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How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 2: Reaching Long-Term Goals

Walk Through The Green Woods

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.


Seattle Metro Bus


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

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?

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10 comments to How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 2: Reaching Long-Term Goals

  • You hit the nail on theproverbial head melinda.Life Happens and Remember you’re only human, but do the best you can. That is how I handle things day to day. It has been a struggle at times to try and lead a greener lifestyle. I live with someone who is sure it is just a “phase” I am going through. Pfffffttttt. I have always had a “green” side, since at least the 6th grade- thats when all the good highline school district kids get to go to camp waskowitz and learn about conservation and such. Little did Mr. Lemon, the waskowitz leader know he was creating a green army.
    Other than a struggle I like to learn to do new and different things… I can make jerky now, I can make jam. I have learned how to paint, put up dry wall, plaster and mud in a greener way. I have also learned it is better ecologically speaking to let the shop do my oil changes as It is a bugger to take the spent oil for recycling myself. And I have found out I like to putter in the garden. God help me, I do like it! So learning things is also part of living a more sustaining lifestyle for me. I don’t think I will tear my remaining lawn out and be planting wheat (although never say never) anytime soon, but more and more of my yard is going away, slowly but surely!

  • Okay… so we might not use lists but we do have a clear vision for what we want our future to look like. It is our ability to stay focused on this vision that drives every decision we make every day. If people, events, opportunities do not fall in line with that vision, we let them fall by the wayside and do not let them have any sway in our lives.

    If we hold that vision long enough, regardless of what it is, manifestation of that vision is inevitable. While some people think (and often tell us in no uncertain terms – often defensively) this is a load of hoodoo hoodoo touchy feely lala… those are the types of people who do not support or fit into our vision so they hold no influence.

    That said, our road to a more sustainable lifestyle evolved over time under the vision of having more peace and more balance in our lives. Our lives had gotten out of focus and off course. We started listening to the guidance we were being given and following events and circumstances that fell in line with the vision we were holding and, eventually, we have come to this point in our lives.

    The point of being sustainable is you have to be able to maintain it or you are just going to burn out, become disillusioned, bored, distracted or otherwise fall off the proverbial wagon.

    Long story short (too late! – Sorry M, didn’t mean to hijack your blog! LOL), start with one thing, add something else when you have that one thing down. Don’t add the next until you are solid with each one before. Before you know it, you’ll be where you wanted to go and wonder just exactly how you got there.

    Great posts, M… thanks for these important insights. See you this weekend!

    talk to you soon…
    The Shibaguyz

  • It’s all about baby steps. When I started out 10 years ago, it was about simplifying my life, then it evolved into wanting to reduce my work hours to part-time (requiring further simplification), it continued to change again as I had to learn to be more frugal on part time salary, and as I became more frugal, I began to realize the impact my consumption had and I became more green. Remember this is over the course of 10 years and I still don’t have a clothesline out back :)

    It’s good to have long term goals, but short term goals will get you there without being overwhelmed – I have a running list of all the things I’d like to do to be more green. When I complete one, I move it to the “things I’ve done” list. Then I try something else on the “want to do list.” It’s a constant reminder not only of all the things I want to do someday, but a reinforcement of how far I’ve come.

  • Good guidance and I agree with the Shibaguyz: Don’t add the next until you are solid with each one before.

    In this arbitrary challenge of one year, I feel the inner hysteria of doing the next thing and the next thing. It is an ongoing battle with me to calm myself down and go back over the things, the behaviors, the routines and the attitudes that have been incorporated already. Your bus riding example is a good one.

    Let me just mention pace. I find that now that I am older and retired (though too young for SS yet), I don’t have the same impetus to act as I used to have. I don’t have young kids, a demanding work schedule or spouse. I have also shed myself of obligatory ‘busy-ness’ along with business (consumerism). I did badly on a quit challenge from Chile in part because the busy-ness routines I thought I wanted (from which I was procrasting) felt all wrong. I spent many years with do-lists and almost suddenly (’95) I just stopped. The daytimer I carried steadily became more empty. I’ve never figured out why I got this strong compulsion to NOT make lists after a lifetime of lists.

    Your post helps me yet again hold these observations in my mind’s eye – and marvel. Just when I think I know what works, what I’m doing, what matters . . . I change. Baffling.

  • Thanks for the reminder to have fun along the way. I can get too serious and want to plow through all obstacles instead of laughing and enjoying the delays. Mostly I wanted to compliment the red geraniums. They’re beautiful. I don’t know why I love them so but they always make me happy.

  • ROB, I love it. Isn’t it amazing that one person (or a few) back in our past turned us down this road, and they may never know they did it? I often wonder who I’ve helped guide – it’s a nice thought, isn’t it? I look forward to the day when your lawn becomes wheat, as I have confidence!!

    SHIBAGUYZ, Any time you want to leave a long and wonderful comment, you are more than welcome to do so!! We spoke over the weekend, so I will just say thank you for sharing how you find your vision and remain true to it – I’m sure it will help others along this path!

    HEATHER, I love that you retain two lists: “things you’ve done” and “things you want to do.” Always looking forward, but always remembering how far you’ve come. Beautiful!

    KATE, I understand your hysteria, as I battle with it myself and have to remind myself about all of these things in this post. I, too, have had the opportunity this year to go hard and fast down one road only to realize that it wasn’t right for me, and then take steps to change. Every step is not forward, I suppose: there are steps forward, and then we turn another direction, and move forward, and turn, and so on. Thank you, as always, for your amazing insight!

    KATRINA, Thanks! I have always wanted to have a window box with geraniums in them. I don’t know why, but they make me happy too!

  • I think we really appreciate hearing that giving yourself a break while doing the best you can is a win-win situation: you don’t feel overwhelmed, nor do you feel like giving up when you see it as something wonderful in your life.

    I need to take this advice in regards to eating vegetarian and biking.

    Thanks Melinda!

  • You’re welcome, Katie. ; )

  • [...] Everything I want to do does not go on a To Do list. For these items, I tackle them differently. Visit the next post in this series:  How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 2: Reaching Long-Term Goals. [...]

  • [...] to rely upon. I’m not asking you to give up everything you know as normal. On the contrary, do not become overwhelmed – the idea is to create a sustained change in ourselves, one that lasts a …. So do it as quickly as you can, but don’t burn yourself out, do only what you can do and [...]

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