Getting Shtuff Done: a Journey in Productivity

I’ve always had a hard time keeping good habits. I have lofty goals and good intentions, but these fall victim to procrastination and apathy. Soon I carry a string of failed attempts and a load of doubt that I could ever be successful again.

If you’ve ever read some of Gretchen Rubin’s research on human nature, specifically her Four Tendencies personality studies, my tendency is to be an Obliger, which means that while I dutifully meet the expectations of other people, I have a hard time keeping promises to myself. This rather self-sabotaging mindset means it’s incredibly difficult for me to stick to my goals, no matter how much I want them.

Writing, I’ve found, is a very risky career choice for someone like myself, because in writing, you have to make yourself write. You have to find that motivation. It’s not a job in which you clock in and out at a certain time and meet a defined list of expectations set by someone you fear and respect. No, it’s just me, and my thoughts, and a string of projects with some loose deadlines. (Loose deadlines, by the way, are Kryptonite to an Obliger).

Rubin’s advice to Obligers is to create external accountability, like deadlines in your work, friends who will join you for a morning run, or reading groups that will incline you to read. While I have found that advice useful, it also left a gnawing feeling that I wasn’t quite getting to the root of the problem. And this was the problem: I am afraid to commit to my personal priorities, because I am afraid they aren’t worthy. I am afraid to stick up for them, to say no to other things, to endure the hard times my priorities require.

Take exercise, for instance. I’ve never been very good at working out, because I’ve always been defeated before I finish. I don’t let myself start at a comfortable pace, my pace, on my terms. I let myself get swept up in someone else’s idea of good exercise, and then I get burnt out. And of course, I spend too much time worrying about how my body looks instead of how I feel.

When a few months ago, Alex and I restarted the habit of going to the gym regularly, I began this new habit differently than I ever approached anything before: I gave myself the freedom to do what I liked. Truth is, I don’t like being overly sweaty and in pain for a whole hour. But I do like running a mile at a time, and I do like lifting weights, and I do like yoga. So that’s what I did. I let myself set low goals, because even those low goals were higher than doing nothing. For a while I waited for the other shoe to drop; I’d started out so well so many other times, only to fail.

But this time was different; this time I actually enjoyed working out, which I’ve never in my whole life been able to say. I enjoyed it because it was my own goals on my own terms, and I was hitting those goals, week by week.

That’s when it dawned on me: I didn’t have to try to trick myself into meeting goals. I had discovered a simple, oft-forgettable truth: getting stuff done feels good.

I think we so often fall into a victim mindset, if even a little. If you’re naturally more inclined to it, like me as an Obliger, it’s even easier. You get used to the feeling of failing yourself. And I’m not sure why, but suddenly I just got fed up with it. I didn’t want to have to have some kind of external structure to do the things I loved and wanted to accomplish: I wanted to accomplish them because it feels good. 

It feels good to have a yoga habit. It feels good to eat salads. It feels good to read. It feels good to floss.

And I don’t mean “feels good” just on the surface level, the physical level. I mean it feels good on a deep, soul level. It nourishes my mind, body, and spirit. It makes me more of who I really want to be.

And I think you have to discover, for yourself, which lofty goals create that kind of soul-level good feeling for you. There are many good habits we keep that might not be the best for us, our specific personhood and calling. There are good habits that feed you on that physical level, but not on the soul level.

Realizing that made me narrow down my daily goals so I can meet my ultimate, long-term ones. It helped me carve out time for prayer and meditation. It helped me write 20,000 words of my graduate manuscript in a month (I still have no idea how that happened).

It’s not a fool safe, one-and-done process; it’s an ongoing one. It takes overcoming laziness and doubt and fear moment by moment by moment. But I’m learning that motivating yourself by fear or frustration, by competition or by other people’s values, is never a sustainable way to build your life. You have to figure out what you value, stick up for it, and run for it with abandon.

So today, what are some things you value? What are some goals you have? Why do you want them, and what has kept you from reaching for them?

And how will it feel to get them done?

Weekend Pith: Namaste to You

Yoga is my hobby.

I’ve made this one of my life rules, because quite frankly I need it to be true.

I’m not a particularly sporty person, but I’ve always loved the idea of being one. However, by the time I had the freedom and resources to commit to something, I was literally out of the game. I’d spent too many years reading books and playing the piano. I married an athlete, this is true, but athletic skills don’t necessarily transmit themselves as soon as you change your name and merge bank accounts.

It’s one of my biggest struggles and disappointments.

When I was in high school, exercise was a chore I had to get done for gym class. Also, I was homeschooled. So it was a solitary activity. And not really that fun. As I got older and started college and dated my very very (like obnoxiously) athletic Russian (like we met at a basketball game he was playing in), I tried many forms of athletic activity in turn.

But I soon ran into a very stupid conundrum as I tried basketball and running and lifting and golf: I hated when people made me exercise, and yet I couldn’t make myself do it. I liked how I felt afterward, but in the tough moments, the moments that counted, I was totally disgusted with myself and everything else. It sucked because I was out of shape, but I was out of shape because it sucked too much for me to do it.

It became a vicious cycle: go exercise, struggle, cry, get home, feel better after a shower, be in pain, put off exercising, finally force self to go, etc. The biggest struggle was not the physical discomfort but the mental pain. I wanted to be better than this. I wanted to run and lift and play and love it. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t make myself love it.

“That’s the point of exercise,” people say. “It’s those hard moments where you hate it but you push through and emerge victorious on the other side. That’s what makes it so good. No pain, no gain.”

Nope. Not me. Doesn’t work. I have to enjoy it. I have to inherently love every minute of it or I won’t do it. Sorry. Won’t.

And I realize this is rather babyish, but because apparently I am a baby about it, I must take baby steps. The only other option, I’ve realized, is doing nothing at all.

The first step is accepting that this is how I am. The second step is tricking myself into exercising anyway. The third step is becoming the kind of person who golfs before breakfast, lifts before lunch, runs before dinner, and plays pickup soccer after dinner.

(Those people do exist. I’m married to one.)

That last step will take a while. But the second step is what I’m working on. Yoga is my hobby, I tell myself. And I believe it, because I love it.

Even though yoga really is hard as hell, and you shouldn’t believe anyone who tries to pass it off as a bunch of Stretching for Pansies, I love every minute of it. Because yoga by its very nature makes you aware of yourself. It makes you accept the sucky moments and enjoy the lovely ones. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle, and to me that’s so much more rewarding. I don’t hate myself every time I think about exercising, and I definitely don’t hate myself while I’m doing it. And that’s a long way from where I used to be.

And someday I’ll take up running or the golf my husband tells me I’m good at. I look forward to these things as a goal to savor when I get to them. For now, I’m just happy that yoga is my hobby.

So namaste to you.

 

 

Springing

At the beginning of the year, I shared my plan to take joy in daily life. So far that’s been going well. There was a rough patch in February where I had a few meltdowns per week, but hey, it’s February. There’s not much you can do.

Spring is here, taking its first tentative steps.

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I’ve been taking joy in the warmer weather (and in the pretty clothes I can wear in it!). The trees are just about to bud, and little flowers are popping up everywhere.

With the new season I find new determination in being healthier, too. I’ve learned and practiced ways to stay more active and to eat better. The former wasn’t always my strong point; I’m not someone who finds exercise inherently fun (sorry). But I’ve found activities I enjoy and I reason myself to stick to them, and soon the feeling of accomplishment keeps me going. I sort of have muscles now.

So this spring I encourage you to find ways to take joy, whether it’s in exercise, in weather, in food, or in other people. What are some of your favorite ways?

 

Morning Yoga

I’ve overstayed my bed’s welcome.

The snooze is perturbed.

Move a bit. Neck cracks.

I bend in half, forward fold.

Like a plastic fork I nearly snap.

Mm, let’s try a half lift instead.

Down to plank. Elbows crack.

Chaturanga.

Ha! No.

Child’s pose. I could fall asleep again.

Roll like a ball. Vertebrae crack.

Butterfly pose, soft and gentle.

Makes me feel I’m working hard without having to.

Hedgehog, nose to knees.

Up to a lotus. Knees crack.

Let’s try touching the toes again.

Ah! It’s a beautiful morning.