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  • 7 Things I Learned in 2017 and Looking Ahead to 2018

    Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but I can’t believe yet another year has gone by. I feel good about 2017 though, mostly because of some things I learned:

    What I Learned in 2017

    1. I live with a lot of fear, especially fear of what other people think or might think. I fear failure, and I fear looking like an idiot. But I also realized that lots of other people live with the same fears.

    2. I can live with my fear and be brave. Once I acknowledged my fear, it became easier to proceed anyway. More on this below.

    3. I am happiest when I am growing. Gretchen Rubin’s First Splendid Truth of Happiness is that “To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” That last part has always felt especially true for me. And a big part of growing is acting in spite of my fears. So by learning new things and being brave, I’ve really boosted my happiness.

    4. Take small steps. The famous Lao Tzu quote that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” was reinforced to me this year, especially because my tentative small steps may be an easy leap for someone else, and vice versa.

    5. I need external accountability. If you haven’t taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz, you should! I’ve known for a while now that I’m an Obliger, but her new book all about the tendencies really helped me understand myself (and my family members) better. I’ve really struggled with creating external accountability that doesn’t drive me nuts, though, so that is something I am going to work on in 2018.

    6. Death is never easy, but leaving behind an unorganized life makes it harder. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, my aunt passed away, and although she had been ill, she clearly hadn’t expected to die so soon. Our family has struggled with figuring out her financial situation (locating accounts, separating personal records from business records, dealing with her possessions, etc.). I currently have a Word document to keep track of our important records, but over the course of this next year, I want to transition to an easier-to-navigate spreadsheet.

    7. My kids don’t need to be best friends. The best parenting books I read in 2017 were Siblings Without Rivalry and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, both by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I fervently wish I’d had How to Talk when my kids were little, but the thought-process and strategies were still helpful with my tweens. Siblings Without Rivalry dramatically changed my perspective and cut down on the bickering/fighting that my boys had been doing.

    I can’t end this post without acknowledging the three women who were my greatest teachers this year:

    Gretchen Rubin, whose podcast with her sister is my favorite thing to listen to. Find Gretchen at GretchenRubin.com.

    Rachel Macy Stafford, who has made me a better parent as well as a better person. Because of her, I (mostly) remember to enjoy the moments when my sons are ready to be with me, even if it’s not exactly convenient. Her willingness to be vulnerable never ceases to amaze me. Find Rachel at HandsFreeMama.com.

    Brené Brown, whose latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, taught, inspired, and comforted me in equal measure. Find Brené at BrenéBrown.com.

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    The Secret to Changing Your Life: Know Yourself and Find Your Keystone Habit

    The Secret to Changing Your Life | Chief Family Officer

    I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s outstanding book Better Than Before, which discusses habit development from an entirely new perspective that I absolutely loved. The premise of the book is that because people are different, habit development techniques and strategies don’t work the same for each person.

    For example, Gretchen developed the Four Tendencies Framework to “describe how a person responds to expectations.” I discovered that I am an Obliger, which means I tend to meet other people’s expectations but have trouble meeting my own. I can’t say I particularly like that about myself, though I do get some comfort from knowing that it’s the largest group so I’m definitely not alone. And I can’t deny that it’s true, or that it’s easier to work with my Obliger nature than to try to change it.

    She also points out that habits relieve the need to make a choice, thus saving us mental energy, and that convenience plays a huge factor in our decision-making. Thus, if you want to change your habit of watching too much TV, you can make it inconvenient by putting the TV away in a closet.

    There’s a Q&A at the end of the book, and in it Gretchen observes that “Most of us have one or two habits that, if changed, would make a big difference in our lives.” That immediately resonated with me, because a while back, I’d learned about the concept of “keystone” habits from James Clear, who explains that “fitness is the keystone habit the puts the rest of [his] life in place” – when he’s in the habit of working out, he eats better, sleeps better, feels better, and is more productive.

    I think these concepts are perfect together – the idea of identifying your keystone habit(s), and then using your knowledge of yourself to actually put those habits in place to change your life.

    After much thought, I’ve come to think that my keystone habit is housecleaning. Because I don’t have a set routine, and because I hate cleaning, I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about cleaning my house – which task to do today, when to do it, and so on. Whereas if cleaning was a habit, I would do it without thinking about it and I’d have all that time and energy back!

    I’m a morning person (what Gretchen calls a “Lark”), so it’s easier for me to tackle tasks earlier in the day. I’ve decided that I will do a daily cleaning task, like cleaning the bathrooms, first thing in the morning every weekday, as I soon as I get home from dropping the kids off at school.

    (I’ve already made cleaning convenient by keeping supplies in each bathroom – but that hasn’t been enough to develop a cleaning habit. By announcing my new plan to you and my family, I’m also creating outside accountability, which helps Obligers like me stick to our habits.)

    Once cleaning becomes a habit, I won’t think about it much, the cleaning will get done without the agonizing, and I’ll have more energy to devote to other, more pleasant activities. At least, that’s the plan! I’ll give you an update in a few months.

    Throwback Thursday: To be Happy, Match Your Words and Actions

    This post was originally published back in 2009. I think it’s still completely true.

    The Secret to Happiness - chieffamilyofficer.com

    It seems like everyone I know is complaining about their financial picture these days. I sympathize because I know that our financial picture is better than most, but we’re still tightening our belts because it seems some kind of income reduction is on the horizon.

    Meanwhile, I want to make an observation that applies not just to finances but to life in general: the happiest people are the ones whose words and actions match.

    Finances are an easy way to illustrate what I mean. I have a friend who makes decent money but has a hefty mortgage, so money is always tight. He complains about not having enough money, but doesn’t do anything about finding a second or third source of income. He says he’s trying to bring in more money by doing some tutoring, but he actually spends his time on other, non-income-generating hobbies. And when someone suggested he stop some of his extracurricular activities so he would have more time to spend on tutoring, he simply shrugged it off. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if he likes being miserable.

    On the flip side, I have a friend who’s lost her job but is balancing finding a new job with arranging educational services for her preschooler, who was recently diagnosed as having high-functioning autism. She says her family needs her to work, and she’s working hard to find something new. She diligently completed the requirements for getting unemployment benefits, despite having to deal with a mind-numbing bureaucracy and an insanely rude employee who brought her to tears. She vented to me about that, but not in a self-pitying way. Meanwhile, she found a job but two days before she was to start, she was told they couldn’t hire her after all. So she’s looking again, and is optimistic that she’ll be able to find something soon.

    Needless to say, she’s a happier person than my other friend, who seems to want something other than what he says.

    I go back to something I’ve said before: To achieve financial success, you have to be honest about your priorities.

    What are my male friend’s true priorities? I don’t really know. But I know he’s not going to be happy until his words start to match up with his actions.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by supakitmod.

    Managing Perfectionism

    In the last couple of years, I’ve begun to truly understand what it means to be a perfectionist, and why that’s bad:

    Perfectionism = Fear of Failure = No Progress/Success

    I realized that there are a lot of things I wasn’t doing because I couldn’t or wouldn’t do them perfectly:

    I wouldn’t vacuum because I didn’t have time or the desire to vacuum the whole house.

    I didn’t exercise because I couldn’t run due to plantar fasciitis (though I could walk), and I didn’t do yoga because I’d eaten recently and you’re “supposed to” do yoga on a relatively empty stomach.

    I wouldn’t journal because it should be done at night to go over the day, but I don’t have time alone to be reflective at night.

    For someone else, it might be not writing a novel that’s itching to get out due to fear that it won’t come out a bestseller.

    Or denying the urge to decorate a cake because it won’t look like Martha Stewart or Duff Goldman did it.

    And so on and so forth.

    I began to truly understand what perfectionism was doing to me when I finally understood Flylady’s Weekly Home Blessing Hour and the idea that “Housework done incorrectly still blesses your family!” That was a real eye-opener for me.

    I began to accept that doing things imperfectly is allowed!

    I was raised with the “do it right or not at all” approach, so you can imagine how revolutionary this concept was for me. And it’s transformed my life:

    I now clean my house in sections – I’ll vacuum the upstairs one day and the downstairs the next. I’ll clean one bathroom each day, instead of all three at once. I’ll dust one room but not another. The whole house may not be clean all at once, but everything does get cleaned, just at different times.

    I walk on the treadmill now, and take a Pilates class once a week, and while I’m nowhere near the condition I was in when I ran a 5K five years ago, at least I’m doing something.

    I journal most mornings now, because that’s when I’m alone and can think things through. It’s still made a difference in clarifying my thoughts, goals, and perspective.

    I’m still trying to figure out how “do it anyway” coexists with “do it right or not at all,” because I understand the value in putting forth your very best effort. But I guess it’s just that sometimes your very best effort isn’t warranted.

    What do you think?

    My week in review: More self-care

    About ten years ago, I saw personal coach Cheryl Richardson on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and I liked what she had to say, so I bought her book, Take Time for Your Life.The book really introduced me to the concept of what Richardson calls “extreme self-care” – in essence, taking care of and nurturing yourself before you do anything else. It has to be a priority, and if you’re in a good place and happy with life, it’s easier to get all the other stuff done – to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good person, etc.

    Lately, I’ve felt like I haven’t been taking very good care of myself, so this week was about changing that. It’s not that easy, given all of my obligations. But I’ve cut back on my blogging time, and have been spending that time on the treadmill and doing other things that are regenerating. I’m not quite to my happy place yet but I’m closer to it than I was a week ago.

    I’ll have a roundup post on Sunday, but I wanted to point out Shannon’s post about blogging over at Rocks In My Dryer because I really related to it. I do struggle with figuring out what’s worth sharing and what’s not. I’m definitely not going anywhere, but bear with me as I try to find more balance in my life!

    Review: Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson

    About ten years ago, I saw a woman on The Oprah Winfrey Show named Cheryl Richardson. I’d never heard of a “life coach” before, but that’s what Richardson’s title was. And she was promoting her new book called Take Time for Your Life.

    Intrigued, I bought the book and have loved it ever since. I hadn’t touched it in several years, but took it down from my bookcase a couple of months ago, thinking that I might sell it on Amazon. Instead, I found myself rereading it – and remembering why it is such a great book.

    The overarching theme of Take Time for Your Life is “extreme self-care.” Richardson emphasizes that in order to be happy, and to be able to give of ourselves to others, we must take care of ourselves and meet our own needs. And “needs” refers not just to basic needs like sleep and food, but to nourishment of the soul. She encourages readers to figure out what nourishes their spirit, and offers tools to help fit that nourishment into their daily lives.

    She also suggests practical and detailed ways to figure out your priorities, manage time, get control of your finances, and make your dreams come true. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but I do believe the book can help you get there.

    I like the many anecdotes in the book about clients she’s worked with. They help to illustrate her points with specific examples of how her recommendations work. One of my favorite examples is of the woman who couldn’t bring herself to sort through the endless stacks of papers she’d accumulated. Richardson told the woman to sit on the floor with the papers, light a candle, and ask why she had a mental block against dealing with them. That was how the woman realized that her notes for a novel she’d always wanted to write were buried in the papers and that tossing the papers would mean tossing out her dream of writing that book.

    I admit that it’s kooky, but it also resonates with me. I don’t know that I would go so far as to conduct a seance with a bunch of papers, but the story is a good reminder to look beyond the surface and ask myself what’s really going on.

    That’s actually a big part of why I like this book: the solutions presented aren’t ones that I would ordinarily think of on my own. I might not actually want to pursue any of them – such as hiring someone to do my housework – but I appreciate having a new perspective from which to view my problems and solutions.

    Since the book has been around for a while, it should be easy to borrow from your local library. Alternatively, you might just want to poke around Richardson’s web site and maybe sign up for her weekly newsletter, or buy the book used from Amazon for $4.00 including shipping.

    As for my copy of Take Time for Your Life? It’s back on my bookshelf.