Great Ideas

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!


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. 


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


Compartmentalization

Found in an old notebook. Thought it apropos to this week's Decision Filter exercise.

I compartmentalize so each precious moment is designed and deliberate. Moves things forward. 

Pardon if I pass on sharing feelings, worries, or concerns. I have them, but can set emotional distractions aside and be here, now, ready to roll. And can tap into and share honest emotion that serves the situation.

I'm not cold but do calculate how to be in each moment. Sometimes that's warm and gushy, others clear and decisive.

There is a fine line between switch tasking and manipulation that I try to never cross. Achieving this is productive self-management.

Note: I'm an INTP, so there's that (analytical, abstract, things-oriented). I like the notion of being more deliberate about how I spend time. Compartmentalizing is a useful skill and practice for doing this.


Intracranial Misadventure

I watched a book launch video discussion from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore featuring Carl Hiassen as interviewed by author John Sanford. The topic was Hiassen's latest book, Squeeze Me. The two men go way back, and it was a very interesting discussion. You can find that FB video here.

One of the more entertaining parts of this interview focused on how authors select names and when getting the name right is critical. Hiassen said that for important characters, he wants the name to be striking so the reader remembers it the first time they read it. The name John marveled about was Fay Alex Riptoad, one of Hiassen's important side characters.

It is with this inspiration that I decided to brainstorm awesome names for characters. And that doing so would be a terrific use of my time and tick off the "Joy," "Strengths," and "Progress" aspects of my new Decision Filter. Heck, this might even make a "contribution" to society. 

Here we go.

Great Names for Characters (that I might use one day - no stealing, OK?)

In no particular order

Jeptha Rule                    Wady Wayne Wright

Baby-face Kreed            Convira

Asa Butterfield               Rasmus Monk

Spag Bolle                       Drucilla

The Tooth                       Consequence (Conee for short)

Snipe                               Lobster Butterworth

Two-time                        Cross-eyed Tommy

Talulla Moola                 Lilith Rothworm III

Fern Green                     Griselda Feldman

Zaynab Ditt                    Euphrasia Rothschild

Lennox Turtleman        Fizzy Joe

Rip Torn - oh wait, that one was already used by a real person (RIP Rip)

Pretty cool list, if I do say so myself. Can you imagine the weird and wonderful back stories for these characters? I wonder what it would be like to write a book STARTING with a set of character names? Could be fun! 

What's your favorite?


Experiment: The Decision Filter

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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!


Misadventure: Catch the Mouse #3

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I liberated a trapped mouse.

But I’m getting ahead of the story...let's back up a bit.

See post #1 here.

See post #2 here.

Night 2 Trapping Attempt

On Saturday morning I woke up feeling victorious. I as I stared at the ceiling, I imagined what I’d wear and whether I’d transport the mouse (or mice) before or after my first coffee.

I decided after coffee, because I want to get everything right. More mistakes would occur pre-buzz. Like letting a pissed-off mouse in my car, or allowing one to jump on my head and get stuck in my frizzy hair. Do mice have a mean side? Seems like a reputation reserved for rats and drunken bikers (in the movies). I made a mental note to google the stats on mouse attacks.

I walked into the kitchen and flicked on the lights. My cockiness turned to a whimper when I found all four traps empty. Four chances, not one mouse.

Had my previous successes set me up for failure?

No...I know how to do this! I have a proven track record. I’ve trapped and liberated three mice over the last two years. I’ve honed my techniques and augmented my toolkit. I'm a mouse-catching warrior. You might consider me a mouse whisperer. 

Or am I? Maybe I just got lucky. No, I know that wasn't it.

What happened? I examined my traps and noticed that the peanut butter was gone. Peanut butter doesn’t evaporate, so something must've eaten it. The mouse had visited, chowed down, and escaped capture. My opponent was a smarty-pants, maybe the village genius.

Round One: The Mouse. But I'm still in it to win it.

Game on.

Saturday night I prepared the traps for my third attempt – all with peanut butter, since this mouse obviously loved it. I reduced the amount of peanut butter and pushed it to the farthest corner of each trap. The mouse would have to walk all the way in the tube to get a good lick. I tested and retested the trap door mechanism. And I put all the traps up on the kitchen counter because every mouse I'd caught had gotten trapped on the counter.

I sweet-talked any mice who were getting ready to invade. Are you craving an extraordinary culinary experience? Tonight we have our finest peanut butter on the menu we'll be serving in one of our cozy private dining rooms. 

I talked to the traps. Feel the mouse. Watch it enter your domain. See it stealing your food. Don't let it rob you of your riches or dignity. Capture it and don't let it go. Victory can be yours.

I'm a mousetrap whisperer, too. And yes, I used different communication channels to ensure my messages reached the intended recipient. 

Night 3 Trapping Attempt Results

Our 120-year-old house is one and a half rooms wide and four rooms deep. From front to back it goes office-kitchen-living room-bedroom. The distance from the kitchen range to our headboard is about 40 unobstructed feet as the sober fly flies. Everything is close.

I’m a light sleeper/insomniac and, at 4:00 a.m., I rolled over and woke up. The cool air from the A/c was making the curtains flutter and I could tell it was raining outside. I heard another sound, too, a fast and persistent scratching noise. Like something was trying to get in or out of some hard object.

I grinned because I knew I’d caught a mouse this time. I got up and inspected my traps. The scratching noise had stopped, so I couldn't follow the sound. I knew the two black traps were empty because their front trap doors had not been tripped close. I held up the first green trap. Empty. But there was an occupant in the second green trap.

It looked at me.

I looked at it.

Hey buddy. You’re going to leave my house soon, but today is your lucky day because I will not kill you. I’m going to take you to a lovely park where you can start over and live your life. Unless you get picked off by a hawk, but that will be on you, not me. I wish you the best.

I put the mouse-filled trap in the larger plastic box and set it out on the front porch. Why outside? That scratching noise was haunting and disturbing. Maybe another mouse—if there was another mouse—would venture into a once-again quiet kitchen and get trapped. Two-for-one, baby. And maybe I could get another hour or two of sleep.

Neither happened. No second mouse. No sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about the one I'd caught and where I'd take him or her.

My criteria for relocation sites has always been: must be a park, far from homes (industrial businesses ok), more than two miles from my house but not too long a drive.

And then I obsessed about how to plot out the morning because I had non-mouse things to do and it was still raining.

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Here’s a picture of the mouse. It’s rounder than the scrawny one I caught last year. A more successful hunter and higher in mouse intellect, perhaps. I took it farther from my house than I did the skinny rodent.

I’m realizing as I write this post, that it’s the first time I've used the word rodent, and I feel like changing it to something that sounds less icky.

Like calling gorging on pasta carb loading.

I retrieved the creature miscreant being monster mouse from the front porch and took it for a ride in my car after the rain slowed to a drizzle and I’d had coffee and breakfast. I drove 3.5 miles to a part of the Legacy Trail (very popular with bikers, runners, and walkers) that goes through rolling horse pastures but is close to some commercial buildings. The picture at the top of this post is the mouse’s new home.

I got out of my car with the plastic container and closed my door (so it couldn't jump back inside, this is not my first rodeo). I held up the green container to check on the mouse, it moved around and seemed fine. I turned the knob on the back door of the trap to remove it and placed the trap on the wet grass. It took a few seconds, but then the mouse ran out of the trap and through the grass in the correct - away from me - direction. Liberation complete! No blood shed!

I liked the mix of pastures and businesses of this location because it occurred to me that there might be city mice and forest mice. This fella/sister might know how to harvest crumbs from Pop Tart wrappers but have no experience hunting or gathering fresh whole food. I hedged my bets, in other words. If it’s a city mouse, it will find some trash cans to jump into.

I'm sensitive to these differences because I'm a city girl. If someone dumped me in the woods without a pre-made PB&Js or a microwave oven and frozen burritos, I’d starve. Unless I got a good cell signal, then I’d be back in my element.

What. FedEx delivers everywhere, doesn't it?

This little misadventure is complete for now. We’ll continue to look for and fill and gaps or cracks in our house. I’d rather address the root cause. I’d rather not have mice running around my house. Have I mentioned our little brick cottage is 120 years old? With the original foundation, walls, and wood floors? Don’t get me started on the non-working coal fireplaces. Charming, the real estate ad said. Non-working fireplaces instead of closets would’ve been truth in advertising.

But I digress. We love our house, and it’s time to clean my traps and celebrate.