2017 Goals

Jan. 2nd, 2017 03:43 pm
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I took a slightly different approach to coming up with goals this year. I really like Danielle LaPorte's year in review exercise, so I did that, and looked at what the new year looks like if it's full of what works and the themes from the highlights of the last year. I've also been revisiting The Desire Map and reworking my way through the core desired feelings process, and here are the feelings I think are going to work for me (at least for now): light, giddy, deeply present, and connection; or, possibly, the more syntactically parallel: light, giddiness, deep presence, connection. (I think the first three might be different flavors of the same thing, but they feel different enough that it's worth keeping all three.) I thought about those two exercises when making goals for this year.

Do regular life check-ins. I think I'm going to create a structure/worksheet for this (I'll share it if I do). The basic idea is that I want to check in with myself every week to see what's working, what isn't, what was great, what I want to change, and what I want to stop doing.

Create and strengthen connections. Do at least one thing every week to strengthen connections with existing, new, or potential friends. Do this with local people at least once a month.

Go on vacation/take time off. Take time off from work at least once a quarter. Go to the beach (any beach). Take a vacation of some sort with Molly.

Attend to my spiritual life. Do something every day that draws inspiration from something outside of me. I have a daily yoga and meditation practice, and there's a different sort of inspiration/spiritual lift that comes from taking in wisdom/inspiration/spiritual teaching from outside of myself.

Make time to take in art. Take in some sort of beautiful, unusual, and/or innovative art every month. This may include: attending dance performances, reading something very different from what I usually read, spending time with beautifully illustrated children's books from the library, going to an art exhibit.

Speak up. Part of this is an intention around making the world a better place over the next year(s). For a specific, measurable goal: write something non-fiction every week. I'm not sure if these are things to post here or on Tumblr or if I should start a Wordpress blog like a Real Blogger. Advice, suggestions, and opinions welcome!

Take care of my health. Specifically here: get the gum grafts done, and start taking melatonin before it really becomes summer to see if it works better that way.


Feb. 22nd, 2016 08:11 pm
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I've been thinking about crying a lot recently. I'm generally in favor of crying. There are some obvious caveats: crying as deliberate manipulation and the white women's tears phenomenon are shitty behaviors we shouldn't engage in, and if you're crying so much it's having a distinctively negative impact on your life, it's time to seek some professional help. But as a personal, individual release of emotion, I'm all for it.

I signed up for Danielle LaPorte's free Fire Starter Sessions audio course. I think one of Danielle's greatest strengths is that she writes really great self-inquiry questions, and that's true of the Fire Starter Sessions worksheets. Any time you go deep with self-inquiry, it brings stuff up, and I've spent some time crying about some of the stuff doing these worksheets is bringing up. It's not really surprising; I'm a crier. I cry at nearly every Grey's Anatomy episode. I sob my way through the endings of really emotional books. I like going to movies that require kleenex.

Going by the publication dates, I was most likely junior high aged when I read Jerry Spinelli's School Daze books. I don't remember much about the plot, but there are a few things I remember clearly. One of them is this bit of wisdom from Salem Brownmiller, who was the mental template Hermione Granger later fit into:

"Hollered at you? That's even worse. Feelings hurt more than bones. You have to let it out, don't you know that? You boys are so dumb. Listen, you know how you feel better after you throw up?"

Raymond nodded. "Uh-huh."

"Well, crying is like that. Tears are like your feelings throwing up. You'll feel better. Come on now, I'll cry with you. Let it out."
My yoga teacher tells us that we hold emotion in our bodies, and sometimes doing yoga can release that. "You might feel like laughing or crying," she says. You don't have to know why, or what you were holding on to. The release is what matters. When someone was having trouble with the class because she kept crying, our teacher told her, "I think we should laugh every day and we should cry every day." In the middle of working my way through some of the tougher Fire Starter Sessions worksheets - particularly thinking about your past failures and facing down your fears - I spent a yoga class tearing up.

Last week's PostSecret included an email from a young woman about her experience at The PostSecret Show. At the end of the show, she wrote a secret on a whiteboard about how inspirational her mom is and sent it to her mom:

She was in tears. She called me crying and told me how much that meant to her and how much she loves me. I was crying as well. My mom told me that even my dad was in tears; my dad doesn’t cry often so I considered this an accomplishment. I continued to tell my mom how much I cried because of PostSecret. Her response was this: "You are a rock most of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to be the river."
It's good advice. Cry. Let go. Be the river.
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The central piece of the workbook section of The Desire Map is the part where you figure out your core desired feelings (or CDFs, as Danielle calls them). You start by brainstorming how you want to feel in each area of your life, then she has you think about each word/look up their meanings and see how they resonate with you, and then work on narrowing down your list.

I did the first round of brainstorming, and then felt a little thrill of relief when I started looking up words and many of them had similar meanings. I had an underlying worry that I was doing it "wrong" as I was brainstorming, and the convergence seemed to mean I was doing it right. I narrowed it down to four words. They were good words, good feelings, certainly things I want to feel. And I didn't connect with them. I let them sit on the living room floor at the top of the stack of paper I'd been writing my answers out on, and I just never felt excited about them.

I did what meditation teaches you to do and I started over. I also ditched the rules - Danielle's advice on CDFs is to stick with nouns - and told myself to write down whatever I genuinely wanted to feel, not what I thought would be good answers. I narrowed those down. And narrowed them down some more. And then I had four things. Two of them I was pretty sure about, and two of them I still needed to think about. So I let that list sit on the living room floor at the top of the stack and thought about it off and on. One of Danielle's suggestions for using your CDFs is to, in moments where you're not feeling how you want to feel, remind yourself of how you want to feel. The section of the workbook after figuring out your CDFs has you write down what you would need to feel that way. So one day when I was feeling frustrated and decidedly not how I wanted to feel, I said to myself, "What would make you feel [feeling from my list] right now?" The only one that worked for me was one of the two I was pretty sure about: relaxed. Just thinking, "What would make you feel relaxed right now?" made me relax.

It's taken me a little bit to be okay with relaxed as a core desired feeling. There's a part of me that reacted to it with a "Really? That's all you want?" kind of attitude. I also have a twinge of, "But what if that's just a reactionary wish and not something deeper?" What I actually wrote down for more than one life area was "relaxed (free of tension)," and that seems less like something I want because I want it and more like something I want because it's the opposite of something I really don't want - and something I not only don't want but have been experiencing a lot of in the last few years. But I keep reminding myself that it's still something I want.

The other thing that's happening in my life is that it's summer, and as those of you who have been around for a while know, I don't deal well with the heat. Every summer I've been trying to be better about self-care and being gentle with myself. This summer I decided that part of my self-care and trying to be more relaxed was to ease waaaaaay up on my writing goals. I dumped all original fic goals from my list. I put off making fic goals until after I finished doing prompt snippets at the beginning of July, and then when I made my weekly goals, I decided my official goal was to do some work on AGally/Prusty dating fic every day except Thursdays. My unofficial not exactly a goal was that I would like to write at least 200 words of it every day except Thursdays. Somehow, having the official goal of "just do something" and a word count as an "I'd like to" really works for me. I wrote at least 200 words of it most days. Just as importantly, on the days that I didn't make it to 200, I didn't feel anxious or stressed out about it, and because my actual goal was to write something, it didn't push any of my "you're a failure" buttons.

There's one more piece to my current strategy, which is something I picked up from Gretchen Rubin. I don't connect quite as much with her current focus on habits as I did with her happiness work, but there's one thing that's working for me. Her habits work is divided into various strategies. One of these is the "Strategy of Treats," and she wrote a post (warning for diet and weight talk) about it where she says, "If we want to stick to our good habits, we should try very hard never to allow ourselves to feel deprived. ... When we give ourselves plenty of healthy treats, we don’t feel deprived." In one of her other posts on the Strategy of Treats, she says, "A treat is different from a reward, which must be justified or earned. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it." I changed my habits because of this. Before, I wasn't allowing myself to do anything purely for fun in the mornings until I met my writing goals - checking Tumblr and fic reading were rewards, and writing fic was a reward for doing my original writing. But that always made me feel deprived. I've really changed my approach now in that I will check Tumblr and maybe read some (short) fic first thing in the morning, and then write.

Since I've made several changes all at once (this is a highly unscientific process), it's hard to tease out exactly what's making the difference - or if it's all of it put together - but I find myself feeling more relaxed in general, more relaxed about my goals, and much less resentful of my goals.
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One of the soul limber prompts in The Desire Map is, "What's different about me is that". My first thought, the thing I wrote down immediately, was, "I'm smart," and then I had this whole "UGH" feeling about it, and I wrote, "BUT THAT'S NOT ALL I AM OR WANT TO BE."

I was always the smart kid growing up. I got good grades and had the highest SAT scores in my graduating class. Teachers didn't always know what to do with me. I spent a lot of time withdrawing and reading because I had already gotten whatever it was we were covering in class. I think being smart is valuable and part of who I am and part of what makes me special in the world. I also think always being the smart kid can be damaging and limiting.

What I learned from being the smart kid: you always have to know the right answer. You always have to succeed (at least at things that rely on you being smart; I never had a 4.0 because of my B/B+ PE grades, and as an adult, I'm okay with not being good at physical things).

Illustrative story 1: The beginning of seventh grade, possibly even the first day of seventh grade, and one of the kids I've known since fourth grade raises his hand and says, in response to something I can't even remember now, "Ruth is always right." Our English teacher looks at us and says, "Ruth is always right," as if it's a truism about the universe.

Illustrative story 2: In tenth grade, we had an awesome Honors Biology teacher. One of the things she did was extra credit on tests if you happened to use whatever she'd chosen as the secret word, which was always something we'd talked about in class. (This is relevant to the story so you know that giving extra credit for creativity was a thing she did.) We would go over our tests as a class when we got them back. For one test, she asked someone to read his answer, for which she'd given him a point, and he read out, "For the right answer, see Ruth's paper."

I didn't just learn that smart kids are supposed to know the right answer; I learned that I was supposed to know the right answer. The most important thing I've learned as an adult is that it's okay to fail and it's okay to be wrong. Intellectually, I know this is true. But I still haven't totally internalized it, and getting something wrong can still send me into an internal "I'm not good enough" shame spiral.

I also struggle against the way that "smart" is a hard label to expand beyond. When you're smart, you're supposed to only believe in and engage in things that are intellectual, scientific, fact-based. I'm smart, but that's not all I am: I'm creative; I have a tender and deeply loving heart; I have a daily spiritual practice that connects me to the divinity/oneness of the whole universe. There might be science that says creativity, feelings, and meditation are beneficial to us, but creativity, feelings, and meditation in and of themselves are not intellectual activities, and I keep hitting up against that belief that intellectual things are the only worthy pursuits, even though it's the creativity, feelings, and meditation that make me happy.

I know some of you were also smart kids growing up. Did you have some of these same experiences? Have you found ways to learn to be okay with being wrong? How about ways to expand beyond "smart"?
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I figured I should balance out the wish in my last personal post with some gratitude. Not that I'm trying to deny my wish or say that making it isn't an acceptable use of time/energy/words, but gratitude is also important, also a good use of time/energy/words, and also something I want to both feel for myself and put out into the world.

One of the prompts in the soul limber exercise of The Desire Map workbook section is, "Light and heavy: This brings me alive, enlivens me, reminds me of who I am." One of the things I wrote down was "positive reflections from others." Some examples of that:

On a day when I was feeling like I wasn't being my best self, I posted some sort of being a better person inspirational quote to Facebook. One of my friends commented on it and said I was a reminder to him to be a better person.

I kept thinking I wasn't being supportive or loving enough to one of my friends, and then she told me I'm a great friend.

I always think it takes me a while to get to know people and that I'm slow to open up, and then I got a holiday card from a new fannish friend who said she appreciated how open I was to making new friends.

I felt very vulnerable with my last personal entry, and then people commented on it and said I was brave for putting it out there, and also commented on how much I really do this kind of personal development work.

I think one of the big life lessons all of those instances is something I've been thinking about in this whole inquiry into my soul process: how I see myself, how other people see me, and how I think other people see me are three different (and only sometimes overlapping) things. (Unanswered question: where does who I actually am fit into that?) This is part of what I appreciate about those positive reflections: they remind me of something else I wrote down in the soul limber exercises: I can be warmer and more loving than I think. They're also, of course, positive attention being paid to me (yay!) and reminders that other people see and love me. Thank you to everyone who has reflected myself back to me like this.

One more example that doesn't fit the pattern of the previous four:

My brother and his girlfriend K were in town recently (they moved about five hours away in December), so we had family dinner at my parents' house. When I got there, K said to me, "You look good. You look really happy." That's definitely in the top five best compliments I've ever gotten.
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You may remember that one of my intentions for this year was some sort of spiritual refreshment. I want to be able to talk about that, and also it's an area where I feel very sensitive and vulnerable, and where it would be really easy for other people to unintentionally hurt my feelings. There are two things I want out of talking about it: (a) the opportunity to talk it out and (b) nonjudgmental listening. So first of all, I'm posting to LJ instead of emailing people about it because if no one responds to my LJ post I won't be upset where I would feel ignored if no one responded to that kind of email. Secondly, I'm going to change my usual if you write a comment I will reply to it approach to comments for these kinds of posts. If you want to empathize, ask questions, tell me about your experience, acknowledge the reality of my feelings, that would be awesome and I would love to have conversations with you! If your comment tells me I'm wrong about what I think or feel about my own experience or tells me what I should do when I haven't asked for advice, I'm not going to reply to it. That might seem like a lot of verbiage, but I think I need to be clear about my expectations and boundaries around this.

In a case of when the student is ready the teacher will appear (or the student will notice the teacher, since I have read one of her previous books), I followed a link to Danielle LaPorte's website, read almost all of her posts, and then bought her most recent book, The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul (I promise I'll make a post about the book itself when I'm done with it). I've read my way through the theory part, and am just started in on the desire mapping process/workbook part of the book. (Note: she has a whole book club associated with the book; if anyone else wants to also read it and do an online book club, I would totally be into that.) The basic premise of the book is that you figure out how you want to feel (what she calls your core desired feelings) and then build goals that will help you feel that way.

The workbook section of the book starts with what she calls "soul limber": a bunch of prompts designed to "loosen some of the calcification from your intellect and get you closer to your heart." The first one is, "I crave," and I wrote down "ATTENTION." I then spent the next few days getting the weirdest feedback on fic, which reminded me that sometimes when you ask the universe for something, you get it. So then I started thinking very loudly, "Okay, universe, when I said 'attention,' what I really meant was 'positive attention.'"

Maybe a month or so ago, I was doing yoga, and I thought to myself, "All I want is for someone to pay attention and listen to me," and then burst into tears because it's such a fierce wish, and such a deep one. (Also in my list for the "I crave" prompt: "to be heard.") I have a hard time untangling how much of that is a response to junior high trauma and how much of it is a basic human wish to be seen and heard. I listened to this interview with Danielle about desire mapping, and she talks about how some people look at how they want to feel and say that it comes from a wound, and her response to that is, "So what?" Even if it comes from a wounded place, it's still something you genuinely want to feel. I really like that framing, and particularly the way it says it's okay to want to feel however you want to feel.

So back to wanting attention. There's an episode of The Simpsons where Bart jumps around the room saying, "Pay attention to me!" I think it's supposed to be a joke about his attention-seeking behavior and how he can't stand for Lisa to be the center of attention even once, but I think about that scene a lot because I feel that way a lot. My want for attention often feels needy, greedy, and desperate. (Which is probably related to the cultural idea that attention-seeking is a bad thing, which means that wanting attention that much is also bad. Or maybe there's something there where I don't quite feel worthy of more of it.) I really like Gretchen Rubin's happiness commandment of "spend out," and that's what I've been trying to do: when I'm feeling ignored or not paid attention to, I spend out by paying attention to other people, or when I'm feeling not exactly unloved but not as loved as I want to in the moment, I spend out by sending someone else a love note (emailed or on paper). What's harder is to ask for attention. I've done it sometimes, mostly on Twitter, but I try to save it for those times when I'm having a really bad day and really, really need the support. I don't know if this a good strategy in that it does get me some attention when I'm feeling icky or a not good enough one in that I could get that need for attention filled more often if I just asked for it. The scary part is: what if I ask for it and no one gives it to me?


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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