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Is life just one damn thing after another?

by Pamela Slim

My cellphone rang yesterday.

“I can’t believe I’m calling you,” a woman I will call “Beatrice” said. “I don’t know where else to turn.”

“I read Martha’s North Star book a few years ago and, while pursuing a dream job on account of a man, actually made tremendous progress in my career. I have since received national awards for my work. I never thought it would be possible to get paid for work I love, but I made it happen.”

“Now my romantic life is a disaster. Today was a breaking point. I was in the Disney store with my daughter and saw an ad for a cheesy movie about a robot who finds love on another planet. I thought “Even a freaking robot finds love. Why can’t I?” and I started sobbing. My 25-year old daughter looked at me like I had lost my mind. I have been divorced for years and have gotten to a point where I am devastatingly lonely. I don’t even know where to begin to fix it. Can you help?”

This situation, while extremely painful for Beatrice, is a very common occurrence.

How is it that you can be really together in one area of your life and a wreck in another? Why can one area of your life skyrocket (career, love life, finances) and the other tank (health, relationship with kids, level of grunge in ring on bathtub)? Is it just a big conspiracy to keep you from being happy?

I think it is actually a kind and gentle way that life lets you chip away at improving different parts of yourself at different times. In the complex web of your brain, heart and spirit, all parts of your life are not always in similar states of health and harmony. This is why you see cases of:

  • The blockbuster actor going to prison for 3 years for tax evasion
  • The successful governor cavorting with prostitutes
  • The supportive husband and excellent father sticking with a dead-end, miserable job

We all become ready for change for different reasons. For Beatrice, her “Disney meltdown” was a cry for help. She realized that if she did not attend to this long-neglected part of her life, she was going to lose her mind. I have witnessed or experienced the following catalysts for major life change:

  • A father finally making a career change after learning that while he was working 200 miles away, his 3-year old son was crying for him in the middle of the night. Realizing how much he missed growing up with his own father, who had died in the Korean War, he got chills realizing he was not present in the lives of his children. So he quit his high-paying job the next day, and started a career working from home.
  • My own health crisis spurred by a toxic relationship. It took me getting severe pneumonia to finally take action to leave a poisoned relationship. Lying in bed, wheezing, with a strong fever and not even enough energy to reach the remote control that was one foot away, I realized it was time to change my life. I picked up the phone and told my best friend for the first time how bad things really were.
  • A successful young career woman radically changed her work and lifestyle after the untimely death of her mother. A now thriving entrepreneur who travels the world for a living told me that what finally moved her to quit her “secure” corporate job was the death of her mother. Suddenly, it became clear how fleeting life was, and she realized she was in charge of her own destiny.

Whatever spurs you to change, once you are ready, what do you do?

Martha’s Finding Your Own North Star is the robust road map for doing this work, and clearly lays out a methodology for how and what to do. Her new book Steering by Starlight expands and deepens this work. But if you don’t have a lot of time to read, here are a few shortcuts, drawing from some previous posts on this blog:

  1. Commit to working on this part of your life. Beatrice’s Disney meltdown moment was powerful enough for her to pick up the phone and reach out for help. She is interested in working with a coach to help her navigate what feels like the shark-filled waters of attracting a loving partner. Your defining moment will be different than anyone else’s, and may not even be voluntary, but it is worth it to step into the Ring of Fire.
  2. Examine your thoughts and feelings on this topic. Beatrice and I spent a short time on the phone, but I could tell that she had some powerful thoughts and feelings about love and relationships that were causing her a lot of suffering. Common limiting beliefs in the area of relationships can be things like:
    -All men are dogs
    -I am not lovable
    -In order to have a strong relationship, I have to give up my own needs
    -I will find love only when I lose 50 pounds/clear up my acne/finally get a nose job
    -Love hurts
  3. Once you zero in on some thoughts or beliefs that cause you suffering, apply the 4 questions from The Work:
  4. 1. Is it true?
    2. Can you absolutely know that it is true?
    3. How do you react when you think that thought?
    4. Who would you be without that thought?

    and

    Turn it around.

    Master Coach Brooke Castillo put together some more tools and information on Self Coaching here.

  5. Leverage the strength you have in one area of your life for others. Beatrice told me that she totally amazed herself with the progress she made in her career. Although the process she used to get there was not ideal (In her words, “I want to make sure that I point out that I wound up with the job of my dreams because I wanted a relationship with the man I worked with. He is one annoying human being and I drove myself to reach far beyond what I ever I had before because I was trying to prove to him I could do it and I wound up proving it to myself in the process. I wasn’t exactly trying to become what I became, it just happened and then I realized 18 years ago that it was secret desire I had harbored all along. I just literally came to the point where I couldn’t keep waiting for him but by that point I was at the top of my field. I’m not sure if you’d want to recommend that method to anyone – however I think it does fall along the lines of what Martha mentions about being so attracted to someone or something that it leads you where you’re supposed to be.”)
    Regardless of how you got there, if you feel ease and strength in one part of your life, use it to remind yourself that you are capable of taking on huge challenges and succeeding.
  6. Create a positive, supportive Everybody to help you along. In Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down? I describe the broad, generalized, highly judgmental “Everyone” that keeps many people from making progress in their life. You know that you need to do some Everybody juggling when your soul screams out “I must make a change in my career!” but your mind says “But everyone will think I have lost my mind if I change my job! When you surround yourself with good thoughts and supportive people, the process of change is much more manageable.
  7. Take turtle steps. Making major life changes (starting a business, looking for a life partner, cleaning up financial chaos) can bring up a tremendous amount of overwhelm and panic. If you try to tackle the whole thing, you will most likely end up on the floor of your bedroom in the fetal position. We are very fond of turtles around the virtual halls of Martha Beck Inc. (hence the photo!) and have seen the power of slow, steady, steps for making significant change. For a cool tool, try a 4-Day Win.

I am honored that Beatrice had enough trust to share her innermost fears with a total stranger (me). And that she agreed to let her own struggle be a point of education and support on this blog for others (you) who face similar challenges in your own life.

An encouraging sign? Beatrice and I are already laughing in our email exchange about the Disney meltdown moment. She was the one that suggested her pseudonym: “Call me Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing!” When you start to laugh at what has felt deeply painful and frightening, you know you are squarely on the path to your own North Star.

Happy travels Beatrice — we are cheering for you.

If you have any advice or encouragement, chime in with your comment!

Death to procrastination: Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving

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It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me:  running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
  2. You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say:  “LOSER!  Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory.  Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”

By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.

What is a 4-day win?

A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.

Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one.  And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.

(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here!  The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)

Why four days?

According to Martha:

“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days.  I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward.  Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change.  This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”

How do you construct a 4-day win?

Step 1: Pick a goal

Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:

  • Write a book proposal
  • Create a website
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family

From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients

Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain

We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them.  So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.

Step 3: Identify a reward

For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:

  • Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
  • Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
  • Eat one piece of really good chocolate

Step 4:  Identify a 4-day reward

Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days.  Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:

  • A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
  • A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine

Step 5:  Make sure the action and reward are linked

Martha says:

“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal.  You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals.  If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”

Finally …

Fill out a sheet of paper with your own four day win just like the picture of mine here (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win

Post it in at least three places:  Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace.  Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.

I am seriously going to do my 4-day win
.

If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments.  Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.

Final thoughts on the number 4

I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:

The number 4 in the Tarot :

“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”

The number 4 in Numerology :

“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.

So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!

-Pam


Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation