It’s Not About The Goal, It’s About The Experience

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In 2018, I challenged myself with a goal to read 30 books. I fell short at 28½ books, but surprisingly, my competitive spirit is not bothered by my book-and-a-half defeat. I mean, I technically could have made my goal. I could have picked up two easy reads and charged through, claiming my victory. But I didn’t, because the number of books wasn’t really my goal.

I read books for multiple reasons: to escape (typically fiction), to learn (some fiction, but mostly self-help and spiritual), and to feel and fall in love again and again (definitely fiction). Last year, I spent most of my time on “learning” books; 16 of the 28½ books were self-help or spiritual books. Books in this category tend to take longer for me to digest because I try to absorb the details and apply the information to my life. Sometimes the absorbing and applying can be a hard task. So it’s not worrisome to me that I came up short on my numerical goal.

The numerical goal was just an outward goalpost for an inward experience.

The experience waiting for me inside a book’s pages is my real goal. I open novels hoping to get lost in a fictional world and its characters’ problems. I want to ride the tide of emotions as I lose myself inside a book’s pages. I want to fall in love with a character, feel upset with that character, and overcome some obstacle with that character. The lure of self-help and spiritual books is very similar, but the character experiencing the emotions and overcoming some obstacle is myself.

My 30-book goal is a worthy goal and one I am aiming for again in 2019, but not because I want to show you my tally marks and tout how many books I read as my success. No, my true success is when I can share a book with you that captivated me and held me hostage for days. My true success is when some character or author’s experience makes me look deeper into my own. And my true success is when I read something that passionately impacts this journey I’m on.

I didn’t miss my goal last year. I crushed it—numerous times. And I’m hoping to do it again this year. You can join me on my reading journey as I continue to share books with you that steal my attention and keep me captivated for days (and sometimes even in the months after I finished them) on my What I’m Reading Page.

The Power of “No”

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What are you saying yes to this year? Your health, more quality time with your family, a new hobby, more books in your TBR (to be read) pile, or maybe even all of the above?

This year, I’m saying yes to many of those things by choosing to say no more often. “No” is a powerful little word that is grossly underused. It holds the gift of choice, focus, confidence, and time in its single-syllable hand.

But I have a problem with pushing that syllable out of my mouth. Instead, I find myself saying “yes”: yes to other people’s dreams, yes to other people’s needs, yes to other people’s wants, and yes to other people’s desires. Which is all fine and good until I’m too tired to pop in that exercise DVD … or getting a little too snippy with my family at the dinner table … or (if I’m really honest) feeling too bitter to focus on anything but the energy I’ve lost providing so many things to other people.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self-care is important, and it starts with prioritizing our own goals, commitments, and needs first.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but for the last two months of 2018, I was slowly sliding into bitterness. I resented the fact that I was pouring my time and energy into a few relationships and not receiving the same returns. My family listened as I chewed over the same injustices over and over, until finally—now drained of the same energy I had sucked out of myself—they nicely, but forcefully, informed me it was time for a change.

And they were right. We need to take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s important to our overall health—and the health of those around us.

Take some time to sit down and list five or six things you want for your life this year. You will be amazed at the perspective just 20 or 30 minutes of conscious focus can bring. Then, armored with the clarity of your vision, you can confidently begin nurturing your own dreams and desires by placing boundaries around those dreams and desires in the form of that tiny, big word—NO.

Saying no to one thing means you are saying yes to something better.

No seems so final, doesn’t it? If we choose to say “no,” aren’t we closing off our options instead of opening them up? It sure feels that way at the onset of the no mindset. Especially if it’s a boss or customer on the receiving end of our no, and especially if we fear that boss or customer may never ask for our help our services again. And what about our family and friends—isn’t it wrong to tell them no because they are our obligation and, for them, we can never do enough?

This people-pleasing spiral is exactly why we stay in the overcommitted and exhausting pattern of saying yes to everyone and everything and becoming too tired to give 100% to any of it. Until we get specific about what we want in our lives and then confidently and consistently say no to the people and things that keep our visions out of our reach, this pattern will continue.

Prioritize what matters most to you so, the next time you are teetering on the verge of falling back into an unfulfilling pattern of yes, you can remind yourself of your priorities and where this latest idea should rank.

We always have a choice.

You always have a choice! But because it can still be hard to say no, here are some helpful go-to phrases:

  • “I would love to help you with that, but I’ve already committed to _____. Let’s get a group together so that your project can get the attention it deserves.” It’s okay to divide up projects so you are not carrying the full burden.
    At work, pull on coworkers’ skills to get a project done together. At home, the same principle applies. Make chores like washing clothes or dishes a group project, even if your children are too young to carry a responsibility alone. You can involve everyone, from your spouse to the youngest child, by breaking the chore up. You might assign a color sorter for clothes, a folder, and someone to take the clothes to their designated locations, where another family member will put them away.
  • “That sounds like a great idea.” Sometimes we people-pleasing types are too quick to jump in and take on other people’s ideas because we want to help. (Remember the people-pleasing spiral we just discussed.) We can lighten our own loads by sharing interest in other’s projects but not offering to do the work for them. Instead, offer suggestions and give feedback on their progress; stay clear of carrying other people’s loads so you are free to focus on your own.
  • “Let’s plan out how this is going to work.” Communication is key to solving so many of our problems. Taking charge of our own problems and even asking for help is a positive step toward meeting our goals. With aging parents that need care or activities that overlap within the family but still need time and attention, don’t give in to the temptation to carry the full load. Let go of the idea that it’s just easier for you to complete the task or (heaven forbid) that you will do it better. Put your mind together with all parties involved and come up with a solution that allows everyone time and attention for self-care.

Saying no is going to come with some pushback. You can handle it.

You’re bound to face some pushback, especially if you have been everyone’s savior before. But this is where the magic happens. This is where we invest in ourselves and nourish our dreams. This—if we stick to the process and work through the pushback—is where we find the energy, confidence, and focus to fully realize our transformation to a well-balanced life. And this is where we give our loved ones the opportunity to grow, too. I think it’s time for us to strive for something better by saying “no” more.

What goals are you saying yes to this year? And where are you saying no in order to make room for your goals to happen?


The Grass Is Greener Where It Is Tended and Watered

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November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving. The month when we take time to intentionally practice being grateful and declare our blessings. The month when we walk around with our eyes wide open to our experiences and search for kernels of personal happiness in each moment.

As I sat on the sandy shores of Bimini last month and stared out at the calm, tropical turquoise water—water that looked like it had been dyed with food coloring from a bottle the size of an ocean liner—it wasn’t too hard for me to practice gratitude. And having my family right there with me in that instant empowered me to declare my blessings a little louder. It was a surreal moment full of peace and gratitude that I wanted to somehow bottle up and carry back home with me to North Carolina. Surely, that view alone could continually bring me gratitude.

The fact is that I’m already blessed with a view that every stranger that visits my home in North Carolina loves. Everyone, literally every single person, that visits us steps out of his or her car and scans the rolling countryside while proclaiming some version of “wow.” I love it, too. This view, along with the old farmhouse and windmill, are the very reasons my husband remarked, “We are bidding on this house today,” before we even stepped out of our car onto unfamiliar land more than twenty years ago.

I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the view in my backyard and sometimes overlook it—just like how I would probably overlook the tropical waters of Bimini if I saw them every day.

Oprah Winfrey recently posted on gratitude In this post, Oprah discusses an old gratitude journal of her own and how it sparked her to ask why she no longer felt joy in the simple moments after accumulating so much more. Interestingly enough, Oprah discovered she had to make gratitude an intentional, daily process.

We all want to feel joy, peace, and love but, too often, our focus turns us away from the simple things that bring us these pleasures. Our lives become busy with things and people—not in the grounding and bonding ways that bring us contentment, but in the search for affluence, material success, social status, and validating personal worth.

As we turn towards the world and away from our hearts, we begin to think we need more. I want what she has. His life is so much easier than mine. Her romantic husband … his comfy lifestyle … those shoes … that house … and the list goes on and on. But we are never full, never content, and never satisfied. Our hearts should be our contentment meters, yet our minds seem too distracted to listen to what our hearts truly want.

Twenty-six years ago, when I was dating my husband, I went with his family to visit his maternal grandmother’s home in South Carolina. We circled around the mountain and visited his great-aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighbors who had become family over the years. I was surprised that many of these relatives didn’t have bathrooms in their homes. And they also didn’t have modern heating and cooling units. Instead, woodstoves and fireplaces provided heat in the winter and the creek was how they cooled off in the summer. I was humbled by the joy this family shared in just seeing one another and openly acknowledging what they did have. I still remember that day as a day of laughter, and fondly look back on a picnic by the creek listening to the family reminisce about summer gardens, canning, walking down a dirt road to school, and picking blackberries for Great-Grandma.

We also visited Great-Grandma on that trip. There wasn’t much laughter and joy in that portion of the trip; Great-Grandma was sick and in a nursing home and she was miserable. Over and over, she said she wanted to go home. Eventually, Great-Grandma’s children helped her return to her heart’s home—her front porch—before she passed away. If you were ever able to sit on her porch and see her view, you would understand why she insisted on returning and why she clung to life until she was able to sit on her porch again. Great-Grandma’s old home is deteriorating and the meadow to the right of her home is well past overgrown, but even now, immeasurable beauty, peace, and serenity surround her mountain home. The memory of children’s laughter still dances in the meadow with the sunlight. The kitchen still holds past trips over the mountain to collect blackberries for Great-Grandma to cook up into something good. And the rotting porch still holds an invisible rocking chair and a sweet little old lady that loved the view she tended and watered.

When I reflect on that trip to the mountains, I am reminded where thankfulness resides: in the moments when we can connect with our hearts, with what is already in our lives that brings us joy. If my heart is like Great-Grandma’s garden, these moments of thankfulness are the water that bring it to life, and the effort to make gratitude a daily process is how I tend it.

What are you tending and watering today? Please go to my Facebook page and leave a comment.