Thursday, January 15, 2015

We’ve Got This New Year’s Resolution Thing All Wrong

My wife and I just moved cross-country and as we slowly unpack the last of our things, little pieces of long-forgotten items keep popping up. Among the most frustrating are those scraps of paper containing notes I’ve been looking for over the better part of the last year. And now here they are, in all their presently useless glory because they’re a day late and a dollar short.

But jumbled up among those frustrating scraps are the occasional items that draw me into contemplation. Like finding my old New Year’s resolution lists, some of them over five years old. It’s an interesting exercise to peruse the lists and see where my thinking was over the course of the last few years. My goals and ambitions, and the things I eagerly intended to accomplish to make my life feel more fulfilling. But you know how I feel after looking over those lists now? Like a bit of a loser.

Well, “loser” is probably too strong a word, but definitely like someone who bites off more than they can chew. People like that are the type that set themselves up for failure because they spread themselves too thin. And that is why I think we’ve got this New Year’s resolution thing all wrong. We (as in “I”) spread ourselves too thin.

Truth be told, it’s not just those resolution lists, but how we set up our goals in general that is the problem. I think we go shopping for our goals like we do when we hit the grocery store with an empty stomach. We end up buying way more than we need or can possibly eat before it spoils, and also throw in a lot of “junk food” in the process. Just like our eyes can be hungrier than our stomachs, our minds’ eyes can hold heartier ambitions than our ability to accomplish them may be.

Take my last year’s resolution list as an example. It’s nearly two pages of fist-pumping, heart-throbbing, inspiration-building stuff. And I got about a half-page of it done before I either lost the paper they were written on, or lost interest, or both. I can’t remember which happened first. And out of that half-page, maybe only one or two items actually stuck for the long haul, while the others got a good week or so of dedication before my willpower to continue them waned.

The point is there was just too much stuff to focus on with any serious level of intent. Human minds don’t function well when you spread their willpower too thin. Task saturation sets in. And science informs us that our brains don’t form new habits as easily as we can list the new habits we want to bring into our lives. Whether that be to quit smoking, eat better, exercise more often, write more regularly, commit to a certain hobby or career endeavor with more zeal, or whatever. So, why try to force a goal/habit structure on them that they’re not biologically inclined to succeed at?

In order to form and instill new habits into our lives, it takes a concerted, focused effort over at least eight weeks of time. And that’s for a single habit. It’s much harder to focus and instill habits over the same period when we’re trying to do more than one or two at a time. Our willpower drops and we tend to give in to the nags of our daily lives.

A better way might be to make a short list of those things most important to you to change or begin. Consider it a good exercise in learning to distill what’s important from the clutter of the unimportant. And then prioritize those items in the order of which you’d like to accomplish first, and set about doing them in two month blocks over the course of the year. If you haven’t done the math already, that translates into about six to twelve new goals/habits per year. A pretty sustainable number.

Two books I recommend as a means of helping you along on your journey are Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumesiter and John Tierney, and The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Both are written in easily accessible language, but the first is by far the more important in my opinion since one of the key scientists involved in the studies behind the science of willpower and habit formation is its author. The second is more of a reinforcement of the science of the first book and its appendix has a good layout of how to apply these ideas to your daily life.

Good luck!



Monday, November 24, 2014

Randomness...

A hypocrite is someone who writes a book about atheism and then prays that it sells.
-Woody Allen

Friday, November 21, 2014

We Are Wired For Story

Validation for your choices in life come in many flavors, but the best flavor is scientific backing.

In her TED talk, "Wired for story", Lisa Cron provided great insight into why we humans can't help ourselves from getting absorbed in a good story. It led to our very survival. Turns out we aren't wired too well to take in facts and figures with any level of detail if they are simply told to us; but wrap those same details up in a good story and we usually walk away remembering them, or even better, getting the point of what they were meant to imply upon us in the first place.

One day, long ago, one of our early ancestors was walking along a path in the forest. He'd been traveling for days and he'd run out of his rations two days prior. He was hungry, and the game in the forest wasn't cooperating in his hunting them. Now he came across a bush covered in small round pellet-like red berries with long narrow green leaves. His mouth watered in delight...

Now, if someone had set him down as a kid and given him a verbal list of berries, describing which kinds were edible and which were not, it might be very tough for him to remember years later if the berries he now found were okay or not. After all, remembering the many hundreds or thousands of different plants in the forest would be a challenge for anyone, and quite boring too when given just as naked facts.

But what if, as Lisa Cron suggests in her talk, the man had heard a story about Caveman Bob, a family neighbor from his days a kid in Bedrock, and how Caveman Bob had eaten a handful of red deer pellet-like berries growing on a green bush with leaves that looked like the fingers of a small forest creature? And at the end of that story, Caveman Bob never came out of his cave again?

Chances are our protagonist would remember such a tale involving red deer poop-like looking berries with small forest creature fingers for leaves. It's interesting and draws our attention more than "red berry about the width of a small fingernail and with four to five green leaves about two small twigs in width and one slimy slug in length.

Story saved our lives and let us evolve into who we are today.

But we take away many more things from story than just how to live in a forest. We grow up with stories in books and movies, learning about love and loss, and how to handle and deal with both respectively. They teach us sometimes about how to be good parents or deal with adversity. Story does a lot for us without us even realizing it, though marketers sure understand the value of it! Of course, story can also teach us how to be bad, and that's not such a great thing.

As a writer, though, (and for all those other writers out there) there's another takeaway from Lisa's TED talk. It's near the end, and number two of her three last thoughts she leaves us with. Look for it around 16:43 in the talk.

To paraphrase: Don't explain something to someone, when you can better deliver the information in the form of a story. It'll stick with them longer.

From the writer's perspective that validates the age old advice about not using the expository, because you're better off passing along information to readers showing them through story.




Sunday, May 4, 2014

May the Fourth Be With You!

Unless you're a Star Wars geek like myself, May 4th probably doesn't have much meaning to you. In fact, it's probably just the day you go out to stock up on barbecue fixings and alcohol in preparation for Cinco de Mayo (tomorrow!). But to those of us who grew up in and imagined ourselves a part of the Star Wars galaxy back in the seventies and eighties, May 4th is a day to geek out.

May the Fourth be with you...



#MayThe4thBeWithYou

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Done.

I won't pretend it wasn't hard. I lost a good week and a half, almost two to unforeseen circumstances. What that amounted to was a three day run of marathon writing to finish up finally with 807 words over the 50K mark for NaNoWriMo.

I'll wait till later before I go back to see how bad it all is. Truth is I don't want to know yet. The story, while complete for the by the competition's standards, has a ways to go before it's actually complete and ready for me to back track over for revision.

But, it's done and I'll go back to my 2000 word per day count goals. Something more akin to a 10K run versus a marathon. And I'll be more attentive to the other things in my life. This blog for one, and cleaning up all those dog rugs my shedding pup has been leaving behind in my house.

Nice seeing you again, folks!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

December 1st.


  • Coffee overflowed onto stove-top from espresso pot.
    • Planned clean-up: Dec. 1st.
  • Dog poop piling up in the backyard.
    • Planned clean-up: Dec. 1st
  • Halloween decorations still on front lawn.
    • Planned pick-up: Dec. 1st
  • Dishes piling up in sink.
    • Planned clean-up: When I run out of clean ones.
  • Patches of dog hair appearing on carpet from a late-shedding dog.
    • Planned vacuum: Dec. 1st
The point of all this? Nothing gets done until NaNoWriMo is done.

  • Blog updates.
    • Dec…oh, bloody hell. What am I doing here?


Monday, November 4, 2013

Nano, 4 days on

Okay, so I'm definitely on the Nano journey. And, yes, I'm on it with a boat load of baggage in tow. But that's okay. I'm still determined to get this thing done and I fully expect to have the banner "NaNoWriMo Winner 2013" splat across this blog come December 1st.

I'm also excited to be doing my first Nanowrimo Write-In tomorrow with some fellow Gulf Coasters also competing in the event. We're heading over to a local coffee shop in Ocean Springs, MS, tomorrow afternoon. It'll be fun to meet some of the other crazies participating this year.

Off topic, I thought I should say something about my last couple posts. Truth be told, I don't know who comes by to read this blog. I expect more spam bots than real people, but you never know. That said, I can't say whether or not my ramblings of late over my dog, Candy (her name came with her and she was too old to change it), are appropriate for an "author blog", but here's my take...

For now, writing is my hobby. I'm not making a living at it (can barely even take my wife out for the occasional pizza, in fact, on my paltry writer's income), and my audience isn't such that I worry over making high-vis missteps when posting entries or comments. I just don't carry that kind of weight in the virtual world. So really this blog is also something of a hobby and I'll treat it as such and worry about giving it a 'professional' gleam if my stuff really ever takes off.

These days, though, I need the catharsis that comes with venting to the great unknown. It is - believe it or not - a little therapeutic. In another life I would never have considered such an act. So security minded and privacy focused was I that even the thought of letting go a magazine I'd gotten in the mail with my name and address labeled on it was a sin to burn in hell for (if you believe in such a thing). Actually, I still do rip off those labels, but you get the drift. I've loosened up a bit and am more willing to put things out there.

I've come to realize that no one really gives a shit about me enough to worry about a little whining over my woes. So there. Maybe if I had something in the bank worth stealing my identity over, or were famous enough to draw people in so much that they hung on my every syllable it'd be a different story. But until I win the lottery or sell a million books, here I am, World. Deal with it.