Making the Future Different
|January 14, 2021||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
I’m an overanalyzer, overthinker, lets-talk-it-to-death sort of person.
You don’t say?
Well yes, I’ve been accused of it once or twice in my life.
There’s a lot of draw backs to this. I’m constantly moderating myself in real life when I have to talk to real people that aren’t in my head (I’ve been talking about running for 5 minutes. Is it time to walk away? Change the subject? Ask about their scarf?). *Sometimes (all the time?) there are huge periods that I get nothing accomplished that should be getting done because I’m obsessing about something else that doesn’t actually matter. Misdirected hyper-focused attention. It’s a thing. But it sure has made for some interesting blog posts.
This may or may not be one of those posts.
This is not a resolution post
It wasn’t until I was finished with this post and started editing it that I thought “^%$&!!! This is a New Year’s Resolution post!” It’s not, really. At least, it doesn’t feel that way because I reflect regularly throughout the year, at least monthly. Sometimes those reflections lead to intentions that I periodically review.
If this sounds a lot like throwing a sheepskin over a New Year’s Resolutions, just hear me out.
I’ve been bullet journalling for a couple of years. It’s different from blogging or keeping a journal. Blogging is a record of my decisions and actions over the years, but it’s edited heavily, even the entries that I use a lot of words to exactly describe a situation or a feeling that are as complete as I can make them. That’s because this blog is not a journal, or a complete accounting of my life. In the end I tell stories on this blog. Mostly true stories, but stories that have been edited for clarity or length because there is nothing more boring than a mile by mile account of a 50 mile ultra. We skip over all the boring stuff and get right to the part where I made poor decisions and get lost, and sit down on the ground questioning all my life decisions. Sometimes with crying.
Here’s the interesting thing.
There is increasing evidence that even when we are not consciously editing our stories for a platform such as a blog, that editing still occurs in our brain. We sort, categorize, and prioritize the experiences in our life in order to create a narrative that makes sense to us. It’s why when something happens that doesn’t fit that narrative, or when evidence is provided about our past that we remember in a different way, it “rocks our world” or “shakes us to the core.” We scramble to assimilate the information or to find a reason to reject it outright. I believe how you approach these difficult events is key to being able to change and adapt and be that word that seems to be the buzzword of the decade – resiliency.
One of the keys to resiliency is the art of reflection.
Here’s what I’ve found leads to useful reflection.
- Asking the right question.
- Doing it at regular intervals – not just when something good or bad has happened.
- Having data that is objective as possible available.
That’s where the bullet journal comes in for me.
There’s a couple of bullet journalling concepts that I think provide a really useful structure.
- You don’t skip pages. As you create category pages and make calendar entries they are recorded in real time, in the order that they are thought of or occurred. This reduces the chance of unconscious editing.
- You log every day. Sometimes it is just a few words, or a sentence that describes the thing that was done that day. Sometimes it takes a whole page to list the places I went and the tasks that were completed.
- You don’t over analyze, just state the facts. The vast majority of the information contained in the journal are places I went, people I saw, things I did, things that happened.
- In addition to a running collection of monthly and daily events and happenings, there are pages that are collections of information. For example, there’s a running log where I record miles, time, and locations of runs. A similar one for biking. A list of vacation ideas. Books I’ve read. Anything that I want consolidated together in one spot.
Tucked in between pages filled with dots, circles, arrows, and one line statements…
….There are pages of words and paragraphs. This is where the reflection happens, two or three pages at a time, among dozens of boring mundane events and tasks.
It’s the Why and the How nestled between the Who, What, and When.
Every month, and ever year (and sometimes more often if there’s a reason) I ask myself two questions:
What did I do well?
What would I do over if I had to live it over again?
Notice these questions don’t rely on circumstances being different. They only depend on my actions and reactions to the events as they played out. These questions are very similar to the the 3×3 nailed it, failed it exercise I do here on the blog after big events.
I don’t ask myself “what I wish was different.” Instead, it’s a reality-based: “what could I have done differently in the present circumstance” conversation.
Sure, I get practical insights when I answer these questions. Get up an hour earlier. Leave my phone in the living room when I go to bed and take the kindle instead. Add in more strength training. Schedule long runs and follow through.
But, the thing I most appreciate about these particular reflective questions is that they connect me to my past, present, and future selves. It reminds me that all three of these selves are the same being.
If you cannot reconcile these three beings, than realize that you are probably heavily editing your story to the point where the connection is lost. [deleting snarky comment about having a brain injury exempts you from all this]
You can be a “different person” than you were a decade ago, but there is a string connecting the present-you to the past-you. The future-you is also still the same person. 60-year old Melinda (if I’m so lucky to make it a few more decades) isn’t some dissociated being. She’ll be different of course because of time and circumstance, but still me in the way that 10-year old Melinda is still 36-year old Melinda, but now she’s taller, fatter, able to legally drink, and not have to ask her Mother if she can go over to a friend’s house.
Occasionally I’ll get to the end of my reflections and the path will be so clear for the way forward, that I feel compelled to write them down.
These are intentions. They aren’t resolutions, promises, or even some hope for change. Intentions are different because they came from reflecting on very specific questions designed to connect my past-self to my present-self, who now has the advantage of hindsight. It doesn’t belittle the past-self, or assume that it acted differently than my present-self would have, if the same information and resources was available to it. Intentions are born out of “what would I do differently in a similar future circumstance” and because intentions are grounded in the past, there is a thread that connects your present to your future that can be followed.
Counting the Wins
Whew. My brain hurts. Congrats if you have made it this far. Don’t worry, I’m done making existential arguments about temporal beings.
I had to share the other really important thing that I do to stay connected to my past, stay motivated in the present, and be excited about the future.
It’s really easy to do.
Every year I keep a list of all my wins.
It’s the first page in my bullet journal. Anything that feels significant gets logged here. Most of the time I know when I’ve had a win and I run over and record it. Sometimes I don’t realize it was a win until several months later during a reflection and it gets recorded. For example, I did my first 2020 open water swim of the season in June, but didn’t put it on the list as a win until December, because it took me that long to realize just how important it was.
Me and my husband sat down with a bottle of champagne at the end of 2020 to celebrate our wins for the year.
He couldn’t think of a single one.
I had a whole list in front of me.
Without that list I would have been able to tell you 3 wins in 2020.
- I started doing ER work
- I did some open water swimming
- I bought a road bike, named her FTS, and rode the hell out of her during the pandemic.
But take a look at all the wonderful things that brought me joy in 2020:
Lots of people want 2021 to be different than 2020. It’s not off to a promising start, but here’s the truth that took me a really long time to accept, and I still have to practice and remind myself of every day. You can’t control anyone or anything beyond yourself. Your decisions, your reactions. That’s it. You can spend a lot of time wishing things were different, but in the end the only thing that you can change are the reactions and decisions you make.
These are the exercises that have helped me through some very tough years, and why I can face the future with optimism, which I think is the most important intention of all.