As I was considering what to write about at the beginning of this New Year, I was going to write about reflecting on our accomplishments. I realized I had already written about that so I thought about how we see the New Year as an opportunity for change and decided to go with that. We often think that we need to make drastic changes that require tremendous effort. I want to challenge that thinking with the idea of making small changes over time to transform our lives.
As I was pondering what to write about for this month’s blog, I thought about all of the negativity and conflict surrounding the election, all of the horrible acts of violence we see on the news, in movies and video games and all of the unspoken violence that occurs behind closed doors. I also thought about all of the conflict that arises when families get together for what is supposed to be enjoyable family time during the holidays and I thought of peace. How can we find and maintain peace during stressful times or when we are inundated with violent images, words and behaviors?
The first thing I thought of was shutting off all electronic gadgets that bombard our senses with so much violence. Our brains need a break from all of the negativity and violence. We have become so accustomed to seeing and hearing it that we have become desensitized to it. We don’t realize how much those images have been absorbed into our psyche and affect how we feel and how we respond to the world. We have become less compassionate toward ourselves and others. We have learned to shut down our feelings because if we allowed ourselves to feel the pain we witness through the media every day, we would have difficulty functioning. We may find ourselves in tears curled up in a ball with blankets over our heads, withdrawing from the world. Although we may not go to this extreme, there are many ways that we withdraw. How about those electronic gadgets that everybody carries with them, constantly looking at them and answering every little beep, buzzer, whistle or musical tone? Don’t we use them as an escape from the violence and pain? We may use them to escape, but do we find the peace we are seeking when we are scrolling through emails, social media feeds and watching YouTube videos?
The next thing I thought of was the beautiful fall weather, the crisp air, the golds, reds, purples and oranges of the leaves as they turn and let go of the branches to which they have been bound. We enjoyed a day trip to Indian Cave State Park yesterday. Although we missed the height of the fall colors, it was still relaxing to get out in the fresh air and see the natural beauty that we forget exists when we are cooped up indoors with all of our indoor comforts and distractions. The crunching leaves underfoot as we hiked up a steep trail, the smell of campfires, watching the squirrels scurry around collecting acorns and nuts for winter, the birds flying overhead, woodpeckers looking for food in dead trees, the river current carrying fallen leaves downstream, and the absence of traffic noise brought a sense of peacefulness and calm to my family. My son commented, “We need to do this more often!” He is a “millennial” and is accustomed to being on electronic gadgets, but out there, he got a break. There is no Wi-Fi and the cellular connections are limited. Disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature can offer a sense of peace.
The last thing I will address is taking time for yourself, to have fun, to have quiet time doing something you enjoy, to get lost in something creative. In other words, slow everything down, stop doing so much and just “be” in the moment. I had a professor, Kent Estes, who once said to me, “Kolleen, you are a human being, not a human doing.” I have remembered this and have used it often as a reminder to myself and to my clients. We are bombarded with so much information every second of every day that our senses have become overloaded. In order to find peace, we need to take a step back from everything, take a look inside ourselves to check in and get in touch with who we really are, breathe deeply and remind ourselves that “all is well.”
As we prepare to go to the polls next week and we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, take time to relax and connect with your inner peace. If you haven’t tried meditation, this may be a good time to try it out, even if it is just for three to five minutes a day. Unplug, literally, from all of the negative images and commentary that steal your peace of mind and spirit. As one of my childhood favorite church songs says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
How do you feel about deadlines? I mean, how do you really feel when you have a deadline? Are you delighted? Do you want to jump for joy and celebrate? Or is your first reaction one of dread? Do you resist the deadline and start thinking of all the reasons that you can’t possibly meet that deadline? If you are like most people, you are more inclined toward the latter.
What causes us to dig in our heels when a deadline is looming near? I think it triggers the natural response to rebel against authority that we experience as teens. Think back to when you were a teenager. How did you respond to deadlines, especially those regarding homework assignments? Were you excited to hear you had 3 weeks to complete a big project or paper? Or were you dreading it, trying to think of all of the obstacles like “How will I have time to do things with my friends?” or “I can’t possibly get it done because I have other classes, homework and a job. I just don’t have time to do this?” Yet, somehow, even with all of your objections, I’m guessing you usually found a way to get it done by the deadline. So how did you do it? How do you do it today, as an adult?
I operate under the theory that “Deadlines are lifelines” or “Deadlines are our friends.” I didn’t always believe this theory and there are times when I still resist the “dreaded deadline.” But experience has taught me that I am more likely to accomplish a goal when I have a deadline. Think about this: what if your boss said, “Hey, I have an important project I need you to do for me. There’s no big rush so take your time and do it well. We don’t have a deadline so don’t stress about it. Just get it to me when you can.” (Like this would really happen, but just humor me.) How many of you would rush to work on this project? He/she told you it was important, but what do you think about it? “How important can it be if there is no deadline?” Am I right? Now what if we take the same scenario but include “I need it before next Tuesday”? How do you feel about it now? Do you feel a sense of urgency? Are you more inclined to get to work on it?
There is something about the sense of urgency that kicks us into higher gear. Left to our own devices, we will find other things to occupy our time, even if we are told it is “important.” Think about a birthday or holiday such as Christmas. What if you had no date to consider as the “deadline,” would you buy gifts or cards to make it before the deadline or would it be easy to figure, “Oh, well. I’ll get around to it sometime.”?
I think most of us are familiar with the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” To accomplish a goal, we are much more likely to take the steps necessary when we put it in writing and include deadlines for each step along the way with the big deadline at the end. I recently had my book writing accountability partner challenge me to create a deadline for launching my book. My first thought was “I can’t set a deadline! I haven’t written enough, yet. I don’t even know what all I need to do to have everything in place before I launch it.” You can see that I was ready to dig in my heels and justify, blame and make excuses in an effort to resist the “dreaded deadline.” Thankfully, I know this about myself and once I voiced my thoughts, I followed up with “Help me to figure out a timeline for all the steps I need to take so I can come up with a launch date.” Once I became open to the idea and saw the necessity in doing it, my mindset became one of exploring solutions vs. making excuses. We mapped it out, I contacted 2 editors and have a hopeful launch date! I am so excited to be taking the necessary steps to reach this long-term goal I have had for years! Would I be able to make it by the launch date if left to my own devices and the idea that “it is important, but I don’t need a launch date, yet. I’ll just keep working on it” or would I continue to drag it out over months and years? My guess is that it would go on.
Something in us shifts when we make something a priority by putting a deadline on it. “Beginning with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a key to success. He says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” It is easy to be busy, but are we spending our time in activities that help to move us closer to our goals?
I had a roommate in college who set a weight loss goal for herself. She posted sticky notes all over the kitchen and house with her goal weight. By making it visible, she kept the goal at the forefront of her mind and achieved it faster than she would have if she had just said her goal was “to lose some weight.” I agreed to write monthly blogs/articles for the ATD Newsletter which means that I have a deadline every month. If I didn’t have the deadline, I may only write 2-3 articles a year instead of 12.
Take a look at your goal list. Are they really goals or are they just dreams without deadlines? How can you stop digging in your heels, holding yourself back and move forward toward achieving a goal or two that have been on your list for a while? I challenge you to choose a goal and set a deadline. Then find an accountability partner or coach to hold you to it. Map out the steps and follow through. It works like magic! Instead of a “deadline”, it becomes a “lifeline” leading you to a more fulfilling life.