30 Day Challenge: Day 17 - getting through the doldrums

"It's not happening fast enough!""I've been so good, I should feel different!" "I've worked consistently; I should have more to show for it!" "I'm sooo tired!" "I don't think this is working."

Ahh yes. During the second half of a challenge there's a possibility of hitting the doldrums.  Just as  a journey from the North to the South Pole means a stop around the equator where the winds suddenly die down to nothing, the middle part of any challenge, project, marathon run, extended hiking trip or any other undertaking often includes a slackening of the sails, a low spot, a dim point.  Sometimes this is caused by incremental and undetected raising of the bar (see yesterday's post.) Or by failure to remember to celebrate all the small victories - the four day wins (by day 17 there should have been four celebrations - four big treats! Are you forgetting about the treats?  Are you still believing that you don't deserve any treats?)  Sometimes it's just caused by realizing that there's still half way to go.  Or that turning this challenge into a lifetime habit still seems overwhelming.

Step out of the doldrums.  Give yourself a treat! Or take a nap.  Or change something up.  Or go back and really celebrate, really internalize how far you've already come.  Look at the x's on your calendar, or the stickers on your planner, or the journal entries or writing you've done.  Pat yourself on the back.  Remind yourself that life is to be enjoyed, not slogged through.

On that note, I'm headed out to a wine bar with my honey.  I spent my drawing time tweaking my bowl of key limes, but it doesn't look significantly different in a photo.  I'm happy with it now and planning to start something new and possibly more playful tomorrow.  Here are the bougainvilleas in the yard from just after grass time.

If you're in the doldrums, shake it off and go celebrate your progress so far!  And if you're not, go celebrate anyway!  Either way, there's cause for celebration!

30 Day Challenge Day 7: Have to or choose to?

Which feels better:  "I have to do it" or "I choose to do it?"  Because I don't have to do this 30 day challenge.  I don't have to do most things in life.  I don't have to eat healthy or pay my bills or be nice to people or clean the house or practice meditation. Most of the time, I choose to do these things, or at least some of them. I'm choosing to do this 30 day challenge because I want to prioritize creativity in my day.  I'm choosing to keep at it because I want to see what happens.

If I think to myself, "Ugh.  I have to go draw right now because I said I would" it feels like a chore.  Like an imposition from some external place.  Like following a diet or an organization plan.  Like it's not my choice.

But if I think to myself, "Yay!  I'm taking care of myself by prioritizing my creativity and playing with colors and paper and seeing what happens!  I can't wait!" - now that feels much better.

I can believe either thought.  They both go with the circumstance of taking on a 30 day challenge.  I'm picking the second one.  And check out what I can do when I give myself 30 minutes of play with paper!

I was inspired by this artist's work that I cut out and put in a notebook years ago.  I think I'm going to do something similar with my picture of two cardinals that I copied out of Peterson's bird book.  Lately I'm into copying (not tracing - just copying to get the main gist) from something already two-dimensional.  That's what feels fun.

Now I'm excited about playing with this drawing some more tomorrow and making it all whimsical and dreamlike!

And here's a view from my grass time spot.  These little Mexican petunias look a little like crinkly tissue paper after all the rain.

30 Day Challenge: Day 6 - Disaster?

I don't know about you, but I'm so good about creating a bunch of rules, following them for a few days, breaking them and then feeling crappy.  I think this is how most diets go, no?  Or any kind of resolution? I am so very determined to approach this whole thing differently this time.

I have to admit my ulterior motives.  I'm letting myself draw daily because I secretly want to have it make me more productive in other ways.  I guess this would be the same as someone saying daily affirmations, but what they really want is for that to help them lose weight.

So today, I drew.  I had my grass time.  I even cleaned under the sink, dusted and attended to my paper piles (which are pretty much non-existent because I deal with them every day- yay!)  And I made a cake.  Vegan.  From scratch.  (I am not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, but I was curious so gave it a shot.  Not bad!)  So my inner critic should be happily checking off the list, giving me gold stars, waving her pompoms around - something!

Instead, I'm thinking about how an unscheduled day where I had grand plans to work on some bigger projects (those ones I keep avoiding) slipped away.  I did take some turtle steps and I may do a little more later, but still - I can feel my body reacting with tension from my mind's thoughts about how I didn't do enough.

And that's what's made this type of challenge unsustainable for me in the past.  Doesn't matter what I do, my mind gets disappointed, pointing out all the other stuff that didn't get done.

So I'm just listening to my body.  Feeling it protest  -  agreeing with it. "Yes, this tight jaw is going to make this thing unsustainable... I understand...let's go lay down and just breathe and relax for five minutes. I know - just ignore the mind - five minutes isn't going to make or break anything.  Body, you get to call the shots. I'm listening more this time."

It would so help if today's drawing remotely resembled the original photo.



Don't judge - believe me - I have already noted every single thing that isn't working!  I'm not trying to make a living as an artist - I'm just trying to let myself play, and drawing and coloring and playing around with trying to match the colors was fun, even if the outcome wasn't so fabulous.

Here's the very best part that I've saved for last.  These little guys keep showing up to remind me to SLOW DOWN!!  Take a breath for goodness sake!  I saw a dozen of them in about a two foot area during post-rain grass time today!

So no, today was not a disaster.  I have homemade vegan cake for goodness sake!  And tofu cream to put on top (frosting alternative- jury's still out).  And I am breathing.  And I am grateful and lucky!

Wrenches - what to do when they get thrown in...

Wrenches.  Unexpected events or occurrences that get tossed into the machinery of life.  As in, "Well, that really put a wrench in it!" What do we do when we start our day all ready for productivity and greatness and then find a wrench stuck in the machine?

I think my answer is to watch for distortion.  I was going to write about distortion anyway today, and then the universe provided me with a giant unexpected wrench.  Here's what happened.

My bicycle was stolen.  Yes, that cute one on the right that I just took on a Fourth of July picnic with my honey.  That one.  It was stolen while locked up on an extremely busy street in the French Quarter in broad daylight.  (Oh how I hate to tell you this, because I love my city and I don't want you to think ill of it.)  I haven't given much thought to who did it or how - in fact I'm strangely unable to wish the thief or thieves ill.  I hope somehow that something shifts in a positive way for them- some kind of change or lesson.  But that is not my business. I don't know their story and I never will.

So I ironically asked myself, "What's perfect about this?"  Not a whole heck of a lot. First I just felt disoriented and kind of stupid.  Was I sure that's where I'd parked it? Was that the light post I'd attached it to?  Then I just felt crappy. And I allowed myself to feel crappy - I even shed a brief tear of frustration and general ickiness. A little bit of "poor me." But I stuck with my plans and had a lovely lunch with a friend who was able to pick me up and drive me home too.  I had a bag full of goodies from LUSH that I'll be sharing with my retreat participants. (By the way, there's still room in the retreat if you want to check it out!) I wasn't missing anything except the bike.

I wish this story ended like the wallet story, with me turning the corner and forgetting I'd parked the bike in a completely different place, but alas, that's not the case.  However, when I got home, my sweetheart hugged me and said, "I'm so sorry this happened to you.  You need a bike - let's go get you a new one tomorrow." And we can do that.  We have enough money.  We have enough and more than enough, of everything.

So what about distortion? Well I find that my mind can sometimes go into distortion mode.  Sky is falling mode.  Interestingly, my mind is generally better in the face of minor tragedies like petty theft.  My mind's preferred subject of distortion is in day to day dealings.  It likes to distort how long something's going to take, or how hopeless everything's going to be if I've missed one day of a habit I'm trying to take up.

So next time you're dealing with a major or minor wrench in your plans, watch your mind.  Is it going into distortion mode?  Is it whipping up a giant story about how awful everything is or is going to be?  Ask yourself if you need to believe your mind, or just look around at the actual circumstances, and deal with them in the best way you know how.


Tricky brain and grass time

Ok, it's been four days and I've been listening closely to what kinds of little bon mots my brain tosses out there while I'm trying to get things done, stick to my plan and do my work.  If you're just arriving at this post without the background, you might want to begin here: This is what I've been hearing.  Prepare yourself - it's not pretty:

"You know, there's too much to do.  Even if you worked all day, you'll never be done. And then you'll just be working all the time.  Yuck to that!"

"Being efficient is soul sucking.  It's only for boring people who don't have a rich inner life.  Too much neatness is sterile and the sign of an empty mind."

"It's too hard.  You don't have what it takes.  Give up."

"There are too many steps!  Aaaah!  We don't know what to do!"

"Oh, see - that didn't work.  You totally don't know anything about websites."

"Well- you missed doing your ten minute thing on the Fourth of July.  You'll never catch up now. Might as well just avoid everything for another week."

"Wait until Wednesday. Wait until Thursday. Wait until tomorrow. Wait until after lunch. Wait until tonight. Wait until Monday."

"Oh my god.  Look at that list of things you want to write/change/create/tweak.  It's a mile long.  You'll never get all that done in time."

"It's too late. Too late, I tell you!"


Ah, yes.  My helpful mind!  Despite its cries, I got some stuff done.  I stuck with my ten minutes per day of working on my last little pile (I doubled up today since I didn't do it yesterday.  It's smaller.  My space is in order, overall.

But, there's stuff on the list that I was really planning to work on.  It's bigger stuff, with multiple steps, and I avoided it.  Here's why.  Everything I've done so far to help myself be more productive is rational and ought to work, but it doesn't completely, just like when people try to lose weight with very reasonable rational diets, and their bodies freak out on them.  My brain is in rebellion mode.  Sabotage mode.  It doesn't trust that I'm not going to become an all work, no play kind of girl.  It remembers how tired we used to be when I was working all the time. It's panicked.  It's resisting any form of discipline.  And my body's not helping much either.  It just wants to sleep.  A lot.  Whether I go to bed early or late.

If my brain and body feel deprived by my time management and task organization "plan", they're going to fight me.  I need a new tool.  As Martha Beck says, I just need to get my brain and body to "join up" with me, much like a horse will follow the lead mare in its herd. And that won't happen when we're in "famine" mode, and all my brain sees are rules about how we're going to spend our time and what we "can't" do, making my body anxious, fidgety and just plain tired.

Because when I'm not relaxed about how my day's going to go, when I'm gritting my teeth or dreading what I've put on my to do list, I'm not particularly productive.  Sure, I can force it and just work anyway, but I'll pay later with that sense from my body and mind that I'm not to be trusted, that this isn't going well, and next time we might as well just go to sleep.

So, how do I get relaxed and get my body and mind to trust that all will be well - that we don't need to go into avoidance napping mode?  By giving them what they want- a safe place to not have to do anything.  I call it "grass time". Ten minutes of quiet out in the grass, with the cats if they happen to be around.  And a couple of mantras - these borrowed or adapted from from Martha Beck's Four Day Win:

"Everything is OK." "I don't have do do anything at all for the next ten minutes." "In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter what I get done today.  It's much more important to be kind than to check things off the to do list.  I'll start by being kind to myself." "If I never changed anything at all about how I get things done, the world would keep revolving." "It's OK to rest."

I'm looking for a relaxation response - a sense from my body and mind that all is well, with easy breathing, relaxed muscles, and a general sense of wellness and peace. Nearby cats always help!

And then, with that peaceful state of mind, I can get to work.

Give it a try and see if ten minutes of really doing nothing gives your body and mind a little more reason to trust you, and a little more interest in happily going about your day with you.