It’s almost a new year, which means it’s time for random strangers on the internet to offer you unsolicited advice on setting big goals. Time to join a new gym! Lose weight!
Instead, here’s the low-key approach I take to achieve improvements in my life, calendar turnover be damned. It works for anything, be it financial, physical, or a skill I want to learn like speaking Italian or playing piano.
For me, it breaks down to a simple difference in mindset: daily progress vs. an end goal. That simple trick takes a pressure-laced situation and unfolds it into a pleasurable activity.
Relationships: Not “I want a great marriage,” but “I strive to be kind to my partner in the daily interactions.” (Yes, even when I’m hangry.)
Business: Not “I want to double revenue,” but “I will double the number of potential clients I connect with.”
Writing: Not “I want to write this many blog posts or gain this many new readers” but “I want to write most mornings about things I am enjoying or improve my life.”
Fitness: not “I want to lift this much or achieve this race pace” but “I’ll try to stick to this training plan most days.”
Language: Not “I want to speak at a C1 fluency level by ____ date” but “I’ll study my Anki flashcards consistently and take a weekly lesson.”
Piano: Not “I want to play the (devilishly fast) Liebestraume by Lizst” but “every day, I’ll try get my hands on a piano to practice technique and work on repertoire.”
What I love about this is that it takes away the pressure. Down with arbitrary deadlines to speak this well or play that song or send that rock climbing project or hit that business revenue goal.
As Chuck Close said, ““Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” But screw that, amateurs can tap into the magic as well!
By focusing on what I can control—daily actions—I trust that I’ll make progress. No more gripping the reigns with white knuckles and gritting my teeth, just a daily practice that moves me forward. (It ties neatly into designing your perfect day.)
As a bonus, there is also far less recrimination attached to daily goals. If I miss working out or piano or Spanish study, I do it the next day! Consistency builds resolve, routines become rituals, and progress follows naturally. Journey, not the destination.
In other words, I just sit down and practice my scales. I enjoy it, even REVEL in the knowledge that note by note, pushup by pushup, and word by word, this is how songs are learned, muscles are strengthened, and books are written.
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https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/592c1044-1e36-4c6f-bd94-a94fe30b19e6_600x450.webp450600Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-12-29 19:34:502023-05-06 14:48:05The less stressful way to accomplish your goals
Ah, a new year! A fantastic time to hate the old us: let’s whittle away our bloated physical bodies, quiet our ping-ponging minds, change our crappy jobs, and eat celery while taking cold showers and doing pushups.
Meh. I don’t buy it. Can’t we just be happy with who we are and still be on a personal growth path?
Goals are things you want to accomplish. Skills are things you DO. (Which, incidentally, can help accomplish goals.)
Want to lose weight? Skill: learn how to cook three healthy meals.
Want to make more in-real-life friends? Skill: Learn how to be more vulnerable and listen better.
In the past, I’ve prioritized freedom and flexibility over a strict schedule. Game for an outdoor adventure or a friend hang at any time. Benefits, yes…with the downside that I wasn’t consistent with skill development.
Last year, I booked weekly Italian/piano lessons and committed to drawing consistently. I didn’t miss a day of studying my Italian flashcards with Anki and slowly but surely learned 4,000 vocab words. Thanks to that, I made tangible and incredibly satisfying progress. Small, consistent efforts lead to real skills.
I’m not as available now, but the tradeoff in schedule flexibility is 100% worth it. Now the days where I barely play music or skip a drawing session feel incomplete. I can’t imagine going back to the old me.
Which reminds me of this quote from Stillness is the Key…
So: to hell with goals. What skill can you commit to developing this year?
I’ll go first: I want to improve my portraiture skills, so I’m starting 2022 with drawing a portrait every day in January. Gawwwd they are hard!
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Bikepacking-the-Colorado-Trail-scaled.jpg19202560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-01-06 05:37:002022-09-20 20:23:14Forget goal setting, invest in skills
I’m one of those Type-A people who enjoys filling a 30-day calendar challenge with X’s. Solidly motivating for me, or at least a simple reminder to practice my Italian!
Recently I saw a challenge with a different take: a repeating loop of “do activity, get less awful.” (Paraphrased.)
I found it funny…until Chelsea pointed out how that mindset is essentially bullying myself. Which hadn’t registered at all for me.
In fact, I often beat myself up for falling short of self-prescribed expectations. I want to be GOOD at things. But what does that even mean?
If we think we’re not “good” at something, is there a finish line? There’s always someone more skilled at a hobby, richer, fitter than us.
How freeing would it be to drop all (or at least most) comparisons and be happy with our efforts and current abilities simply for the joy of the activity? Enjoy the journey, not the results. Draw composers because the process entertains me, not for the finished sketch.
Would you trade it all?
Reminding myself how much effort and sacrifice goes into proficiency – much less mastery – of anything helps me gain perspective. As Ryan Holiday writes, would you permanently swap your entire life with someone – negative and positive aspects – to have their talent?
I sure wouldn’t trade all my hours of travel and outdoor adventures for portrait drawing ability or the wizardry to play Beethoven piano sonatas. (Welllll…how many hours are we talking here?)
This felt like a powerful reminder that approaching life’s activities with a negative mindset – “I’m not good enough, so I need to improve myself” is a recipe for life-long disappointment. “I’m bad at piano, so I need to practice” pales for long-term motivation next to “this process is satisfying and I’m excited about learning it no matter the progress.” I want to practice the latter.
What if we talked to ourselves the way we talk to a best friend? Supportive. Inquisitive. Loving us for who we are andcelebrating us as a human being, not a human doing. If we can do that for our closest friends, surely we can do so for ourselves.
I’m still aiming to put the X on the calendar to keep my streaks alive. And also to feel fine if I miss a day or struggle with a piece of music.
Practice–>Enjoyment–>Practice–>Enjoyment. That’s a loop I want to be in!
P.S. Check out this podcast with Jim Loehr from minutes 25-30 for more insight on our inner voice. From the chat: “Would you broadcast what your inner voice is saying on a Jumbotron?”
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Beethoven-portrait-sketch-scaled-e1611207099771.jpg12001200Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2021-01-21 06:00:002021-01-21 10:39:17Ditching a Self-Bullying Mindset
Good grief, how do I write about 2020 without sounding like a jackass? It served up so much: social unrest, wildfires, the election battle. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, THE F’N PANDEMIC.
Talking about what I experienced and learned this year feels self-indulgent when people are hurting and the damndemic rages on. Still, 2020 marked a dramatic shift in my life and so here goes with a look back at my year.
If nothing else, I promise a picture of my ridiculous covid hair.
So Much to Do and See
I kicked off 2020 with PLANS. My friend Mason’s generous gift of an all-you-can-fly pass on United burned bright in my pocket, group workouts and friend hangs cranked along, van and bikepacking trips beckoned…
So much potential fun. And also a repeat of the same activities I’d enjoyed since we moved to Bend four years ago.
I’d ridden faster and longer, trained harder, learned how to ski. But what was next? Shaving a few seconds off my Strava times, climbing a harder route at Smith Rock, a trip to a new place?
What more could I learn from those things?
Since college, I’ve experienced three distinct phases: business-building, travel, and this most-recent, intense athletic activity. In Bend, land of fit people, I was surrounded and supported by people whose primary focus was outdoor pursuits. Now, I felt a pull away from those things.
I needed a shift, a reset.
Well, screw you, COVID. I didn’t need quite this big an intervention, you scurrilous virus!
Pandemic lockdowns felt like a Tasmanian Devil’s tornado at first – everything in disarray, all plans nixed, everything unsure. Initially, life felt surreal. We scrambled to buy supplies, sort out food, and help our families do the same. With no kids and remote work, our dislocation was nothing compared to others, but like most everyone, we were affected.
My energy verged on mania, with a long daily checklist to help me focus and stay productive, dammit. No downtime! I used the SPAR accountability app and rushed from activity to activity. “If only I could do pushups while meditating and stretching!” It wasn’t healthy.
As weeks rolled to months, I settled into a balanced, less frenetic routine. I trimmed back the items on the checklist and stopped using SPAR. I kept meditating (I’m at 280 days straight!). We launched our Great Garden Project, which consumed giant swaths of spring.
I identify strongly as an extrovert, but strangely, spending time alone felt good. I didn’t freak out. (Chelsea watched me for cracks, straitjacket in hand.) I recentered, turning the energy inward. I stayed physically active, but devoted far fewer hours to time outside and more time at home being creative. When I did venture out, I left the headphones behind and let my legs and mind spin.
Whereas in the past I’d have chafed at such a low-key life, focusing time on life-long skills like cooking, music, writing, gardening, and reading filled me with satisfaction. I made soy yogurt and cashew cheese, learned about pea varietals, dove into the Circle of Fifths. It was fun, challenging, fresh!
Giving Myself Permission to Do Different Things
In 2017, I met a blog reader from Washington named George. He’s built his own houses and welded the porch railings; dinner was served on a table he’d built. A meal that included bread he’d baked in a brick oven and wine he’d made with local grapes. You get the idea.
Yet he’s not homebound: every year, he and his wife Patti journey to places like Colombia to bike tour for a month or two. Then they return home to tend their homestead, nurture their giant garden, see friends and family, and cross-country ski.
In short, the picture of balance.
After a recent newsletter of mine, George emailed me:
“Your process of evolution intrigues me. Learning new things is the life-long adventure. Shifting from a tech-savvy, adventure shredder, van man, and blogger, I find your discoveries considerably more valuable now.”
It’s gratifying to know that someone I admire noticed – and appreciated – my evolution. Even more so because after we landed in Bend, I felt constrained by the previous focus of travel and van life and also afraid of losing blog readers not interested in my new life.
However, nobody wants to be stuck in a niche when it’s not their reality, especially with a passion project. For me, the newsletter helped refocus my creative energy and share thoughts other than travel, a richer, more authentic side of me beyond “adventure #vanlife MTB shredder.”
I suspect 2020 will represent a turn in the road for many of us. Here are a few specific things that greatly improved my life during this very challenging year:
Ditching Social Media
I finally admitted to myself that I use social media (especially Strava, an athletic community) partly for connection, but mostly for validation. I wanted people to know I was an athlete, that I did hard bike rides.
I’d considered dropping social media before, taking breaks, then returning for more dopamine doses. Closing my accounts freed me up to do whatever I wanted without thinking about sharing it. I can’t emphasize enough how empowering this shift has been!
As a huge bonus, the time I spent on social media now can be invested in creative projects.
Doing More Household Work
This is a topic worthy of an entire blog post, but in short, for the past few years, I’ve aimed to contribute more to the household and decrease Chelsea’s mental load (<–link to a fantastic comic).
This includes cooking more often, handling food orders and grocery pickups, and trying to anticipate the needs of the household without asking Chelsea what needs to be done (a task in itself, I’ve learned).
All things she’s disproportionately handled while I enjoyed the fun things in life. When I started thinking about how I was basically being lazy and my life partner was shouldering an unfair share of the burden, I started making changes.
I certainly prefer bike rides to cleaning toilets, but feel way better about myself as a husband and human.
Letting Go of My Business (Even More)
In the face of roiling financial markets and so much financial pain, I’m tremendously lucky that my business did ok this year. I feel for people who couldn’t go to work or HAD to work in unsafe environments.
We experienced dislocations – like many people, my employees lost their childcare and the whipsawing markets created tons of drama – but we were able to weather the storm. I’m grateful for that.
I’ve delegated a lot of my work over the years, but clung to certain tasks. Right before the pandemic arrived, I took a deep breath and handed a few seemingly important items off…and encountered no issues whatsoever. I can only think, “Why the HELL didn’t I do this earlier?!”
Realizing (accepting) that I was not particularly special and many people could handle those tasks only took me six years. #businessgenius For anyone running a business, I urge you to honestly appraise your role and what tasks can be delegated. This will allow you to focus on your true value and the unique abilities you bring.
Better Connection with Family
Prioritizing connecting with family stayed center stage this year. Thanks to phone calls and Marco Polo, I’ve talked more frequently with my parents than ever before. Maybe even more than when I was a teenager!
Beyond that, Chelsea and I stuck with a 3x/week FaceTime exercise routine with her parents. A perfect way for all of us to stay strong and also connect.
Creating Our Dream Spaces
Anyone else go big on DIY projects in 2020? From a massive backyard garden to Chelsea’s indoor jungle and other home improvements, we finally invested time and money into a house!
In the past, we’ve always had other priorities – trips, friends, activities, maybe we’ll move somewhere new – so this commitment to a property is different. We’re saying, “We love our town and our life here and we’re going to stay.” It feels good.
(Disclaimer: if there’s another pandemic, we’re buying tickets to New Zealand!)
On top of the DIY projects, I invested many hours into creative pursuits this year. Ranging from music to cooking to writing, I spent many enjoyable hours pretending I was Beethoven immersed in learning and projecting.
Chelsea’s birthday gift to me of a digital piano launched a passion for music that is only deepening. I’m enjoying music theory classes through Skillshare and have practiced piano for hundreds of hours. (Just 10 minutes a day is 60 hours a year!) For a sense of my infatuation level, last night I fell asleep with chord progressions in E minor swimming through my brain.
On the writing front, I fired up my basically-defunct writing practice and published 25 newsletters and a dozen blog posts in the second half of this year. Committing to consistency isn’t always what I want to do, but cracking myself up with dumb jokes, developing a satisfying body of work, and connecting with all of you makes it so worth it.
To anyone considering a creative project, all I can say is start now! Your future self will thank you for making the effort to build life-long skills. It’s hard to believe I’m seven years into blogging on Traipsing About and I’m glad I’ve stuck with it all these years.
I’m inspired when I think about these small changes cascading into other opportunities to learn and explore my creative side. Ebb and flow, seeking that ever-elusive balance.
Like George said to me, “Learning new things is the life-long adventure.”
And with that…onward!
BUH BYE to this stinker of a year. Here’s to vaccinations and a better 2021. Happy New Year!
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/IMG-1570-scaled.jpg19202560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2020-12-31 06:00:002020-12-31 08:35:44Begone, 2020! Looking Back at an Intense Year