Portland, Oregon's Chinese Garden
Help me to have the courage to finish what I have begun
and to begin what I want to finish.
and to begin what I want to finish.
This is the time of year when I realize that the time is short to accomplish all the goals I energetically set at the beginning of the year (for example, this little one). The blogging drought is the biggest sign of the physical and mental inertia that squeezed me like a Hollywood movie anaconda after I returned from France. A dozen half-finished, never-posted blog entries became lost in the forest of my computer files while I spent my time instead developing a serious opinion about the new hairstyle of tabloid favorite, Miley Cyrus.
One thing I managed to finish was essayist Phyllis Theroux’s graceful memoir, The Journal Keeper. This summer in France I made a spastic attempt to maintain a relevant and detailed travel journal. Another unfinished product. Theroux’s own journal can make her readers sob because they will never be so poetic or so detailed in their own daily scribblings. But that is no reason to hate her. The memoir made from her edited journals covers a period in her life when many women just disappear into the woodwork. She fights that tendency along with writer’s block, her mother’s deteriorating health, and financial stress.
Rather than give you a review that in no way matches Theroux’s lyrical observations I’ll just offer her own words as evidence why you should read it:
- On a mundane level, I think I am capable of swimming half a mile with relative ease. But in the water I don’t do it because I feel myself to be weak in resolve. And what I feel is stronger than what I think. In my writing, I am fearful of risk or change, not because I wouldn’t if I could, but because I don’t think I can. Here, what I think prevails. Do I have anything to say?
- It is true that you become what you love. I love ideas, words, people, and food. So I am an intellectual with lots of friends who is twenty pounds overweight. If I were to love exercise, thrift, and truth I would be better off.
- [My mother] spent a good deal of time wondering, as she phrased it, how to put in my day. I think that knowing how to put in your day is one of the great unspoken problems of being alive.
I’m continually drawn back to Theroux’s small prayer at the top of this page. Hand raised. Guilty as charge. I’m the world’s worst starter of anything. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
My plate is so full right now that it looks like I went through the line for Sunday brunch twice before I even began to eat. Pre-action decisions about which problem or task has top priority, what’s the best way to approach the situation, what I need to do first before I even begin to make a move paralyze me so that nothing gets done until crisis mode hits.
The solution seems so simple – so obvious. Do something. Anything to break the logjam. Len Babauta of the blog Zen Habits understands how hard it is to develop new habits and abandon the unproductive actions that control our days. If we fixate on our goal, e.g., to do 30 minutes of cardio every day or write 1000 words each day, it may seem too daunting a task even to begin.
The key to forming a new habit, Babauta says, is not how much you do of the habit each day, but just whether you do it at all. In other words, it’s not whether you do 50 sit-ups a day but whether you do just one. “Focus on the smallest thing — just getting started. You don’t have to do even 5 minutes — just start. That’s so easy it’s hard to say no,” he instructs us.
Well . . . duh.
Yet it really is hard to do that one freakin’ minute of filing loose paperwork that would set me on the road to having an organized office and desk. Or to commit to writing one minute – let alone 5 minutes – each day. But I’m game if you are.
This is like in yoga class when we’re instructed at the beginning to set a one-word intention for our practice or our day. I choose such intentions as peace or energy, depending on how many aches and pains my body has that day. Maybe I should add a new intention -- commence.
In the time I have left to have a productive year, perhaps I’ll say Phyllis Theroux’s little prayer each morning and then commit to working for one minute on anything on my exhaustive to-do list. Then the rest of the day is mine to waste. Who knows? Maybe if I develop this new habit of starting I’ll improve my record on finishing.
Are you someone who has more trouble starting or finishing? How do you get over that hurdle? What one thing would you apply Babauta’s simple technique to right now? Share all you know about starting or ending good habits in the comments box. It will only take a minute.
Do you feel you have as many tasks to do as stones in this walk?
How do you get them done?