January Reflections

Wow, how is it already a new month??

January was an exciting month here in the U.S. (a little too exciting at times in the political sphere but that’s a whole other blog post). To me, January felt like a month of hope, growth, and positive change. I didn’t do everything I set out to perfectly, but I still moved in the right direction. Here are some stats:

Number of days I meditated: 27/31

Yoga workouts completed: 23/30

Number of days I journaled/practiced gratitude: 19/31

Hours spent writing my novel: 20/20

Books read: 4

Times I ordered delivery/ate a meal that could be microwaved: 0

The most important lesson I learned this month is that perfection really is the enemy of progress. In the past, if I was on a streak and missed a day, I’d just write off the whole rest of the month. For the first 15 days of my yoga challenge, I didn’t miss a single day. When I did end up missing a few days, I wasn’t too hard on myself, and that made it much easier to come back to it. Instead of trying to be perfect, a better goal is to just do the best you can. Sure 100% is amazing, but 70, 80, 90% is still amazing! In fact, pretty much anything other than 0 is great.

Out of all my goals, I’m most proud of how much healthier I’ve been eating. Ordering food is so easy and tempting when you live in a big city, but I started learning how to cook (better late than never!) and I’ve really enjoyed taking the time to prepare my own meals, looking up new recipes to make, and eating foods that are both good for me and actually taste good. Since I started cooking, I honestly haven’t felt as much of a temptation to order out. (To illustrate how big of an accomplishment this is for me, when I told my friends I was going to try not eating fast food for a whole year, they actually laughed out loud).

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I started doing stoic adventures this year. I’d originally planned on doing one each week, but honestly I’ve kind of struggled to come up with ideas, especially with the pandemic going on, limiting how much I can do outside of my apartment. I’m still going to aim to do a few each month though. Here are some updates on my stoic adventures so far:

Stoic Adventure #1 Update: 30-Day Yoga Challenge:

I definitely hit the ground running with this one. For the first 15 days, I didn’t skip a single workout, even on days I really wanted to. A big part of my motivation had to do with using the WOOP technique. Tracking my progress after each workout in my WOOP app was so satisfying.

I’ve never been the most active person. I’m about as flexible as C-3PO, and I’ve only gone to a handful of yoga classes in my life. It goes without saying the first few weeks weren’t the easiest. Downward dog, which is apparently supposed to be a relaxing pose (ha!), was the bane of my existence. Every part of me ached after each workout. But about halfway through I felt myself get a little stronger. I wasn’t as sore as I was in the first few days, and I was sure I’d hit a turning point. It was all going to be uphill from here! Wrong. My arms and shoulders ached, I’m pretty sure I strained a muscle in my chest, and I was scared I was going to do some permanent damage to my wrists.

Since I hadn’t had any rest days yet, I decided to take time off to let my body recover. During this time, I researched the proper technique for yoga poses and found ways to take the strain off my wrists and shoulders. After my break, I felt much better. I was a little concerned that I’d be back at square one, but surprisingly I made even more progress than I had up until that point. I found myself actually enjoying downward dog and, for the first time, I could bend down and reach all the way to my toes!

I want to continue doing yoga and improving my flexibility, though I’d like to mix it up with some cardio and strength training going forward. Yoga with Adrienne is such a great resource for those looking to get into yoga, and Adrienne has such a calming presence. The one thing I would do differently going forward is take more regular rest days. Even once or twice a week would have allowed me enough recovery time to avoid taking as long of a break as I did, and rest days are important for avoiding injury. Overall, I completed 23/30 days. Not perfect, but still pretty good!

Stoic Adventure #2 Update: Applying for a Writing Mentorship:

Unfortunately, I don’t have an update on this one yet, because the results haven’t been announced yet. I’ll know this Wednesday!

I was still determined to make progress on my writing, regardless of the outcome, so I set myself a goal of writing 20 hours in January. I took a break the first half of the month after completing my last revision, but I ended up writing about two hours a day when I got back into the swing of things. Getting into the program would be amazing, but even if I don’t, I’m in a great place with my writing.

I’ll have more updates for you on this one later this week!

So that’s January all wrapped up. I’ll be carrying a lot of the same goals into the next month. Some I’ll be adjusting, and some I’ll use the lessons from this month to improve my progress in February. It’s importantly to continually take stock of and adjust your goals as things change. For example, one of my resolutions was to read 100 books this year. If I were to set my mind to it, I’m sure I could do it, but I also realized that trying to read that much was taking away too much time from my writing, which is a bigger priority to me in 2021. I’ve set my new goal to 50 books. That’s still a lot of books, but it’s a much more reasonable goal given what I want to accomplish this year.

Now, on to February!

Be a Target, Not a Victim

I had an unexpected moment of weakness today. I was going about my day, watching YouTube videos about getting rust stains off stainless steel pans (adulthood is so exciting), when I was struck with this sudden urge to FB stalk my ex. In the two months since things ended between us, I haven’t once been tempted to poke around his social media, but I just felt this random longing to see what was going on in his life. Luckily, he’s never been the most active person online, so there wasn’t anything new for me to obsess over or pick apart, but just seeing him again stirred a distant sadness inside me.

I had been doing so well with not thinking about him. There had been weeks where I was so occupied with other stuff in my life that he barely registered in my mind. But somehow, I got so over my hurt and sadness, that I actually circled back to only remembering the good times with him and then missing him again. Thanks for nothing, brain!

When I saw his pictures today, I admit I got little misty-eyed. I started to feel sorry for myself, and then I had a realization that I’ve kind of known all along. I like feeling sorry for myself.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something I have to acknowledge and accept. Letting myself wallow in all the bad things that happen to me is a guilty pleasure, almost an addiction. On my first date with my ex, I remember telling him about the person I dated before him even though that’s a big no-no. I told him about how the way he ended things hurt me and how I didn’t want to go through that again. I justified my first date faux pas by looking at it as a way of protecting myself.

Then I kept bringing him up even after the first date. I would tell him how the other guy was never very affectionate or how he would be cold when I tried to have important talks with him, deliberately leaving out any mistakes I made in these situations. I will admit, I wanted him to feel bad for me, I wanted him to acknowledge the hurt even though he wasn’t the one who caused it. I wanted to believe I wasn’t responsible for any of the things that happened to me, that I was just a victim of circumstances.

But I wasn’t a victim at all. I’d had plenty of autonomy the whole time. I could have chosen to walk away from the situation sooner rather than continue to invest my time and emotions and hope things would change. I could have dated other people. I could have told him exactly what I wanted from the get-go and asked him what he wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

In his book about modern stoicism, William B. Irvine talks about the concept of being a target vs a victim. Everyone will experience bad circumstances outside of their control at some point in their lives. At that point, they can choose to be a victim and wallow, asking themself “why me?” They can continue to feel powerless and move through life believing their happiness is out of control. OR they can be a target, and accept that this thing happened to them and realize that while they don’t have power over the circumstance, they have power over their thoughts and actions. Targets tend to bounce back from hardships faster, because they know they can play an active role in shaping their happiness.

In my life, the area where I tend to wallow the most is dating. It’s easier to feel sorry for myself when I can’t find someone to connect with rather than take responsibility. Obviously I can’t control anyone’s feelings towards me, but I can control my thoughts and actions. I can put myself out there more, I can work up the courage to strike up a conversation with a cute guy or join activities where I’m more likely to meet people. I can choose to love myself and accept that not everyone is going to be into me and their opinions shouldn’t dictate my self-worth. Putting the burden of responsibility back on myself means I only have myself to blame, which is a scary thing, but it also means I have all the power.

When you’ve spent as much time throwing pity parties for yourself as I have, it can be a challenge to make this shift in your mind. I still struggle with it, like I did today, but I also catch myself a lot faster. Instead of breaking out into a full on ugly cry into my Ben & Jerry’s, I just made myself lunch, put on some good TV, and moved on. Because here’s the thing about feeling sorry for yourself: It’s completely pointless.

It accomplishes nothing and only makes you feel worse about your situation. So the next time you feel inclined to feel sorry for yourself, do literally anything else instead. Dance around to your favorite music, treat yourself to something sweet, or throw on that outfit that makes you feel like an absolute goddess. And remind yourself: you’re the only person who gets to control your happiness. Don’t give that power to anyone else.

Stoic Adventure #2: Applying for a Writing Mentorship

Hello from NYC! After a month of lounging around my parents’ house in NJ, getting spoiled with three home-cooked meals a day, taking as many relaxing baths as possible, and getting a much-needed break from the sweet chaos that is New York City, I’m finally back in my apartment!

I’m happy to report Stoic Adventure #1 is going great. I officially hit the halfway mark yesterday, and so far I haven’t missed a single day. New Year motivation really is a magical thing, because there were definitely some days old me would have skipped, like yesterday when I spent the whole day binging Bling Empire with my sister and brother-in-law. Instead of ignoring that little message from Netflix that’s basically saying, “Uh are you okay? You’re watching A LOT of TV. Maybe you should go outside or something…” and forging ahead to the next episode, I asked if we could take a break so I could work on my practice. I’m still by no means an expert yogi, but I can feel my body getting stronger and I’m just feeling more zen overall. I’ll be writing a more in-depth post about the experience at the end of the challenge.

Which brings us to my next adventure of the year: entering Author Mentor Match. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a program that pairs inexperienced writers with writers who already have agents or have been published/are soon to be published. You have to have a completed manuscript to enter, because the whole point of the program is to work with your mentor to get your manuscript ready for the querying stage, which is when aspiring writers try to nab an agent.

It’s quite a competitive program, with over 1500 applications this year. You’re only allowed to submit to four mentors, and I’ve seen mentors tweeting about how they’ve each gotten about 200 submissions. That means my chance of getting selected is roughly 0.5%.

There are lots of these sorts of online publishing contests out there, and you would think as someone who’s dreamed of being a published author since she was 12, I’d take full advantage of these opportunities. Ha! That would be entirely too reasonable. A reasonable person would think to themselves:

“What’s the worst that could happen? So maybe I won’t win, but I’ve got nothing to lose. If I do win, it’ll be a great experience, so I might as well try.”

Here’s what I think to myself:

“What if they think my writing is terrible? What if I find out I’ll never be an author? What if I lose? That’ll be the worst thing ever.” *insert heavy sweating and hyperventilating*

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but rejection seriously freaks me out. I will do everything in my power to avoid it…which is why I knew applying to this mentorship would make for the perfect Stoic adventure.

I was fortunate to receive a lot of support from friends when I told them I was thinking about entering. My writing group helped bring my submission materials up to par and another friend copyedited my application for me. Usually I don’t tell other people when applying to stuff like this, mainly because the idea of having to tell them I didn’t get in is not very fun, but I was heartened by how much effort everyone put in to help me out.

The day I submitted, I looked over all my materials about five times before hitting submit. It was terrifying, but also exhilarating. Once it was out of my hands, I felt a little calmer knowing I’d done everything I could. Whether or not I was chosen, I was proud of myself for putting my work out there and taking advantage of a good opportunity. I already felt a little braver…

That was, until I got an email in my inbox a little over 24 hours later. It was from the program, letting me know that at least one of the mentors had enjoyed the first 50 pages of my manuscript enough to want to read the whole thing. They asked if I could send my full manuscript for their consideration. Abuzz with nervous and excited energy, I sent my manuscript their way.

I’ll know whether or not I made it into the program a few weeks from now, on February 3rd. Even though it was an encouraging sign that someone wanted to read more, I know based on how many people applied, the odds still aren’t in my favor. Still, I already feel like I got some great things just out of the experience of applying. I remembered what a supporting group of friends and writing community I have in my life, and I also learned I could be brave and that putting my writing out there isn’t the scary thing I’d made it out to be.

While I wait to hear back about the results, I’m not going to put my writing on pause. I received a lot of helpful feedback from my writing group, who read my manuscript over the holidays. I’m going to be delving straight into my revisions, so that even if I don’t make it into the program, I’ll still have made some progress and I’ll be in a good place with my writing. And then after that, who knows? The funny thing is, now that I’ve entered one contest, I want to enter ALL the contests. Might as well…what have I got to lose?

Stoic Adventure #1: 30-Day Yoga Challenge

I knew going into the new year that I didn’t want to just set a bunch of vague resolutions like I did in years past. Life is unpredictable (as 2020 was so keen to teach us). I’ve learned that despite your best intentions, there will always be circumstances out of your control, circumstances that will hinder and even erase progress you’ve made towards your goals. I’ve also learned that goals can change. I don’t want all the same things I wanted last year, because I’m not the same person I was then.

As readers of this blog will know, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about happiness and what it truly means to be happy. Science has shown that wealth, fame, beauty, and all the other things we as a society mistakenly chase, don’t necessarily make us happier. It’s ultimately our attitudes and how grateful we are for our circumstances that make a real difference. This is a concept many of us haven’t quite grasped. That’s why we’re so moved when we see a video of a school janitor bursting into happy tears when a group of students sings happy birthday to him or when we read about a guard at Disney World who asks little girls dressed up as princesses for their autographs. On the flip side, we’re shocked when celebrities who seem to have it all take their own lives. These stories don’t fit our idea of who’s supposed to be happy and who’s not.

I’ve been thinking about life lately and what it means to be a living, breathing person who occupies our little planet. We’re alive for a certain number of years and then one day we’re gone. That’s just a fact, but what are you supposed to do with that time here? If being wealthy and famous and having a six-pack doesn’t matter when you’re on your deathbed, what should you aspire to?

It all sounds a little nihilistic and there have been days where I’ve felt a little morbid thinking about it, but the strange thing is, I’ve also found a lot of inspiration in the idea that life is fleeting. I’ve started to think of my life as a story or a canvas. Books end, paintings are finished, but it’s up to the artist to fill it up with as much excitement and beauty and adventure and twists as possible. When you look it at that way, there are no good things and bad things. There are only experiences and, while I haven’t quite figured out the meaning of life just yet (sorry), I have decided that for me a meaningful life means getting to experience as much of it as possible.

I want to do things that scare and exhilarate me. I want to flirt with handsome strangers and travel to amazing places and learn new skills and meet interesting people. I want to fail and learn from my failures and do things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I want to have adventures both big and small, and I want to collect good memories the way other people collect rare coins or stamps.

In one of his books, modern Stoic William Irvine talks about the concept of “Stoic adventures.” This means regularly subjecting yourself to trials where there’s a high chance of failure or rejection. Going on these Stoic adventures teaches you to be more comfortable with failures, and that there are elements of every experience that are in and out of your control.

I loved this idea. I’m a big believer in the importance of failing, but being the hypocrite I am, I also do everything I can to reduce my odds of failing. Even if that means not taking a chance in the first place.

I don’t want to live that way anymore. That’s why this year I’m going to spend every week taking on a new Stoic adventure. Some will be small things and some will be bigger things, but they’ll all be things that are hard or scary or I have a chance of failing, but will improve my life in some way. I’ll be posting about each adventure on this blog to keep myself accountable.

The first adventure of the year is doing Yoga with Adriene’s 30-day yoga challenge. This might not sound very scary but if you knew how bad I was at working out regularly, you’d understand that this is no easy feat for me. I don’t think I’ve ever worked out for 30 days in a row in my entire life. Having said that, I’m excited to share I’ve already made it to day 9 with no days skipped so far! I’ll be posting a final update once I make it to the end of the challenge.

I hope you’ll join me as I embark on this adventure (or 52 adventures). I’m a little nervous, but mostly I’m just excited. It won’t be easy, but if I can pull this off, I know it’ll be a year to remember.

All of Life’s Branches

Last week I read the book The Midnight Library, which is about a young woman named Nora Seed who’s so unhappy with her disappointing life that she resolves to end it. In the place between life and death, however, she finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to “try out’ all the lives that could have been.

It got me thinking about all the decisions I’ve ever made in my life and how each of them have affected the course it’s taken. For example, if I’d spent the last year dating more instead of pining over one dude who lived across the country, could I have met the love of my life? How would that person’s life have been different now if he’d met me? Maybe spending time with him would have changed the relationship I have with my friends and family. Maybe I would have been less inspired to work towards my personal aspirations. There’s no way to know what might have been.

Far more interesting than dwelling on the past, however, is the present. I mean, if I chose to, I could quit my job right now. I could book a plane ticket to Paris, use my savings to rent a cheap apartment, and find myself a handsome Parisian lover named Henri. Will I actually do any of that? Probably not (sorry, Henri). My point, though, is that I could do all of that, and that’s both a terrifying and exhilarating thing.

We go through our lives feeling like we don’t have control over what happens to us, but we have so much more power than we realize. Within each of us are little infinities of lives we could live, and it’s the decisions we make each day—both major and seemingly insignificant—that determine how our lives will branch out.

This is one of the major themes of The Midnight Library, but there’s another equally as important lesson. In each of the lives Nora Seed visits—from famous rockstar to Olympic swimmer to average wife and mother—there are both joys and disappointments awaiting her. This is why it’s pointless to dwell on all our “could-have-been’s.” It’s so easy to convince yourself that if you only did this or if you just took a chance on that, you could be living a much better life than you are now, but the far likelier possibility is that, even in that life, you’d still have good and bad days.

After reading The Midnight Library, I have a new perspective on the decisions I make each day. It’s up to me to chart my own course for a great day, but beyond that a great life. If I’ve learned anything from Nora Seed, it’s that there’s no way to know what actually dictates “the perfect life,” but an abundance of love—friends, family, significant others, pets—seems like an important requirement. Beyond that, it’s being grateful to wake up each day, to take another breath and know that you have a new chance to explore all of the wondrous things life has to offer. And it all starts with a choice.

20 Lessons I Learned in 2020

How does one possibly sum up the year that was 2020? I can honestly say this was the most difficult, emotional, chaotic year ever, and it was also the year I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. So without further ado…

On Life:

  • Your life isn’t going to begin when you accomplish x or obtain y. Life started the day you were born, and it’s happening right now! It’s also never going to look exactly how you imagined. Don’t let the arbitrary deadlines we as a society set for ourselves freak you out. Being a single woman in your 30s doesn’t mean you’re an old maid. You still have so much life ahead of you, so go out and dance and kiss strangers in the rain and spend all your money on avocado toast and all that other stuff that’s supposedly reserved for younger folks.
  • Fail early and often. Don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying at all, because it’s through failing that we get to a better place. As an aspiring writer, I know better than anyone how easy it is to procrastinate. I put off writing a first draft because I worry it will be terrible, but so what? It’s going to be terrible whether I write it today or one year from now. If I write it today, I’ll have an extra year to polish it and work on my craft and turn that terrible first draft into something amazing.
  • Don’t let other people dictate your life. Friends and family can offer helpful advice, but at the end of the day it’s about doing what’s right for you, not them. You’re the one who’s going to have to live with the decisions you make, so make sure they’re the right ones for you.
  • Letting go of where you are now is scary, but it’s the only way to get to a better place. Leaving a job I didn’t enjoy was the only way I could get hired at a company I love. Leaving behind a bad dating situation is the only way to make space in my life for a much healthier, loving relationship.
  • Life is so much more fun when you let go of expectations. That doesn’t mean not having standards for yourself or other people. That simply means going into situations without having preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to look like. Let life surprise you. Being pleasantly surprised is a lot more enjoyable than being constantly disappointed.

On Dating:

  • Judge someone by what they do and not what they say. I spent plenty of time with sweet-talkers, who’d call me baby and hon, tell me I was beautiful, tell me how much they missed me, and then one day, dump me like a bag of hot potatoes. If someone isn’t putting in real effort—that means asking you out on dates, making time for you in their schedule, going out of their way to show you they care—they’re not worth your time.
  • It’s not going to work out with most of the people you date, and that’s okay. The odds are that the majority of first dates you go on aren’t going to lead to relationships, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Pick an activity you’ve always wanted to do, eat out at a restaurant you’ve been dying to try, have fun getting dolled up, practice your flirting skills, enjoy learning about someone else’s life, and if all else fails, think of the great story it’ll make one day.
  • If someone really likes you, you won’t ever wonder if they do. And here’s a bonus lesson: listen to your gut. Deep down, we often know the truth, but we’ll go through a bunch of mental gymnastics to convince ourselves otherwise. You can ignore it for as long as you like, but sooner or later reality’s going to catch up to you, and the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to hit you.
  • Have your own life. You shouldn’t be sitting around hoping your crush will ask to see you. For starters, this just sets you up for disappointment if they don’t. It also just makes you not a very interesting person. Think about it this way: would you want to date the person who spent the last week watching Netflix and waiting for you to call or the person who went to the museum, learned how to cook duck à l’orange, dominated their friends at board game night, and took a trapeze class?
  • Have standards, and communicate them often. A relationship only works if both people are getting what they need out of it. When you really like someone, all you want to do is make them happy, and that makes you willing to sacrifice your standards. Don’t. Ever. Do. This. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Sure, it might scare off some guys, but you don’t want those kind of guys in your life in the first place. The ones who stick around will be the ones who respect you and will connect with you on a much deeper level. Believe it or not, having standards actually makes you more desirable, so if you don’t have some, get some!

On Happiness:

  • Have a life philosophy. That means knowing how you’re going to deal with setbacks, what’s going to make you happy, and how you’re going to live your life. Since I learned about Stoicism this year, it’s become my go-to philosophy, and I no longer feel like I’m just wandering aimlessly through my life.
  • Some of the most powerful tools for happiness are 100% free. Since I started regularly meditating and journaling this year, my stress levels have dropped considerably. I’ve gotten much better at not ruminating on negative thoughts, and I’m learning to be more present in each moment which leads me to my next point…
  • Forget the past and future, the present is where it’s at. You have no control over the past because it isn’t actually real, all you have are memories of it (mind-blowing, I know!). The future obviously hasn’t happened yet but the present…oh, the present is a beautiful place. You have the power to shape it exactly how you want, to make it as enjoyable or as horrible as you’d like. Right now I’m at home visiting my parents. I could spend my time moping in bed thinking about all the things that went wrong this year or I could spend it watching a good movie with my dad, cooking with my mom, laughing and having fun. The present is amazing, so enjoy it, appreciate it, and stop trying to live somewhere else.
  • The quality of our social connections is the #1 thing that determines our happiness. Money, status, flashy cars…all that stuff means nothing if you don’t have good people in your life. Go out there and meet people who are interested in the same stuff as you, strengthen your relationships with the friends and family you already have, and prioritize experiences with the people you love over material goods.
  • Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about putting yourself first. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s a priority. Ever hear the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” Being our best possible selves also means we can show up for the people in our lives in the best possible way. So go ahead and draw yourself a bubble bath, pour yourself some wine, and get your hygge on.
  • Be grateful. It’s human nature to focus on the negative over the positive (those pesky evolutionary traits), but I’m willing to bet there’s a lot in your life worth appreciating. Nobody loves you? Your friends and family beg to differ. You’ve accomplished nothing in your life? Younger you disagrees! Practice gratitude as often as you can, even for the things you take for granted, like the home you live in, the food you eat, the fresh air you get to breathe. It’ll change your whole perspective.
  • Happiness is not something you need to chase. I can’t speak for those with depression or other extenuating circumstances, but for a lot of us, we already have everything we need at our disposal. Psychology shows that most of the tools for happiness are pretty simple: meditation, gratitude, exercise, sleep, and social connections to name a few.

On Self-Worth:

  • Rejection is rarely personal and is by no means a reflection of who you are as a person. Getting passed over for a job doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do, getting dumped doesn’t mean you’re not desirable. You never know what experiences and ideas have shaped another person’s perspective of you and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can brush it off and find people who will appreciate what you have to offer.
  • Be kind to yourself. I can guarantee you will make mistakes and bad decisions. You’ll do things you’ll still regret years down the road. You’re not the only one. You can’t judge yourself on the mistakes you made in the past with the knowledge and experience you have in the present. Besides, those mistakes are the very things that helped you grow and become a better person.

And finally:

  • It’s never too late to build the life you want. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re out of time. Maybe you’re older than you would have liked to be when making a change, but you’re younger than you will be five years from now and that version of you is going to think you’re a dummy if you don’t take action. And guess what! You don’t have to wait for a new year to start over. You can start over as many times as you like—every month, every day, every hour, even right now.

The Power of Negative Thinking

As a new year rapidly approaches (thank god), most of us are sitting at home thinking about everything we want to accomplish in 2021. That’s the magic of a new year—something about the moment that second hand ticks to midnight convinces us that this is it, our chance to finally make all our dreams come true. We fantasize about the promotions we’ll get, the whirlwind romances in our future, our svelte new physiques. Never mind that we had similar hopes in the past only for our motivation to fizzle out by March. This year will be different.

Well, it can be, and that’s where WOOP comes in. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. It’s also known as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII), and psychologist Gabriele Oettingen spent over 20 years researching it (fun fact: she’s also a real-life princess…how badass is that?). You can read all about her work in her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation.

The idea behind WOOP is that positive thinking alone isn’t enough to help you achieve a goal to completion. Sure, pinning a bunch of inspiring Pinterest quotes to your mood board can help, but it’s only one step of the journey, and too much of that daydreaming can actually hinder you from reaching your goal. Studies have shown, “Those who have stronger, more positive fantasies about reaching their goals are actually less likely to achieve them.” 

There are a lot of great reasons to try WOOP. According to the official website, WOOP can help you improve your health, social behavior, and academic performance. It can even help you overcome past disappointments, resentments, and other negative feelings. The best part? It’s absolutely free, and anyone can do it anywhere, anytime.

So how do you actually do WOOP? It’s very easy and only takes 5-10 minutes. Start by finding a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Make sure you are calm and relaxed. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Set a timeframe for your goal. You don’t have to set one if you don’t wish, but it can be anywhere from a day to much longer.
  2. Think about the next month (or whatever timeframe you chose). Pick a wish that will be challenging, but you can fulfill. In 3-6 words, write down this wish.
  3. Think about the best possible outcome and how fulfilling that wish would make you feel. In 3-6 words, write down your best outcome.
  4. Now take a few moments to imagine the outcome. Lose yourself in your daydream and the positive feelings that’ll accompany accomplishing that goal.
  5. Identify your main inner obstacle to achieving that wish. What within you might hold you back? Fear? Laziness? In 3-6 words, write down your main obstacle.
  6. Take a few moments to imagine your obstacle. Lose yourself, just as you did in your daydream. Allow yourself to fully feel the frustrations and negative feelings.
  7. Make an if-then plan. Come up with an action you can take or a thought you can think to overcome your main obstacle. Your plan should follow this format: If (obstacle happens), then (I will do this). For example, your if-then plan could be: If (I feel too lazy to workout), then (I will change into my gym clothes).
  8. Write down your if-then plan and slowly repeat it to yourself a few times.

And that’s it, you just completed your first WOOP! What’s great about WOOP is that you can use it in every part of your life, from your career to your health to your relationships. You can do it as often as you need or whenever your goals change. I recommend checking out the official website linked above, which includes lots of interesting research and useful resources, including a free app that lets you track your progress towards your goals.

Too often we get lost in our fantasies, making great progress towards our goals until we encounter our first obstacle and find ourselves faltering. The great thing about WOOP is that it accounts for those obstacles, which are often inevitable, and arms us with a plan for overcoming them.

I plan on using WOOP often in 2021 to help me reach my goals. If you decide to give it a try, be sure to let me know how it worked for you. Here’s hoping all that negative thinking leads to a whole lot of positive outcomes in the new year!

Saying the Quiet Stuff Out Loud

I had to think hard about whether this was a post I actually wanted to publish on the Internet where everything is forever, or if I wanted to keep it to myself and work it out privately in my journal. I figured, though, the whole point of this blog is for you to see me untangle all the messy parts of my life on my journey to becoming happier, and it’s not a particularly honest journey if I show you just the tidy revelations, and not the far-less-tidy path it took to get there. So, here goes.

I’ve talked about my ex here before, but I feel weird, even dishonest almost, when I call him that. He was never my boyfriend, but we weren’t exactly casually dating either. I think we had what the kids these days call a “situationship.”

Over 14 months, we went on about ten dates. These weren’t “hang out for an hour or two and get dinner” dates. Our first date lasted 24 hours. After that, it wasn’t unusual for us to spend 6-8 hours together at a time. When we were doing long distance, we had phone calls that lasted just as long. In the first few months especially, my phone would light up with an “I miss you” text every few days. After he moved here, we had conversations about marriage and children—not necessarily with each other, but we both knew we were looking for something serious

But for the vast majority of our situationship (bleh, I hate that word), we lived across the country from each other. We’d only been on one in-person date before he’d flown back home and we’d started all this.

Given the unusual circumstances, it’s easy to see how two people with different ideas of dating and relationships could go in with such different expectations, a problem compounded by the fact that we hardly communicated about the important stuff at all in the beginning. Despite the distance early on, I would have been his girlfriend if he’d asked me. For him, the in-person stuff was too important. He couldn’t fathom the idea of starting a relationship with someone he’d spent so little time with.

I had been through a similar situation before I met him—though that one mercifully lasted only three months—and I’d wanted to avoid a situationship-type…well, situation. It’s hard being heartbroken and feeling like you don’t deserve to feel that way because it’s not like he was your boyfriend or something. Honestly though, after you spend so much time getting to know someone and investing in them emotionally, do the labels even matter anymore? It wasn’t two or three dates, it was 14 months! 14 months that included vulnerability and intimacy and so many deep conversations and wonderful memories.

The thing is, despite this post and the others I’ve written about my breakup, I’ve actually been doing shockingly great this past month. I started this blog, finished the second draft of my manuscript, got even closer with my family, read lots of great books, started practicing Stoicism, meditating and journaling regularly, etc. I spend the vast majority of my days thinking about these things, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about him, too.

I’ve gotten better (though not perfect) at not assigning emotion to these thoughts. If I think of a conversation we had in the past, I try to push it out of my head and refocus rather than dwelling on what he said or what I should have said. I’m okay having these thoughts because they’re normal and with time, there’ll be fewer and fewer until one day I won’t think of him at all. I’m also thankful that they don’t overwhelm me to the point that they incapacitate me and prevent me from being productive or being happy. Honestly, I’m proud of the healthy way I’m processing this situation and these thoughts.

But there are also thoughts I’m not so proud of. I listened to a podcast about breakups on This American Life today, and a writer who’d just gone through her own breakup talked about songs that have to do with heartbreak. There’s this one particularly pathetic genre exemplified perfectly by Dusty Springfield’s, “You don’t have to say you love me.” These are the sort of songs that make the singer sound like they don’t have any sense of self-worth or dignity at all, but you can’t stop listening because they’re saying all the things that you feel deep down. The things you’re too ashamed to admit out loud.

My feelings change day to day. Sometimes I think about how much I care about him and just want him to be happy, even if it’s with someone else. Other times (maybe even later in that same day), I’ll think he’s a jerk for playing with my emotions and wasting my time. It’s in moments like this that I have to contend with other thoughts that are so pathetic I’m ashamed to admit them:

  • I secretly hope he’ll realize he made a mistake
  • Every time I get a text or a phone call, there’s a part of me that wants it to be him
  • That if he asked me today to be with him, I would (without even hesitating)
  • That I hope things won’t work out with the girl he chose over me
  • I fantasize that one day we’ll meet up and I’ll be doing so well, he’ll realize he made a huge mistake

I hate admitting that these thoughts exist, because they’re so petty and I don’t want to think them. There’s always a sense of shame that accompanies them and a whole lot of confusion. I want him to still be in my life, but I also never want to see him again. I want him to be happy, but I also don’t want him to be happy. Somehow, both of these contrasting statements can be true, depending on the day.

Maybe it’s important to accept these ugly feelings, too. Sometimes, as I make progress towards my happiness, I feel like I’m brushing a shiny coat of paint onto an uneven, broken foundation. I’ve never shied away from feelings that made me sad or angry, but shame is a harder thing to handle. It takes the focus off what the other person’s done to you and shines a bright spotlight on what you’re doing to others and even yourself.

The fact is, these are my feelings. They’re not the feelings I want to have. When I look at them all written out like that, I don’t see my anger and disappointment and sadness towards him but towards myself. My need for him to forsake her and be with me has more to do with the hole I want to fill in my life for companionship and acceptance than my actual desire to be with him. It reminds me of this quote from Yogi Bhajan:

If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior towards you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.

I’m not sure what the conclusion is here or even if there is one. I wish there was a lesson or way forward I could offer you, but I’m still trying to work it out myself. I do think, however, feeling these things doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s far more likely that you’re just hurting, and accepting that these feelings are there and that they’re normal, seems like a good first step as any.