Last week I was in Las Vegas at a huge conference for my job in IT. As I sat way up in the nosebleeds in the arena needed to hold the 6,000+ people in attendance, I felt more than a little insignificant. I looked around and saw so many people that seemed to have more knowledge and experience than me, and though that could be a good thing - an opportunity to learn - it was also overwhelming!
Where do I start? There is so much, so many choices bombarding me everyday. I struggle with choosing an area to focus on and get better at, because I feel like if I do, I will neglect everything else - and what if there was a better choice and one that would have been more important or had more impact? Nearing 40, I'm starting to feel like my potential is fading. I used to be the youngest in the room, and many times the only woman. That was my identity - the young, promising woman poised for success, but now I ask myself, "Where did my potential go? What has been my contribution, and did anyone notice?"
Now, when I hear a motivational speaker, I get all fired up...for a minute. When I was younger and less experienced, I was more easily inspired, but the older I get, my level of cynicism grows as my level of inspiration wanes. I'm now more grounded and practical and want to see my actions and contributions matter. I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out.
"I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out."
Last week, I realized it was time to embrace that being a small part of something big is enough. As I pondered what this meant in my real life here's what I came up with:
What about you? Do you feel like you have to be on top to matter or have you already mastered the art of teamwork and honing your specific skills so that you can compliment others with a common, big-picture goal? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email email@example.com.
A while back, I wrote about my struggle with my weight, and I'm still working on it! I have a trip coming up in a couple of months which is a great motivator for me to set a goal and crush it! I've been trying to figure out how to keep track of my progress and while also setting myself up for success.
Research says habits are broken down into three parts:
Identifying triggers can help us to avoid them or come up with strategies to cope with them. I've always thought my triggers were stress and free food, but what I've been noticing is that the lack of a plan or accountability seems to be what really gets me in trouble.
I don't know about you, but I'm really good at rewarding myself, but I struggle to find a reward that is appropriate and doesn't undermine my intended outcome. For example, I often feel like when I've lost some weight, I "deserve" a milk shake or a candy bar or some jalapeno poppers! I think the reason I feel like I've earned some "bad" food is because I've felt deprived during the short stint of weight loss.
I've been brainstorming a way to help address my triggers and my feelings of deprivation. I ran across James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, who says that the first step to successfully developing a habit is to make one so small it's almost impossible fail. I like the idea of not failing, so I decided to give this miniature habit thing a try. I chose just one thing to focus on for a very short time period of time.
I saw an intriguing idea on Pinterest about tracking habits with a very simple chart with dates for an entire month listed down the left side of the paper and habits across the top. This would create squares that could be colored in to indicate completion of a task. Using different colors to indicate different actions gives a quick visual representation of your actions. I decided to create my own chart, and even though I fantasize about producing a beautiful bullet journal (and maintain a Pinterest board about it), I took a shortcut and created a printable that I could just color in. My chart is a little different, and instead of various habits across the top, I listed the hours in the day to help me see patterns in my eating throughout the day.
I wanted to track one goal at a time, every day and see my progress in small increments - as small as every hour. Each hour, I can color in the corresponding box with either green (I did good), red (I did bad) or blank (I didn't do anything related to my goal.) Then over just a few days, I can quickly see how I'm doing and if there are any particular days or times of days that are tripping me up. By focusing only on one goal, I am much more likely to be successful, and then I can eventually add additional goals after my first one has become a true habit.
My first goal was to avoid white flour. I tracked my progress for the last few days of February, and the picture above is how I did. What I noticed was that by focusing only on one goal, I didn't feel deprived and thus didn't feel the need to reward myself with food for a job well done nearly as much as I had during previous weight loss efforts. I also noticed that even though I was focusing on only one goal, it made me very conscious of my other food choices, and I ate better overall than I normally did. I love being able to look at my chart and immediately be able to tell that I have a good breakfast and morning snack routine going, but I eat lunch at all sorts of different times, and my problem time is evening and late nights! The jury is still out if this plan will work for me long term, but I'm excited to give it a try. Who knows, maybe this will work so well I'll eventually add in some exercise to the mix!
Check out the free Habit Tracker printable, and give it a try! You can come up with your own color system and make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like. Print out just one or use multiples as you add to your goals and habits. I will be reporting back before my trip in May to let you know how this system is working for me. I'd love to hear from you if you test out this system and would especially like to see pictures if you draw a really pretty one in your bullet journal!
Quora. “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/13/the-science-behind-adopting-new-habits-and-making-them-stick/#4f1430e843c7.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. Cornerstone, 2019.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
I cracked open my brand new journal on my birthday this week. My first entry is titled "38 Things I Want to Accomplish While I'm 38." Last year, I wrote down one less goal for a 37 year-old's version of this list. I made the list with various types of goals - some fun, some frivolous, some personal, some professional, some physical, some spiritual, but all just for me. I made some easy and some a real challenge. I was thrilled to mark off one of them very early in the year - I beat my husband at chess! Sometime in my first three months of being 37, I was able to check off another one - I found an appropriately sized and stylish black purse - I call that a win! I didn't buy a new shower curtain or finish reading the whole Bible, though. In fact, I only completed 20 of the 37. Let me rephrase that, I completed 20 of the 37 things I wanted to do last year - that's over half, and some of them were really big!
5 reasons you should make your own birthday goal list this year!
1. It's fun
The goals can be anything - they can be meaningful or can be purely indulgent I kept mine private so I didn't feel embarrassed about how silly or insignificant some may have seemed to others.
2. It's low pressure
This birthday goal list was in addition to areas of focus for the year and related goals, so they weren't high stakes to me. They were just for fun and some were long shots - like I wanted to get 1,000 likes on my Facebook page - I made it to 335. I'm not upset because it was just an arbitrary number and working to get there got me to where I am!
3. It provides you multiple small wins
When you create lots of small, easy to attain goals, it makes you feel good about yourself as you check them off. This gives you momentum and motivation to attack larger goals! When you make attainable goals that are split up into digestible and measurable pieces, you set your self up for success. For example, don't set a goal to "read more" instead, set a goal to read a book. That's not too hard and once you've done it, you will likely want to do it again and again.
4. It allows you to dream of your future self
It's fun to daydream about where you will be in a year. Thinking about how we want our future self to look, feel and act can be fun, but also help us to set goals to help us get there. I often think about my future self - what would my future self appreciate me doing now (like stashing a dark chocolate Dove bar in my car's console so that I find it on a day I'm starving on my drive home and unexpectedly find this treat!); how will my future self feel when I've gotten through this tough season that I'm dealing with in the present (pride, joy, relief, or will I regret how I handled it?) ; or how will my future self benefit from this thing I'm doing today (exercising, eating right, etc.) If you've never considered the concept of your future self, listen to this Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast episode.
5. It gives you perspective and helps you give yourself grace.
Since I made this birthday goal list last year, I was able to read through what I wrote last January and reflect on why those things were important to me then. I realized some of them are no longer important to me now, and there are new things are in my life now that weren't even on my radar then. I did transfer a few of the undone items from last year to this year that I still care about. But I was also able to easily let go of some of the things I didn't accomplish. I gave myself permission to just not do them - just like that - no guilt or explanation needed!
Let us know in the comments if you make a birthday goal list this year!
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!