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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Mayan Apocalypse Blog Post

So. Bad week. End of the world feel to things, huh? The 9th grader came home yesterday looking like she needed to say something. There was a rumor going around school that someone is planning a shooting for this Friday. Apparently the chatter amongst the students was so great that teachers discussed it in class. Then the principal made an all-school announcement that these rumors have been investigated and are unsubstantiated. Understandably, she was upset. What could I say or do? I said it’s very unlikely. I said it's probably just somebody's idea of a joke. But I also said to take a look around each of her classrooms tomorrow and scope out the closets. If anything ever happens, get down and run for the closet. What else could I say? 

Anyway. Bear with me, because this is not unrelated. (Litotes -understatement for emphasis.) The other month, I came across a journal called The Intelligent Optimist. I had to buy it. Partly because I was looking for places to pitch an idea about meditation, which I still haven’t done. Partly because the title is an oxymoron. Or rather, because I was raised in the kind of atmosphere that considers an optimist a moron, which would make the title an oxymoron. I grew up under Murphy’s Law. Remember that? Anything that can go wrong, will. Something like that. Sound familiar? 

So the idea that the title is not an oxymoron is refreshing. It’s a definite step up. A moron’s a moron, and an oxymoron is a contradiction, but in this case it’s a paradox - a contradiction that may in fact be true. Therefore - insert geometic symbol for therefore, which is maybe a triangle  - no, it's three dots in the shape of a triangle, so I was close - therefore, it’s possible to be both intelligent and optimistic. 'Cuz that’s what I’ve been aiming for. And, frankly it’s been working, overall. Despite the terrible massacre in Connecticut, despite my sadness, despite my anger. 

I also bought The Intelligent Optimist because it had a cover story about persistence and success, which is, you know, up my alley, so to speak. It’s my bailiwick.

Lots of vocabulary words today.

Talk of the end of the world has a certain tang considered in light of certain events. I don’t want to write about that. Leave it at horrific. My point is that inside The Intelligent Optimist were various articles about this supposed end of the world, all amounting to this idea: that this time in history has been earmarked by various cultures or religions or traditions as a time of change. There’s an interview with a psychologist and shaman who says that Dec. 21, 2012, “means the beginning of a new era in consciousness.”  He says the Hopi described this time as “the great turning.”  Then there’s another article about a Tibetan Shambala Buddhist prophecy about “coming darkness and the summoning of the warriors.” Since this sounds a little glum – perhaps not the aim of a magazine about optimism – the author goes on to say that the warriors will “look like normal people,” but using their powers of compassion and insight, they will “go into the corridors of power to dismantle the beliefs and behaviors that are destroying life.”  She suggests that we ordinary folk may in fact be these warriors.

Compassion and insight. Yay, meditation! And psychotherapy.

But it’s not just possibly flaky fringe scholars in a possibly flaky fringe magazine reporting this transition/end of the world stuff. On one of my favorite podcasts on public radio, On Being, I heard a naturalist talking about our era being described by various cultures as both “a great turning” and “a great unraveling.” The unraveling is of our industrial culture, which is destroying the climate, but it is also creating opportunity to turn itself into a “life-enhancing” one.  On a different day, I heard a philospher whose latest book is about his idea that humans need to amplify their understanding of “being,” because he believes there is a purpose to our being and the world, and that they are related, but unless we can bring our full awareness to the scope of our brain’s potential, we won’t get it.

Awareness and brain power. Yay, meditation and science!

But it's not just possibly flaky fringe scholars on a possibly flaky radio show talking about the symbolic end of the world.  Last weekend's New York Times devoted a whole page plus to “It’s the End of the World.” There was poetry and a short introduction that said, “Predictions vary: it could mean that all mankind will undergo a spiritual transformation, or that the Earth will collide with a black hole or the planet Nibiru in which case, there’s no need to finish all that Christmas shopping.”  That statement pretty much sums up my feelings, which I will parse for you, Readers. 
  • A. The kerfluffle is kind of funny. 
  • B. There are plenty of things that make me think of doom and destruction. 
  • 3. However, there are plenty of people who are looking beneath the surface and are examining the Big Questions, and this can only be good.
What does this have to do with me? Well, I’ve occasionally wondered, as perhaps you have, too, Readers, why I am going on and on about success. Is it because I want to have a nice stock portfolio when I head into Nibiru? Or is it perhaps that I am a symptom of the more positive reading of the times?  Maybe my delving into this topic of success, which has led me into subtopics of "meaningful life" and "happiness" and "fulfillment" is itself a symptom of this turning. Maybe my blog is one tiny emblem of the movement to counterbalance the terrible things that have happened to people and of the terrible things that some people do to other people. As terrible as they are, they aren’t the sum of all that people do. People also struggle with ways to live meaningfully and to improve the world. Maybe, in my way, I am part of that?

This is reminding me of yet another episode of On Being that I listened to, this one last week.  It was an interview of a sociologist named Brene Brown, who studies vulnerability and it’s opposite, bravery.  One of the things she said was that “hope is a function of struggle. Hope is not an emotion. It’s a state of being.” I always prick up my ears when someone talks about Hope, because Hope is me, after all. Ever since I learned in Latin class that hope (exspectare) is a verb that means means waiting or expecting, I’ve had this weird cognitive dissonance about my name. We moderns define hope as optimism, when really it is what BBrown says, it’s a state of being. Optimism is looking on the bright side, but hope is always about awaiting a result. There's the possibility of a negative outcome and the hint of dread, but it's all potential. You’re in a state of pre-fulfillment. That’s perhaps a curse, but while you’re in that state, there’s opportunity.

Does this mean that I don’t despair of our culture and of our politicians? No. I often do. But I look for positive signs, and I see them. People are talking about a re-awakening, and enough of them are doing it that a mainstream newspaper mentions it. No doubt, some scary shit has happened. Now, though,  there’s talk of gun safety legislation. And there’s evidence that radical, conservative Christian Evangelicalism is on the wane as a powerful political force. Global warming is in the conversation. So there’s a lot of unraveling, and a lot of struggle, and frankly, I wish it didn’t take a massacre, a prolonged siege on human rights, and the flooding of New York City to bring out the warriors, but I think they’re coming. We’re coming. We’re here. 

So I've done my shopping. Most of it, anyway. My kids have gone off to school,  they'll go on Friday, and unless I'm totally wrong, I won't be sorry. These rumors of a shooting are probably just rumors passed by invincible-feeling teenagers. I no longer feel invincible. I think that passes by around age 25. So I've called the police just to let them know I'm another parent who wants to know if they're beefing up security. Meanwhile, I'm betting against Murphy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Twelve Twelve

It feels important to post something today. It's 12/12/12. A date that is cool, but also melancholy. It's a triple header, a three lemons in the slot machine day. Or is it a three dollar signs day? To realize I’ll never live another date like this. Anyway, any time I’m aware it’s a last for something, I get a little sad. 

Twelve twelve twelve. It was a perfectly nice day. I interviewed a perfectly nice person at the food co-op, and I bought some perfectly nice groceries. Then I took my dog to the SUNY campus center for a therapy dog event. Milo was swarmed by stressed out undergrads about to take their final exams. He performed countless high fives on command, endured more than one vigorous and all-encompassing hug, and had many, many photos taken of him - all of them flattering, of course. He is much more photogenic than I. Or than the perfectly nice gal I interviewed at the food co-op today, who kept saying she looked like she was "on something" and begged for a redo on another day. Of course I said no way, lady. Okay, no, I did not. Then I came home and discovered the 9th grader was sick enough I felt she needed to see the doctor to rule out strep. Which is a perfectly fine way to ruin a perfectly nice day. The intrusion of misfortune and illness into an otherwise pleasant day.

The photography reminded me of the 5th grader the other day. She was petting Milo and photographing him AGAIN, and I said we had more pictures of the dog than of us, and she said, off-hand, that she wanted to make sure she remembers him. I was struck by how loss was on her mind. Or, to be really upfront about it, death. He's only three-and-a-half. I wondered at her, only 10, thinking that way. But of course “only 10” is so patronizing. After all, she’s at that point where the abstract thinking and the concrete and the idea of mortality and other abstracts are cohering in her. There’s a good title. Mortality and Other Abstract Ideas. Sounds like an academic paper, doesn’t it? The point is that I think kids that age have all the structure in place, and it hasn’t yet been worn down and modified by peer pressure and relativism and tolerance. You know, put that way it doesn’t at all sound like what I’m trying to say, which is that they’ve got morals and ethics and an ethos, and of course these have all been shaped by external influences, but they somehow seem purer than what happens later. Maybe it’s just that they tend to be more absolute now, because perhaps circumstances haven’t required them to equivocate or rationalize, to embrace relativism in a way that throws into question their bedrock beliefs.

Am I just describing narrow minded extremists? Possibly. Maybe I admire narrow minded extremists for having clear beliefs. Whereas for me, I recall a time of knowing my own mind about various issues  and of believing my opinions to be correct FOR ME. Whereas later on I temporized. Experience, or observation of friends’ experiences made me question my stances. So I see girls of 10, 11, and 12  as fully formed in a purer way than say, a twenty-something, who may have more experiences and more tolerance, but also more confusion about where she stands.

Does this have any relation to mortality? I mean, Readers, we have to deal with it. I concur with those who suggest we are always dealing with it, even if, or especially if, we appear not to be. Frantic struggles for success and achievement, fear of losing control that morphs into all kinds of tics and strange behavior. At bottom fear of death. Yes. It sounds a bit trite, but I think it’s true. Just because you’re not wallowing in despair over the pointlessness of it all doesn’t mean you’re unaffected by the reality that we have to die, we have to lose things we love. Like our dog. It was a sweet moment with the 5th grader photographing Milo, and I have enjoyed 12/12/12, despite knowing I'll never live it again.

(No strep.) 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Non-Fiscal Cliff - and Career Advice

Is it okay to just say “Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” and supply audio of a voice fading as it falls off a cliff? Because that’s where I am today. Just a bit overwhelmed. I have a small amount of paid work – yay! Although the work is straightforward, learning the ins and outs of the company is not. It’s like being in the car with someone learning to drive stick shift. Remember that? Start, stall, restart, move, jerk to a halt. Restart. Get my drift?  It’s the nitty gritty details of my invoice and checking my daily report and learning Google Docs.

Whine, whine. Gimme some wine!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Parenting for Character and Success

Reading aloud to my children has been one of the perks of parenthood. It’s fun, it’s cuddly, and when the husband or I are doing it, I’m confident we’re engaged in something proven to help our kids succeed. Plus, how else can I foist my favorite titles on them and be sure they’ll read them?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks is Not Just for Thanksgiving

Gratitude is on the menu this week. Really, though, giving thanks is not just for Thanksgiving anymore. It's become common knowledge that expressing gratitude for what's good in your life is more than smarmy Pollyanna-ism. It's a skill that promotes happiness and well-being, and these states contribute greatly to feeling successful. Indeed, the idea is now so prevalent among positive psychologists, happiness gurus, and abundance theorists that I don't even need to footnote this sentence. Or the previous one.

How does practicing gratitude make you happier and more successful? Well, readers, since it transpires that happiness is a learned skillset that relies on developing a positive attitude, it makes sense that when you want to create a sense of wealth and abundance in your life, you turn outward and notice things for which you are grateful. Once you do, it’s like noticing one lime green car. Once you see one, you can’t stop seeing lime green cars. Even if you never noticed them before, now they’re much more prevalent than you thought.

With all the above in mind, I am thankful for the following nouns:

  • Heat, water, and electricity.
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry—for providing my children with many choice vocabulary words, profane and unexpected.
  • The hours between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.—for providing me with a special alert time to meet myself and discuss my most intractable problems.
  • The avatar of the twenty-five-year-old with a swinging blonde ponytail and enviable abs on the personal coach program of the Star Trac treadmill at the YMCA--she makes me work harder than I would on my own.
  • My late father-in-law—for wearing a tux with just the right amount of careless disarray.
  • Maple syrup.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When I Have Fears

When I Have Fears
By John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, 
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

I don't know why this poem struck me so much tonight. I read it to the children at dinner. Reading entire books aloud has become too difficult with everyone's schedules, but I decided we could fit in a poem a night, at dinner. The rule is to pick a poem quickly, from the Norton Anthology, even at random, and it has to be less than a page long. The 5th grader is into it. She loves to read aloud. The 9th grader endures it, sometimes with interest, despite herself. We've been at it since school started. I agree with the 5th grader. It is more fun to read aloud than to be read to; but it's good to do both.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Validation, Success, and Moi

I am feeling validated this week. Yes, I feel validated by the re-election of Barack Obama. My teeth have unclenched and I am thrilled that the 2016 campaign for president won’t ramp up into high gear for at least six months. But I am validated in a much more important way. By praise. Praise-and Proverbs.

Yes. You see, last week, we had a visitor, a twenty-something hipster with choppy hair and a skinny headband. She arrived with her kombucha tea in a large glass jar topped with a scary looking mold called a scoby, and her Maca powder for balancing hormones (“hormones are everything,”) for the express purpose of interviewing me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Today, I have a post to write, but then there’s the hurricane. I face a conundrum, if that is the right word for it. I should look that up. A conundrum is a riddle, or a puzzle, right? Yes, right. I checked. Why did I check? Why didn’t I just trust myself?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good News for Moi!

Hi there, Readers! I just wanted to mention that I am now blogging in two places at once. Why? Because I am magic.

Okay, the real reason is that Psychology Today thought my blog was pretty interesting and so now I'm blogging there and here.

Eventually, I will have a button on my blog saying something cute like "Read me on Psychology Today." Right now, however, I have a bunch of code and words and no pretty button. I am working on this, but to tell you the truth,  I don't think the problem is all on my side. I may not be Ms.Techie, but I have installed buttons before. As well as sewed actual buttons onto actual garments. So I do have some experience.

Anyhoo, I wanted to thank all my readers who are not robots or porn sites for reading, and let you know you can read me here or at Psychology Today. As ever, I will endeavor to produce a weekly post on something that relates at least tangentially to success, and always directly to, well, me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Instances of the Persistence of Resistance

In my last post, I may have showed a little, um, resistance, to Stephen Pressfield’s ideas about Resistance in his book The War of Art. While I made a pretty good case for how wrong he is in my last post, I am forced to admit that indeed, he may be right. Resistance may be just as wily and insidious as he says. Perhaps even more  pervasive than he suggests. Indeed, I find the existence of resistance and its persistence to be widespread in my life.

For example, there I was yesterday, typing on the computer, sticking to my plan, which I mentioned in my last post, my plan to write a book proposal, send it out, and then, while awaiting responses from agents, find some bread-and-butter freelance writing work in corporate communications. That was—and is, my plan. So I was following it, for a good thirty minutes or so, when I gave myself a little break—just a small one--to do important things like check my email (nothing) and Facebook (nothing) and my Twitter feed. And oh, look what we have here, a very compelling link to an article about someone who set herself on fire—No. Stop. Do not read. But then, there was another link to another article, and this one was about freelance writing, which is pertinent to my life, right? So I read it. The article was about how women tend to undervalue themselves when quoting rates to clients, particularly in the higher-earning circles of freelance writing, where people can earn hundreds of dollars an hour as freelance writers. So, important, right? Hundreds of dollars an hour would go a long way towards filling in those budget line items that keep me awake at night, the most important being my retirement fund and college funds for my children. And I thought, Hell, yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve undervalued my writing in my quotes. I’ve figured that I’m starting out, so I should start low and develop clients and then raise my rates slowly. But what am I waiting for? I thought, I am going to call my number one client/company and not only am I going to touch base with her, not only am going to tell her I’m ready for more work, I’m going to ask for a raise.

Readers, I had my hand on the phone, when I realized what was happening.  Resistance.

Remember my plan? My capital-P plan? The thing God would laugh at if God were a human-like being? The Plan involved first one thing, a creative thing, and then the next thing, a practical thing. Of course the practical thing seems like the more important thing, the thing I really ought to be doing. While the creative thing seems like an indulgence, a guilty pleasure, instead of what it really is, which is my life’s true work. So there was Resistance, just as The War of Art says it is, lurking, using any means necessary to stop me from doing the creative work.

That instant of being overcome by the sense that I had to follow up on the freelance writing now or never was a false dichotomy. Freelance strategy will wait. It will be available to me when I finish the proposal and move on to the next part of the plan. If I leap after every lead before I finish the proposal, we all know what will happen to the proposal. Resistance will toss it back like a canapƩ at a wedding and move on to something else.

Meanwhile, I returned The War of Art to the library. I tried to renew it, but someone else wanted it. Resistance is after all, a formidable enemy, and the best defense is education. Education and a good offense. I’ve been reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Before I dozed off on the couch I read something about pretending to be weak when you are strong, to outwit your opponent, which I hope applies to President Obama. 

But I digress. The ending of The War of Art got a little loosy-goosy and Jungian. Actually, I like Jung. Every time one of my children reports having a dream about flying, I note to myself that Jung would have considered this a sign of her empowerment. I hope. Anyway, Pressfield talks about how the Ego is the seat of Resistance, and the artist’s job is to “smash” the ego, through whatever means necessary, which seem to include, along with more mundane suggestions such as regular working hours with no distractions, and therapy, Vision Quests and psychotropic drugs—my ears did perk up at that—to access the vaster, less controlled Self where creativity resides.

Which is disappointingly nowhere near my Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, under the heading of resistance, let me mention that the 13-year-old turned 14, and after I encouraged her to sign up for the extra-curricular science project her Biology teacher is running, so that she can meet new people in her new school (and, yes, provide a solid entry under “community service” on the college application), she “forgot” to go to the informational meeting. This may not be the Resistance Stephen Pressfield writes about. This may be more along the lines of outward obedience-inward rebellion best adopted by a 14-year-old with completely uninvolved and not at all pressuring or overinvested parents.  Just like me. Ahem. Or, as the husband says, perhaps its not passive aggression at all, just absent mindedness. But who believes that?

Finally, in support of other forms of resistance, I got my flu shot today. Did you get yours? I hope so, if you’re sitting next to me on the flying tin can I will be forced to clamber aboard to visit my father this weekend. Because the air on those airplanes, I tell you. Sheesh. Don’t worry, though, my immunity will protect you, too, and you won’t have to worry about catching anything from me, in any case, because I’ll be wearing my protective head gear slash gas mask that I picked up when we lived in NYC and had to travel on public transportation every day. Also, I’ll be wearing Latex gloves, and will be wiping down my tray table with a Clorox cloth. Plus, I’ve requested a window seat, and even if I do have to “go,” I’ll just hold it, because you couldn’t pay me to use one of those so-called bathrooms on board.  Purely for your protection, of course. I wouldn’t want to pass on anything to you, Seatmate. Your Resistance just might be weaker than mine.

Stephen Pressfield, I surrender. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Persistence of Resistance

The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield is on a lot of Top 10 Writing Book lists (for example, this one:Brainpickings Best Books on Writing/)Its subtitle is Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.  The title is a riff on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which is a famous book I’ve never read. A lot of business folks do read it, though. It’s no doubt full of Eastern Wisdom about the nature of war, applicable to the battle for business supremacy as measured by dollars. Pressfield’s title is a catchy inversion, no? Creative folk also seek success, although perhaps on different terms, and we can use all the help we can get, especially in our business-centric society. In a nutshell, Pressfield’s idea is that resistance, or should I capitalize it, as Pressfield does, Resistance, is the Enemy when it comes to creating. According to him, creating art, or undertaking anything that moves us “from a lower sphere to a higher,” such as education, “an innovative enterprise,” or spiritual growth, forces us into pitched battle against Resistance. Resistance is what stands between “the life we live, and the unlived life within us.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One of These Days I'll Be Proactive

A family finally moved into the house across the street. The previous owner was a single guy who bought the house two years ago, planning to marry someone with kids. Those plans fell through. The result was a poorly kept yard with a statue of St. Francis that bothered me more than I like to admit, and a mostly empty house that took a long time to sell. Now, there are kids, one in 5th grade like my 5th grader, and one younger, and the parents are about my age. Knowing how miserable I felt when I moved here, I baked some blondies with the kids and brought them over to them when they moved in. Then, the first day of school, when the mom, let’s call her Lulu, cried when her children boarded the bus, I  invited her over for tea. I felt all “I did a mitzvah” for inviting her, while also thinking that I didn't want to be too friendly. Because. Uh. Because maybe being friends with the neighbor across the street is just too "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and could get awkward.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Non-Epiphany/Habit # 1 Redux

I’ve been feeling like a visitor in my house and in my life. It’s a weird passivity. The other day, I came back home from something, I forget what. The husband had been working flat out. It was Monday. I had been away, where was I? I can’t remember. I was tired from traveling. I looked in the fridge and in the cabinets for something to eat and saw there wasn’t anything easy. Just staples, staples requiring some sort of preparation and chopping and there weren’t any onions or garlic. I just felt like lying around reading and I found myself thinking, I wish someone would get us some groceries. Partially, this wish expressed annoyance that the husband hadn’t done it, because usually he goes to the grocery store on the weekend and I go to the food coop during the week. However, like I said, he’d been working that weekend as well as driving the children to their various activities. I was aware of this, so not really annoyed at him. What it really was, was me feeling like Somebody was going to come along and do this annoying stuff for me, so I could get to the real stuff, like lying around reading and resting.

I need a lot of rest, apparently.

I was standing in my kitchen, and I had one of those moments of clarity. I won’t call it an epiphany because I’m not James Joyce, and also, it wasn’t an epiphany. It was just one of those moments when you see something clearly, as if your mind is wearing smudged glasses and you realize they’re smudged so you clean them and put them back on and everything is clearer.

I thought, Ohhhh, Somebody is me. I’m the one who has to do it. So I went to the grocery store.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Practice Perspective--Practice Perspective

Today is Yom Kippur. I went to services last night, because I’m a High Holidays Jew, which means I go to the synagogue twice a year, at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which in case you are wondering, are the most important Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, which, in case you're wondering, in the Hebrew calender, is 5773 this year. Rosh Hashanah kicks off ten Days of Awe that wrap up with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Also, in case you’re wondering, Jewish holidays start the evening before they appear on the regular calendar. Something to do with Genesis saying, “It was evening and it was morning,” in the description of the creation of the earth, not "It was morning and it was evening." On Yom Kippur you’re supposed to fast from the time you go to services in the evening until sundown the next day. You’re supposed to spend that whole day in services, and then have a large meal and possibly a party, called the break fast.

Only I started this blog post at 10 a.m., and I’d already eaten some piecrust. And I don’t even like pie, really, except for strawberry rubarb. In general, I feel that sweet calories that don’t contain chocolate are a waste. And I’m in my pajamas, not at temple. So that’s the kind of Jew I am. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Successful Transvestite

Stephen Burt, Green Acres Alumnus

Here’s something I can’t get out of my head. It's a news item about motivational speaker/success guru/ positive-thinking proponent Tony Robbins. You've probably heard of him. As part of one of his motivational retreats he took people fire-walking. Fire-walking involves burning coals and bare feet. It is one of those extreme sports formerly undertaken only by shamans and other wise men. Now it’s an activity undertaken by anyone who pays Tony Robbins. Seventeen of the participants on the retreat ended up in the hospital with severe burns. I suppose the fire walking was the grand finale, meant to show them how much confidence they’d gained—see, I can walk on fire, Ma!  So, oops.

I am sorry to say that I did laugh when I read this little news item. Why am I telling you this? Not just because I have a compulsion to confess my foibles to everyone, even to strangers, probably in some twisted unconscious attempt to fend off any criticisms that I might think at all well of myself, and thus be asking for a sledgehammer from on high to crush me, but also because. Well, I just don’t know.

I learned something about fire-walking, however. It is that the fire from coals isn’t as hot as the fire from other burning things, so learning to walk across them is in fact possible for anyone. You just have to do it really fast. Obviously, psyching yourself up to do it is part of the message Tony Robbins teaches. You have to build up courage and self-confidence. But you also have to know the trick. 

‘Course sometimes you still get burned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Dough Followed the Bread!

The first full week of school finds me a little calmer than last week. The refrigerator is here—or most of it. There’s just a toe plate missing, but hey, did you expect the whole thing to arrive at once? I didn’t. The thing works, and the produce is now in the humidity-controlled produce bins and not crammed amongst the milk bottles. The 9th grader has found people with whom to eat lunch, and one of them is even named “Silken,” so that’s good. The 5th grader has exchanged gifts with her “boyfriend,” so that’s good. (?) And I’ve triumphed over bureaucracy, too. The transportation people listened to my suggestion about the bus route and are implementing it, starting tomorrow.  Yay, me!  I’ve only had one unnecessary visit to the doctor, who very gently told me that armpit pain and fatigue don’t fit the rubric for West Nile Virus as much as for, uh, muscular pain brought on by too many Sun Salutations, and fatigue because of, possibly, too little vitamin D or sleep, or just because of life.  So, you know, overall, things are better. Although who can be sure it’s not something worse than West Nile Virus? I mean, besides the doctor? No one, I tell you. No one. But I’m fine, readers, really.

And then there was the baker I interviewed for the food co-op newsletter. An Amazon of a woman, mother of three, who is piloting the new bread program at the co-op. She works four nights a week from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. or something insane, then goes home and sees her children off to school, and tries to sleep.  When I interviewed her, she’d been up all night, but she was so enthusiastic about her bread and all the beautiful details she puts into it, and how she studies the customers’ buying patterns to determine what sells and how she lovingly arranges her loaves in a display with accompanying greens, that she practically blew me off my chair. So I asked her how she was managing the scheduling, and she said that becoming a baker was a recent career choice, and that before she’d had kids, she’d worked in healthcare and started nursing school, and now that her kids are in middle school and high school she felt like she could look at her professional life again. She decided that even though nursing would be a more practical choice, she was going to go for what she loved to do. And then, as if she were a living testimonial ripped from the pages of Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, she said that after she went to culinary school, she spent several months figuring out how to get a job as a baker. One day she came to the co-op and just decided, on a whim, to ask if they needed one. It turned out they'd just decided to start the bread program, so she had a job. Then, on top of that, she said that because she was doing what she loved to do, the hard parts, like working nights, and like feeling like getting three whole hours of sleep in one twenty-four hour period was “wow,” things were going to fall into place. 

"When you do what you love," she said (with no prompting from me), "things shift." You work with a "different purpose," and the inconveniences are not problems. "I know in future everything will fall into place," she said. 

As I listened to her rapid-fire speech and considered her shiny, bright-eyed, sleep-deprived face, the thought--drugs-- did occur to me. But that was uncharitable. This dame was powered by pure satisfaction.  Could I have asked for a more serendipitous interview? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do Wha....We Need to Do

"Any talent we are born with eventually surfaces as a need." --Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.

I'm a day late for my weekly post. A day late, and a dollar short. At least a dollar, but more on that below.

Anyway, I apologize. If you're not bothered, readers, I apologize to myself, because, after all, I am trying to increase my self-control by small steps, and sticking to my blog schedule is part of my routine. Also, increasing self-control increases the ability to reach goals, and well, you all know that's part of my underlying concern in this exploration of the flip side of failure.

I've had a hard time focusing on this week's blog post because it's back to school week. Also, the refrigerator has become untenable. The produce freezes in the produce bins, and if I turn down the temperature, the milk spoils. I've been storing the jars of things and various grains in the produce bins, so there are a half a dozen different slowly wilting greens crammed onto the other shelves and wedged between the milk and the oj. It had to stop. Naturally, because we bought a fancy house, with a once-top-of-the-line kitchen, whose appliances are now crapping out--to use the scientific term--the refrigerator, which is fifteen years old, is a built-in. "Built-in" is a euphemism for "twice as expensive to replace" as a regular fridge. So it goes. Everything we have in our kitchen is a built-in. This is our penance for refreshing our eyes on our fancy house after years of Manhattan rentals with roach-repellent-gel-stained walls. And undersized refrigerators. We had to replace the fridge this weekend. It took a fair amount of psychic energy (that is a fancy way of describing hyperventilating over the prices of built-in refrigerators) and time and money to purchase a replacement.

Then school began. For the 5th grader, it was an easy start. For the 9th grader, however, it's been a different story. We've switched her from her tiny private school to our town's public high school, for PC Various reasons,* money among them, but also to broaden her opportunities and social life. And so we can afford to replace the semi-broken appliances before they are totally broken. We've been cooking on three burners since we moved in, and I mean that literally as well as metaphorically.

So that transition to high school has been rough. Day two, today, was better than day one, and that is about all we can hope for in this life. (Reference to Eloise, by Kay Thompson.)

Meanwhile, I've been digging into Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar, which is so Eighties you wouldn't believe it. Words like "synergy" appear. There is much talk of Jung. Jung was big in the Eighties. Especially his idea about our shadow selves, the darker sides of our personalities. As in, even the most optimistic among us have moments of despair, and that causes us shame, which we cover up with even more optimism. But don't get me started on Jung....

The most Eighties aspect of the book is the role of self-esteem. Self-esteem is the bedrock upon which our right livelihood must be founded. Clever readers, you noticed "right livelihood" as a Buddhist term, didn't you? And so does Marsha Marsha Marsha, the author of Do Wha.  She refers to Zen master Shunryu Suzuki's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. I have that somewhere in my fancy house. I bought it in the Eighties.

But I digress. I'm allowed. Self-acceptance is part of the platform, according to Marsha Marsha Marsha. Accept all aspects of yourself, even the shadow parts. You can do this quietly. You don't have to stand at the window and shout out, "I'm neurotic, I'm anxious, and I have low self-esteem, but that's OKAY." You can stand in the corner and whisper it to yourself. Then you can begin to Do Wha.

So that quote at the top of this post really caught my eye. I mean, I started out loving reading, writing, and drawing, and after many years of training, believed they were false roads to success. Well, don't you know that the minute I let myself do these things again, the better I felt.

Since I've got a need to soul search, as well as to write, I felt kind of vindicated by that sentence. Also, after listening to Michelle Obama circle back to her children being the center of her life in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, I am reading it with my own two daughters in mind. I'm taking note of the things they love now--dancing and writing and figuring things out for the 9th grader, reading and drawing and writing for the 5th grader. That way, if they spend several soul crushing years conforming to the way they think they "should" be, and forget them, I will, hopefully, remember that sentence above and remind them, and trust they'll find livelihoods that encompass those talents and needs and not waste a lot of time, like I did.

*"PC Various" is a shout-out to any Harvard librarians or library assistants who might be reading this blog. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Doing What I Want, but Where is the Money?

This week, I was supposed to go to Boston for a job training, but it was cancelled. Saved me six hours round trip in the car, but it bummed me out. I was all packed, checked my email one last time, and there was the message. "Client's needs changed," whatever. Yadda yadda. Lucky I checked.

Everything happens for a reason, passed through my brain.

Um, yeah.

I thought it was funny that phrase passed through my brain, since I'm not one of your crunchy-airy-believing-in-signs kind of people, much as I would like to be. Yes, really, I would. Life seems so much more thrilling, or at least meaningful, to people who believe that way.

I observed the phrase flitting through my mind--result of lots of mindfulness meditation practice, ability to notice these passing thoughts with dispassion. I also observed the retort that followed along right after. Yeah, everything happens for a reason, but it just so happens that the reason has nothing to do with you.

Then I recalled the 3 queries I recently sent to agents for a project and the 3 rejections that came sailing back to me, practically instantaneously. After that, I lay down for two days and read Broken Harbor by Tana French. I also decided the husband was annoying, I am fat, and the world is grey.

Today I'd had enough wallowing. I ran. I showered. I opened up Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar.  Heard of that book? That old chestnut? I've been joking about that title for years. Decades, even."I'm doing what I love, but if the money's following, it's sure a long way behind"...and so on. It was published in 1987, just when I decided not to go to law school and to work for a phone sex company instead.  Excellent decision.

I opened at random to a section about three aspects to the "the money will follow" part of the title: letting go; waiting; and inner wealth.  The specific part I put my finger on was this: "in the critical months and years of 'waiting' for the money to follow, the person who ventures into the loved, not-yet-successful work area faces the risk that not only will the money be delayed, but also that he will feel he has experienced a failure.... This is, in the final analysis, a very personal judgement call, and no book can give the formula for when to stay or quit."

Aw, hell.  Why not? That's why I'm reading this book. I want the freakin' formula.

Sinetar continues on the next page, "We must become good readers of our own situation."

Isn't that just like every single self-help book you've ever read? They fob off the really hard work, usually the problem that has brought you to buy this book, by telling you it's up to you to figure out the nubbin at the core of the situation. I mean, if I could read my situation well, lady, I wouldn't need your book.

So I ask you, readers, how do I read my situation? The potential job fell through, which is perhaps a sign that I ought to commit myself to my creative pursuits more confidently and thoroughly. However, I am three for three with those agent queries, which suggests that I ought to conduct a much more thorough job search than I've done so far, and leave my creative pursuits behind.

Perhaps it's time to pull out the I Ching....Or can someone just give me the name of a decent psychic?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Angst is Okay, Thank Golly Gosh

Recently, at a party, I was introduced to someone with, "This is Hope. And her angst."
Ok. I admit it. Life as I see it isn't always a smooth flowing stream on a gorgeous, cloudless, blue-sky day, and I'm not always lolling in a gigantic rubber innertube, flowing along with it, dipping my hands in the water and glorying in the sun.

Of course I am not. After all, being short, I have trouble reaching the water when I am in a giant innertube. And lolling with my face towards the sun involves a strong layer of protection, preferably Anthelios--the kind imported from France, with the ingredients they haven't yet approved by the FDA but approved in Europe a decade ago, not the kind you can buy at CVS--as well as sunglasses.
Quite often, I feel I'm barely hanging on to the ropes on a whitewater rafting trip I don't remember having signed up for, hoping my contact lenses don't get washed away if I fall overboard, and too white-knuckled to double, or triple check, that my lifejacket is properly strapped.

But here's the good news, readers. And it comes from more than one source, so you can believe it when I tell you, you don't have to be all optimistic and positive thinking to succeed. Despite what many experts tell you about always thinking positive and building up your self-confidence and so on, there are situations where optimism and self-confidence aren't the be-all and end all.

For example, I have right here beside me an article from the Harvard Business Review Blog titled "Less-Confident People are More Successful."  The title reflects the content, which simply adds reasons why. Do you want to know? Do you need to know? Don't you believe Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic who wrote it? No? Okay, well, I will summarize the piece.  Less self-confident people (1) listen to and apply negative feedback to make changes and strengthen weak spots better than highly confident people, (2) can be motivated to work harder, and (3) don't come across as arrogant, deluded mouthpieces, so people want to work with them.

Furthermore, according to my latest touchstone, Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, too much optimism can derail you in attempting to reach your goals IF you have the kind of goals I mentioned in my recent post--prevention goals. She says, "Optimism can lead to costly mistakes--not thinking though all the possible consequences of your actions, failing to adequately prepare, taking unnecessary risks."

That's right, there are loopholes to the Merry Sunshine Fueled by Optimism Theory of Success. Thank God. Because right now, I'm feeling a little blue about my prospects. I've submitted a couple of queries to a couple of agents, and the agents have said, No thanks. Does this mean I will never succeed? Sometimes the Think Positive mantra can turn into a kind of self-blame. Like, Geez, I failed. It must have been because I didn't say enough positive affirmations. And then you feel bad about failing at positive thinking, too. This kind of magical thinking prevents you from examining what you might need to improve, like your query letter, or the types of agents you approach, and keeps you muttering strange sentences under your breath instead. Then people start crossing the street when they see you coming, and it's all downhill from there. So c'mon, let yer inner pessimist out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Core Values
Have you noticed that these days it’s all about having a strong core? Core strength is the catchall, must-have, source of all good things for the Two Thousand Tweens. Like stress-induced illness was considered to be in the 1990s, lack of core strength is at the root of all of our problems, according to every article on health and fitness I read. Sure, Pilates devotees have known about this for years. And Martha Graham might’ve had a thing or two to say about core strength. But now, in the popular culture, it’s core, core, core everyday.

Just the other week, upon the recommendation of my running friend Jane, I breezed through Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer, to get some pointers on running form. They  boil down to these three: assume correct posture, tighten your abdominals, and lean forward when you run. Three different ways of saying, engage your core. Because when you stand correctly, you engage your abs; when you tighten them, you are by definition doing the same; and when you try to lean forward when you run, you are forced to engage your core. Try it. Just try standing up straight with good posture and then leaning forward with your feet flat on the floor, bending only at your ankles. Your core must engage.

All this core focus lends itself nicely to sports-life analogies about how to be truly successful in sports or life, you need a strong one. Stephen Covey would agree. As would Montaigne. As would I. And as would, you guessed it, my faithful readers, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, who weighs in on the subject of core values in chapter 5 of Succeed: Goals Can Make You Happy.  She talks about different kinds of goals, and says, “Not all goals will bring you lasting happiness and well-being, even if you are successful in reaching them. The ones that will are those that satisfy your basic human needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. “ (p. 121)

Basic human needs. Principle-centered life. Strong abs. Core values.

Let me tell you, you need a strong core to stomach the other book I read recently on my vacation, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. This is a book about how girls bully other girls. Simmons's thesis is that, despite being a "post feminist" society, we still expect girls to be nice. What this means is that when girls feel anger, they have no direct ways to express it. Unlike boys, whose aggression is tolerated, girls don't feel free to express theirs. So they go underground to express it, all under the guise of niceness. Adults in their lives often, therefore, miss it. Also, because their aggression is subtle and under the radar, they can deny it exists. Their weapons are rumor-mongering, ignoring, excluding, turning others against the girl they've identified as a problem, and generally isolating her.

The book is full of stories of girl hating girl. Since I was hated on when I was a girl, and since I have two daughters, the book called out to me. Actually, it was a mom friend on Facebook who called out to me a few weeks ago, after I posted that the 10 year-old's best friend had said to her, after discovering they'd both been invited to another girl's birthday party, "I'm surprised you were invited to K's party. I didn't know you were friends." My 10-year-old explained that she and K had been on the same soccer team, that K had been to her party, and that they'd been in the same class in 3rd grade. Her friend then said, "Well, that doesn't seem like enough." After that post, this mom friend messaged me that she and some other moms were reading Odd Girl Out together, so I checked it out of the library. You know, for  light beach reading. 

After my second sleepless night, the husband forbade me to read it before bed. 

"But I have to finish it," I said. "There has to be a section about how to handle the bad stuff. They can't just write these awful stories." 

"Yes, you have to finish it," he said. "You have to find out what to do to stop it. Just not before bed."

So what does this have to do with my ten year old asking her friend how she ranks on her list of favorite friends? I know, you’re cringing. I cringed, too, when she told me she did this. What does a strong core have to do with the 10-year-old’s best friend ranking her at #2? This friend who calls all the time. This friend who never wants the playdates to end. This friend ranked my 10-year-old at #2. And what does the 10-year-old say to this? Was she upset by this?


No? She shrugged and said, #2 is not bad.

People, I ask you.  

Some time ago I posted the following list on the refrigerator.

I got it from NPR. Some expert, whose name I missed because I tuned into the program late, was talking about essentials of good character. I don't attend any religious services of any kind, except the Jewish High Holidays, so I tend to worry whether my children are acquiring solid morals. I figured taping this to the fridge was just as good as regular Shabbat services. And much less expensive than Hebrew school. Last time I checked, NPR was still free. I am happy to report that the younger daughter (the 10-year-old), who was probably 8 at the time, ran through the list and found herself in possession of each and every item on it.

Job done. Good morals. Good core. Will withstand any girl on girl bullying, will not participate in any, nor be a guilty bystander.

I have done a good job. Success. 

People, I ask you.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Once More With Feeling: Growth v. Fixed Mindsets

It's the Olympics, in case you missed the memo. 'Tis the season of goal setting, of winning, of losing, and of TV-packaged success and failure stories with lessons for us all. Here's a lesson I can't resist  ramming down our collective throat, readers: a growth mindset is a better tool for success than a fixed mindset. Call it growth or incremental, call it having "getting better" goals, whatever you want, it's just a better choice.

Compare these photos:

The exuberant reactions of Wells and Harper to winning silver and bronze medals in the 100 meter hurdle race last night stand in stark contrast to the sour pusses of Mustafina and Komova, who won Silver and Bronze in the all-around gymnastics contest last week.

Last night, listening to Harper and Wells talk to the microphone after their race, it struck me. They were excited, they were happy with their performances, they were pleased with their second and third places and grateful they'd had the opportunity to participate. They each talked about how, aside from the medal, they'd reached their personal goals in their race times. In fact, they almost seemed more happy to have met their personal time goals than to have won medals. So if they'd come in fourth and fifth, but met those personal, incremental goals, they'd have been satisfied. Not thrilled, of course, but not devastated. They were certainly not devastated not to win gold. I turned to the husband, who was eating cookies, and said, "That is the growth mindset at work." He ignored me, so I repeated myself, because I am willing to work and work to achieve my goals, one of them being his attention, from time to time.

Meanwhile, interspersed with the running and the commercials was women's gymnastics on the balance beam. Komova was pacing around looking miserable and anxious before her turn, and the announcer told us that she'd been dissatisfied with her bronze in the all-around competition, and that she'd said she just knew she "had a gold" inside, and nothing was going to satisfy her but that gold. Then she went up on the beam and wobbled and messed up, and came down, looking more miserable than ever. Fixed mindset. Entity mindset. Be good mindset. It's the all-or-nothing attitude, the idea that unless a particular goal is reached, you are worthless and a failure. It's the mindset that makes you look like a sore loser  while holding a bronze medal. At the Olympics.  It's the mindset that, if you perform at less than perfect, will nag you until you choke.

Are we clear on this? Okay, then let's move on.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vacation: Promotion or Prevention

beach-undisclosed location
I am on vacation this week. At the beach. Which does not mean, at all, by any account, that my home is standing empty. Although it did mean that my neighbor contacted me to let me know that our garage door was open. Gaping open, to be exact, while I was several hundred miles away. Which does not mean, at all, by any account, that my house was empty AND wide open. So let's get that straight, in case any of my scores of readers think it's a sitting duck.

Phew. It's good to go on vacation. Vacation is where you can relax. Which does not mean, at all, by any means, that I do relax on vacation. But I can try.

One of the things I did on my vacation yesterday afternoon was stare at the backs of the husband and the 13-year-old and the 10-year-old as they were bobbing up and down in a rather choppy ocean, diving through wave after wave after wave, as the water roiled around them. I was holding a novel on my lap, but I was not reading it. It was, in fact, digging into my stomach, as I leaned forward, trying to will the husband to decide enough was enough, the water was rough, and it was time to return to shore.

This was not relaxing, even though it qualifies as "on vacation."

However, it was instructive, readers, and I will pass on my knowledge to you. While I was attempting telepathically to get the husband to make this decision, I was also thinking about Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. Yes, I know. Crazy, right? I was multitasking. What I was thinking about was her discussion of promotion goals and prevention goals. Promotion goals have to do with--no surprise here, if you know your Latin--goals that move you forward, goals that push boundaries. Prevention goals are about staying within parameters, or in other words, about avoiding bad outcomes. Such as your child's breaking her neck in a bad tumble in a rough sea. Such as your child being scarred for life by being swept away by a rip tide and having to be rescued by a lifeguard. Or your child not being rescued.

As I sat, the edge of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is an excellent book, by the way, jammed into my belly, I saw with great clarity that I tend towards prevention goals.

The good news here is that that is okay. The good news is that it can be just fine to be prevention-minded. The world needs people like me, with prevention goals dominant. We're the pragmatic types who figure out what can go wrong and remember to bring umbrellas and mad money. But the really great news is that it's okay to be a worrywort, especially if you work, say, in a nuclear power plant and are in charge of safety checklists and such. Which I do not, but nevermind.

It's also true that the world needs promotion-goal oriented people, too. In this case, that was the husband, who was allowing the 13 yo and the 10 yo to experience a lot of fun in the wild and dangerous sea. And the world needs promotion-goal oriented people to give the prevention-goal oriented folks something to work on, too. Which was why I eventually caught the husband's eye and gave a big time-out signal, and felt just fine about it.  He, of course, said he'd been just about to say it was time to get out of the water when I gestured. Nevertheless, I felt my near apoplexy had been justified.

Then I had a few moments to relax, so I returned to reading my book. It's by Margot Livesey, and is an updated Jane Eyre. The main character, Gemma, is both enamoured and wary of the sea. Overall, her goals are promotion-oriented. Otherwise, there'd be no story, readers. Otherwise, there'd be no story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Self-Control Can Be Contagious

Frog knows about self-control
Here's a  topic about which I know almost nothing from personal experience: self-control.

A short story, readers, if I may. Once upon a 1970s school fair, there was a young girl in a potato sack race. This young girl hopped her way towards the finish line in her burlap sack. She was feeling pretty good. She was feeling all right. She was doing fine. Until other hoppers started passing her. Until all the other hoppers had hopped on by. The little girl was near the finish line, but everyone else had crossed it. What did she do? Did she double-down and hop her way over the line to show her grit? Did she think to herself, "I am of the growth mindset and even though I won't win this race, I will do my very best anyway, so that I can improve my time?" Or did she quit?

Readers, she quat.

Look, I already admitted I know almost nothing about self-control. Also known as Willpower. Or Strength of Character.

Which is why I'm turning you over to the experts. Frog and Toad, for one. Or two. As Frog tells Toad in "Cookies," a chapter in Frog and Toad Together (Newberry Honor, by Arnold Lobel, published 1971,) regarding a batch of same, "Will power is trying hard not to do something you really want to do." Like trying not to eat the cookies.

Personally, I think the flip side of Frog's definition is also true. Willpower is also trying hard to do something you really don't want, or are afraid, to do-- but don't take it from me. I am too busy eating chocolate-covered almonds to think it through thoroughly.

Luckily, others have. Around about the time Frog was speaking, maybe a few years earlier, a psychologist at Stanford named Walter Mischel did an experiment with kids and marshmallows. You've probably heard about this. He took 4-year-olds one at a time into a small room, and sat them at a table. Then he gave them a marshmallow. He told them they could eat that marshmallow, BUT that if they waited until he came back, they could have TWO marshmallows to eat. Then he left the room and watched them behind a two way mirror.  This is a clip of the experiment, but it's a little hard to tell if it's the original participants, or participants in a repeat experiment. When did color film make it to psych labs? Anyone?

So do you want the good news or the bad news?

The bad news is, if you were one of those kids who ate the marshmallow before Mischel returned, you were doomed. That's right. Mischel followed up on these subjects later in life and discovered that the ones who had enough willpower or self-control to wait for that second marshmallow tended to reap the metaphorical second marshmallows throughout life. They were more successful, in other words, than the poor cuties who gave in to temptation. Those kids, I am sorry to say, were much more likely to use drugs and do poorly in school, and basically lump along, than the ones who delayed their gratification.

Mischel's studies of the marshmallow effect have yielded a whole field of research on self-control. Also known as willpower. Or Strength of Character. What they've proven, over and over and over again is, according to Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, is that self-control is a better predictor of success than academic achievement or IQ tests.

So was that the bad news or the good news? Depends on how you feel about marshmallows. Or, in my case, about chocolate covered almonds. (Not good news.)

Here's some definite good news. Self-control is like a muscle. Like a muscle, it gets weak from underuse, it can fatigue from overuse, but you can work it and build it and bulk it up with practice.

So, how can you build your self-control? There are, thank goodness, many ways to build it up. Today I'm focusing on one. Or one-ish.

Remember goal contagion? Triggers? Things to get you motivated? Goal contagion works to develop willpower, too. Apparently, just watching someone do something you'd like to do can get you going. That's why motivational posters and photos of people or things that remind you of your goals can truly help motivate you. People picking up habits you want to pick up can also inspire you.

Another short story.  A few weeks ago, a full-grown woman with a penchant for chocolate-covered almonds and an expanding waist that I know, visited her friend at her friend's bucolic vacation spot in the mountains. Her friend, a woman with outstanding self-control, who doesn't even eat chocolate, had begun a running regime. This woman, I mean, talk about willpower. I mean, not only did she hold out for that second marshmallow at four, she held out for quadruple-or nothing when the psychologist came back into the room. Life has been upward ever since.

The almond-eater had been sporadically adding a bit of jogging to her workout for months with no real progress. Are you surprised? I am not. Lack of willpower. Also known as Strength of Character. However, the almond-eater did have the goal of running, no matter how pitiful her attempts might have been, to date. So when she got to the bucolic mountain retreat, her friend, let's call her Jane, urged her to run with her. The almond-eater--alright, it's me, for God's sake--I-- resisted at first. Fear. Jane had been running for a while now, and I had not. There were mountains. It was hot. I declined, and so my first day, Jane set off for her run without me. She persisted, however. The next day, when Jane urged me to join, I agreed. Feeling dubious, I set out on the mountainous route Jane chose. And do you know what? While it is true that Jane had to maintain a continuous conversational patter to distract me, and to literally take me by the wrist and urge me on at a couple of key hills, I, the almond-eater, did indeed succeed in running more than fifty yards at a time. The next day we went out again, and I ran further. And the next day.

Since then, I, the almond-eater, have continued to run, much longer than I've run since I developed shin splints in college. So that the other day, when I went out to run, I set myself the goal of running all the way to a particular fence, and instead of stopping short of the fence, as I have been wont to do since the burlap potato sack race days, I did. (Yes, that was me, the quitter in the burlap sack.) Now, running has become a habit (maybe), and when I hit a rough spot, I picture my running friend Jane just a couple of steps ahead of me, taking my wrist, and urging me on.

Goal contagion in action. And the reason why I say I know *almost* nothing about willpower, also known as self-control. Inch by inch, etc.

The End.