Harmony: A Three-Step Process

Brunswick Bay in Maine
Brunswick Bay in Maine

Have you chosen a word for the year? As I mentioned in my New Year’s blog post, my word for 2016 is harmony. So many thoughts come to mind when I say the word—thoughts usually related to music or to getting along with people in my life. But I’ve also been thinking about how I might harmonize all the elements of my life and am working on some practical steps. Here’s my initial three-step plan to work more harmony into 2016.

1.Follow a routine: I find that my days flow more smoothly when I follow some kind of a routine. But lately my routine of drinking coffee, reading the news, and then meditating is not yielding the results that I would like. I find myself endlessly looping back into websites, browsing articles in newspapers, and even checking my work email. I’m reading the news, but I’m not taking time to read the many books and articles that I routinely set aside “for later.” And I’ve been stuck here for quite awhile. I’m also not writing any new poems right now.

But when I look back on my routine from a few years ago, I see a clear path ahead. I need to tweak my routine just a bit and I think I’ll get out of this morning rut. When I was working revisions for my book, I set aside fifteen minutes a day for writing new poems. During one month I even managed to write a poem a day using my time this way. The beauty of this approach is that I usually spent more the fifteen minutes on my new poems, especially on the days when ideas were flowing. On my off days, and of course I had many of those, I wrote for fifteen minutes and then put the work aside, knowing that even if I was unhappy with the work, I could always revise the next day.

As for enjoying the books and articles I want to read, I can employ a similar approach. A few years ago I managed to read Your Brain at Work by David Rock by committing to 30 minutes a day of reading. Last summer I read Psychiatry Under the Influence by Robert Whitaker by reading for fifteen to twenty minutes every morning. So what’s my next book? I think I’m going to read Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. I bought the book a few years ago and have been wanting to read it, so now is the time. I’ll let you know what I learn from Play!

Liquid gold
Liquid gold

2.Use a timer to stay focused: When I was growing up, my mother used a timer for everything, and it drove me crazy! I hated hearing that white plastic demon ticking away for how long the dryer needed to run or how long the potatoes needed to bake. I wanted to be a free spirit and not be ruled by some demonic device.

Fast forward to my adult life with many obligations and hobbies. The proverbial so many things, so little time. Now I use a timer, especially for anything that I don’t want to do—clean the house, grade papers, pay bills. I have found the timer incredibly useful in keeping me focused on the task at hand. Sometimes I even manage to finish ahead of time—an added bonus! I find I can usually do a weekly cleaning in about an hour if I stay on track and can pay the bills in about the same amount of time. I use the time on my cell phone which has a nice Zen chime as my timer-tone. What kinds of things can you see doing with the aid of a timer? Decluttering a drawer? Weeding the garden?

3.Write down your goals and ta-das! I like the idea of keeping a success journal with my goals and my record of successes—small and large. I am a regular journal writer, so every day I usually write some kind of goals for the day as well as celebrate my successes, which a former teacher of mine referred to as “ta-das.”

In the spirit of positive thinking, I write my goals as affirmations, which many people say is a better way to communicate with your subconscious. So instead of saying, “I will read for 15 minutes a day,” I leave out the “will” and write the affirmation. There is something about committing those words to paper that seems to make the tasks more manageable, and I find that as I go through the day, I can refer back to those affirmations to keep myself on track.

So what are some things that evoke harmony for you? I’d love to hear your ideas. And if you choose to try my three-step process, let me know of your ta-das!

Unstuck, On the Edge, Just as I Planned

  When I give expressive arts workshops, one of the main themes I hear over and over again is that people have something they really want to do—write a memoir, change careers, finish a project they began years ago — but they stop when they get stuck. Below are a few tips that I reach for again and again to keep myself moving when I am stuck or stymied.

  1. Set a goal and stick with your plan. Adjust as you move along the path.


At first my goals were simple, like writing a few poems about incidents in my childhood. But after getting a few poems published, which was great for my wobbly confidence, there were several rejections. I was a little discouraged, but I knew that the rejections were inevitable, so I used them as fuel. I knew I needed help, so my new objective involved working on my craft, finding critique partners, and taking classes with a mentor. I reworked my poems until they reached new levels. All the while, I moved forward as long as I kept writing.

  1. Slow the process down.

Several years ago, I worked with a coach who helped me to launch a very short-lived business. He often engaged me in role-playing, where we would practice my pitch to prospective clients. One day I came to him with a very promising offer that I needed to develop in a few days in order to submit a proposal by a deadline less than a week away. Over and over, he advised me to slow the process down. Now I use that slogan all the time. I used to be very impulsive and would jump as soon as I got enthusiastic about an idea. Over the years, I’ve realized that I need time to reflect and I do better in giving and asking for feedback if I have at least 24 hours to think about something. In this day of real-time communication, asking for 24 hours to consider an idea or an edit may seem like a luxury, but doing so has saved me endless apologies for things that may have sounded good, but just needed more time to germinate.

  1. Believe in yourself enough to take risks.

I can’t even tell you how many times I heard David Whyte, a renowned poet and conference leader, talk about walking on the edge and overcoming fear. His stories involve cantilevered bridges over deep valleys in the Himalayas and bicycling into the fierce winds of the Ayran Islands so you can stand on the sliver of a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. I may never see those kinds of wild, physical edges, but after hearing his stories about twenty times, I realized that that very act of writing from your heart and submitting your work to a stranger constituted an edge experience. As does trying a new lesson in the classroom. You risk failure, just as surely as the hiker staring at the wobbly bridge. And I could hear David’s description of Beowulf as he sat on the edge of the lake contemplating diving into the dark waters to go after Grendel’s mother, and I’m paraphrasing, “Men have died on that shore because ordinary courage will not take them to the depths.” And that spunky, fearless little girl who thought she could sing like Haley Mills would push me into the light so that over and over, I was willing to risk rejection for the sake of my doing something I believe in.

As plan your week ahead, consider these three tips to enhance your creativity. Let me know what you’ve done to get unstuck and slow things down. While you’re at it, take a little walk along an edge that scares you a little. Maybe that means submitting your work. Or providing honest feedback to a critique partner. Writing about a difficult subject, which you’ve been avoiding. Forcing yourself to be savage with your word choices. Have you tried any of these tips? Let me know what. worked for you and how you tweaked things to suit your needs. We can all help each other!