Yesterday I wrote about Tackling Your To Do List (assuming some of you have one, Rob and Guyz). I personally need a To Do List, because I need to know what my priorities are, and like Kate, I need to feel that sense of gratification in checking off what I’ve accomplished. Without a list, I feel stuck in a vicious circle of dealing with whatever comes my way then and there… which means sometimes the bills sit for weeks, the laundry never gets done, the important favors for friends never quite materialize. So I need a reminder that my To Do List is important, and that those steps toward tackling it are necessary to stay on top of my own life.
Creating Long-Term Goals
Matt and I often ask ourselves what we envision our lives to be like in five (or ten) years – this exercise is extremely important to both of us. Once we have envisioned the life we want to live, we enact a plan to work toward those visions. Other people I know find it useful to write down their short-, mid- and long-term goals, and then evaluate them from time to time. And once they’ve identified their goals, they work toward them – keeping in mind that they will change, and life will take them in new and unforeseen directions – but always moving forward.
Regardless of how you set goals for yourself, I firmly believe that if you set out to accomplish what you want with your life, you will get further toward living the life you want to lead.
Taking Steps Toward Your Goals
A way of life takes time to change – all big changes take time and are composed of a multitude of small changes. I want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but I can’t just go to bed one night and wake up as someone who is completely sustainable. I would become totally overwhelmed by that, and chances are that I’d end up stopping in the middle of it because I couldn’t take it anymore. No, it has to be easy for me, I have to make gradual changes as I’m ready for them, and I must do only what I find comfortable. I don’t even have a list of specific acts I want to take to achieve my goals, because I like to take it as it comes and I constantly find new opportunities and new solutions as I go.
My advice is to keep your eyes on the prize, but allow yourself to walk through life and find your own way toward that prize.
Example: Riding The Bus
When I grew up in Seattle, riding the bus was something everyone did, regardless of race or class. When I lived in Manhattan, it was even more so. But in LA, it was different. The bus system is pretty bad in LA, the buses often to go through bad parts of town and they rarely run on time, it’s split up into multiple and distinct municipal bus systems so it’s hard to navigate, and it is largely a transportation system utilized by the people who have extremely low incomes. Nearly everyone who can afford to drive, drives. It sounds weird for me to even write that, but there is certainly a negative connotation to riding the bus in LA. (I’m especially proud of Arduous for stepping past that.)
So, recognizing my feelings about the bus was the first step. The second step was getting on one. Notice that I did not say that the first or second steps were to make myself ride it every day. Why? Because that is overwhelming. I’d probably do it for a week and then stop. No, the second step is just getting on the bus….
One day I was headed out to my garden, and I realized my day was pretty open, I had a little extra time. So I checked the bus schedule. I saw that the bus was to arrive in five minutes so I grabbed my bag and headed out. I thought to myself that if I hadn’t already missed the bus, I would jump on, but if I missed it, no big deal, I’ll just drive this time and take the bus another day.
Well, the bus was there waiting for me, so I hopped on! And on that first ride, my feelings about the bus changed. I enjoyed it – I felt alive and a part of my community. I found I could write and read and pay attention to parts of my community I’d never seen before. I also didn’t have to worry about the cost of gas, nor the parking at either end. And to boot, I got more exercise with a bit of a walk to and from the stop (not much – the stop is pretty close – but a bit).
Since, then, I have taken the bus there every time I haven’t been in a hurry or carrying large items back and forth (like pots and soil for the gardens). No pressure on myself, just whenever it is easy. And it has changed my perspective toward the bus. Rather than the bus making me feel guilty, it has become something I see as a relaxant: aaaah... when I’m on the bus, I relax and enjoy being a part of the world, I’m able to look around without worrying about traffic, I’m contributing less carbon,….
And I’m slowly adding routes to my repertoire. Now I know two bus routes: one to my garden and parents’, and one to the far reaches of downtown. Soon I’ll probably add the route to my best friends’ place in West Seattle, the farmer’s market in Ballard, and my grandfather’s place in North Seattle. But I’ll take it as it comes, and let myself have fun with it.
This has worked for many big changes I’ve made in my life. Becoming a vegetarian didn’t happen overnight either. Once I decided that it was for sure the right choice for me, I phased out meat from my diet. Going cold broccoli (vs cold turkey!!) was not possible nor healthy, and would have become totally overwhelming. So I started very slowly, taking one meal at a time, not pressuring myself, and having fun with it. And over the course of 6 months, I slowly became a vegetarian. I was definitely a sustainable change: I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years!
Geraniums Outside My Window (for Katie)
Reaching Long-Term Goals – 7 Things to Remember
1. Start slowly, and take steps whenever it feels right
2. Recognize any inhibitions you have – don’t try to change them, but let them fall away in time
3. Don’t pressure yourself, but look for opportunities
4. Have Fun - if ever you’re not having fun, try a new approach
5. Regroup when you need to – allow yourself to alter goals as your awareness grows*
6. Life Happens – sometimes you take two steps up and one step back and that’s ok
7. Remember you’re only human, but do the best you can
This works for lifestyle goals, and it also works for other long-term goals. What about house renovations? Well, can you really afford to do it all at once or will that leave you with overwhelming debt? If the answer is that it will leave you with overwhelming debt, then you might want to take one step (or “Phase”) at a time. And when it feels right to add the next phase (eg, you have your Christmas Bonus in hand), take that next step.
I look back at my own lifestyle and mind frame just a year ago, and I cannot believe how much I’ve changed, how many steps I’ve taken, how much I’ve grown. And all those changes occurred one step at a time!
*Thanks for the reminder, Deb G!
What’s Your Take on This?
For all you veterans who are living a sustainable life right now, what would you say to someone just starting out? How did you set out to change your lifestyle?
And for those of you just beginning this journey, are you struggling or is it coming easy?