The Call to Courage & Social Media

Let’s be straight forward: we, as a species, love judging people. We love putting them in neat boxes and lining them up just so. Even my barely-two year old niece knows this lesson. It’s biological, we think it keeps us safe, and it’s mostly subconscious.

Is this problematic? Yes. (Will that knowledge stop us? NO!) However, it’s easy to make an argument that we currently live in a time where we are encouraged to make inaccurate, rash judgments about others. Mostly, because they help us do it themselves, and we return the favor.

If you pay attention, Instagram has given many of us a new set of instincts. It’s not only to try to capture the blurry video of a concert (that you, nor ANYONE else, will ever enjoy watching), although that’s part of it. Our new instincts tell us to capture moments so that we can put them on display. That is neither a good or a bad thing—but it is a new thing. In some ways, this can actually help us pay more attention to our lives. When applied without exception, we are slowly taught that pseudo-branding yourself, even in small ways, is a good thing all the time. We are our own PR department.

It is more dangerous that we forget people are not the stories they shell out online. I might know that when I scroll through the feed everyone has their own struggles, imperfections, etc, but knowing is different than feeling. When, in the midst of your boring or strange moments you hop onto insta and see mostly perfection, it changes your expectations and perception of what living a life looks like—whether you know the reality intellectually or not.

In her recent special, Dr. Brene Brown describes vulnerability, and it’s important to talk about vulnerability when we talk about social media:

“Vulnerability is being able to show up when you don’t know the outcome.”

Vulnerability, or, as I’ve heard it stated, “being willing to show our asses”, is necessary for connection. As Brown studies in her other book, The Gifts of Imperfection, vulnerability is a place in which we can really connect with others and both be seen and see one another, smudgy messiness and incomprehensible beauties that we all are.

The irony when it comes to networks like Instagram is that they have begun to smother what they wanted to promote. These platforms were made for connection, but they have suffocated out that which is an essential kindling to do so—our human-ness. You don’t risk anything when you post an edited picture out of 45 retakes. You aren’t primed for connection when you are only showing people your wins. As Brown points out, they might admire or envy you, but love and connect with you they won’t. Vulnerability isn’t there.

Instagram can be a good part of a relationship if that relationship exists outside our screens. If I see a friend post a beautiful shot of their wedding or talk about a fancy grant they got, but I still connect with them enough outside of that platform to know they just cannot frickin’ master how to cook pasta correctly for themselves or they have a lot of worries they have about moving to a new place, they remain human. We remain connected both by our joys and our struggles. The issue is when we only share beauty, and say that’s the sum total of our lived experience and have no other way of connecting with that person. Social media actually degrades connection if that is the only way communication you’re getting with that person—one projected and perfected brand to another brand. They are not complex, dynamic characters that deserve compassion—they’re static figures.

Is it possible to be authentic and imperfect on social media? I think so—in fact, it seems like that may be the way the tide is turning. As Brown also points out, vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability, which gives an inherent limit to how connected one can get over social media.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s not what we do on the platform, but rather how we use the platform to spur us on to more full connection outside of it. As one dating app slogan says, it’s “an app designed to be deleted.” If we begin to look at social media as an invitation to vulnerable and authentic connection outside of the app, perhaps real relationship can become the foundation of it once more.

Let’s learn to let ourselves be ugly and beautiful, figured out and all-the-wrong-answers, stuck and in progress.

Let’s remember that everyone, in this way, is exactly like us.

image by Erica Tighe Campbell of @BeAHeartDesign

the narrator

image by Erica Campbell of @BeAHeartDesign

narrator A

7:32 am: I wake up in the morning, and “wake up” here is a glossing over of the actual facts of the experience: I am groggy, it is a Monday, and my eyes seem a little swollen shut. I turn off my thrice-snoozed alarm and finally heed its fourth warning.

8:02 am: My feet pad out into the cold air of my apartment, away from my messy, unmade bed. I perform the humdrum routine of getting ready, and feel slightly rushed the whole time. Also, my hair looks bad.

8:55 am: I head out the door, and plug in my headphones. I barely acknowledge the greeting I get on the elevator. I step out into the cold and dreary January and wonder why weather like this even needs to exist.

9:45 am: Throughout my school day, I work intermittently on shoving more and more facts into my head, a regular practice in getting ready for the overwhelmingly stressful Step 1 Exam coming in May. I beat myself up for not being further ahead, not being more focused, not being naturally as gifted in science as it seems others are. I get things done, and when the end of my study day rolls around, I lament and lambast myself for what I did not finish, mostly accrediting it to my own laziness.

6:20 pm: On my walk home and in my own head, I am now not only anxious about what I didn’t get done, but also about the couple walking ahead of me, who remind me of my single status. I am filled with nostalgia and pessimism about dating and what’s possible for the future. Then, I am mad at myself for being worried about this topic AGAIN.

6:45 pm: I come home, and am vaguely annoyed by the clutter in my roommate and I’s apartment, and distinctly annoyed by the mess I have left for myself in my own room. I feel overwhelmed, and tired, and warm up some lackluster meal I made two days ago.

10:45 pm: After scrolling for an hour on instagram and other sites on which I can compare my life to the shiny lives of others who have made better choices than I have, I change into some old, soft clothes, get some processed dessert from a box, and collapse into bed. Another day done. Before I slip into sleep, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was a bad day.”

narrator B

6:15 am: I wake up to my second alarm, and groggily turn over in a warm and cozy bed, cocooned in pillows and blankets from Target that I picked out because they were floral and happen to remind me of the embroidered rose I have from my grandmother. My eyes fight off opening and the light I enforce on them, but I tiptoe out to the kitchen and turn on the coffee maker I had prepared the night before. I gently wash my face and depuff my eyes, appreciating the soft feeling of this slow start to my day.

6:30 am: I pour a generous amount of milk into my coffee, and settle back into my bed to read a book on theology or poetry with a candle flickering nearby. It is perhaps my favorite part of the day.

8:40 am: I remember that today, Monday, is the day my favorite podcast issues a new episode. I plug in my earphones after I greet the security guard at the front desk, whose name I REALLY need to ask for next time (but is it too late at this point?). I step outside, and though my hands freeze and my nose drips, I appreciate the rare snowfall that has covered St. Louis, the place I wanted to move to for medical school two years ago.

9:00 am: I arrive at school and talk to a few of my classmates. I rush upstairs to make sure I don’t lose the bet going with two of my friends about who arrives at school on time (the loss of which requires the late one to buy pastries for the other two). Even though our friendship is mostly based in sarcasm and I would thus NEVER say this directly to either of them, both of them always make my day a little happier.

11:40 am: At this point, I have learned what is possible to get done in a day, and I leave some wiggle room for a brain that cannot possibly focus for ten hours straight (because most brains can’t)! Sometimes it is a little tedious, sometimes I don’t care AT ALL for the facts I’m learning, but I do remember how overjoyed I was when I (at an AppleBee’s, no less), found out I had gotten off the waitlist at this dream school. I thought it impossible (and still do find it sort of impossible) that that could ever happen. I also remember the excitement and joy I have felt every time I’ve shadowed a psychiatrist, listening to how they moved with and connect to their patients. I return my thoughts to the lecture I’m watching at 2x speed, and am even a little grateful for the high speed and high pitch of the lecturer’s voice.

12:30 pm: I laugh a little too loudly at what a friend whispers too loudly in the library, as I eat the lunch I packed with foods that make me feel good and taste good (and are mostly cheap!).

4:45 pm: I head out of school, having checked off everything but one thing from my to-do list. It is okay—I’m proud of what I did accomplish today, and make a note to move the task to the next day. I try to focus on the importance of small steps to a big goal.

5:15 pm: I arrive at the undergrad campus gym, getting ready and hoping the coffee I chugged will give me the right amount of energy and enthusiasm to teach the workout/dance class I planned and created during the summer. It is a small, once-a-week thing, but it is a place of creativity for me—a place I am both proud of and grateful for.

7:15 pm: I walk through the front door, and am glad to see my roommate is home. The smell of something chocolate wafts through the air, and I am again reminded of how nice it is to live with one of your best friends (who also happens to be better at doing the dishes than you).

8:15 pm: I scroll through social media for a bit, but know that the limits I’ve set on my phone are for the best because I like to compare myself a little too much. I see a picture of one of my engaged friends, and I feel like freaking out because, um, WHAT IF I DIE ALONE?! There is a small, new voice that speaks here, though: This is a desire for connection, and this is a difficult uncertainty that many people in their twenties are going through right now. Uncertainty isn’t necessarily bad, but it can feel really hard, especially when you torture yourself with a litany of why it will always be hard and uncertain. It’s just as, if not more, likely the future will be wildly good as much as it will be wildly bad. Now use that desire for connection to FaceTime one of your best friends (and you can maybe freak out to them a little too—it usually makes them laugh).

9:30 pm: Thank you, morning me, for making this bed. I pull up the recent fiction book I am reading and settle in with the chocolate dessert my roomie made. After a while, my eyes get heavy and I can feel myself falling asleep. Before I do, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was full of good things.”

(slightly) better in 2019

Every social media platform is currently filled to bursting with ideas on how to live better in 2019 than you did in 2018. There are swirly motivational quotes, mystifying before-and-afters, and at least 3 things being advertised to you on Instagram that you maybe only thought about one time, and hey how did they know I was thinking that again??

Perhaps you’re in the 10% of people who make resolutions that stick, but I am not (hello fellow 90%). Make a list of really ambitious goals, forge an intense schedule, and promptly “forget” by January 27 (if I’m lucky). Inevitably, my list of intentions makes me feel BOTH overwhelmed and oppressed, but I am the tyrant. The issue has a lot to do with this quote:

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten ..png

If your goal was to get healthy in 2018, maybe you made your resolution to start a really SUPER intense workout plan every day, and ONLY eat things that are green. Maybe that failed day 10 when you realized you really actually hate the color green and you’re allergic to the metal that makes up every piece of equipment at your gym. You worked out and ate healthy for about 20 days, then stopped.

If you had made your resolution something simple, maybe you would have stuck with it longer. Instead of the oppressive do a workout I hate for 7 hours every week and also, no more cake it could have been walk, move, stretch, or do something outside every day plus eat a fruit I like. Assuming you’re not a perfect human, but still pretty good at following an easy habit, maybe you got 300 walks in and a couple hundred apples and bananas. More than that, you would have gotten into a healthy habit, that maybe even would have eventually expanded into that ideal you originally had.

Let’s say your goal was something else. Let’s say you, like me, wanted to write more in 2018, or practice an instrument, or learn a new language, or ride your tricycle more (I’m not judging). If you go in with the idea that you need to write a BOOK or play your first song perfectly for an hour each night or be fluent by February, you’re setting a trap, and it’s for yourself. You fall for it every TIME.

If you had made a resolution like write one sentence a day or play one note a day, a resolution so decidedly not sexy and embarrassingly doable, you probably would have stuck with it. And maybe, by now, you would be fluent, or at least MUCH closer than you are now. I would have written more than four pieces this year (oops).

When we think about resolutions, having an ideal that inspires us and puts a fire under our asses is WONDERFUL and NECESSARY. When it comes to what we expect from ourselves, though, we have to reckon with the fact that we change like everything else: slowly, reluctantly, and awkwardly.

Make your resolutions tiny. So, so small. Like flossing one tooth small. Make it impossible to fail. Make it to put on your running shoes, to text one friend, to eat one fruit, to have 60 seconds of prayer.

You and I are a lot less likely to make excuses when we go in this little way.

We are also a lot more likely to reach that big dream without giving up by starting here in this small, ordinary, wonderful place.

P.S. My resolution is to write one crappy thing every day, and the next few will be about RESOLUTIONS and HABITS (my favorite). Sorry that you may have to read some of it! But, in the words of Anne Lamott:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

P.S. My resolution is to write one crappy thing every day, and the next few will be about RESOLUTIONS and HABITS (my favorite).

Tomorrow we talk about how change is good, but how change driven by the fact that we think we are an asshole is not amazing. Groundbreaking stuff, I tell you.

a child of the sun

change comes

when we are ready for her

(we never think we are ready)

to grasp her hand

to accept her hand

to reach for her hand

if she offers.

 

gentle breeze

sweeping and swept up

into the tangible morning light

ephemeral as it is natural

as natural as it is to take Her hand

as supernatural as it is to accept her hand

and all you are called to do

is not

Let

Go.

 

Let them say

what a miracle

to be planted

to feel the dirt on your calloused feet

to see muddiness, grittiness, dirtiness

and say brother

 

all the while

gazing up

remembering

what it is

to be

a child of the Sun

 

Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

on the scourge of graduating from notre dame

I’ve been wanting to write about what it feels like to graduate from Notre Dame for the better part of the last year that I’ve been away from it. And I’ve tried, but things were too close to be able to see correctly, they were too much the water I was still swimming in.

At Notre Dame, one of my most impactful professors taught us something important about telling personal stories: before you tell your story, make sure the emotions around it are at least mostly healed. In other words, make sure you have reckoned with it, lived in it, breathed it, and know what you think about it— all this while understanding that inherent flux of life, memories, emotion. I am just now getting there.

It’s been a year now since I’ve left the place that my dad, previous to my freshman year, liked to call “Catholic Disney World”. The place where two of my older siblings also studied, prayed, celebrated, and lived. The place that shaped them so entirely and so lovingly (and sometimes not so gently), that any time they could, they reminded me to appreciate the best four years of my life while I was in them.

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A year out, I’m still living into what it means to have so fully and purposefully drank the Kool Aid that is loving your college experience, family, and traditions. Because, admittedly, the thought that your best four years are behind you is rather depressing. Yet, at the same time, dorm mass and football weekends and the Backer and cinnamon rolls at Waddick’s with best friends while the always-present snow falls outside—these years were deep years, shaping years, joyful years. How do you deal with both of these truths simultaneously? What do you do when, a year later, watching Notre Dame transform for football weekends from a few states away brings not only the old excitement, but a new and breath-taking nostalgia?

I did not go to the Michigan game this past weekend, and it physically pained me to stay away. I am in my second year of medical school, we have tests in a week, and I am not smart enough to be able to not study for a whole weekend and still pull a good grade. I watched the game and it was good, but not the heart stopping, emotionally-wrenching, all-senses experience that is being there. I didn’t get to see everyone who went who I haven’t seen in a year—people who were your favorite person to find in the dining hall or walking across South Quad on a Friday morning, but whom, miles apart, you may not feel close enough to to schedule a FaceTime session or visit with. (As an aside: TELL THESE PEOPLE YOU MISS THEM. Even if they won’t be in your wedding. Life is short, love is large. That is all). The people who made ND welcoming, warm, home.

For me, to go to the game would have meant choosing my old life rather than my current one. Not because visiting ND is not a beautiful and connected thing that keeps us ensconced in a wonderful community, but because it would have meant screwing myself over for tests and coming back exhausted when I needed to take care of myself. It would mean choosing a couple days to get to re-immerse myself in the beautifully built world of my old college life—one that made sense to me and is already a finished product—instead of staying in the still new-to-me place of St. Louis and medical school that was demanding and needing my attention.

The hardest part of your “freshman year of adulting” (as my rector at ND called it), is that everything is your choice. When you wake up, what you do, what you value, who you’re with—it’s all up to you in a wide, wide way that I, at least, never dealt with in college. I made some decisions— roommates, clubs, dining hall, abroad or no, Backer or Finnie’s (…Backer.). But now, all the decisions are mine, and they don’t read like a multiple choice test with only, say, four viable options. They read like the number of tulips on campus at Easter, or the candles in the Grotto—countless.

This is Terrifying. This is Hopeful. This is New.

This is going to be, without a doubt, ugly for a WHILE.

And it is empowering.

The first time I watched a game from my couch instead of from the House that Rockne Built, I wept. Real, fat, tears—and I don’t even like football that much (a sin, I realize). As lame as it sounds, I had real grief, a real crater in my chest that my college home previously occupied. How do you move on from that?

This strange and ridiculous grief lives and crawls around like any grief—which means you won’t move on from it. You will carry it with you, and it teaches you. Perhaps this is rationalization, or comforting and untruthful optimism. Or perhaps, this is what is real.

On the day of the Michigan game, I had a lazy morning reading poetry and writing. The poetry was recommended by my best friend from Notre Dame, who was the one watching snow and sharing cinnamon rolls with me. I met with a couple friends for brunch, and gave advice that had been instilled into me during my time working for a summer program for Notre Dame. I studied outside on the balcony I share with my roommate, one of my best friends from medical school. When I first met her, I was not the scared or shy person I had tendencies toward in high school, because many aspects of Notre Dame loved me into being myself.

The worst part of sallying forth from college is that you have to become more of your own person. The best part of sallying forth from college is that you get to choose who that person is. Believe me when I say Notre Dame has not left me alone, not for one second or one day, because who we are made into there is the person we bring out into the real world.

This is where graduating is hopeful and exciting. We saw beauty. We were loved into ourselves in community. We were taught to work intentionally. We, all of us missing our university, found and fell in love with some form of beauty there. Whether you know it or not, you were educated by that beauty you now miss. The hole in your chest is painful, but it is also a call to go out and build. The call is not to rebuild or regress to your college experience, nor to have the most powerful Notre Dame Club in the Nation (Chicago will always be the largest). The call is to work from the nostalgia for the beauty you were invited into, and build something new from your longing in the place you are now.

This is not easy. We have never built. We have never had to choose. We were dumped in a treasure chest of wonderful things that already knew what they were doing, and we never had to learn how it all came together. That’s okay—we will make junk first, and again, it will be an ugly mess. Then we will try again, and again, and it won’t look the same as our first experience of that beauty, but it will be deep and meaningful and different and *yours*. That being, yours to share like you yourself were shared with.

This is long and rambly, but that is okay— it is from the place of longing that misses what ND represented while I was there. It is my junky first draft. It is an attempt to go out and create and be where I am now, being changed by ND as I was.

Graduating sucks. You will always miss ND.
Go build from that.

Go Irish.

 

 

Note: I don’t think that this is true for only ND. I think this is true of any beloved alma mater, but my experiences are with that one school in South Bend. Carry on!

Your Favorite Heroine

If you’re a girl who read Harry Potter while you grew up, it’s likely you looked up to Miss Granger, the superiorly intelligent, spunky, and not always most beautiful girl in every classroom at Hogwarts.

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Or perhaps you read other books, like the more classic Anne of Green Gables, and looked up to the imaginative redhead who was as sensitive to beauty as she was to the slight pinprick of a slight.

Or maybe you saw Jo from Little Women, and followed her story of writing and romping with her sisters. You admired the girl who was so independent that she could not even be captured by a predictable plot.

Regardless of who you looked up to, you probably loved a certain heroine, and had dreams of being like her someday. Whether that be her intelligence, her beauty, or her kindness, you saw in her something that you wanted to be.

The common trait behind each of these female characters is good writing, and in good writing comes complexity—even in children’s stories. Each character has a good side and a bad side explicitly mentioned, yet we mostly focus on the good while we look up to them.

Hermione Granger is ostentatiously a Know-It-All in the first order. She is not the most socially intelligent girl in school, and she has a withering crush on RON WEASLEY for 7 years before she makes a move. She is, definitively, not cool. And yet, we see her for what she is more often than what we see her for what she is not.

Anne of Green Gables sees the good quite easily and is moved to great heights, but she also falls into the pits of despair just as quickly. She is the opposite of emotionally stable, even as she grows up. Anne has an enormous temper. And yet, we see her in the positive light of her imagination rather than in the dark side of what her sensitivity drives her too.

Lastly, Jo is stubborn. She loves her younger sister, Beth, for the softness and gentleness she does not have. She recognizes this weakness and this craving for independence in herself as she gets older, but the only thing we recognize is the strength of the other traits that exist alongside this.

We see book characters, thanks to the way the narrative is laid out, according to the good in them. We see and remember their victories much more than any loss they may endure. In other words, we give them the benefit of the doubt and the trust that they are a hero in the story, not a villain or an unimportant tangent.

This is not the way we think of ourselves in daily life. More often than not, we look at ourselves as characters in a skewed way, removed from context, and maybe even with the perception of ourselves as off or as simply bad. We do not give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but perhaps put ourselves on trial to prove that the good is there, alongside the bad.

We take many stories—lovely and ugly—from our childhoods. We take stories about fairies, about others, about the worlds, and about ourselves. These can be true, false, damaging, uplifting, and everything in between, but the most impactful ones are often the ones we learn about ourselves.

When you encounter stories about yourself today, check them the way an author would check theirs. Check it like this:

Does this story get at the complexities of the character? 

            Does this trait make sense in the context of the story, or does it assume the worst?

            Does this story ring true and authentic, or does it reduce this many-faceted character to a flat pancake of who they actually are?

It is a big ask to try to have someone go from thinking of themselves as an antagonist to a protagonist. It is difficult to switch one word in the thought, “I am bad” to “I am good”—even if the latter statement is the truest.

One step on the way there, though, can be switching how we ask questions and make assumptions about ourselves. Instead of assuming the worst traits or the worst stories, let’s ask how our favorite author would write about this character—good and bad—if they liked them. We may find a happier and truer story in this gentle way than we could have otherwise imagined.

We may just find ourselves on the same side as our childhood heroes.

DIY: 10 thoughts to grow a better human

Even though January is almost over, resolutions are still a thing.

Really? Yes, really.

And, more generally, I think we are all constantly trying to grow.

Two things to note first:
A. Wanting to grow doesn’t mean how you are now isn’t good. This is a paradox, yes, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

B. Growing isn’t something we do only by ourselves or only for ourselves. In some ways, we are the ones who put in effort and grow ourselves. But in bigger ways, our communities, loved ones, and what we believe in (i.e. God, our faith) are our gardeners. On the other point—we don’t grow just for ourselves. We learn how to become the best gift we can so we can ultimately give ourselves away.

With those two things noted, here are the ten things I’ve been taught. Writing these reminds me that they are important—note the word reminds, because I definitely don’t follow these perfectly either.

1. Work with what works.
Don’t set goals that you do not actually give one single fck about. i.e. for a while I wanted to be in the habit of eating salad everyday, but I hate salad. There is an objectively good thing there—eat healthier. However, there are often many ways to overall big goals—don’t choose the path you hate the most. I.e. if you want more time to read, a lot of people would suggest waking up earlier. Try it. But if you hate waking up in the dark, may I suggest going outside the box and trying night reading? You don’t have to always choose the most challenging route if it’s not a long term solution.

2. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And don’t let good be the enemy of done.
Whenever I have a goal, I like to do this really annoying thing of making it all of my goals and dreams at once or, alternatively, nothing. This means I like to think when I wake up on the first day of the year, or on my birthday, or on an arbitrary Tuesday, I will change twelve things about my life. This, shockingly, does not work.
When we have a big goal, we are inspired by it and want to go whole hog on it from the word go. But we are bad at it, and inevitably fail, and then end up quitting the whole thing because we made the options be perfect or fail.
Set yourself up for success. If your goal is to move more, don’t make a marathon in two months your goal—make it walking for ten minutes a day. Eventually, that will be habit, and then you can take your next literal and figurative haha step towards the big dream that inspires you.

3. Find someone who’s good at it.
Finding a mentor is important for logistical reasons, but it also boosts morale. Someone has actually done the thing you think is impossible! There are a million ways to still tell yourself that you in the particular couldn’t do it, but no longer can you tell yourself that it is outright impossible. Mentors are also great for reminding you that they too probably felt uncertain and incapable at times (and probably still do occasionally).

4. Don’t punish yourself.
Please don’t decide that tomorrow you’re going to crack the whip on yourself. Think instead of how your favorite teacher treated you. If you’re anything like me, you probably liked teachers who were both kind and believed in you enough to challenge you beyond where you were at. However, their criticism of you and demands on you were constructive and reasonable. This good teacher built you up so you could be better and know more. They left you feeling overall stronger, not weaker, than you were before. While you may have been humbled, you were not hurt. In the same way, your aspirations should give you hope, not give you anxiety. Remember the learning process is a process, and to not freak out at yourself everytime you’re not an expert by day three on the path.

5. Find a place to sit somewhere between empathy and encouragement for yourself.
This one is actually maybe the hardest for me personally. It’s really easy to flip-flop between being ruthless with yourself and just kind of giving up on your aspiration. Good news though: this type of thinking is actually a logical fallacy that we humans enjoy as a thinking shortcut. The fallacy is either-or thinking: instead of seeing possible actions and outcomes on a spectrum, we see option A OR B, with no in between. As a little reflection would teach us, this black and white thinking is usually not the full reality in front of us.
When we are trying to do something new or different, we have to be like good parents to ourselves. If you were potty training a two year old and they failed a couple times, you wouldn’t be like, “Well, I guess this whole bodily fluid control thing isn’t gonna work out. That’s life.” NO. You would keep trying and do different tactics and work with them until they figured it out. You would encourage them. You would read them Everyone Poops. You wouldn’t just chalk it up as an L and take it.
On the other hand, you wouldn’t scream at a two year old for not understanding how the porcelain throne works. You would not shame them or call them an idiot or tell them, “Well you’re never gonna figure this out so you might as well not try, Judy.”
This example, while weird, also makes sense. However, we talk like this to ourselves all the time when we try to learn new things that don’t come naturally to us because we have never lived them out before. The meaning of this point is that we have to find somewhere that allows failure without telling us failure is all we’re ever going to be able to do in this pursuit. It’s a really hard idea to hold because it’s fully of uncertainty and we humans hate that. Yet, we have to try.

6. Make a plan.
Figure out tiny steps. Write one tiny step a month that you do a few times a week. Get good at that step. Next month, move to the next step.
Don’t make it an impossible plan. Do no make your to do item something akin to “Never gossip ever again in my life” or “Eat only kale for the foreseeable ever and into the afterlife.” You’re not giving yourself a chance.
The big goals are sexy, and the small goals like “at least floss once a MONTH, maggie” are not exactly something you want to share. Remember that these little goals are part of the big one. That, in itself, makes them exciting.

7. Keep track.
Find a piece of paper, a phone app, or the blank back of your hand to keep track of you doing the things you planned for correctly. Keeping track helps you see where you go wrong, and when, how, and why you went wrong. You are, in some ways, your own scientific experiment. Don’t get mad at the experiment for going a way you don’t want—just take note, tweak the variables, and try again.

8. Celebrate small victories.
When you do notice you are doing well and following through, please, please, please take a moment to see that. It can be really easy to lose sight of the fact that doing the small, good thing is in itself an accomplishment on the way to a big goal. Be nice to yourself and recognize that even making a little change is a big deal.

This point actually ties to the name of this blog—tiny little lights. When you think of a string of fairy lights or christmas lights, they make the whole place grow. They are made, though, by individual lights brought together. Changes are like that. One tiny light won’t light the whole room—but many things brought together will.
Also, don’t be an asshole to yourself by making a “small victory” something that is actually huge. A small victory is the flossing once or working for an hour one day on something you’ve been meaning to. A small victory is not “I have permanently erased all my flaws and am a beacon of humanity.” Perfectionism, I see you.

9. Accept that you’re going to fail, it will piss you off, and it will make you better.
You. Are. Going. To. Be. Bad. At. It. Accept this a little bit, and move on. Otherwise, everytime you fail you will be derailed and eventually have to start all over again.
One bad day does not make a failure.

10. Follow the cliché: we overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year.
This is sort of a culmination of all the points, but it needs to be stated by itself. We create impossible hoops for ourselves when we put ourselves in a pressurized tank of shoulds and musts and either-or scenarios. We often want x by two weeks from now or to become Y within a month. We try to make drastic changes when in reality we would do better and more by seeking little victories day by day. We would do better to be gentle.
This point relates to believing in yourself and the aspirations you’re aiming towards. In the words of Elle Woods, “You must always have faith in people, but, most importantly, you must always have faith…in yourself.” When we try to put ourselves on a strict diet or limited improvement plan, we are implicitly setting ourselves off for a drop off after that time period ends. Believing in yourself means trusting that you’re not going to suddenly not care about your dreams anymore or that doing something slowly means you’ll never complete it. You have the resilience and grit to become many of things you want to be in some fashion—you just have to believe that.

photo by @adamjk