Planning for a Win

Well, here we are smack dab in a new year and it’s time to start planning for a win. I’ve always hated the term strategic planning. It’s often thrown around in corporate settings along with an eyeroll that means we’re generating a big report no one will read and we have no intention of following. In spite of that, planning is critically important for improving our health, our enjoyment, and our lives!

B-O-R-I-N-G. I can feel your eyeroll reading this. The thing is, a lack of planning will rob us of safety, leisure, and time down the road. We know this so well we have the cliché: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can’t prevent unless you know what you’re preventing and make deliberate efforts toward doing so. In order to be deliberate, you must think through the process. This, is planning.

So, how can you motivate yourself to do something that seems useless until you need it?

Observe someone else

What’s difficult to see in ourselves is easy to see in others. Every time you tell your teen that cleaning her room would go faster if she’d organize, remember that organizing is implementation of planning logistics. Every time you tell your son that his homework will be easier if he’ll do his hardest subject first, remember that increasing efficiency by minimizing your weaknesses is planning.

Shop

If you love shopping, get yourself in planning mode by clicking through product pictures that will make your tasks easier. Always running out of printer ink at the most inopportune moment? Find a storage container you love to store extra. Eat too many chips because you forget to buy crunchy vegetables? Favorite a couple of crunchy vegetables in your grocery app so they’ll come up as suggestions next time you shop.

Use the shower

If you feel you can’t spare the time to plan, do the mental work while you’re in the shower. When I designed for clients, most designs started in the shower. I’ve solved a lot of problems there too. I often plan product production in the shower. The only problem is my autopilot isn’t perfect and I sometimes forget to use shampoo.

Find something pleasant

As you open your mind to planning in spite of internal objections, notice if there’s one tiny thing you enjoy about the process. For some of us, hand writing lists in a leather journal with a favorite pen is enough to bridge the gap between reluctance and progress. Planning while sitting in your favorite chair with your favorite beverage can also be pleasant (or fun or dangerous depending your favorite beverage and the amount consumed, no judgement).

When it comes to a workout plan, finding the specific activities that make you feel good will help you adhere to a schedule. In fact, if a workout makes you feel better there won’t be a need for a formal plan. You’ll seek it out. Swimming and yoga are my favorites. Truthfully, I’d rather be doing yoga right now that writing, but that does not fit my plan for today.

Solve a puzzle

Life is a puzzle that’s always adding new pieces. Solving a what-would-I-do-if puzzle can be a great mental exercise. When I see some disaster on TV, I devise a plan for what I would do if faced with that circumstance. I don’t get obsessed by this or start ordering 50 years of supplies. I just think through the possibilities and make a mental checklist. For instance, I have a procedure for the steps to follow if the bridge in front of me is suddenly gone and I can’t stop my car before it plunges. Disaster response is a puzzle to solve. Planning also seeks to put the pieces of life in order.

Reward yourself

A reward at the end of a task isn’t as motivational for me as the inherent benefits of planning that I will enjoy later, but not everyone is like me. If rewarding yourself with two hours of binge watching once you’ve finished the task at hand, then do it. Have food delivered rather than cooking another meal or order a pair of earrings you’ve been eyeing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentives!

Be flexible

Any rigid plan can feel stifling at some point so allow yourself some flexibility. You may have saved planning for a rainy day that turns out to be sunny. Don’t strap yourself to your desk, get out and enjoy the sun! You’ll feel more invigorated and motivated later.

Run across an interesting article while you’re researching something? Go ahead and read it, then come back to the task. Too often we read the article, but then punish ourselves for not sticking to the plan. That just demotivates us for the next planning session. Incorporating flexibility instead, frees us to enjoy a digression occasionally without feeling bad.

Be honest

How many of us say we hate planning and then invest hours scoping out the perfect vacation spot with a smile on our faces? Do we really hate planning or is it tolerable when we’re doing something we consider leisure rather than work? Owning our individual quirks, motivations, and tolerances will make every decision easier and more understandable. And it will ease the internal struggle that prevents action.

Bring your sense of humor

No matter how much you plan, some things will go awry. The universe, family, or a boss will throw you an unavoidable curve ball. When plans fail in ironic and silly ways, it’s okay to laugh. If you recognize you’ve become too attached to a plan you didn’t want to make in the first place, it’s okay to laugh. It’s not so much about the plan. Plans often have to be revised. The thought process, expectations, and intentions that show us the path forward are what matters.

Just do it

There is a lot of wisdom to the Nike slogan. Sometimes the first step is all we need to get us going. If you can muscle yourself through one step, just do it and see what happens. Often, the second step is easier and by the 10th you won’t even remember your objection.

Now, get out there and win 2021. It’s going to be a tough one, but that’s no reason not to excel and thrive! Planning now will help later as challenges appear.

Winning is being informed. Winning is showing up. Winning is stretching yourself. Winning is being kind. Winning is embracing change. Winning is seeing the opportunity in every challenge. Winning is loving your flaws. Winning is learning. Winning is understanding your value. Winning is listening. Winning is contributing. Winning is speaking your truth. Winning is granting yourself grace. Winning is granting grace to those you do not like or understand. Winning is accepting love.

Winning is giving. Winning is…limitless.

There is no Permanent Record

Life is a process and there is no permanent record. This year has shined a bright light on the US culture. One of the things I’ve noticed is that we seem to view what happens right this minute as determinative of everything that follows. This is hobbling our thinking at a time when pivoting needs to be swift and nimble.

It is absolutely responsible and important to carefully consider decisions. But if we don’t empty our mind of expectations, assumptions, conventional wisdom, and trending topics first, we both limit ourselves and create undue pressure at a time when we need less.

Rather than recognizing that uncertainty is always with us, some have responded to this year of swift change by further entrenching themselves in ideas or behaviors that do not serve well. Many times, it comes down to the idea that if we do something unconventional, or different than our family or friends, and it doesn’t turn out well, it will go on our permanent record.

There is no permanent record. If someone holds a long-time grudge, that’s on them, not you. If someone continues to judge you for a mistake you have acknowledged in spite of it being a one-time error, that’s on them. If your parents disagree with your decision, but you’re okay with the consequences, it’s their problem, not yours. If everyone in your Facebook group disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean you’re misguided.

I understand it doesn’t always feel good to stand alone. I left high school a year early. My dad thought that was a mistake. I had the credits to graduate and went to straight to college with a scholarship in hand. In spite of this, and the fact that I received my high school diploma the following year along with my class, he still believed it was a mistake.

Ten years later, although I had no regrets about the decision, he scored it as an error on his version of my permanent record. I could have accepted his view and let it create doubt or I could feel confident that I had researched my options and was willing to continue to move toward my goals.

Were there failures along the way? Of course. But failing in an endeavor does not make me a failure because I know I don’t have to become mired in that glitch. I can view it as a chance for improvement. To remain inspired, I keep these words from a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt in my head at all times:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

If there were a permanent record, I would want it to reflect me as a contender in the arena rather than someone who always towed a line drawn by others. I’d want it to show that my decisions were well thought and carefully made. I’d want to be seen as a problem solver who moved past obstacles. And I would hope to be judged on more than appearance or net worth.

If you are a student whose grades are suffering during the pandemic, it is not a life ruining experience. Learn the life lessons in front of you. Those are more valuable than any letter grade.

If you are a parent struggling to be productive while also minding the kids, cut yourself some slack when you don’t perform at your 2019 level. Not all productivity can be measured in immediate output. Ask any strategic planner.

If you are a child who cannot visit an elderly parent in long-term care, just do what you can to stay connected. The separation does not mean your relationship has ended. It just means it has had to shift.

If you are feeling frustrated, sad, and angry because you cannot safely attend a wedding, funeral, graduation, performance, or family reunion, those feelings are normal. You may need to designate some time for self-care to grieve the loss.

If you are having to ask for help, it doesn’t mean you aren’t capable. We all need assistance under certain circumstances.

If you are a frontline or essential worker, thank you! Collectively, we have placed an undue burden on you. It will take a toll. That is not because you are weak. It is because you are a human tasked with superhuman expectations.

There’s lots of catastrophizing going on right now. The news and social media are filled with hyperbole. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that our lives are falling apart. Some are suffering devastating pain and loss. Others are suffering a change in routine. Many of us fall somewhere in between.

But before we decide that we can’t bounce back from the setbacks of 2020 and 2021, let’s remember that we can adapt when needed. We can see ourselves as the man in the arena and use challenges as motivation to be better. We can shift priorities and make better choices. And we can evaluate, reevaluate, and leave our mistakes in the past because there is no permanent record.

Time to Decide

This excruciating year is winding down and now it’s time to decide. Will we use the disruptions of 2020 as an opportunity to learn and improve, or will we dig in our heels and double down on pre-pandemic positions? Will we choose to explore our values and priorities and then realign our lives around them, or will we claw our way back to a sense of 2019 normal? What we make of this year is not up to a new administration or a health crisis. What we make of this year is up to us.

I’ve seen the resignation on faces. I’ve heard it in voices. It feels as though many of us see ourselves as helpless right now. Being resigned to helplessness is a slippery slope. If we are helpless then what we do doesn’t matter so we may as well do whatever we want and consequences be damned.

Sometimes our thinking isn’t so blatantly rebellious. We just reason our way around anything that might shake our established beliefs. And it happens so quickly we don’t even know we’re doing it. Perhaps it’s normal when faced with uncertainty to grab onto the nearest comfort or run from new thoughts. I’m not sure.

I am certain what we do makes a difference even when we can’t immediately see the results. So as we wind down this year in the midst of an accelerating health crisis, I encourage you to trust yourself enough to approach the coming year with the belief that what you do matters.

Most of us can change one thing we never believed we could change. In changing that one thing, we open the door for vast positive contributions to our selves, our families, and our communities.

If you have trouble making that leap, try asking yourself the questions below. Then take one of the answers and do it. It doesn’t have to look like anything you’ve thought of before. It doesn’t have to be accomplished to any certain standard. Just think of this as a learning experience.

Let’s begin the experience of learning to make a difference:

What’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in 2020 that surprised me?

Is there a way I can use that knowledge to improve my life or my community?

What’s one thing I am willing to give up so that I have time for ___________(that thing you say you want to do but never get around to)?

What’s one thing I am willing to give up to help my friend?

What’s one thing I’d do differently if I felt appreciated?

What’s one thing I’d do differently if I felt like part of a winning team?

What’s one thing I can do that will make my life better?

What’s one thing I can do that will make my family’s life better?

What’s one thing I can do that will make a friend’s life better?

What’s one thing I can do that will make a stranger’s life better?

What’s one thing I would do if I were brave?

What’s one ability I have that I can use differently?

What’s the worst thing I’ve ever done? If my friend did that, would I forgive them?

What can I do to be a better listener?

What’s one thing I’m willing to say no to?

What’s one unexplored solution to an ongoing problem?

What’s one feeling I always avoid and what would change if I felt it?

What’s one habit I want to give up?

What’s one habit I want to develop?

Yes, these are simple questions. But so often we fail to take the first step toward significant improvement or significant contribution because we imagine the task as so large that we resign ourselves to failure. But once change has begun, it’s just a matter of commitment and time before you see that what you’ve done has made a difference.

Knowing you can make a difference even in the worst of circumstances will equip you to weather any storm that changes your life’s course without the need to control the outcome. I know it may just sound like words right now, but try it. See what happens.

2021 is upon us. Like 2020 it will not be a cakewalk. We can choose to make a difference and become captains of our own destiny, or we can hold back and feel helpless. If you’re not sure which way to go, now is the time to decide.

I choose to make a difference.

Gratitude Workout

It’s Thanksgiving week, let’s breathe our way through a gratitude workout. A study of the effects of the pandemic showed that 90% of us have been emotionally affected by it. That’s really not surprising. But for 25% of us, this has resulted in depression. While a temporary state of depression is a natural response to change, it’s possible some will experience long-term or clinical depression as time goes on.

Many Americans are facing trauma and hardship they’ve never seen before – job loss, hunger, severe illness, loss of family, lack of physical contact, unsafe working conditions, and more. This takes a toll even on the strongest and healthiest of us. Yet some will rise to the occasion, feel the effects, find a way to cope, and thrive in the future. Others will become stuck. Genetics, personality, support, and choices all play a role in how we fare.

Even when outside support is lacking, we can become our own support system by building the emotional resilience that will facilitate processing through difficulty and coming out the other side better than before. This can be accomplished through deliberate practices. One tool to build an emotional toolkit is a gratitude practice. I’ve written about this before because it’s always a wonderfully useful tool, but it seems especially important right now.

So much of our cultural conversation is focused on what we don’t have, can’t do, can’t buy, can’t see, can’t experience that we’re at risk of losing sight of the good that surrounds us. A gratitude workout may be just the shift in focus that revitalizes us when we’re dining alone this week.

I’ve used many techniques for practicing gratitude. I started with a series of journals. In those books, I made a list every day of 10 things for which I was grateful. On days when most everything had gone wrong, I had to sit for a very long time to think of that first item. But I’m sure you’ll find as I did that once you think of one thing, you’ll think of more because your focus has finally shifted.

One year, I used a series of neon colored post-its that I collected in a brightly colored plastic box with a pull-out drawer. At the end of each month, I’d go back and read all of the notes. It was a great way to gain perspective on the events of the month. If I gleaned an insight that seemed particularly significant, I’d record it somewhere to ponder later.

The specifics of how you record your lists are not as important as the discipline of doing it. In fact, it’s the discipline that will pave the way for the greatest insight. Those moments when you really don’t feel grateful for anything will get you to dig deeper. But you won’t dig deeper unless disciplined commitment to the process requires that you record something. It’s a lot easier to eat ice cream and pout.

This week of Thanksgiving, you may not be with family. That brings the temptation to only see what’s missing. That’s why I’m planning to combine two practices and breathe my way through a gratitude workout.

How? Before I prepare my Cornish hen, I’m spending some time on my yoga mat. I’m going to sit in easy pose (Sukhasana) or stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) and slow my breath bringing my focus to my sit bones or the four corners of my feet, my thighs, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Once I’ve found the balance between effort and ease, I’ll begin to breathe my gratitude. A long breath in through the nose and a slow breath out for each item on my list. I may add a twist in between and a series of warrior poses before I rest in corpse pose (Savasana).

I’ll express gratitude for grocery delivery, Zoom & FaceTime, the warm weather that made fresh tomatoes and spinach from the garden possible for Thanksgiving, the flavor of those tomatoes, my grandchildren’s laughter, the internet, the heart of healthcare workers, brilliant maple leaves, and strong oak trees with rough bark.

None of those are equal to sitting around the table with my family, but grocery delivery means I have groceries without virus exposure. Zoom and the internet mean I’ll can see my family in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. Fresh vegetables from my garden mean both healthy and tasty food. And cooking for one rather than a large group means I have time to sit still. Things don’t have to be perfect to enrich my life or make things better than they would be otherwise. I can be grateful for things that are just okay.

In fact, I am grateful for things that are just okay as well as things that are magnificent. But it’s easy to miss the magnificent if I only focus on what is wrong. In this year when it feels like so much has gone awry, a gratitude workout is just what the doctor ordered.