the moment you are living.  Don’t let it slip by untasted while you are busy doing other things.

Pause. Breathe. Pay attention.

All your stuff will still get done — in other moments.

Savoring — it’s a tiny habit worth starting.

Until next Tuesday . . .