Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travel by, And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost
Beyond the Outer Rim is a metaphor. My metaphor. It is about becoming. I hope it is about becoming authentic and enlightened. I hope it is about evolution and change. And, I sincerely hope it inspires others on their paths, transitions, and journeys.
For an explanation of the Beyond-the-Outer-Rim metaphor refer to: The “Outer” What?
My parents were weird! I know – it’s a bold statement. But, it was true. I make this statement both as an endearment and, more importantly, as the highest compliment I can pay them. People who know me require no more explanation, but for those of you who don’t – I like things that are offbeat, slightly askew, weird, out of the ordinary…. Well, you get the idea. I think outside the box. I am the right-brain person trying to live in the left-brain, cookie-cutter world.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the universal energy (atheist) for having a big bang moment within my parents (yuk) and creating me. I feel as if I won some universal lottery.
Although, my mother was Mormon and my father was Protestant (possibly?) I grew up in a much more diverse environment. My parents, took in turn, the studying and discussing of each of the major religions / philosophies. They were also very interested in pop-psychology, positive-thinking and motivational techniques, and every aspect of the whole self-help movement. When I was very young we would listen to Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Kung Fu (a concept recording of quotes from the TV show – Taoist thoughts) tapes in the car. This was not what other people where listening to in their cars – to say the least. When I was older we listened to motivational speakers, psychologists, gurus of every type from health to meditation to eastern philosophy and beyond. Their library was full of books of the same content. Diverse.
The common thread through all of my parents studying was: You are in control. You are what you think. You are your habits. Etc.
“Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip… is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too…” –Jonathan Livingston Seagull written by Richard Bach
Staying on the Path
These are some of the things that I do to keep on track, especially when things aren’t going as well as I would like. I get these from my parents, who taught me them and did them. My parents also taught me to think critically and analyze and so some of their methods have evolved into my own, like “tiny tasks” and rituals. Here are a few helpful hints to staying motivated, keeping your thoughts positive, and creating good habits, rituals, and achievable goals.
I have signs posted all around my house that state my big goals, passions, or aspirations. Contrary to popular belief, they are not time oriented or number oriented or quantifiable in any way. They are on bright colored index cards and they are written in descending order of importance. Here is an example:
- PAINT WRITE SCULPT
- Eat healthy, exercise
- New dream job
- Clean, organize, finish house
- And some private items…
Note: I imagine that if I had a husband or children above the “paint, write, sculpt” line, I would have something like “Love / Quality time.”
These are things that I want to have in my life no matter what. It is not about whether I get paid to do them. It’s not about a number on a scale or a date in a calendar. Signs are about having a lifestyle or environment, a passion or hobby, a goal always at the forefront of your thoughts. I hang my signs where I will see them first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. They change and get reorganized from time to time as needed. But, it’s always about the “big picture” items. This takes advantage of the unconscious mind in an attempt at subliminal programming. Subliminal programming or advertising, although wrought with controversy, does tend to work when you already want something. So my advice is to take advantage of the workings of the unconscious mind.
2. Goals and “tiny tasks”
I am not a huge proponent of goals anymore. Bear with me. I went to business school and it was all about goals. You must write them. They should have a time component and a money component. And, you should read them everyday. And that was where they stopped talking about goals. If goals worked, then every American would be rich, have all the important toys, and be the CEO of their own company, etc. Right?
I have switched my thinking (a paradigm shift) to that of accomplishing “tiny tasks.” It works so much better. And, once you have “forward momentum,” it is so much easier. I would say that in the last year or two of “tiny tasks” – I have accomplished much more on my “personal” journey than in the 7 years preceding. The trick is to do or change one tiny thing at a time and give it great focus.
As part of a healthy lifestyle, I wanted to take vitamins. I tried many times, over many years. I could never remember to take them. They would expire and I would throw them away. Then one day I went to the eye doctor and he told me I was at high risk of developing macular degeneration. I was prescribed to take an eye vitamin specifically for this problem. Granted this diagnosis lead to high motivation on my part, but it was not without problems. I had to “task” myself everyday to try to remember to take these vitamins and I failed miserably a lot of times. I had to experiment with the times of the day and when I would most remember to take the pills. During the summer, I developed a pattern in which I could remember to take them. But, when school started I went back to not being able to remember. Again, I had to play with different routines in order to find the most successful and efficient. Finally, there was success. One would think that taking a pill is an easy thing, but it took months of tasking myself to do this little thing (and experimenting with times) before it stuck and became a “habit.” Once the taking of the eye vitamin became a habit, I added a multi-vitamin. And then a few months later, I added a calcium pill. And even later, during a cold, I added vitamins C and E to the mix. But, the hardest thing was that initial step (task) of taking the eye vitamin and making it into a habit. Once the habit was formed (via the task) forward momentum was created and adding the other vitamins was very easy.
I think that a lot of people fail at goals because they are so big, grandiose, complicated, far in the future, etc. For example, I know so many people who want to go to college and probably even have it on their “list” of life goals. But they never take the fist step. Maybe they don’t even know what the first step is? If they used the “tiny task” approach, their first step would be to research how to go to college. Or if they already know, their first task would be to apply to the college of choice and their second task would be to enroll in a class or two. Most people are tripped up on step one. But, once underway, forward momentum becomes a powerful force. After you have completed one class, you take another, and another, and pretty soon your half way to a degree and then you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The same approach can be taken for any goal. Don’t think about the end. Think about the beginning. Assign yourself one “tiny task” for the week (or day – depending on your time constraints). Warning – do not overload yourself on tiny tasks for a day or week because then they seem like chores or “to do” lists. You want to slowly build “authentic” or “passionate” forward momentum. Eventually – you want to create a “habit.”
Let’s say you wanted to write a book and you’ve already got a plot somewhat in mind. You could “tiny task” yourself with writing 2 rough draft pages a week. It even helps to tentatively plan when, like one page on Tuesday night and one page on Thursday night. I once heard an author say that if you wrote a page a day, in a year you would have a book. How long has “write a book” been on your goal list? I bet a lot of people out there have had it on their “list of lifetime goals” for multiple years. What if…?
Living a healthy lifestyle has been on my “goal list” for more years than I care to mention. Specifically, as seen above, the aspiration states: Eat healthy and exercise. The “exercise” part is much harder than the “eat healthy” part, although that is extremely difficult also. A few months ago, I began taking Kung Fu classes. I began taking the classes during a two-week break from school. It was very easy to show up every night when I had nothing else to do. I knew when school started again; finding time to go would be problematic. I decided I would assign myself the “tiny task” of showing up on Tuesday and Friday evenings. A lot goes into this decision right now, as it is not yet a habit. I must plan my work day to leave at a reasonable time (probably the hardest part of the task and on which everything else hinges) in order to have time to hydrate, eat, change, rest and then go to a class which involves meditating, learning new things, working-out, and socializing, so being tired and stressed doesn’t fit with the scenario. At first it was very difficult, but now I can feel the momentum building. I am growing accustomed to the schedule and the new routine for myself. I have to think about it less. And, I am starting to grow used to and enjoy the demands of the class. In the beginning, I did not know if this would be for me, as I was looking for a moving mediation like Tai Chi. But, after much research and visiting of places (first task) I really liked the energy, philosophy, and attitude of the school / instructor. It was probably this first task, which has made all the difference for me – as I found a place that really fits with my attitude towards life. Thus, I am happily able to task myself with going on a regular basis.
3. Habits and rituals
* Habits make us who we are – be they good or bad. This is probably the most critical thing in making what you want into a reality. Do something in a habitual way and the thing you want will eventually come to you. But, honesty is key here. We like to fool ourselves. For example: Most people would agree that a healthy diet and exercise lead to an ideal body weight. But, watching TV six hours a day or having a soda with your healthy lunch would probably work against the good you do.
Other examples of habits are:
- Going to work everyday is probably my strongest, most engrained habit (as well as many other people). It affords me a house, car, and food. This habit is culturally engrained in the population.
- Bathing and grooming everyday keeps me happy and in the good graces of others.
- Eating regularly keeps me sated, happy and energetic. Eating healthy regularly – even more so.
- I am well rested because I make it a point to catch up on my sleep on the weekends and whenever else I can.
* Rituals on the other hand provide a sense of comfort and can lead to greater efficiency. Also, they can be engaged in on a much smaller scale than habits. I use them in as a sort of “tweaking” mechanism. As in the transition from work to non-work, awake to sleep, starting work, starting a creative endeavor, etc.
It is very comforting to know and engage in a cultural / religious ritual behavior when one is experiencing a life transition like marriage, childbirth, death / mourning, etc. I remember when my father died, I kept asking people, “What am I suppose to do?” I needed comfort in the guise of doing the expected / required thing.
As for greater efficiency, small tiny rituals throughout your day are extremely useful in transitioning from one task into the next task. A ritual lets your mind prepare. As for me, when I get to work in the morning, and I’m not a morning person, the first thing I do is turn on my computer and quietly read my emails and then throw them away. This is the transition (or preparation) into my workday – which after this point becomes people and problem oriented and goes at break-neck speed with no breaks (and yes, that includes lunch.) The last thing I do before I leave is clean out the email box, quietly and alone. Again, this is the ritual that transitions me into my personal time. I know that when I am done with the email ritual, the rest of my day is mine.
I have known about the ritual efficiency factor for a long time and try to use it to my advantage. I cured myself of insomnia using this ritual “method.” My insomnia was due in part to an overactive mind. It just would not turn off at night. I remembered that in college I would always fall asleep while reading the textbooks. So, when I learned about the ritual trick – I began reading textbooks and would quickly fall asleep. 15 – 20 years have passed and I have moved on to other types of books, but the concept still applies. It is about focus. I must focus my mind on the reading and then I fall asleep. Some nights my mind wants to wander, replay stressful events, dramatize, etc. but – like a child, I gently redirect my mind to focus on the reading, much like you would do during meditation. And, I fall asleep quickly.
Let’s say it was a rough day / week at work – so in order to decompress or relax many Americans engage in various activities like: shopping / retail therapy, alcohol / drinking therapy, food / eating therapy, gambling, video games, television, internet surfing, social therapy, etc. For many American these rituals have turned into habits. Bad habits. It really pays to always analyze “why you do what you do?”
4. Books, tapes, reminder notes, etc.
I have many tricks that I employ for keeping my mind motivated and positive – it is a constant battle. Here are a few:
* I really like stories or parables that have a positive instructional quality (about finding their “authentic” self or “the way”) that I can compare with my life to keep me motivated and on the path. They are usually short and / or an “easy” read. The ones that really speak to me, I keep and read over and over. Some of these include:
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
- One by Richard Bach
- Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan
- The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield
- Very Unusual by Manly P. Hall
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
* I also have many (or rent from the library on a regular basis) instructional books and tapes / DVD’s on various subjects:
- Art – Picture books that run the historical time-line and many masters works, for inspiration in the studio
- Creativity – For finding it, using it, and keeping it
- Pop psychology, positive thinking, motivational, lifestyle design –Books that give practical, do-able tips on living and achieving what you want and analyzing “why” people engage in other behaviors, etc. Knowledge is power.
- Philosophical books – Guide me in ethical, moral, and spiritual contemplation. Right now I am really into Taoist, Buddhist, and Zen thought.
- Quote books – I can reach for at any time for a quick pick-me-up.
I find DVD’s to be extremely useful in turning my long morning and evening commutes in the car into my temple of learning and improving myself.
* And lastly, I engage in little tricks and reminder notes.
- I always keep a book of something I am working on (ex. Abstract art, books by Dr. Wayne Dyer, Zen thought, etc.) by the bed, the couch, the table so that whatever I am doing there could possibly turn into a learning or growing moment.
- As mentioned above, I keep a quote book next to the bed so that the last thing I do for the day is read a motivational quote (before reading myself to sleep). Note: It’s hard to read just one. Also: I know of people who stick post-its of quotes all over their houses. Same concept.
- And, (probably the quirkiest thing I do) I have printed many copies of the poems If by Rudyard Kipling and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. These two great works of art are for me – symbols of the life I want to lead. I keep them all over the place, so that I can run into them often. I use them as bookmarks, calendar markers, on the fridge, in the car, in the desk drawer, etc. But, my favorite place that I have them is in my purse. Whenever I am stuck waiting somewhere, I take them out and read them to remind myself of what is important.