Creating Distance (Reflections From My 4-Month Experiment)

Up until last February, I posted here every single week. No questions. No excuses.

Blizzard? Write anyway.

Challenging circumstance with work? Write anyway.

Not sure what to write about? Write anyway.

And for a long time, that schedule worked for me. There were times where the tight deadline forced me to come up with an idea – and many of those ideas turned out great. The schedule gave me a rhythm to my writing.

Except, at the beginning of this year I found myself with a problem.

My schedule had become a burden. I found myself dreading Mondays and even Sundays simply because that’s when I had to come up with something to write about. Each post became a labor and an obligation.

So I had to change something. I had to try something new.

I gave up my schedule altogether. For a four month experiment, I was free to write however and whenever I wanted.

My logic was that freeing myself from a rigid structure would free me to write more often. Or maybe I’d write slightly less frequently, but post longer and more in-depth stories.

What happened is that I didn’t write anything.

At first, that was fine. In fact, the first couple Tuesdays, I found myself fighting the urge to put a post up. But I knew for the experiment to work, I had to truly give myself permission to write nothing. So I let the weeks go by.

A few weeks turned into a month. Still nothing.

A month turned into two months. Still nothing.

My experiment began to appear more and more of a failure.

Then around the two and a half month mark, something interesting happened. I started thinking about writing again. Just a thought here or there. Just a post idea that I’d jot down on an index card for later. Just a memory every now and then about why I created the site in the first place.

And in that space, in the distance from my work, I rediscovered WHY it mattered to me.

For example, I noticed writing here every week forced me to look at life differently. I had to pay attention to my experience so I could write about it. And that forced me to be more present in life.

I noticed writing helped me solidify lessons I was learning in my own life. Teaching is often the best way to learn.

I noticed writing here gave me a place to test ideas.

Most of all, I found the writing was a small way to give to others. Maybe I could help someone avoid the pitfalls I’d fallen into. Maybe I could bring someone a little more joy, a little more love, and a little more humanity in their life. And I found satisfaction in that.

Sure, I didn’t start posting again right away. I still waited until the end of the four months.

But I have been reflecting. I’ve been consolidating my ideas. I’ve been jotting down notes of things I want to share. And I’ve refocused my overall vision for the site – a vision that I’d forgotten amid the weekly rush of posting.

And now, I’m ready to return with new energy.

But that’s not all…

I learned the power of distance.

Maybe there’s a decision you’re wrestling with, a relationship you can’t seem to improve, or maybe a goal you’re not making progress on. Perhaps there’s something you’re stuck with, and you find yourself running into the same old barriers over and over again.

When you’re in the midst of something, it’s hard to see clearly. It’s hard to see the wider picture. You’re too close. There’s too much emotion.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to create distance – even if it’s just a little bit. Give yourself space to see the situation from another view.

When you do, there are three simple guidelines that I found helpful.

One, set a time limit. This ensures you’re not just running from the problem and putting it off indefinitely. And it also reduces the pressure by not making it a permanent change. It’s only for a little while. You can always go back to how things were.

Two, give yourself permission to truly step away. Otherwise, you’re only pretending.

Three, accept whatever outcome happens. You can never be sure of what you’ll see. It’s possible the distance won’t give you anything.

Though maybe, the space you create will be exactly what you need to move forward.

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PS: I’m returning to a more regular schedule here again: about 2-3 posts a month. We’ll see how that works.

Are Your Structures Helpful? (Plus, A Four Month Experiment)

I’m a believer in structure. Many of the core habits I rely on would fall to pieces were it not for the regular ritual. I would never have become a black belt had I not trained every week. I never would have become a writer had I not written everyday. The list goes on and on.

Structure does two major things.

One, it reduces the thinking or decision making process. Instead of having to decide every week whether or not you are going to train, it’s already part of your routine. There’s no thinking, you just go do it. And if you “don’t feel like it” on a particular day, then the structure offers the support to continue going with the practice. It carries its own momentum and pushes you forward.

Two, it creates space. By limiting options you free yourself to dive deep. For example, one of my favorite forms of poetry to write is the sonnet. Why? Because instead of worrying about how many syllables to make each line, or whether or not I ought to rhyme, I can focus on what I’m trying to say. The constraints sharpen my focus, and, in a way, make it easier to create a quality poem.

Yet there’s a line.

Sometimes structure can become too limiting. Sometimes it can start taking away from what you really want to create in and with your life. Sometimes, you have to recreate the structure to serve as a better container for you and the body of work you’re trying to build.

I’m realizing my weekly posting schedule has crossed that line for me. It’s no longer a helpful structure.

When I set out on this project a few years ago, I knew that if I didn’t set a regular schedule, I’d never write. My previous website died for that reason. I knew that I had to create a practice of shipping my work out regularly.

So I decided to write every week. Every Tuesday, I’d create a post. No excuses.

And for a long time, it worked. There are many weeks where the simple requirement to show up has forced me to create posts I’m quite proud of. It also got me into the discipline of creating regularly. I learned how to bring projects – even if they were a single post – to completion. It got me to write regularly.

Yet there was another piece to the vision of this project. I wanted to create posts that moved people – that moved you. I wanted to create stories and essays with depth. I wanted to share ideas I felt were important to share.

I still do that to an extent. But as I’ve directed more and more of my attention to building my copywriting business, which is another important project in my life, I haven’t had the same amount time to think and ponder over each post. Nor have I been out and interacting with people as often. Nothing bad about that, by the way, it’s just the season of life I’m in right now.

I often find myself getting to Monday or Tuesday with no idea what to write about or what I want to share. That’s fine for every now and then, but I’ve learned that when a problem keeps coming up over again, I need to pay attention and make some changes.

Maybe I’m still serving you, but I’m not serving you in the way I want. I’m not hitting the depth I want to go for. I’m not honoring the time and attention you give me in the way I feel you deserve.

It’s hard to change. There’s a lot of fear around changing a structure that has worked for years…

Will I still write? Or without the weekly deadline, will I just keep putting it off?

Will I actually create better posts?

Will I lose readers? Will they be disappointed in not getting a post every week?

Will this project that I care so much about just fade away? Will I abandon it?

So I’m going to launch an experiment. I’m going to put my fears to the test. For the next four months, I’m freeing myself from the schedule of posting every week. Completely.

Instead, I’ll only post when I have something I want to say. I’ll post when there’s an idea or story I just can’t help but share. I’ll post when I’m overflowing with energy and excitement.

What will that look like? Who knows? Maybe I’ll only post about once a month. Maybe I’ll post more often than I do now. Maybe I won’t post at all. Any outcome is acceptable. This is an experiment.

At the end of four months, which will be marked on my calendar, I’ll re-evaluate. I’ll look at the experiment and decide what I want to do going forward. And I’ll share with you what I learned.

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey. You are a blessing to me.

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PS: What structures do you have in your life that may not be helpful? Is there an experiment you could run to test an alternative way of living?

Worth Remembering

I don’t know all that much about her really. We never talked long.

Where did she come from? Or had she always lived here? Did she have any family? Did she have a job? Why did she hang out on that particular street corner? What was life like for her? These are questions I don’t know answers to.

About the only thing I know was her name was Jennifer.

I passed her often – usually on the way to and from the grocery store. She liked to hang out near the entrance to the ‘L’.

Our conversations were brief most of the time – not touching on anything particularly remarkable. But they were a bright moment in the day nonetheless.

She liked to ask about my family – especially my daughter who she thought was “so special”. Every time I or my wife passed with our daughter, she’d stop us and smile. She had a great smile – a big grin full of missing teeth. You could always tell it was genuine.

From time to time she’d ask for change – a small bite to eat. And from time to time we’d help her. I’d gave her some change. My wife gave her a pair of jeans. Perhaps what we offered were but small kindnesses, but I hope it was more than that. I hope it made a small difference. I hope it showed she was a somebody to us.

Then one day we realized we hadn’t seen her in a while.

That wasn’t all that surprising of an event. I’m used to people disappearing. Sometimes they get a job and are able to leave the streets. Sometimes they move to a different neighborhood. And other times, well, you hope the best for them.

Yet recently, my wife found out that Jennifer had passed away.

I think about her often. I think of her smile. I think of the way she loved our daughter. I think of the many brief conversations we had by the ‘L’ station.

I’ll miss her.

Maybe I never knew her all that well. I’ll probably never know too much about her. But I do know she was a human being. I know she’s worth remembering.

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Scale Your Support

I’ve been working a lot harder in the last few months as I build up my new copywriting practice.

That’s meant increased work hours each day. But that’s just the tip of it.

Along with the increase in time spent working comes a jump in the challenge and difficulty of the work. Every day pushes me up against my personal barriers and limits. I face new and deeper fears. I have to keep pace with the steep learning curve of the new craft. I’m constantly in over my head.

This is the path for me, the path I want to pursue, but it’s challenging and difficult.

Amid all that I’m doing, it’s tempting to scale back on all self-care.

I could reduce my meditation time: “It won’t matter if I miss this one, I’ve got lots to do today.”

I could skip my long weekly walk: “I can’t take two hours out of my day for that, I’d be more efficient taking the train.”

I could stop eating healthy: “Why bother, food is just fuel right, I just need to the calories right now.”

I could sleep less: “Why spend eight hours doing nothing? Might as well use that time to work.”

I could stop spending time with family. I could cut time reading books. I could abandon my journalling practice. I could pause my Taekwon-do training.

On the surface, cutting my practices would give me more time. I could focus more on my work.

But I’m actually doing the opposite.

I’m spending more time meditating. I’m being more careful about what I eat. I’m trying hard to get outside as best I can. I’m still showing up for black belt class each week. I’m doing my best to get to bed on time.

Why?

Because the increased demands on my energy mean I need more input, not less.

My friend, KC, talks about how practice is actually subtractive. You’re not just adding one more thing to your day; you’re removing stress, anxiety, loss of focus, and much more. It creates the space for you to be more effective and present.

Even if I was to gain by cutting my practice in the short term, I’d destroy the foundation that makes my effort more likely to succeed and thrive in the long term.

So as you face greater and greater responsibilities, as you push the limits of what you’re capable of, scale your practice. Make it a greater priority. It’s the support that fuels your life.

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One Incident – Three Stories

I planned my last morning in Cabo to be a time of rest and relaxation. My flight wasn’t till late in the afternoon, and I didn’t need to leave the hotel until around noon. That gave me the whole morning to do whatever I wanted.

Maybe I’d go for a final swim in the pool. Maybe I’d walk down by the beach. Maybe I’d read a book in the shade. It was up to me.

At around 9:45am, I sat in the hotel lobby and pulled up my flight information. Might as well make sure there are no issues with my flight, I figured.

Then I saw the flight departure time: 1pm. Wait, that’s three hours earlier than I’d thought it was. Wait, with an hour long ride to the airport, I need to leave the hotel in the next half hour. Wait, I haven’t packed or checked out of the hotel yet.

I ran upstairs to my room. I threw everything in my bag. I gave the room a final check to make sure I didn’t leave anything. I ran downstairs. I went to the hotel lobby. I paid the bill. I called for a taxi. And I was off toward the airport.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare. I made my flight.

Thank goodness I caught my error when I did. Too much later, and I would have missed my flight. Phew. I’m lucky. I’m so grateful.

And now I know for next time to double check my flight info earlier. It’s a good opportunity to learn.

***

I nearly missed my flight coming home from Cabo. I’d misread the time on my ticket and only realized my mistake when I checked my flight details in the morning. But I made it to the airport on time.

Doesn’t matter though. I still made it home.

***

I said goodbye to my friends on the morning of my last day in Cabo. They were headed to the airport. But my flight wasn’t till later in the day, so I had several more hours before I needed to leave.

As they pulled out, I thought, “Maybe I should have gone to the airport with them. That was stupid of me. Now I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my time at the hotel.”

After doing nothing for an hour or so, I decided to kill some time and check into my flight. Might as well save time later on.

Wait. Does the departure time really say 1pm? I thought it was 4pm. Wait. Is it’s already 9:45am. And I still have to pack. I still have to check out. I still have to get ride to the airport. There’s no way I’m going to make it in time.

I ran upstairs and packed. “I’m sure I’ll forget something. No time to be thorough. I’m already late.”

I checked out of the hotel. “I knew I spent too much money on this trip.”

I called for a cab. “Why is this guy taking so long to get here? Don’t they know I’m running late?”

I rode the cab to the airport. “There’s no way I’ll make my flight. I’m running too late. I still have to print my boarding pass. I still have to go through security.”

I paid the cab driver. “I knew I should have gone with my friends earlier. That would have saved me a whole fifty dollars. And I’ve already spent too much on this trip.”

I arrived with enough time. “That was close. Don’t be so stupid next time. Double check the flight info in advance.”

I had to wait in the airport before I could board the plane. “Now what? I’m bored.”

***

Which story is true? Probably a mix. But that’s not the point.

You choose your reality. You choose the story you live and tell. How will you choose?

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A Different Kind of Annual Review

I look back at the landscape of the year gone by. Periods of growth tower like mountains. New relationships bubble up and grow like streams becoming rivers. Through it all are grand experiences of joy, fun, or excitement – billowing like great big clouds. Last year was quite a year. I have much to be thankful for.

But easily lost amid the big or exciting experiences are another type of event. They are moments so ordinary it’s easy to miss them.

They are moments of life like these…

***

Moment One.

My wife and I put on our coats and help our daughter get into hers. We put on our shoes. We pack the bag full of snacks and spare diapers. I pick up our daughter, and we make our way down the stairs and out the front door.

We walk down the street a bit, crossed to the other side, and reach the house of a nearby neighbor. We knock. He lets us in.

We stay there for a few moments – conversing about life, being parents, and other such simple matters. Heh. Simple matters.

Then my wife and I thank our neighbor and head out the door – leaving our daughter behind.

Tonight, we get to go on a date. I have my wife all to myself.

***

Moment Two.

I nearly missed it – nearly didn’t go on a walk, nearly didn’t walk this far, nearly didn’t put up with the cold, nearly didn’t turn at the last minute to follow the lakeshore instead of the path, nearly didn’t brave the untouched snowdrifts, nearly didn’t notice.

The ice on the lake was thin. And the waves were too strong for it. It splintered. Sheets of ice broke into hundreds of pieces.

The waves kept pushing through. They drove the splintered ice toward the shore – crashing them against the dock. Crashing them against the splinters of ice already there.

The sound of cracking, of ice being pushed against ice, rang out in the winter air.

I stood for a long while, lost in the symphony.

***

Moment Three.

There are about a hundred other things I’d rather be doing – give or take a few.

I’m prospecting for my business. That means sorting through long lists of potential clients, checking out their websites, tracking down their email addresses, and writing personal messages for them. The work is slow. It’s tedious. It’s draining.

I understand that it’s important work, and I understand that I need the projects right now. But it’s still not that fun.

When finished, I step back and evaluate my work. Hey, I’ve added thirty names to my list. I’ve made progress. Not bad.

(One of those people would eventually become a client. Not bad at all.)

***

Moment Four.

I crash into my pillow. It flattens beneath the weight of my head – deflating as though giving out a big sigh.

I don’t want to think too much on the day. Not a lot went well.

The night before left me exhausted and grumpy. I don’t think I made any progress on my work. The whole day, I felt like a truck stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels to no effect.

But the day is done now.

Sometimes, making it through the day is victory enough.

***

It’s important to look back over the year and see the big picture, to see the massive highs and great victories.

But as you look back over the last year, pause to celebrate the little things too – the moments of beauty that brightened your day, the simple victory made you feel on top of the world, or the interaction with a friend that filled you with joy.

Then when you look back at the year, you’ll not only be able to see the high and sweeping landscape, but also the details of a thousand brilliant flowers.

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PS: A practice I’ve found helpful in remembering these victories: every day, write down three things that went well. My thanks to Jonathan Fields for that one.

May Your Coming Year Be Like This…

They don’t say, “You’re not supposed to do that.” But they look at you as if you were a puppy who just dug a hole in the mud.

They don’t say, “You’re crazy.” But they lean their bodies a little bit further back than normal to ensure the disease doesn’t spread.

They don’t say, “What was it like?” But they offer sympathy:

“I’d help you if I could.”

“Were you safe?”

“That’s a pain.”

But they don’t know.

They don’t know what it feels like to push the “rules” – to act in a way that ever since the age of twelve, we’re told we can’t.

They don’t know the feel of a hundred thousand raindrops – a hundred thousand blessings – falling upon you.

They don’t know the thrill of dodging puddles, branches, and old ladies.

They don’t know the rush that happens when your brakes get wet and you can’t stop quite as fast as you normally do.

They don’t know what it’s like to walk inside dripping wet and covered in mud with the biggest smile on your face possible.

They don’t know how alive I am.

But that’s OK.

I do. I’ve biked through the pouring rain, and I think I’m going to do it again.

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