Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we look at the things we need to do in our everyday Cinderella life, and cast them in the light of how getting them done will get us closer to our Ideal Life.
The podcast in which we learn a little bit of self-discipline and dose it out in five minute increments.
The podcast in which we put ourselves in the same lofty category as astronauts and brain surgeons, as faithful, enthusiastic users of…the humble checklist.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.
Before I get started, I wanted remind you that next week is the week: The week we will be talking about how to escape commitments that make us cringe, that we dread, and that are getting in the way of living our Ideal Life. I’m not going to promise to change the world, but if you have a specific situation you need help navigating, I would love to help you brainstorm a bit about how you can bring some fairy dust into that situation.
Please, drop me a line, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by direct message on Instagram. I’ll put those links in the show notes.
This is the last episode of this series on the four daily questions that make up our Ideal Life Exercise.
This Ideal Life Exercise is when we take ten minutes in the morning to examine just one aspect of our life, and measure our progress…or lack thereof.
The first question we ask is “What is working.” The second? “What isn’t working?” and the third, “What do I need to think about.”
So today, we move into the action phase, “What one thing can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Life?”
Doing something is how we are going to make progress. But doing something can seem like an impossible task when we have so much stuff to be doing, amirite? I mean, Lily, have you seen my housework list? And my grocery list? And my work tasks?
No…no. But I have seen mine, my dear. And yet, I still make an effort every single day to do just one thing in the perspective of getting closer to my Ideal Life. Yes, it is an effort. Yes, it can feel like a chore. But it is totally worth it.
Back in Episode 16, entitled Take This Job and Love, I referred to a hungarian researcher named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Mee-high Cheek-sent-mee-high) and a concept he developed called “Flow”, wherein we experience that all-too-rare Shangri-la moment of “being in the zone”.
You know the zone I’m talking about: the one in which you barely got started on what you are doing, and the next thing you know, it’s dark out and you didn’t see the time pass. It’s the conversation in which you and your partner both have things to say on topics that interest you, and you feel like you could go on forever. It’s the brainstorming session for which you don’t have enough paper to take all your notes because it’s all coming at you so fast and it’s all so exciting…
I say it’s rare, because most of our lives are not spent doing things in which our talent or skill level and the challenge we are facing are evenly matched, and just to be clear, that is the essential element of Flow: that whatever it is that we need to do, or that we perceive we need to do, is matched up exactly with the energy, the time, the resources and the skills that we have.
It’s rare also, because we often have a sense of never having enough time to get into the zone. I mean, dealing with my kids’ endless requests for snacks after school does nothing to help me get into the zone, but like it or not, it does fall to me to feed them something healthy.
So I don’t even dare get started on something that I might enjoy, because I know I am going to get interrupted. And this is how we fritter away our lives. At the end of each day, we look back and feel like we’ve accomplished nothing of any value, because we didn’t do anything that was enough of a challenge to our skills.
If I go long enough without doing anything I consider a challenge, then I will start to feel like “nothing is working,” all while knowing also that “nothing really isn’t working either.”
This is when I can get to be feeling a little bit stuck.
So, if Flow is a state of being in the zone, of making progress with little effort and lots of enthusiasm, stagnation is exactly the opposite. It’s the state of not flowing or moving, or, a lack of activity, growth or development.
Obviously, I would prefer to live my life in a constant state of Flow. But I will inevitably be disappointed if I were to set that as my goal.
So that is why I have this fourth question that I ask myself every day: What is one small, teeny tiny little thing I can do today, to get me closer to my Ideal Life.
Part One: Near and Far
The one little thing we set for ourselves to accomplish does not have to be time-consuming, or particularly novel. It might be something that we already have to do. But it has to be doable and we need to be willing to celebrate ourselves for getting it done.
The more practical the thing is, the better. It could be as simple as calling to make a doctor’s appointment that I have been putting off, (because in my Ideal Life, I am a person who takes care of my health and don’t avoid my check-ups), or take the glass down to the recycling station down the street (because in my Ideal Life I am a person who keeps a tidy kitchen by having a habit of emptying our recycling bins regularly), or watering my plants (because in my Ideal Life I am a person who takes good care of all the living things under my control).
When I feel like nothing is happening, and when I feel like I am stuck, doing one small thing can be what it takes to dislodge a bigger thing.
I have this image in my head of a rockslide. You know, it starts with just a little pebble or two…maybe even just a barely visible mote of dust. But little by little, that erosion will cause the bigger stones to move. And eventually, the whole hill comes down. But it starts with just one tiny little thing.
Very often, these little things are things that we have to do anyway. They might, to some, be simply considered chores that need to get done. But when I look at them as tiny things I am doing to get closer to my Ideal Life, I can almost find some joy in them.
You see, I can say that in my Ideal Life, I am a person who takes care of her health and doesn’t avoid her check-ups. And I can simultaneously dread calling the doctor and not want to go through the hassle of the whole appointment thing. They can both be true. But by taking the action that I am dreading, I am actually becoming a person who takes care of her health. Suddenly, I am who I am in my Ideal Life. My Ideal Life is suddenly a thing that I am really living instead of a thing I just think about.
Same with the recycling. No, it’s not fun to pack up those huge blue Ikea bags full of applesauce jars, salsa jars, jelly jars, olive oil bottles, wine bottles…ugh…all those glass containers that I have been shoving into the broom closet with the vacuum cleaner. Nor is it fun to take them down the street, heavy as they are, to that community recycling center. I will admit to a teensy bit of joy at throwing them into the bin, one by one, and listening to them crash and break. But that’s all the joy there is, really.
However, when I get home and the broom closet actually closes, and nothing comes tumbling out when I open it…well, it’s a simple kind of joy. But it is joy. I have become a person disciplined enough to do the things that get me closer to my Ideal Life.
And, as you can imagine, I will celebrate these tiny little steps. Because sometimes these tiny little things require just as much, if not more, self-control, than the bigger, more flashy or more exciting things that I need to get done. I celebrate by sitting down at the piano for a few minutes to play. Or I sit out on my sun lounger and enjoy a few minutes of autumn sunshine. It’s not a big celebration, but it is a carrot that I can promise myself as a reward for getting that little thing done.
No, these little things will never get me into a state of Flow, but they can help build momentum.
I can’t tell you how many times that after I’ve taken the glass down, I also end up tidying the broom closet. And while I’m at it, I’ll just…real quick…get the vacuum out to clean up the kitchen. It’s a virtuous cycle. A tiny bit of self-discipline to do one tiny little thing can dislodge a mountain.
But the mountain is not the goal. It is each day, just one, practical little thing that I can do to get me closer to my Ideal Life.
Now. This is easy to illustrate when it is doing something like a chore.
But what if it is about, for example, relationships, like our marriage or with our kids?
The thing is that we need to refer back to our “In my ideal Life, I am a person who…” statements. For example, in my Ideal Life I am a person who speaks my husband’s love language, even though it isn’t mine. In my Ideal Life, I am a person who laughs at my kids’ jokes. In my Ideal Life, I am a person who doesn’t multi-task when my husband is talking to me. In my ideal Life I am a person who helps my children become generous.
These aren’t easily actionable statements, I’ll admit.
But, I know, for example, that my husband experiences love through acts of service, even though that is 100% the farthest from anything I can understand as an expression of love. So what is one small thing I can do for him to show him that I love him in a way he will understand? Well, what if I put gas in the car? As odd as that sounds, I know that this little act of service will speak more loudly than any number of times I try to give him a hug (which is my love language.)
If I laugh at my kids’ jokes in my Ideal Life, then I better start practicing. But I haven’t always been great at this…because, well, they aren’t always very funny and neither am I. They certainly will never learn to be funny from me, in any case. But what if I were to look up a few jokes to tell them, and see if we can start developing the kind of relationship in which we actually find each other funny?
If, in my Ideal Life I do not multi-task when my husband is talking to me, then I need to, just today, turn off the podcast I am listening to while I make dinner. Or, maybe stop making dinner and sit down with a cup of tea while he tells me about his day. Whatever the little thing that seems appropriate at the time, I need to do it.
If, in my Ideal Life, I am a person who gives an example of generosity to my kids, it means that I need to create an opportunity to be generous. Incidentally, this happened the other day when I told the boys that we were going to take some snacks and candy and coffee to their teachers for their breakroom. The boys learned that showing appreciation to their teachers is a meaningful gesture, and that there doesn’t have to be a holiday to do something nice for someone else.
These might take a little longer to come up with, and they might take a little more time to accomplish. But every second you spend doing this one thing, you are spending it as the person you are in your Ideal Life. Progress is progress.
Enjoy it and celebrate it.
Part Two: Take five minutes to get started.
The little things are all well and good, but not everything that we have to do is tiny, and not everything will only take us only a few seconds.
What about those things that require us to, I don’t know…do our taxes, or make a Christmas Gift list, or clean the washing machine filter, or write out our thank you notes?
These are things that are going to take more than a few minutes to do, and they don’t particularly fill us with joy, either.
When these things are hanging over our head, it is very useful to consider which part of our Ideal Life these fall into, or what circles of the Venn Diagram of our Ideal Life overlap at that topic.
For example, taxes. We have to do them to be a good citizen. And it is definitely part of the “Work” circle on our Idea Life Venn Diagram. It can also be part of our Marriage circle. And…even, although this might be a bit of stretch, but I consider being on top of administrative things as a part of Gravitas. So, creating an Ideal Life statement that says, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who is a good citizen and gets my taxes done on time,” would be something that I might just do (perhaps have just this minute done) in order to see that I am making progress.
I’m not just making this up. It is absolutely true, I just hadn’t thought about it until just now. And being on top of things like this does make me feel like a boss. So scheduling a day to sit down and do my taxes would be important.
Scheduling is great, but it isn’t enough. First of all, getting started can be harder than we want it to be. Just getting all the paperwork together can be enough to keep us from getting started!
So, what I might need to do is schedule this task over multiple days. One day to collect all the paperwork, another day to download all the forms, and one day to actually do the taxes.
What about those other tasks that I need to do…the cleaning the washing machine filter, for example, that will require some mess, and a bucket and some rubber gloves? Well, I need to be able to set aside the right amount of time to get it done, and let’s be honest, how long a project like that will take is hard to estimate. When it’s something I dread doing, I tend to over-estimate how long it will take to get it done. I will think to myself, “oh, I need an entire uninterrupted day to get that done.” Which is, of course, not true. But it is one technique I use to avoid doing things that need to get done but that I don’t want to do. I mean, if I don’t have enough time to do it, then I never have to start, right?
Just getting started is the goal here.
Each time, it’s absolutely critical to tell myself, “Lily, you are going to do work on this for at least five minutes right now.” I’m admitting to myself that this will take some time.
But once I’ve gotten started, while I may not be in a state of Flow, if I know exactly what I need to get done, and I have the elements necessary, then by the time those first five minutes are passed, I’m in it enough to stop dreading it. My hands are already dirty, I might as well finish it.
So that is a tremendous little rule of thumb: tell yourself that you need to work on this for at least five minutes. The momentum will appear, and usually you’ll get more done than you expected. It’s not tricking yourself into saying, “You only have to do this for five minutes.” You are saying, “At least five minutes.”
It’s just like scheduling time to think: you need to actually schedule for it, and you need to actually have the self-discipline to do what you say you will.
But no one said living our Ideal Life would be something we would just accidentally fall into.
The upside of self-discipline is joy. It’s the kind of quiet joy that feels more like a warm fuzzy blanket than a sparkly sequined evening gown. It’s not flashy, but it keeps us cozy in our hearts to know that we did what we said we would do.
If you don’t believe me on this, then try it. I dare you to for at least five minutes, tackle that project you have been dreading.
I will owe you a cup of coffee if you don’t come away feeling a tiny, comfortable cozy bit of joy.
Part Three: Make a checklist
So what about those things that are just too big…just too big and we don’t even know how to start? I mean, sure, tiny little things are great. And getting those chores done can help us feel satisfied.
But sometimes, there are big, sometimes scary things that we need to do, and they seem like King Kon and we are just a little Fay Wray.
Something big doesn’t just happen overnight. A big project, or a big change, or major progress is made one little step at a time.
Have I extolled the virtues of the checklist here on the podcast yet? I know I have done it on the blog a few times, but I can’t remember if we have talked about it here.
No worries. The Checklist.
Did you know that surgeons use checklists? Pilots use checklists?
There are so many details, so many important steps to accomplish, and in a certain order, that scientists, doctors, aviators, astronauts…they all use checklists.
You don’t have to be a brain surgeon or an astronaut to need a checklist. A checklist is your friend. The process of making a checklist helps you to see the all the steps, the tiny little things that need to get done in order to accomplish something bigger.
If you know that there is something big that you need or want to do, you will not be able to make progress until you have elaborated the steps you need to take to get it done.
To make a checklist is to develop an action plan. So, if your Ideal Life in a certain area has King Kong standing at the entrance gate, and you feel like no progress will be possible, maybe you need to sit down and make a checklist of all the little steps that need to happen to get around King Kong.
Keep your checklist handy, and add to it when you think of it. Many of those little steps are ones that won’t require an entire day to complete. Getting tiny actionable steps done is how you get closer to your Ideal Life. Before you know it, King Kong will be purring like a little kitten at your feet.
Part Four: When all else fails
What if you have no big thing you want to accomplish. You don’t have anything you’ve been dreading. You don’t even have a tiny little thing you can think of that will help get a rock out of your shoe.
Honestly, it doesn’t happen often, but this has happened to me.
This is when I have one last fail-safe thing I can do: When all else fails, do something nice for someone.
Extra points if it is going out of your way to do something nice for someone you live with.
Acting to someone else’s benefit shifts the focus, and kindness is such a powerful force.
If really, you can’t think of a single thing that you would do to get you closer to your Ideal Life, then take whatever time you would have used doing something, and use it to be kind to someone else. Take a bouquet to your neighbor. Or bake a cake for your kids, even though it is no one’s birthday. Fix the hole in your husband’s favorite sweater.
Whatever you do, do it with an Ideal Life statement in mind. “In my Ideal Life, I am a good neighbor.” or “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who creates happy memories for my kids.” or “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who takes my husband’s concerns seriously.”
Listen, Cinderella, self-discipline is hard. I know. I live on planet Earth, too. That’s why including this last question, What can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Life is a game-changer.
It’s incredibly hard to know what would make us more satisfied with our lives if we don’t spend time thinking about what it would take to be more satisfied. And once we know what it would take, we can’t then sit back and wait for these things to happen.
We need to be active, enthusiastic participants in our lives. Assigning ourselves small, doable actions that we see through to completion is how we participate in our Ideal Life.
Remember, our Ideal Life is not a destination, it is a flight plan. These little steps are milestones along the way.
By setting tiny goals and accomplishing them, we start to develop confidence in our ability to get things done. We see progress, no matter how small, and this builds momentum. Momentum is when things start to really change, when we enter into Flow…and our challenges and our skills meet up.
The state of Flow is a goal, but we have to start by actually doing something. One small thing, each day, for as long as it takes.
You alone know the available energy and time you have to invest in your Ideal Life. If you want more joy and more satisfaction, you should really try channeling some –just a tiny piece–of that time and energy into doing the things that will bring you more joy and more satisfaction.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Remember, if you have a commitment conundrum you would like me to help you examine, you can reach me by email, email@example.com, or on Instagram.
I haven’t thought to ask this in a while, but if you would be so kind as to leave a review on your podcatcher, I would be most obliged. Ratings and reviews really do make a difference in how those mysterious algorithms work, and heaven knows there are more Cinderellas out there that could use some fairy dust.
You can also find easily shareable versions of the podcast on YouTube. I’ll put a link to my channel in the shownotes.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember: it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking points: The Good Girl Paradox and the Mama Paradox: how they keep us from being able to articulate what is going well in our lives. Also, how finding yourself interesting can make you more interesting.
If you have a question about the Ideal Life Exercise, drop Lily a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.