It’s that time of year again. Time for a New Year and a New You! We can now take advantage of that glorious reset button, join a gym, resolve to be better and make our problems go away.
If you detect a touch of sarcasm in there, you would be correct. New Year’s resolutions might be the most notorious for NOT creating change. We all know that Januarys’ overcrowded gyms will be empty again in February.
The timing is not the problem.
What if how we talk and think is the reason we don’t really change?
Change is hard – or is it?
When I reflect on my own life, I have made monumental changes that had nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions. I left a well-paying job to take a chance on the startup firm Results Based Leadership. (Steve Snyder and I talk about this in my podcast Episode 2 coming out January 21) We moved from the big city to the tiny town of Lake Lure in Western North Carolina. Soon thereafter, I became an entrepreneur, a painter, and a potter. I navigated the drug addiction of my daughter Jen, largely by changing my responses to my own guilt and fears. (She survived and now helps other parents help themselves heal so they can help their children heal.) None of these happened in January.
In fact, none of these happened in a moment in time. Every big change I made started with a string of words– followed by tiny steps that can only be described as the equivalent of drips into a bucket of water that will eventually overflow.
My biggest changes have not come from setting a goal, but in creating an intention. Goals feel like they need a plan. Intention sets up a different expectation around how you get there.
In my case, many of these changes can be traced back to a simple statement I made (almost without thinking) over ten years ago: “I would really like to see where this water skiing thing can take me.” Never underestimate the power of your words.
Seriously…did I just say that?
Standing at a reception with a Wall Street firm after a great day of teaching, one of the members of the client team asked me “where do you want to go next?”. What came out of my mouth shocked me as much as it did her: “I would really like to see where this water skiing thing can take me.” Since I was in my mid-forties, not an athlete and certainly not aspiring to be a professional in a sport where professionals make little money, this was a pretty absurd thing to say. Today I am so grateful that she asked that question, because it sparked the words that have ignited so much more than water skiing.
Reflecting on that exchange all these years later, I’m reminded of the power of declarations. I said it out loud, and skiing suddenly became an intention. Had I looked at it from a logical standpoint that evening, I might have censored such a crazy statement. After all, skiing would take me away from work, making a living, family and all of those other “higher priorities.” However, saying it out loud began a positive chain reaction.
The following year, after being on the road almost constantly, I took a 3-month sabbatical in the summer mainly to - you guessed it - ski! At the end of that sabbatical I started a tradition of writing about skiing and what I was learning about myself on the water. My annual card was also an opportunity to share my growth as a watercolor artist and for several years, I mailed out an annual reflection on water skiing with my latest paintings. It seemed like a great way to stay in contact with the people who had meaningfully touched my life, plus it created a sort of accountability to paint, to ski and to write. Ok, I didn’t need any accountability on skiing – I was going to do that no matter what!
That skiing declaration led to good things…
What did all that skiing get me looking back on the last decade? Oh, let me count the ways! My physical fitness has never been better. Slalom skiing is a demanding sport and at 61, I’m in significantly better shape than I was at 35, or even 25. Internally, I’ve made several internal shifts, going from someone who really wanted to get it right the first time, saw no need to improve what I already “knew”, and hated repetition to someone who loves to practice, revels in repetition and can let go of my mistakes in an instant (the ski course has a way of eliciting that last trait). Instead of needing to know, learning is now the norm. None of that happened instantly. In fact, in many cases, it happened with me kicking and screaming!
I’ve discovered that how you do anything is how you do everything, and that sometimes it is easier to make a difficult internal shift in a different domain.
Getting comfortable with “not knowing” opened the door for me to try pottery, something I would never have had the patience for before. Intention also led to my husband and I to purchase a 162-acre camp with a lake on it…to ski! (The story of how that all came to be will be written someday -and if you pick up the phone or send me an email, I will happily tell it.)
Eventually, my newfound openness to learning whatIthoughtIalreadyknew led me to delivering a TEDx talk in 2015, something I practiced hundreds of times before going on the stage – only after getting really, really clear on what I was trying to say about the power of assuming positive intent.
My ending line in that talk was “…the positive intent that you are assuming will actually become positive intent, and you might just become the co-writer of an entirely new story for your life.”
Write your story without fear
What surprised me about my story of blurting out the thing about water skiing is this: I hadn’t set a big goal. After that night, I didn’t really think about what I had said. There was never a plan. What I said was definitely not to impress anyone. Without a goal, plan or anyone to check me out, I was less likely to fall prey to my need to be perfect. I had to get over a lot of fear to learn to run the ski course. My journey was anything but a straight line. I just made a declaration and kept skiing. Words and actions.
Words and actions weave our life stories. When our words and actions match, we feel whole and complete. When they don’t, we know something is off, even if we can’t put our finger on why it’s off.
Here’s the thing about great stories. They never happen in a straight line. Great stories have twists and turns and conflict and choices and moments of truth. Great stories happen all year long.
What story are you writing for your life right now? What are the twists and turns you have already experienced? Where do you desire something more than you fear it? (That question comes from David Benzel, who will be on my Creative Spirits Unleashed podcast in March.) What must you do to bring your actions into alignment with your words? What is the next sentence in your story?
Be on the lookout for Episode 1 of the Creative Spirits Unleashed Podcast, debuting on January 7th. In my inaugural episode called “Passion, Pets, People and Photography”, Julie Gould and I explore her encore careers (yes, that’s plural), how to find the catch lights, the challenges of saying no and so much more. I hope you will tune in and tell your friends about it too!
Last week was like Christmas came early for me.
My endorphins are still running high as I write this. Last week, after taking 2 months off of water skiing, I got back on the water at Jack’s Travers Ski School in Florida. While skiing well is always a bonus, the way it makes me feel is really why I do it.
Skiing is like a reset. Not only do I get all those feel-good endorphins, I also get stronger through the exercise. Between each pass, I rest and recover, going from super high intensity to fully relaxed. That kind of oscillation is an incredibly effective stress reliever.
Now, I’m going to get analytical for a minute to make a point. My actual time in the course over 5 ski sets was nine and a half minutes. That’s 570 seconds TOTAL. My waking hours for the time I was there was about 64 hours. So, the ski time that made me feel so good was .247% of my waking time there.
What is the point I’m making here? If we are doing the right things, it doesn’t take a lot of time to get ourselves back in balance.
I have a tendency to miss the moments along the way while looking for the milestones on the journey.
Since my trip this week, two subjects have permeated my thoughts: Appreciation and Kindness.
Those subjects came via the activities I did during the other 99% of my time.
I’ve been working on something for a few weeks, and now is a good time to “let the cat out of the bag.”
I’m starting my very own PODCAST in January 2020! And my trip to Florida offered me a chance work on it.
While I was there, I sat down for two enlightening conversations, first with Natallia Berdnikava and then with David Benzel. Both are athletes – and leaders. We talked about balance, performance under pressure, training for success, handling failure, and so much more. The conversations we had about mindset and choice applies in every domain.
We also talked about appreciation and kindness. I’m not going to spoil the surprises from these conversations, but I want to share a couple of the jewels.
Here’s one from Natiallia: Imagine that no matter how hard you worked, you could only go so far. She was raised in Belarus. Living in America has made her appreciate to the very depths of her soul the freedoms we can take for granted.
David shared a story about the impact of kindness. Again, I won’t spoil the story but I’m going to challenge you to look for kindness in the coming week. If you can spot any, create your own. And then give yourself a pause to experience what kindness does to your heart.
I’m so excited to finally start recording and sharing some of the insightful conversations I have the chance to be in.
You might have listened to the podcast that Jen and I did a couple of years ago. It’s still out there and now, Jen is still blogging and podcasting as part of her company Maneely Consulting. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
As we come up on the last two weeks of 2019 (and start a new decade!), I hope you make every moment count and fill it with kindness and appreciation.
My very best to you!
Creativity is messy. It just is. Or am I just trying to justify not cleaning my art studio?
The studio does need to be straightened up – but there is also something that happens in the mess if I can tolerate the discomfort. It seems to me that the messy part of creativity is not about the steps of the process but the feeling of uncertainty in the process. Will this experiment work? What if it doesn’t? What will I try next?
Creativity can feel like being out of control – and the natural human reaction is to get back into control.
This point was driven home for me last week. A friend was driving us to dinner over wet mountain roads in the dark. He was driving way too fast for my comfort. I mostly managed to tolerate the discomfort, but more than once, I said “slow down!”
Here’s the funny thing: He probably wasn’t driving any faster than I would have. The problem wasn’t his driving. The problem was the sensation created by being out of control.
My brain wasn’t connected to the foot that could hit the brake pedal, but my brain was happy to send warning signals throughout my body that we were going to die if we didn’t slow down. The feeling was intolerable – and my natural reaction was to stop the feeling.
So what does all this have to do with creativity?
Creativity involves starting something that may or may not work.
If you are creating something new, it hasn’t been done before. You can’t be sure what you are going to get. Uncertainty is an essential ingredient.
I recently completed a large painting where I had several moments of discomfort that caused me to have to walk away for a while. In fact, sitting in my one of the drawers in my art room is another painting that made me so uncomfortable, I’ve walked away indefinitely.
Unlike the brake pedal on the car that almost always slows the car down when you press it, trying something creative guarantees nothing. Even though you are not going to die, tell that to The Sanctioner (your inner critic) - and all the imaginary art critics, bosses, co-workers, and teachers from your past who have taken up residence in your mind.
Here’s what I’ve learned through agonizing trial and error: The feeling is the feeling. How I interpret the feeling is up to me. Will I listen to the Sanctioner or will I listen to my own wisdom? Will I act mindlessly on the feeling by quitting or beating myself up or will I stay with the feeling as an essential part of the process? Will I avoid mistakes or treat them as the gifts of learning?
When we ask for creativity from ourselves and others, we have to tolerate the feeling it brings – and the mistakes.
In order to get to something new, we have to leave behind the old. And the old does not go quietly into to the night.
Early in my art journey, I would go into my studio seeking to express myself and instead I would organize. Why? Because I knew how to organize and that felt good. When I’m being creative, I don’t really know what I’m doing, and that feels uncomfortable. What I’ve learned over time is that a messy studio gives me the freedom to make new connections, try something different and to worry less about making mistakes.
Where do you need more creativity in your life?
How do you get your creative juices flowing?
What does uncertainty feel like to you?
How much uncertainty can you tolerate?
As always, I love hearing from you and please share with anyone you think would find this helpful.
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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