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  1. Inquiry: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

    March 10, 2019 by Diane

    Three weeks into the LIFE XT program. If you want to follow along from the beginning, start here.

    The first week, I meditated daily as instructed. Ditto for the second week. The third? Not so much. I skipped several days, choosing instead to nestle under the covers on those cold winter mornings.

    As instructed, I added exercise in the second week. Three sessions of aerobic, one session non-aerobic.

    The instructions for week three are:

    Question one stressful thought each day immediately before or after meditation.

    This is called “Inquiry.” The idea is to evaluate whether there’s any truth to the stressful thought, become aware of how crummy that thought makes your feel, and consider replacing it with a healthier thought.

    Since I had already mastered dysfunctional thinking, this week would be a breeze.

    Or so I thought.

    On my afternoon aerobic walk, I became aware of a voice in my head calling me stupid. And not just stupid. It called me stupid-stupid. Which is stupidity, doubled.

    What’s that all about?

    Ah, yes. The missing paragraph.

    In my last post, some editorial wackiness deleted a paragraph about The Sweet Shop (which is now intact, so feel free to zip over and read it). Therefore, my reference to The Sweet Shop made zero sense. At least, that’s what I believed. Further, I believed that anyone reading the post with the missing paragraph would think: What’s the deal with The Sweet Shop? It makes no sense. And probably go to sleep dwelling on the stupidity of that blog post and my writing abilities in general.

    Stressful thought.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    Is the thought true?

    Uh…no.

    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I lose five inches of height.

    What would you be without the thought?

    Taller.

    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    Nobody noticed.

    Nobody noticed!

    Which, upon further reflection, could qualify as a stressful thought, if nobody noticed because nobody follows my blog. But I chose not to go there, tempting as it may have been.

    As the week progressed, I became aware of other stressful thoughts.

    I’m overwhelmed!

    I don’t have enough time!

    I can’t get everything done I want to get done, and I don’t even know what I want to get done!

    And so on, circling around to some variation of:

    I’m a failure.

    Which, I know, isn’t true. But isn’t it interesting, the tricks the mind plays on us?

    And why is that? Can’t the mind think of better ways to keep us on our toes? Like, with riddles? I’d much rather inquire about why the chicken crossed the road than whether there’s any validity to the thought that I’m overwhelmed. Which, by the way, is true. I am overwhelmed.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I feel more overwhelmed.

    What would you be without the thought?

    Less overwhelmed?

    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    I have the choice of how to spend my time.

    I could spend it like a tornado, accomplishing as many things on my to-do list as possible in one hour and then rewarding myself with a period of relaxation. Or I could spend it de-cluttering my physical and mental space so I had a better idea of what needed doing, and whether or not I wanted to do it in the first place. I could sit on the beach gazing at the ocean for hours and feel how time is endless (even though it’s far too cold to sit outside anywhere). Or I could set a deadline to complete ONE THING, then do that ONE THING to the best of my ability and consider it DONE.

    That was the key. Getting to DONE. Because my perfectionism wouldn’t allow me to let go.

    Another stressful thought.

    Those pesky thoughts kept popping up, like that game, Whac-A-Mole, where a mole pops up randomly from a hole and you whack it with a mallet.

    By the end of the week, I was using the Inquiry process to inquire about Inquiry, which made my head pulse. Yes, it’s useful to question my dysfunctional thoughts, view them through another lens and release them. But it’s also useful to remind myself that the reason I’m having stressful thoughts is because I’m stressed. It’s a symptom of being out of balance. The weather is cold, the wind is blowing, I have many tasks I’m paid to accomplish at work, I have many projects I wish to accomplish at home. These things unsettle my constitution. I need to resettle. Get to bed earlier. Wear a hat, scarf and gloves when walking in the cold. Eat warm, soothing foods. Be diligent in meditating. Massage my feet and palms with warm oil before sleep. Allow myself time to do nothing every day. These things bring my body and mind back into balance.

    And those stressful thoughts? As long as I’m aware of becoming unbalanced, and make corrections, those thoughts won’t need to pop up to alert me to the fact, like some random mole in a Japanese arcade game.


  2. Exercise: Movement on Meth

    March 3, 2019 by Diane

    Having survived week one of the LIFE XT program, I was eager to embark on week two. Given that I have the attention span of a gnat, and hadn’t yet thrown in the towel on the whole program, I considered myself successful. If you missed my account of week one, you’ll find it here. And you’ll find my review of the book this program is based on here.

    The instructions for week two are:

    Exercise aerobically three times a week for at least thirty minutes and do one nonaerobic workout.

    Nonaerobic? Piece of cake. I can recline in front of the television like an expert.

    It was the aerobic part that had me worried.

    My idea of a cardio workout is a panic attack. Nothing gets the heart pumping faster than a jolt of adrenaline.

    But panic was not forthcoming, so I needed to pursue other options.

    Other options? Hmm.

    I don’t belong to a gym. When I did belong to a gym, my routine consisted of sitting on an exercise apparatus, towel slung around my neck so it appeared sweat was involved. Nobody noticed I wasn’t actually moving, because they were preoccupied with their own workouts and their reflections in the mirror. I proceeded to sit in this manner until I had parked myself on every apparatus. Then I showered.

    I don’t jog. I’m more of plodder. Not a plodder in the sense of an old grey mare. More like: let’s take a lovely stroll through nature, preferably with a good book.

    I don’t ride a bike. The seats are too hard for someone who, according to my physical therapist, has no ass. Plus, they’re infinitesimal. Finding a perch is nearly impossible.

    But…I do swim.

    For several years, I swam in an outdoor pool with a buddy. My approach to swimming was similar to my approach to working out at a gym. As my buddy swam toward me, I passed him, immediately turned around, and passed him again. He was astounded at how quickly I navigated from end to end. I also wore flippers.

    But it’s winter, and, like…chilly. So, swimming was out.

    Which left brisk walking. Maybe a combination walk/sprint.

    On your mark, get set…

    Monday morning, after fueling up on crackers and peanut butter and a banana (because I’m also a grazer), I set off on my first aerobic workout. The only problem: a shin splint in my right leg. Which bumped me down from plodder to hobbler. Did that deter me? Nay. I plodded briskly, broke into a trot, backed it down to a plod, up to a gallop (maybe old grey mare isn’t that far off), and attempted to jog on the balls of my feet which I’ve seen other joggers do, until my calf seized up and I was back to hobbling. Did that deter me? Neigh! I proceeded in this fashion until a mile down, when I arrived at The Sweet Shop.

    Picture a quaint shop that offers coffee, pastries, and bins and bins of candy. I had the brilliant idea that I could barge into The Sweet Shop, eat fistfuls of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, M&Ms, Gummy Bears and Skittles, down a blueberry muffin, chug a gallon of espresso, and consider it an aerobic workout. Because barring a panic attack, nothing gets the ticker revved up like huge quantities of sugar and caffeine.

    But the Sweet Shop was closed.

    On I hobbled/cantered until I had completed two miles, returned home, and earned the right to graze on dates stuffed with peanut butter. (If you haven’t tried this deliciousness, I urge you to run, not plod, to the nearest store that sells whole pitted dates, grab a jar of peanut butter and a knife, and indulge.)

    My second aerobic workout was an indoor affair as the day brewed windy and cold for California, meaning: non-shorts weather. I considered tap dancing in the garage on a sheet of plywood, but submitting my joints, not to mention my shins, through heavy pounding on what amounted to plywood on concrete didn’t seem wise. So I opted for a cardio workout of pushups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, planks, jumping jacks, and a dozen of those movements where you drop to your hands, kick your legs out, kick them back in, and shoot upright with an energetic hop. Not easy to do when you live in a cottage the size of a cat box. I was only able to endure what I call Movement on Meth because at the same time I was watching the all-stars battle it out on Jeopardy. Note: do not attempt this without proper preparation and ability. Those all-stars are pros.

    For my third aerobic workout, I prepared for the rain. I suited up with a salmon-colored rain jacket (what was I thinking when I bought it?) boots and rain pants, the lining which had melted into hard blobs when I threw them in the dryer. With umbrella in hand, I proceeded at a brisk pace in the direction of the library.

    Suffice it to say, I did more browsing of the New Books section than anything resembling an aerobic workout. But I did come home with a five-DVD set of a Canadian television show so I’d be ready for my nonaerobic workout.

    Which, by the way, I aced.


  3. How to Procrastinate Like a Pro and Still Get Stuff Done

    February 3, 2019 by Diane

    Lazy time.

    I’m an expert procrastinator.

    I should be awarded a PhD in procrastination. But…sigh, I’m too busy procrastinating to graduate.

    Which means I’ve earned the degree by default.

    To make use of this unappreciated skill, I thought I’d share my expertise on how to procrastinate with purpose so you can follow along.

    Here are my top ten tips:

    1. If you’re going to procrastinate, don’t get an early start. Lie about in bed until 10:00 at the earliest, preferably noon.

    2. Check your Twitter timeline, not for the purpose of engaging with anyone or marketing your product or service, but just to see what Trump has been up to in the wee small hours. (The man is clearly not a procrastinator.)

    3. Rummage around in the refrigerator until you remember what you’re rummaging for, then cease this activity.

    4. Pause from rummaging to look at the sky for a good twenty minutes. Sometimes the answers we seek are written there.

    5. Make a list of things you need to get done.

    6. Find the least productive task on that list, and make a halfhearted attempt to do it. Something along the lines of: file nails.

    7. Go to the library and check out three more books to add to the stack of books you don’t have time to read because you’re too busy procrastinating.

    8. Rearrange your in-box. If you feel too productive doing so, just give it a light dusting.

    9. Consider tackling that rewrite and head to the lawn instead with a blanket and book. But don’t read the book. Just close your eyes and ponder how well you’ve procrastinated for a whole day.

    10. Do all of the above whenever you have a project to complete or a deadline to meet.

    Before you judge me as a slug who never gets anything done (except procrastinating) you should know: I’ve managed to write four-and-a-half novels, get a new job, start a freelance copywriting business, submit my short story to ten literary journals (okay, I’m still working on this one) and feed myself five times a day. How did I manage to accomplish so much with a full schedule of procrastinating?

    Here are my top five secrets:

    1. Decide on what you can commit to doing that will help you reach your goals.

    Even procrastinators have goals. Usually big ones.

    • Get a new job.
    • Start a successful freelance copywriting business.
    • Do both. While rewriting your novel.

    The bigger the goal, the greater the itch to procrastinate, so your list of what you can honestly commit to doing looks like this:

    • I can commit to procrastinating
    • I can commit to being lazy
    • I can commit to procrastinating on being lazy, which means I’m actually being active, but in a sneaky way

    Clearly, this list won’t generate much in the way of accomplishing your goals.

    If you’re a procrastinator, you need to stop thinking in terms of PROJECTS, and think in terms of steps. A project, like GET A NEW JOB, may seem so overwhelming you’ll head for the couch.

    Instead, ask yourself: what can I commit to doing that will help me reach my goals?

    If you’re like me, your inner voice might say:

    “There’s no way I can commit to getting a new job. But I can commit to looking on Craigslist for one hour on Monday. I can’t wrap my head around starting a new freelance business. But I can spend one hour on Saturday reading the first chapter of Start and Run a Copywriting Business. I don’t have time to rewrite a novel. But I can rewrite one page a day.”

    One step at a time, baby. That’s the key.

    2. If all that list-making eats into your procrastination time, schedule time to procrastinate.

    Seriously.

    Block out time on your calendar. Make it sacred. Nothing else must encroach upon that time. Not chores, not exercise, not rewriting that novel. This is YOUR time to KICK BACK and do NOTHING.

    It’s okay. Really.

    3. Find a balance between procrastinating and getting things done

    After all, if you want a paycheck, you need to work. If you want to eat, you need to shop for groceries. If you want to sleep, you need to smash those itty bitty insects that fly inside during the winter months and buzz your ears. You can delay those activities only so long before you end up starving in a cardboard box under the freeway overpass where flying insects are the least of your troubles.

    Think of getting things done as interval training. In interval training, you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity periods. You walk for three minutes then jog for one, then walk for three and jog for one, and so on. You can get things done in a similar manner: work on those baby steps in bursts, then stretch out in a hammock and ponder the universe.

    4. When tackling something big, allow buffer time for procrastinating.

    Got a project looming? Estimate the amount of time it will take to complete. If it’s a week, then schedule a week and two days. That way you can loaf around for 48 of those hours and not feel a twinge of guilt.

    Because let’s face it: guilt takes all the fun out of procrastinating.

    5. Put off procrastination for your future self.

    If you’re like me, you’ve put everything else off for your future self. Why not procrastination, too?

    (Don’t try to figure that one out. It’ll make your head explode.)

    Now it’s your turn. Are you a procrastinator who manages to get things done? What are your secrets? Come on, spill!