Paring Down the Goals List

“Goals are dreams with deadlines.”   –Diana Scharf

I am a goal-oriented person. I love creating goals and checking them off my list. When I looked over my goals list from last year (and the year before, and the year before,) there was one goal that I hadn’t achieved, yet had continued to put on the list year after year: Write a book.

Given that I’m a goal-oriented person, as previously noted, I had to wonder why I haven’t achieved this goal.

There are a lot of practical reasons why I haven’t achieved this goal: family obligations, work obligations, etc. But those are just excuses.

Is this goal one I really want to achieve? My knee-jerk reaction is, “Yes! Of course,” and after some reflection, I know that I really do want to achieve this goal. I have a particular book in mind and I feel passionately about it.

So why haven’t I completed it?

It comes down to fear. Doesn’t it always?

I have a limiting belief about this goal that is basically summed up as: “Who do you think you are trying to write this book?” You can hear the tone, can’t you?

Yeah, me, too.

But that voice, with its nasty tone, is not going to stop me.

I have worked with this (limiting) belief and will continue to work with it until it stops interfering with the work I want to do in the world.

While I do that work, I’m also doing the work of writing the actual book. I have broken the task down into manageable chunks, and broken those down even more. I’m going to build trust with myself by setting an easily-achievable goal of 5000 words written on the book by January 31st.

I have many goals for 2017 and I’m shining a spotlight on one. I’ve given it a deadline. I’ve reviewed all the obstacles to achieving this goal and come up with a detailed plan to get me past each one of those obstacles.

I think I have a much better chance of completing this book by the end of the year.

What’s your most important goal for 2017?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon:  I’m a master life coach, blogger, writer, and speaker. Check out my life coaching blog here. Happy New Year! Wishing you a wonderful, productive,  2017!

 

Goals and Accomplishments 2016

It’s that time of year again, my friends. I’ve been looking back over the writing goals I shared with you in January. I also reviewed the Reality Check post I wrote in February. That reality check was prophetic. This did not turn out to be the year I wrote 100,000 words.

In fact, of the 10 goals I set in January, I’ve accomplished only 3.

That tells me how unrealistic my goals list really was.

I realize I have to cut back on the goals and focus on only 1. Just writing that makes me squirrely. I almost wrote “a few.” I almost wrote “1 or 2.” But really, I need to set 1 goal for my writing life.

More on that in the New Year.

For now, I’ll say that, with reflection, I can see my pattern of over-committing myself. I do it in every area of my life. The problem with that—okay, one of the problems with that—is I end up doing some of the things I’ve committed to, but not necessarily the most important things.

I am afraid to prioritize. I want to do it all.

But I can’t. And I don’t.

So it’s time to change my ways.

And…I did accomplish a lot in 2017. I accomplished a lot of things that weren’t on my list back in January 2016. One of the things I accomplished that I feel most satisfied about is my art journal/planner. I had so much fun with that and I plan to continue to combine my writing with art in the next year.

I could make this review of my goals for the year into a reason to berate myself, but that won’t motivate me to reach new goals. I choose to make this review an opportunity to learn about what works for me and what doesn’t.

Onward, friends!

How did your year go?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I’m grateful to this community of writers and readers and wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!

 

 

 

Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion

This post went up on my life coaching blog today and it seemed to fit what I wanted to say here as well. I’ve never posted the same post to two different blogs, but in an act of self-compassion, and with hopes that my writing friends will get something out of this post as well, here it is!

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“If you long for the world to be a saner, more loving place, please be advised that you must start inside. Care for your sick, anxious, exhausted self as lovingly as you want to care for every suffering thing.”

–Martha Beck, Like Ten Thousand Knives When All You Need is a Spoon

Back when the year was new, I arranged to speak on the topic “Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion.” The talk is tonight (details here.) As a result of agreeing to do this presentation, I’ve been immersed in reading, thinking, and writing about self-compassion lately.

Good thing.

It turns out, I needed some remediation on how to have compassion for myself.

Our culture (here in the US) does not easily allow for self-compassion. We are taught to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” “just do it,” and “no pain, no gain.” That culture of doing it all by ourselves leads to an inability to ask for help and an inability to cut ourselves some slack.

My specific background, from my family of origin to my immersion in the world of medicine—a place where we are taught to ignore everything from our basic needs for sleep and food, to our (just as basic) needs for rest and play—does not easily allow for self-compassion.

And as I write this, I am thinking: Quit whining! This blog post is not about you—you are trying to help people with it!

True. I would like to help people with everything I write. But refusing to recognize my own blind spots and, in this instance, my difficulty with self-compassion will only make me less compassionate with others.

It is only in recognizing our own flaws and accepting them—not in a “Who cares if I’m a slob?” way, but in a “This is who I am. I am not perfect but I am enough,” way.

When I recognize my need for sleep is more important than my need to complete my daily word count, for example, this self-compassion allows me to acknowledge a friend’s inability to complete her writing goal on a particular day and to help her be kind to herself.

If I stay up late and write, no matter the cost to my sleep and my sanity, then I am more likely to judge a fellow writer harshly for choosing to care for herself rather than be a slave to her writing schedule.

My lack of self-compassion, when I fall into it, affects every area of my life. Maybe you occasionally lack compassion for yourself, too.

If you sacrifice your health and wellbeing in order to have the perfect holiday, you will resent the relative who shows up with boxes of chocolates for everyone because they “don’t know what to get.”

If you serve a healthy, nutritious meal every night no matter how long it takes to get it on the table, you will look down your nose (even if just in your head) at the friend who invites you over and then orders pizza because she wants to spend her time talking to you rather than prepping a meal in the kitchen.

That unconscious attitude will interfere with your ability to enjoy your friend and your precious time together.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown states that in order to live a Wholehearted life—and who doesn’t want to live a wholehearted life?—we must love ourselves. It’s a prerequisite.

We cannot give away what we don’t have.

The way I took this message is I need to love myself and have compassion for myself if I want to make a positive difference in the world. Self-compassion needs to be the foundation of everything I do or I will just inflict my lack of compassion on everyone around me.

This is not always easy, because we are like the fish: we don’t notice the water we swim in.

We need to notice how we talk to ourselves all day long. We are not consciously aware of our thoughts (words) most of the time.

We need to become aware.

What are you thinking right now? Does it serve you? If not, try thinking a different thought or just questioning your thought.

If you are thinking, as I often do: I’ll never get it all done, you will feel frantic and behind-the-8-ball all day long.

If you notice the thought, and consciously decide to think: I’ll get everything done that needs to get done, you will start to feel better.

If you do that over and over, you will have a great day and you will spread acceptance, love, and compassion wherever you go.

Here’s the formula:

  1. Think negative thought.
  2. Notice what you are thinking.
  3. Respond with a positive thought (question, response, mantra.)
  4. Notice your next negative thought.
  5. Respond with a positive thought (question, response, mantra.)
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’ve been doing that since I got up and, so far, it’s been a good day. How about you?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hi! I’m so glad to be a part of this community of writers. I don’t always feel like a writer, but I draw inspiration and encouragement from this group of readers and writers every day. Thank you all for being here.

 

When We Expand

When we do big things that require a lot of effort, it’s normal to feel a little let down after the fact.

When we expand, it’s normal to contract a little—to try to go back to the way things used to be. But once we expand, we can’t go back to the way we were. We have to learn to inhabit our new, bigger, life. We need to get used to who we are now.

It takes a little while for that to happen.

I have noticed this expansion—contraction—too spacious—just right—process for many years.

It happens every time I go on a retreat or attend a conference where I focus on just one aspect of myself or my life.

It happens every time my husband and I reach a new level of understanding with each other.

It happens every time I go from seeing myself as a student to seeing myself as a teacher.

It happens every time I complete NaNo. (Go NaNoWrMos!)

It happens every time I try to do something I’m not quite sure I can do—whatever the outcome: Because the catalyst to me being bigger is my effort, not the result.

I have been having this feeling of having a little too much space this week—I’m a little scattered, a little unfocused. Luckily, I’ve been here before so I know what to do.

In this case, I’ve been studying for the Family Medicine boards for months. Last week I traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend a Family Medicine Review Course, where I earned 56 hours of CME credit.

On Monday, I sat for the Family Medicine Recertification Exam. It’s an 8-hour test on general Family Medicine knowledge.

No matter the outcome, I am different for having made the effort to take (and pass!) the exam. I’m bigger.

So this week I’m rattling around inside my life, trying to figure out what to do next.

The only thing I really have to do is give myself permission to process this most recent effort, before moving on to the next.

I’m taking a few deep breaths, taking care of a few mundane chores that were neglected recently, and enjoying having done something difficult.

For everyone who is in the midst of NaNo and for everyone who is tackling some other new project or way of thinking: Can you give yourself permission to take a little time to become this new person? Just allow it to unfold.

When you do, you will honor your process and allow whatever’s next to reveal itself to you in it’s own time, rather than trying to muscle it into reality.

This is the process that works for me. Will it work for you?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hi, I’m the slacker who’s not doing NaNo this year! But really, you can’t do everything, right? Even though I sometimes (often) convince myself I can do everything, this year I’ve finally faced reality–at least with regard to NaNo! Best wishes to everyone slogging through their daily word counts!

 

 

 

 

My Art Journal

For the last few years, I’ve been getting more and more into visual arts. I’ve always been a “crafty” person, but for many years I did things that involved following a pattern someone else made: counted cross-stitch, knitting, even paint-by-numbers.

Then I started wanted to draw my own patterns.

zentanglesmall zentangle2small zentangle3smallSo I started tangling Zentangles, which allowed me to create my own simple patterns. Even if I followed other people’s patterns, it would inevitably change into something that was all my own. I really liked that.

This past January, I started a new planner, as I do every year. But this year, I wanted to do more with it. I made it my art journal/planner/(writing) journal, with the help of the book No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity, by Gina Rossi Armfield.  I cannot tell you how much enjoyment I’ve gotten from using my planner in this multidimensional way.

I also think it’s helped my writing.

The more I do with the visual arts, the more I see around me. Seeing more inevitably leads to better writing. I am more precise in my words (at least I think I am.)

Here are a few examples from my planner/art journal, as well as a recent drawing.artjournal2small
artjournal8small
artjournal11small
artjournal7small
artjournal16small
peardrawsmallAfter I finished drawing the pear (although I’m not really done with it yet,) I had one hour before I had to pick up my son from school. During that time, I wrote two blog posts and made some notes about ideas for new posts. Then I picked my son up, drove home, and tried out a new recipe for dinner. It came out great!

When I create art, even in the small way I pursue it (totally for fun!) I believe I am more creative in every way.

How does your (non-writing) creative life contribute to your writing life?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I’m a writer, blogger, master life coach, mother, and family physician. I’ve been playing around with words and pictures for a while now, and I’m having a lot of fun. I don’t yet know where it’s going to take me, but I trust that it will be someplace new and exciting!

Exercise for the Mind

There’s a short problem-solving exercise I do whenever I go on a Wordless Walk. It works for big problems, tiny problems, and it also works for my character’s problems.

Here’s the exercise:

As you’re walking, close your eyes for a second and take a deep breath. Open your eyes and notice whatever your eyes fall on first. Could be anything: A tree, a rock, a path.

Of course, you can also do this exercise sitting in your living room or anywhere else, and you’ll get a different object, such as a lamp or a stool.

Whatever your eyes notice first, ask this question about it: How is this tree (rock, path, lamp, stool) like my problem?

Then, as you walk, (or sit,) notice whatever answers come to mind. It sounds clunky, but this exercise has never failed me.

A couple of years ago, when I was having trouble finding time to write, I did this exercise while on a wordless walk and my eyes landed on a bird when I opened them. I thought, How is this bird like my difficulty finding time to write? These are the answers that came:

  • The bird is up at dawn and goes to sleep at dusk.
  • The bird follows her own natural rhythms.
  • The bird doesn’t worry about having enough time.
  • The bird has enough time to do whatever it wants.
  • The bird stays present to whatever is going on.

From these thoughts, I came up with some very helpful insights: I am a morning person; I should stop trying to write at night. I need to follow my own natural rhythm and focus on writing in the mornings or during the day when I am fresh and awake. Staying present will show me where there is time I can use to write. I have enough time for the things that are important to me.

Even though I’m a morning person, I’d been trying to write at night after all the business of the day was done and it wasn’t working. Thinking about this bird made me realize how silly it was for me to continue to push myself to do something not in my nature. I relaxed about writing at night and found different islands of time during the day to write, starting with the early morning. This new insight has served me well in the last couple of years.

To use this exercise with one of your characters, you do the exercise the same way but ask yourself: How is this object like my character’s problem?

The brain is a very effective problem-solver, and the structure of this exercise allows the brain to easily build the answers and show us the result.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hello, I’m a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. Please let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in this blog.

 

 

 

The Metaphor Tool

Sometimes, when we are wrestling with a big topic, it can be difficult to address it in a direct way. For example, I struggle with making time for my writing, as I wrote in a recent blog post. I addressed the problem directly there (and have implemented the strategies I mentioned) but sometimes it can also be helpful to address the problem in a more indirect way. With metaphor, for example. Before I explain further, I’m going to ask you to do this exercise[i] with me. I’ll share my example below, but please try to do the exercise yourself first.

If I said the word “writer,” what image comes to mind? What do you immediately think?

Try “my writing life.” What comes to mind when you say this word to yourself?

Write down whatever comes (an image, a color, a movie clip, anything at all,) then embellish it until it’s really vivid for you.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Consider what you wrote. What feeling does this image evoke? Write it here:

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

The image you came up with is your metaphor for “writer” or “writing life” or whatever word you used to evoke the image.

Now we are going to use the power of your brain to change your metaphor—and your life.

If your emotional response to your image is positive, think about what would make you have an even more positive response to the image. Change it any way you’d like. You’re making this up, so put whatever makes you happy into the image.

If your emotional response to your image is negative, think about how you could change the image to one that gives you a positive response.

Write down your new image here:_________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Now for my example:

When I considered the word “writer,” I immediately saw a (male) clerk sitting at a desk, writing by candlelight with a scratchy quill pen. There’s a Scrooge-looking character at the front of the room, wearing a monocle and squinting at a gold pocket watch, obviously waiting for the clerk to finish his work. The whole image is dark and dreary and I do not get a good feeling from it—in fact, it makes me feel defeated just looking at it.

So I’m going to change it.

After some experimentation, I came up with this image: There’s a giant writing desk underneath a baobab tree in a beautiful meadow with lush, green grass. There’s a woman in a lovely long dress that looks comfortable and soft. She’s writing with a fountain pen at the desk and the breeze is rustling the pages of her journal and the leaves on the tree. The sun is shining through the trees and I see the woman pause to think and look around at the beautiful landscape, then return to her writing. This image gives me a feeling of peace, joy, and relaxation. Just holding it in my mind calms me down.

That’s the last step of this exercise: Hold your new image in your mind and think about it for a few minutes each day. Maybe every time you get in the car or every time you brush your teeth.

Changing your metaphor changes your life: In this case, specifically your writing life.

I’ve used this tool many times on different areas of my life and it works. I believe it works because changing the image changes some neural pathway in my brain, but I can’t prove it.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

[i] Martha Beck first taught me this exercise and I’ve used it many times over the years. Thanks, Martha!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m a blogger, writer, and life coach. I’ve been working with this metaphor for a while now and I do find I’m more relaxed about my writing and getting more done. I’ve also implemented some very concrete strategies such as saying no to some requests for time that do not fit with my current priorities.