Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Revisiting Those New Year's Resolutions

So, how are you doing on all those new year's resolutions you made a couple of months ago? Here it is nearly the end of February and, if you're like me, it feels like the year is slipping away in a torrent of distracting and chaotic events, most of which are taking place outside my own personal life. How do we cope with this?

The thing that has helped me resist the tide of sludge that threatens, daily, to sweep away any sense of control I have is my goals chart. I don't make new year's "resolutions" in the traditional sense. These vague statements of resolve to do better in various categories of health, relationships, etc, are not particularly helpful when I ask myself, later in the year, if I'm doing what I said I wanted to do with my life. What is helpful, though, are numerical goals -- and charts that show progress toward these targets.

I have goals in areas I feel I have control over. It is important that any goal-setting I do be focused on things that I, as an individual, can accomplish. I might have a desire for world peace or a better direction for our country, but I need to find things that I, as an individual, can actually do. My own approach has been to stay focused on what I was already doing with my life and to try to help others do the same--hence, a goal to write at least 2-3 blog posts every month to share what I've learned about coping or even thriving in life.

Some of my goals are daily ones (meditate a minimum of ten minutes every day, write three pages of free-writing every morning, etc), some are weekly and some are monthly. Most of my goals are writing goals, since this is what I do, and they are always quantitative. For example, I have a goal to submit my completed short stories 100 times this year, which means I need to send out two stories per week to stay on track. If the weekend is approaching and I still haven't submitted anything for the week, this is a powerful incentive to get my act in gear and send something out. I've already noted those goal numbers on my calendar so I know, at a glance, if I am doing what I told myself I wanted to do this year.

The physical act of writing down my progress each week is extremely satisfying. In the past I've even used things like gold star stickers on my calendar to motivate me to do what I told myself I wanted to do. Try it! It may seem silly, but it actually works quite well.

This technique is ideal for writers since so much of what we do can be quantified: word counts, pages, items finished, even lists of places to submit our items to. The more numbers I have the better able I am to see if I'm doing what I want with my life.

I use this method in areas of my life beyond writing. One goal I've had for the last few years is quite simple: have lunch or coffee with at least one friend each week. This sort of thing is especially important for people, like me, who work at home alone. It's too easy to get isolated and find all my social interactions on Facebook or Twitter--I need to force myself to get out of the house, even when the weather isn't great, and do something that might seem frivolous, but is far from that.

Goals do, of course, have to be adjusted at times. I've recently had to do this with my running goals when I found out the hip pain I was experiencing was due to a tear in a ligament, and treatment is going to require decreasing my mileage for awhile. This is not the first time I've ever had to adjust my running goals, though--in fact, this is something smart runners do all the time. I'm not saying I'm always smart about it, but I have learned to absorb the disappointment when I've found out I don't always have control over things I think I do. Aging and health in general are always a good laboratories for learning this particular lesson about life. My approach? Adjust my goals. Because of this injury, my running goal is now to get better and run again without pain. That may have to be adjusted, too, of course, but it's one day at a time with something like this.

So, I encourage you to take a look at those new year's resolutions you made last month, especially if you're not feeling too good about them. If you haven't been able to do what you said you wanted to this year, consider whether your "resolution" is stated in a way that's too vague. Can you make it more quantitative, put numbers to it in some way? A time frame is critical as well--what can you do this month to reach your goals? How about this week? Today? This thought process can be very empowering, so I encourage you to try it! Oh - and it's a good idea to check in every once in awhile as well, as I'm doing today. Assessing our progress toward goals is another key aspect of regaining control over our lives. And in these chaotic times, it's especially important.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Truth Still Exists

When I was in high school, I embroidered this wall-hanging and gave it to my grandmother, who hung it on the wall above her bed until the day she died. Despite its somewhat mixed grammar, the message still holds: the truth is of utmost importance and without it we will never be free.

This is, of course, a verse from the bible (John 8:31) and that's how I came to know it, but it took on a larger life for me when I learned it as a kid. I lived in a home where the truth about what was happening was covered up, lied about and obfuscated, and all by the authorities in charge. My own knowledge and feelings were denied, but I always held on to what I knew to be true. I gave this piece of needlework to my grandmother so she would know that it was the truth I was clinging to--not the words of the authority figures in my life. I don't know if she ever knew that this was my motivation, but it was.

For months now, I've been wanting to write this post, since our country has become like the home I grew up in--and because of those formative experiences, I developed quite a few survival skills. I know how to keep my focus on the facts and to not be swayed by attempts by the authorities to change the story. I know how to think critically and to remove myself emotionally so that I can keep my wits about me. I've learned that the world is not necessarily safe, and this is largely because of the people in it who will betray you and care nothing about what they do to you in their quest to get what they want. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because we are all living in such a home right now.

I have learned how to not just survive, but thrive. I've learned to seek strength and comfort within myself. I've learned that work, productive activity, is a blessing and is a good way to escape the chaos around me. I've learned, again, that the truth will, indeed, set me free. Early in my life, I discovered Science and realized that here was a way to know the truth, to unequivocally determine what is really going on.

Science has its limits, of course, but it provides a method, a well-honed thought process, for sorting fact from fiction. Long ago, I applied myself to learning its methods so I, too, would be able to sort fact from fiction. Orwell understood that Science and its methods threaten a totalitarian state. In 1984, he wrote: "...Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc."

Today we are coping with the latest in a seemingly never-ending onslaught of news and developments, this one about the resignation of the president's national security advisor. Today is the day I've been moved to write this post, because the narrative is finally focused on what we should all be paying attention to. I have believed since the news broke in the Washington Post in late November that the Russian government sought to influence our election through fake news and propaganda, that THIS is the real story. I continue to believe that the results of the election in November reflect this tampering with our democratic process. I do not believe that this administration is legitimate. This is why I, and many others like me, are so defiantly resistant.

The truth, once it comes out, is likely to be this: the president we thought we elected was placed in office by a foreign government who does not have our country's best interests at heart. The person we should all be vigilant about is not necessarily Donald Trump (although we should watch him very closely) but the one who has power over him. Who might that be? Well, it seems to be Vladimir Putin, as many people have guessed. Check out this report of how Russia sold 19.5% of its government-owned oil company to an unknown buyer, and this report that explains how this was the exact amount Putin had offered Trump (according to the secret Steele dossier) if he were to lift US sanctions on Russia. The reason that our country feels like it's come under the control of an authoritarian regime is because it has.

This is why I think we need to stop reacting to everything Donald Trump does or says, since it is all a smokescreen to cover up the very real possibility that he was put into power by Russia. All the turmoil that has happened since the inauguration only three and a half weeks ago--the executive orders including the ill-thought-out immigration ban, the legal proceedings, the endless statements by White House spokespeople who say outrageous things merely to control the news cycle--all these things are distractions from the actual story. This is the real story: a foreign power made attempts to take over our country and they've partially succeeded.

The enemy in our midst is a hostile foreign power. This is the most logical explanation for everything that's happened. I don't have a problem with people marching in the streets and protesting all these actions, since they are, in fact, abhorrent and wrong--but I fear that people are being manipulated and used and whipped into a fervor by a regime that is trying to wear us out and confuse us. Don't fall for their tricks. Stop and think and pay attention. We all need our wits about us in these difficult times.