Your Brain on Words

When you tell yourself you don’t have time to write, your brain believes you. When you tell yourself over and over you don’t have time to write, you never find time to write. Even when you have four hours set aside to write, something always comes up. Because you don’t have time to write!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

But if you tell yourself you have time to write, time appears. I wanted to write “time magically appears,” but in my experience, that’s not true. 

The brain is an organ that produces thoughts. It also believes thoughts—without question. Thoughts appear. We believe them.

Unless we make the effort to question them. 

“I don’t have time to write.”

Is that true?

“Well, no. I wrote for two hours yesterday morning and I’m writing right now.” 

What’s actually true is: I have time to write. 

Because our brains have evolved to expend minimal energy, our brains prefer not to have to make decisions. That’s why it’s easier to go to work the same way every day, even if you could have avoided that traffic by taking the back roads. Your brain, all our human brains, would rather be on auto-pilot, conserving energy for when we have to run from that saber toothed tiger. 

But there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger anymore. All that physical danger we’ve evolved to save our energy for doesn’t exist, at least not here in North America. We are very fortunate.

But our brains still operate the way they evolved to millions of years ago. So if we think a thought, it’s easier to just believe it and keep going because it takes less energy, which our brains equate to a better chance of survival. 

But some of the thoughts we “just believe” are harmful to us. “I don’t have time to write,” for example, is a poisonous thought to a writer, or to someone who wants to be a writer. 

So what can we do about these thoughts that appear and stop us in our tracks?

Take the time to question that thought every single time you think it and you will soon break yourself of the habit of thinking it. 

Questioning a thought takes energy. So your brain (and mine!) will resist. It will give you evidence (excuses!) showing why you don’t have time to write.

Keep presenting the evidence showing when you had time to write. Give concrete, specific examples:

  • I wrote for an hour right after I dropped the kids off at school yesterday.
  • I wrote every day for at least 30 minutes last summer when I did that journal challenge.
  • I wrote for 2 hours last Sunday morning.

Catch yourself thinking “I don’t have time to write,” and challenge it. If you do, you will soon be thinking “I have time to write,” just as often. You will also, I believe, be writing!

**********

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Make Time for Writing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As writers, we all struggle with finding enough time to write. There are a number of ways we can “make time” to write. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Redefine Writing Time

I used to think I needed a whole day to get some good writing done, but over the years, my time window has shrunk. For example, I started the first draft of this post while waiting for my son in the car pool line at school. I had 10 minutes and I used them!

  1. Make Routines for Everything You Can

I’m the cook in my family and, last fall, I started creating weekly meal plans, usually on Sunday. It takes me half an hour to plan my meals for the week, and it turns out to be a huge time-saver. The hard part about cooking, for me, is figuring out what we’re going to eat. Once that’s done, its just math—and one trip to the grocery store.

Today, for example, is Taco Tuesday, so I have to start cooking at 4:30 PM. If my son and I get home from school at 3:30 PM and he happens to get involved in playing with his LEGO minifigs, that’s an hour of writing time I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been staring in the fridge at 3:30, wondering what the heck we’re going to have for dinner. Not to mention the last-minute trip to the grocery store once I decided and realized we didn’t have any of the ingredients I needed.

  1. Keep Internet/Facebook/Email/Apps/Games/Etc OFF

If you plan to write on your computer tomorrow, make sure you shut it down completely tonight. Then, when you sit down to write tomorrow morning, only open Windows, or Scrivener, or whatever program you write with. Do not check email or Facebook first.

If you work from your computer and feel this isn’t possible, try this: schedule a block of writing time—after lunch, at 5 PM when you are done with your day job, or after you go to the gym. Before lunch, at 5 PM, or before you go to the gym, shut your computer down. When you come back to write, only open your writing program. Once your writing time is up, you can open up your email or Facebook or Slack, whatever you need to do.

  1. Move Your Body

Exercise is the magic pill. It makes everything better. Our bodies are meant to move and if we walk, even for 10 minutes, we will have more energy than if we sit in a chair all day.

So stretch every hour, take a walk at lunchtime, and/or go to the gym before or after work. Even if you hate exercise, figure out something you can do to get more movement into your day. You will have increased focus and energy as a result, allowing you to be more productive as a writer.

How do you make time in your life to write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Accomplishments as Motivation

For years now, I have been creating a list of accomplishments for the past year. I used to do it around my birthday, but in the last few years I’ve done it at the end of one calendar year before I set my goals for the next year.

I’ve already written about my goals for 2017, but I wanted to write a little more about my list of accomplishments because it’s been an incredibly useful tool.

I’m also facilitating a Goals Group for 2017, and the first assignment I gave the group was to make a list of 50 accomplishments from 2016. Yes, 50! It sounds daunting, but they did it. (You can, too.)

When you decide to write a list of 50 accomplishments, you start out with the obvious ones: “Posted x blog posts,” for example, or “won NaNo.”

But when you get down to #20 or #30, you have to dig a little deeper. At this point, even if I start out focused on writing accomplishments, I’ve started branching out into every other area of my life to find accomplishments. Stuff like, “hosted Christmas dinner for the whole extended family,” and “ran a half-marathon,” make the list.

Then it gets even harder—but, I believe, even more worthwhile.

The first time I made a list of #50 accomplishments, somewhere right around #49 or #50 was the accomplishment: “I became less defensive over this past year.”

Until I wrote that statement, I hadn’t been consciously aware that I was working on trying to become less defensive. Of all the accomplishments from that year, becoming less defensive was the one I was most proud of. And it was something I’ve continued to work on, consciously, in the years since.

I happen to believe, as Byron Katie does, that “defensiveness is the first act of war.” I’m still defensive at times, but much less so than I used to be. (I suppose I should check in with the people around me, to see if they agree!)

My defensiveness is just an example, but knowing that about myself—and that I had improved on it, motivated me to continue to work on it.

So try writing down 50 of your accomplishments from 2016. You may not believe you have 50, but I know you do.

 You may be surprised how much what you learn about yourself will motivate you in 2017!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I became a master life coach by way of being a family physician. These days, I coach, speak, write, and blog on life coaching topics. You can find my life coaching blog here and my website at www.dianemackinnon.com.

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!

*****

“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!