Doing something difficult

By Caitlin Kelly

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Time to explore!

It might be emotional — coming out to your family or while transitioning at work.

Or standing up, finally, to a bully or withdrawing from a toxic narcissist.

Or learning how to discuss a tough topic with someone you love.

Or struggling to reach rapprochement after estrangement.

Or visiting a friend who is dying and attending their funeral, making sure their survivors have the support they’ll need afterward.

It might be political –– switching allegiance after decades, maybe generations, of voting for one party and one set of principles.

Or door-knocking and phone-banking to try to get every possible voter to the polls for this crucial election.

Or choosing not to vote at all.

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It might be physical — going through chemo, trying to lose (a lot of) weight, trying to stick consistently to a healthy eating and exercise plan.

Trying a new-to-you sport, maybe with a buddy.

Maybe committing to a daily/weekly routine.

Or getting the eye exam/dental checkup/skin check/colonoscopy/mammogram/physical you know you need and keep putting off because…ugh.

(Since late May, I’ve been carefully eating much less 2 days/week, [750 calories] plus consistently exercising. Fun? Not so much. But loving the results!)

It might be financial — living on a very strict budget to finally kill off your credit card debt or student loans or a mortgage.

Or asking for a raise or arguing intelligently for your value as a freelancer in a tight-fisted market.

Or really carefully reviewing your savings and investments, if you have some, to make sure your hard-earned money is working as hard as you are.

It might mean taking on an extra job, or two, to accumulate some emergency savings.

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It might be spiritual — leaving a faith community that no longer feels (as) welcoming, looking for another one.

Or maybe another faith entirely.

Or none.

Maybe it’s trying a silent retreat or daily meditation.

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She didn’t win, because her goat behaved badly. But she learned how to compete.

It might be intellectual — choosing to try a new way of working or thinking or reading/listening/watching that challenges you. that pushes your brain in another direction.

Maybe you’ll finally try to learn a new language, or a new skill or teach or tutor someone else.

 

Whatever the decision, it means making a choice. Shedding a prior behavior or set of habits, which only gets more and more challenging the older we get and more attached to those behaviors as the best (or most familiar) way through the world.

We’re blessed beyond measure if any of these choices are indeed choices, not sudden and unexpected terrors we have to face, let alone broke and alone.

Whichever new/scary direction you choose — as we all must if we’re to have a hope of significant growth in our lifetimes (and over and over!) — you may sit on the edge of that metaphorical cliff and think….nope! Nope! NOPE!

Pack a parachute! (Cupcakes? Liquor? A stuffed animal? A supportive friend?)

I hate the phrase “comfort zone” as if its limits were clearly demarcated and immutable.

How about “Here be dragons”, the phrase that once marked ancient maps of the world, indicating places that were unknown or unexplored?

HBD, kids, HBD.

Which habits are you trying to break?

By Caitlin Kelly

Sunset in Donegal -- at 10:15 pm
Sunset in Donegal — at 10:15 pm

One of the best things about taking vacation — and the longer, the better — is shedding some bad habits (ideally!) while savoring the pleasures and challenges of a new or different environment.

So much easier to do when I’m not triggered by the same old patterns into the same tired behaviors.

For example:

I’ve been working alone at home in an apartment in the suburbs of New York for nine years. It’s lonely!

Hence a growing reliance upon social media for interaction that doesn’t require me to get dressed, get into a car, drive somewhere and….enjoy my life.

It’s become, as they say, thin gruel.

It’s too easy, too time-consuming and, most of all, increasingly frustrating because it doesn’t, at least for me, deepen intimacy, which is one of my joys in life.

Habits do make life easier; we don’t have to stop and think through why we’re making a specific decision. We just do it.

It was a great break for a week in Ireland to rent a cottage with no wifi or cellphone access. I didn’t miss it a bit! Badly burned by a huge data-usage bill from social media use when in Canada, I left my phone at home in New York this time. Jose dropped and broke his.

Instead we read, slept, took photos, drew, went for walks, talked at length to one another. Connected, with friends and with nature and with ourselves.

When we did have access to wifi by going to a nearby pub, we limited it to an hour or so a day to catch up on email, (some of it for work as we’re both freelance), and social media.

But it provoked some self-reflection on my part to realize how much time I’ve been wasting on “connecting” with others through social media, not face to face.

In fact, social media offers an easy way to procrastinate. It does almost nothing for my income. It rarely makes me much happier.

One habit I intend to keep -- a daily pot of tea
One habit I intend to keep — a daily pot of tea

The question?

What new and healthier habit can I — must I — now create to replace it?

Another habitual behavior of mine, is a default position of feeling anxious. It’s wearying and no fun and it’s been a habit of thought for decades. It comes from a very real place — when you work freelance, your income is precarious!

But it’s also exhausting.

As one wise friend says, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

My media habits need a shake-up as well, so I recently signed up (yes, on Twitter) to follow a French magazine and a Spanish newspaper, both to find story ideas and to expand my worldview far beyond the terribly limited one offered by American media.

On vacation, between jet lag and different light, we were up both much later and much earlier than usual — the summer sky was full light by 4:30 a.m. and remained light until 11:30. I took some of my best photos, walking barefoot on gravel in my nightgown, at 6:00 a.m., catching the light on dew in thick spiderwebs, a sight I never see at home because I never get up that early.

And yet I saw one just like it the other day on our front lawn. Why not start getting up early here?

Habit.

I need to broaden my horizons at home, not only when traveling.

Like…when I have a free day, I’d normally stick at home or head into Manhattan.

Habit.

Last night I behaved as though I were still on vacation — i.e. adventurous enough to try something I’d never done at home before. (Why is that?)

I went to our commuter train station and bought a ticket heading north an hour to a renowned concert venue to hear Cherish The Ladies, a terrific all-female band playing traditional Irish music.

It required a taxi to and from the station and a change of trains — would any of that be possible at 11:00 after the show? Fingers crossed!

Instead, I said hello to the pianist we’d met in Dungloe in a pub; she dedicated a song to me from the stage and mentioned my town and a dancer with them drove me home — as he turned out to be a next door neighbor.

Talk about positive reinforcement for breaking a habit!

Loved this recent story about a young Vancouver woman, and blogger, who declared a ban on shopping for a year — and lived well on 51 percent of her income. She’s eloquent and inspiring on how much of her shopping was habitual and, in some ways, mindless.

Now it’s gotten to a weird place where I feel not only uncomfortable spending money but I had to go into a mall to buy a baby present in a mall recently, and I felt almost sick in there because I was surrounded by ads. I felt overstimulated from being inside the mall. I don’t like the energy in there.

I felt this way in the Dublin airport when we were leaving to return to New York, surrounded by shops selling liquor and cosmetics and clothing and electronics….too much stuff! Overwhelmed, and grateful for the things I already own, I bought nothing — maybe a pre-flight first for me.

I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls -- so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret...
I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

Being mindful about what we do, how often and why takes some serious reflection.

It can be painful, and some of our habits, of thought and behavior, can be deeply rooted in emotions we don’t especially want to face or change.

Do you read Seth Godin’s blog? Loved this one:

Stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.

Do you have a habit, or several, you’re also trying to break or shed?

The Joy Of Failure — Learning To See Is Tougher Than It Looks

A stainless steel tea infuser.
Prettier than this one...Image via Wikipedia

I only have one more drawing class before this four-week session ends. This morning the teacher set up a still life so utterly daunting I sat there paralyzed while I tried — like some medieval warrior staring up at a very large castle — to figure out my point of entry.

It doesn’t sound like much: a 1940s floral print linen tablecloth, and on it a pale yellow Fiestaware teapot, a red tea tin, a dark blue mug with a spoon on top and a sterling tea-ball. Perspective! Scale! Color! All those highlights (reflections) on the glossy surfaces of the pot and mug and spoon.

The exercise was to work in primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Easy, right? Not when the yellow ceramic is soft, pale shade — and my pencils are all strong colors. I managed to get the teapot and the mug done in two hours, when the teacher finally came by to take a look.

The great thing with drawing is it’s immediately obvious when it’s lousy. The problem is — how to fix it. The pot was too small, the mug too large. There was no fixing it.

I started again. Do-over!

This time I focused only on the teapot and spent 60 minutes just on it. It was certainly recognizable as a teapot. It was just lopsided.

As the teacher helped me figure out how to do it better next time, she packed away the items, including the tea-strainer that I’d just spent three hours looking at — focused on it only as something I had to capture and portray realistically, as a problem to solve.

I hadn’t even noticed that this tiny elegant object was itself in the form of a teapot, sort of a sterling silver fractal.

“Sometimes you have to step away to see things clearly,” she said. Indeed.

The pleasure of my drawing class is that, for three hours out of my week, I get to make a big fat mess in my sketchbooks as I (re)-learn how to see and how to translate what I see into something that makes visual sense and might even be attractive. I have two stories due to The New York Times today; no “mistakes” welcome there.

Unlike much of the rest of my life, class offers me a safe place to “fail” — to try something new, to do it poorly, to take gentle and helpful instruction, to go away and think hard about why I couldn’t even see clearly that which was before my eyes for so long. My fellow students are planning to show their work soon, but I’m in no rush to join them. I don’t need or want that validation — or that pressure to do it right or well or good enough.

My lousy drawings, my “failures”, are giving me great joy. That’s plenty for now.