From chaos to focus

You must have chaos in your heart to give birth to stars.
~ Nietsche

Danielle LaPorte shared this quote in a recent blog post, and it really resonated with me. Just a little more than a week into my summer vacation, I’m already experiencing a crisis of confidence. Behind on the list of goals I set, frustrated with my lack of progress as a fiction writer, disappointed about my improvement in the weight loss and fitness arena, I’ve been feeling really confused about what’s really most important and uncertain about how to proceed.

When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come.
~ Chinese proverb

Tired and sore after running the Peachtree Road Race yesterday, I decided to lay low for a few hours today and catch up on some reading online. This was just what I needed, arguably the most productive day of my summer so far.

First, I read a great article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (click HERE) about the myth of perfectionism in writing. Just yesterday I was discussing my novel with my sister-in-law, sharing how I desperately need to buckle down and finish revising the first five chapters so I can send them to the editor who requested them, and then complete the rest of the manuscript so I can send it to the agent waiting to read it. I was able to admit that what is stopping me is fear; as long as the book remains unfinished, I am safe, because it cannot be rejected. On the other hand, as long as the books remains unfinished, it will never be published. And there is nothing I want more in this world than to be a published novelist; it is imperative that I deal with this fear. Kathryn’s advice? Write the best book you are capable of. Set time limits for revisions and drafts. Then let the thing go, flaws and all, and move on to your next project. More about how I plan to heed this advice in a minute.

Second, I watched a terrific video on YouTube in which Jonathan Fields interviews Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit. Here is the introduction from Jonathan’s website.

In this episode of Good Life Project, Duhigg reveals how one of the biggest retailers in the world, Target, tapped habit analysis to figure out which customers are pregnant and leverages that information to cultivate new buying habits. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

He shares how to leverage the neuroscience of habit to create your own positive behaviors (hint: chocolate after exercise may not be such a bad thing). He reveals why old habits never really die and what to do about it.

Duhigg takes us behind the scenes of major corporations and shows how to use the science of habit to transform a failing businesses into a success story in ways you’d never suspect. And he shares how these ideas can be tapped to create larger shifts in cultures and societies for good or, if misused, not-so-good.

Do you have any bad habits that you would like to break or any good habits that you would like to form? If so, this video is well worth the thirty-seven minutes it takes to watch it.

Finally, I read this compelling blog post (click HERE) by author Joel Runyan explaining the connection between physical and mental limits. And that’s when everything clicked.

have a thousand and one perfectly reasonable excuses why I can’t lose the ten pounds I gained a couple of years ago (my age, my metabolism, my thyroid condition), why I can’t run a 10K in ninety minutes (my age, my extra ten pounds, my aching knee), why I haven’t sold a manuscript (I don’t have time to write, it is harder for unknown authors to get representation, my work simply isn’t good enough), why I have trouble making ends meet financially (my status as a single woman, my responsibilities to my kids, the economy). But I have pushed myself in some small ways and, as a result, I have made some measurable progress. Whereas at the beginning of the year I couldn’t run a 5K if you offered me a million dollars, I finished the Water for the World 5K in under 40 minutes and ran every step. Two agents and a literary editor have asked to read part or all of my manuscript. I have paid my bills every month and made a bit of progress towards my credit card debt. And come to think of it, I have lost ten pounds this year, more than once. Yep, I lose three pounds, then gain five, then lose seven, and gain four, and…well, you get the picture.

Regardless, I have proven that what Joel Runyan says is true.

If you keep going, eventually you’ll succeed and when you do – you’ll change. Because once you do something you used to think was impossible – it no longer is. You just did the impossible. Literally.

And now, to the heart of the matter.

If this one little story you believed about who you are isn’t true, what else isn’t true?

In light of all this new insight, I am revising my list of goals for what’s left of my summer vacation. Most important, I’m going to stop being my own worst enemy and be a kind, authoritative parent to myself. For the next thirty days, I am going to adhere to a rigid routine when it comes to three areas: eating healthy, exercising daily, and finishing my novel. I am planing my meals ahead of time, eating no more and no less; I am running three miles daily on the elliptical machine or outdoors; and I am working on my novel for a minimum of two hours every morning before I check email or log in to Facebook. As Charles Duhigg said to Jonathan Runyan, “The more you have habitualized in your life, the more you have willpower leftover for other things.” Like practicing the piano and making jewelry. But even if I only have enough willpower left to watch movies from Redbox or surf the internet, I will be able to sleep easy knowing that I have made made strides where it matters most to me.

I’m going to stop telling myself what I can’t do – and do the impossible. Thanks, Danielle and Kristine and Jonathan and Charles and Joel.