This is long. Very long. It is serious, and may strike some people as mamby-pamby, touchy-feely nonsense. If you are one of them, you have plenty of time to bail out and move along.
The christmas season seems to begin earlier and earlier every year. When I was out and about right after halloween, some places already had christmas displays up and fully stocked. And of course, thanksgiving for a lot of people no longer means just sitting around, eating, enjoying the day with friends and family or alone, whichever one prefers. It means shopping that very day, or girding themselves to fight the throngs who also think they absolutely must have some item at 3 AM that will go on sale after the holiday anyway.
It’s also the time of the year the dreaded question arises: what do you want for christmas?
When I was young, there were things I did want, because we were incredibly poor and didn’t have much in the way of material things. Still, our parents managed – as parents do – to make a christmas for us kids, even if that paled in comparison to other families, and isn’t even in the same universe as the holiday now. The older I got, the smaller the “want” group got in the process.
These days, there is nothing in particular I need, and nothing in particular that I want, except perhaps more biz for the biz (but that is a) not personal and b) an ongoing thing). But my answer this year is not the same as it has been for years on end now: nothing. No, this year I do want something. Not something consumeristically (I know: not technically a word) material from you. Not that. I want something for you.
I want you to keep your money, and instead of wracking your brain thinking about what to buy, think about yourself. That means everything, top to bottom, front to back, inside and out. Who are you? What is it that you want? It doesn’t have to big some huge, lofty desire. Do you want to lose weight? Eat better? Learn another language? Paint landscapes? Conquer a fear of something? Learn to play an instrument? Face life without fear? Help the homeless? Write poetry?
Kids have no problems whatsoever coming up with all the things they want, because they are kids, and don’t generally have an internal adult brain telling them they can’t fling webs from their wrists like Spiderman, or can’t climb a tree that by its mere existence invites climbing because they are afraid of falling and breaking something, or ride their bike at a thousand million miles an hour across the yard, or be an astronaut exploring Mars. It doesn’t compute for them.
This is not to say you should be unrealistic. In fact, this is the best opportunity to combine the kid and adult brain. You may have impossible, unobtainable things you would really love to do, and there is nothing wrong with this. If there were no conditions at all that make it impossible, for instance, I would willingly be shot into space to spend some time on the ISS. This is never going to happen for a variety of reasons, but I indulge myself in the fantastic pictures from the ISS and NASA, and it keeps my awe intact.
The base for what I want for you, though, needs to be specific, and attainable. Don’t tell me you want to lose weight. Tell me you want to lose ten pounds in three months. Don’t tell me you want to eat better. Tell me you want to include more protein in your diet, or cut back on the amount of meat you eat as part of your regular diet, or stop eating an entire bag of Cheetos in one sitting, or learn to cook so you can control the ingredients yourself. Don’t tell me you want to learn a language. Tell me you want to learn Spanish or French or Swahili. Don’t tell me you want to paint landscapes. Tell me you want to complete one painting a week. Don’t tell me you want to get over a fear. Tell me you want to get over an overwhelming fear of heights. Don’t tell me you want to write poetry. Tell me you want to complete two freeform poems a week.
The specifics of what you want are important. “I want to lose weight!” is a nebulous want, with no route to that goal. “I want to lose ten pounds in three months!” is solid, concrete, and something that can be planned and the work – yes, work – put in to do it.
I’ll start: thanks to all the cancer stuff and surgeries and meds, I found myself listless, easily fatigued, with muscle weakness after the smallest of exertions, and a fog on my brain. What I decided: ask the doctor to order a full round of blood work. He did, and we found the things I’ve described before. We took steps to address those things, from a medical standpoint. The other side of the decision coin is me: I decided to go off the statins I was on (NOTE: do not take yourself off medicines prescribed by your doctor(s) without discussing it with them!). I decided to do two treadmill sessions per day, of at least ten minutes each. I could go longer if my body cooperated, but the minimum was ten minutes. I started Friday, the very day I decided on those two sessions. Last night my second session was late in the day, and I was pretty tired, but I did it anyway. It was not horrible, and I went for just over 15 minutes, completing about three quarters of a mile, my best session yet. Today is day seven, and it is now my routine: get up, make sure the dogs are fed and watered, take my morning meds, which must be taken on an empty stomach, check in on my email to sort it, hit the bathroom, and then walk. Only after all that do I make my breakfast. Now that I’ve finished writing up this, I’ll be doing my second session.
My other want is to write. I realized while thinking about the subject of this post and a few other associated things that this is not enough. It is not specific enough, and floats in the air like some wobbly, airborne miasma, with nothing to grab without it squirting through my fingers, unable to be captured. I want to write mystery novels (for which I have multiple ideas). I want to write at least one non-genre, literary novel (for which I have at least one idea). I want to write classical Elizabethan sonnets (for which I have iambic pentameters in my head, unsorted).
Now, review your list, and decide this: what is keeping you from doing it? Again, I’ll start with myself, on the writing item this time. I realized I was spending far too much time on facebook, going down the rabbit hole, and many, many hours were slipping away with nothing in particular to show for them. I realized I was being far too broad in my goals. I realized that even though some little piece of my brain was saying that everything I wrote was the worst thing ever, this is, objectively, not true. While all of it is not War and Peace, it is not terrible, and I had others read samples to see what they thought, which brought some minor corrections but not abject horror at how awful it was.
Which brought me to the next point, which I did, and is what I want for you: put the framework in place. Once again, I’ll start with myself. Last night as I thought things over and had my eureka moment, I started outlining what will be the first of a series of mystery novels featuring a particular character and fictional county. It is not the formal, boring outline we’ve all encountered in school, but more of a description of scenes following one another that when combined will create the entire work. No one can eat an elephant all at once. It has to be cut into manageable chunks, as otherwise it appears to be an impossible task. Today, I will continue with that outlining, and I will keep on it until it is done. At that point, I can review it to see if anything needs to be reordered. Then, I’ll be able to flesh out those various portions, building it up into what, in the end, it will be: a completed novel, or at least the first draft of one.
Now, I ask you this: what do you need to do the thing you want? If you want to lose ten pounds in the next three months, your framework may be to walk twice a day for at least ten minutes each time, one slated for before going to work, and the other at lunch break, or when you get home. That framework would also include looking over your diet and deciding that instead of eating out every night from whatever fast food joint you frequent, you will start cooking at home and taper down to eating fast food one night per week instead. This would require another element of your framework – namely, planning meals and shopping accordingly for fresh, healthy food. Another piece of the framework would be getting some kind of physical exercise going, even if it’s simply doing bicep curls with a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, or standing pushups against a wall, using just your bodyweight. Be creative: the path to your goal does not have to be boring or tedious.
Your framework should allow for a gradual incline toward your goal, not the usual track that people do when they make new year’s resolutions. They set an overly broad goal of “working out more!”, go to the gym on January 2nd, spend three hours there with no plan, lifting the heaviest things they can, then wake up so sore the next day (or the day after that) that they never go back because it’s hard. Pursuit of what you want can be hard, there is no doubt about it. It does not, however, have to be so difficult that it short circuits itself immediately, and lack of planning or consistency will not help you to reach your goal. Because my days must remain flexible due to work and medical demands, I cannot say that I will write from noon to three every day. What I can say is that I will write x number of words per day, or write for y hours every day. I will not say I will write for five hours a day, or write 5,000 words a day right off the bat. That’s a surefire way to get derailed. That might be a piece of the overall goal to work toward, if that’s what I decided.
Do not put so many obstacles in your own way that you never actually get to start the thing you want. Let’s say you are the person who wants to complete one painting a week. You decide you need to clear an area of a room to set up an easel. No problem with that. Then you decide you can’t clear just that one area, you have to rearrange the room entirely, get that load of laundry in, remake the bed, clean the bathroom, and on and on until you’ve created a giant list of todo things that will never allow you to start painting. If you do this, you need to step back and talk to yourself. Make the bed when you get up. The laundry can wait. Cleaning the bathroom can wait. Get your sketchbook, if you use one, and sketch out the subject of that painting. Transfer your sketch to the canvas if that’s what you do. Break out the brushes and the paint and start it, immediately after cleaning out the corner you’ve staked your claim on as your painting space. When you’ve gone as far as you can that day, stop, but tell yourself the next session will involve X, Y, and Z to continue onward, whatever X, Y, and Z are. Then go take care of the laundry. It will still be there.
You may come up with excuses not to continue to make pursuit of your hobby or goal or task a routine. Don’t tell me the reasons you cannot do the thing that is what you want. Tell me what you are doing to reach the thing you want. Most of all, don’t tell yourself that you cannot do whatever it is you want. Some days it might be difficult to silence that little voice. Shrug, tell it you don’t care, and forge ahead. Continue the painting. Do that walking session. Study another round of words in German. Practice your scales or that simple etude you decided you wanted to play on the piano. Get off all the social media sites you continually refresh for hours on end, and go post on your blog. Point people there via social media if you like. Keep a notebook or journal. Find some way to show yourself the progress you are making. If others happen to see it, that’s just a bonus, because you are not necessarily doing these things for others. You are doing them because it is something you want.
Always, above all, remember this: you are important. The things you want to do are important. It does not matter if some random person thinks what you are doing to reach your goal is dumb or pointless or unimportant. It only matters that you know your goal and know what you are doing to get there. I can guarantee there will be more – far more – people cheering you on versus anyone trying to drag you down. Those who would try to torpedo your goals are probably not people you want in your life a lot anyway.
One more thing.
You can tell me what it is you want in a reply, and that’s fine. Speaking from experience, though, the tactile experience of actually writing things down helps make them more solid. What I’d like you to do is send me a note (email or comment) or a letter through the mail (or do both). Write it out. Mail it to me at the address in the image below. If you include your name and return address, I’ll write back to you, even if you only give your first name, and even if you are a complete stranger to me, because sometimes, telling a total stranger something is easier or less stressful than telling friends or family. If you don’t mind me sharing excerpts of things you’ve said, you can say that, too. If not, I won’t, and it will remain just between us. If you want to be anonymous, and prefer writing something without any reply just because it helps you along, you don’t have to include your name or address at all. I’ll still read it.
In three months and a few days time, it will be my birthday. Ninety days may be a speck in the overall timeline of a person’s life, but for the purpose of moving toward something you want, it can be immense. Ninety days from now, I’ll post again, to tell you how I’ve done on my goals and ask how you’ve done on yours. What progress have you made, what stumbles caught you, what are your successes? There will inevitably be bad days, just as there will be good ones, and the latter will outnumber the former if you tell yourself the reasons you can instead of pulling in every reason you can’t. Remember: even the seemingly smallest act can be a success if it gets you even a millimeter toward being the you that you want to be.
If you’ve made it this far, in these days of single-line facebook posts and 140 character tweets, I congratulate you. You’re already on your way, because you’ve stuck it out for over 2500 words now. I have no doubt you’ll be able to move toward your goal.