taming the excuse-monster in my mind

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently moved to a new apartment. Habits researcher and author Gretchen Rubin writes, in her book Better than Before, that an excellent time to adopt new habits is when undergoing a shift or change in your life: a break-up, a new relationship, a new job, a home renovation, etc. Moving to a new place, it turns out, is actually the #1 time to successfully adopt new habits! So I leaped upon the opportunity to try cementing some new healthy habits that I had been wanting to fully integrate into my life.

{Image source}

One of these habits is going to bed earlier, so I can wake up earlier feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Another is to focus on simplicity; I did a huge purge of clutter and papers before I moved, and I want to keep these nonessentials from slowly re-accumulating in my life, as they so often do. Also, I now begin every morning with two big glasses of water and a green smoothie. I try to write at least a couple hundred words on my creative work-in-progress each morning before I even check my email or work on projects for other people. And I am trying to set in stone a regular routine of going to the gym.

I belonged to a gym close by where I used to live, and I would go there fairly regularly, but it was never something I especially looked forward to. I could never figure out why. It was a nice gym, with lots of classes available and fancy amenities. I realize now that I did not fully feel comfortable there; the atmosphere was a bit competitive and intense, and I prefer my gym time to be low-key and low-stress. This new gym I joined by my new apartment is much less fancy, but much more my vibe: like me, the people who go there seem friendly, a little rag-tag, and much more interested in exercising for good health than for looks.

One of my favorite classes is a Monday morning gentle yoga class. The instructor is funny and upbeat, and the class always flies by and is the perfect way to ease into my week.

Lots of other people must think so, too, because the class is pretty much always filled to capacity. Classes work on a first-come, first-serve basis; when you arrive at the gym, you can ask for a pass to get into the class, and if they have any more available the person working the front desk will hand a pass to you. If not, you’re out of luck!

{Photo cred: tricsr4kidz, Flickr Creative Commons}

One week, I was a little late getting out of bed and, even thought I arrived to the gym ten minutes before class was scheduled to begin, they were all out of passes. Rats! I thought, but it was not a big deal. I stashed my yoga mat in the locker room and worked out on the elliptical machine instead.

When I was leaving, about twenty minutes before the class was scheduled to end, another woman was standing by the front desk holding a yoga mat of her own. She spotted my yoga mat and summoned me over. “Were you kicked out of the class, too?” she asked.

“Well, I wasn’t kicked out… there just wasn’t enough room when I arrived.”

This woman shook her head angrily. “It’s not fair! They should have two classes! I got here at the time the class was supposed to start, and I wasn’t able to get into the class! They kicked me out! It’s not fair!” She was like a toddler having a tantrum, blaming everyone else but herself for her predicament.

The manager behind the front desk met my eyes with a helpless expression. I realized this other yogi had probably been angrily complaining to her for the past half hour. And now she was trying to get me to gang up on the manager about the completely fair gym policy.

“It was my fault,” I said, shrugging. “I should have gotten here earlier. But I still had a great workout anyway!” And then I smiled at the manager and headed out the door. I could still hear the other woman sputtering.

This woman, with her countless loud excuses, reminded me of someone familiar: myself, at times. Especially when it comes to my BIG goals. Which, for me, pretty much all center around writing. The truth is, as much as I want to spend my days writing up a storm, on a minute-by-minute level it often feels like writing is the last thing I want to be doing. Because writing is so often difficult! It requires so much thinking and feeling, so much honesty and bravery, and so much willingness to fail, to deal with uncertainty, to feel like you have utterly no idea if what you are creating is going to ever come together at all.

Usually, I find it is especially difficult to begin. To climb back into whatever I am working on. To bridge the gap between the shining potential of the idea in my head and the stark lines of words marching imperfectly across the page. And the act of beginning is often when my excuse-laden self pops up and brightly says:


Oh, you can’t possibly write today! Look how beautiful and sunny it is outside! You don’t want to waste a day like this. Go make a picnic! Go for a hike! Now, now, now!


Oh, look how rainy and dreary it is outside. Why don’t you curl up with that new novel you’ve been wanting to read? Reading a couple chapters will be good for inspiration. Go on, just for a bit. … Oh, why not read for a bit longer? Reading is important for writing, after all.


Oh no, you woke up late! You’re completely behind schedule! No time to write today!


Oh, you woke up early! Aren’t you feeling a little groggy still? Why not get a jump on some other projects, and you can come back to your creative writing once your cup of Earl Grey has kicked in?


Shouldn’t you clean the bathroom? Wash the dishes? Put in a load of laundry? Vacuum the carpet? Your desk is looking quite messy — probably best to organize it first, before you start writing.


Don’t you have a little headache? Your back is feeling kind of sore? Maybe you’re getting sick. You should go back to bed. You should rest. Is that a pain in your gut? Maybe you should eat something. Drink something. Go put on the tea kettle. Go make a sandwich.


Oh, and you should definitely check your email and your cell phone! Can’t miss any messages! It could be something important!


Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I’ve grown to recognize the sabotaging excuse-monster in my head for what she is: afraid. She doesn’t want to sit in the discomfort. She doesn’t want to risk failure. And so she tries to veer me off course. And, on those days (thankfully, becoming rarer and rarer) when I give in and I don’t get the writing done, and I feel guilty and angry for not writing, she always pops up on those days, too. She is filled with those same excuses for why I did not put time into my most meaningful work. She always wants to blame everything else in the world but my own decisions. She is like the other woman who did not get a pass for yoga class.

She has taught me: only by taking responsibility for my own actions, can I change them. Only by recognizing when I am making excuses can I put the brakes on the excuse-train. And only by truthfully assessing my old habits can I build new, better habits.

In a recent podcast with Arch Street Press, Dr. Douglass Jackson, founder of Project C.U.R.E., says, “Figure out what gets you so excited that it gets you up out of bed, puts your feet on the floor, and you just can’t wait to get back to it.”

Writing has always been that something to me. Now, my habits are reflecting this, too.

Ever since that week when I was too late to get a pass, I arrive to yoga class half an hour early. That early, I always am able to get a pass. I walk into the yoga room and lay out my mat on the smooth wooden floor. I have my pick of places in the room. And then I go ride the exercise bike or run on the elliptical machine until it is time for class to begin. Instead of feeling guilty and upset, I feel empowered.

I think that is one of the best ways to feel in our creative lives and our work lives and our personal lives and our whole lives: empowered.

And the best part of all? It is in our power, every single day, to create that feeling for ourselves.

Review of “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

Today was a glorious 50-degree day here in Indiana, and a Friday to boot! I celebrated by stopping by a frozen yogurt shop for a midafternoon snack. They still had the holiday flavors out and I perhaps gorged myself on a little too much of the gingerbread fro-yo {I am a sucker for anything gingerbread flavored, as evidenced by this photo of my happy gingerbread chai latte face} and needless to say, I am now in a little bit of a fro-yo sugar coma. I will persevere onward…

So, you may remember that this book was on my to-read list back in November as part of the book club hosted by blogging phenom Julie at PB Fingers.

the-happiness-project

You may also have noticed that finishing the book was crossed off my to-do list a while ago and that I mentioned one of the book’s principles {“Do good, feel good”} in my post about taking cards & cookies to the nursing home for the holidays.

To be honest, I think I kind of blurred together that post and the book in my mind, and thought I had already posted a review of The Happiness Project on here … until I went to look for the post last night and couldn’t find it. Whoops!

Better late than never, right? 😉

The Happiness Project takes us through a year-long quest of writer Gretchen Rubin to become happier and more grateful for her life and her blessings. She focuses on a specific area of her life for each month, such as feeling more energetic, being a better parent, and improving her relationship with her husband. Her aim is to continue the lessons from each month into the next month {picture a snowball accumulating more and more power as it rolls forward} so that by the end of the year she is attempting to put all of her lessons into practice. I really liked how she set up the project, and the book, in this organized, easy-to-follow way. I am using this strategy to tackle my own goals for this year: I have broken them up into different categories and am focusing on one main category per month, which will hopefully make it less overwhelming to stay on track and get things done.

Rubin writes in an accessible way, almost like a friend chatting to you over coffee. I also liked how she interspersed quotes, examples, and scientific & psychological research she had done throughout the book. It is clear she dove full-heartedly into her happiness project and I think that is a big part of what makes her story so inspiring and invigorating. This book is part of what motivated me to start my own year of kindness challenge!

year of kindness button

I was moved by Rubin’s “Splendid Truths” about Happiness {you can read the entire list on her blog here} especially her Second Splendid Truth:

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

Reading this statement made me feel joyfully understood. This would be my First Splendid Truth; this is my key to happiness. I make myself happy by making other people happy. And I try to brighten other people’s days with my own happiness. I remember a mantra I came up with in elementary school: “Why be sad when you could be happy?” It still rings true, for me, in most situations.

Something else that I found useful from this book was the appendix, which is filled with handouts and resources for people interested in starting their own happiness projects. Rubin wrote that one of the most motivating things for her was to track her progress with daily charts, and as I am someone also motivated by checking things off lists, I devised my own goal list for the week to keep me motivated on those routine goals that could easily fall by the wayside.

All in all, I think The Happiness Project is a motivating and inspiring book to read while also asking yourself, “What does my own Happiness Project look like?”

Have any of you read The Happiness Project? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

** For January, the PB Fingers book club pick is The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

** I’ll also be reading and reviewing 7: an experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker if anyone wants to join me! I’d be happy to post links to your book reviews, too!

7 by jen hatmaker

Have a great weekend! I am planning a night in watching Men in Black III {which I still can’t believe I managed to miss in theaters… I’ve been wanting to see it for.ev.er!}

Hope your night is filled with fun and relaxation and perhaps even a little Friday fro-yo! 😉

xo,
Dallas