On Wednesday, I ran 3 miles with Nelly, went to Oceanside to clean our rental property, walked 4 miles with Janna, and made cookies for my writers' group that for some reason were flatter than a pancake and stuck to the bottom of the pan. In the morning when I realized that I was going to be running, walking 7 miles and cleaning the condo, I knew that by 6:30 I wouldn’t want to go to my writers’ group—even though it was my turn to read. I knew I would be too tired. The group meets in Orange, about an hour drive round trip and I’m usually not home until about 10:30.
(That's my friend,Terry, in the red shirt. See the expression on my face? Terry's a Mensa member and really smart and I have to do mental exercises to keep up with him. This is a picture from my book launch for Stealing Mercy.)
I did something incredibly smart—so smart that ever since I’ve been trying to recreate what I call the No-Fail plan. This is what I did. I asked a friend for a ride to Fictionaires. I told him to pick me up at the ARCO station. I gave him my cell number, but I didn’t take his. What this meant was at 6:30 when I was sooo tired I had two options—I could bail and leave Terry hanging at the ARCO station, wondering what had happened to me—or I could go. Knowing that I wouldn’t/couldn’t leave Terry hanging, I went to my meeting and I’m so glad I did.
Fictionaires meet in Old Town Orange
I was so impressed with myself that I tried to think of other ways to fail proof my life and I came up with a co-op diet. I picked the 40-30-30 diet which is I think the most livable, easy to do for the rest of my life sort of diet and asked two friends to do it with me. So, following the diet, I cook and deliver dinner to my friends on Mondays, Tuesday is taco night, Nelly cooks Wednesdays and Janna has Thursday nights. We’re on our own on the weekends. So almost every day I’ll have a dieter friend stopping by—and if I don’t cook, two other families go hungry. Since it’s actually easier to make dinner for six than for two—I’m really excited about this.
This also works for exercise programs. When I was training for the marathon, umpteen years and double the pounds ago, I had a running partner and we met at 6 a.m. The rule was if the partner was more than 7 minutes late, we would go it alone. I think we might have missed each other twice in ten months of training.
My straight A college student does something similar with study groups. Here’s what he said: I love your new fool-proof plan! You know I actually do that all the time at school? I'll set up a study group or a study date or something just so I am forced to study - because that's the purpose of the group. Honestly some people think it's a good time to compare what you've already been studying (which is true) but for me the real value is in the fact that there are other people expecting me to be there and contributing to a group - especially if I'm the one who put it together.
Of course, there are more ways to fail proof your plans. You can:
Set up a reward system
Impose a penalty (I know a writer who gives a friend a $100 and tells her that if she doesn’t meet her goal she has to donate the money to an evil empire.)
I find that the reward/penalty system doesn’t work as well for me as social pressure. I can keep promises to friends much better than I can a promise to myself. (Sad, but true.)
Sometimes life happens and goals go unmet. Here’s a long ago blog post about such a time. How about you? How do fail proof your plans?
I was what my swim teachers called a screamer--the little kid who sat on the beach during swim lessons and cried. My parents sent me to swim lessons for years and I still don’t swim. Not really. We have a boat and love spending our summers on a lake (sunny lakes.) My daughter was captain of her high school swim team. All my children took swim lessons and swam for the Rancho Santa Margarita Dolphins, but in my heart, I’m still the little kid, the screamer, sitting at the water’s edge. (To be fair, I grew up in Washington and the lessons were held at Lake Goodwin…in the rain. Anyone sane in a bathing suit, in the rain, at the beach has a perfectly good reason to cry.)
One particularly uninspired teacher threw me in the lake, giving me a motivation to swim (and an increased hatred of swimming lessons.) We all find our motivation differently. As an adult, I still don’t like being thrown in to anything. I’m more of a carrot and stick person. Actually, more of a carrot person. No one works well under a stick.
I like to make goals and promise myself rewards (carrots, although not actual carrots. Carrots themselves aren’t really all that incentivizing.) Doesn’t everyone do this? Are they one hundred percent successful? In October I made a writing goal—I would write 7-10 pages a day, six days a week. I couldn’t do it. Over long presidency meetings, dental appointments. Failing at my goal was sucking all the joy out of my writing and so I set my goals on the side of the road and just kept walking, enjoying the time I spent writing, loving my characters, being in thankful awe for the ideas.
Now it’s March. I’ve made lofty goals and I’m meeting every one of them. Blowing them out of the water, in fact. What’s the difference? I’m not sure.
October wasn’t the first time I’ve set a goal aside. (Not by any means. My life is littered with unmet goals.) Once when I was training for an upcoming race I went to Arlington to help celebrate my step-mother’s birthday. Visiting my parents is wonderful for many reasons, but not for training. For one thing, my dad’s favorite restaurant is an all you can eat buffet called Jumbos. (Real name.) So, I packed my work-out clothes and made myself a promise that if I could stay on schedule with my training over the dangerous weekend that I’d buy myself new exercise clothes when I returned home.
Friday night: an evening at Jumbos where I practiced moderation and iron clad restraint. Set my alarm for 5:30 am and went to bed.
Saturday morning, predawn: I woke to rain. No matter. I’d grown up running in the rain. I slipped from my bed and put on my running clothes. No shoes. I realized my sneakers must be in the trunk of my sister’s car. I dashed through the rain, barefoot. The car is locked. I returned to the house drenched. I searched for my sister’s purse and keys and then realized it must be in her room. Wake her up? There’s lightning and thunder and my sister is still snoring. I went to my room and promised myself that I’d run later.
Later never happened. Aunts, uncles, cousins, visiting—I could have excused myself, braved the rain and fulfilled my goal, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel badly about my choice, but I also knew that I didn’t deserve new exercise clothes. Unmet goal—no reward. Simple, really.
I returned home on a pink bag day. Pink bag days happen about once a month. In our neighborhood, a local charity places pink bags on our doorsteps and the neighbors fill the bags with donations to the charity. I love pink bag days and I was scouring the house for donations when I came across an unopened Christmas present in the back of a closet. I took it to my husband and asked if he knew anything about it.“I wondered where that went!” he said. “It’s for you.”
I opened it and found brand new exercise clothes. I took away many lessons from this experience, but the one I’m trying to keep in mind that sometimes, even if the goal isn’t met, the blessings can still come. I still write. I’m still in love with my characters. I’m still awestruck by the ideas that come. I can always run tomorrow.
But, sometimes it rains and sometimes visiting with aunts and uncles is the better choice. And that’s okay. No need to sit on the beach and cry.