four day win

30 Day Challenge Day 8 - Black and White or Shades of Grey?

Say you skip a day accidentally or on purpose with something you've been meaning to stick to - a diet, an exercise plan, a 30 Day Challenge... What does your mind do?  Does it immediately go into Chicken Little "OH MY GOD!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!!" mode?  Does it tell you you're a failure?  Does it tell you to go back to square one - to start over - that anything you did up to this point, no matter how many days in a row, DOES NOT COUNT because you missed a day?

That, my friends, is called black and white thinking.  And according to Martha Beck in The Four Day Win, it's one of the hallmarks of people who have trouble losing weight (or organizing their lives, managing their time, and taming their paper piles!)  It is however, curable, thank goodness.  It's all about recognizing those thoughts.  You just have to watch your cute little Chicken Little mind and tell it to calm down.  You've got this.  One slice of pie or missed yoga class or unattended junk mail stack is not going to bring you down.  You will keep going.  You will be fine.   You will teach your mind to see shades of grey.  All is definitely not lost.

So far I haven't missed a day.  I enjoyed grass time this morning with two cats.  I went through a stack of old photos (we used to get double prints back in the age of film, and that makes for a lot of pictures that really don't need to be saved), and I worked on my whimsical cardinal drawing.

Turns out that's where my thoughts needed looking at! Here's a selection:

"This isn't going to turn out very well." "You don't know what you're doing." "Oh NO!  You're going to wreck it!"  "Real artists would have a plan for this instead of just winging it."  "Are you going to POST that for people to see?  What will they THINK???" "Why didn't you just leave it?"  "OMG."

Oh yes - another hallmark of people who struggle with weight loss, or getting things done, or managing their time, or letting themselves try creative writing or painting, is being critical.  Especially self-critical.  It can really stop you in your tracks.

So I just listened politely to my Chicken Little brain and said, "Thanks so much for your input.  We have to let ourselves mess up.  We have to try things.  It's ok to play.  I don't have plans for a gallery show at the Louvre.  There's no such thing as messing this up - we really don't need to be attached to those cardinals!  We can draw more if we feel like it!  Relax and enjoy!  This is fun!  I'm curious to see how it will all turn out! This isn't a final piece - it is just for us - it's in a sketchbook for goodness sake!  We are playing!  La la la!  Breathe!"

Yes - there's all kinds of black and white thinking to watch for.  If your brain says anything with the word always or never - or even with a version of the verb "to be" - as in "I'm disorganized", "I'm not a good artist", "I'm too heavy"  -- it sounds permanent and it's a sign of black and white thinking or assuming that things that are one way will always be that way- assuming fixed conditions.  What if we replaced those thoughts with, "My desk contains some extra papers." "I learn a lot when I play with art supplies." or "Right now my body has some extra weight." These don't sound as permanent or like they're part of our being - they're just circumstances and they are subject to change. They're not fixed conditions. They offer us many shades of grey to play with.

Here's what's happening with my whimsical cardinals (I spent a lot of the 30 minutes today staring and thinking, and stalling - see above) And here's a view of the sky from my grass time spot:

What kinds of black and white thinking or fixed condition thinking do you find yourself needing to watch for?

P.S.  During the past 6 days of this challenge, I also read all three 50 Shades of Grey books.  I will admit that I was entertained.  And I had no idea the story was ultimately so sweet.  I was prepared for something more 9 1/2 weeks and it was more like Harlequin Romance with a little steamy and kinky thrown in.  And this blog post title is totally a gratuitous reference to the Shades of Grey phenomenon - no doubt! ;)

30 Day Challenge- Day 5: gratitude

No drawings to share today.  I did draw, and I'm still enjoying it, but the current drawing's in process and possibly a bit disastrous.  No worries- disastrous or not, it's soothing.  I put on Pandora to a nice calming station with a lot of Enya and Brian Eno and Hillary Stagg and Andreas Vollenweider, I set the timer and I draw.  I'm happy that I gave myself that gift again today, and I'm a little in awe that I'm going to continue to do that for twenty-five more days! I'm still enjoying grass time.  I had a bunch of meetings and calls this morning, so grass time happened in the late afternoon during a sun shower.  Glorious.  My sweetheart surprised me and snapped this pic- sadly, you can't see the light rain.

If you've missed it and want to know more about why grass time is so important to me, check out this recent post.

Part of my grass time routine is to read a an entry a day from Simple Abundance - and look what was included in today's piece:

"Please steal time every day, if you cannot find it in any other way, to lie on the grass, or in a hammock, under a huge tree this lovely month... and relax.  What a tonic this is for the soul!  What a rest for weary nerves!... The greatest need today is for calmer homes..." This was written by Nell B. Nichols way back in 1924.  Wow - still holds true today, don't you think?

I'm still reading Martha Beck's Four Day Win and applying it to my days - thus the decision to gift myself with creative play for my 30 day challenge instead of making another rule about managing my time - I have to believe that I will really give myself time to enjoy daily play before I ever get my head out of the "famine brain" concept of getting things done.

And it's working!  Here's an example.  Normally I put off going to the post office or bank for as long as possible. I've been known to show up at the bank with a month and a half of checks.  And these are deposits!  Crazy, I know!  I don't know why my nutty brain associates errands with some kind of apocalypse - as if it's going to take more than ten minutes to go to the bank.  Or even the post office!  My mind can start acting as if I'm about to plan an Everest expedition.

Now, since I'm giving myself time to enjoy what I love - to play at drawing with no agenda other than play - I'm filling my emotional coffers with self-compassion and self-love.  And don't ask me why this works, but from that brain state it's so much easier to get things done!  And this strategy holds true for weight loss.  Losing weight from a place of lack and punishment doesn't work well in the long run, and managing tasks and time from a place of lack and a screwy belief that there's not enough time to get things done and do what you love - that doesn't work either.

Martha Beck writes, "The opposite of fat is love."  And I'll add, "The opposite of clutter and time disorganization is love."  Martha encourages us to focus on appreciation and gratitude, and watch how it improves our health and well-being, and surprisingly, leads to leaner bodies and more organized homes!

I positively glowed with gratitude today.  I had lovely emails from friends, and some cheering on from a fellow coach. I sat in the grass in a sun shower, and the cat even joined me at the end.  I worked on my business and played.  I was practically floating from all the gratitude on my errands to the post office and bank, and I could feel that lightness spreading to the people around me.  And here's the cherry on top:  I got an unexpected check in the mail today - from my health insurance company of all places!  Close to $100!  And it's in the bank, not kicking around in a ten inch high pile of paper clutter!  That's a lot to be grateful for.

If you're struggling with something you're trying to change or improve in your life, see what happens when you make gratitude a daily practice.  Write down what you're grateful for and why.  See if it starts to make you feel better, lighter, more able to make the change you want to make.  And if you've played with gratitude lists in the past but slacked off recently, today is a great day to begin again.  I'd love to hear about your experiences with making gratitude a regular habit!

And here's one last thing to be grateful for:  purple coneflowers blooming!

30 Day Challenge - are you ready?

Why is summer the perfect time to make a change you've been longing to make?  Because it's already a more relaxed and quieter time.  Maybe they let you out of work an hour early on Fridays.  Or maybe the kids go to camp.  It's a time to let loose a little, and try something you've been aching to try.  Something to take care of yourself better or something fun you never let yourself have time for.  Or something you've been wanting to clean up, go through, rework, rethink - what if you did something intentionally about that something for 30 days?  Don't worry about vacation - if you have to you can pick up where you left off. Isn't it kind of strange that we always start our resolutions in the cold dark of January?  Why not make changes and try new ways of living better when the sun is out, the days are long, and anything seems possible?

My friend and fellow coach Stacey Shanks is starting up a 30 day Challenge project this month, and you can join in on her her Facebook page where she'll be posting all kinds of goodness to help you stay on track.  I'll be there, both as a participant and as one of the expert speakers she has lined up to inspire and support us.

So how am I doing with my challenge today?  All is well. (See my stickers?) Grass time was lovely, and my little pile of papers is practically gone - chipped away ten minutes at a time.  I'm making inroads on my big projects too, and taking time to play so that my body remembers that we're in this for the long term and not going to just flame out in another week.  I'm remembering that summer's for treats too! And for naps.  There's always time for a little nap, especially on a rainy Sunday.

I hope you'll consider joining the 30 day challenge. You can make it something small, something fun - something you'd love to do but just haven't done yet.  Let me know in the comments about your challenge, or email me at  Come join us for summer fun and positive changes!

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.


The time management anti-diet

Ok.  Here's what I've decided.  I have a somewhat complex relationship with time similar to some people's somewhat complex relationship with food.  I've managed to deal with it for the most part and make it look pretty good from the outside, similar to how someone might diet themselves into submission but always worry about a relapse or how someone might binge and binge on junk food and then feel terrible, shameful and yucky afterward, even if it doesn't affect their actual weight, either because they don't do it very often or because there's purging involved too. This is not to make light of anyone's difficulties with food, or to say that I'm experiencing the same thing as someone with those difficulties.  However I do believe there are similarities, and that they're both serious issues that can get in the way of living our best lives.  So I'm going to step out into the open and talk about it - and see what happens when I shed a little light on something that I think is a big challenge for many. Just like overweight people know that all they need to do is eat less and move more, I know that all I need to do is use my time wisely and take care of my stuff.  Duh.  Easy.  So if it were that simple we wouldn't have an obesity epidemic. And we wouldn't have television shows like hoarders, and there would never be a giant pile of papers about ten inches high on my desk.

I've determined that it's time to take a new approach to my time and organization.  I'm going to use the science behind my thoughts and behaviors to change my relationship with my time and my stuff.  I'm using Martha Beck's book, The Four Day Win, as a guide.  Even though it's written for weight loss, I'm figuring out that it's all the same stuff.  Let me explain.

Martha says what happens when you put yourself on a diet is that you end up with "famine brain".  All you think about is food and you are suddenly hungrier than ever, and your body, now that it's received signals from your brain that all the food is being reduced, does everything it can to conserve energy and hang onto every molecule of fat just in case you never eat again.

Similarly, when I try to "finally get fully organized and manage my time like a grown up", my mind starts freaking out with cries of, "There's not enough time!"  Which then causes my body to immediately want to give up and go to sleep. It's truly fascinating.

So today was the first day of a new approach, which includes the "actual dealing with time and stuff" part, similar to "actually eating less and moving more".  I'm spending ten minutes per day on paper piles of any type - they're actually not too bad right now because I've been working on them in this way for months.  So I'm sort of at the spot that someone might be who is looking to shed the last 15 pounds to get to their most natural, "feel good" weight. I'm looking to shift my attitude toward time and stuff in a way that will "feel good" forever.

My reward for doing ten minutes on my paper piles is a sticker.  Yep.  That's all I need.  I love to put a sticker on my calendar!  After four days, I get a bigger reward, which is 30 minutes of doing absolutely whatever I feel like doing, ideally a creative something that I keep putting off, but I'm going to wait and see about that part.

Most importantly, the other thing I'm doing for the next four days (I get a sticker for this as well) is observing my "time famine" brain.  Observing and watching and learning.  Getting really curious about what my brain has to say.  Today, knowing that this was the first day of a new approach to time, I slept in. Not part of the plan!  Thanks, brain!  Quite a bit later I felt panicky when I looked at the clock and it was already 1 p.m.  My mind was screeching, "NOT ENOUGH TIME!!! AAAAAHHH!!!"  Which led to my body responding with, "Give up! GO TO SLEEP!" I just observed nonchalantly.  And did my work.  And hosted an incredibly beautiful moonlit wordless walk tonight. More on that, and time, and turtles, tomorrow.  Yay!