Moving From Theory To Action: On Planning

To support you in moving toward action, here are some reflection questions based on the recommendations by Richard Wiseman:

1. What are the benefits to me of taking on this goal? How will my life be better?

2. How can I break down this goal into manageable steps? What are some realistic dates for completing these dates? What is one action, no matter how small, that I can take today?

3. After looking at this concrete timeline, what are small rewards I can give myself to celebrate milestones along the way?

4. How will I track my progress? Visual calendar? Phone app? Handwritten journal? (set this up now)

5. Who do I want to tell about my goal, and what are the specific ways people can support me in reaching it? (accountability partners can be very helpful).

The Power of Planning vs. Dreaming

This summer I decided to begin my goal of hiking the entire Long Trail. It’s a 272-mile trail that runs north to south in Vermont, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. The problem was that my mindset around it was getting in the way. I had dreams of hiking it with my two daughters and a friend of mine who also had a daughter or two. One minor flaw to this plan was that this ideal person didn’t exist, my daughters have stated in no uncertain terms that they “Hate” hiking (and walking for that matter these days), and other family trips took priority over planning a week in the woods for the next three summers.

And then I paused, broke it down and started thinking concretely about this goal. First, I decided it was my goal to hike the Long Trail, no one else’s, and so I would let go of finding a partner to hike the whole thing with, and instead would section-hike it, breaking it down into small chunks. One weekend I could go with my husband and do a part of the trail, another weekend with a girlfriend, a weekend alone, and if the stars align, perhaps in a few years, I might even get my daughters to do a section with me. I moved the timing on my goal out- no need do complete it by the time my elder daughter completed high school. What if it took me ten years or more? After all, to repeat the often-said quote, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?

And so I have begun, first with my husband in August, then with a girlfriend a week later. I thought that was it for this summer, but unexpectedly a bike trip with friends turned into doing another section of the LT when I injured my shoulder and couldn’t bike for a while. With this long-term goal clarified, I am now seeing ways to make progress even though the completion date isn’t in sight. It’s a good reminder about the power of breaking goals down.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about dreaming. It can provide us with hope and inspiration. In my case it motivated me to buy new gear so that I could travel lighter on the trail. That said, just as buying the gym membership doesn’t improve your health, a new backpack didn’t get me on the trail.

Here is an excerpt from researcher and best-selling author, Richard Wiseman, from his book: 59 Seconds: Think a Little Change A Lot. See below for his top five list of what works in achieving one’s goals:

  1. Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
  2. Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.
  3. Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.
  4. Give yourself a small reward whenever you achieve a sub-goal, thus maintaining motivation and a sense of progress.
  5. Make your plans and progress concrete by keeping a hand-written journal, completing a computer spreadsheet or covering a notice board with graphs or pictures.

OK, so I didn’t pull out this list before I started thinking about my Long Trail adventure, and in fact, I didn’t know about it until I started researching for this newsletter. But what is interesting is how many of these I had done in my own way:

  1. As I shared, I decided to section hike it in smaller pieces, extended the timeframe, and shoot for 2-3 weekends a year (that puts me at under 10 years if I do 27 miles a year- clearly doable).
  2. I put my goal on Facebook- and was surprised and grateful for the number of encouraging comments. Several people said they would love to join me for a weekend.
  3. Benefits are clear, as I love being in the woods, hiking and sleeping out. I miss my big international backpacking trips of my 20s, and this connects me to an important aspect of myself.
  4. From my backpacking friends in Lithuania, I learned a lovely tradition to bring a “surprise” on each trip. I love pulling out an unexpected surprise and to receive one. My girlfriend carried in fresh orange juice for our morning after our first sleep out-awesome!
  5. The Long Trail requires a journal to get credit so I created a spreadsheet with who, where, miles covered, and fun notes to remember about the trip. I also started taking one video on each section to remind me of the experience. Maybe I’ll put it into a montage at the end.

What about you? Any big goals that you haven’t figured out how to make happen yet?

Book Review: The Upside of Stress-Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

By: Kelly McGonigal

If you’re curiosity is piqued and you think you’d like to really pause and dig into this really important concept- please read this book! It’s a way to walk yourself through a process of creating a new, more positive relationship with stress. Part One engages you with rethinking the narratives and stories you have about stress and countering it with some useful research that shows stress actually has some upsides. Part Two explains how to transform stress, including rethinking anxiety and building deeper connections with others in stressful times as a way to build resilience against stress. Throughout the book there are personal reflections to prompt your thinking and great stories that cause you to nod your head and say “Me, too!” Two thumbs up!

P.S. If you’re feeling too stressed to read another book, here’s Kelly’s  TED talk on the topic:

Moving From Theory To Action: On Stress

To support you in changing your mindset on stress, here are some reflection questions:

1. To what extent do I find the stressful aspects of my life also meaningful?

2. When have I experienced that stress actually makes me more productive and engaged?

3. What is the language I use around stress and how might I make a small shift toward a more positive relationship with stress?

4. Since reaching out to others is one of the ways to reduce stress, who can I reach out to for support?

Mindset Shift: the Good News About Stress

June is always a crazy period for me- end of school-year activities, cramming in work projects before summer vacations start (like this newsletter!), extra social events, tending to the garden, not to mention that I want to go outside and enjoy the sun that’s finally here. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day and I hear the conversations about how busy we all are, running from place to place, losing sleep, not being able to settle in and actually be present for any of these myriad of activities. It’s all so STREEESFUL! And we all know how terrible stress is for us… but is it really, and in what ways? I’ve been reflecting on the impact my relationship to stress has on me and those around me, and took a deep dive into some of the newest research on the topic showing that it might not be as bad as it seems.

A University of Wisconsin- Madison study asked 29,000 people to rate their stress level in the last year and how much they believed stressed influence their health. Then over the following eight years, they recorded the number of deaths by any of these subjects. What they found is that people who reported having high levels of stress and who believed stress had a large impact on their health had a 43 percent increased risk of death. Those who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t perceive its effects as negative were amongst the least likely to die in comparison to other participants in the study. Forty-three percent! Given that I don’t anticipate giving up my work, family and other commitments, it might be worth making this mindset shift.

Furthermore, a study by Roy Baumeister shows we believe the most stressful events are often the most meaningful. (Childbirth comes immediately to mind!) And when we work hard in our careers, give our all to our kids, and get engaged in our community, we may indeed, be stressed, but it is also be an indicator of a life of great meaning. I like that. I think going forward when people ask me how I’m doing, instead of saying “Wow- good, busy and stressful,” maybe I’ll try out instead, “I’m leading a life of great meaning!” I’ll let you know how people respond.

Finally, you can channel your stress into energy that increases your performance. When we see that stress is a natural part of life, we’re in a better mindset to find ways to deal with it, ask for help and see stressful events as challenges rather than something to be avoided. I often say to clients, anxiety is excitement without the breath. And that’s the exciting part, because we can become aware and can choose how we perceive the situation: problem or challenge? Danger or opportunity? Fear and anxiety, or excitement?

How you speak about something matters. I remember my daughter saying one time, “I’m completely overwhelmed and freaked out about my test tomorrow.” I responded to her by asking, “Are you completely overwhelmed, anxious or a bit nervous?” She responded by saying “a bit nervous” and her body visibly relaxed, shoulders lowered, and she exhaled. Studies show people who have some stress going into a test or a public speaking actually do better than those who don’t have a little adrenaline running through their body. I’m going to go back to my day and my To-Do list now, a little more grateful for the stress in my life.

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