Resting and Reflecting Before Re-Aligning

Since I last posted regularly, I’ve written three books (two adult mysteries and one juvenile nonfiction book), traveled, and been sick. The holidays blurred by, to be honest, because one of the book deadlines was December 20th. Two days ago I finished the second adult mystery.

One good thing about being sick is all the time you’re forced to be still: in waiting rooms, in recovery at home, in the night. Quiet time. Thinking time. Evaluating time.

HIATUS

What should happen when you take a hiatus from your regular life? [Hiatus = time off.] Among other things, I disappeared from my blog, newsletter and social media. I dropped out of several things at church for a while, and–this was the hardest–had to say ‘no’ a lot to my girls regarding babysitting my grandchildren.

An article, sustainable trauma recovery: taking a hiatus boosts MOTIVATION, by Robyn Mourning explains a healing process well. Her three-point recovery plan included rest, reflection, and getting re-aligned. A hiatus can be months away from your normal routine, or a week off, a weekend, half a day, or an hour long.

How should you spend your hiatus, if you want to feel the full benefits?

REST

Rest: take a breather, relax, stretch, just be.

At first, this was all I could do. I sat…on the couch, in bed with a book, in the backyard swing, down the trail by the pond. I wasn’t even thinking much. Not reading either. Catatonic mostly. Sometimes I walked rather zombie-like, appalled at how winded I was just walking! (I won a 5K race in my age group two years ago.) The walking and stretching helped get rid of the headaches and backaches from sitting too long. Being in nature is also very healing for me.

REFLECT

Reflect: become aware of your progress, what you’ve done so far, notice any big or small shifts that are providing hope and fostering resiliency.

I knew I was making progress when I wanted to read again and could focus and stay awake to read. I had a stack of fiction books (over 20) and nonfiction books (25) that had piled up this past year, unread. I also began to reflect on how I had managed to get myself into such a situation so that I didn’t repeat it.

Most of the problem was that I had scheduled myself with no margin at all last year. If NOTHING extra had come up, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But lots of extra things did occur, and being sick so often wasn’t on my calendar either. It was one of those “life happens when you’ve made other plans” kind of years. No one’s fault. My planning wasn’t wrong, but it had been unwise in the extreme not to build in any margin.

RE-ALIGN

Re-align: get re-aligned (or strengthen your alignment) with your unique purpose, your values, your goals.

Upon resting and reflecting, I realized there were a few important things I had let go of when things got so busy. One was proper exercise and sleep. One was time with friends. Another included a couple family members I lost touch with. So it was then time to re-align. I used a couple of tools for this.

One tool was the book Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, which is new. It came with many, many free online resources, including an excellent test which shows what parts of your life are working well–and which parts you’re drifting in, just trying to keep your head above water without being sucked down by the undertow. It pinpointed two more places I’d let slide without realizing it. Doing the Life Plan has helped me get my values re-aligned with how I spend my time.

The other book that is helping me get re-aligned is When the Body Says NO: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection by Gabor Mate, M.D. It has been eye-opening, not at all what I expected. I’m still learning from this one.

REST. REFLECT. RE-ALIGN. You’ll be glad you did. 

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Just Keep Showing Up

This quote is from one of my favorite authors, Henry Cloud, co-author of the Boundaries books.

The last few months have been challenging, and I’m behind where I wanted to be on a deadline. So this quote is appropriate today.

I won’t obsess about the deadline. I will show up at my desk early every day to plant, water, weed, and nurture this plot.

Fruit will grow!

 

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The Power of Intermittent Recovery

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

From the book The Power of Full Engagement:

To be an effective energy manager, you need to spend nearly all of your time fully engaged in the high positive energy quadrant or recovering your energy by spending time doing things in the low positive energy quadrant.

Definition of Terms

The low positive energy quadrant consists of doing activities that leave you relaxed, mellow, peaceful, tranquil and serene. For me, that means reading a good book or watching a good movie or spending time with certain people with whom I’m on the same sympathetic wavelength.

For you, such positive-energy producing activities may include fishing, golf, sitting in your porch swing, listening to music, going for a bike ride or stroll, or any number of things. The important point is this: unless you spend sufficient short periods throughout your day in intermittent recovery, you’ll burn out and experience a host of other unpleasant symptoms.

Is It Really That Important?

Yes, if you spend all day writing furiously on your novel, zipping along in your high energy positive quadrant, you’ll produce an amazing amount of work. That day, anyway. Maybe even two days in a row, but that will be it.

By relentlessly spending mental energy without recovery, you’ll be tired, anxious, irritable—and self-doubt will inevitably set in. In a tired state, our stories stink, our ideas sound hackneyed, and our prose deadly dull. At that point, we end up taking off more time from the writing than we would have if we’d made ourselves take those intermittent breaks throughout the writing day. (Trust me on this. I speak from experience.)

The Pay-Off

What’s the result of taking those short “low positive energy” recovery breaks? You’ll come back to your work more energized, less ache-y in the neck and back, and more emotionally upbeat.

The emotional component is just as important as your physical energy level! Defusing the bombs of self-doubt and anxiety will help your writing as much as feeling re-energized. And in the end, you’ll write more, not less, by taking the short breaks throughout the day. This is one of my 2016 goals.

Now I think I’ll try it myself and step outside into the lovely Texas sunshine.

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Striving for Contentment

Would you call yourself a contented writer? Are you happy with your current situation and writing progress?

Or are you a dissatisfied writer, striving to better yourself and always pushing hard toward your goals? It’s something we are faced with all the time, but especially at goal-setting time.

Embrace Opposite Traits

To be honest, if you want to enjoy the writing life–if you want to enjoy the process, and not just the final product–you’ll have to find a way to embrace both contentment and the urge to grow and  improve. Why? Because BOTH traits are important to your well-being as a writer and directly influence your career.

At Peace with Writing

First, you need to be grateful for what you’ve learned as a writer. If you’re a student, or you’ve been writing on your own for several months or years, take a look at your earliest stories and articles. You’ll groan, or maybe grin, at what you considered great writing back then. You’ll see how much you’ve learned about the craft of writing as well as the business of publishing. You can be grateful that your skills aren’t what they used to be!

Giving yourself credit for how far you’ve come is important in keeping your spirits up. We melancholy writers are too quick to get down on ourselves, our abilities, our ideas, and our publishing record. This critical mind of ours (so very valuable during the editing phase) can also be our greatest enemy if we don’t “think about what we’re thinking about.”

It’s probably true that you aren’t where you want to be as a writer (I’m not either!), but be thankful that you’re not back at the very beginning. Take note of your progress with writing skills, marketing skills, how deeply you read, your new blog, and how your lessons are improving. This is being content as a writer. “Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) It will allow you to enjoy the writing process.

[Caution: don't confuse being content with being complacent.  A complacent attitude says, "I've arrived. You can't teach me anything. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I can coast from now on."  A complacent writer stops reading and studying and working at his craft the minute he emails his final lesson or makes his first big sale. Complacency keeps you stuck in one spot--and eventually you start sliding backwards.]

Striving to Grow

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the desire to mature in your writing, and the inner gumption to press forward and make it happen. It’s enjoying your progress while at the same time moving forward to learn even more.

It’s being consistent in your learning curve. (By consistency, I mean devoting a certain amount of time almost daily to your writing growth. Maybe it’s thirty minutes of reading writers’ blogs or writing magazines. Maybe it’s studying a good writing craft book or taking an online class or webinar.)

Juggling Act

Like so many things in life, you have to find the balance here. You want to have enough “drive” to make steady progress in your career–but not end up “driven.” Trust me on this–”driven” is no fun. It comes with ulcers and headaches. On the other hand, you want to enjoy your writing life, and that means learning to be content in whatever stage you’re in. BUT you don’t want to be so content that you become complacent.

It sounds confusing, but it’s not really. Being happy with your writing while striving to learn and write better is akin to being in the zone for me. Slipping out of that zone, on either side, brings doubts and pressure. Pay attention to how you feel about your writing. Make course corrections, if necessary, to remain a happy writer.

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Happy New Year Tomorrow!

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