If You Feel Like a Sloth…

You’re not alone! At any given time, thousands of people find themselves in a similar situation and they fall into two categories: those reject their inner sloth and those who embrace it.sloths

The first group tears away sloth’s long nails that are trying to keep them pinned to a warm and soft pillow. They look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I don’t know this person, but I’ll comb your hair.” They pour themselves a cup of coffee even though every neuron in the brain is screaming, “One more cup and I’m moving to the South Pole.”  At work, they work so hard on focusing that switching to Facebook feels like taking a drag.

The second group nuzzles their pillow as if it were soft fur of a sloth who’d come to tuck them in. They let the blanket envelope them with the warmth of a tropical forest (but try to keep from wetting your bed for extra moisture). Instead of reading emails on their phone, they gently rock their heads to see if their brain had turned into Jello and oh yes! Look it wiggles. Then they close their big dark eyes and imagine themselves Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit’s hole and thinking “Curiouser and curioser.”

The good news is that sloths are not extinct, which means that somehow they are useful. That’s my comforting thought when I feel like a sloth.

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The Most Motivated Person in the World

determinationEvery time I run out of steam on a project, I think about a person who really wants to go to the bathroom. The person who feels the pressure building up. Tries to sit up straighter, take up more space on their chair, not laugh or God forbid, drink. Or even look at liquids. Or listen to them. Drip. Drip. Drip. We had a fountain at the office once. It was real torture.

But they know that the inevitable is coming and that time is getting away from them and they absolutely must get to the bathroom. Or there would be an explosion. And they would have to quit their job. And get away from everyone they knew. And preferably move to Mars.

At that moment, there are no obstacles for them. They’d never say:

–          It didn’t work out.

–          I knocked but they didn’t answer.

–          I lost hope. I didn’t think I could make it.

–          I decided to go tomorrow.

And for sure they wouldn’t say

–          I didn’t understand the task.

How often do we strive for our goals with the same determination?

How to Tackle a Daunting Project

bird by birdLast Tuesday, I sat down to write about new digital printing technology. Just the thought of it was making my brain leak out through my nose. I just couldn’t get myself to do it. So instead, I did what all writers do when they can’t write and it’s too early to drink: I picked up a book about writing. It happened to be Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Anne is a writer and an instructor and teaches people how to write and live. Here are some tricks of how to approach any creative project that threatens your sanity.

Step 1. Looking at a blank piece of paper and don’t know where to start? Focus on one detail of the project. Just one thing that jumps out on you. She suggests to her students to write about what a school lunch was like for them. Maybe the thing you remember is wilted lettuce, or crazy lunch lady, or kids picking on you. Maybe you were the person smoking in the bleachers during lunch. Maybe you couldn’t afford lunch.  Whatever that image is, it’s a start.

Step 2. Write it down as a “Shitty First Draft.” The purpose is not to show the world that you are Hemingway in the making. It’s to get everything out of your head on a piece of paper. Make clay before you can make a sculpture. Lamott used to write restaurant reviews, and for every three-page reviews she did something like eight pages of brain download. Once it’s out of your head, you can start shaping it into a much better second draft and a stellar third.

Step 3. Make friends with your Inner Perfectionist. Admit it. You love getting criticism from this fellow because it pleases your inner masochist. If you’re ready to move this toxic relationship to a more productive place, start thinking about this person who says “you suck” as a friend who usually reads your work or gives you good advice. You come to them with a project and they say, “Way to go! There are a couple of issues but you can fix them later. For now, you rock!”

Now that you’ve figured out a place to start, downloaded your great big brain and befriended your inner perfectionist, how do you tackle a project that is still daunting? Lamott gives an example of her brother who was supposed to write a report about birds. He had three months to do it and of course, was doing it on the last night. As he sat at the kitchen table surrounded by mountains of books on birds, he asked his dad how he was ever going to get through this. Dad put his arm around the boy and said, “Bird by bird. Just take it bird by bird.”

The Good Wife Moment

Two years ago, M. introduced me to The Good Wife, a TV show about a kick-ass lawyer played by Gulianna Margulies. She is smart, classy, caring, loving and able to have an affair without ruining her marriage.

B. and I had watched all the past seasons on Amazon Prime and can’t wait for the new season to end on TV and go to Prime. Because it’s impossible to watch it one at a time.

Today I was supposed to meet my new Toastmasters mentor, an uber-energetic and organized P., at the downtown offices of a top Las Vegas law firm. In my usual dark jeans and sweater I felt like I was wearing PJs.

The mentoring session was supposed to be for an icebreaker, as in the first speech a person makes. The newcomer stuff that comes from soul searching and a few funny stories. I had jotted down notes but that was about it.

When I got to our meeting, P. said, “Let’s go to our conference room. We’ve held Toastmasters contests there before.”

I followed her down the corridor with oak-clad offices sporting fantastic views from the 17th floor to a conference room that can seat a hundred. She took her seat in the front row and said, “Go ahead. I’m ready.”

“But I just brought the notes…”

“We’ll work on that. But for now, just start talking…”

This was my Good Wife moment. I was Gulianna Margulies in the partner meeting, minus the suit and the prospect of partnership. I stood there before the invisible audience, found imaginary Will Garner in the audience, and started my icebreaker,

“When my dad wanted me to dig up an acre of potatoes, he used to say, ‘There are no obstacles to you neither on land nor on sea.””

When Buddha Smiles

My relationship with God has always been complicated. In the words of Five for Fighting, “I only talk to God when somebody is about to die.”

Growing up, I’ve seen frescos of Jesus in Russian Orthodox churches and yes, given that we grew up without practically any religious education, I wasn’t inspired to receive it. The man that was looking down at me made me want to repent more than trust him. And I understand that there’s a whole philosophy behind why it is the way it is, and why he looks the way he looks, and what you’re supposed to feel in church.

Yet still I’ve always relied on a greater power. I like to believe that there’s something bigger and smarter than all of us that has been keeping me safe, helping me when I needed help, teaching me when I needed a lesson and generally watching over me. I’m grateful for the magical moments of synchronicity that made me go, “Oh My God!” and take a moment to ponder this greater power.

In Thailand, I was very curios to visit a Buddhist temple and see what it feels like. I have this thing about feeling what it feels like in churches of all confessions. Maybe because it goes with my general idea that all churches are basically a portal and they help people get on the same wave length with the universe.

But in Thailand, for the first time I was up close and person with a giant golden Buddha. I came closer to look into his golden eyes and realized that he was smiling. And every other Buddha in the room was smiling too. Not like a crazy happy smile, but a “you are ok, I am ok” smile. And yes, I understand that it is part of the philosophy but it was comforting to know that you are treated like a person worth smiling at by default.

The experience didn’t make me a Buddhist. But I still like to think that whatever universal power, God or man, or even self, has a presence in our lives, it’s happy.

buddha

Don’t know what to do? Chew on a stick

be-nice-to-yourselfRead this morning over a cup of coffee…

In 1999 Japanese scientist Masatoshi Tanaka subjected rats to electric shock that they couldn’t avoid and watched their stomach lining go to hell.

There were two groups of rats: The first couldn’t do anything at all and the second could bite into a wooden stick.

It turned out that being able to chew a stick lowered the amount of physical damage to the body because the stress stopped being perceived as uncontrollable. Supposedly the rat thinks that while it’s chewing a stick it’s doing everything in its power for the shock to stop.

It doesn’t, of course, cause the shock to stop, but the stress hormones don’t damage your body as much.

It’s possible that the same principle works in other areas, writes Asena, the biologist who I was reading. If you are unhappy in love, the most useful thing to do is to start a large project at work and get convinced that when it’s over, everything will be peachy. If a person is Dorothy, she gets to fight wicked witches and figure out how to make all sorts of weird characters around her feel better. If a person is not happy with the political situation, he can go work on a campaign. That kind of thing.

It’s not proven that this would help alleviate the main source of stress, but you’re happy and occupied, and you get to keep whatever good comes out of it.

Little Black Shirt

I have this strange faith in black shirts. Somehow I feel like wearing one makes me this wonderful person, an expert professional, a wise partner and an overall goddess in jeans. And I couldn’t get myself to buy one.

Over the past few years I’ve bought all sorts of black things – black sweaters, black cardigans, t-shirts and even this one thing that I’m not sure how to describe. It’s main feature is a plunging neckline. No normal working black shirt.

pugThe last perfect shirt I gave away to my sister after I’d grown out of it. Since then it’s just been too much fun to think about how much fun it would be to own one. You can just put it on in the morning when you’re heading to meetings. Just think about how sleek you’d look. And little energy and no worries about fashion sense.

Then my friend Lisa came to visit after a year away living her dream life. We went for coffee and on the way back to the car I had to stop at a store to check out black shirts. They didn’t have my size.

“Do you want one of mine?” Lisa asked.

“You have extra?”

“I have three.”

“OK.”

The next morning I was changing into a perfect black working shirt in the driver’s seat of our truck. So what if some passersby saw me in a bra. This is Vegas.

I buttoned it up and went to my afternoon event in full goddess mode, still in awe of mysterious ways of the universe and awesomeness of incredible friends. Thanks, Lisa!