Great hacks

More Neutral Zone Considerations - The Power of Temporary Clarity

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Yesterday I blogged about how, during a transition/change, we can be more creative while in the messy, ambiguous, neutral zone. But I also mentioned how the neutral zone can be draining and frustrating, because things are fuzzy and in flux. One of the ways to lessen the negative impacts of the neutral zone is to define temporary systems. Make decisions for the next day/week/month. 

Here's how this holiday season will look.

Here's how I will complete this project.

Here's my role because the nonprofit has paused operations.

Here's how I'll get my walking miles in while I'm struggling with some tricky side-effects.

Here's my new budget for the next two months.

Here's what things will look like this week.

Here's how I'll define a great week given all that has happened.

Here's what staying in touch can look like.

Here are the things I can stop doing for the next _____ days/weeks/months.

We need to switch up our lives due to the pandemic, but these neutral zone coping techniques will help with other goals or changes as well. We should consider defining temporary systems, roles, or actions that will help us move toward the new beginning anytime we're hanging out in the neutral zone.


A fruitful mindset for #NaNoWriMo

November 1st is almost here, and I've thought about the mindset that will serve writers well as they launch into #NaNoWriMo. The mindset has a few elements that are reinforced by recent blog posts (linked):

#1: Time is precious; choose wisely. I blogged about my Decision Filter here. I'm still reviewing this filter daily and it's helping me make better decisions about how I spend time. 

#2: Be a winner and you'll win. Put the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy to work for you. Think and act like a highly productive writer and you'll be one. 

#3: Believe that you're in the middle of doing something great. It's easy to give up or give in when we're in the messy middle of things and to doubt that we're on the right track. But here's the thing. Being in the middle of an epoch success can feel the same way. So don't give up. Believe you're in the process of an achievement.

4: Make unreasonable requests that aren't. We might be THIS close to our daily or weekly goals but have a substantial barrier. And while we probably can't manifest a million dollars into our bank accounts so we can rent a villa for the month, we can engage the people who love and admire us in an assist. Making unreasonable requests is a regular part of my regimen and has helped me generate breakthroughs.

I hope you have the BEST NaNoWriMo ever!


Invite a Narrative Dare #amwriting

I was watching a video where the owner of Murder By the Book in Houston interviewed authors Jasper Fforde and Matt Haig about their new books. Watch the video here. Something that Jasper said struck a chord with me and I've thought about it several times since seeing the video. He said he "sets a narrative dare" when drafting book plots. In other words, he challenges himself with a specific but not narrow concept. "Rabbits live amongst us. How?" was the example he shared that helped him get going on his newest book, "The Constant Rabbit."

The idea, Jasper said, is to set the narrative dare and then write our way out of it. 

I love the idea of challenging ourselves such that we live a more creative life. And if you're a writer, the narrative dare might be something worth trying. Dares that offer some specificity but allow wide-ranging creative freedom work best. 

The narrative dare for my current project could go something like this: Iguanas invade Galveston Island. How? The narrative dare for my first novel could've been: an octopus is charged with murder. How? And while I'd not heard of the narrative dare when I wrote "Toxic Octopus," that central idea fueled my interest in and commitment to fleshing out the story.

Here are a few narrative dares I just brainstormed:

  • The end of lying. What happened?
  • The planet is going to explode in one year. Explain.
  • A pill melts fat away in one week. How?
  • Placebos become the real thing. Why?
  • Cell and Internet service is shut down by aliens. 
  • Existentialism sweeps the nation. How?
  • Poisonous plants from all over the world meet and organize. Explain.

Might a narrative dare, or some other type of dare, help you create?


The Human Body is a System

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I had few health challenges until I was 35. Then the chaos-theory-reverberation-making-proverbial-shit-hit-the-fan. But this is not a woe is me post. It's a reflection on the circuitous path we have to walk/run/dance/jump when trying to investigate what ails us.

Wait, Lisa. Isn't that what doctors are for?

If I could hire a private investigator with a medical degree, sure. But our healthcare delivery system is fragmented and focused. And my primary care physician - theoretically the overseer of my care - is so overburdened that she is forced to farm out anything requiring more than ten minutes to resolve to specialists. 

I have a lot of "ologists" on my medical team. They're super smart about a few things. They've studied a small number of health problems in depth so they can get really good at treating them.

The problem with this is everything is connected. Human bodies are chaotic systems. Interesting fact: It was in the context of the body that Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the Father of Systems Thinking, fathered systems thinking

"As long as we single out individual phenomena, we do not discover any fundamental difference between the living and the non-living." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An evolution of modern biological thought

"In order to understand an organized whole, we must know both the parts and the relations between them." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, The History and Status of General Systems Theory

Having specialists looking at their assigned piece of me is helpful but insufficient. My oncologist doesn't know about diet or metabolism. My endocrinologist doesn't know about cancer or the heart. My cardiologist doesn't know about the digestive tract. My neurologist doesn't know about arthritis or strength. My personal trainer (not an ologist, but on the team) doesn't know about medications and blood test results. But my cancer affects my digestion. And the oral chemo I take affects my heart. And my metabolism affects my thinking and movement. And my diet affects everything. 

My job is to discover how things are connected, make meaning, and fill in gaps. To do this, I listen to my ologists and do a lot of research using reliable sources. Maybe I go back to my ologists with my findings. Sometimes I'm on my own.

It's a lot of work and my most important job. And when I figure something out, it's sweet like cherry pie.


Further on BHAAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals

GumbyPic credit gumbyworld.com

In the last post, I offered a modification to the popular BHAG - a BHAAG, adding AGILE with a nod to our current times. The major idea being that we should not wait to plan until things return to normal, that goals can be motivating and helpful as long as they're flexible.

Agile like a warmed up Gumby doll. Do you remember Gumby? He (was it a he?) had his own show and best-selling toys. When we're Gumby agile, we're able to progress forward during chaos (in satisfying and circuitous ways). 

Agility is our capacity to be consistently adaptable without having to change. It is the efficiency with which we can respond to nonstop change.

Let’s break down this definition.

Consistently adaptable. When we are consistently adaptable, we can modify how, when, and where something is completed with the same confidence and efficiency that we use to make coffee in the morning. Zigging and zagging is second nature, and being adaptable does not cause great stress or worry.

Without having to change. What would this look like in action? Imagine a professional tennis player named Bjorn. In between tournaments, Bjorn practices dozens of shots with a variety of practice partners on hard, grass, and clay courts. Each tennis match is unique, but he will be better able to respond to each new challenge because he has trained himself to adapt quickly. We can train in the same way and increase our ability to respond to new situations without having to change our overall approach.

Personal example: Goal is to improve health and fitness.

Being consistently adaptable means that I've learned how to do my strength training exercises in any room, using proper or improvised weights, in longer or short bursts. 

Without having to change means that I've got several different tools I can use to get to my goal. I can walk outside, ride my bike, use the Waterrower, try standing calisthenics, or practices yoga. I can switch tools to my situation and stay on track.

The need to be agile applies to accountability and motivation, too. I need to be able to keep my promises in all conditions and have a variety of accountability tools and practices in play.

If your plans are too rigid or narrow, you might be setting yourself up for setbacks or failure because life throws curveballs. Olympic athletes are improvising their training for next year's games. They have to be agile in order to be prepared and competitive. It's the same for us. 

The key to using BHAAGs to maintain progress during these uncertain times is agility. I know this is true for my crazy life and invite you to explore the possibilities.

Be agile like Gumby.

Eddie Murphy played Gumby on SNL. Funny stuff


BHAAGS for Covid Era Planning - Big Hairy Audacious AGILE Goals

BHAAG - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals

Many of us have put off planning because, for the last six months, we've had to cancel or modify everything we intended to do. Jobs, vacations, and get togethers have gone by the wayside. It may have been draining, devastating, or depressing. Or all three!

And with the pandemic far from over, we might be wary of planning, afraid that whatever we shoot for will fail. I believe that not planning might make things worse because we tend to live in the future. No plans = nothing to live toward.

For example:

  • Imagine you've planned for a two-week camping vacation in Montana. In the months and weeks before the trip, you enjoy researching and getting ready for the trip. You watch movies about camping and conduct energy-bar taste tests. The excitement builds as your departure time arrives. You're living in the future.
  • The week before your trip, you're super-focused at work and ensure co-workers will take care of any loose ends. Even at work, you feel the anticipation. You're living in the future.
  • Then you go camping. You enjoy the moment but also relish thinking about the next few days. You're living in the future.
  • A couple of days before the end of your trip you start thinking about what's next. Getting home, picking the dog up from boarding, and what's waiting for you at work. Your spirits dip a bit during these moments. You're still living in the future. 

All the leading up to the trip time is awesome, fun, and helpful. I crave that right now. How about you?

"But the pandemic," you say. It's true, we don't really know how the next week, month, or year will look and if we'll end up cancelling any plans we make. I'm going to make the case for planning anyway with the following considerations:

  • Be realistic - planning for a trip next month might not be smart. We KNOW the pandemic will still be raging a month from now.
  • Plan with flexibility - don't buy nonrefundable travel. The good news is that many companies are offering no-risk booking. 
  • Prepare fully and resolve to be OK with delays and changes. If you make an agreement ahead to be totally engaged during this unsettled time, it will make any changes you might have to make less devastating.
  • Train, research, and discuss with abandon!

Another example. Here's my new broad plan.

Bill and I are going to spend two weeks in New Mexico in late March, 2021. We both LOVE New Mexico and know the state well. We're planning on a lot of outdoor activities like walking, hiking, and exploring. We intend to get a rental home for a lot of this time so we can cook and stay away from crowds.

There will be one event with more people we hope will be safe to do: I'm going to walk the Duke City Half Marathon in Albuquerque on March 28th. This means TRAINING with a capital T. Several days ago I committed to creating a training plan on this blog. I've Shared the details of my plan at the end of this post for those who are interested.  

We have five months to plan, research, and discuss our trip and this will make the next five months more enjoyable and healthy even if we end up changing our plans. I've already made the hotel reservation for the half-marathon (can cancel). I will not be stupid...timid, or hesitant.

In the business world, it's common to hear about BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

BHAGs are goal that challenge us in ways that energize, engage, and expand.

"A BHAG engages people– it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.  It is tangible, energizing, highly focused.  People "get it" right away; it takes little or no explanation." Source here. 

That sounds great and scary, right? Let's adapt the BHAG to the times because I get it that many of us are hesitant to commit to a highly-uncertain future. 

BHAAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals.

You with me?

I'm not suggesting that a trip to New Mexico qualifies as a BHAAG in and of itself. But it is my goal to have a couple of BHAAGs wrapped up in the trip. Walking the half marathon is the first one. It's a BHAAG because of the training and transformation that will be required for me to be ready and able to complete the 13.1 miles. And the second BHAAG? That's TBD.

What's your BHAAG? I hope you've got something that you can live into with excitement. A goal that requires research and preparation you'll enjoy doing. And that this productive anticipation will help you cope with and get through this difficult time. 

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Lisa's Half Marathon Walk Training Plan

As I write this post, I have about 24 weeks to train for the 13.1 miles. I found a great 16-week training plan here. This plan assumes that the walker has formed a base of regular walking several miles without difficulty. I'm not quite there yet, so I'm going to take the next four weeks to build my base (with a goal of walking 8-10-11-12 weekly miles). I'm also adding a two-week fudge factor to the schedule (since this will occur during winter) and plan to begin the 16-week plan on Thanksgiving. 


Is it LUCK or the Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

I've been exploring the self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Not sure, maybe because I'm keen to generate new or more possibility. 

Check out this 5-minute video that explores if luck really exists and how our approach to luck might change our outcomes. 

Do you have a lucky charm? Say NO to rabbit's feet, please. Rabbits are too cute! You might get some luck and a bucketful of very bad juju, there.

No charm? You might you want to anoint one after watching this video? I'm thinking about this. And isn't this what the biker's bell is - a self-fulfilling lucky charm?

I hope you get lucky today and every day.

Lucky Video


Swirly Thinking - The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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I believe in the self-fulling prophecy. The sociological idea that predictions make things more likely to come true. 

Example: The young man worries that his girlfriend is going to dump him. This prediction affects his actions. He seems more leery, acts more needy, and expresses more doubts when with her. This makes him a less attractive boyfriend and she breaks up with him. 

The self-fulfilling prophecy is often discussed in the negative, but positive outcomes are possible, too. Human systems are chaotic (as in chaos theory) and our thoughts can be swirly in nature. Future results are sensitive to initial conditions - and every thought and action is like a butterfly flapping (as in the butterfly effect). Everything we do reverberates.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is fueled by swirly reverberations. This is not a linear equation; it's the opposite. And as chaotic beings, we likely have dozens of self-fulfilling prophecies at play at the same time. Some will be in conflict with one another. 

Example:

Swirly thoughts reinforcing GET IN SHAPE: I going to hire a personal trainer and commit to an accountability system for exercise. I can do this and it will work.

Swirly thought reinforcing GAINING WEIGHT: I'm doomed when it comes to health, so I should just enjoy myself and eat whatever I want.

Swirly thoughts reinforcing VEGGIES WILL HEAL ME: If I eat lots of vegetables, I will slow disease progression and feel better.

Swirly thoughts reinforcing DISEASE PROGRESSION: My weight is my greatest risk factor, and if I can't solve that problem, the rest is wasted effort.

Do you see how these conflicting beliefs could co-exist? What might be possible if I could let go of the least helpful beliefs and adopt better ones?

Bottom line: We have the opportunity to be more cognizant of the self-fulfilling prophecies we're reinforcing and deliberate about putting more helpful ones in play. 

BTW, this idea is why something like a Decision Filter can be useful.


Follow Up - Experiment: The Decision Filter

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I began using this decision filter one week ago. So how did it go?

Interesting. Well. Disappointing. Enlightening.

Mixed results, in other words, but my experiment was beneficial, and I'll give it another week. I want to see what's possible and if I can learn from my observations which included:

  • Having the words from the Decision Filter graphic as my phone wallpaper was awesome. I looked at those words hundreds of times and reflected on them often. 
  • It's too easy to rationalize suboptimal actions because they kind of meet the filter criteria. It gives me a wee bit of joy. I'm using my strengths (but to what end?). And so on. I need to be much pickier about my choices.
  • The best choices reverberated to affect multiple goals and interests. We recently upgraded our internet service and downgraded our cable TV to basic channels. We have just local channels and PBS now (plus shopping and music). Moving to a speedier wifi helped us make our work-from-home situation more efficient. But the reverberation is that I'm no longer spending hours each evening watching cable news. I'm interested in politics and watched the same news repeated again and again. It was a bit of an obsession. But no longer. Now I check a few websites a couple of times per day and I have 2-3 hours back per day to use however I want. I've also noticed that my stress level is a bit lower because I'm not watching and listening to media as much. I miss watching my favorite news anchors, but binging cable news doesn't pass the Decision Filter. 

Onward!

I'll work harder to make better choices about how I use my time. I like this filter and look forward to experimenting with it further. Perhaps I'll put the graphic on my iMac wallpaper and as a daily task on my Todoist list. Check out the original post if you want to more details about the Decision Filter. 

Progress


Experiment: The Decision Filter

Progress
Time is all we have. And yet, we sometimes fritter it away doing things that make no positive difference (or a negative difference). Some of this is okay. Too much frittering, I propose, will suck the life our of our lives.

I want more life, fewer regrets. 

This happens one choice at a time. Every decision is a moment of truth. Here's a good one. I've decided to work on making better decisions about how I spend my time. 

The One Week Experiment

It's Sunday September 6, at 3:39 p.m. EDT. I declare that for the next week I will use the following Decision Filter to make choices about how I spend my time. It involves asking the following questions as I plan my day and shift from task to task throughout it.

  • Will this help me make progress on my goals?
  • Will I experience joy during or after this activity? 
  • Does this activity increase or reduce anxiety and worry?
  • Will I be contributing to others in a meaningful way?
  • Am I utilizing my strengths?

That's it. I'm committing to asking the questions and observing how this affects my behavior and overall satisfaction.

Wanna try this with me?

Here's a wee hack that I'll be using. Pull this post up on your phone. Click on the graphic and then take a screen picture of it. Crop it to your liking. Save that as your background to remind yourself of the filter elements. Or create your own cheatsheet with the words in the graphic. Best of success!