WEEK 18: Take Control of Your Lifestyle

“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” ~ Anthony Robbins

Is time speeding up, or is it just me? In the last few months it just seems as though I’m not getting the things done during the day that I want to. I get so distracted…even when I make a list to keep myself on track, I still find that I’m having trouble fitting everything in.

Maybe I feel this way because I have my project filling up a lot of the spare time that I used to have. Or maybe it’s my age, so instead of the years flying past now it’s whole days. Or maybe, in some crazy scientific way, time actually is speeding up! Whatever it is, though, I’d really like to get a handle on it, because being this unorganized goes completely against my Capricorn nature.

So as I was pondering the best way for me to ‘take control of my lifestyle’ this week, I remembered something I had read a couple of years ago in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I guess it made a big impression on me because I was going through a bit of a lifestyle overhaul myself, at the time, and his idea seemed so, well, smart.

It was called a “Plan For Attaining Moral Perfection” and in it he listed 13 ‘virtues’ that he believed would set him on the path to success if he was able to incorporate them all into his daily life. They included: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. It was his hope that if he could adhere to these virtues every day (and he kept track in a little book he carried with him), then he would ultimately lead a very successful, not to mention morally sound, life. And, given what we know about Benjamin Franklin today, I guess it worked pretty well!

Anyway, my favorite part of his ‘Plan’ was the daily schedule he made for himself to help him keep ‘Order’ to his days:

Doesn’t it just make life seem so doable?  And such a perfect way to ‘take control of your lifestyle’? I decided to give it a try myself.

So I divided my days into 6 parts, just like above, and challenged myself to stick with it for the week. And I have to say, I think it really worked! I found that just by adding a little structure, if only in my mind, to how I thought my day should go, I was able to keep myself from drifting off track a lot more easily.

For instance, and this is a little embarrassing to admit, sometimes I can get so caught up on the computer in the mornings that I am still in my pajamas at 10:00am. And then I have to scramble to get myself dressed and the house in order, which somehow sets the tone for the whole rest of the dayBut, happily, what I found this week was that because I had allotted 7-9am as my ‘morning’ time, I was much more disciplined about being dressed and ready for the day by 9:00. And what a huge difference that made in how much I got done in the next time slot, and the next.

I also think it was really helpful to go over the day before it actually started…or as Franklin put it; “Contrive the days business”. I found that by spending a few moments in the morning picturing in my head how I wanted the day to go, I actually had more success in getting the things done that I’d hoped to.

I guess that, really, the main thing I realized this week is that it’s a lot easier to be in control of my lifestyle when I am consciously aware of what I’m doing, when I’m doing it. I think the problem I was having stemmed from the fact that I tend to switch into auto-pilot mode more often than maybe I should, and so when I  drift a bit off track during the day, I don’t really notice. And then I’m surprised, not to mention frustrated, when I don’t end up where I thought I was headed.

Of course, the trick now will be trying to stick with this new daily schedule, because otherwise I’m going to end up right back where I started…wondering where in the world the time is going. But I think it’s a lifestyle change that I won’t have too much trouble with because, really, it’s just a matter of paying a little more attention to what I’m doing during the day. Switching from chardonnay to pinot noir was way harder!

And if I do still find that I’m drifting off track every now and then, I will take comfort in the fact that even Benjamin Franklin had some trouble with this particular virtue. He admits in his autobiography:

“In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

The key, I think, to taking control of my lifestyle is, ironically, knowing when I don’t have control. Because it’s in that awareness, in that conscious realization that I’ve drifted off track, that I can try to make the right adjustments to get me back on course.

I just have to notice.

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WEEK 17: Make Yourself Happy

“Happiness depends upon ourselves.” ~ Aristotle

When I started to think about the kinds of things I would do during “Make Yourself Happy” week, I couldn’t wait for it to get here. I mean, how often in life do you get an opportunity to spend a whole week just doing things you love to do…and not even have to feel guilty about it?

But as the week got closer, I realized that a lot of the things that I was thinking I might do to ‘make myself happy’, I pretty much already do…albeit a bit guiltily at times. So when I received an email from my new ‘like-minded friend’ (Week 15) about a workshop called ‘Inner Space’ that was being held at a nearby Feng Shui Center, I impulsively signed up. I’d been learning a little bit about feng shui and thought that really diving into it at a weekend workshop would definitely make me happy.

Or, on the other hand, maybe not.

Sadly, the whole weekend was a pretty big disappointment. Instead of making me happy, I was actually fairly unhappy from the minute I walked through the door. First of all, and this is totally my fault for not reading the whole email my friend sent, the workshop had nothing to do with feng shui, even though it was at a Feng Shui Center. It turned out to be about finding the ‘inner space’ in yourself, not in your home, which is all well and good, and probably something worth learning about, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

Secondly, I didn’t really care for the teacher. She seemed ok at first, but as the weekend went along she started to show some alarming passive-aggressive tendencies by picking on a poor woman who’d been a few minutes late to the class. Not exactly inspiring.

So ok, live and learn. I guess it’s a good idea to do a little homework before signing up for a weekend workshop!

But I will say that the experience got me thinking that perhaps ‘making myself happy’ is less about doing and more about being. That maybe what’s important is finding a way to be happy even when the circumstances surrounding me are not so great.

So instead of grumbling about how the workshop wasn’t what I had expected, and the teacher was a bit psycho, maybe I should have tried to focus more on what was good about it. Because, actually, there were a few things that weren’t so terrible. For instance, I learned that pine trees have psychic energy. That’s kind of cool. And I met a couple of nice people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. Plus, I did something I had never done before by signing up to go on my own.

There were actually quite a few things that could have made me happy while I was there…I just chose not to see them.

The thing is that it’s sometimes really hard to make yourself happy when you’re in an unhappy place. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was worried about a zillion things, and no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of the negative zone I was in, my mind just kept circling and circling from one bad thought to the next. I couldn’t find my way out.

I’d read somewhere that sometimes it can help to write all your worries down when they start piling up. That somehow putting them down on paper can get them out of your head…kind of releasing them to the universe, I guess.

So I tried it. I sat down before I went to bed and wrote down every single thing that was troubling me. And a few things that I didn’t even know were troubling me! Then I tore the piece of paper into tiny little pieces and threw them away.

Did it work? Well, I think so. I was able to fall asleep at least. I can’t say that I was happier – that would have been a pretty big leap – but I definitely felt better. And I think that it was by taking that action, by asserting a little bit of control over the negative vortex I was swirling around in, that helped make the difference.

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project:

“The feeling of control is an essential element of happiness…a better predictor of happiness than, say, income. Having a feeling of autonomy, of being able to choose what happens in your life or how you spend your time, is crucial.”

The problem, though, at least for me, is that it’s hard to always have control over what happens in my life, so I need to try to remember that I do have control over how I feel about what’s going on. Maybe I couldn’t control the fact that the workshop I went to wasn’t what I expected, or that the teacher was a passive-aggressive nutcase, but I certainly could have shifted my focus from the bad to the not-so-bad while I was there, and not ruined the whole weekend for myself.

And so I’m realizing that it’s never going to be the weekend workshop I sign up for, or the cute new sweater I buy (believe me, I’ve tried that!), or the better job, nicer car, bigger house, etc. etc. that will ‘make’ me happy. None of those outside things can bring me happiness if I haven’t found it on the inside first.

Helen Keller, one of the most inspiring people I can think of, put it this way:

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

I guess, in the end, if I’m looking to ‘make myself happy’, I just have to remember where to look.

WEEK 15: Befriend Like-Minded Individuals

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” ~ C.S. Lewis

Well, I guess when I started my project back in March I should have given a little more thought to how I would keep up with it during the summer, since I am away (and unplugged) for a lot of it. So rather than spend my vacation fretting about how far behind I was getting, I decided to simply add another guideline to my list:

Number 11: Don’t take myself too seriously – it’s just a blog!

So, in the spirit of that guideline, I enjoyed a very relaxing summer, and now I’m ready to pick up where I left off back in July…Week 15: Befriend Like-Minded Individuals.

I’m pretty sure that if I had actually given any thought beforehand to how I was going to go about finding a ‘like-minded individual’ to befriend, I might have panicked a little bit. I mean, it’s not like meeting new friends is the easiest thing to do, like-minded or not. Luckily, though, I didn’t have to think about it. It was almost as though someone led me on a treasure hunt, and the prize at the end was the perfect ‘like-minded individual’!

What’s amazing though, especially in hindsight, is how easily I could have not met this person, because a lot of the decisions I made along the way were pretty out of character for me. I’m not sure if it was fate, or the universe, or just dumb luck that led me down the right path, but I am incredibly grateful that something kept pointing me in the right direction. Otherwise, I might still be out there looking for a like-minded person, and be even further behind than I already am!

So here’s what happened:

A friend read my blog on Facebook and thought I might be interested in going to hear Gabrielle Bernstein, a young spiritual author, speak at a local playhouse. Now, I don’t usually like to go out during the week if I can help it, so it would have been much more like me not to make the effort. But for some reason I went. That was Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #1

When we got to the event, some vendors were set up in the lobby, and there was a long line in front of one of them. When I found out that everyone was waiting for a free ‘angel reading’ I was pretty intrigued, so I got in line. That was Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #2, because I really hate standing in long lines.

The reading itself was brief, but amazingly accurate given the circumstances, and so I took one of her cards, thinking an ‘Angel Reader’ might come in handy when I got to #70 on my Official List: Connect with Your Spirit Guides. So a couple of days later I checked out her website, and ended up sending her an email to get a few more details about what she did. At the last-minute, I decided to include a little bit about my project, and added the link to my blog. Now, I have to tell you, I have never shared my blog with anyone I haven’t met before, so this was definitely Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #3.

We started a little email exchange and she suggested that maybe we could meet for coffee sometime and talk more about my project. I was so excited…someone I didn’t even know actually liked my blog! So I sent her a quick reply saying that I was getting ready to leave on vacation, but I would love to have coffee as soon as I got back. I had no sooner pushed the send button, though, than I turned the page on my calendar and saw that my next week’s ‘assignment’ was to ‘Befriend Like-Minded Individuals’! It seemed too good to be true!

So, at the risk of her thinking I was completely nuts, I quickly sent another email asking if she would possibly help me out by being my like-minded friend for a week, and she agreed to get together before I left. Now, for some people, meeting with a complete stranger may be no big deal, but for me it is just not something I do every day. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d never done anything like it before…so Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #4!

We met a couple of days later, and luckily, despite my worry that it might be totally awkward, it was just really, really fun. Talking to someone who is on the same path is so energizing – especially when that someone is a little further along that path. I felt like I’d known her forever! And believe it or not, even though she and I had never really met, I actually knew her husband. In fact, I was going to be seeing him later that morning! It really can be a crazy, small world, can’t it?

Of course, I’m sure there are people out there who might read this and say that it was all just coincidence, and that I am making way too much out of what happened. But the week after all of this took place, I randomly picked up a book called The Celestine Prophesy, by James Redfield, and to my utter amazement the whole first chapter was about experiences such as mine. According to Redfield:

“…these coincidences are happening more and more frequently and, when they do, they strike us as beyond what would be expected by pure chance. They feel destined, as though our lives had been guided by some unexplained force. The experience induces a feeling of mystery and excitement and, as a result, we feel more alive.”

Redfield refers to such experiences as ‘meaningful coincidences’ that lead one in a particular direction, and he believes they happen a lot more often than we realize. We just miss recognizing them because we are moving so fast through our lives. Perhaps if we could slow down and take ourselves off autopilot once in a while, we would notice more often when we actually have a choice to make that could point us in the right direction.

Looking back on all of the ‘coincidences’ that led me to my new like-minded friend last week, I have to say that the experience left me with an incredible sense of possibility. That if I would just step out of my comfort zone a little more often, and perhaps try some new ways of thinking (and doing), it would be much more possible for me to experience the limitless opportunities (and friends!) that are out there, waiting for me to find them.

I just need to slow down so I’ll notice the clues.

 

WEEK 8: Take Conscious Control of Your Decisions

“A life lived of choice is a life of conscious action.” Neale Donald Walsch

I didn’t ever realize, until this week, how many decisions I actually make on any given day. From the very moment I open my eyes in the morning, I start making choices; “Should I get up now, or hit the snooze button?” “What should I wear?” “Cereal or toast?” “Grocery store or yoga?” It is one decision after another, all day long, and it amazed me to realize that, most of the time, I am not even conscious of making them at all!

Sadly, I guess this means that I must be on some sort of autopilot as I go through my day…and I think I make a lot of my decisions more by habit than anything else. Of course, in my defense, it’s probably not necessary to make a conscious choice about every single thing I do – I mean, whether I wear the red sweater or the blue shirt isn’t going to make a big difference in the way my life turns out. But the decisions I make about what I eat or how much I sleep, could actually, in the long run, make a huge difference in the quality of my life, even though, on a day-to-day basis, they seem pretty trivial. Always choosing junk food and late nights, over organic food and a good night’s sleep, would definitely affect my long-term health… so, in order to live the best life I can, it makes a lot of sense to try to be as conscious as possible in the choices I make every day.

Growing up, whenever I had an important decision to make my dad would sit me down with a pen and paper and have me write down the pros and cons. I would moan and groan my way through the whole process, insisting to him that it wasn’t going to make the decision any easier. But, and this made me so mad, it actually did help – I guess that by having to think about all the positive and negative outcomes of whatever it was I was deciding, I was better able to see the big picture, so the choice became more clear. And, even though I really resisted the lesson my dad was teaching me back then, I guess I learned it anyway, because I still reach for the pen and paper whenever I have a big decision to make. Of course, it’s much easier to take ‘conscious control’ of a decision when you are aware of how important it is – it’s not quite as easy when the decision isn’t so big. And I think sometimes it’s in those little decisions that we have the most opportunity to take control of our lives, and perhaps change them for the better.

In his book, “The Divine Matrix”, Gregg Braden talks a lot about our ability, as human beings, to make decisions, both big and small. It is something that separates us from all other living things, and is, when you think about it, a pretty powerful tool that we all have. Braden says:

‘…it’s our ability to purposefully create the conditions of consciousness…that lock one possibility of our choosing into the reality of our lives.”

Whether the decision being made is huge and life-changing, or small and inconsequential, by taking conscious control of it, and understanding how the different choices will ultimately make us feel, we have the power to choose the one that will make us feel better. It is certainly not always easy, because coasting along on autopilot is, quite honestly, a lot less work than having to always be paying attention. But I have learned this week that when I make a decision that feels good inside, then my outside world is better too.

The other night, for example, I had just finished my first draft of this post and had pushed ‘update’ to save it. Something went wrong with the internet, though, and I realized, to my horror, that I had lost the whole thing. Well, needless to say, I was pretty upset, especially since I had struggled with a terrible case of writer’s block all day, so when my husband walked through the door from work, I was on the verge of a full-out pity party. But luckily I remembered (because I had just spent the day writing about it!) that we always have a choice in the way we react to something; I could go ahead and feel sorry for myself, which I really wanted to do, and risk ruining the evening for my family, or I could take a deep breath and laugh it off, because honestly, it’s only a blog. So I shrugged my shoulders, poured a (big) glass of wine, and was able to fully appreciate the power in making a decision to feel good, rather than bad.

Anyway, it seems to me that if we could all just try to remember, both individually and collectively, that we have this power, and consciously use it for our greater good, then maybe we could get the world back on the right track. Barbara Marx Hubbard, founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution (www.barbaramarxhubbard.com), believes that we have arrived at a moment in our evolution when we must, as a species, take conscious control of the decisions we are making for the world, or risk destroying ourselves:

“Due to the increased power given us through science and technology, we are learning how nature works – the gene, the atom, the brain. We are affecting our own evolution by everything we do. With these new powers we can destroy our life support systems…or we can move toward a hope-filled future of immeasurable possibilities.”

We have gained so much knowledge in the last couple of centuries, from both the industrial and technological revolutions, that maybe, in our enthusiasm for all the new ‘things’ that have resulted, we’ve forgotten about the ‘things’ that really matter. Aristotle believed we should always look for the balance between too much and too little, and taught us that, “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.” Maybe it’s time for us to consciously start looking for the balance between our scientific and spiritual worlds, and find the ‘golden mean’ that will help us evolve to an even greater level of consciousness. And maybe, if we’re successful, it will help us out of this mess that we’re in, for as another great thinker, Albert Einstein, warned: “Humankind cannot solve its problems from the same place of consciousness in which we created them. A new place of consciousness is required.”

So, for me, I am going to start looking for that ‘new place of consciousness’ in my own life. It may not be that easy, because I’ve been on autopilot for a while, so having to pay attention all the time may be a little hard. But I have to believe I will find what I’m looking for a lot faster if I am in control of the decisions I have to make along the way.

WEEK 6: Tell the Truth

“Our lives improve only when we take chances…and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson

As with most of the preceding posts, the topic for this week seemed, at first, as though it would be pretty easy for me. I consider myself a fairly honest person, so I just didn’t think it would be too hard to tell the truth for a week. But what I am beginning to understand as my project goes along, is that what appears simple at first glance, becomes ever increasingly complex the more I think about it. And the more I remember my rule to push myself (Guideline #7), the harder these ‘assignments’ become. So when I decided, instead, that I would tell the truth to myself this week, rather than other people, well, the bar definitely rose a little higher, taking me right out of my comfort zone. That surprised me a little, too…why would the thought of being honest with myself make me uncomfortable? Well, maybe it’s because I just don’t often think about what I truly believe, about life, or myself. A little sad, I know, but, nonetheless, pretty true.

Another thing that worried me about all of this, is that other people may perceive these beliefs of mine as somehow wrong, or different, or even worse, foolish. So I just had to keep reminding myself that nobody’s truth is the ‘right’ truth, because we all experience life differently. And what I believe to be true about something, may just not be the same for someone else…but that is ok. I think that where we, as human beings, tend to run into trouble, is when we convince ourselves that our truth is the ‘right’ truth, rather than considering that another person’s truth could be just as ‘right’ for them. Max Born, a German physicist, said, “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil”. Well, the good news is that I definitely don’t believe my truths are the only truths, so I guess I don’t need to be nervous, or worried, that I am going to offend anyone. But still…this is very scary!

So, what truths do I have about myself? Well, I am loyal. I am a little impulsive. I am thoughtful. I am fair. I am kind of lazy. I am tolerant. I am, at times, a bit manipulative (this was a hard one to spit out!).

And what are my beliefs about life?  Well, hmmm, this is a little harder. But ok, I know I believe that we are all connected. That our souls are eternal, so death is really just a transition to a different vibration. I believe we are all here to learn lessons, both individually and collectively, so that our souls can evolve. And I truly believe, that right now, we are, as a species, being spiritually challenged to evolve to the next level.

What I found kind of interesting, as I contemplated these truths, was that the things that I believe about myself haven’t changed much over the years, while the things I believe about life have changed dramatically from when I was younger. For instance, as a child I believed that when people died, they disappeared forever into a completely black nothingness. I don’t know where I got this idea, since I know I understood about God and heaven, but I remember, distinctly, laying in bed at night and trying to imagine being nothing, forever. Needless to say, with thoughts like these, I was terrified of dying, and continued to fear it well into my adulthood. But when my father passed away, it was like a switch went off in my head, and I realized that it just couldn’t be possible that we become nothing when we die…our souls must go somewhere. And this new belief, that my dad’s soul would be waiting for me wherever it is that we go, brought me incredible comfort, and allowed me to let go of the old belief that had brought me so much pain.

I guess, in a perfect world, we would always be able to recognize when certain beliefs we have aren’t working, and consciously replace them with some that may work better. And, also in that perfect world, we would accept the idea that the truths we have for ourselves are no better, or worse, than the truths someone else might have…they might just be different. In his book, The New Revelations, A Conversation with God, Neale Donald Walsch suggests, among many other things, that the world would be so much better off if, when voicing either our individual or collective beliefs, we would begin by saying, “We are all one. Mine is not a better way, mine is merely another way.”

Just imagine a world where our first impulse, when faced with an opposing point of view, was to acknowledge that it’s really ok for that person (or country, or culture, or religion) to have that belief, instead of immediately trying to challenge it, or worse, condemn it. In our family, we call this impulse to challenge each other “the oppositional reflex,” and, unfortunately, it’s a bad habit we all share, and one that definitely creates a lot of unnecessary conflict. And since I am one of those people who really hates to argue (another truth about myself), it is a habit that I would love to see broken. I don’t know why it has to be so hard to simply agree to disagree…and to not always have to be ‘right.’ Anyway, I just have to believe that the world (and our dinner table!) would be a lot more peaceful if we would just allow each other the freedom of our own truths, and not feel threatened by their differences.

I think, in the end, what this very soul-baring week has taught me is that, in order to create my perfect world, it’s not only important that I’m honest with myself, about who I am and what I believe, but that I honor those beliefs, without dishonoring anyone else’s. I know that it won’t always be easy, but for a chance at that perfect world, it just has to be worth a try.