Shortcuts to possibility

Sometimes upside-down is the right side up.
(Image source: 123rf.com)

Just over one year ago, on October 12, 2011, I turned my world upside-down. Literally.

It was a Wednesday. Mid-way through a week that saw me living 28 hours volunteering on amazing events with incredible people, spending a day training for a new job, making time for some quality catch-up with 5 wonderful friends, and conspiring with an incredible travel agent to lock down the details of my two-month “trip of a lifetime”.

I don’t remember what exactly possessed me to do it. But on that Wednesday, after my twice-a-week at-home mini-workout (so endorphins, maybe?), I did.

I walked over to face the wall and planted my hands on the floor. My head followed suit, making a tripod with my hands. I took a breath and pulled myself into a teddy-bear headstand. Then I went that crucial, uncomfortable step further – I worked my legs straight up.

Headstand.

It was probably far from graceful, hardly controlled, and likely too precarious to have an audience that would be able to stifle a laugh. It was supported by the wall.

But I didn’t care. Over 10 years of saying “I can’t” – overcome. Just like that.

Cheeks flushed, elated that I’d done it, I bounded giddily to tell anyone that would listen. I got a “aw, that’s so cute” reaction from my sister. A confused-yet-affirmative smile from my mom. And this “I can do anything” glow from within me. I may as well have jumped out of an airplane.

There are those little things in life that are symbolic of something much bigger.

A wedding ring. A candid photograph. A hard-earned degree. A cherished book. They are symbols of process; of promise; of possibility.

This momentous headstand, alone at home on a Wednesday, is one of mine. For me, it was the tangible start of a new chapter – one in which I challenge long-standing, unquestioned “that’s just the way it is” notions with gusto and a curious “why not?”.

Today, I hardly go a day without inverting. If I miss it, I catch myself thinking “I haven’t been upside-down yet”.  A headstand, a handstand, hanging upside-down from monkey-bars, cartwheels… a little something to shake me, flip things, change my perspective, and get my blood pumping. A reminder of what I can do.

A reminder of possibility.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Do it. Remember that once, that used to be an “I can’t”. Celebrate.
Do it again. Celebrate again. Build a little habit.
Use it as a foundation. Extrapolate. Feel awesome.

What are your shortcuts to possibility?

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It’s never the right time

Always Earned | Never Given

Image source: bonusbling.com

We’ve all been guilty of wishing away our time away at some point or other. Wanting, yearning… but never quite getting – something else, something better.

We look forward to the vacation. Graduation. The next stage. The next project. Life after I quit this job. Life after I get a job. When I meet “that someone”. When the kids are old enough. The new year.

*Bubble-pop* There is no perfection period in life where everything just gets easy. I think if you really want it, it’s worth the work. (I feel the need to add: I’m popping my own bubble on the daily. “The Good” and “The Bad” are two sides of the same coin.)

“But…” “That’s a nice thought, but I’m just too ____ right now”. Busy. Cash-strapped. Over-stretched. Under-rested. (Fill in your bit here.) “However” is just a fancy but.

I’ve been lucky – making my way down an unconventional path sans “typical” time & resource constraints, I’d made it easier for my brain to break down (and rebuild) ingrained thinking and monotony by breaking out of routine. No longer a full-time student or employee, now living the life of a freelance / contract worker, I began figuring out this thing called life and how it works for me. And yet it didn’t all just magically come together. (What the hell, life? Didn’t you get the memo?…)

The grass is always greener… It’s like being an adult watching kids that wished they were grown-ups and shaking your head thinking “if you only knew…” (how good you have it / what it’s really like, etc.). In my case, “be careful what you wish for” couldn’t be more true. My life is full of peak highs & deep lows. I won’t bring you through the full roller-coaster today, but I will share the terrifying realization I came to a few months back:

I’m holding the reigns.

For the first time ever, I am actually fully autonomous in the education & career realm of my life. No-one to congratulate – or blame – but myself. Let me tell you, after years in school and work, being truly responsible for everything, including how to spend the majority of my day — is equal parts incredibly awesome and completely petrifying. And it shone the spotlight on a fact that was true all along – what I wanted to be doing, but wasn’t yet (fill in your blank here) had more to do with me than I let on; it wasn’t my situation “holding me back”.

The Lesson
Don’t romanticize. Even if external situations change dramatically, the situation we want to break out of (that uneasiness) can stay the exact same. Common denominator? Us. More specifically, our habits.

So, action plan?

> Start today
Start small, but start. Define “enough”. Define what you even want. Figure out why. Make a plan. Then start.

It doesn’t have to be a massive overhaul. You don’t need to quit your job / drop out of school / sell all your possessions and run away. Life doesn’t work like that for everybody. What does work is mastering the art of tiny shifts. These are actually the most powerful and sustainable. Check out Professor BJ Fogg’s work on tiny habits – you can start this today. It’s free. It barely takes any time. No excuses.

Don’t put it off until school starts. Or until school ends. Not until you land that job. Not until you put a few more years into that job. Don’t earmark it for your birthday, or for the start of the month, or the new year, or the next season. Don’t wait until you have that vague “enough”.

> What is enough?
Define it. I mean, really DEFINE IT. Put pen to paper and write it out: time, money, contacts, knowledge, experience. Even if it’s fuzzy, it’s better than nothing. If that’s all you can muster right now – well, then that’s enough.

> Next steps
Get creative. Get ruthless. How can you start moving towards some of those things starting this week? Break it down. Focus on what you have instead of what you lack. Make it happen. Again, Fogg’s tiny habits are great as baby steps.

An example
> My spending has been, let’s say, lean for the past few months. Other than essential bills (mortgage, smartphone, internet at home, groceries, transit pass, student loan repayments, etc.) I’m pretty thrifty. In short: I can’t afford Bikram Yoga rates.
> I love the practice, and feel it’s on the cusp of want / need — tipping to need. What to do?
> Trade the currencies I am rich in, even when the bank account is lean – time and talent. Toss in a case of right place, right time (mixed with a bit of hustle, and the all-important step: ask) – I brought regular practice into my life without spending a cent.

~~~

Whatever your goal, whatever your style (chip away at it or take a grand leap) – just do it already.  Often the biggest thing standing between that “right time” and the present moment: you owning it.

So the liberating thing about it never being the right time?

It’s actually always the right time.

It’s now and it’s never. “Now” is usually much more exciting…

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

“Always” takes work. “Never” is easy. The former is worth it, and easier than we think sometimes.
 Today is as good a day to make it happen. Don’t keep waiting for that mythical “right time” — it’s not something that anyone is handed on a silver platter.
Baby step #1 counts every bit as much as a huge leap towards making “it” happen.
Create an environment & situation that helps you get to where you’re trying to go. Start in your head. Work outwards from there.

What have you been putting off for “someday”? Have you ever explicitly defined “enough”? If you care to share, I’d love to hear it.

The tiny shift that changed my life

What’s this about? A simple little substitution with ridiculously disproportionate effects in my life – for the better. Will it change your life? Probably. What is this magic, you ask?

The shift

“I have to…” → “I get to…”

That’s it. It digs into one of the points from my last post – that our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).

The effect
The power of this is that it re-frames… everything. It immediately takes something from obligation → privilege. This is what gratitude in practice looks like for me.

• I don’t have to pay my bills. I get to – because I actually have a smartphone, access to transportation & the Internet, a place to live, etc.
• I don’t have to figure out my life. I get to. How many people have this freedom to steer their life trajectory?
• I don’t have to go to the bank or the grocery store. I get to – because I actually have money of my own to deal with and easy access to food.

Note: I still complain about these things sometimes – I’m human. I’ve just gotten better at realizing when I am, stopping, and going through the reframe-for-gratitude process.

Fair warnings
Making this shift will change your relationships – and this can go either way.
“Ugh, I have so much stuff to do tonight” ← this is relatable. “I get to clean, cook, write a report for work, and do my readings; I’m so freakin’ lucky” – not so much. (It might earn you one of these.) Of course what it actually means is: I recognize that I have a home to clean, food to prep, a job to contribute to & earn from, and the privilege of education… But where I’m from, defaulting to misery & complaining is always a lot easier.

So expect a few feathers ruffled when you’re going against the masses. You might become irritating to some. Obnoxiously positive to the point of extremely annoying, even; any current relationships based primarily on co-miserating will have to adapt or die. But that’s what happens when you think different. That – and being viewed as someone with a rainbow stuck up their butt – was a risk I was willing to take. I’m just doing my due diligence to let you know some of the consequences of taking this advice. There are too many up-sides for me to do it any other way.

Putting it into practice
Still want to do it? Brill. It can be simple, but I found it hard to do at first. Assuming you’re coming from the same “woe is me” privileged sense as I, you’re up against re-programming a habit ingrained through years of practice. There’s no flick of the switch that will undo that – it just takes cultivating a new habit to override the old one.

Bad habits are overcome by learning new routines and practicing them over and over again. – Timothy Wilson covering Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit

While we’re at it, let’s step back from a quick assumption: that “tiny” = “easy” or “inconsequential”. See: butterfly effect.

Step 1
: Take a few days to just become aware of how often / seldom you say “I have to ___”. The toughest step is usually to recognize that. Count if you must.
Step 2: Start subbing in “I get to ___” instead, and go down the quick path of ‘what that actually means’. Resist the urge to roll your eyes at yourself. (It can seem ridiculous when you’re in the throws of an all-nighter to stop and think “I get to study for this, because I’m lucky enough to be in school. Do it anyways.)
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Don’t just take my word for it
I Googled “i have to i get to” after drafting this post and lo and behold – someone’s thought this exact thought already. Beauty. So if you’re on the fence about taking my word for it, perhaps backup from a New York Times best-selling author holds more clout for you (it’s a spot-on post, I suggest a read). Many others have thought the same, of course. Sometimes it’s not about who you choose to believe, as long as the message gets across. I always gladly connect people to other great thinkers if the alternate source will be taken more seriously. I’m just trying to make change happen.

So read. Believe. Do.

Humbly, ~ H

ps: Another wildly powerful “little swap” was when I got more deliberate about “I don’t / I won’t have time” → “I don’t / won’t make time”. BOOM. More on that next time…

The big dots of the post

Think in a certain way long enough and I swear you’ll start to believe it – for better or for worse.
Co-miserating is usually easier than co-marveling. The latter is way more worth it.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It always starts small.
It’s about being happy with, and grateful for, “now”, even as we look forward to different things “one day”.
Yes, it might actually suck. Who said privilege was supposed to be easy?

What do you get to do? What do you make time for? Any other powerful swaps that have been game-changers for you?

Related:
#firstworldproblems
Everything is amazing and nobody is happy (start at the ~2 min mark)

Baby Steps+

There are baby steps.

Then, there are “baby steps” that, for the person doing the stepping, are actually pretty giant leaps. You may know what I’m talking about – to anybody else, what you’re about to do – or are doing, or have just done – is just a little thing. Another line item on the To-Do list. Practically inconsequential and potentially met with an “Oookay… great. You did that. Good for you!?” from others, punctuated with the “?” of their confusion as to why you’re making such a big deal out of it.

These are what I mean by Baby Steps+. They’re the “little big things” that keep getting bumped, keep not getting done… and usually not because we lack the know-how to make them happen. I seem to have had this conversation with a lot of different people lately. It could be pitching that client. Trying that yoga class. Cleaning out that closet. Putting pen to paper and drawing. Applying for that grant. Sending that email… Here’s a small selection out of a buffet of my recent Baby Steps+ (as they came to mind, in no particular order):

Go snowboarding for the first time Attempt a back hand-spring Donate my hair Get contacts  Start a blog

They seem simple enough, no? Innocuous, even. Here’s why they were more than “just a line item” for me, in brief:

Boarding Despite living a hop and a skip away from Whistler, this was 7+ years in the making. Seriously. (Right?!) My biggest hurdle was not the boarding itself – I’m a bit of a speed junkie & thrill-seeker. My biggest hurdle was actually “I can’t afford it” – negotiating my mental relationship and invisible scripts around money & value. There’s a long story behind this, of course, but it essentially boiled down to this: Spending a couple hundred dollars on a one-time ‘frivolous’ adventure (gear rental, lift ticket, travel, food) that I’ll have “nothing to show for” afterward was _____ (irresponsible, unreasonable, not realistic…) considering everything else that money should be earmarked for.

Hand-spring Long history on this one, too. I’d never been in gymnastics, dance, or sports as a wee tot, and recall being a somewhat cautious kid when it came to anything physically out-of-the-ordinary. Both feet off the ground, physically suspended in mid-air? Definitely qualifies. Paired with a conservative Eastern cultural upbringing (this “kind of stuff” is not for girls, it’s hardly lady-like, you’ll get hurt/bruised, what’s the point?, etc.) and believing the “window of learning” had long-since closed for me, this meant that a back hand-spring (or even falling into a back-bend, for that matter) was something to behold in awe when others did it, but not something I could do.

Hair On-again, off-again, I’ve had what I consider to be an unhealthy dependence on my hair. At times I’d cling to it as a major sign of my femininity & something that was beautiful; other times as a differentiator or an accomplishment. (Since I think that sounds weird, I’ll explain.) I wasn’t a fan of the way I looked growing up, and don’t consider myself to be particularly ‘pretty’ – but having nice, long hair was a tether. And I hung on TIGHT. Plus, growing / maintaining it takes a certain commitment & dedication, and I got a lot of compliments when it got stupid-long. It’s always nice to feel accomplished and be noticed / complimented…

Contacts A “pffft” point for many – but I’d been afraid of putting things in my eye since as far back as grade school. Why? Who even knows. What I do know is that my blink reflex has always been stuck on ‘hyper-drive’ and I was mad uncomfortable at the prospect of the whole process. (Sticking something in your eye? We have this blink reflex for a reason, people…) And what if you can’t get it out?!

Blog Excited, but extremely anxious & terrified. ‘Nuff said.

What made all these things fall into the big-hairy-monster “+” category? A few commonalities:

1 “I can’t”

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
– Author unknown

This quote may be very familiar to you, but it’s so true it hurts and I’d post it a hundred times more. It’s funny we sometimes don’t even know how powerfully persuasive we can be, just by repeating something: silently, then out-loud, then in our actions… and how they turn into our beliefs. (Advertisers & marketers have been on to this for decades, if not centuries…) For all five of the “little big things” above (and so much more!) I kept thinking “I can’t”… so I kept saying “I can’t.” So I didn’t. I shut myself down before I even gave myself a chance.

2 Those lurky, “ninja” bits that I held as ‘a-given’s – and didn’t even know

There was always something bigger behind any supposed “baby step” that blew it out of apparent proportion – and kept me from doing it, even when I wanted to. Boarding wasn’t about boarding – it was about money and guilt. Contacts and acrobatics weren’t about wanting to see clearly and flip around – they were about my convincing myself I couldn’t, based on some outdated beliefs. These “iceberg-under-the-surface” bits were usually things established years ago, dangerously left unexamined and unchallenged, that still effected some of my ‘today’ decisions. (In my defense, I didn’t know! The mark of a good ninja on the lurky bits’ part.)

3 “What if…”

Whether closely tied with “I can’t” or as a stand-alone, “what if” always crept in at some point, the leader of a barrage of doubts and worries. It pushed uncomfortable boundaries and poked at insecurities – but in a bad way. Often followed by “… I’m not ___ enough?” (rich / strong / pretty / careful), it was also a great way to catastrophize. (What if I couldn’t get them out? And they got infected? And I went blind? I’ll put up with blurry if it’s my eyesight on the line, thank you…) “What if….” is usually laced with implications and really cares what other people will think – I’m too old. It’s too late. I’ll look stupid. I might fail.

• • •

I went snowboarding for the first time in April. I attempted my first (and second and third and fourth…) back hand-spring in February. I chopped my locks and donated 12″ in January. I first got contacts back in October 2010. I started two blogs this month. BOOM. How?

• • •

Incremental progress over (a long!) time. (Sorry, if you were looking for some magic bullet – there’s no such thing). The trail & error eventually turned into a framework of tiny habits. Anytime I’m faced with a new Baby Step +, I try to live through my learning that came by doing (and then reflecting):

Say it. Out loud. To myself at first if that’s all I’m comfortable with. Something that I don’t think I can achieve, that sounds completely ridiculous to me. Something that I really want. I say it in the positive. I say it on paper / on screen.

Swap out little words. I don’t shut myself down before I even start; I stopped saying “I can’t”. First I sub it for “I’ll try”. Then down the line, “I will”. And eventually I do. My words have so much more power than I ever gave them credit for. I used to think it was fluffy and all the rest, but my life has shown me otherwise – little words, big impact. (Note: I start at “I will” much more than I used to. “I can’t” often creeps back in. I just have to go through this “can’t → try → will” cycle for each new big scary thing that comes my way.)

Dig deeper. There are likely still some deeply-held beliefs / fears of mine that won’t jive with what I want to do. In my defense, they’re very ninja, and I don’t often know that they were behind my actions / inactions right off the bat. I believe that I can’t change something effectively until I understand what’s going on, enough to take the appropriate step. So now whenever I get stuck, I get brutally honest with myself as to why I’m not doing the things I want/need to – am often surprised by what I find – and then get to steppin’. (Don’t be fooled if this sounds pretty; it can still be a long, tough, ugly process. It’s just worth it.)

Break it down. Potentially obvious, extremely important. I’ll turn any giant leap into a series of what I (not someone else) actually consider to be legit baby steps, no “+” allowed. Even if I’m just moving a hair forward – it’s better than sitting still or spiraling backwards. Knowing what I’m actually stuck on (by having dug deeper) helps me move in the right direction, at my pace, by focusing on the right things.

Share it. To me, including other people makes it real. It holds me accountable. So I share my Baby Step+ with someone I trust. Then with a few more people. I’ve found it’s a great way to built that foundation of support & encouragement, since that’s the type of crowd I’m surrounded with. (And I will say – I’ve found it important when in my fragile “someone batting an eyelash at me will shut me down” phase, to tell the right people first. Build up enough gusto. Seek out some tough love to get a balanced view. Then do.)

 Link it to something bigger. Anything to remind me why I want this in the first place, why it’s important. I tend to tether things to my values (e.g. following through on something / keeping my word to someone).

Slap on a “by when”. Sometimes it’s a milestone. Other times an arbitrary date or time. Having some point in time to work towards it makes things (1) less daunting and (2) more real. My sister’s destination wedding was my catalyst for the contacts. A gift certificate expiration date got me on the mountain. A somewhat-sudden group decision had me flipping over backward by the end of that class.

Not all of my Baby Steps+ have needed going through all of the above, nor necessarily in that order. Sometimes one of the above turns into a Baby Step+ of its own (e.g. telling someone else). In the end, these are just some of my tried & true that I wanted to share with you. Maybe it helps you as you do your incredible things. Even when the world sees it as nothing more than a baby step – we know it’s something much more than that, don’t we?

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

What’s easy for you isn’t easy for someone else, and vice versa. Work on you.
Our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).
Achievements are our habits manifest. Drill down on the habits and awesome things will follow.
Build in tiny wins & celebrate them. They’re huge, and often lead to snowballing.
Create a framework to guide your “conquer Baby Steps+” process. Make your own, borrow mine, remix what works…

Have you hit any Baby Steps+ lately? What’s your approach to getting past the roadblock?  Any tiny-win celebrations to share?