Be Beth.

Be Beth. Why acknowledging what you like to do is a key part of growing up. Or… why I shouldn’t make resolutions to drink more.

happiness projectc overI am re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ for the third time cover-to-cover.  I am always struck by her artful blend of practical and theoretical wisdom, all the while championing check charts, clean closets, and community.  It’s no wonder that I feel we’re similar.  Also, like Gretchen, I hate shopping, love YA literature, and take notes for no obvious reason.

Yet another way we’re similar is the wish to have other interests.  As she puts it, “Just because something was fun for someone else, didn’t mean it was fun for me… I love the idea of playing chess, going to a lecture on international markets, doing crossword puzzles, getting a pedicure, eating dinner at a hot new restaurant, or having season tickets to the Knicks. (115)”  Yet, she ultimately decides that a major Secret of Adulthood is “Be Gretchen,” to “acknowledge to myself what I enjoyed, not what I wish I enjoyed (116).”

Why am I reflecting on this now?

My 30th birthday is in six weeks and I’m trying to neatly package up the 30 by 30 list in (recycled) wrapping paper with a bow on top. If all goes as I hope, I will finish 19 of the items (possibly 22).  (Don’t forget I had to discard 2 items after multiple failed attempts) Yet, two of the items are staring me in the face, really simple items.  If I cared about them, these would have been knocked these off the list in the first 2 days of the project, and I would have been knocked out from the liquor content.

Learn to make 5 drink recipes by memory.

Learn four new functions on my camera (you know, to complement my full knowledge of how to use the auto function).

Yet, I’m sitting here at night, after my son is in bed with my full cup of… coffee, and adhering the last piece of tape to the box with my busted camera, ready to be sent to New York for repairs.

paintnight

My list of things I wish I enjoyed: attending rock concerts, going to paint nights, salsa and swing dancing, drinking alcohol, and taking pictures.

I hate admitting I’m totally apathetic about doing these things!  I feel strange for saying that, because everyone I know really loves and is passionate about them!

In fact, I have spent years coming up with sophisticated reasons for why I don’t like drinking, or taking pictures, not to mention the other 3.   Most people don’t even think about taking pictures, they just do it.   I’ve been known to say things like “I’m not that visually oriented.”  Yet, I’m as prone as anyone to oversaturate on pinterest and get all geeked up over a good infographic.  But, pull out my phone? Remember to bring my d-SLR with me?  Yeah, right.

As for alcohol, while I genuinely dislike most beers without fruit in them, I do enjoy a good mixed drink. I did learn how to make a Dark and Stormy, and it’s very similar cousin, the Moscow Mule.  However, I quickly lost interest in tasting various rums (another hobby I wish I had) or mastering the Margarita and perfecting a Cosmopolitan.  I’d rather just drink coffee. Or seltzer. Or hot chocolate. Even better, I’d rather eat dessert or any sweet food.  Weeks can go by, and I don’t drink alcohol, or even think about it.

Winter break Books

What additional items on the 30 before 30 list would have reflected a more genuine attempt to “Be Beth?”

My list doesn’t have any reading goals!  This absence is like a car with no engine.  Reading is a core aspect of who I am, and without adding it, I didn’t get very far, or acknowledge that a lot of my goals assumed I’d be reading.  It would be as if Lena Dunham decided to make a 30 by 30 list for herself this year, and yet didn’t set any writing goals.

Creating reading goals seemed like a cop-out, I was going to read whether I put it on the list of not!  However, it also ignored what it means to “Be Beth.”  This is definitely an example of poor self-knowledge, which is a key part of becoming an adult.  Case in point, my progress toward making mixed drinks included buying a book for to learn how to do it.

Lesson learned!  In the future, maybe when it comes to making that 5-year family plan, I’ll acknowledge who I really am.

Now… maybe I should just focus on making 5 mocktails from memory?

Once in Lifetime Plans and New Chapters in Life

The older I get, the more I realize, there are no such things as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Not even that five month trip I took one time to New Zealand.

once in a lifetime

On Saturday I facilitated an orientation at my church for new leaders filling new positions in our new governance structure.  Watching people share their hearts, passion, and vision for these new roles, clarifying expectations, and being able to have a small part of this day was the culmination of an epic summer for me.

Each week this summer I felt stretched to my limit as I helped coordinate elements of this church transition and nominating process, alternately navigated my disappointment and elation about certain parts of my internship, and felt the full weight of being done graduate school.

However, in order to lead this orientation, which I desperately wanted to do, I turned down the opportunity to run one of the North Shore Trail Series races – despite my New Years Resolution and my 30 by 30 desire to do these things.

(Also – speaking of foiled plans – for the second time the Stand Up Paddleboarding appointment I’d made with friends was cancelled due to inclement weather – I may have to scratch that one from the lists.  Or blog about how i’m going to manage things that I’ve missed the window of opportunity on).

This choice between two things I really want to do is representative of one of my Secrets of Adulthood I think.

There are no once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

For me, this paradox, something both true and not true at the same time, comes up over and over.

As a teenager and young adult I felt bombarded by this phrase, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities were being thrust at me from all sides – to study abroad, choose a college, date, take summer jobs, travel.  Everything seemed like it gleamed with the possibility to change my life, and if I didn’t make the right choice I was going to miss out.  Trusted and not-so-reliable sources all had opinions on what the right choices were, too.

With a little bit of time on my side I’m beginning to see that there aren’t really any once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – even though, technically – everything is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you stand back a moment you realize – the event can be repeated. A five month trip to New Zealand.  Getting a college degree. Acting in a play.  Taking part in a flash mob. So you missed this one – don’t worry – there will be another chance with the right amount of money, time, or friends.

Taken as a total experience however, with each of the particular and terribly personal details in place – everything is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I won’t get to travel “by myself” again – even if I choose to go alone on a trip, simply because “myself” doesn’t exist the same way it did in 2006 – without a husband, child, masters degree, and deep rooted involvement in a local church. Even if I take the same trip, follow the same route, and go by myself – it won’t be the same – it will be something new.  It will be a different once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As much as I hate the cliche “live every day as if it were your last” when I consider the sentiment behind it – that each day is a very particular occurrence, that won’t happen again – I am inclined not to gag quite so much.

Although – if every day really were my last – I’d eat donuts for breakfast daily.

Here I sit – with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of job hunting for a new position in a new field.  I have a certain amount of trepidation and desire to run straight back into the arms of all or any of my old jobs (yes, even outdoor education).  I’m choosing to call this a learning opportunity, and to take it as a chance to continue to be stretched to my limits, because it’s bound to make me uncomfortable.

Yet, at the same time, this isn’t the first time I’ve job hunted, and based on my readings and research on the topic of career development – it’s completely likely and predicable that I will not only change jobs, but careers several other times in my life.  I will invent new ways to tell my story that make it seem as though these moments of self-doubt and transition were simply logical next steps that I navigated with ease.

So… once in a lifetime… or not.

Tackling To Do Lists

Understanding (your) Self:

In my social psychology class one week we studied the concept of The Self.  Roy Baumeister, author of the popular book Willpower, and editor of the text my class used, proposes that there are three basic roots, or areas of study, when considering selfhood: Self Awareness, Interpersonal Relations (how others perceive us), and Self- Control (how we make and achieve goals).

Since Self-Control is fascinating to me as a person trying to navigate this ‘growing up’ thing, I paid particular attention to that section of the text. I grinned when Baumeister cited some research that confirmed my personal experience that “self awareness is essentially for the sake of self-regulation.” Self regulation is therefore necessary to achieve goals.  My initial impressions of adulthood are that most of it is an exercise in self-control.

Self Control and Adulthood:

Well, in order to achieve anything long term (and in direct contrast to childhood – almost everything necessary to function in adulthood is long term – owning and caring for property, paying bills, contributing meaningfully to society, raising children…etc) you need to have a certain level of knowledge and mastery – which is mostly achieved through self-controlled study or experience.

Which leads to another personal conclusion that to-do lists are a necessary tool of adulthood in a modern world where we’ve got dozens of competing goals we need to decide between prioritizing.  BUT… even though tackling to-do lists will help you get many things done – depending on your level of energy, time, and motivation you might find it impossible to check things off.

This is why I think it is equally important to categorize things to do and then use the right strategy for tackling the To-Do list. I don’t think you can always accomplish tasks in the same way each time, mainly because you become accustomed to that particular approach and then start slacking off.  There’s a similar phenomenon in dieting – people get bored of eating cottage cheese, salads, and chicken every day so they start seeking novelty – and fall off the bandwagon.

Here are 3 of my strategies for tackling to-do lists and achieving focus.

Note: These strategies are particularly for tackling mental work.

3 Things Method

The Three Things Method:

Every 2 weeks I make a list of mental tasks that need to get done – generally things I can’t accomplish with my son around. This allows me to identify what times are useable (nap time, bed time) and what times aren’t (the witching hour 5-7pm). Then depending on the day and amount of time available, I pick 3 things (the most important on the list!) and focus on ONLY those 3 things – nothing else on the master list.  Clearing my mind of the other items makes it easier for me to focus.

Checkbox Method

The Checkbox Method:

I have a weak prospective memory – or in other words – I’m easily distractable. (Doesn’t the first one sound so much better?!).  I might sit down to read a book, then remember I need to answer an email, and find myself reading a newspaper article which prompts me to check my bank account.  It’s easy (for me) to lose an hour of productivity that way. Which is why, when I often start work I take a scrap piece of paper and make a series of boxes.  Each box represents 15 minutes of focus on a task.  If I complete 15 minutes of focus, I check it off.  If I don’t, I X it.  I feel a certain level of shame if I look at more than 2 boxes with an X in them, which prompts me to try harder to focus.  In my experience – focus begets more focus… and I can usually con myself into just fifteen more minutes of work.

Categorize Method

The Balanced Modes Method:

On my master mental tasks lists there are generally three types of tasks: thinking, reading, and writing. Although I sometimes have the energy to tackle 3 reading items… I often don’t. Who can read 100 pages of psychology textbook at once?  Answer: Not me.  So, I try and balance the tasks that I accomplish by switching between two modes.  First I’ll read for a set amount of time or length – then I’ll write for set amount of time or length.

Additionally…

I also like Gretchin Rubin’s 15 Minute “Tackle a  Nagging task” method which I read about in “The Happiness Project” (highly recommend!).  Sometimes tasks are so tedious, or difficult, or simply abhorrent that you can’t do it,  So, you break the task down into 15 minute pieces and you commit to doing 15 minutes (and ONLY 15 minutes) on the task every day until it’s complete.  This works for mental tasks AND other household tasks.

Could you see yourself using any of these strategies?  Do you have other strategies to get yourself through your to-do lists?

Five Ways to Gain Self Knowledge

5 Ways to Gain Self Knowledge

One of my core beliefs is the importance of Self-Knowledge.

Self Knowledge is vital in order to discover how you should act in the future. Self awareness can help you to be more consistent and authentic in your decision making, to be realistic when goal setting, and to allow yourself make mistakes and build up your areas of weakness.

Sure, I know I’m not a morning person and I love comedies, but I’m referring much deeper information.  I’m thinking more along the lines of what enduring traits do you bring with you to new situation? – or conversely –  how do you manage to get in your own way?

Self-Knowledge may seem as easy as taking a moment to navel-gaze on a quiet weekend, but there are a couple reasons it’s harder than you might think.

One of the biggest obstacles to self knowledge? People are constantly on the lookout for items that reinforce what they think they already know.  We have pre-conceived notions of ourselves that might have been formed in childhood by our parents or certain situations.  As we move through life we are likely to selectively pay attention to the things that confirm those opinions.  This is called confirmation bias. Just ask all those people out there who listened to their friends that told them they “couldn’t make art” and now they think they’re “bad at art.” (Personal belief: It’s impossible to be bad at art. Museum of Bad Art aside for a moment).

Here’s a story from my own life: In high school, I was told that I was a good student and smart.  I also got good grades.  But like I shared over at Connect Shore, I had terrible study skills, rarely looked for connections between subjects, and I just accepted what I read.  I would never have thought to examine my belief that I was a good student when I was younger, because I got good grades.

Here are some ways I’ve used to discover who I really am over the years – you may find them useful as well.

1.  Meet New People.  People tend to stick with friends and others who share the same interests as them, unsurprisingly, but it’s also common to stick within your same age bracket when meeting others. Are all your friends the same age as you?  Consider be-friending those who come from different backgrounds perhaps by volunteering.  Meeting those who are older – perhaps at work, through book clubs or other meetups.  Don’t forget to ask questions about what has made these people who they are – what are some of the defining moments of their lives?

2.  Search for Different Ideas – Ideas and movements change over time. Conservatives of the past used to be some of the most ardent conservationists, desiring to see green spaces preserved for future generations.  Now, much less so. While ideas from the past have changed the way life is today, they have also changed themselves in the process of changing the zeitgeist.  I love the language and imagery that Peter Berger uses to describe societies which are built upon the sedimentation of past novel actions.  Even as we perform our actions we are either harkening back to past times, or perhaps deviating a finite but meaningful amount – then creating a new story or role for future followers.   Reading old books, particularly those before 1970, and books outside of your own discipline can give you these moments of insight into yourself and our collective history.

3. Take a Personality Test.   While  quizzes that reveal which Harry Potter character you are may be endlessly amusing those are hardly the type I’m talking about.  Instead, both popular personality tests like Myers-Briggs and lesser known tests like the DiSC have helped me discover different facets of my personality, as well as providing context for the assessment.  I’ve loved talking a variety of career tests over the years such as the Strengthsfinder and O*Net occupational assessment.  Even serious psychology tests such as the Schema Therapy Test have been insightful, with a little help in interpretation.

4.  Keep a Journal. Journals don’t have to be for recording the day to day humdrum.  They can be for responding to prompts like “ At what point in my life was I the happiest?” “What is one lesson I want to learn from the last 3 months?”  “What do I want to accomplish in the next year?” “How did my parents marriage (and/or divorce) affect the way I see relationships?”  “Who was the biggest influence on the way I see myself.”  Examine defining moments in your life, or perhaps write down things that bother you. I am continually surprised by how much I re-write my own past in discussion, and upon rereading my journals realize I wasn’t nearly as clever –  or wronged –  as I think I was.

5. Create a Council of Friends. As much as you can discover about yourself from objective personality tests or seeing how you differ from others, very little can stand in for trusted friends or experienced mentors.  Although many times it’s tempting to relax with friends and move mindlessly from entertainment to entertainment – don’t neglect soul baring conversations.  Ask tough questions, or analyze past decisions you’ve made in order to discover how you think and what you can improve in the future. Asking for others thoughts on your choices can reveal both strengths and weaknesses.

Hey if it was good enough for the Oracle at Delphi, it’s good enough for me.

//this post was updated from an earlier blog post of the same title.

The Power of 15 Minutes

“In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                       
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”
-from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  by TS Eliot.

I have often been put the question, by well meaning pastors, small group leaders, and teachers – Which do you spend the most time thinking about? The past, the present, the future?

My answer has always been the future.

I look forward to birthdays, summer, the next course to enroll in, books to be read, the completion of personal projects and trips to be taken.  I look forward to the time when breakfast will be done, and its time to drink coffee.  When my son and I stop reading books and start playing trucks.

So often, then, I bump up into these no-mans-land moments.  Maybe they are what some people call “the present.”  That point of transition where the crescendo of laughter at a water fight has died away, and the howling of the diaper change has yet to begin.  The uncanny silence when the last few murmurs of smallonetalkingtohimself has faded into naptime, and I can hear the tap of the keys on the computer, looking looking looking through the newsfeed for something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I take notes on what I want to do between 1pm and 3:30 pm.

And that moment.  That little moment right there, when I put the pen down – or sometimes, the moment when I’m just staring at the ceiling, lying on our couch (which needs to be vacuumed of the little cheerios I can feel in my back).

That moment is the most important.

In that moment, the beginning of the most important 15 minutes happens. 

I find myself here, at this crossroads a handful of times a day, asking myself the same questions.

The Persistence of Memory. Salvador Dali. From http://www.moma.org.

Do I dive in to what I have been planning? – To read the next chapter of my textbook –  To start on the next task – the one I’ve been planning my day around, the grudging needling feeling that I should finish whatever to do list I started yesterday the day before or last month.

Do I succumb to the tiredness?  Tired of following plans!  Of being an adult! Of cleaning!  Of measuring my life in coffee spoons!

Do I escape – in the depressant of this season of life? – be it novels, or TV, or sleep or  (fill in your own latest “bad habit” or “guilty pleasure.”)

Or can I, as I’ve learned and I’m learning – in these pangs of growing up – to simply take fifteen minutes – to breathe – to sort through the bubbling pot of emotions, and move on.  To do what needs to be done, or to undo what was already done.

The power of 15 minutes – which path do I take?  The path of productivity?  The path of escape?

And are there… is there… any other choice?

Regardless of How You Feel, Make Healthy Choices.

I was sitting in my Theories of Psychotherapy class a couple Mondays ago with a bright group of eager young men and women trying their hardest to figure out what is the best method of teaching people how to change.  Each week we’ve been covering a different school of thought – from Existentialism, to Behaviorism, to Cognitive Therapy.  And although each school of thought thinks different theoretical things; is it our perceptions that create our behavior, or our parents, for example.   It turns out that (this is really true) it doesn’t matter what orientation you pick as a therapist, they all have fairly similar effectiveness.

This particular night we were discussing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which (among other things) stresses mindfulness, and creating a contract of agreement between therapist and client.  The professor, who practices this particular strain of therapy in his practice, made a statement about how the contract is basically to guarantee that the client will agree:

“Regardless of how you feel, Make Healthy Choices.”

And BAM.   A lightbulb went on over my head. {insert cheesy clipart}

This is one of my big “Secrets Of Adulthood.” (I learned about those from Gretching Rubin – some people call them “life hacks.”) 

I used to tell myself:  “Do what Needs to Get Done” which is sort of a nitty gritty “grin and bear it” type of philosophy.  That is, it doesn’t matter if you stayed up all night reading a book and eating muffins and you’re really tired, you have to go to work, to get paid, to be responsible, to pay the bills.  That thought was mostly based on the idea that there’s one right answer to “what needs to get done.”  But now, I can see that that was a really narrow focus, which dealt with very narrow problems.  (Re: Stayed up late reading YA fiction, too tired for work scenario.)

No, the more important thing to realize was that each person carries around this Ideal in their head of a “Healthy Adult.”  Maybe yours is your mother, a friend, or your third grade teacher.  And when you make choices, you’re striving to mimic and imitate this Healthy Adult.

But the problem is, lots and lots of time you don’t quite feel like making the right choices. And I don’t just mean because you’re tired.  Depression and Stress are two really big culprits that can deter people from making healthy choices.  But so can backing yourself into terrible situations like wrong jobs, wrong relationships, and worse addictions than eating too many muffins. Then there’s this big heaping dose of guilt, on top of the shame of messing u

And besides, you’re an adult, You don’t want to make this choice? Then don’t do it – put it off, see what happens…

Of course, that’s a recipe for snowballing disaster.  But paradoxically, making a healthy choice – even the smallest possible step in the right direction –  like putting on real clothes, eating vegetables, taking a walk, or striking one nagging item of your todo list –  puts you closer to being a healthy adult – not matter how far you still fall from the ideal.  Acting on reason, rather than acting on whims and feelings, to brings you closer to that ideal – not farther.

And therein lies the secret – You don’t have to actually feel like doing the healthy thing in order to actually do it. And surprisingly, your mood will improve if you do make the healthy choice, even though you didn’t feel like it.

So, get on it.

The Easiest Way to Walk in Someone else’s Shoes

I’ve learned that most of my sins are sins of excess and passion.


If I’m upset, I’m quick to blame, and quick to rage, and quick to storm.

The ever-attractive temper tantrum – Not.

Luckily I’m pretty quick to forgive as well… after I’ve launched my fifteen minute lecture of why I’m in the right.


Which is why on my road to growing up I’ve realized it’s invaluable to try and get into someone else’s shoes pretty fast.  And…The fastest way to dissipate anger is to try and see things from someone else’s perspective.  Of course, you’ve got to remember to do that when your emotions are running high.

Which is why I try to make my first reaction – “That Poor…”

“That poor driver, they’re probably late to an appointment.”
“That poor mom, her kids look like they are driving her crazy.”

People aren’t their best when they are tired, busy, stressed, hungry … or any host of other things.  And lets face it… People (you, me, your husband, your kid, your best friend, the cashier in the grocery store) are ALWAYS up against some obstacle.

This method of relating doesn’t absolve others from their responsibility, but it does save me from looking like the asshole that lost her lid because someone else had a good reason for being late.  It gives *me* a few minutes to pull it together and look at all the other colors of what I think is a black and white picture.  And that’s what being an adult is all about.