On Setting Goals

I’ve always been a person who set a lot of goals. Birthday list goals, financial goals, reading goals, travel goals. I would set goals at the end of each year for the coming year, and on my birthday, and each month, and most weeks. I’ve tried a lot of approaches to goal setting, including The Desire Map method, the Day Zero project, and creating lots of bucket lists. I have goal tracker sheets taped to my wall as we speak, to track my daily meditation, reading, and exercise habits.

On Setting Goals >> Life In Limbo

But just as I’m starting to be more mindful of what I’m measuring, I’m also starting to be more mindful of my goal-setting process and whether it’s serving me.

Over the past few years, my process around setting yearly goals has shifted considerably. When I was living abroad, I usually didn’t know on January 1st where I’d be living or what I’d be doing for work for the next 12 consecutive months, so the idea of setting goals made a lot less sense. In my yearly goal-setting, I started to shift instead toward setting intentions for the year and creating daily habits.

I continued to make birthday lists of things I wanted to try or do before my next birthday, but those began to feel stale too. I realized that as I was creating the lists, I was actively searching for things that sounded sort of interesting, or that I thought might be fun. Some things on the list would be exciting no-brainers, but others, much less so. By the time my birthday rolled around, I would never have done everything on the list (and would feel bad about that), but it was usually because as the year passed, I never felt motivated to do the things that felt kind of arbitrary. This year, despite my deep love of repeating traditions every year, I didn’t create a birthday list.

A couple months ago, I sat down to create a list of things I thought would be fun or interesting to have achieved or accomplished within the next five years. But just like the birthday lists, it didn’t really resonate with me: everything felt kind of arbitrary, forced, like what I “should” be working towards or creating for myself. Nothing was pulling me towards those particular outcomes – or I should say, nothing within myself – except lots of external voices and ideas.

I was chatting about these ideas with my friend Bridget tonight, and she wondered if maybe this shift was because this year I’ve really established the habit of a daily meditation practice. I’ve never thought of it before, but I think she might be on to something there. It’s true that this year, I definitely feel more present in my daily life, more grateful, and more connected to my community and family than ever before. The idea of setting goals to get me to “somewhere better” doesn’t resonate with me as strongly, because I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. I feel engaged and motivated every day, but I don’t feel that constant urge to strive, reach, or leap. I feel that I’m growing and learning all the time, but am happy with where I am and with what I’m moving towards at the pace that feels tailor-made for me.

I also feel like this year has sharpened my intuition, which is now quicker than ever at helping me find things, people, and experiences that I feel aligned with and connected to. This means that I’m spending a lot more time being in the right place at the right time, and moving away from anything that doesn’t serve me. But listening to my intuition is a moment-by-moment process, so the idea of setting goals now when I can’t know yet how I’ll feel a month or a week or a day from now isn’t feeling as appealing to me.

And the last thing is: I don’t want to block myself from experiencing abundance and flow. Life unfolds in magical and mysterious ways, and I’ve found that trusting that process can bring about better things than I could ever have forced to happen on my own, had I been moving blindly towards an arbitrary goal. One year ago, I never could have predicted where I’d be now, the friends I’d have, or the work situation that I’m currently in. I could never have predicted how amazing my life would be today. Had I set a bunch of random goals and efforted my way to them, who knows if I’d have ended up at such a great place! Trusting that unfolding is not always easy, but more and more it feels like the way to more expansion and joy.

Who knows? I might change my mind about goal-setting yet again a few months from now, but for now, I’m consciously taking a break from it. How do you feel about goal-setting? How do you set goals in a way that works for you? Tell me!

The Simplest, Hardest Things

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Exercise every day. Do what you love. Say please and thank you. Take ten deep breaths when you’re upset. Smile at everyone you meet. Stay present with the people you love.

The Simplest, Hardest Things >> Life In Limbo

Have you ever noticed that the simplest things can be the hardest to do? I seem to notice this daily, especially when I have forgotten (yet again) to clean out the cat’s litter box or text someone back or stretch. Simple things! Hard to do.

I think a big part of why it’s hard to do the simple things is that I often don’t give myself the time to slow down and stop multi-tasking, stop cramming so much into my days, stop checking my phone. When I am able to do those things, everything seems lighter and easier, and the simple things are likelier to be done.

I also think that when things seem simple, we take them for granted. We assume we’re doing them, or at least doing them “well enough.” In fact, though, I sometimes think I do the simplest things worst of all. As I go through each of my days, am I being polite? Am I being patient? Am I remembering that I am not the center of the universe? Am I remembering that nobody is in “my way”? Am I being kind? Am I giving people my full attention? Am I listening? Am I putting myself in other people’s shoes?

Sadly: not always. I wish I could say differently, but while these things are fairly simple, they’re even easier to forget.

As I draw closer to the end of my month of daily blogging, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I want my whole life to be about the simple things, even if they’re hard to do or to remember. Practicing these things might be my entire life’s work, but they also kind of feel like the entire point of being alive.

Book Club: September + October

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

Book Club: September + October >> Life In Limbo

I’m a little late with sharing these, but it’s been a great few months for reading. I’m actually – surprisingly – ahead on my reading goal for the year, which is usually not the case at the “eleventh hour” most years! I’ve been on a real streak lately, ever since my two weeks of powerhouse reading in New York City this summer.

My goals for the rest of the year are to read more books that absorb me, that I can’t put down, which means: more fiction! I’m excited to start tackling this list of books.

Here are my favourite four books out of what I read in September and October:

Book Club: September + October >> Life In Limbo

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

I love everything that Brené does, and this book is probably my favourite she’s written. Inspired by the current political and cultural climate (especially in the U.S.) she’s using her career of research on shame and vulnerability to reframe our society’s current problems of hate, disconnection, and anger. There are so many great concepts in this book, but my favourite is to resist any conversation that uses dehumanizing language of any kind, or in which you are either “with us or against us”. She encourages us to move in, because “it’s hard to hate people up close.” In an age of what feels like crazy, emotional, limbic conversations, this book was a breath of fresh air. If you want a glimpse of what the book’s about, I would recommend watching the Facebook Live she did after Charlottesville, and her interview on MarieTV.

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

This book was like reading a love letter to books, and it made my heart sing. The author is now the editor of the New York Times Book Review, but this memoir tells the story of her life, through the books she was reading at the time, since when she was a French exchange student in high school. “Bob” refers to her “book of books”, the simple notebook where she keeps a record of every book she’s read since she was young. My favourite passage, that I am so grateful to have read:

“Well into adulthood, I would chastise myself over not settling on a hobby and just reading instead. Everyone else had a passion; where was mine? How much happier I would have been to know that reading was itself a passion. Nobody treated it that way, and it didn’t occur to me to think otherwise.” 

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

What would happen if dogs were given human consciousness? This book is more philosophical than it is funny, kind of dark, pretty poignant. The best part of reading it was that it’s set, for the most part, in the part of Toronto where I live! My street is even mentioned at one point. It’s such a fun treat to read books set in places that you are familiar with – whether it’s somewhere you’ve traveled or somewhere you’ve lived. The more time I spend in Toronto, the more I love it, so reading this gave me another layer of appreciation for my neighbourhood and my life.

Solitude by Michael Harris

Reading this book felt like taking a really deep breath and coming home to myself. It’s about the importance of solitude, and how it’s being increasingly erased in our world of constant connection and stimulation. The author talks about his experiments with trying to find more solitude in his own life, and how difficult it has actually become to find it – how it’s looked down on by others or resisted mightily when you try to take it for yourself. It was an amazing reminder of the kinds of things that I value and find important. I’m excited to read his other book, which won the Governor General’s award, called The End of Absence.

You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations!

Find Your Brain’s Dimmer Switch

This week was a particularly busy one for me. Normally my days are quiet, spent mostly doing work, going for walks, making food, and seeing my friends. This week felt more harried: parties to go to, extra work to finish, meetings, meetups, late nights. I’ll be the first to tell you that not getting enough sleep is no bueno for my mood or personality, and so the second half of the week especially felt chaotic in my head, even though it may not have seemed so to an outsider.

Find Your Brain's Dimmer Switch >> Life In Limbo

Yesterday right near the end of my work day I ran into my musician friend Gabe, who was on his way to play a set with his friend Angie at our local pub. Once I finished up my work I went, sat alone, had a drink, and quietly listened to the music. I slowly but surely turned my brain off, untethered myself from my phone (the reception in that place is terrible), eased back into my chair and into the weekend.

Even though I had been planning to go home and crash right after work, it turns out that listening to live music played by my friends was exactly what I needed. In fact, I think if I had gone straight home, I wouldn’t have dimmed that noise in my brain as much: I still would have been in Constant Checking Mode, still would have been ruminating about work projects, still would have felt rushed. Instead, I physically paused on my way home, which let my brain pause too.

Since starting to work as a full-time freelancer, the ideas of balance, rest, cycles of restoration, and quiet have become so much more salient to me. When you’re in charge of your schedule, it always becomes pretty apparent when you’re not making time for what matters, or if you’re letting yourself become overwhelmed. Finding ways to keep things quieter to begin with is really helpful, but finding ways to rest and restore when it’s a busier, more stressful week is important too.

For me, these things are simple and usually free or very cheap:

  • Watching a funny TV show (current faves: Rupaul’s Drag Race and Life in Pieces)
  • Reading a book that absorbs me (re-reading is also great for this)
  • Talking to a friend in person or on the phone
  • Going for a long walk outside with my phone in Do Not Disturb mode
  • Meditating: I meditate each morning, but some days I need to do another five minutes later on

What do you do to dim the noise in your brain after a busy day? (Seriously: please tell me, I need to know!)

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