Discovering Maleonn

iStock_000002304708Small-lensMaleonn is a Shanghai based artist whose work I encountered for the first time last week. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I was introduced to it by this online article in the Guardian.

In 2012 he carried out a “Studio Mobile” project. He spent months preparing sets and costumes for use by those who would have their portraits taken, and then visited hundreds of provinces taking over 200,000 photographs of people who had asked to be part of the project.

The painstaking preparatory work, creating the costumes and the setting for these moments of fantasy and humour inspired me, and the importance of fantasy and art in everyday life seems validated by the huge response from people all over China.

I am fascinated by the photographs and by the process.

Join the conversation: How do you respond to Maleonn’s work?

Reading When Writing Ebbs


In the last few days I’ve been glad to see posts from other writers on the process of finding it hard to write and working it through. This happens for me too. It often happens after things are going well, when I’ve begun to feel like I am getting an idea of how writing might work for me.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote about Feeling What We’re Avoiding  and Jen Loudon asked Do You Have To Burn Out? Both posts comforted me as I negotiated the latest ebb in my writing flow.

One of the things I realized after reading them was that I was getting a bit pushy with myself about what I would post here. Today it feels like maybe it’s time for a stroll through the everyday rather than a forced march along the edge.

March 6th was Reading Aloud Day. I love reading aloud. My mother read Black Beauty and Heidi to me, and my grandmother read dozens of fairy tale books aloud before I was five, so my love started early. I once convinced classmates to take a day and read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men , the classic by James Agee and Walker Evans, aloud. We read to each other for about ten hours, handing off the book when our voices tired. It was an intense experience. Now I wonder if I would have been able to read the whole thing by myself. Later I read Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient aloud to myself for the beauty of the language. Now I often read passages from books aloud.

When I experience a writing ebb I read even more than usual. Mysteries have taken me out of the everyday and into a new set of puzzles since I first discovered Agatha Christie as a twelve year old. Today, I am a fan of Jacqueline Winspear’s mysteries about Maisie Dobbs.  Maisie is a fascinating character who begins as an English house maid, becomes a World War I nurse, and transitions to detective. The era is rich with themes that resonate with our own age of profound changes.

I am fascinated by the period from just before World War I thru World War II so I was delighted to find Charles Todd, a mother-son writing team, who have written a slew of good mysteries set in that era. I started with the Bess Crawford mysteries because Bess is a World War I nurse too. The first of the series is  A Duty to the Dead.

Another group of mysteries set in this period, this time in India during the last days of the British Raj, are by Barbara Cleverly. The Last Kashmiri Rose introduces Joe Sandilands, late of the Western Front, now in India. Cleverly also has a series that has an echo of Agatha Christie’s real life. In The Tomb of Zeus  she introduces Laetitia Talbot, a young English woman who wants to become an archaeologist. Set on Crete in 1928, the book gives us a view of the world between the wars from another part of the world .

It’s still raining in Vancouver; great weather for a mystery and a cup of tea.

Join the conversation: Do you ever read aloud? What are your read-aloud favourites? What are your mystery picks?


Expressing Gratitude


Expressing gratitude is something I’ve struggled with for awhile. I am still learning. Saying thank you is easy for me in obvious situations where a “thank you” is part of courtesy–when someone opens a door, or gives a gift, or treats me to a coffee or a meal.

It’s different in situations where I feel deeply, or where I am engaged in what’s going on and not thinking because I am so immersed in it. Situations when I am collaborating, or when working with others toward the same goal, or when I am part of a family group.

In these situations my need to feel competent and self-sufficient can get in the way of acknowledging and appreciating the help I’ve received and the contribution made by others. Needing help or having been given help, especially if it wasn’t asked for, has  sometimes meant I felt shame, resentment, or defensiveness rather than gratitude.

I also have had difficulty receiving appreciation.

Here are some of the things that have been helpful as I’ve learned to express and receive gratitude.

Watching those who do it well

The first time I remember seeing someone who knew how to express appreciation and gratitude easily and naturally, I was entering mid-life. When someone can do this well it really stands out. Being able to receive thanks and appreciation gracefully; being present and not deflecting its as soon as someone starts is worth learning.

Russell Precious, one of the folks who founded Capers Community Markets hired me while when there was only one market in West Vancouver. Watching Russell talk with staff and customers provided lessons in how to connect with people, engage them, acknowledge them, and appreciate their contribution. He noticed what was going on, expressed his pleasure and shared the significance of what he saw. He caught people doing something right. Whether it was letting a cashier know how wonderful she was for being present, accurate, and human with every person in the endless lines at the holidays, or savouring the newest dish from the restaurant kitchen, he conveyed his gratitude in a way that let the person know he saw them and what they did and what he found worthwhile and unique. This made it easier to receive his thanks and know they were genuine.

Cynthia Baxter-Diggles  was my Training Director at Wild Oats, a person loved for her ability to recognize the contributions of her team. Her knack for seeing the “superhero” ability of each person inspired outstanding performance and kept us engaged in innovation as we worked to introduce new ways of learning and training at each store. The training team became incredibly supportive of each other in very concrete ways even though we worked in different locations and only connected through conference calls and quarterly meetings.

Assertiveness Skills

When I learned that providing appreciation was being assertive I stopped expecting it to be easy, and I knew practice would help me get better at it. I understood it wasn’t a case of not appreciating others, just feeling slow and a bit awkward when I offered thanks or appreciation. This made it feel inauthentic and I often felt  embarrassed.

In People Skills Robert Bolton, Ph.D. defines an assertion message as

  • a non-judgmental description of the behavior to be changed;
  • a disclosure of your feelings; and
  • a clarification of the concrete and tangible effect of the other person’s behavior on you.

Changing the focus slightly provides a three-step process for expressing gratitude, appreciation, and praise.

The gratitude message:

  • a non-judgmental description of the behavior you are grateful for;
  • disclosure of your feelings; and
  • clarification of the concrete and tangible effect of the other person’s behavior on you or the situation.

Boltan notes that the process of framing assertive messages leads you on a voyage of self-discovery. Learning to express gratitude and appreciation continues to help me grow.

Making the effort to be concrete, specific and descriptive about what you are grateful for and expressing it in a way that includes your feelings and the impact is powerful, and–good news–the more you do it the easier it gets.

Expressing gratitude and appreciation calls for

  •  Vulnerability — We need the willingness to dig a bit deeper (the feeling and impact part) .
  •  Presence — You have to be in the present moment to experience gratitude and be aware of it (the specific, concrete part).

For me this means being aware of the sometimes mixed feelings I am experiencing, recognizing the old reactions of defensiveness or resentment, and setting them aside for later reflection so I can catch someone doing something right.

Accepting appreciation

I am still working on learning to accept appreciation and share how happy I feel when gratitude and kind words come my way; still learning to say,”thank you for letting me know.”

Join the conversation: When has your expression of appreciation or gratitude been difficult? When has it been satisfying? What’s it like for you to receive appreciation?


Learning Gratitude


When I was a child it seemed that gratitude was something I was expected to display. I learned to mimic the desired behaviour, but I didn’t really understand gratitude or being thankful. I understood pleasure, and being glad that something had happened, or that I had received something, but the feeling I now associate with gratitude, a sense of heart-opening warmth and grace, wasn’t part of it.

My mother asked us to write thank you notes for presents within two weeks of receiving them. Sooner was better. So we wrote to distant Aunts and Uncles thanking them for presents that we weren’t sure we wanted: socks, handkerchiefs, soap. While faraway family appreciated the effort, the notes were bland and formulaic. Thank you for X. I like it very much. I hope you are enjoying (season or holiday), XXOOXX. As a teenager I moved to simple declarations: Great! Wow! Awesome! These exclamations were added to greeting card notes with some sentiment already printed. I faked gratitude in order to meet a social need.

When I began to work I was surprised by how much a thoughtful thank you from my boss or a co-worker influenced how I felt. I began to appreciate small kindnesses. The person who remembers to tell you where everyone is going for lunch. The person who remembers the type of pen you like when they order supplies. The person who helps you empty waste baskets on Friday afternoon so you can leave earlier for a date.

“Thank you” began to be a more genuine, more personal response, but understanding didn’t begin to develop until my early twenties.

Things that helped me learn gratitude:

  • Having little money

When I was on my own and unemployed for the first time in my early twenties I had very little money once I paid rent. Food was the highlight of the day and I enjoyed my meagre meals far more than I had when I never worried about when my next one might appear. I am not suggesting lack of money is good, just noting the way it increased my awareness and appreciation of food.

  • David Mekelburg’s Lettering and Layout Class, the camera square exercise

David’s class at Immaculate Heart College changed the way I looked at everything. The exercise that taught me the most asked us to take a cardboard square about 10 x 10 and cut a one inch square in the centre of it using an exacto knife. The first time we used it we went to a tire store with the assignment, “come back with a list of 100 beautiful things.” We found something we responded to and then examined it through our one inch lens. We also made collages using the square to see parts of pictures and lettering layouts. Revelation! So much beauty right in front of us that had been overlooked, dismissed, unappreciated.

  • Learning to cook

I’d been given a Joy of Cooking when first married and it helped me through those first traumatic meals, but I didn’t become a cook until I my brother and his wife gave me Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook over a decade later. The exuberant dishes were easy, delicious comfort food, and brought the author’s love for her ingredients into my kitchen. I began to cook with what what was fresh, local and available and I began to thank my food and the farmers who grew it.

  • Being a stranger

When I left Vancouver for the Okanagan in B.C. ‘s Interior, I only knew two people there: my boyfriend and my best friend’s best friend from high school. The generosity and welcome of my friend’s friend was like heat in winter. It provided the warmth needed for life to take hold in a new environment.

This book introduced me to keeping a journal. The author realized she had everything in her life to make her happy yet was more often discontented. What was going on? She began to look for moments when she felt happy and wrote them down. The simplicity of the question appealed to me and I began to write about when I was happy. Doing this helped me find out more about who I really was; this turned out to be quite different from both who I thought I was and who I thought I should be. It also made me appreciate when I was happy and what seemed to cause being in that state. Often I was happy because I read something wonderful or because I’d had a chance to appreciate some natural aspect of the day, or I’d had an engaging conversation. Gratitude for those moments of happiness began to arise. Gratitude started to show up without being called.

  • Suggesting books

I love books and love sharing them. I find myself suggesting a book and learning more about it in the process. When I’ve had a good experience with a book, I want to pass that along, and find myself thanking the writer for my own pleasure and for producing something that it is a pleasure to share.

  • Meditation Practice

When I began to practice the hardest thing to do was simply sit on my cushion. Again and again I’d catch myself straining to reach the next moment, the next breath; missing the present moment, present breath. When I could just sit on the cushion the world began to open, one breath at a time. I began to be thankful for each breath and marvel at the recurring wonder of it. From that place of gratitude, my experience of the world began to change.

  • Friends

Through meditation a deeper appreciation of friendship developed and a new way of thinking about it. When I was young my family moved frequently so I had attended ten schools by the time I entered high school. I developed some friendships that survived some of the moves, but learned to be happy reading and playing on my own except for school lunch times when it seemed critical to be part of a group. My earliest definition of friendship was tied to reading (those who liked books I liked) and solidarity (people willing to eat lunch or play with me). I was grateful to find them. There was a hint of desperation in my gratitude though and it wasn’t until I encountered meditation many years later that my definition of friendship evolved.

In Buddhist practice I learned about the spiritual friend, the Kalyāṇa-mita, the one that shares ethical values and supports practice as a way to attain enlightenment. Later, from John O’Donohue, I learned about the Anam Cara, an Irish term meaning soul friend. The sense of blessing that comes from relationship with a soul friend has enlarged my heart and gratitude.

  • Family

As a child and young woman I was more aware of what I felt was missing from my family.  It wasn’t until my mid-thirties, after therapy and years of meditation practice, that I began to appreciate my family. I finished grieving what I missed and began to realize what was there. As my child’s eye view of my parents dissolved I marveled at what they had been able to accomplish and all they had sacrificed to be able to give us what they did. I woke up to my good fortune in being born in North America to a mother and a father who wanted children, loved them, loved each other, believed in education, believed their children could be what they wanted to be, and taught them that each person is accountable for his or her actions. Gratitude for their faith in me abides.

  • Teachers

I had a remarkable group of teachers in high school. The faculty who taught senior students, led by John Sage, put together an honors seminar and introduced us to multidisciplinary perspectives and many of the skills we would need for college work. The use of questions, research into primary sources, dialogue in a seminar setting, and work to hone both our listening and reading skills were presented at just the right time. It was challenging, exciting, thrilling learning, and set the bar extremely high for other academic experience.

At Immaculate Heart College I encountered a group of passionate teachers at a time of great change. The faculty had just moved from being a small catholic women’s college to one informed by the values of Vatican II. In the process they had become co-educational, open and adventurous. To give you a sense of the rich dialogue on campus Dorothy D. Lee taught Cultural Anthropology, Tom Hayden, Political Science, Carl Rodgers, Psychology and Corita Kent was the Chair of the Art Department for many years. I took David Mekelburg’s Lettering and Design course there. This poem by Sr. Helen Kelley, who was President of Immaculate Heart, may give you a sense of the call that infused classes regardless of the subject.

Choose Life

only that and always,

and at whatever risk.

To let life leak out,

to let it wear away by the mere passage of time,

to withhold giving it and spreading it,

is to choose nothing.

Sister Helen Kelley

I was at Immaculate Heart for two years. The generosity and spirit of the college gave me my first taste of joyous gratitude. It also opened me to learning from another kind of teacher. Teachers who teach what can’t be learned from a book or a lecture. Teachers who are the lesson.

Gratitude flows like a river fed by many streams when I reflect on my teachers. I hope to celebrate more of them in a future post.

Gratitude is an ongoing practice. Reflecting on what you are grateful for and how you have learned to be grateful moistens the heart.

Join the discussion: How have you learned gratitude?


Executing the Plan: 5 Ideas to Move You Forward

Plastic BlockOkay. You have a goal. You have a plan. You begin to act on the plan and the things that distract you from it and the things that get in the way begin to show up. Here are some ideas that can help you move forward.

What distracts you?

I can easily get lost in the internet and email so I found I have to limit both the time I spend on it each day and when I look at email and follow-up blogs and websites. I just can’t go there until I’ve finished priority work for the day.

Other distractions include calls and visits, setting meetings at times that interfere with my best writing times, and failing to review and refine my daily work list.

Some distractions are common these days (email, internet, calls); yet each person has their own list of events or behaviour that derails momentum. If you can notice what gets you off track then you can understand how to correct the problem.

As soon as you realize you’ve been distracted, make a note. Keeping a list of distractions and reviewing it at the end of the day will provide some tips for better focus the next day.

What do you need from others?

I am pretty independent so I often forget to think about what I might need from someone else before I get started. Some of the things that I can forget to ask for before I start:

  • clarification of points I am not sure about
  • more information
  • permission to use material or to contact other sources
  • how contacts and connections may help
  • physical resources
  • time
  • boundaries

It helps me when I remember to ask before I start, both because I don’t lose focus by interrupting work to ask, and because it increases my sense of being supported.

How can you work with the obstacles or forces that resist accomplishment of your goal?

I identify forces that oppose the goal as part of planning. I’ve found it helpful to research these forces and develop some strategies to use when they appear.

Here are the ones I listed when writing about the goal of completing the first draft of a novel with some examples of steps I took to remove or reduce the impact of the obstacle:

  • Self-Doubt: I reread what I’d written so far. It was better than I remembered!
  • Lack of focus and not spending enough time in the world of the novel: I recommitted to daily work
  • Fear of the dark parts: I am taking Clarissa Pinkola Estes course Mother Night
  • Pushing instead of discovering: I am working with discovering when an element needs a bit more time or research before writing and learning how to let the material “actively” rest. This means that even if I am not writing I spend time attuned to that world each day; just watching, just listening.

How can you leverage the forces that support your achievement of the goal?

There’s usually much more attention paid to what could go wrong when planning and not so much emphasis on how to ensure that the things that help us are in place.

Here’s my list of things that support my achievement of the goal to finish my first draft and how I am working to leverage each one to increase my chances of success.

  • Life-long desire to write: reaffirm my writer identity by taking one action each day that presents me as a writer (in addition to writing)
  • Clarity of the dream that launched the story: attune to the energy of the dream
  • Daily writing: forty-five minutes of work on the novel each day
  • Appropriate breaks: stretch breaks, shift to different part of story, begin work after a break
  • Connection to other writers: at least two meetings with writer-friends each month
  • Attunement to my soul’s longing to see it finished: connect with longing before beginning work
  • Just enough reading about craft and practice: read either blog, book or article on craft each day
  • Right effort: paying attention, being present with the process, and writing

I’ve found that my understanding of how to use each support changes as I work with it.

Each of us has a unique list, and I’d love to hear more about how you leverage what supports you or any ideas about how I could use my supports more effectively.

How can you stay connected to the larger goal and your core desired feeling over time?

I’ve started to use my weekly journal as a place to review progress. This lets me focus on the details during the week and then draw back for a higher level view at least once a week. The combination of detailed work and a new perspective seems to be helping. The weekly review gives me a place to integrate the lessons I am learning along the way.

Join the discussion: What has helped you execute your plans and reach your goals?


Doorways to the Future: Planning for 2013 Goals


Each goal is wish that you have clarified and are committed to making real in this world. Each goal can be a doorway to the future. The next part of the work is finding or creating the doorway by creating your plan.

Once you have goals

Before you begin planning, review your list of goals to ensure each one is:

  • Stated in terms of what you want (not what you don’t want)
  • Stated in present tense
  • Stated to include what you will experience (see/hear/feel) when you achieve it.
  • Stated to include the evidence that you have achieved it

Most of the time my goal list, the one I print out and paste in the back of my agenda, and in my journal; the one I look at every day and each week when I do my journal entry for the week, is more of a point form reminder and doesn’t have the detail I need to create a plan. It’s like the title. The plan provides chapter headings, and weekly and daily actions provide the substance of the story.

Pick one goal to work with first

Choose the goal that relates to your focus for this year; the one that will have the most impact. Sometimes the focus is a role, sometimes a feeling, sometimes an area of your life such as livelihood or relationships. Here’s how I’ve built a plan for my  focus area, creativity, and my focus role, writer. Once you’ve done one goal, do the others in order of priority.

My Core Desired Feeling in the area of Creativity is Joyful. Underneath there are three goals:

  • Finish the first draft of the novel
  • Write 52 Blog posts
  • Play with paints, collage, fabric

After my review I restated them:

  • First draft of novel 80-100K words completed; excited to begin revisions
  • Post each week is beautiful, edgy(for me), useful(for readers), and is shared
  • Journal weekly using paint, collage, visual play in weekly summaries

The goal and resources

The next step is understanding how I can use my resources (time, money, network) to achieve the goal.

The productivity software I used to use came with my first laptop computer—a program based on Stephen Covey’s First Things First, an older book with a ton of good ideas in it. In both the software and the book, Covey used the analogy of filling a jar with sand and rocks. If you fill the jar with the sand first and then try to put in the rocks you won’t manage it, but if you put the rocks in first and then pour in the sand you can fit them all into the jar. He tells you to put your most important life commitments in first and then let the sand of all the other commitments fill up the space that’s left. It is great advice, and I’ve used it for years.

It works when I am self-disciplined enough to do it. Part of the challenge for me is determining what’s a big rock, what’s sand, and then there’s the dilemma of recognizing when I see someone else’s big rock (or sand) as mine.

Big Rocks

Big rocks are your most important tasks. How do you figure out what’s important? Another tool from First Things First has been a big help. Four Quadrant Thinking. Divide a square into four boxes, and label as follows:

  • Q1 Urgent & Important, top row left
  • Q2 Not Urgent & Important, top row right
  • Q3 Urgent, Not Important, bottom row left
  • Q4 Not Urgent, Not Important, bottom row right

Then take your list of things to do (action items from goal planning and other items from your list) and sort tasks into the appropriate box. Most of us start with a pile of things in Q1, not so much in Q2 and a bunch of stuff in Q3 and Q4. To be productive and less reactive, you want to carve out more time for Q2 items like planning, creating, editing, researching, learning, and key action steps for your goals. This is what moves you forward and begins to make more space. Your urgent and important list, often firefighting, begins to disappear as the the results of planning and more long-term thinking are felt.

Daily Practice

The other gem that’s stayed with me and helped me work in a way that’s congruent with my values and feelings, is recognizing that:

What you do every day is your life. What you do every day, whether or not you are aware of it, whether or not you intend it, becomes your life.

Staying aware of what you do every day, even just logging it and seeing where the time goes, can be sobering. Logging has been helpful for my writing. Last year I kept track of what I wrote each day, and though my intention was to write some on the novel everyday, there were too many days when I only wrote Morning Pages (thank goodness for Morning Pages).

The first chapter in Priscilla Long’s book The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life  is called Daily Writing. It begins like this:

Writing every day is the key to becoming a writer. It is the only secret, the only trick. Don’t despise the fifteen-minute write. Don’t despise writing in your journal. Don’t despise writing down your complaints for fifteen minutes before going to work. Any writing counts.

Taking heart from this advice, I am honouring my Morning Pages, the other writing I have done, and recommitting to writing more than Morning Pages every day.

The the discipline of daily practice is good for those with writing goals and for meditators, musicians, fitness enthusiasts, and a host of others whose goals benefit from daily work.

Creating the plan: begin with the end in mind

Another Covey quote

Begin with the end in mind,

has become an operating principle. It’s habit 2 from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The first step in creating the plan is creating a more specific and concrete vision of what it will be like when the goal is achieved.

  • How will I feel?
  • How will I celebrate?
  • What will I see, hear or notice?

Goal: First draft of novel 80-100K words completed; excited to begin revisions

As soon as I include how I want to feel I realize that I need to pace myself and build energy toward the end of the process so I’ll be eager to begin revising. This tells me more about how to approach writing the first draft differently. I think I’ve been allowing myself to revise too much along the way. Time to just get it down!

  • When I’ve completed those 80-100K words I feel like I just finished a delicious appetizer and am hungry for the main course of revision.
  • I am going to celebrate with a dinner out and a five-day holiday on work on the novel (to create some space before I begin revising).
  • I see a double-spaced hard copy ready for a first read through beginning to end, and a fresh pad of lined paper ready to take notes. I have a red pen and a yellow highlighter handy and a pad of 3 x 3 sticky notes.I notice how real the novel feels and how much actual space it takes.

I’ve got a big smile on my face just writing this description, so I’ll be ready to dance and shout when it’s really there.

Creating the plan: consider the context

The goal lives in a context of

  • feelings
  • values
  • forces that support achievement
  • forces that oppose achievement
  • the current status of the goal, and
  • other commitments.

If you understand the context you’ll have a better chance of making a plan that will help you achieve your goal.

  • Feelings: I want to feel joy at having brought it to completion and energized by the story being ready for work.
  • Values: I want to complete the first draft having learned more about writing, and I want to have created something of beauty and meaning, something that speaks to my community, something that explores the importance of kindness, and something that demonstrates the importance of presence.
  • Forces that oppose or hinder the goal: self-doubt, lack of focus, not being in the world of the novel enough to stay attuned to it, fear of the dark parts, pushing instead of discovering.
  • Forces that support the goal: life-long desire to write, clarity of the dream that launched the story, daily writing, appropriate breaks, connection to other writers, attunement to my soul’s longing to see it finished, just enough reading about craft and practice, right effort.
  • Current status: 35,000 words of first draft done, approximately 65K to go, 5500 words per month, 1300 week per week.

Breaking it down makes it feels much more manageable. Hey, I might even get it done early. I’ve been working about forty-five minutes a day on the draft so far this year and the time seems to be about right, so I’ll continue. When I tried to go for an hour I gave up early, and when I tried for several hours a day, I didn’t do it at all. I am looking for  my sweet spot, the one that lets me sustain the work.

  • Other commitments on your calendar: For most of us, there will always be other claims on our time and resources.

Before you can make a realistic plan for new goals you need to review current commitments. You will probably have to find things to say no to before you can say yes to the time and resources needed for your new goal.

I start by figuring out how much time I’ve already committed elsewhere: work, family, courses, vacations, and then count the days that are left. For example, in January,for me  7 days were gone right away, along with two evenings, and 20 other hours. I have roughly 166 waking hours to play with in January over 24 days. To allow for unforeseen events, I’ll give myself an hour per day for Sera. I now have 142 hours left. Even though these calculations are fiddly, for me, it’s really helped me understand the urgency behind using that hour each day. It helps me cherish the time.

I need to do enough time calculations to create commitment and a realistic perspective without getting so caught up in the time the issue that I lose sight of the writing. I know that an hour for the book is a Quadrant 2 activity and clearing email is usually Quadrant 3, so at the very least I can learn to do the hour on the book before I tackle email.

Committing to time and keeping an eye on the word count works best for me. I also know I need to build in activity that will nourish the writing, and space for connecting with other writers so I don’t go too far down my own rabbit hole.

Steps for creating a plan:

  1. Review goal statements
  2. Plan your most important goal first; the one that will make the most difference
  3. Review the resources (time, money, network) you will need to achieve the goal
  4. Understand how big rocks, daily practice and a four quadrant approach can be used with this goal
  5. Begin with the end in mind
  6. Consider the context

May you have fun creating your plan; may the process bring you new insights and help you achieve your goals for 2013.

Join the discussion: What kind of planning process works for you?


Wishes Like Horses

horses run

There’s an old English proverb:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

That wishes (dreams) are like horses that can carry us forward is something I discovered when I made my first “Wish List” in 1976. I listed things I wanted and noticed that if I put something on the list I ended up with it in my life. Maybe not right away, and maybe not in the form I’d originally asked for, but as long as I continued to wish for it, it came.

The wish list helped me focus my attention on what I wanted so I was on the lookout for opportunity in a way I hadn’t been before. Making the wish helped me clarify what I wanted. Wishing helped move me to action.

I’ve come to see goals as wishes I’ve clarified and developed through review and assessment, and I recalled the proverb as I worked on my review of last year and began to think about what I wanted this year.

I work with Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler to review my year and set goals for the coming year. Because I’ve used this process for over a decade, I can review past goals to see what’s constant and what arises and flows through. I reread parts of the book each year because it deepens my understanding of the questions and puts the whole review process in a positive framework.

Questions I use from Your Best Year Yet:

  • What did I accomplish?
  • What were my biggest disappointments?
  • What have I learned?
  • How do I limit myself?
  • In what areas am I not achieving what I want?
  • What do I say about myself to explain these failures?
  • What new paradigm statement will support movement toward the life I want?
  • What are my core values?
  • What are 6 to 8 key roles?
  • What role do I choose for my major focus for the coming year?

In an earlier post I wrote about a simple year-end review process that uses just three questions:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What would I change?

Once the review process is complete Best Year Yet asks you to consider:

  • What are my top goals for each role?
  • Choosing from the goals you outlined for roles, what are my top 10 goals for the year?

Rather than focusing on roles, Danielle LaPorte looks at life areas:

  • Life-Livelihood
  • Health
  • Creativity
  • Relationships
  • Spirit

This year I drafted goals for both roles and areas before I began to choose my top goals for this year. For example, even though accomplishments/disappointments and what worked/what didn’t work are similar, I find the answers different so I answered both sets of questions.

Other Influences on my process this year:

Morning Pages

Since I began doing daily morning pages in 2010, my old journal practice changed and became more sporadic; most of what I was journalling about ended up in Morning Pages.


I’d done some journal entries early last year and switched to a weekly format, but stopped in February. When I began to review the year I found I wanted to complete monthly entries for March through December before I did my review of the year and set goals. I used my agenda, referring to Morning Pages where needed, and did a “highlights” of the week entry that included photos, ticket stubs, program notes and books that were influencing me.

This took longer than I expected, but was a satisfying exercise.

Danielle LaPorte

Danielle’s rethink of the whole goal setting process in her new Desire Map program took me in a new direction. I haven’t purchased the program yet, but the information she has shared on her blog and in interviews has been helpful already. Danielle realized that connecting with how she wanted to feel moved her more than goals. She found that her Core Desired Feelings were a truer compass than the goals; that accomplishing the goals were not true endpoints. The Core Desired Feelings (CDFs) were what she truly wanted.

I reflected on this as I made my way through my weekly journal summaries and decided I wanted to include Core Desired Feelings as part of my process.

My Core Desired Feelings:

  • Loving
  • Loved
  • Creative
  • Able
  • Present

This made me ask, what activities and conditions give rise to my core desired feelings?

 How many goals are workable?

When I think about how many goals I can commit to each year I take into account how things went the previous year (what took more time and/or more effort than anticipated), and see if there are there still “live” items from last year.

In September I wrote about finding power for a strong finish in relation to achieving your goals for the year. There were four out of nine goals that I hadn’t yet achieved. They were:

  • Completing Story is a State of Mind Sarah Selecky’s writing course
  • Completing the first draft of my novel
  • Publishing an article or story
  • Restarting my exercise routine

I wasn’t able to complete them in 2012. Two of them I can simply transfer to my 2013 list: complete the first draft of the novel and complete Story is a State of Mind.The other two I will revise: discover how to share my fiction, poetry and essays and maintain my exercise routine.

I like Danielle’s five areas because, for me, they are bigger than the role-based approach. Often my role-related goals spring from “should-dos” rather than being more deeply connected to what my soul is calling me to do. It’s also easier for me to keep the list manageable.

When I began doing regular yearly goal setting I did a Top Ten list, but now I tend to work with five to eight goals. It’s finding the balance between challenging and overwhelming, between stretch and stasis. Which goals, if accomplished, will make a real difference to you? Try those even if there are only three or four.

As I wrote this I realized that this post reflects my creative process. I like lots of things to sort through. I am intrigued by the complex but love essence. I start with more and distill to essence. As I choose what to keep and what to discard I learn more about myself. This messy approach may not work for you;, but in case you love more information, I’ve included links to some of the blogs that I’ve found interesting that discussed this whole end-of-year review and intention setting cycle.

Meadow DeVor 13Things for 2013 (an anti-New Year’s resolutions list)

Jennifer Loudon Urges us to take all of January to reflect and develop our intentions for the year.

Lissa Rankin uses two posts to take us through the past year, looking at what worked in part one, and what didn’t in part two

Chris Gullibeau uses several posts each year to do a review of the year. The first is an overview (more what worked, what didn’t) and the second looks forward

May you be inspired to find the wishes that are horses you can ride to your most successful year. Blessings for the journey.

Join the discussion: How do you set goals, if you do? How do you work without goals, if you don’t set them?


Reviewing 2012

How was your year? I love the sense of interval, of a time between, that happens during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. For me, it’s always been a time of finishing off and preparing for the New Year.

A simple review

I learned to do this as an end of meeting activity when facilitating community groups, and find it works well for end of year prep for new year plans. We used to use flip charts and head one, “What Worked”, another “What Didn’t Work”, and a third, “What to Change”.

Head a sheet “what worked”, head another “what didn’t” and a third , “changes”. For the first two headings, let the ideas bubble up and jot them all down. Evaluate what you’ve got and then flesh out the bits that are most meaningful.

Take a look at the past year

If you had goals for this year, take a look at them as you reflect on what worked and what didn’t. If you didn’t have formal goals or a plan, that’s okay. Even if you didn’t have something written down you may notice areas where you feel good about what happened and areas where you aren’t as pleased.

As you work through this review see if you can approach it as a fact finding mission. Finding out what worked, and what helped it work, and finding out what didn’t and what stood in the way are both valuable. Let go of any blame toward yourself or others.

Other questions to explore:

  • When something worked, how did you feel?
  • When something didn’t work how did you feel?
  • Are there areas of your life that generate good feelings that didn’t show up on your “what worked” list? Add them to your list.
  • Are there areas of unhappiness that didn’t show up on your “didn’t work” list? Add them to your list.

Take a break

Go for a walk, talk with a friend, have a cup of tea. Shake it out.

If a friend or partner is near by, either with you, or by phone, consider giving them a call and asking if they have a moment to listen to your lists. In fact, it’s lovely to do this process with a friend, each of you working on your pieces and then coming together to talk about each piece before going on to the next.

 When you come back

Review your lists and write down things you want to change.

When you look at your “what worked” list, see if there are ways you can bring more of the elements that helped create successful outcomes to other areas of your life. Potential changes could come from adapting successful strategies in one area to other areas.

When you look at your “didn’t work” list, see if you can identify the things that were obstacles to success, or that took energy or spirit away. Once you have identified obstacles, or elements that create resistance, look at what you could change or what you could do to eliminate or minimize the obstacle or the resistance.

These change points will be valuable information for next year’s planning/goal setting.

Goals focus on results; planning focuses on the steps you need to take to achieve the results. In the next post I’ll focus on goals. The following post will look at planning.

Remember to celebrate items on your “what worked” list as you ring in the New Year!

Join the discussion: What helped you last year?

Celebrating Connection

My first Christmas in Canada, in 1971, happened during a two-week residential Gestalt Workshop at Cowichan Farm in Duncan on Vancouver Island. It was different than any Christmas I’d ever experienced.

In some ways my memories are a bit hazy; I am not sure I can still name every person who was there, but I have a very strong sense of how it felt to be sitting around the farmhouse table, candles flickering, and listening intently as each person in the small group took his or her turn to give their gifts to the rest of us. By this time we’d been on retreat together for a week, so we knew more about each other than we may have known about members of our family.

Each one of us had the opportunity to give each other person one gift. It wasn’t a physical gift. We gave a gift that embodied our recognition of the talents and resources, the habits of being; the longings as they had been revealed in our work together. We prefaced each statement with, “If I could, I would give you ….”

The joy that came from seeing someone smile, their face alight with pleasure, on receiving a fantasy gift that recognized them, was heart-opening. My sense of anticipation each time it was my turn to receive a gift was high, as high as the anticipation I felt as a six-year old, waiting until it was time to get up and see if Santa had brought me the doll I asked for.

The gifts we gave each other felt very real; some were funny, some deep. Being seen, having my longing met, filled me up.

I’ve always enjoyed giving gifts. That year I realized that it was the sense of seeing something special about someone and finding something that could celebrate that special thing, that I found so engaging about giving gifts. It is an opportunity to answer something in them.

Being seen, being heard, knowing that our lives are witnessed and respected, knowing by this that we are connected, is a precious gift. Reflect on the qualities that connect you to family and friends, and then discover the perfect fantasy gift, the one that will let them know that you see and value their special quality, and value their presence in your life–or just tell them what you love and appreciate about their presence in your life.

Join the conversation: What engages you about gift giving? What is the most memorable gift you’ve ever given? Received?

Three Steps Toward Success in 2013

As we count the days to year-end there are three things you can do to prepare yourself for success in 2013 and they might even help you clear the way for more holiday enjoyment.

1. Finish everything you can on your unfinished list

I tend to put more on my “do list” than is realistic, so I often end up with a number of things that aren’t complete, or that haven’t been started when I get to the end of the year.

The first step is making a list of all the things that you started but didn’t finish, or things you meant to get to, but didn’t even start.

Sometimes what’s unfinished or not started is undone for a very good reason:

  • Once you started you realized you didn’t really want to do it
  • Given all that you have done and need to do you just haven’t got the resources you need
  • You have changed and your priorities and desires have changed too, leading to other tasks or goals becoming priorities
  • You realized this wasn’t a goal or project that would contribute to your happiness or to deepening your engagement, experience, or learning
  • You no longer want to do it

Cross the “good reason” items off your list and then take a look at what’s left. These should all be items that you still want to finish or start.

If there are any you haven’t started yet transfer them to your draft 2013 list for consideration later, when you do your 2013 list.

Are there any items on the unfinished list that you could finish by investing less than two hours of your time? If so, consider making an appointment with yourself to make sure you do. Every item that you finish will release more energy for your use as you go forward and add to your sense of accomplishment and confidence.

 2. Clear out and clean up to make way for the new.

Aargh! How does all this paper and all this stuff accumulate when you aren’t looking? Now’s a good time to take just thirty minutes a day to clear out and clean up.

Areas that will repay your work:

  • Work space: desk drawers, files, business cards.
  • Closets: hall, clothes, bathroom
  • Kitchen: spices, condiments, fridge & freezer, food cupboards (clear all items that are past their due/use date)

If you can clear and clean and make way for the new your whole space will feel energized and loved.

3. Let go of what you no longer need.

It’s been a full year. Lots of learning; lots of change and many things that may have been needed or relevant at the beginning of the year are now simply taking up space. Some of these items may be physical, but the items that will really bring you more spaciousness are the habitual responses, habits of mind and ideas that are no longer serving you. A short checklist to review for items to let go of:

  • Old ideas of you and what you can do
  • Habitual responses to change or the new
  • Your standard response to a call for a contribution from you
  • Your standard response to a compliment
  • Your list of what you can’t do
  • Your answer to the question “what I need to let go of to achieve my dreams”

 Some ways to make the letting go feel real:

  • Write the item on a piece of paper and put it through the shredder
  • Draw the item and then burn the drawing
  • Hold a fizzy tablet (Alka Seltzer, bath bomb, etc.) and while meditating on the items and imagining them going into the tablet. When you are ready, drop the tablet into water and watch it till it fully dissolves; then pour the water down the drain.
  • Take a shower and imagine you are washing it away.
  • Walk in the ocean and give it to the waves

Finishing, cleaning and clearing, and letting go: preparation for success and for setting goals for 2013.

Join the conversation? What do you do to make space for new life?