Small Effort, Big Rewards, and Even Bigger Confidence

Last week I accomplished a huge goal: I finished my first novel. I had been working on it for a couple of years and should have finished long ago, but I kept giving up. I eventually finished because I also kept getting back on the horse and writing again. Last week I finished. I tried to avoid mentioning it on this blog because I typically don’t blog about writing, but I am so excited and I feel like I learned a lot in the process.

I started getting up at 6am to write in December. I knew I didn’t have much time so I set a small goal: 500 words a day. 500 words a day is not a lot. Some authors recommend 2,000 words a day. The plan for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) calls for writing 1,667 words per day. With all that is going on in my life I knew that writing that much every day was unrealisic. I knew that eventually I would finish my novel writing 500 words every day. So starting in December, I wrote 500 words a day (with few exceptions).

What have I learned? I have learned that small, consistent effort yields big results. It took place over a long period of time, but my small efforts led to the accomplishment of a huge goal. The same is true of weight loss, school projects, paying off debt, and countless other goals. Chipping away at your goal will eventually lead to success.

The same can apply to simplifying your life. Maybe you have a few kids and the accumulation of everyone’s things would make purging a Herculean task. Maybe you’re a student and you’re not able to take several days to go through your whole apartment. Maybe you don’t have $1,000 to put toward credit card debt.

When you can’t do it all at once do it little by little. It will work. It may take longer, but it will eventually pay off. Consistent effort is the key.

Seeing the result of that consistent effort is extremely rewarding. On some level I knew that small, consistent effort produced results, but to see it in my own life reinforced this truth. What was once an abstract idea became a concrete reality.

Finishing this novel has given me such a rush. It feels amazing to see the results of your hard work. It has also given me a greater level of confidence. I finished a novel. So I started to look for other goals to accomplish.

I have decided that I want to run a marathon. I am nowhere near marathon shape though. I can’t even run half a mile, but I won’t let that stop me. It will take longer, but it can be done. I formulated a plan. My plan is to run a 5K this September, run a half marathon in 2015, and a full marathon in 2016. I can’t go out and run five miles today. I will have to start smaller — much smaller.

Whether I start with a mile or a quarter of a mile (that’s about all I can run right now) the important thing is that I start and apply small, consistent effort. I started training last week. I changed my diet. I will build upon this week by week until I am able to run the full 5K.

So where can you apply small, consistent effort? Don’t worry if you can’t make huge strides. Do just a little bit. Sustained effort produces results. Don’t let big goals intimidate you. You can do it. Just take one step at a time. Better to start small and make steady progress than to never start because you are overwhelmed. Start working toward your goal today. Start small. It will take time, but that’s okay. Remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.

 

 

 

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Past Failure Does Not Preclude Future Success

I have this problem. When thinking about things in my life I feel optimistic, but then the thought creeps up: Things didn’t work out when I … they probably won’t work out this time either. Or I’ll think some thing like, There’s no guarantee that this will work out this time because things didn’t work out last time.

Last night, I had an epiphany. If that logic holds true, then nothing will ever work out for me again. Allow me to explain: Let’s say I have Plan A for my life but something goes awry. Things don’t work out. Because Plan A fell part then I can be sure that Plan B will do the same. Likewise, Plan C will blow up, Plan D will crumble, and Plan E will run right into the ground. In fact, every other plan that follows Plan A will fail. If that’s the case, there is no point even trying anymore. My while life is doomed to failure because I had one thing that didn’t work out. I might as well just sit down somewhere and wait to die.

To put it in different terms, let’s say I played for the Chicago Bulls. It’s the third game of the season and we lose. Based on the logic I had, we would lose every game after that because we lost one game. We shouldn’t even show up to the rest of the games because we lost that one. It took me actually thinking through the implications of that line of thinking to realize how ridiculous it is. The past does not equal the future. Past failure does not preclude future success. It never has and it never will.

Not only has this thought pattern zapped me of hope and optimism, it has increased my anxiety level. It’s like I wait for something to go wrong. This is no way to live. Worse, I think that I have let this logic hold me back from even trying some things because things didn’t work out some other time. So things didn’t work out last time. Am I never supposed to try anything again? That’s just crazy.

I am not belittling failure. Failure hurts and can have consequences. I don’t deny that. However, I am boldly stating that we must move past failure into a future of possibilities. We must move forward with a bit of faith knowing that things very well could work out this time. We will never know if we never try. We have to step to each challenge as if the past failure never happened. We have to give 100% to the new challenge and not use past failure as an excuse to give less. Everyone fails at something. Don’t let past failures destroy your hope. Move forward knowing that past failures do not preclude future success.

“… failure is not disgrace. It is just a pitch that you missed, and you’d                 better  get ready for the next one. The next one might be the                                       shot heard round the world. My son and I are Americans,                                                                 we prepare for glory by failing until we don’t.”

-Craig Ferguson, American On Purpose

 

 

For My Birthday

I had a Birthday! Gon’ Party Like It’s My Birthday! I have survived another trip around the sun. In the past I have done life lessons for every year of life. This year I want to do something different.

This year I just want to write about one thing. There are several principles that guide my life, but there is one experience that has impacted my very deeply. I can honestly say that it has changed my life forever.

I’d like to tell you a story. I have always been a great student. My family places a high value on education so there was no question that I was going to college. Of course, I was really excited about college and looked forward to this period of my life. I planned to major in Biology because I loved it and I planned on going to medical school after undergrad. My plan made perfect sense.

Like many high school seniors I read all the brochures and catalogues that came to the house. I searched through the lists of best colleges and wanted to go to a prestigious school. My top choice was Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I interviewed for a spot in the next freshman class. I was overjoyed when I was accepted. Then something happened that changed everything: I was awarded a $100,000 renewable scholarship to the University of Minnesota.

My heart said go to Wellesley. That was my dream. My family (and just about everyone else) said to go where the money was. Such generous scholarships are hard to come by. Being only eighteen and very inexperienced, I went with the money. In the fall I started as a freshman a the University of Minnesota.

That was a first in many aspects. It was my first experience with depression. I hated every day. I can honestly say that it was the most miserable year of my life to date. U of M was huge. There were as many people in my General Chemistry class as there were in my whole high school. My grades were mediocre. I was miserable. Worst of all, I felt hopeless. I thought that my dreams of going to medical school (or anything else) were ruined. It was awful. It wasn’t worth the money at all. I felt like I had sold my soul for $100,000. $100 million would be one thing. That might not even be worth selling out on your dream. But I felt like a fool for selling out for a measly $100,000.

Every day, I regretted going there. I wished that I had gone to Wellesley, or anyplace else. I did survive the year in Minnesota but having that experience changed my life forever. I had felt the pain of regret and for the rest of my life I would remember it. Since that time I have let that pain guide my decisions. When considering a big decision I always stop to think, Will I regret it if I don’t do this? Will I look back and wish that I had taken a chance? If the answer is yes, or even if I suspect that it might be, then I jump in. I use this thought process for making purchases, taking jobs, having difficult conversations. I am always trying to avoid regret and I feel that it has guided me pretty well. Because I refuse to live with regret I am pursuing God’s calling even though I do not know where this path will lead.

Not that all of my decisions have been perfect, but overall, I live free of regret. I want the same for you. Follow your dreams. Don’t be ruled by fear. Don’t sell yourself for money. Do what scares you. Take a chance. It makes all the difference.

Live with no regrets.

 

2014 – The Year of Discipline

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! I’m not one for yearly themes. I don’t do catchy slogans for each year. I don’t get caught up in making predictions about the coming year. I typically just see it as the passage of time. Another page to flip on the calendar. Nothing more.

Yet, for some reason, I feel like God is wanting me to take advantage of this season, this fresh start, to make some changes. To be perfectly honest, this is not about the calendar year, 2014. Some things, (regular exercise, cleaning up my diet, more commitment and consistency in writing) were implemented in 2013. This is more about me setting a mental milestone for the changes that God is making in my life.

Similarly, this is not about making New Year’s resolutions. Those things never work. This is about me living as God intends for me to live — in 2014 and beyond. I feel like there are some things that God wants me to work on at this time in my life.

Self Control. This is a big one. It is all-encompassing. I think that God wants me to exercise more self control. That is one fruit of the Spirit that I really need to work on. I feel that God wants me to exercise more self control in the way that I eat and take care of my body. He wants me to eat the right foods. He wants me to exercise regularly. But I also think that God wants me to be more careful about how I spend my money. I think he wants me to be more mindful of how I spend my time. I feel that God wants me to focus on what needs to be done rather than doing whatever I want to do or whatever feels good.

Spiritual Disciplines. I feel that God wants me to be more intentional about pursuing him this year. I think of the Spiritual Disciplines as sort of a spiritual workout or a way to become intentional about getting closer to God. I will be doing more writing about this in the coming year.

Study. I feel that God wants me to set aside more time for study. This generally fits with the instructions that God has given me (to study). It is time to devote myself to that. I also serve as a small group intern at my church, which means that I lead the discussions just about every week. This requires preparation on my part and more time in study will make me much more effective in preparation for discussions.

Because I sense an overall theme of discipline, I am calling 2014 The Year of Discipline.  I sense that God is taking me to a new place this year and I can’t drag my old habits along with me. I have to let go of some things and adopt some new practices. It’s time. This will be a good thing and I am excited to see all that happens in my life.

This is also the start of my church’s annual 30 day fast, which begins today. It’s just a time to step away from the things that occupy our time and energy (my pastor calls them the snacks of life) and focus on God. Feel free to join us. I plan to check in later and let you know how things are going.

I’m also praying that 2014 will be a great year for you. Is there anything you feel will be a major theme in the coming year or for the next season of your life? Feel free to share in the comments.

The In-Between

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a lifetime of waiting. Waiting drives me crazy –  even more so when the wait is unpleasant.

Recently, I had my perspective shifted by a book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing By Jeff Goins. While I still have not completely embraced the wait (I think that will take some time), this book did give me a new way to look at waiting, even when unpleasant.

One of the most powerful things I took from this book is the idea that right now is all there is. Yes, there is a future, but I can’t live it right now. Now is all I have.

I also had to confront the possibility that the future I hope for may never be. My hopes may never be realized. What if things never change for me? Then what?

This thought forced me into a decision. If now is all I have, I want to make it the best it can be. If life never changes for me (and I believe that it will), I want to do the best I can with what I have. For me, this means going after my goals as if my very life depended on it. It means writing like the angels themselves were inspiring me. It means living fully right now because this is all I have.

In the first chapter, Jeff talks about a lesson he learned while living abroad. He spent his days rushing from one place to another without really taking things in. During his stay, though, he learned to slow down and be fully present in each moment. He urges the reader to be present right now. He urges us to take time to enjoy our surroundings and spend time with those around us.

Jeff Goins had some unique opportunities and some unique experiences, which made for a very interesting book. He talks about slowing down and enjoying life right where we are. This was the focus of this book. Jeff succeeded in helping me to embrace life as it is.

However, this book impacted me in another way. As Jeff told his story and how his life unfolded, this book gave me a dose of hope. Looking at Jeff’s story, I could see God guiding his life. I could see how God led him along and how Jeff is using all that he has learned through his experiences.

Seeing that in his life gave me hope for my own life. I have no idea what is happening. I can’t see what God is doing. In fact, I accuse him regularly of doing absolutely nothing. But if God guided Jeff, it made me consider the possibility that perhaps he is leading me, too. Maybe I am slowly learning things that I will later use in the life God has planned for me. Maybe this is all a part of the plan.

I was really encouraged by Jeff’s insights and his story. It helped me see things differently and it helped me to see God differently.

I urge you to pick up The In-Between. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful read.If you’re stuck in the waiting phase, this book will help.

How TV Can Cost You

I often lament that I always seem to miss my favorite shows. I can’t watch because I’m so busy doing other things. But wait, that’s not such a bad thing, is it? I am on this planet to live life. Watching TV doesn’t add to that. In a lot of ways, watching TV actually takes away from our lives.

TV costs money. No matter how you bundle it, cable bills add up. Cable bills can cost us about $60 a month. That’s $60 that could be going toward paying down debt, savings, or other household expenses.

TV floods your home with advertisements. These ads make you want to buy stuff. They are designed to make you feel that what you have is not good enough. They try to convince you that their product will bring you happiness and success. Once the need for the product is created, we rush out and buy. This is unnecessary temptation for the minimalist.

TV steals time away from us. TV costs us more than money. As a society, we spend way too much time in front of the TV. Time spent in front of the TV is time that could probably be better used to write blog posts, exercise, prepare a meal, or spend time with family.

TV contributes to bad health. Obesity is on the rise. Sitting and watching TV is almost always a sedentary activity. TV also encourages poor eating habits, as unhealthy foods are constantly advertised.

TV slows us down. Ever tried to study and watch TV? Personally, I can’t get anything done with the TV on. The TV steals my focus, and compels me to watch it. In a busy world, the last thing we need is another distraction.

If it’s so bad, why do we watch? Well, we’re used to watching TV. Everyone else is watching TV. Plus, it requires little effort. It’s just easy to waste an evening in front of the TV.

But for me, it’s time to shut off the glowing box that beckons me. My productivity suffers when I watch TV. I’m not exercising when I’m watching TV. There’s so much that’s not happening when I watch TV. It’s just not a good use of my time. So I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with not knowing what happens to my favorite characters. Instead, I’ll be out there creating my own story.

Mindfulness – The Key to Minimalism

Sometimes, I get in the way of my own success. I don’t mean to, it happens unintentionally.

For example, one day I was driving by one of my favorite bath and beauty product stores. This is the time of year when my favorite bath and body stores have huge sales on their products — up to 75% off! Usually, I go and stock up. It’s a huge sale, and I love a good sale. I automatically put it on my list of errands for the day.  Thankfully, I was lost in thought about something more important and missed my turn.

In June, I quit eating meat and seriously limited sweets and animal products. Overall, I have been doing well with that. However, one day last month, I had pizza (one of my favorites). For the next four days, I continued to eat pizza and other junk. I’d tell myself: I’ll do it just this once. The problem is, I said that about four times. Of course, I did get back on track, but it took nearly a week.

These are but two recent examples when my actions have been contrary to what I say my goals are. Is the problem that I don’t want to live a simple and healthy life? No, these are two things that are very important to me. So why do I keep messing up?

My slip-ups seem to occur when instead of thinking carefully about what I want to do, I simply do what I have been conditioned to do. They happen because I am not being mindful.

Isn’t mindfulness what minimalism is all about? Isn’t the goal to eliminate the mindless spending and consumption? Isn’t healthy eating about avoiding unhealthy foods and choosing healthier ones instead? Both of these things require mindfulness. They require that I actually think, rather than rely on my default patterns. I have to stop and think before I eat that donut, or make that purchase, about what I really want to achieve.

Truth be told, the moment when I’m standing over the pound cake isn’t the time to make the decision. I need to plan my course of action well in advance. The key word is plan. I need to be mindful about my choices, and make them ahead of time, if possible.

(In my whiny voice) But that will require that I stop and think every time I get ready to eat something, or every time I reach for my wallet. YES!! It will!! That’s exactly what it requires. That is exactly what will have to happen. I am never going to live a healthy life or a simple life without thinking… without being intentional.

Anything worthwhile in life requires effort. Effort requires attention, mindfulness. Mindful about what we eat, mindful about what we spend, and mindful of how we spend our time. To me, this is living simply.

What will you be more mindful of today?

Enjoying The Journey

By nature, I am very task oriented. Few things are as intoxicating to me as the feeling that I have achieved something. It’s what I live for. So this phase of my life, marked by a startling lack of achievement, feels like my own personal hell. I am accomplishing absolutely nothing. Nothing is happening. So I feel like my life is worthless, useless, and fruitless — a complete waste of time.

However, over the last several weeks I have been hearing a lot of people talking about something that is foreign to me: enjoying the journey to achieving your goals. Who me? I don’t care about the journey. All I care about is the destination. For me, the journey really doesn’t matter.

As I reflect on this, I wonder if my focus on reaching that destination, that goal, is the root of my constant frustration. I am frustrated with this phase of my life. I am not living my purpose. I have not reached my ideal weight. I still haven’t finished that novel. My accomplishments are few and far between. What I fail to consider is that though I am not accomplishing, I am journeying.

I am moving toward that nebulous life purpose (in theory). I am getting closer to that ideal weight. And I am making progress on that novel (when I actually sit down and write). But with my personality, is it even possible for me to enjoy this stage? I am not convinced.

Instead of focusing on achievement, what if I chose to focus on growth? What if I made it my goal to learn and grow every day? How would my outlook change? How would it change the way I spend my time? How would it change my perception of this stage of my life?

My guess is that some of the frustration could be alleviated. But how will I keep my focus on personal growth and development when I do not see the results I desire? I have two ideas about this:

Recognize progress. This can be done in a number of ways. One way is to track efforts. Keep a food journal. Log writing time on the schedule. These will keep a record of what you’re doing. At those times when it seems like nothing is happening, the records will be proof that progress is being made.

Another way to recognize progress is with regular evaluations. In school they give tests. It’s a way of measuring where you are. Step on the scale, or try on clothes to see how the weight loss is going. Check the your word count. Give yourself a test. When moving toward a goal, it’s important to know how you’re progressing. A regular assessment will help tremendously. It gives a slight sense of accomplishment (which is better than no sense of accomplishment).

Incorporate things you enjoy into your routine. My quest for fitness requires that I exercise. That’s not a problem because I enjoy biking and running. I focus my exercising on these two because I will enjoy the journey to fitness much more than if I decided to make a fool of myself by playing tennis. My complete lack of skill would make a tennis workout seem like a morally acceptable form of torture. Biking and running pass the time quickly, and that makes the journey much more pleasant.

To make my journey more enjoyable, I am also taking a literature course. It occupies my mind, and I write a graded essay every week. Getting that grade gives me a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, the little things make all the difference.

I have to agree with other authors that perspective plays a big part in how we feel about the journey. However, that’s not the whole story. Part of it is taking action to increase your enjoyment as you move toward your goals. I will adjust my mindset, but I will also take action, and hopefully, I will get more enjoyment out of the journey.

Lost Focus

Since my last post, a lot has changed. The school year ended last week, so I am no longer subbing during the day. I love being able to sleep in, and being free from the stress of subbing. I don’t love not getting paid. So… the job hunt continues.

With all this time on my hands, I should be getting a lot done, right? I should be writing volumes, exercising every day, and job hunting like a pro, right? So it seems.

The reality is that for the past week, I have been doing a whole lot of nothing. I’ve stared at the blank computer screen wondering what to write. I’ve spent hours on YouTube. I’ve  stayed up reading Clash of Kings late into the night. I’ve even watched Lord of the Rings (and you know how long that is).

To be fair, I have done some productive things, too. I have done a few jewelry shows, and I did all the work associated with those. I have also been working out pretty regularly. And I have done some job hunting (more on this in a moment). I’ve also been doing a lot of church events. These are all good things.

I have also decided to take a different approach to job hunting. Instead of sending out resumes everywhere, I am doing a bit of soul searching to get some clarity. What do I really want to do? How can I get there? What should I be doing? These are the pressing questions, and they need answers. Now.

With all that I want to get done, I seem to be accomplishing very little. With all the changes I’d like to see in my lifestyle (exercise, diet, minimalism), many things go unchanged. My efforts seem diluted and disjointed. The problem: I am not focused.

This lack of clarity and focus seems to bleed into every area of my life, and it is driving me crazy. I don’t want to take it anymore, and truth be told, I really can’t afford to. Things have got to change, and they need to change radically. I want a different life. I know of only one thing to do: press “reset.”

Every January, my church fasts for the entire month. It’s a time to pull back from whatever you chose to fast (food, sweets, TV, social media) and draw closer to God. It’s a way to break out of your routine, take a step back, and evaluate. It’s like pressing the “reset” button of your life.

I didn’t do the fast in January. I didn’t want to. I was too angry. I saw no point. But I think it’s time that I initiate a fast. I realize that in order to see a change, I have to make a change. I choose to press “reset.”

I ask for your prayers.

The Evolution

There seems to be an emerging theme in my life right now. There are so many things I want to do, so many things I want to happen. I want to pursue health and fitness (I want to become a consistent runner and change my eating habits). I want to become a serious writer. I want to become a successful jeweler.

As I nurture these dreams, I am finding that none of these can be accomplished with in a single strike. There are no quick fixes. My goals will require consistent efforts, sustained over a period of time. It is not going to be a revolution, it’s going to be an evolution.

evolution |ˌevəˈloō sh ən|

a process of change in a certain direction: unfolding

This is in sharp contrast to the culture in which we live. We expect things to be done immediately. We can buy books and music one moment, and enjoy it on our devices the next. Information is available any time we want it. We have become accustomed having anything we want on demand.

And here is the problem with evolution: there’s nothing instant about it. Evolution is a slow, deliberate process. It offers no instant gratification. It offers only the hope of change in the future.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I enjoy knitting. I am currently knitting a baby blue afghan. It is a long project and because I don’t knit every day, it will take me months to complete it. There is little in the way of instant gratification: I feel a sense of accomplishment each time I finish a new row. My afghan is currently about 2 feet long. By the time I finish, it will be about 8 feet long. And there is only way to reach that length: one stitch at a time.

I understand the concept when it relates to knitting. So why do I so often expect instant changes in the rest of my life? To accomplish these goals, I will have to develop a long range vision that includes deliberate, daily action.

But how can we work toward these massive goals?

Show up every day. Put in the work every single day. Write every day. Work on diet every day. Do some sort of activity every day. Do what will make you successful, and do it every day.

Keep the goal in mind. It is hard to keep doing something when you’re not seeing results. It’s during those times that we are often temped to give up. If we give up, we will never see the results we want, though. It’s hard, but you have to find a way to keep going. Remember that the gratification will come.

Celebrate small victories. Celebrate those little successes along the way. Did you lose two pounds? Great. Did you run one block further today? Fantastic. Reach the 35,000 word count? Outstanding. Celebrate the fact that you’re making progress. This will give you some momentum and encourage you to keep going.

Change takes time and effort. People who understand this can accomplish great things.  And this is how I will change my life. I will become a runner one step at a time. I will become a writer, one word at a time. I will change my eating habits, meal day at a time. And I will become a better person, one day at a time.