How long does it take to learn how to motivate yourself to get things done?
In my case, about forty-two years.
I don’t mean that I haven’t been able to get anything done until now. I can unleash a can of whoop ass on a project with the best of them. But, until a few months ago, I wasn’t really clear on why I can sometimes get a big thing done with no drama and other times I set goals that go absolutely nowhere.
I’ve read tons of advice on how to be more productive and reach your goals. Sometimes the advice worked for me and sometimes it didn’t. It was always extra frustrating when something that worked for someone else didn’t work for me.
Then, a few months ago, I was working on developing a quiz for one of my book marketing clients. She sent me an example of the type of thing she was looking for. It was The Four Tendencies Quiz by Gretchen Rubin. The Four Tendencies is a framework (and a book) that looks at your innate style of meeting expectations.
The Four Tendencies are:
Upholder – Upholders have little to no trouble meeting expectations whether external or internal (and sometimes have a lot of trouble understanding why other people can’t).
Obliger – Obligers have seemingly endless power to get things done for others, but struggle with goals that are only for themselves.
Rebel – Rebels pretty much give the middle finger to all expectations — both external expectations and internal. Unless they really want to do something, they are unlikely to do it.
Questioners – Questioners have to know the why before they act. They are good at meeting inner expectations because they’ve already answered their own questions, but they struggle with outer expectations until they get answers.
I took the quiz and learned that I am an Obliger. This was not necessarily earth shattering. I knew that I sometimes (okay, nearly all the time) put my own needs last. After all, I’m a mom with two kids who runs her own business. Kids and clients come first.
But what I didn’t realize was how I could use this information about myself to further goals that are primarily internal.
When I thought about it further, I saw that all the times I’ve done something really big or really hard, I was motivated because of it’s impact on other people.
Example #1: When I quit smoking (over twenty years ago) I did it because it was very clear my then boyfriend (now husband) and I needed to quit and I realized he was far more likely to quit if I’d already done it. And that was all I needed. I quit cold turkey and Ben quickly followed.
Example #2: I wanted to be a writer my entire life (seriously, since grade 2) but I didn’t actually get off my ass and start writing until I had a baby girl at age 30 and I realized if I wanted her to have the guts to follow her dreams I needed to show her it was possible.
Example #3: When I learned I had type 1 diabetes I starting managing the shit out of it and taking immaculate care of myself because I had a daughter and I needed to be my best for her.
Example #4: When I wrote my first novel for kids, it was because Nora (who was six-years-old at the time) was literally project managing me. I’d write a chunk, read it to her and she say “That’s good, Mommy. Now go write some more. I want to know what happens.”
All this probably sounds lame to non-obligers. Why not just do things for yourself? But Rubin says these tendencies are innate. And if that’s the case, it only makes sense that capital-N-Nature would need a big chunk of folks who were focused on the greater good. Those are obligers. That’s me.
It’s not that I have a poor self-esteem and live for others. It’s just that I only have so much time and energy and I’m wired to meet my obligations to other first. My personal priorities take a back seat.
Which is why this framework is so helpful for me. (Rubin says Obligers have the most to gain by learning their tendency.) When I have a goal that’s personal, I just need to make it bigger — to create some external accountability. And now I can easily identify so-called productivity tips that won’t work for me — particularly those of the “just do it” variety.
So, I’m embracing my Obliger identity by creating accountability beyond myself for the things that matter to me. It’s how I’m getting my writing done — I have a fantastic writing/editing group and we meet every 2 weeks. And it’s I’m getting the podcast done — I’m doing it with Nora, it’s good for our relationship and people are expecting to hear new episodes. Writing and podcasting are both things I want to do for myself, but in order for them to happen I have to make it more of a community thing.
In that spirit, I’ve created a group coaching program which will start in January where I’ll work with a small group of writers to help them finally get a good, evidence-based marketing plan together and start executing on it. (And it won’t be just for Obligers, thanks to Rubin, I now know how to coach for all the Four Tendencies.)
So, that’s my big revelation for the year. And I feel well-armed to make some resolutions for 2019 that I can actually keep.
Not, I’m not freaking out. I rather like getting older.
But I am feeling the need to use a landmark birthday to do some special things.
These things fall into 2 categories: Getting My Shit Together Things and Doing Fun Things.
So, in these 30 days before my 40th birthday, I’m setting myself 3 challenges that fall into the Getting My Shit Together category:
- Meditate everyday. For at least 1 minute. I know, the bar is low. I’m okay with that.
- Exercise everyday. For at least 5 minutes, but ideally, take a nice walk or do yoga. Again, the bar is intentionally low.
- Do the Whole30 challenge. This is the highest bar I’ve set. Especially challenging, as school will be out soon and we’ll be taking a short trip to Crater Lake in mid-June.
The fun category? The aforementioned trip to Crater Lake. And I’m toying with the idea of getting an Apple Watch. I’m sure there’s a whole post I could (and maybe will) write where I go into how I’m going to justify this.
I’m squeezing all this in amongst caring for a 14-month-old, a nine-year-old, and work for my writing clients and revising my novel (again).
I figure one of three things will happen:
- I’ll succeed and become completely blissed-out and self-actualized.
- I’ll succeed, but become completely smug and insufferable to those around me.
- I’ll fail and learn something.
Wish me luck.
“I see that,” he says calmly, staring at my argyle bedecked feet sticking out of the hospital gown.
It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re in a triage room of the Labor and Delivery unit. I am twenty-six weeks pregnant and I am bleeding. Again.
The first time I started bleeding was Thanksgiving Day. After sex, Ben went to the bathroom to clean up and came rushing back to the bedroom.
“Sue, you’re bleeding,” he said, his voice without any breath behind it. I turned on the lamp and looked at the sheets.
I felt no pain. My mind flashed to what might lie ahead. The blood and the sobbing. The sad explanations to well meaning people.
That Thanksgiving night, over the phone, the on-call doctor talked me off the ledge, explaining that bleeding after intercourse was common during the second trimester, since there is so much increased blood flow to the cervix. My bleeding slowed, then stopped.
In short, it was no big deal.
The next day, just to be safe, my own doctor put me on pelvic rest; which is the medical term for “You’re not getting any for a while.” This is a particularly cruel fate for a second trimester pregnant woman.
But now this, waking up on New Year’s Eve, bleeding for no apparent reason. This time, the on-call doctor sends me to get checked out. This time, it feels like a big deal.
The young resident doctor deploys her speculum. I squeeze Ben’s hand. Hard.
We get the best possible news under the circumstances: I have a large polyp on my cervix. There’s no danger to the baby.
The older attending doctor explains, a bit too excitedly — and with hand gestures — that after the baby is born they can simply twist the polyp off.
So, it’s gross — but again — it’s no big deal.
I’ve been working with this concept all year, this idea of “no big deal.” Most evenings, I collapse into bed and put in my earbuds. I listen as Pema Chödrön explains why Buddhists — and lapsed Catholic wannabe Buddhists like me — train themselves not to make such a big deal of everything.
Every little bump we encounter in our day to day lives is a big deal: traffic, a head cold, an overcooked burger, a bad boss. We loll around in our troubles. We meditate to learn not to fan the flames.
But, oh! How part of me — the miserable, gestating part — wants to make things a big deal! Doctors make a big deal of my pregnancy at the “advanced maternal age” of thirty-eight, an even bigger deal of my complicating factor of type 1 diabetes, and, biggest of all, being pregnant with twins and losing one of them at just nine weeks.
This bleeding polyp — before I knew what it was — made me fear both babies were lost.
I get surges of emotion — grief, anger, adoration, gratitude — that flood me and leave me exhausted. But the core me — the sane me under the enormous belly — knows these are merely hormonal typhoons, and keeps reaching for the big rock of rationality and calm.
No big deal. It’s become my mantra for those times when I don’t get my own way. If I had my way, I wouldn’t have been pregnant again. Then I wouldn’t have been pregnant with twins, but what did I know? Because when we lost one of them, that news had me collapsed and screaming in my driveway, sobbing and clinging to my husband and I didn’t stop until every grieving moan within me was released.
When my breathing finally slowed, I said to myself, “Hey, so you made a big deal out of it, that’s no big deal. Happens to everybody.”
Many women suffer miscarriages between seven and nine weeks. Many women who are pregnant with twins never know it. One twin vanishes before the first ultrasound glimpse into the womb.
It does help to know I am not alone. “Other people feel this,” Pema says into my ear. Reminding ourselves of this is what she calls “thinking bigger.” It’s easy to think bigger when looking at my ever-ballooning belly. I remind myself I’m suffering through all of this — like so many women before me — for good reason: a healthy baby.
No big deal. It’s one hell of a paradox. Feeling my feelings, even plunging into the pain, but then zooming out on my own life to see the larger landscape. Having something bad happen isn’t a big deal and it doesn’t make me special, it makes me human. Other people feel this.
I breathe into my big round belly. No big deal. I can minimize the emotional pain this way. But I hope I’m not spiritually advanced enough to minimize the joy when this baby arrives. I still want that to be a big deal.
My husband and I got rid of our television fifteen years ago after watching a New Year’s Eve special for the millennium change that featured a tanked Bono and a spooky Liz Taylor. But these days, not having a TV means less and less. I’m as unhealthily attached to the smartphone in my pocket as anyone.
Last summer, at our daughter’s teacher’s suggestion, we gave our then seven-year-old a screen free summer.
Nora attends a Waldorf school, where one teacher takes a class of kids from first grade through eighth grade. At the last parent meeting of the school year, her teacher made a plea. She said the best way to prepare the children for the next academic year was a screen-less summer. Come September, she would have all the tools she needed if every child in the class had a good-old-fashioned summer break, the kind where crushing boredom sparks creativity and adventure.
No need to drill them in math and phonics. Just let them play. Then she asked us one of her famous rhetorical questions, “If you had a screen free summer, what would that look like and feel like by the end of August?”
I can tell you what it looked like for our family: freaking awesome.
A typical day had Nora sitting in a mud pit she’d dug in the back yard, wearing duct tape shoes she had made herself. She’d hop up, pluck some lamb’s ear from the garden and hold it to ears, then gallop around shouting, “Bah! Bah!” Then she’d pick some flowers, but suddenly stop, declaring, “The bees need them!” Maybe she’d knit under a tree for an hour, with the dog sleeping next to her.
Then she’d wander her muddy self into the house and make costumes from fabric scraps and decide to organize the rest of the family to ride bikes to the farmer’s market. Once we were home from that, she’d write and illustrate a book about biking.
I didn’t love every activity she came up with, mind you. One afternoon she used nearly every damn spice in the spice drawer to make potions before I realized what she was doing. Another time, July 5th to be exact, she covered her hair in half a bottle of lotion. When questioned, she claimed the fireworks from the night before and the resulting sleep deprivation had made her “half crazy.” Later that day she started writing a book she titled, Fireworks are Stupid, Dumb and Annoying.
Then there was the time I didn’t pay close enough attention to the dessert she’d made and she vomited three times. From what I gathered later, the concoction was mostly sugar and undercooked eggs. Mea culpa.
The best thing about all these shenanigans is not one of them was inspired by Disney or Nickelodeon. This was pure Nora. We got so many glimpses of her unique little brain, like the time she wistfully declared that her idea of relaxation was “lying on the floor, drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.”
Typically, during the school year, the most media Nora has is an episode or two of Mythbusters on the weekend (an episode that doesn’t feature guns, which is a bit tricky to find), or old episodes of Good Eats, or Nova ScienceNow.
During her screen free summer, she asked to watch Mythbusters exactly once — likely because she was holding a roll of duct tape at the time — and I simply redirected her to the backyard.
Waldorf schools are famous for their no media policies. Some schools make you sign a contract that says you won’t allow your child to have screen time. Our school strongly encourages no screens at home, or limiting screens to a Friday night movie night, allowing the kids to detox from media influence over the weekend before they return to school.
Spend anytime at all on a playground, and you’ll likely see children re-enacting scenes from the most recent thing they watched on television. Media makes such a dramatic impact that kids spend a good chunk of time trying to process what they have seen. Think how many times you’ve seen kids standing on a mound of bark dust belting out “Let it Go” instead of riding the merry-go-round.
Waldorf believes in a concept they call the nine-year change. Basically, it’s a child’s first existential crisis. They realize they are an individual and they get to decide who they want to be based on the menu of options laid before them in the previous nine years. Our teacher merely wants us to provide the best possible menu of options. Why let your child add snotty, vain or violent television characters to the menu?
What’s more, as Waldorf puts an emphasis on the subtle wonder of nature and storytelling. Nora’s teacher pointed out that there’s no way she can compete with high-budget, multimedia video games and movies. “Your child is doing exactly what they should be doing by gravitating to the most exciting thing around. That’s what their brains are wired to do.” It’s up to parents to decide if the most exciting thing around is truly the right lesson for their age.
Guess what, if my daughter’s teacher — who is an amazingly energetic and riveting storyteller — can’t compete with media, then neither can I and neither can you.
There’s a reason it works to hand your child a device to buy yourself thirty minutes of quiet. The device and its output are far more compelling than parents. Now try getting your child’s attention back to chat with you at dinner or go clean her room.
Our house is not completely media free, Nora listens — with relish — to audio books. She went through most of the Ramona Quimby books several times over the summer. Now she wants to change her name to Beatrice. Audio books allow her to absorb stories and information while still using her own imagination. But we are still trying to find the balance with listening time. It too, can carry her away.
Just as you don’t need to become a Buddhist to reap the benefits of meditation, you don’t need to shell out tuition to a Waldorf school to try a no-screen policy in your house. (Tip: For the love of all things holy, do not tell your kid they are not allowed screen time. Simply redirect them.)
Some parents think that not allowing screen time is depriving their children of some inalienable right to consumerism. I say, you’re simply prepping them to enjoy it properly. I say, it’s media that deprives children — of their fundamental right to get bored stupid and wash their hair in a bucket in the backyard.
Let their brains develop to the point where they can successfully sort through the bullshit in the media. After the nine-year change, media can play a larger role. Thankfully, all the movies and games are digitally stored for your convenience. As Nora’s teacher likes to to say: “All of it will be there waiting for your child when the time is right.”
Tomorrow, I’ll have a post featured at Scary Mommy. It’s tentatively titled “How to Survive a High Risk Pregnancy Without Permanently Losing Your Shit.” As regular readers of my blog well know, this last pregnancy (and I do mean last) was pretty rough. But there’s something about it that isn’t widely known, so it’s time to fess up.
I would say on the privacy spectrum that starts at “Circumspect” and ends at “Over-sharer,” the dot that represents me is about three-quarters of the way to over-sharer. There’s not much I won’t talk about if the the right person is in front of me (or, you know, I have a largely faceless internet audience).
So, it was a really tough decision for me to not share the news about my twin pregnancy with my family and friends. That’s right, last August when I had my first ultrasound at seven weeks, we discovered I had two buns in the oven. Not one. Pretty exciting (and scary) news.
But, we’d just gotten the sad and deeply worrisome news that my sister-in-law had breast cancer. There was a lot of worrying going on already and I didn’t want to add to anyone’s burden. Especially given that my pregnancy was labeled high risk right out of the gate, due to my type 1 diabetes and my “advanced maternal age.” (Gawd, I hate that phrase.)
So, whereas with my first pregnancy the stick wasn’t even dry when I called my mom, this time, I waited.
I knew that “vanishing” twins were pretty common, and I wanted to save the pain to my family if one of our twins was destined to vanish. I told my sister and several friends, so I would have ample support in case of bad news, but that was it.
When you’re pregnant with twins, the sonographer names one Baby A and one Baby B, to keep them straight. Baby A is the one closest to the cervix. In our case, Baby A looked great. Baby B was several days behind in development. Just two weeks later, an ultrasound confirmed “no cardiac activity” for Baby B. It was a blow, but one we were braced for.
I waited until 12 weeks, when things were looking really good for Baby A, to finally make the call to my family to tell them the good news — and only the good news.
We have a happy ending, Little Alma Bea (get it? A and B?) was born on March 19th. And my sister-in-law has finished her chemo and radiation and is on the road to recovery.
But, being the writer that I am, I could only keep such an emotionally juicy story to myself for so long. This Scary Mommy post merely mentions the lost twin — mostly I offer tips to help others suffering through a high risk pregnancy.
I have written a Big Essay about the experience, and I’m looking for a special home for it. When it’s published, you’ll all be the first to know (after my mom, that is).