12 commandments

I got a bit lost on Challenge 6, 30 days clarity.

The idea for this challenge came from Stephen Covey’s Second Habit: Begin with the end in mind. That is, to start with a clear understanding of your destination; to know where you’re going so that the steps you take are steps in the right direction.

I imagined that I might do some activities in this sphere that appealed to me including writing a personal mission statement, identifying my personal values and setting some goals.

I made some progress on the values idea, which actually came about through another exercise rather than this challenge, and I’ve been tinkering with this document for quite a while.

At the same time I’ve been re-familiarising myself with Gretchen Rubin’s work. One of the things she did in her Happiness Project, which I really liked, was to develop her 12 Personal Commandments. These are overarching principles on how she wants to live her life

She describes it as “a creative way to distill core values”.

While I love the idea of having this sort of list, it also terrifies me a little to think about setting down my own rules for my own life. You know, because once you have rules set down like this you can never ever ever change them because they are set in stone . . .

Right?

I know this isn’t true, but it’s one of the mental barriers that I think was preventing me from taking action on this challenge: the mistaken belief that once I’ve written down my life goals, I’m wedded to them FOREVER.

It’s why I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up because I didn’t want to make a decision that would bind me to a career path for my entire working life. (So I’ve ended up in a career I chose because there was nothing else going at the time. I’ve been here for 20 years. And on reflection, I seem to have decided my fate by not deciding. Wrap your head around that. Ha.)

I’m thinking about getting back into the clarity exercise and, to kick it off, a few days ago I decided to make my own list of 12 commandments – not for my life forever, but for the way I want to live my life this year. That seems a whole lot less daunting than committing myself to something forever (even though, as we know, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a forever commitment).

Here’s my work-in-progress list. I wanted to put something together now and see how it sits, and make adjustments as I work my way through the other exercises I’m going to do. I think something to start with will be better than nothing.

My 12 (draft) Personal Commandments for 2017

  1. Be kind to everyone I meet.
  2. Nourish myself. (Take care of myself.)
  3. Express gratitude.
  4. Pause before responding, rather than reacting instantly.
  5. Be the change I want to see in the world.
  6. Focus on cultivating positive habits rather than eliminating negative ones.
  7. Be present. Feel my feelings. Fully immerse myself in my experiences.
  8. Fix what bugs me if I can change it. Don’t complain about it if I can’t influence it.
  9. Start where I am; Use what I have; Do what I can. (Know that I am enough.)
  10. I am what I am.
  11. Know what’s important and focus on that.
  12. Simplify. (Don’t take on anything new unless I have identified something to give up. One in, one out.)
  13. Consolidate. (Reflect on what I’ve learned and put it into practice instead of collecting more shiny new objects.)

Yeah, I know. There are 13. The Arthur Ashe quote (number 9) wasn’t in the draft list of 12, but it came into my head while I was writing this post. I love this quote and it needs to be there, but I don’t know which one has to go to make way for it. Maybe none of them do. Who says it has to be 12 anyway? Make your own rules.

I think I want to re-read The Happiness Project now, but I already have three books on the go, so in the spirit of “one in, one out”, I’ll wait.

The three words in bold are the three words I picked out at the end of last year to try to guide me through this year. This is a thing. Three words or one word. It sounded like a good idea, but I’m not really sure what to do with them, so I incorporated them into my commandments. Now I’m not sure if I need big ticket ones and subordinate ones, or if they all belong together . . .

See! This is why I never get anything done. I overthink things.

Just put the damn list out there, refer to it regularly and do it.

I’m going to print this list out and stick it up where I can see it, so I don’t forget. I hope that this will be the restart I need to get me back into the #steppingonthecracks project.

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Challenge 6 – Clarity -it continues

I am really struggling with the “clarity” project.

I think I’m finding it hard to lock things like my values and purpose into writing, because I think once they’re committed in writing they’ll be locked in and I’ll never be able to change them. It’s an issue I’ve struggled with my whole life. If I commit to something, it rules everything else out – so rather than make a conscious choice (because that implies a forever commitment) I’ve gone along with whatever has come up at the time. Because somehow making a not-choice-which-still-commits-you-to-something has less power than an actual choice.

I know.

Looking back, this hasn’t been a good strategy, and is probably the reason I’ve stayed in the same career path for as long as I have.

I’m trying really hard to do this exercise as a “work in progress” activity rather than a “once it’s written it’s set in stone and can never change” thing. But I still have this reluctance to commit anything to writing.

And I have made progress. See!

Listen to the Asian Efficiency Podcast on creating a manifesto  and start to write these 5 documents

  • I listened to it and I made a start on the “perfect day” document
Make a start on the last three “easy peasy” crosswords in my crossword book.
  • I totally did this, and I started three of the more difficult ones.
Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge (i.e. actually do it this week).
  • This is it.
Write a blog post on what I learned this week.
  • Done. It’s here.

And I saw the most amazing clouds the other day

Goals for this week:

Finish the “perfect day” document.

Start three more crosswords. Finish at least one.

Write a blog post on what I learned this week.

Time to take stock

When I started this project back in June, I imagined that I’d be able to have two challenges on the go at the same time – one would be a small habit change that I would try our for 30 days and the second one would be something more substantial that I would think about over 30 days and see how I could incorporate some new ideas into my life. I imagined that at the end of each challenge I’d launch into the next one the next day.

It’s not working out this way and I’ve been feeling very frustrated about it.

The 30 day habit changes are working well – I was pleased with how the 30 days of no alcohol, the 30 days of facing fear and the 30 days of evening routines panned out. But the less defined challenges have been, well, a challenge. Not a complete failure, but not progressing in the way I thought they might.

I think there are at least two reasons for this. First, I haven’t really been clear on what I want to achieve out of the challenge and what I’m actually going to do and second I haven’t set aside time to do the undefined things I’m going to do, so I’m fumbling round in the dark a bit (a lot) and not making much progress. What I need to be doing is setting myself a SMART goal (we all know about them right? – Specific/Measurable/Actionable/Realistic/Time-bound – or something like that), working out that actions I need to take, and booking time in my schedule to do them, instead of thinking “oh I haven’t worked on the blog for a while, I’d better go and do something” and not knowing what I actually need to be doing, and ending up getting distracted by squirrels and other shiny things.

The second reason isn’t one that I’d thought about much, but a couple of things I read recently reminded me of a key thing I’d left out of my project plan (in so far as there is a plan) – Down time. In short, I was expecting myself to be able to swing from branch to branch to branch, encounter new things and take as much on board as I could without ever stopping to consolidate or to rest. (Thanks Kendra!)

A good analogy I came across recently was that life isn’t a marathon, it’s a series of sprints – more like interval training if you like. Google that and you’ll get many varieties of it (and people who don’t agree), but the idea is that your body and mind need periods of down time after a period of intense activity. This is true on a daily level (you can’t work flat out all day long), a weekly level (why we have weekends) and a yearly level (why we have annual leave). But it’s also true, and this is the bit I was missing, on a project level.

I can remember one particularly intense project at work a few years back that I worked flat out on over several months. I really enjoyed it, I loved the pressure and the intensity of the work and the feeling I was doing something worthwhile. It was one of the high points of my recent career history. But when it was done, I completely crashed. I went back to my normal work, but I wasn’t able to get my focus back and in some ways I wonder if I’ve really recovered from it.

It’s the same for these “undefined” projects. Trying to bounce from one 30-day project to another without stopping is completely unsustainable. What’s happened is because I haven’t factored in any down time or time to process anything for the last two challenges I’ve tried to do, I’ve basically done nothing in those challenges. First because I haven’t panned and secondly because I haven’t really processed, closed off and recovered from the previous challenges.

So I’m doing a total rethink of the project to slow things down and focus on one thing for as long as I need to, and then to take some more time to process it before moving on. I hope that by doing this I’ll achieve something lasting. Some of the things I want to do will take longer than 30 days, and some might take less. (Example: my drawing lessons, which if you go by the title of the book should have taken me 30 days, but I’m still working though it – I’m up to Lesson 28 after almost four months.) And the 30-day theme will continue with ongoing 30-day habit change challenges.

This means I’m not giving up on Challenge 6 (clarity and purpose) after 30 days. I’m going to keep working on this because I think it’s important. I’m making a firmer plan for what I want to do, and I’m trialing the Happiness Planner as a record keeping tool.

20161006-what-make-you-happy

I feel a bit more optimistic now that I’ve figured out what’s going on and have made some more concrete plans. And I’ve decided to reward myself with a new yoga mat if I do 30 days of yoga in a row. 13 days to go! Yay!

Challenge 6: 30 days of clarity

I’m a few days late with posting about the beginning of Challenge 6 of #steppingonthecracks. I had a vague idea about what this challenge was going to be about, but wasn’t sure how to articulate it. Then I realised that figuring out what the challenge is is actually a big part of the challenge.

I mentioned in Challenge 5 that I’d been reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and that his first habit is about being proactive and working within your circle of influence. 30 days of doing this was hard to define, but I’m trying to at least keep this idea in mind as I go through the day. And not complain about things I can’t do anything about.

Dr Covey’s second habit is “to begin with the end in mind” – that is, to start with a clear understanding of your destination; to know where you’re going so that the steps you take are steps in the right direction. This is a common theme through many of the books and posts I’ve been reading lately – that you need to know where you’re going so that you can do things that will get you there, not things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of your life.

Some of the ideas that I’ve come across in this sphere include writing a personal mission statement, identifying your personal values and, of course, goal setting. The thing about goal setting is that you have to figure out what’s important to you before you can go in and set your goals. For example, I consider learning to be very important, so one of my goals for this year was for me to read 24 books. The step I was going to put into place to achieve this was to set aside a dedicated time to read every day.

But that’s getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately, and have this overwhelming urge to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. So the next 30 days (or 26 days now) will be about working through some exercises to help me sort out everything that’s going round in my head and get some clarity about what’s really important to me. I have a long list of resources, tests and exercises, including a couple of work-related activities that I’ve been spending a bit of time on in the last couple of weeks. I don’t imagine I’ll end up doing all of the exercises because there will probably be a lot of repetition once I start to get some clarity and begin to sort my thoughts out.

I’m not sure what this challenge is going to look like, but what I’d like at the end of the month is to know myself a bit better and to have some written evidence of this!

20160904 Sunrise rainbow