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.





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.

Less Stuff, More Focus

I am at a point in my life where I need to focus. Rather than accumulating more things, it’s time that I work toward building a life that I enjoy. This will require dedication and focus.

As usual, stuff is threatening to steal my focus. Just this weekend, I was incredibly tempted to purchase a pair of shoes just because they were on clearance. It’s the never-ending lust for more, more, more. This is the reason that I embraced minimalism anyway — to escape the consumerism that held me captive for so long.

So now it’s time to get my focus straight. My focus is not on accumulating more things (even if they are on clearance). Instead, I will turn my focus to the life that I want to live. That begins with some serious soul-searching, because I do not know what my ideal life looks like. I don’t even know what my purpose in life is. This is where my focus should be, rather than buying yet another pair of shoes.

At this point in my life, I am like a bouncing ball — all over the place. I have some background in Biology, so I am looking for lab jobs. I have some administrative and clerical experience, so I look for administrative jobs. I have a passion for social justice, so I look for jobs at nonprofits. I am looking everywhere, with no real idea of what I want. This has to change.

According to Good to Great, by Jim Collins, I have to focus on doing the thing I do best in the world in order to have great success. I don’t even know what that is! But I do know that rather than bouncing all over the place, I need laser-like precision about what my strengths and priorities are. This will never happen if I am so busy shopping online and in the mall every day. I can’t focus on finding my passion if I am constantly having to maintain and organize an ever-growing mountain of stuff.

And why should stuff occupy such a huge amount of my time and energy? Stuff is not helping me determine my strengths and passions. Stuff is not helping me to be successful in life. Stuff does not make me successful, nor does it indicate that I am successful. Stuff just takes up space.

As I contemplate the type of life I would like to live, I have been consulting some great websites and I would like to share some of them with you:

The Simpler Life

Reading for Your Success

The Art of Non-conformity

Advanced Riskology

Suzannah Scully’s blog

Similarly, If you know of any websites that may be helpful, please leave the link and your thoughts in the comments section.