Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Getting Back on Track

Since I discussed goal setting two weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to look at how I get back on track with my goals if I find myself not really working at them or if I’m not making as much progress as I\d like.

In my opinion, getting back on track is one of the most difficult aspects of self improvement.  Setting goals and acting on them can be quite easy at first, especially if you set goals annually: we all have lots of energy at the beginning of the year when everything seems fresh and new.  As the year wears on, however, it becomes more and more difficult to stay consistent, especially when unexpected roadblocks or personal issues arise.  Here is the step-by-step process that I use when I need to get back on track after letting one or more of my goals fall by the wayside:

1. Ask yourself: is this goal important to me?

Everyone should be changing and evolving continuously.  Sometimes the main reason why we get off track with working on something is that it just isn’t as important to us in April as it was in January.  This was a significant issue for me in 2017, when I set several goals around social and political issues that I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about several months later.  When I sat down and thought about why I wasn’t making progress on those goals, I realized that there were other ways to accomplish what I had set out to accomplish in January that were more approachable and interesting for me.

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting go of goals that you realize aren’t getting you anywhere.  Giving yourself permission to let those goals go will give you more time and energy to work on the tasks that are still important to you.

2. Ask yourself: is this goal realistic?

While it can be easy to roll your eyes at the SMART method (make goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), it really is important to ensure that your goals are realistic.  If your goals aren’t realistic and you routinely aren’t able to accomplish them, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on trying to make progress.  Setting realistic goals can be difficult, because it’s always easy to imagine things we might want to do without thinking about how we will actually achieve them.  It’s important to have a good understanding of your limits and then challenging them in a way where you can set yourself up for success.

I’ll use a personal example to illustrate.  One of my main goals for this year was to write as much as possible.  Of all the goals I set for 2018, this has probably been my greatest area of success.  The goal isn’t particularly specific, but I felt that the easiest way to guarantee that this goal was realistic for me was to leave it a little more open-ended.  Of course, I have a posting schedule that I’ve been able to stick with, but I also have cancer treatments to deal with, a relationship, a parent who can use a bit of help around the house and a puppy to train.  By going easy on myself and not stating my goal as “I will blog three times per week” I’ve taken a lot of the stress out of the equation and allowed myself to just write as much as I’m able.  My desire to keep writing naturally keeps me on track and I don’t have to punish myself if I’m not able to stick with my schedule.

3. Where are the barriers?

If you’ve determined that your goal is still important to you and that it is realistic, it’s time to try and find the barriers that are getting in your way.  Do you have all the materials you need to accomplish the goal?  Are you giving yourself the time you need to work on the goal?

For me, my most common barrier is time.  I can be terrible at giving myself enough time to accomplish what I want to accomplish and I’m an artist at letting it happen in a lot of different ways.  In general, I am very good at making room in my life to be consistent at one thing at a time.  Right now, it’s writing the blog, but I need to give myself time to accomplish all the other things I want to accomplish as well.

4. Brainstorm tools and strategies

Once you’ve figured out what may be impeding your progress, it’s time to brainstorm and find strategies to help you get back on track.  I usually write this down in the notebook I use to record my goals and monthly review.  Having my raw ideas written down is always helpful for me because even if I don’t use all of the ideas immediately, I will sometimes revisit them and find them useful later on.

The strategies you brainstorm can be very simple.  I generally find that it’s best make use of tools that you’re already using for other tasks.  For example, I recently started using my planner, which I bought at the beginning of the year to keep track of my writing schedule and my appointments, as a kind of project planner.  I have quite a few small business and de-cluttering projects that I am currently working on and, since my planner has a substantial set of “notes” pages at the back, I’ve been using those pages to track those projects.  It’s been a great help to write everything down in a resource that I’m already looking at and using on a regular basis.

5. Schedule time and give it to yourself

As I said above, time is usually a huge impediment to my making good progress on my goals and I think most folks are probably in the same boat.  If accomplishing a goal is really important to you, you have to give yourself permission to make time in your life for it.  I’ve found that a great way to do this is to schedule the time in advance.  It doesn’t have to be daily — you could schedule a few hours once per month or once per week.  Once you’ve chosen how much time you want to spend, write it down in your calendar (digital or physical) and set up reminders that pester you to work on it.  It actually works!

I’ve found this overall strategy to be super helpful for me over the years.  If you try it out, please let me know if it works for you!

Tips & Techniques for Self Improvement: Setting Goals

For me, setting my annual goals is the foundation of my self improvement regime: it’s tough to try to work on yourself and your life if you don’t know what you want to work on. I’m going to start with a more general discussion about goal setting and some different strategies that I’ve taken note of over the years, and then I’ll get in to my process in particular. Hopefully you’ll be able to find something in this post that will help you to set your goals for this year!

Recently I’ve noticed that there are at least two fundamentally different methodologies for self improvement. The first is introspective, which is what I feel works best for me. With a more introspective approach to goal setting, you would generally use a tool to evaluate both your previous year and your current circumstances and then set goals based on where you would like to make improvements. I will discuss how I do this in more detail below.

The second general methodology for self improvement that I have noticed recently has more to do with aspirations and, for lack of a better term, the “power of positive thinking.” For this methodology, you would review your previous year, think about what you want to achieve in the next year, and then write goals based on what you want to accomplish. When writing your goals down, you would write them in such a way that it seems like they have already been achieved. For example, if you wanted to save $5000 over the course of the year, you would write your goal out like this:

“I have saved $5000 in 2018.”

Based on the research and reading I’ve done so far, it is believed that writing your goals in such a way can essentially trick your mind into believing that they are more obtainable. I’m not sure how well this technique would work for me, but I’ve noticed that there are many writers out there advocating that this is an effective way to not only set goals, but also to use gratitude journals and affirmations. The gratitude journal that I initially tried out, for example, was formatted entirely on this methodology.

Being a fairly logical and realistic thinker, I tend to prefer an introspective approach to goal setting. My aim with goal setting is to make real and measurable improvements to my life and thus I have to carefully examine what isn’t working for me and then set goals that I feel will help me improve in those areas. I assess my current circumstances using a Wellness Wheel. I will be discussing wellness wheels in more detail in a later post, but essentially a wellness wheel divides your life into particular categories, and you assign a numerical score to those categories. I also write a narrative that accompanies each score, but this isn’t necessary unless you find it helpful.

Once I’ve completed and analyzed my wellness wheel, I think about ways that I might be able to improve in the categories where my scores are low. Because I want my goals to be specific and at least somewhat measurable, I tend to avoid setting goals like “improve my health score” or “improve my social score.” I try to think of smaller tasks that I can work on over the course of the year to slowly bring my scores up. I’m always looking for modest improvements that can be maintained over the long term. The whole point of using a wellness wheel is to gradually balance it out so that you have a decent score for all of the different aspects of your life.

After considering how I’d like to try to raise my lower scores and also how I’d like to work on balancing out my wheel over the course of the year, I then start formulating those ideas into goals. Generally speaking, I try to not make more than 10 main goals per year, because trying to change too much too quickly doesn’t work for me. Usually those 10 goals are a combination of elements in my life that I think are suffering and need improvement and new things that I’m interested in trying out.

The last step in my goal setting process that I’ll discuss today is writing everything down. In my opinion, writing down my goals is the most important part of the process for several reasons, but mostly because it allows me to efficiently review my progress on a regular basis and develop better strategies for staying on track. I use an inexpensive notebook and write one goal at the top of each page. On that page, I brainstorm strategies and ideas for how I can accomplish that goal and break the goal into smaller tasks if appropriate.

After recording all of my goals in the notebook, I use the rest of the pages to record my monthly review process. It’s important to set goals, but I’ve found that I often don’t stick with them particularly well unless I spend time reviewing them and tracking my progress on a regular basis. I will be discussing my review process in a later post, so I hope you might find that interesting as well.

Did you set any goals for 2018? How are you progressing? Message me or leave a comment below! I’d love to know how you’re doing!

February Goal Review

A new month means it’s time for goal review!

1. Survive Chemotherapy

I’m making decent progress on my goals which, as I said last month, are all really in service of my goal of surviving chemotherapy.  My third chemo cycle (treatments 5 and 6 of 12) were much easier than my second cycle and I have physically and mentally been feeling much better.  Of course, I have been a bit overwhelmed by caring for our new puppy, but that has had many positive effects on my life as well.

2. Write as much as possible

I’ve still been writing as much as I had planned to do at the beginning of the year and recently, due to the new puppy, I have been much more efficient in my writing process.  I spent some time researching topics, which I will definitely do at least once in March as well, and I found some that inspire me.  Because I’ve had less free time, I’ve worked writing into my new schedule as much as I can and I’ve been successfully managing everything as intended.  I haven’t quite been sticking to my schedule of writing one full week ahead, but I’ve been getting pretty close, which is fantastic.

I’m a little afraid that I will run out of content for my Media Round-up posts.  I don’t have a lot of time to read and watch things right now, but if I have to skip those every once in awhile, I’ll just write a regular post in their place.

3. Develop a healthy nighttime routine

Results for this have been mixed.  Since we brought Frankie home, I have adapted to a new sleep schedule and have been going to bed early and getting up early.  The routine I wanted to develop had to change drastically and has been simplified a great deal, but I have been doing a better job at a lot of the basics.  In order to decompress after managing Frankie, I’ve had to start listening to sleep meditations and that is helping me get to sleep a little easier than before.

4. Be financially responsible

My spending freeze was wildly successful all through February and continues to be going well as we move into March.  I did receive a gift card for my birthday and was able to buy a few books, but apart from that I spent very little money in February.  I did make a small clothing purchase at the beginning of March (a sweater that I had been eyeing for months), but I’m hoping to keep this going for as long as possible.  Right now it looks like I won’t have any further income until some time in April, if my long term disability application is approved.

5. Take care of myself physically

Since we brought Frankie home there has been a tremendous improvement in my physical health.  I’ve adopted a healthier sleeping schedule and I’ve been eating well and getting more physical activity.  I’m feeling physically stronger and more mobile.  The new schedule has also helped me to ensure that I’m keeping up with the personal hygiene habits and routines that can be a bit tricky for me when I’m not feeling well.  Huge wins here in February.

6. Take care of myself mentally

This has been a little tricky since the puppy forced me to rearrange my life.  I haven’t been using my journals at all, which is probably better for the neuropathy in my hands, but I would like to get back into gratitude journaling again, as I think it will help me when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Frankie has, essentially, served as a fantastic distraction.  I haven’t had much time to feel sorry for myself because I’ve had to worry about keeping her from peeing in the house and crying in her crate and training her to do things.  I’m not gonna lie, though, she’s been difficult and I’ve been struggling a bit.  There is no remedy for this other than time and patience, however, so I will stick with it and let her be what I need her to be in my life right now.

7. Learn something new

Success here has been mixed as well and my focus for this goal has, by necessity, had to shift a bit.  I was completely blindsided by how difficult Frankie was to manage.  We had been terribly spoiled by Daisy and how easy she was to house train and I thought I knew what I was doing.  It turns out, I had no idea.  I’ve had to do a lot of research and reading to help us get through some of the obstacles that have come our way.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about dog training over the past few weeks, but I haven’t had the time to learn new skills that will help me move toward a new career path.

8. Keep things tidier and work on decluttering projects

My success here continued in February.  I purchased a basic printer/scanner, scanned my important documents, and put the originals away in a safe place.  I also sorted through my physical collection of books and donated all over half of them to a fundraiser at a local elementary school.  Since Frankie came along, I haven’t had time to make my office very messy and, since I’ve had to be more organized about laundry, I’ve been doing a great job of keeping my bedroom tidier.

9. Leave the house to work at least once per week

For now I am going to put a hold on this goal.  Unfortunately, one of the main side effects of many chemo protocols is gastrointestinal issues and those have been keeping me in the house a little more often than I would like.  I’ve been feeling a little cooped up over the past two weeks, but this is mostly due to self-imposed puppy isolation.  Prior to the arrival of Frankie, I was feeling okay about just working at home and my productivity hasn’t suffered.  I may revisit this if the issues clear up, but for now it’s just a little too uncomfortable for me to spend too many hours without convenient access to a bathroom.

Overall, I’m pleased with my progress.  Frankie has changed a few of my priorities, but I’m plugging away and doing the best that I can!  Are you making progress on your goals for the year?  Message me and tell me all about it!  I’d love to hear about how you’re doing!

Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Gratitude journaling

When I told some of my friends that I was going to start keeping a gratitude journal, most were pretty shocked.  I have a reputation for being a fairly sarcastic person — a bit of a hard-ass, but the truth is, as I’ve aged, I’ve softened up a lot.  While I still have my limits, I am a much more open and earnest person now than I have been previously.  I try to approach most things I come across with an open mind.

While I may have considered a gratitude journal to be a little too fluffy for me several years ago, I have always found a great deal of value in writing down my feelings.  I have usually been inconsistent with writing in journals, but I have been keeping some sort of blog for over twenty years now and writing has always been one of my most important hobbies.  When I am consistently communicating my ideas in writing, whether I have an audience in mind or not, I tend to feel much better than when I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in November, I came to the conclusion that I would need to take a more proactive approach than usual to trying to maintain a positive outlook.  I told myself that I would try whatever I felt might work and this has led me to experiment with several new tools and ideas, but the gratitude journal is probably the greatest leap for me.  I started with a preset journal, called the 5-minute Journal, which is a daily journal with a set form.  At the beginning of each day, you are asked to write what you are grateful for, what would make today great, and an affirmation.  At the end of each day, you are asked to write out several amazing things that happened during the day and what you feel could have made today better.

This sounds great in theory, but the journal itself advocated a very particular way of formulating the day’s elements, mostly using a positive aspirational, or “magical” thinking approach.  The writer is asked to be grateful for things that they are working toward but have not yet obtained and to write affirmations that include wants and aspirations not yet achieved.  For me, this didn’t really work.  I want to look at my life and see it for what it is and reflect on that.  Right now, I need to live in the moment and be present and not worry too much about the future.

okay fine im gratefulI know that I could write in the journal as I want to, but after reading all the instructions, it felt difficult to interpret the formed journal in that way that I wanted to use it.  I decided that starting fresh, using a tool that suited my preferences for a more open format would be better, and so I settled on the Okay Fine, I’m Grateful! gratitude journal.  I am very happy with this choice.  The journal is nicely designed, looks great and has inspirational (but not cheesy) quotes on every other page.  I would say that its only real downfall is that it’s expensive and only has space for you to write for 100 days.  This is fine for me for now as I don’t write in it every day and I will just switch to a blank notebook once I’ve used this up.  It was nice, however, to start on this little journey with something a bit fancy.

I can say now that, after trying this out for six weeks, gratitude journaling is a great tool for purposefully creating happiness and positivity in your life.  Whether you’ve had a good day or a terrible day, sitting down at the end of it and thinking about what went well and what you can be thankful for is powerful.  There will definitely be days where it is easier to think of good things than others, but I would say that those are the days that you need that bit of positivity the most.

Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a shame that we need to work so hard to remember what we have to be thankful for because, for the most part, I and many of you who will read this live, at the very least, lives of modest abundance.  We have a warm bed to sleep in at night, a job where we are mostly treated well and respected, a family and/or friends who love and support us, enough food to eat and clothing to wear, and a good education.  It is easy, however, to be caught up in the web of negativity: to read social media and see news stories that frighten and frustrate us and status updates that make us envious of our friends; to be overwhelmed by stress at work; to get caught up in our family drama; to be sick and possibly dying.

When we have those moments where we get caught up in the web of negativity, the gratitude journal is an excellent tool for centering and reminding us that there is joy in both the simple things in life and in having the basics.  On even my worst days on my cancer journey so far, I have been able to write in my gratitude journal that I was grateful for a moment where I was able to laugh with my boyfriend or that I was able to receive a hug from my mother.  Sitting down at the end of the day and thinking about those moments rather than dwelling on everything that was wrong with my day has helped me tremendously with keeping a more positive attitude during my cancer treatment.

If you struggle, like me, with focusing too much on the negative or if you’re interested at all in self-improvement, I would recommend that you try a gratitude journal.  It doesn’t cost anything really, all you need is a piece of paper and something to write with.


Goals for 2018: Part 2

Today I’ll be continuing my short series on my goals for 2018!  If you missed the first post, please read it here.

6. Care for myself mentally.

It’s no secret that I have issues with depression and anxiety and my current health crisis means that I will have to work at looking after my mental health this year.  I will have my bad days, but it is imperative that I keep up a positive (or at least neutral) attitude more consistently than usual.  I have several plans to assist me in accomplishing this.  First, I have been referred to the BC Cancer Agency’s counselling department, so I will be getting some professional help that is designed specifically to assist me in coping with cancer and treatment.  Second, some of the aspects of my journaling routine are focused upon positive thinking, affirmations, and gratitude.  Third, I have loads of video games to play, books to read, TV shows to watch and a forum to express how I feel about them.  I’m the most excited about that part!  Fourth, it is my hope that I will finally start working through the CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) workbook that I purchased earlier this year when I had my first panic attack.

7. Learn Something New

As I said in Goal #2 (Write as much as possible), it is my hope that I will be able to devote some small amount of time during time off examining how I can make career change to something that is more flexible and location neutral.  While I know that I can probably make some income with freelance writing, I would like to explore some other avenues that might be a bit more fruitful.  I plan to research and take some courses via educational websites such as Skillshare to see what kinds of skills will be necessary to obtain the kind of job that I want.  I’ve always been a fan of throwing myself up steep learning curves and I feel like now is a good time to start.

While I am enthusiastic about this goal I am, unfortunately, not certain how much I will be able to work on it.  My ability to take courses and learn things might be diminished by chemotherapy side effects.  I’m willing to give it a try, however, and I know that, from a practical perspective, it will be easier to do this when I am not working full time.

8. Create and maintain tidy spaces in my home that I can be happy spending a lot of time in.

I am an extraordinarily messy person.  Super organized and terribly messy.  While my messiness is consistent, it tends to get a lot worse when I’m depressed.  I would like to work toward making a significant change in this area in 2018.  While I am in treatment, I will not be returning to work, thus I will be at home most of the time.  If I’m going to spend most of my time in my office and my bedroom, I think it’s important that I try to keep them tidy so that I will enjoy my spaces and feel less stressed out and sad that they’re a mess.  I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be accomplishing this one, but I will start making some more specific plans and strategies over the next week or so.  I do already have some de-cluttering projects in mind.

9. Leave the house to work at least once per week.

This depends a bit on how I’m feeling, but I think it’s important for me to try and get out of the house at least a few times per week.  I can get a lot of work done in a few hours of crowd buzz and good music, so it’s worth it for me to get out and work in a coffee shop or somewhere similar.  I have a great little Chrome book that’s great for basic writing and web browsing on the go.  It’s my hope that I’ll be able to get out and work more than once per week, but I like to keep my goals as manageable and realistic as possible.

10.  Be supportive of and express gratitude to my partner and maintain a healthy and loving relationship.

A serious illness like cancer can have a significant impact on your romantic relationships.  Right now, my illness consumes a lot of my time and energy and it’s important to me that I don’t allow it to bleed too much into my relationship.  Of course, I will share my thoughts and feelings with him and I am counting on him to listen to me, be respectful, and provide love and moral support.  What I can’t do, however, is forget that he also needs love and moral support — I plan to do my best to make sure that his needs are being met and that everything isn’t about me being sick.

Have you set your goals yet for 2018?  Is there anything that you’re hoping to accomplish this year?  Leave a comment and let me know or message me privately — I’m interested to hear about what you’d like to get up to.  Let’s all have a better year than we did in 2017!

Goals for 2018: Part 1

It’s been a tough few days.  Chemotherapy side effects have been hitting me quite hard and I’ve had significant pain and discomfort.  I suppose it’s as good of a time as any, then, to start thinking about one of the main ways that I plan to take care of myself in 2018: by setting my goals for the year and developing mechanisms for tracking my progress.  I will be writing a post next week about what to expect from this blog in 2018 and a good bit of my content will be somehow related to my goals for the year.

I have 10 main goals for the year, many of which will divided into smaller, measurable tasks.  I will cover 5 goals today and 5 goals on Tuesday.

1. Make progress toward beating cancer.

I think it’s fairly obvious that this is my first priority in 2018.  I was tempted for my goal to simply be “Beat cancer” but I don’t like to set goals that are unrealistic.  Of course, it would be great if my six month course of chemotherapy was 100% guaranteed to cure my cancer, or at least force it into remission.  Given that the cancer has spread, however, I’m trying to be realistic about the fact that I may need further treatment down the road.  Given the side effects I’ve been experiencing recently, I feel like this could also be “Survive chemotherapy.”

2. Write as much as possible.

I am hoping that, within the next two years, I will be able to have a significant career change.  I have several reasons for this.  First, while I have a decent job that is moderately interesting, it isn’t the type of job that’s feasible to stay in for the long term (poor benefits, no pension plan, very high stress).  Second, I believe that the best career move for me at the moment is to transition into a job that is more flexible and, preferably, location neutral.  This means working from home.  I think this is the best for me due to my partner’s career being on a much better path than my own (it would be great to be able to pick up and move wherever he might need to go) and also because my cancer may reoccur or I may develop cancer in another part of my body.  A more flexible career would allow me to continue working during another period of illness.

During my time away from my day job, I plan to write as much as I can about a variety of topics and in numerous different formats, because I believe that writing is my best work from home skill.  I will also be working to develop new skills that I think will be useful to me in pursuing this path, but I’ll talk about that next week.

3. Develop a healthy and relaxing nighttime routine that will allow me to disconnect, focus and rest well.

I am terrible at going to bed for a whole host of reasons, but mostly I just dawdle a lot.  I scroll social media on my phone late at night when no one is posting anything, I watch YouTube videos that aren’t interesting, and I will often sit for 30 minutes just thinking about things.  I plan to shut my devices off earlier and journal every night to focus my thoughts and make sure that I don’t waste time that my body needs for rest.

4. Maintain my low credit card balance and manage my spending according to my reduced income.

2017 wasn’t a great year for me.  My dog died, I was diagnosed with cancer, and physically I just didn’t feel very well.  I also struggled a lot to accomplish the goals I had set for the year and I did a terrible job of managing my free time effectively.  The one aspect where I saw some significant improvement in 2017 is my finances.  I did a lot of research about managing personal finances, paying down debt and saving money.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end the year with much for savings, but I did end the year with way less debt.  I plan to maintain what I started last year and, if I am able to go back to work, start saving a substantial emergency fund.

5. Take care of myself physically.

Physical self care is an important priority for me this coming year — not only because I am in treatment for cancer, but also because I’m bad at it.  When things aren’t going well for me or I’m depressed, I often don’t take good physical care of myself.  I skip brushing my teeth, I don’t apply my psoriasis ointment, I don’t moisturize my skin (which I desperately need to do because I have such sensitive skin) and I stress/binge eat junk food.  I will need to manage all of this a lot better in order to keep myself positive and comfortable.  My doctor has also recommended that I get 150 minutes of physical activity per week, so I’m hoping to stay on track with that as much as I can, though I think it might be a bit of a challenge on the weeks when I am recovering from my treatments.

Stay tuned for Tuesday’s post, where I’ll be discussing the rest of my goals for 2018!  On Sunday I’ll be posting my new Media Round-up.  Watch out for it!