If the past two weeks of death, disease and chaos has taught me anything it’s that life is precious, but highly unpredictable.

It’s also way too short. It doesn’t matter if live another 90 days or another 90 years, it will not be enough time to do everything I want to do. I’m amazed by people who claim to be bored. How, I think, can you possibly get bored? There is so much to do! Books to read, books to write, books to review, sewing and craft projects to start (and complete), letters to write, blogs to upkeep, people to catch up with, recipes to try, repairs to be done, paperwork to file/scan/discard, courses of study to pursue, languages to learn, movies to watch, gardening to be done, road trips to take, relatives to visit – the list is never ending!

Ok, so not everything on my list is fun or challenging but my point is there is always something to do and the only time to do it is now. I will no longer accept a second-rate life or pass up the chance to do any of these things.

I lived the dream recently when I told my boss to get f***ed and walked out of my job. It felt great! But I did dwell on this decision for about a week, wondering if I’d been too rash and whether I should have stuck it out a bit longer.

But then the afore-mentioned death, disease and chaos intruded and woke me up to the fact that leaving was the only choice I had. My life was passing me by one miserable day at a time and I was not happy.

There are many things I have no control over, but I can take charge of a few key areas of my life that will make a huge difference. My career, health and my leisure time have a huge impact on my life when I don’t manage them right, like when I stay in a job that I hate. I now have the opportunity to take control over these areas and make some big changes.

My life may not be everyone’s ideal but that’s the beauty of it – it’s my life. And I’m going to start living it.

One precious day at a time.

I’ve often written about lessons I’ve learned from great thinkers, writers, and artists. This week I learned that the lesson doesn’t even have to come from a real person.

The wonderful Hank Moody, protagonist of the American TV series Californication, had some great advice on a recent episode. He said that a real writer, someone who was born to write, can’t be talked out of being a writer. This came after some pretty harsh feedback he’d given his daughter, which was so discouraging to her that she started thinking about becoming a lawyer instead of a writer.

While the people I’m talking about here are not real, the lesson most definitely is.

There are so many writers I know of who took rejection after rejection only to pick up the pen the next day and continue on as though nothing could stop them – J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, Jack Kerouac, Richard Adams. Anyone reading the work of these authors can have no doubt that they were born writers. They may not have been born great writers but they became great because no amount of criticism or rejection could stop them writing.

How many writers do I know of who took those rejections as testimony of their failure as a writer and changed their path? None! Not one! These “writers” will never be known.

Rejection is not easy, for anyone. No matter what profession you’re in no-one likes having their work criticised. Even constructive criticism can be destructive for some, but picking up the pen again is what determines our calling, what makes us writers.

During my early high school years a teacher dished out some particularly harsh criticism of a poem I’d written. This did discourage me for a while, but only a short while. And because I kept at it, even though discouraged, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fantastic editor whose critique of my writing was balanced with an equal amount of encouragement. To work with such an editor would never have been possible if I’d given up after taking criticism from one inconsequential teacher.

How sad if I’d let that one critic decide my future for me.

I love writing. I guess that was my first clue that I was a writer. My second was that, even though the sting of that first rejection stayed with me for years, it didn’t stop me writing. The rejection slips I’ve received since haven’t stopped me writing, and the ones I receive in future will not stop me writing. Being a writer isn’t just what I do it’s who I am. And nothing can change that.

thinking wordle

Why is it said that someone thinks too much? Or that someone “over-thinks” things? How is that possible? I love thinking. I am inspired when a new thought comes about after meditating on a book, article or conversation. When a new way of doing some task comes about because I’ve thought about it for a couple of days, I’m excited.

I have been told on occasion that I “think too much” and I’m instantly 10 years old again, being reprimanded for something I shouldn’t be doing. I know it’s meant as an insult or a put-down, but why?

The most common source of this statement is during theological debates with friends or family. As the saying goes, the only two subjects to avoid at a dinner party are politics and religion. But as this is a major theme of my book I like to ask questions – lots of questions – and I don’t mind if the person I’m speaking with doesn’t have the answers. What does worry me is that many people feel if they don’t have the answer it’s my fault for asking the question in the first place. This brings out the “you think too much” slur every time. Not finding the answer just gives me something else to think about, and I love it!

Regardless of the topic being discussed you know the conversation is over when someone says, “You think too much!” It’s their cue to walk away and it’s your cue to start thinking about why they said that.

I’m more annoyed with people who don’t think at all. I’m forever being asked at work how to do something on the computer or where to find an address or some other trivial piece of information. Many young people I’ve worked with don’t know how to think for themselves these days. They’re so used to being able to type a question into a search engine and being given an instant response, that putting in any kind of effort to think the problem through themselves doesn’t even occur to them.

The wonderful writer Martin Gardner said Einstein, sitting alone and thinking, changed the world more than any politician (Undiluted Hocus-Pocus). Where would we be today without the great thinkers of the world – philosophers, scientists, engineers – who all started with a thought, followed by another thought, then another?

It reminds me of a story that was shared on A Word a Day this week (AWADmail Issue 601):

… in Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, … he describes an adult working with a group of kids on tree identification. They were trying to figure out if the trees they were looking at met the criterion for diameter, so the adult gave them a tape and told them to go measure. They quickly realized they couldn’t get a diameter without cutting down the trees. This led to the fundamental question: “How many diameters in a circumference?” — and then a series of experiments, first estimating by eye, then laying out circles on the ground and measuring, then trying to determine exactly how many diameters fit into a circle. “At that point, these five kids, ranging in age from nine to twelve, were within two one hundredths of discovering pi, and I was having a hard time containing myself.”

It’s amazing what we can achieve when we think about it.

We need to put some thought into everything we do to do it successfully. Some of us need to think a lot, others can get the answer relatively quickly. It doesn’t matter as long how long it takes – thinking is not a bad thing.

The only time I can think of when thinking too much can be a problem, is if the act of thinking replaces the act of doing. Procrastinators are great thinkers. And I should know, I’m one of the best procrastinators alive today. But, having thought about it some more, I don’t think there is anything wrong with thinking, and I really don’t see thinking “too much” as possible, let alone something to be criticised for.

Image

Source: Indulgence by Daniel Paul Schreber; Drinking beer by Peg93; Wikimedia Commons

I’ve spent the last month hearing about, and partaking in, the annual xmas indulgence. Everyone I speak to about their xmas/new year break talks of overindulging.

But the word indulge goes above and beyond how we use it today, which is usually in relation to simply eating or drinking too much once in a while.

Indulge wasn’t used until the 16th century, two centuries after the original word, indulgence, from the Latin word indulgere, meaning “allow long enough for” or “to be complaisant”, was used. An indulgence was the name given to a remission, given by the Roman Catholic Church, when a sin was forgiven, usually without punishment. Centuries later it had come to be treated much more cavalierly than it once had, spawning the verb “indulge”, which was commonly used to mean asking for forgiveness, time or favour, such as, “If you will indulge me, I will explain everything”, or “To indulge a child may lead to him growing up spoiled”.

As sins were treated more trivially by both the church and its members, to indulge gradually came to mean being forgiven for partaking in any venial sin, which has contributed to today’s use of the word. Today, it means to undertake “unrestrained action”, something which, by definition, at one time could only be forgiven by church elders. We use it to encompass all the little acts we see as minor transgressions (if a transgression at all) that were (and still are, I guess) condemned by the church — overeating, drinking to excess, lying (“there’s no harm in indulging in a little white lie now and again”), sex, etc.

All this history from one little word.

Some other great conflicts between definition and usage I’ve recently discovered are:

  • Consent: This means more than just giving permission. It means to passively agree, even if you have a negative opinion of what you’re agreeing to; yielding to what is proposed.
  • Fantastic: I hear this every day. Someone saying they found a new job is sure to hear, “That’s fantastic!” in reply. If he was to think definitively about this response, however, it might surprise the new job holder that he was being told the thought of his getting a new job was, “from fanciful thinking; based in fantasy as opposed to reality; based on the imagination; whimsical”.
  • Terrific: Today, terrific is used to describe some great and wonderful event. Definitively it means to “inspire fear or terror”. Though most people would not describe the recent tsunamis, bush fires and other natural disasters as terrific, by definition this would be more accurate than many other terms used to describe these horrendous events.
  • Erudition: Many people use this word to mean knowledgeable but it goes beyond merely learning about a subject. An erudite is someone who has a deep and broad familiarity with his subjects by virtue of excessive reading and study. He is fully instructed in his subject by undertaking a deep contemplation of that topic. Not all scholars and academics are erudites and many will never achieve this highly admirable status.
  • Hubris: This is used commonly to mean arrogance but, again, there is so much more to it. In classical Greek tragedy it described defiance towards the Gods, which it was widely believed to be an act undertaken by someone delusional or deranged (no-one defied the Gods!) It indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s capabilities, especially when the person is in a position of power, which ultimately results in the transgressor’s ruin. So much more than simple arrogance.

Looking into the etymology of words is a wonderful reminder of just how amazing language can be, and how much can be said with one word. While I’ve heard scholars claim the English language is relatively limited in being able to express many things there are still wonders to be found when I take the time to look.

And I will never stop looking.

A comment on yesterday’s post got me thinking about the magic of thinking small, and how one small change made every day can lead to big changes down the track.

It reminded me of a story of a boy who was told by his father that by the end of the year he promised his son would be able to lift a fully grown cow. The son thought on this a while and realised the time and effort that would have to go into training for such a feat. He thought of hours of weight lifting his father would put him through for the next year and shuddered. But his father, instead of giving the boy a tough fitness regimen, simply told him it would take two to four minutes each day, and no more. Relieved, the son was willing to to give it a try.

The next day the father showed up with a new-born calf which he handed to the son.

“Each day,” he said, “I want you to come out here and pick this animal up.”

The skeptical son told his dad that picking up a small calf is a long way off picking up a full-grown cow.

“That’s right,” the father said, “It’s a year off. This small calf in one year’s time will be a very large cow. But if you come out every day and pick it up you won’t be able to tell the difference between one day and the next. When a year is up, if you’ve done this every day, you will be able to lift up this full-grown cow, as promised.”

I’m not sure if this really happened or if it was just a very clever way of getting across a commonly ignored fact — small changes matter!

The growth of cattle is minute on a daily basis but after a year this animal would’ve been huge. Is there a day the young man would have walked out to the cow and not been able to pick him up? If he had been able to easily the day before, he would tell himself, he could do it today as well.

And just as probable, if he had missed one week of this exercise he would most likely have found he couldn’t pick up the cow after that break. A week of those small changes in size would have added up and may have made the lift impossible.

I realised that many of the changes in my life can be successfully achieved with small daily changes.

Especially when it comes to my writing.

The thought of finishing my book is sometimes overwhelming. I feel like I have so much further to go and I wonder if I will ever get there. But if I break it down into simple daily tasks it looks so simple. One thousand words per day will give me over 365,000 words at the end of this year. I’ve written 500 words in this post already so, logically, I know it wouldn’t be much of an effort to turn out an extra 1000 words for my book. When I think about it like that I wonder why I thought it would be so difficult to achieve in the first place.

I’m also continuing last year’s practice of learning one new word per week. (It was going to be one new word per day but I found I liked to have the week to really get the definition set in my mind). Last year I added 54 new words to my vocabulary and continuing that practice will give me the same result this year.

There was a time when I thought one year was so long and to take any kind of small step was useless because the end of the year was just too far away. As I’ve gotten older, and the years have started going from 12-months long to or six-months long (I still don’t know what happens to those other months) I know that one year is nothing. I can do anything in a year.

Let’s see where these small steps can take me.

A new take on the new year

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Goals
Tags:

Three statistics heard on the radio this week have given me some motivation to make a couple of important changes for 2014.

Apparently, as much as 90 percent of the population has the same new year’s resolution every year – lose weight and get fit. Now, the fact that such a high number have the same resolution every year obviously means their resolve doesn’t last very long and they revert to old behaviour that sees their goals unmet.

In fact, it was said in the same radio program that of people who do have resolutions more than 75 percent have completely given up on achieving them by March.

The third scary statistic I heard this week is that 80 percent of what we think today is exactly the same as what we thought yesterday. That means, the exact same thoughts I had yesterday and today I will probably have tomorrow. How sad! It’s no coincidence these three statistics are so close in number. It explains why so many of us end up doing the exact same thing every day, sometimes for years, and why so many new year’s resolutions are given up: we don’t alter the thoughts that precede our actions and, therefore, our actions remain the same.

After all, it’s my way of thinking that got me to where I am today.  If every action is preceded by a thought, the best and only permanent way to change my life is to change my thoughts.

People trying to quit smoking or lose weight are encouraged to change the thoughts that keep leading them to pick up a cigarette or chocolate. These thoughts are usually along the lines of justifying why they should “reward” themselves or why they can indulge now and work on making changes another time.

I’ve worked hard all day. I’m better off trying to quit when work is a bit more relaxed.”

“I’ll wait until after [insert name here]‘s birthday before trying to diet. It will be too hard to stick to it at a party.”


“I did so well not eating too much/smoking at the work Xmas party I can have a little treat.”

A simple change of thoughts can make all the difference. Instead of telling myself what I’m going to do and justifying it with a very weak excuse, I prefer to ask myself questions. The answers to these questions help bring to mind all the reasons why I’m better off making a more positive choice.

Asking myself, “Why shouldn’t I smoke this cigarette?” or “Why should I eat an apple instead of half that cheesecake?” gets me thinking about the reasons I decided to make these changes in the first place: money wasted on junk food/cigarettes, being tied to an addiction, being unhealthy, etc.
Instead of just telling myself it is OK to give in to temptation I am reminded of why I don’t want to give in.

This year, I’m going to become a different statistic. I’m going to be part of the 25 percent who follow through on their resolutions, and I’m going to join the 20 percent who can think outside the box. Even if this is something as simple as taking a different route to work each day, or picking up a book or movie I would normally avoid. Introducing myself to different opinions, people and philosophies will also help introduce new thoughts and ideas into my stagnant mind. These new thoughts will help produce new actions.

Not a bad way to begin a new year.

Glass_half_full_kind_of_day

(Source: Pete unseth, Wikimedia Commons)

A colleague once asked me if I was a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” kind of person. I always find this type of question difficult to answer because there are two situations that determine my answer: what’s in the glass, and whose glass it is.

Most of us can be positive when it comes to dealing with others’ dilemmas. Who hasn’t had a friend sit down and offload their health or financial problems? Who hasn’t comforted this friend with, “Everything will be ok in the end” or “I’ll be there for you no matter what”? In these situations we are full of good intentions and cheer. Even when we don’t feel especially positive we manage to remain upbeat and encouraging under the direst circumstances. It’s always easy when we’re looking at someone else’s glass because we know the value of encouragement and positivity in tough situations and, as an outsider, we can often be more objective than the person drowning in misfortune. We can see the glass as half full and become the never-ending spring of optimism our friend needs.

The question is whether we can do this for ourselves.

Secondly, when there is something delicious in the glass, something I’m looking forward to drinking, the glass can be half empty (negative) because I want more of this delicious drink, or it can be half full (positive) because I still have half a glass of this delicious drink to go.

On the other hand, if the glass contains some foul-tasting medicine or a sour drink, thinking of the glass as half empty is a more positive attitude because it means I don’t have much left to go. Seeing the glass as half full in this case only means I still have half a glass of this putrid goo to devour.

So, if I’m doing something I love and I stay in the moment, enjoying what I have here and now, I’m more likely to keep the sunny outlook of a glass-half-full person. When my mind starts to wander to the past (what I no longer have) or the future (what I wish I had now) I will start to see only the emptiness of the glass.

Likewise, if I’m doing something I don’t particularly enjoy, I’m better off looking at what has already been accomplished rather that what I still have left to do, putting a more positive spin on the half-empty glass.

To keep the oomph in my life – and limit the grumph – I just need to keep these points in mind:

  • Try to think of what I would say to a friend going through this same situation. Look for the positive points that I may be missing and remind myself of these, repeatedly. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Even if I have to call a friend and have them remind me why I’m doing this. that’s what I’ll do. This will reinforce those positive points.
  • Staying in the here and now is the way to stay happy. Looking at what I don’t have, or wish I had, or work I still have to do that I don’t want to do, is a perfect way to bring myself down. Keeping my mind in the present reminds me of what I have, what I have accomplished and will keep me focused on the task at hand.

Being a glass-half-empty person isn’t always a bad thing but it shouldn’t define me either. The beauty of us mere mortals is that we are adaptable. My glass is as full or as empty as I want it to be.

And if all else fails, I can just get a different glass all together.