Friday, July 13, 2012

Every Day for a Month

I'm pleased to announce that I FINALLY finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I started it in 2010 and finished it about 2 hours before a book club discussion at Amber and Billy's house on Monday, proving once again that I can't finish anything without a deadline.

The author writes that while sitting on a bus one day she began to ponder the question of whether she was truly happy. This lead to a project in which she spent time every day focusing on strategies to be happier and more mindful of her happiness. Each month had a specific focus- love, family, work, "the eternal," etc., with specific tasks and goals.

When I started the book I was completely overwhelmed. Rubin is a master organizer and spent a huge amount of time and book space discussing research, plans, and the extensive system of charts she designed to track her progress. (If you want to learn more or design your own project, Rubin created a website to help you out.)

So in the beginning I thought I would never attempt a project of that scope. The fact is that I have a pretty short attention span and I get overwhelmed by extensive projects. I made it through nursing school okay, but in my personal life I like things to be smaller scale; hence my enjoyment of writing blog posts but failure to attempt a novel.

However, one of the most emphasized points in the book was Rubin's first Personal Commandment: Be Gretchen. My favorite part of the book was Rubin's focus on what really makes her happy, rather than what makes others happy or what should make her happy.

Leo's Happiness Project includes being well rested (in Oscar's bed if possible)

Another point that really spoke to me was the idea that it's the process, not the final product, that creates happienss. Did you ever achieve a big goal and then feel let down that you were done? This is why Rubin's First Splendid Truth is: To be happier you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.

I thought a lot about what Be Melissa really means right now, and what processes could be involved in Being Melissa better. I came up with this: What I really need is a FOCUS project. I'm an energetic person and I love the endless self-improvement ideas out there, but sometimes I stretch myself too thin, and often I abandon one thing in the middle to start something new.  I have vowed to stop this before,  but old habits die hard.

So here's how I'm going to Be Melissa in an atmosphere of growth: I am picking one goal for each month and working on it every day.

I started Tuesday (July 10), and I leave for Peru in less than two weeks. I resisted the temptation to wait until August, because I would probably have moved on to something new by then. The focus for July is daily Spanish lessons.  A few weeks ago I bought a subscription to some online Spanish lessons, hoping to brush up my high school Spanish before Peru. The plan was to complete one lesson (about 20 minutes) every day that I don't work. Up to this week I had completed two lessons, both done on the first day I bought the subscription.

When I worked for an insurance company, we were encouraged (along with all business school students I think), to make our goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Rubin reminds us of a business school adage: "You manage what you measure." I also know that I need some structure or I don't get things done. So I made my own low budget chart- I found a lined notebook, I wrote the numbers 10-24 down the side to represent each day before my trip, and I am writing down which lesson I complete each day.

A ridiculous fact about me is that a blank space on this chart will make me feel terrible, even though I alone will know about it. I'm pretty sure this is a guilt factor brought about by my Catholic upbringing.  Nonetheless, this notebook paper chart is a way to hold myself accountable.

I'm starting out with something simple and concrete to get used to the process, and then I'm taking 12 days off to "focus" on enjoying my trip. I would like to get a little loftier moving forward. Some ideas for future months include: do some yoga every day, write something every day, get up by 7:00 every day, make a list of annoying/overdue tasks and do one every day.

I'm excited about the prospect of picking one priority and focusing on it. I also love that each goal is time limited- I get a little more than the 21 days needed to make a habit, but I can also decide to abandon it after a month if it doesn't work for me.

Anyone else out there working on some form of Happiness Project?  I would love to hear about it!

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and wish me luck finding focus.

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