Refocus 04/27/2011
 
"An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities."
-quote from yesterday's cup of Yogi Tea

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Usually, I am a huge fan when the world seems to send just the right word at the right time. But I must admit that I snarled a bit, and maybe even rolled my eyes when I read the inspirational quip on the paper tag attached to the tea bag for the blueberry green tea I was about to enjoy.

"An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities."

"I know...I know..." I murmured.

What I'm learning during this whole 180 process is that it's not enough to be thankful for the moments when I'm flooded with more story assignments than I can juggle, when I receive a comment on the blog, when I sell a Re.Told Journal, when someone signs up for a workshop. Oh, I definitely celebrate those moments. But the true test in this journey comes in finding the silver lining in the journey's more frustrating moments.

While venting about some of these frustrations to a colleague recently, she proposed the following challenge:

"What if you told yourself it wasn't going to happen? Give up. You will never be a writer. You will never sell enough journals. You will never fill your workshops. What if you just walked away?"

What? Here, I'd called her for a telephonic pep rally, and she was telling me to give up? Was she serious?

She encouraged me to just try that thought on for size. Sit in it for awhile. Notice how it made me feel. Does it make me raging mad and hellbent to not see the dream die? Or does it offer a little bit of relief by eliminating some of the pressure I've knowingly and unknowingly placed on myself? I'm still sitting in it. And truthfully, it feels like an itchy sweater that's too snug. And ugly. A very scratchy, snug, ugly sweater.

It's Wishcasting Wednesday over at Jamie Ridler Studios. Before I launch into this week's wish, I have to give props to Jamie and her day of wishes, because right now as I dance with the chaos of my life's current state it is a constant that keeps me showing up to share my thoughts on Project 180. (I promise, you'll soon see more consistent postings here, both related to and independent of Wishcasting Wednesdays.)

Today's prompt asks, "What do you wish to focus on?"

I never thought I'd say it here on Project 180, but here it goes...

Today I wish to focus on anything BUT my creative projects. That's right. I'm taking on my colleague's challenge. This doesn't mean I won't acknowledge or work on the projects. It simply means I'm freeing myself to go with the flow, to stop and listen to the world and to myself in order to see which of my many projects naturally draw me in. During this time, which projects feel like play and leave me wanting more? During this time, which projects remain in the wings untouched because they simply don't speak to me as loudly? It's my hope that removing the laser beam focus from specific circumstances will help me gain a clearer perspective on the bigger picture.

Live Creatively!

Sara


Your One Step:

Have you ever noticed that when you hold a book really close to your face, you can no longer read the entire sentence? All you can see is a word or two, words that have no real meaning when isolated from its larger context. Sometimes when our focus becomes too narrow we can miss the bigger picture.

So this week I challenge you to let off the trigger of your laser beam focus on a particular area. Take note of how it makes you feel. How does it affect your attitude? Your energy? Your day to day habits?

Trust me, I realize this can be very scary, especially if you tend to be a bit of a planner and control freak like myself. But just try it. Even if it's just for one day or one hour of the day. This week, stop squinting in an effort to gain greater focus. Instead, open your eyes wide. You just might see something you hadn't let yourself see before.


 
 
“The splendid discontent of God with chaos made the world; And from the discontent of man, the world's best progress springs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down...” or so the lyrics go. Although today would’ve been more appropriately described as “Snowy mid-April days and Mondays always get me down...” I realize I live in Wisconsin where forecasting the weather resembles a game of roulette, but after yesterday’s mild temperatures, crisp blue sky and full sun, awakening to a gray skies and a few inches of heavy, slushy snow made me want to climb back under the covers and try again tomorrow.

I stumbled sleepily toward the coffee maker. As I poured myself a mug of rich, black Sweet Nectar of Life, I realized it wasn’t the weather that had caused my emotional funk. No, this overwhelming frustration caused by an internal battle between chaos and calmness has been fighting itself out for quite some time now. I’m just beginning to feel the bumps, bruises and wounds from the brawl.

“You’re doing too much,” is a common warning from my husband who, sadly, gets a front row seat to my mini melt-downs (which have been happening more and more frequently these past few weeks, I’m saddened to say).

And just this past Friday, a childhood friend looked at me and said, “You can’t do it all and expect to do it all well. Something is going to suffer.”

I may not admit it to their faces, and I may counter what they say with a thousand and one reasons why I need to be doing it all...but deep down I know they’re right. My upbringing was very black and white. This right. This is wrong.

From a young age I was taught the message that I was not a quitter. And for the most part it’s a principle that’s served me well—especially in the middle of a marathon when every muscle fiber and joint is pleading with me to stop.

But I’m learning that the concept of “quitting,” like so many other concepts, is surrounded by shades of gray. There is quitting, but there is also acknowledging when something—be it a job, a relationship, your city of residence, your hobby, your faith—no longer fits the way it used to or no longer fulfills the need it once did. Here, in this place that feels a little but like wearing a pair of footie pajamas that are a size too snug, is actually a blessed place filled with choices. You aren’t stuck with option A) quit and bail or option B) stay and be miserable. Here in the gray, you have a rainbow of options.

A great tool for exploring your options when you’re feeling stuck is a dream board. I created the one pictured here as part of Jamie Ridler Studios’ dream board telecircle. At first glance, I wasn’t very happy with my board, and considered starting over. It was too busy...too messy...to chaotic. The bright, vivid background inscribed with the lyrics of Garrison Starr’s “Hey Girl” seemed to clash with the simplistic, calming images and words I’d pasted on top. Oh, but hang on a second! A closer look revealed that the dichotomy illustrated on the page so beautifully captured the tumultuous scramble between where I’m headed and where I’m at. So I left it. And I have to say, my board has grown on me. I especially like the image of the woman in the white tank top, her arms up in the air as if to surrender her need to force things to happen and instead let things naturally fall into place. (I think she is really doing a yoga pose, which is fine by me because increased mindfulness is a top priority for me this month.)

The board has inspired me to carve out time for a mind-mapping session in my journal. I need a clearer picture of what ideas/commitments should be my top priorities and what actions they require; which ideas/commitments need to be placed on the shelf for a bit (shelving ideas is a huge struggle for me, a topic I’ll dig into on this blog very soon); and which ideas/commitments no longer fit or won’t deliver the greatest, lasting benefit for the investment of my time they require.

I’m learning there is contentment in the chaos...if we only sit long enough to let it emerge.


Your One Step:

Break out the scissors and glue and get comfy with a big stack of old magazines! It’s time to make your very own dream board.

Feel free to devote an entire afternoon to its creation as I did for mine, or make a mini version you can complete in about 30 minutes. Put it in a page in your journal or on the ever-so-handy (and portable) large index cards. Another fun way to create a “dream board to-go” is to use one of those acrylic photo key chains. You know, the kind where you insert your own photo?

To do this, cut an index card down to size. Select one or two smaller, powerful images or phrases and glue them to the board. After the glue has dried, insert the board into the frame of the keychain. Viola! Instant portable inspiration.


 
 
"People are like stained-glass windows.
They sparkle and shine when the sun is out,
but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed
only if there is light from within."
-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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Remember the Seinfeld episode where the character George wants a nickname? But George doesn't just want any nickname. He wants to be called "T-Bone." In the end, he's stuck with KoKo, named after the signing gorilla.

I wasn't a huge Seinfeld follower, but I do remember this episode, probably because I could relate to George's desire for a nickname. And like George, a name like Sara doesn't provide too many creative options. Oh, sure there's the shortened "Sar" or occasional "Sar-Bear," but as I child I longed for a second name—an alter ego—that set me apart. Something that identified me as being "special." (I suppose this is why I’ve always preferred to go by my full name, Sara Rae.) On several occasions as a child, I tried to give myself a nickname. But, like George's experience, the names never stuck. Nicknames, I've come to realize, aren't something you find, but rather, find you.

But there was one nickname, given to me in high school by a friend, that I’ve always sort of liked. "Sparkles." Ok—so I think this guy liked me and the name was a way to flirt with me. And, if I’m brutally honest, I did sort of have a crush on him, too. But it was a situation where our timing was always off, and to take the relationship any further would've risked ruining a really great friendship. So in a way, this special name was enough to set me apart, to make me feel special. But more than that, I liked the reason behind the nickname. When I finally asked him "Why Sparkles?" he replied, "Because you do. You're always up to something. You're always on the tip of some new idea. You've just got that sparkle in your eye."

This friend saw something in me that I wasn't able to see for myself back then. I can't recall ever feeling all that “sparkly” back then. Stil, he saw it. And the nickname, "Sparkles" has always carried a very tender, special meaning for me not because it was from this person, per se, but because it captured all that I already was but couldn't see for myself.

It's Wednesday, which means it's also Wishcasting Wednesday over at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today’s wishing prompt is ever so appropriately "How do you wish to sparkle?"

To draw inspiration from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' quote above, I wish to sparkle from within.

I wish to sparkle from a secure sense of inner beauty.

I wish to sparkle not because others say I do but because I feel and see that sparkle for myself.

I wish to sparkle no matter the circumstance, but especially during life’s darkest moments. After all, isn’t it on the darkest nights that the stars shine the brightest?

Your One Step

The upstairs hallway in my parents’ house is lined with framed photos of my sisters and me on our first birthdays. Below each photo is a plaque engraved with our name and the meaning associated with it. You’ve probably seen such name plaques at craft fairs.

But what if you could name yourself? And what if that name didn’t have to be something “conventional,” but wildly original and descriptive of your creative spirit? I wonder, what would you call yourself?

Well, happy creative birthday! Today you get to name yourself, and create a name plaque to go with your new creative identity.

Choose a name—a word perhaps—and write it on a plaque. The plaque could be a piece of poster board, a paper plate, a scrap of wood…whatever you have nearby. Below your new name, write the meaning of it. Feel free to use the dictionary meaning of the word you chose, or make up your own definition. Perhaps you’d prefer to accompany your new name with a mission statement instead of a description. Be creative! Be daring! Be YOU!

 
 
“This is the true joy in life:
being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself
to making you happy.” 
-George Bernard Shaw

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When you’re in the trenches of seeing a dream through from a teeny sparkle in your heart to your great big reality, it’s easy to slip into...do I dare say it?...a state of selfishness.

I don’t think it’s done deliberately. In fact, most creatives are the exact opposite of “selfish.” We’re givers (sometimes to a fault). We’re fixers. We live by a deep-seeded belief that we have something inside of us that must be shared with the world.

Still, we can become so driven to see our dream through and so focused on the to-do lists attached to that dream that other priorities can unnoticeably slip into the backseat of our lives. Our mantra becomes “I must do this,” “I can do this,” “I will do this.” And then, when things don’t work out quite right, when we become frustrated, angry even, we mistakenly conclude that we aren’t working hard enough, when really those feelings are a gentle nudge telling us some other aspect of our life has swung out of balance.

This was the case for me just yesterday. I was feeling energized. Hopeful even. I’d submitted my resume for another potential freelance opportunity and a book idea struck like lightning earlier in the afternoon. Yes, the gears had kicked it up a notch; I felt as though I was clipping along toward my new reality a little faster than before.

Once home, I plopped myself down on the living room floor and started working out some of the details for the book idea. My husband was in the adjacent kitchen at the computer.

“Honey, what did we budget for household items this month?” he asked.

I answered.

“And what about restaurants and entertainment?” he asked.

I answered again, this time just a wee bit irritated at the break in my concentration.

“Do you know what our cell phone bill will be next month?” he asked.

“No, because we don’t have the bill.” I replied…this time fully irritated.

He started to say something else, but I rudely cut him off.
 
“I really don’t want to talk finances right now,” I snapped. “Can’t you see I’m trying to make use of what little time I have this evening so I can actually make some progress on my goals.”

Ouch. I heard the selfishness in my voice before the sentence was completely out of my mouth. I, I, I. My, my, my. It was all about me. My husband works full-time, too, and yet he was choosing to use this time he had at home to go through our monthly budget—something I’d been asking him to do with me for the past couple of weeks. Ok, so his timing wasn’t the best, but he was still choosing to put “us” before himself.

My dream to fulfill my purpose as a writer and artist started out as something for “us.” After all, a happier partner (me) leads to a happier marriage, doesn’t it? And with a non-conventional job there would be more flexibility and freedom in our life to do all the other things we’ve talked about doing: thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, move to and experience new places, raise bees and try our hand at making and selling natural, hand-crafted soaps, write books, make art…live life simply and happily.

It appeared that the stress, fatigue and frustration that go hand-in-hand with the joy, excitement and fulfillment of working on a dream had the upper hand in this moment.

This isn’t all about me, I reminded myself. This is what living life as my authentic, creative self and using my gifts can bring to others, be it my marriage, my husband, my family, my friends, the world.

Today, the Wishcasting Wednesday prompt over at Jamie Ridler Studios touches on this idea of micro versus macro. The self versus others.

“What do you wish for the world?”

The question takes the focus off the ego, and instead asks us to look for a deeper, further-reaching component to our dream and creative aspirations.

What do I wish for the world? My reflex response would be peace, followed by love and all with a healthy dose of understanding. And while I do wish for all those things, I think they come under a bigger wish: a wish for us all to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

If we all took a moment to shift our perspective and see a situation from another person’s vantage point, we might begin to cultivate greater awareness of others’ needs. We might be able to recognize our common ground before our differences. We might be able to see the beauty and depth in differing opinions, and stop saying someone else is wrong just because we think we’re right.

To cheaply borrow from John Lennon, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.


Your One Step:

Today, take a break from your dream. That’s right, you heard me. Put down the pen, close the laptop, cap that tube of paint.

Today, I want you to use some of the time you’d normally give to your dream, and use it to bring some light and love to someone else. Don’t worry. You can still bring creativity into it.

Write a letter—a real, honest-to-goodness, tangible, written-on-paper letter—to a loved one you don’t see very often and decorate the paper with doodles, color and embellishments. Bake a special dessert for your sweetie. Invite a friend for a cappuccino or a latte, and draw designs in the milky foam using a toothpick.

Shift your viewpoint and look for the ways your creative sparkle can light up someone else’s world.

 
 
“Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea,
never regains its original dimensions.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

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How is the start to your week going? I hope this Monday finds you feeling rejuvenated, inspired and ready to embrace the week like a fresh, blank page in a new journal.

Anyone who knows me personally knows Mondays can be a challenge for me. I love the weekends and the extra time it gives me to work on my dream. But on this particular Monday, I’m feeling pretty hopeful. And I give full credit to Project 180 and the steps it’s motivating me to take.

On Friday, I sent a query letter for a travel story idea. Now I’m playing the waiting game, anticipating the publication’s response. And while that’s exciting (and a bit scary), what really has me feeling charged about this particular pitch is the fact that I was able to take an old idea, a travel story I wrote last year, and turn it into a brand new idea for this different publication.

The concept of taking something old and making it new again isn’t a novel concept for me. I love the challenge and creativity in finding new uses for old things. I do it all the time with Re•Told Journals, my line of vintage book journals and other shabby-chic, upcycled creations. But this marked the first time I took that concept and applied it to my writing projects. I’ve read dozens of articles about writers who take a previously published piece of work, dust it off, tweak it here, redirect the angle a bit there and—viola! A brand-spankin’ new story emerges that can now be published elsewhere.

Ah…the beauty of recycling.

Even without knowing whether this particular publication will be interested in the story idea I pitched, sticking my toe in the water of repurposing past projects has inspired me to go through my files and see what else I can resurrect. My miner's hat is on and my pick axe is in my hand—I'm all set to see what new ideas I can uncover.


Your One Step:

My college journalism professor would tell students new story ideas lie in the common thread that links two completely unrelated ideas. So how about you? Can you find the shared link between two unrelated ideas or forms of creativity to make something new?

If you’re a writer, is there a fresh angle to a story you’ve written? If writing fiction, this might mean playing with the point of view. If writing non-fiction, feature writing for example, can you give it a new slant? Can you find a way to link a story about yoga to a parenting magazine, or a story about social media to a publication about genealogy?

Not a writer? If you’re an artist, is there a way to breathe new life into an old painting? Can you create subsequent paintings to make it part of a series. Or, can you find a new use for a certain medium or tool?

If you knit or crochet, can you turn a scarf into a shawl or a stuffed toy?

This week I challenge you to look at one piece of writing, art or material and ask yourself, what else can I do?

I’d love to see what you come up with, so please feel free to share in the comments to this post or post a link to your blog.

 
 
"Happiness is not a matter of intensity
but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
-Thomas Merton


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When I got the assignment to write a story about life balance, I couldn't help but think someone definitely had a sense of humor. Me? The girl who flies by the seat of her pants, the girl who's had a reputation for burning the candle at both ends since the fifth grade, the girl who wishes her body didn’t require sleep so she could use those few hours for something a little more productive...this is who you want to write a story on life balance? **Pause.** **Think.**  **Nod.** Well, OK then. Let's get writing!

My favorite aspect about freelance feature writing is that I'm always learning something new. I was fairly certain I'd  be doing my fair share of learning with this assignment.

With each life coach, psychologist, holistic health professional and yoga instructor I interviewed, I realized all of them could be talking about me when they described they're typical client.

I've been so busy "doing" these first 20-some days of Project 180 that I've started to lose my sense of "being." I'm tending to my many projects like a series of spinning plates that are on the verge of toppling over and shattering everywhere. Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, frustration and panic has settled over me. I want to get back into my workout routine, but that takes away from time that could be spent writing or creating journals. I want to ease into the day with prayer and meditation, but I didn't get around to packing lunches the night before. I want to get into work on time (without "bending" the speed limit the entire way), but—oh!—just 15 more minutes of sleep, puh-lease!

I knew bringing my dream into reality was going to require work. But this—head pounding, chest tight, stomach queasy, nerves on edge—WOW! I'm beginning to question if I'm really cut out for this whole crazily creative, entrepreneurial path I embarked on. I mean, I'm only 22 days in. I could still turn around.

Then I remembered something one of my story sources, a wellness coach, had said.

"If you want to get yourself to where you want to be, you have to look at the mind, body and spirit together."

Where was my mind? Disorganized chaos. A nonstop flow of thoughts. Negative.

Where was my body? Tired. Not exercising. On overdrive.

Where was my spirit? On hold. Weary. Starving.

Yep, a classic picture of imbalance if there ever was one.

So I whipped out my handy index cards—seven of them to be exact—and at the top of them wrote the days of the week, Monday through Friday, leaving Saturday and Sunday flexible and open for relaxation and creative serendipity. I scheduled out the weekdays. I immediately blocked off 7-8 hours of sleep (body), 9-1/2 hours for my day job and commute time, and two hours for the basics (getting ready in the morning, making dinner and daily basic housekeeping.) That left me with 4-1/2 hours to foster a greater sense of balance while dreaming up some creative magic.

It didn't seem like much time at first, but oh what a little creativity can do. Take a look,..

Learn the Meaning of Enough:
Dedicate the day to two projects, and two projects only. Dedicate an hour to each and realize this is enough (the rest will still be there tomorrow). For me, it works best to use the first hour in the morning before work. Going into work knowing you've already invested in your dream makes any day job more bearable. The other hour is placed in the evening. And just like that, I've put in two whole beautiful hours devoted completely to my dream.

Call It By Name:
Assigning those two hours a specific focus keeps my mind from wandering to the other items waiting in the wings on my "to do" list. I've even heard of creative magic makers who take this step as far as giving each day a catchy name, like Marketing Mondays or Writing Wednesdays to really drive home that idea of focus. Others will write down that hour’s focus on a Post-It note or index card and keep it in sight while working…just in case thoughts begin to drift. Do whatever works for you...just stick to the task at hand.

Just Be:
If we're always "doing" we burn out. After all, there is a reason we're called human beings. We need to take time to just be, to feel our bodies, to move, to explore the world around us. That's why one hour of my day is now dedicated to something enjoyable, calming and soothing. Reading is something I love to do, but as a writer definitely do not read enough. Now that I've barred myself from purchasing any more books until I read the ones already lining my bookshelves or serving as make-shift living room furniture, I figured it's time to start reading. So half an hour a day is dedicated to reading. (I'm starting with The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.) The other half hour is spent catching up with my favorite blogs, checking in with friends on Facebook or watching a television show or playing a game of Scrabble with my husband.

Make Every Moment Count:
I spend over an hour every day commuting to work, which made me think, "What can I do with that hour to make it work for me?" So I loaded my ipod with spiritual and inspirational podcasts for the drive to work (feeding the spirit), and creativity podcasts and other "educational" programs for the drive home (feeding the mind). And during that half-hour lunch I get each day at noon, I head out to my car, journal in hand and spend 30 blissful minutes moving the pen across the page (feeding the spirit and mind)

Get Up and Move:
When you add up the time, I'm still left with two full hours—ample time to take a spin class, crank out a long run followed by some strength training, develop my fairly new yoga practice and still have time to drive home from the gym, shower up and get on with the rest of my day. Exercise makes me feel alive, strong and confident, which is why I know I need to make it a priority in my life.


Mind, body and spirit. Work, rest, play. When these areas are moving together in synchronicity that’s when we begin to feel alive. That’s when we can settle into our creative groove and let the magic happen.

But it takes practice. It takes some trial and error. It takes a little self-love and self-acceptance when you do fall of track. But did a few bumps and bruises keep you from learning to ride your bike as a child? Nah! In fact, I wear my skinned up and scarred knees as a sign of courage—proof that I am willing to fall down and get back up however many times it takes.

Live Creatively!
Sara


Your One Step:

My creative cohort, friend and life coach Jeanette Stevenson uses the most beautiful illustration in her workshops for living life in balance. She asks someone from the group to demonstrate the yoga tree pose. As the person stands on one foot with the sole of the other foot placed against the inner thigh of the supporting leg, she asks the group to look closely.

What we notice are the teeny, tiny, mini micromovements the person is making to maintain their balance and grace.

Maintaining balance in life or a creative endeavor, she says, is much the same way. To create a life of balance we must be able—and willing—to make small adjustments as needed. To move this and shift that in order to make sure the mind, body and spirit are all getting adequate nourishment.

What micromovements can you make today?

Can you get up just five minutes earlier to meditate on a favorite quote, positive affirmation or verse of Scripture?

Can you take a night off from checking Facebook and call a friend instead?

Can you let the dishes sit in the sink while you play a game with your child or spouse?

Can you turn off the television to read, write a few pages in your journal or work on a piece of art?

Sometimes it’s the tiniest shift in our movement that creates the greatest ripple effect.


 
Setting Limits 03/02/2011
 

“Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have—so spend it wisely.”
-Kay Lyons


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Time is a funny thing isn’t it? So often we complain we don’t have enough of it…but last I checked the world’s clock hasn’t changed. There are, and always have been, 24 hours in a day. (Unless, of course, you observe Daylight Savings where you lose an hour one day a year in the spring and gain an hour one day a year in the fall, but we won’t go into that here.)

So why is it that some people seem to accomplish so much in their day…their week…their year? I think it has something to do with the saying, “time is money.”

Think about it…in order to save money for the things you want, be it a vacation, a house, a rainy day fund, you have to create a budget. You have to set limits on your spending in order to make your money work for you.

I think our time is much the same way. The more I observe the people who are making their 24 hours work for them, I am not only astounded by the amount of work they crank out but intrigued by how they do it. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are able to do it because they assign their time a set value. And once assigned a value, they budget that income to make the most of it. Just as we choose what will—and will not—be bought with our money, this group of magic-makers sets limits on what will—and will not—receive their time.

Over at Jamie Ridler Studios today’s Wishcasting Wednesdays prompt asks, “What limits do you wish to set?”

I think you know what I’m going to say.

I wish to set limits on my time.

I wish to assign my time a value, to treat it like money, a limited resource, to spend only on the things that will give me the greatest value.

For me, that means mapping out a visual cue for how I want to prioritize and spend my time. On of the first things promising reporters learn in journalism 101 is a concept called “the inverted pyramid.” It’s visual tool used by journalists and other writers to illustrate the placement of the most important information first within a text, followed by the second most important information and so on.

If I were to follow the inverted pyramid format to budget my time, my spiritual and emotional well-being would be placed at the top. This would mean my top priority of the day would be spending time praying, meditating, reading and journaling—the activities that feed my soul and help me gain a clearer perspective on my day.

The second and third tier would be dedicated to “family time” and “physical health,” respectively.

The third tier goes to my writing. Some might question why I didn’t make this my top priority. My reason is that in order to have something to give to my writing and art I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself on a spiritual, emotional and physical level first. If I go into my writing running on empty, my writing will be empty as well.

The fourth tier is shared by the “must-do’s” (the day job, household chores, and the basic responsibilities of living a grown-up life) and the “like to-do’s” (lunch with friends, going to the movies, hiking in the woods, etc.)

The fifth, final and smallest tier goes to the time-wasters—those “check-out” activities that provide the brain with a break, but don’t offer much more in the sense of a return on my investment. Into this category goes time spent on social media, surfing the Internet, watching television, unnecessary shopping trips and the like.

If time is money, how will you spend it?

Your One Step


Is it time you put yourself on a time spending budget, too?

If so, try keeping a spending log of how you spend your time over the next three days. It doesn’t have to go into great detail. Just write down the activity and the time you spent doing the activity. If you’d like to take this exercise one step further, consider jotting a quick note about how you felt after you did the activity. Did those 30 minutes on Facebook leave you feeling connected and fulfilled or did you feel guilty that you didn’t use them to go for that run you promised yourself earlier in the day?

After doing this exercise for a few days, you’ll have a pretty good picture of where you spend your time. Now is the time to be honest with yourself. Is your activity log an accurate representation of your values and goals? If it doesn’t match up, try creating an inverted pyramid of your time. (I drew mine on a blank notecard so I could carry it with me in my wallet.)

Refer to your inverted pyramid as a gentle reminder whenever you get the urge to spend those precious minutes on an activity that won’t give you much in return. You might be surprised at how the savings add up.
 
 
"The so-called 'secrets of success' will not work unless you do."
-Anonymous


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"Do what you can do, and God will do what you cannot do."

Have you ever read or heard something that cut you to your core? That sucker punched you when you least expected it? This quote from a well-known speaker and preacher got me. Hard.

For months I’d been griping and complaining about my day job. How it robbed me of my time, my energy and, worst of all, my creative drive. I whined nonstop to anyone who would listen (or pretend to listen) how all I really wanted to do was write.

There was one teeny, tiny problem. I wasn’t writing. At all.

This quote—these 13 little words when strung together—brought me face to face with what I’d been trying to avoid for months now. The work. The old fashioned, roll-up-the-sleeves-it’s-time-to-get dirty work that any goal worth achieving requires.

Don't misunderstand me. I strongly believe our thoughts and the law of attraction do play a role in our success. I had vision boards and dream boards decorating my desk at work, adorning my refrigerator. There were Post-It notes with quotes and inspiring messages plastered all over my bathroom mirror, car dashboard and computer monitor. But I also believe visioning is just one part of the equation. To gain anything of real, lasting value, you have to pair that burning, inner desire with a healthy dose of sweat equity.

Wishing could only do so much. I’d already wished my circumstances were different. I’d already wished I were living the writer's life. I’d already wished I had something with my name on it lining bookstore shelves. I’d already wished my way into the byline of all my favorite magazines. I’d already wished I were working from the cozy comfort of my own home. I'd already wished I had the freedom to work my job around my life, not the other way around.

But all that wishing with no writing was like sitting in a car wishing I’d get to my destination without putting gas into the tank. Whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I didn't spend them writing or seeking out story leads. I didn’t spend them researching publishers or crafting query letters. So how on earth could I realistically expect to see my first children's book in bookstores if the story was still in my head? How could I expect to quit my day job to write full-time when I wasn’t even writing part-time? Something had to change, and it wasn't the images on my latest dream board.

I had to make the decision that my writing would be given the same priority I gave my running while I was training for a marathon. Any coach will tell you that visualization is an important aspect to athletic success. The more an athlete visualizes herself running strong, pulling ahead of the pack and crossing the finish line in personal record time, the more likely it is to happen. But the athlete must also train her body. She must make the time and the commitment to run the miles.

As a runner, accomplishing my marathon goals was important to me. But was it more important than my life’s purpose? One evening, I asked my husband about this.

“Why is it that I was able to make the time to train for and complete five marathons—something most people won't do even once in their lifetime—but I can’t seem to get myself to give that same level of dedication and sacrifice to my writing?”

He simply replied, “I guess it all depends on how much you want it.”

Touche.

How much did I want this? How important was my writing to me really? Wasn't it something I wanted not just for recreation and creative escape, but also for my profession, my purpose?

Both the thought of it being that important and not being that important to me made me feel cold, clammy and sick.

Was it fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of sacrifice? Fear of what might be?

The only way to find out was to start doing something. Anything. Write a sentence. A paragraph. A page. Just get the pen moving. Make the time. Step out in faith. Do my part, then sit back and let the supernatural do what I cannot.


Your One Step

What project or goal have you been putting off?  The next time you notice a long-time goal just sitting on the shelf collecting dust, take 10 minutes to journal about the following questions:

Is this something I really want?

This can be the scariest question to ask because it involves a great amount of transparency and vulnerability with yourself. Still, be brave and be honest. There's no use in pursuing something—or feeling guilty about not pursuing something--if it doesn't light you up.

Are there too many things demanding my attention making it difficult to accomplish things of real value?

In today's society, we wear our jam-packed agendas like badges of honor. But why? For whom? What obligations are currently on your calendar that, if eliminated, could free up just a couple of hours for you to pursue your dream? List all the obligations that fall under that category, then compare the benefits you receive from each to the value of your goal. Then pick one obligation, take it off your schedule and make room for your dream.

Am I afraid of the outcome? If so, why?

List all your fears associated with accomplishing this goal. Then examine what you wrote and ask yourself if those fears are valid or simply stories your inner gremlins made up about you in order to hold you back from the creatively fabulous life you were meant to live.


It's time to get real with ourselves. It's time to face our fears and reclaim our gorgeous, sparkly creative right. Don't worry. You don't have to claim it all at once. Just take a step, and watch the magic unfold.
 
Do Something. 02/19/2011
 
Day 3:

Today's "one step" was one I'd been putting off for a long time. I mean a LONG time! So today I sat myself down and finally wrote the manuscript to a sweet little picture board book I penned during a lunch break a while back. The rough draft, complete with critique comments from a writers' group I belonged to last year, was still folded and neatly tucked between the pages of my idea notebook.

Seeing it still untouched brought a pang of guilt, like I'd been sucker-punched in the gut. That story had become the proverbial elephant in the room...or in this case, in my notebook. I'd put it off and put it off again, each time with a new excuse. "I ran out of time." "I'm not sure it's ready." "I don't know how to format a manuscript." "I'm not sure what to do with the manuscript after I write it." I had one excuse for every fleeting moment of motivation.

While sorting through a box of school day memories, I came across a picture book I'd written and illustrated for a class project. Across the title page my teacher had written, "You should consider writing and publishing children's book someday."

Someday.

There's that word again.

And it hit me that the distance between right now and "someday" is something. That's it--do SOMETHING! Make it a baby step. Make it a leap. Just do something that inches you closer to the goal. You don't have to do it all at once. Today, I didn't sit down with the mindset that I was going to write, finesse and send in my manuscript. No, I broke it down into smaller, less intimidating steps. Today I wrote the manuscript. Another day (probably tomorrow), I'll tweak it and edit it and whip it into shape. And on another day, I'll research potential publishers. And on yet another day after that, I'll finally place it in an envelope and send it on its way with a wish and prayer.

But until then, I'm content knowing I've done my something for my someday.



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Your One Step...

What's your someday? What do you envision yourself doing? Accomplishing?

Sometimes the beauty of the end goal can leave us feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed by possibility.

Here's where you take a deep breath, get out your trusty journal and ask yourself these three questions:

1) WHY do you want to achieve this goal? What benefits will you receive?

2) Now close your eyes and VISUALIZE the way the end result makes you feel. Do you feel energized? Fulfilled? Content? Peaceful? Relaxed? While the idea of the process of getting to the desired destination can result in a few holy-crap-what-am-I-doing moments, picturing yourself in the destination should cultivate nothing but positive feelings and thoughts. As my high school cross-country coach would tell the team before a big race, "The body believes what the mind perceives." Routinely picture yourself working on your art, writing a book or traveling to Italy and the body will eventually have no other choice but to follow the mind.

3) If your goal becomes the "elephant in the room," remember the proverb about how to go about eating an elephant. One. Bite. At. A. Time. Break down your goal into manageable, bite-size piecesby BRAINSTORMING and jotting down everything you can think of that will propel you forward. Then pick one of the items on your list and commit to it for that week.

"There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still."
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Live Creatively!
Sara

 
See the Dream 02/18/2011
 
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you imagined."
- Henry David Thoreau


Each month, I get together with a lovely group of creative magic makers and enthusiastic dreamers to create full moon dream boards. It’s part of Jamie Ridler Studios “A Year of Dreams” telecircle. (Side note: if you love to dream, collage or simply want to fill your life with more intention, these workshops are a fabulous place to grow!)

If you’re not familiar with dream boards (or vision boards as I’ve also heard them called), they’re an artistic approach to “writing” out your goals and aspirations. By combining visual images and words that represent what you want more of in your life, you learn to shift your focus onto those goals. Think of it as a tool that summarizes the proverb, “Where the mind goes, the human follows.”

After making my first dream board last month, I didn’t think it was possible to make another one that I would like nearly as much, that provided me with so much joy and journaling inspiration.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I’m learning is that the goal of my dream board isn’t to get me from “here” to “there” in a month’s time, but to slowly, gradually, gently wake me up to my dream. Each month is a piece to the puzzle that reveals a new step toward my destination.

So what am I learning from this month’s dream board?

So far I’m learning that not only is it ok, but it’s necessary for me to blend my “personal” life (left side of my dream board) with my “purpose/career” life (the right side of my dream board). I fought this idea at first, ignoring the images and words I found in magazines that spoke to home and relationships. But then I remembered my purpose behind Project 180: to design a life that blends my purpose and personal life in a way that results in a existence immersed in creativity, writing and exploration.

Is there a way to make a living doing that? That’s the question I’m exploring now. I think so, but I feel it’s going to take some scaling back and a long, hard review of necessity vs. want. (hmmm…I’m seeing signs of simplicity in my dream board, too).


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Your One Step:

Over the weekend, why not try creating a dream board of your own...You may be surprised by the discoveries you make by this time next month.

• Find a piece of poster board, a blank page in your art journal…even a piece of cardboard will do (and you’ll score extra points in my book for being eco-savvy!) ;)

• Round up a stack of old magazines, a pair of scissors and a glue stick. Those are the basic supplies, but feel free to bring along some markers, crayons, stickers and even photographs, too.

• Cut out images and words that speak to a certain goal you have in mind, or let intuition be your guide.

• Once you have your images and words cut out, arrange them on the surface in the way you want them to appear, then glue them to the surface.

• Display your dream board in a location where you will see it daily (mine is in my bathroom so I’m sure to see it first thing in the morning as I get ready for the day, and the last thing at night as I get ready for bed.

I’d love to know how this exercise goes for you! Feel free to leave a comment (or question) about your experience. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from creating dream boards in a group setting like that provided by “A Year of Dreams” telecircle and other workshops I’ve taken, strength lies in numbers.


Live Creatively!
Sara