The beauty of a simple goal for the new year…

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Learning to do and think less is an important skills that can be practised and one for which you will be rewarded.

Moshe Bar

Setting goals and expectations for the new year seems to get more challenging as I grow older. (Not old, mind you, just older!) This past year saw most of my plans derailed by a loved one’s health issues and I am left wondering about whether failing to set goals is any worse than not meeting them. So I have been reading about this time honoured tradition and the corresponding litany of suggestions about how to set goals that you will actually pursue throughout the entire year.

Seems that not meeting one’s goals may be more common than succeeding in achieving them. And one can only assume that not meeting your own personal expectations will lead you straight into an emotional mine field, replete with berating yourself up for such failure. And that would be failure with a capital F.

Truly, I wonder why humans persist in doing so many things that cause us to feel badly about ourselves.

This scenario is so typical that it is difficult at this point in the calendar year to avoid media reports, podcasts, and articles about this phenomenon. So why even bother?

Most of us know what our overarching goals are, and at any point in our lives during the course of a year, we are perfectly free to add in new ones. To try different ways to better ourselves in any way we conceive of whenever we want. So the necessity of having a new years resolution, new goal or series of them, is a traditional type of thing that has become an ingrained cultural habit.

And this yearly ritual is not always a helpful habit. But still most of us persist…

So when I read an article relating Moshe Bar’s theory of thinking and doing less as an essential skill that one needs to build, I was intrigued. It turns out that it is okay to let our brains follow us on a path of doing nothing. Our tendency to clutter our lives and our minds with noise and busyness and constant stimulation makes it harder for our brain to function in an optimal way. Most of us feel guilt if we are not doing something all of the time. But it turns out, our cognitive function is enhanced by allowing ourselves to embrace moments of distraction, losing focus, or by zoning out.

Neuroscience has demonstrated that allowing your brain to “mind wander” increases both creative problem solving and decision making. Those are both critical skills for a writer to have in their executive functions tool kit. Moving our bodies, say by just going for a walk or training ourselves to see ordinary things in a new light using photography or mindfulness techniques are a couple of ways to cultivate this.

Research suggests that learning to enjoy times of silence, cultivating a daydreaming habit, and clearing away mental clutter may all help to allow us to become more self-aware. And the more we get to know ourselves, the easier it is to work on meaningful projects or skills which ultimately will serve our desire to have purpose in our lives.

So for this year, that will be my focus. Learning to do and to think less. As life has a tendency to crowd out smart goals anyways, learning and developing what sounds like a simplistic (although likely not) skill seems to make sense to me this year. So cheers to 2023!

Happy New year!!


Don’t let excuses undermine commitments…

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There are only two options: Make progress or makes excuses


September started with a renewed sense of commitment. To rejoining the world, making social connections and activities a priority, coupled with a focus on self care. Not just self soothing moments but an emphasis to be placed on good sleep, nutrition, exercise, and most definitely on stress reduction.

On the Canadian prairies, we are all too familiar with wind. When weather systems come in or when they leave, wind is always the usher of change. But not calm, gentle, types of wind. No we regularly experience harsh, blustery, gale force type winds that race across the flat, prairie landscape kicking up dust, leaves, and occasionally, tumbleweeds.

So as I glanced outside this morning before my yoga class, I watched strong wind blow most of the fall leaves that had landed on my lawn onto the street. And in all likelihood they would be whipped further along landing on the lawns of my neighbours. I needed to travel to my class on foot as our car was in the shop. Watching small branches being whipped off of trees, I thought it best to check the weather forecast.

The winds were predicted to only get stronger during the course of the day. It seemed easiest in that moment to decide it was likely not a good idea to attend the class. After all it was just too windy to try and walk to the centre where the class was being held. Heading north into a northwest wind seemed nonsensical to me. It would probably be fine on the way home but that was only one way. Right?

But then I thought about missing the class. There was no way to make it up later in the week. And I had indeed made a firm commitment to myself to take this class face to face rather than on Zoom. So an internal argument in my mind left me undecided as to what to do. Mentally running through a pros and cons checklist, it was clear to me that the benefits would definitely outweigh a blustery walk in the wicked prairie wind.

Further reflection left me thinking about how easy it is to talk yourself out of doing something rather than talking yourself into it. Perseverance seemed the answer. So I bundled up, braved the wind which was stronger than I had envisioned. The urge to turn around and go home was overwhelming. But once I got half way there, it seemed ridiculous not to just carry on. So I got there in one piece, albeit with dust in one of my eyes.

Accompanied by feeling grateful that I was there, seeing people I enjoy being with, ready for a class that makes me feel better every time I go.

It occurs to me that taking the easy way out of something is less satisfying than forging ahead and enduring a bit of discomfort along the way. In fact, it made the whole thing much better knowing that the choice was the right one. The act of challenging yourself to do something that has a degree of difficulty does provide a sense of accomplishment even though in the larger scheme of things it probably was not a big deal.

But the value of the exercise by being true to the commitments you make to yourself was immeasurable.

Stay healthy and safe!!


Release the pause button on play…

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We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!


Re-thinking word count goals

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Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Have you ever tried to force yourself to write in order to meet an arbitrary word count? It is a ponderous, painful exercise. I have been attempting to follow an oft repeated suggestion that setting a word count is an effective way to establish a daily writing practice. Not only is it purported to be helpful but should be considered an important guideline.

But learning to develop other aspects of craft can fall by the wayside as you grapple with the energy to meet this goal.

And if you are writing flash fiction, it becomes counterintuitive when trying to cultivate aspects of compression in your writing. Learning how to capture the essence of a situation with a brevity of words is a critical micro skill that doesn’t come easily. Especially to someone like me, who trained academically in another field where being wordy was both accepted as well as expected.

Writing is about showing not telling. Which can be hard to learn to do if you have a tendency to ramble. Sometimes it seems that adhering to goals that no longer serve us should be easy to let go of. But somehow that dark shadow of perfectionism creeps into your head reminding you to achieve a daily word count. If we aren’t mindful of this tendency to hang onto goals that no longer serve our purpose, it can haunt our efforts to learn to tell stories well.

Learning how to use very few words to tell a story that generates a complexity of emotions is more difficult than it sounds. Compression techniques are the underpinning of flash fiction. So my writing goals are evolving from trying to achieve a specific number of words to experimenting with other ways to develop and build my “compression” muscles.

Whether I practice writing 50 or 100 word stories or attempt to create a story in the format of a bingo card, I am feeling more confident with the focus of new writing goals. Learning to honour the elusive art of compression rather than the length of story seems a worthy alternative to monitoring word counts.

And writing goals just like any goals we establish in our lives should serve us in our growth and development. Learning when we have outgrown a disciplined habit requires flexibility and patience.

Now if only I could remember to stop myself from clicking the drop down box to reveal my word count before I leave my computer!

happy writing!


“H” is for Hope

Photo credit L. Meyer

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

Desmond Tutu

It is difficult to go through a day’s activities without being impacted by horrific images from the devastating reality of the war in Ukraine. No matter where you are in the world, this awareness permeates the lives of most humans today. And it is also hard not to grasp the degree of faith and hope that the people of Ukraine are bringing forth in order to preserve their land, people, and culture.

Hope is not a superfluous concept. Indeed, the lack of it is a significant barrier to positive mental health and at times, life itself. One of the biggest risk factors in suicide is the degree to which an individual experiences hopelessness. Dreams and beliefs are abstract concepts that live in our minds but hope requires doing something.

Hope is a cognitive practice that can be taught to children and adults and is comprised of intentional goal setting and then working towards them with purpose. So when we watch, read or listen to stories from across the globe of those people who are striving to reach their goals in the most difficult, overwhelming and violent circumstances, and could peel back the layers here, we would find hope at the core.

Hope is not wishful thinking but rather it is action oriented and purposeful.

“Optimistic people see the glass as half full but hopeful people ask how they can fill the glass full” – John Parsi, the Hope Center.

So if we are able to take any degree of action to help our fellow humans across the globe, we too, can touch that place that shapes right minded thought and warms human hearts. And instills belief that humans can have hope that peace will prevail and be restored.

Stay healthy and safe!


It’s a wrap

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It is always important to know when something has reached the end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.

Paulo Coelho

Bitter arctic air has descended bringing dangerous temperatures that are forcing prairie people to hunker down in our homes. What better time to reflect on the year that has past than now? Listening to Joni Mitchell’s, the River on repeat interspersed with Leonard Cohen’s, Hallelujah serves to set the background for my year end reflection and introspection.

This year has been a rollercoaster and I vacillate between thinking about those moments when the virus retreated which were far too short along with those longer times when it seemed like it would never end. But there is something healing about making the effort for reflection. It seems right to stop and think deeply about where you have been and what the meaning of this journey has been over the course of 2021.

Flipping through sporadic journal entries made over the past twelve months reveals that I did in fact accomplish everything I set out to do to further my goals as a writer. Seems ironic as my recent mindset has been stuck in a place of agitation and frustration that I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to this year because of the pandemic.

But like so much else this year, that is an illusion. My writing practice definitely was strengthened by participating in two excellent immersive flash fiction courses this past summer. At times these generative writing activities flowed like a summer river producing some interesting pieces of work. I published one single story this year and have decided that is cause for some celebration.

And I realize that if you procrastinate and don’t submit pieces of writing that seem finished, your work will never be released into the world.

At other times, working on other projects, taking a break and laying fallow produced surprising results. So that needs to be considered as a necessary part of the work of a writer. Being creative in other ways results in a combustible spark that pays off if you don’t give it too much thought. And really working to achieve a level of focus needed to edit a piece of writing is as important as the generative stuff. Maybe even more so.

Connecting with fellow writers eases the strange world we find ourselves in. It is uplifting to know that we are not alone. My gratitude and heart felt connection to the members of my writer’s group tethers me to this craft and to them in ways I never anticipated. And taking time, of which I seem to have in abundance, for reading also connects me to the world of writers. Writing once per week here continues to anchor me and gives me courage to set my words free.

So although 2021 is ending and I am not sad to see it go, there is much that has been learned through this year, and much indeed to feel thankful for.

Happy Writing and Happy New Year!

Retirement Reinvention – Moving beyond golf and pickle ball

We each carry around a picture or visual schema of what people are supposed to do once they retire. Often this is based on the kinds of retirement activities we observed our family members engaging in and the social constructs that have existed for decades about this chapter in the life course. Stereotypical activities such as golfing, playing pickle ball or bridge populate our thinking about this stage of life.

The process of aging, which permeates these societal expectations and also may create stigma, complicates this.

So, what types of activities do you pursue when you retire and begin the process of reinvention?

The answer to that question seems to be elusive for some and easily addressed for others. It is critical to recognize that for some people, there may be as many as 30 plus years ahead of them. That is often the same length of time that many people have worked in full time jobs. Perhaps this is what makes some people nervous when they contemplate leaving work. That horizon ahead, may represent decades in our lives. This can be intimidating or exhilarating or both.

Individuals who have well developed plans for reinvention when they leave work often seem to move full throttle ahead. To some, this might seem like the last opportunity to recreate your life, leaving the past behind and pursuing new possibilities. This can be daunting and no one has a crystal ball that tells them how long they have.

Setting clear intentions may help guide your direction, whatever that is, whether it actually is golf, pickle ball or something else. Developing a focus with an actual plan helps. Trying out new pursuits and creating a passion based on a life long love of learning has helped me navigate the first couple years of my retirement. Narrowing down my list of activities and what I truly wished to pursue, has helped propel me in ways that have moved my quest for reinvention forward.

Discovering when something doesn’t resonate or fit my new lifestyle and feeling free to release it by discarding what no longer make sense. All of this has occurred in a trial and error kind of way. When you make significant changes in your life, what approaches have proven to be most helpful for you? This has been a pivotal aspect of reinvention and I will continue to revisit this in the future on this blog. Your comments and input would be appreciated.

Time to turn the calendar…

And all at once, summer collapsed into fall” – Oscar Wilde

The Labour Day weekend evokes a host of memories that always seem to surface in connection to the beginning of the school year. Long gone are the days of frenetic shopping for school supplies, the often unsuccessful search for everything on the list, and the anticipated reunion with friends to share highlights of summer vacation. The whirlwind flurry of moving everyone into a schedule that will sustain and support activities and commitments for the next ten months, thankfully, is also a distant memory.

A strong sense of personal renewal in the fall often occurs as the warm summer days persist but cool evenings and chilly nights emerge. Long to do lists that were once an ever present feature of those days continue somewhat in the form of sticky notes. These random sticky notes are peppered with ideas for building a schedule which will now focus on goals, passions to pursue, and possible learning opportunities. This year, this seasonal change has brought a renewed sense of optimistic energy that I haven’t experienced since I retired.

Excitement now replaces the old sensation which, at times, felt like a low level murmur of anxiety about completing all the to do obligations of this season. Now I fully realize that I am able to focus on tasks that will move me forward, closer to the goals that I would like to reach, and the life I am actively designing in this period of reinvention. Dropping what no longer fits in my life, creates a sense of feeling free and unencumbered.

It occurred to me today, that although I don’t have to pay attention to the changing of the seasons in the same manner I did when I worked full time, the energy of renewal that comes with the kids going back to school, is a perfect opportunity for reflection. Time to reflect if my goals are being met, need to be adjusted, or if it is time to move on to something else. Without all of the work world pressures, I can relish this time to figure out my priorities and to create a schedule filled with meaning and purpose. It is definitely time to turn the calendar!