Not what we’re looking for

Aside

Got to face facts: This is the worst excuse for a blog ever. I missed all of “meteorological summer” and, frankly, am only blogging in actual summer by dint of this anemic aside. I might rectify this sloth, but I know better than to make promises. Even my own 15-minute Commitment was too much for me to stick to.

Less talk, more rock, as I used to say from the night editor’s desk. Let’s see if I’ll ever practice what I preach.

 

The enemy inside me

An enemy lives inside me. At least I think he’s the enemy.

He thwarts my ambition. He leads me into temptation. He criticizes my efforts, but then quickly salves my ego, telling me everything’s all right. Not everyone is meant to create, to participate. The world needs readers and observers, an audience for the actors.

That’s what the enemy says. At least I think he’s the enemy. spy_vs_spy

Maybe that guy’s the champion of my true nature, and the enemy is the one occasionally shaking me from my slumber. The enemy grabs my lapels and shakes me out of sweet complacency. Don’t smoke so much, he says. Cut out the sweets and crap food for just one month and see how you feel. Get your ass in the chair and write, numskull!

I’ve written it down for you, he says. Just give it 15 minutes a day, for crying out loud! Remember what I said a couple years ago about an overarching resolution for the new year? What the hell happened? I had such high hopes for you!

One thing is clear: The prospect of peace at my internal borders is grim.

 

Losers make excuses

“Losers make excuses. Winners make commitments.”

That was the sign, handwritten in permanent marker on butcher’s paper, hanging in the weight room of the Portland Expo, where the Portland High School phs bulldogs football team, the Bulldogs, built the foundation of brawn to carry them through each season. The sign set a tone of one-day-at-a-time, eyes-on-the-prize rigor and motivated young student-athletes in Maine’s largest city.

I first saw that sign a quarter-century ago, my work then as a teacher’s assistant having given me and a colleague after-school access to the room housing the football team’s Universal Gym and free weights when they weren’t otherwise pressed into service.

“Losers make excuses. Winners make commitments.” That legend was rendered by an inner-city high-school coach to steel teenage boys against the cross-town, more affluent Deering Rams and for the annual “Battle of the Bridge” against the vaunted Red Riots of South Portland. But, like the picturesque and lifesaving lighthouses that dot Maine’s coastline, its message has penetrated the fog of 25 years of false starts, missed opportunities and alcohol-assisted wasted time.

Over the last fortnight I’ve missed a few days of my own 15-minute Commitment. I could try to explain it but, at a minimum, that would be antithetical to my new year’s resolution and, anyway, I’m back on track.

Besides, any explanation would simply be an excuse and, well …

15MC: Are you doing it? How are you doing?

I don’t have children (besides my dogs and cat). Except for a few years working at a boys group home for juvenile offenders and wards of the state, preceded by a year working in a special education composite classroom, I’ve never had anything to do with teaching, training or taking care of any.

But I suspect this much is true: It’s considerably easier to sire children than raise them. Why do I bring this up?

Don’t worry, there’s no scandalous confession in the offing. It’s just that, for sisyphusthis week of the 15-minute Commitment, I’ve been concentrating on (I hope) tying up the ribbon on previously completed chapters, with the goal of finally seeing my novel through to the end. However, I’m finding this task far more difficult than filling up blank pieces of notebook paper or empty Notepad files.

That is, last week’s writing, while not always a snap, seemed to move along briskly, and the words flowed steadily. This week’s writing (technically rewriting) is more of a slog, perhaps because I’m putting more pressure on myself to turn out something I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out.

As analogies go, written fiction as kids is a bit of a stretch, I admit. Still, I trudge on, and I’ve stuck to my 15-minute Commitment and am definitely making progress. If you made a similar leap, I’d be curious to know how yours is going. Leave a reply here, if you’re so inclined. Just being nosy, is all.

Otherwise, best of luck. I hope we’ll all have something to celebrate before too long.

 

15MC: a starter’s pistol, not the finish line

One reader brought up a reasonable point about giving oneself permission to go beyond the eponymous 15 minutes of the 15-minute Commitment.

The way I envision this plan is that 15 minutes is the point of entry in working toward a goal. Of course, you can always go beyond the 15 minutes, but if you’re prone to doing that, the 15-minute Commitment probably isn’t right for you. StartingGun

That is, your problem might be one of time management, but it’s probably not one of motivation. 15MC is for people, like me, who have stymied their own progress toward a desired outcome, whether that be a finished book-length manuscript, a better diet, a more-toned physique, a cleaner house … whatever.

So, if the spirit moves you to devote more than 15 minutes a day to your goal behavior, by all means go for it. I think that, over time, the habit of spending 15 minutes on improving your life will naturally spur more time spent on doing so. But even if it doesn’t, at least you’re spending 15 minutes a day, five days a week, toward that end.

A caveat, however: Fight the temptation to use an especially productive day (say, an hour of achievement-oriented action) to justify blowing off the next day’s 15-minute Commitment. The habit of making daily progress is more important than banking up scads of progress followed by neglect, at least if you’re someone who has trouble getting going in the first place.

Better to jog 15 minutes a day than complete a 5K one day and spend the next 364 in a pizza-and-beer-induced torpor (as seductive as that sounds).

Ultimately, though, I’m not in charge of your 15-minute Commitment if you undertake this. Your opinion of what you should be doing is far more important than mine.

15MC: This one wasn’t pretty

After two prolonged bouts of snow-shoveling today — the second shorter, though more grueling, than the first — I was tempted to just call it a day and blow off my 15-minute Commitment.

That’s the thing about temptation … it’s so damned, well, tempting. Somehow, though, I resisted and the result was 258 words, some of them not too shabby, in 15 minutes (and not a second longer). I can’t believe it.

It was already 6 p.m. or so before I finally sucked it up, shut off the radio, cranked my cheapo kitchen timer just past the 15-minute mark (giving myself time to open my file and take a few deep breaths).

And it wasn’t pretty. Though I managed to stay silent, inside I was bitching and moaning the whole way (though the moaning had as much to do with back soreness as the task ahead of me). Throughout, with each sentence I finished, I thought: “No way am I going to make 15 minutes, not today.”

But I did it. (I mean, come on, it is only 15 minutes we’re talking about!) It feels good. Worth it, though you probably already guessed that.

Good luck. Be brave. Stick with it and keep the faith!

15MC Day 1

Three-hundred eighteen words in 15 minutes, and most of them pretty good (at least that’s how they look to me at this moment).

I just completed Day 1 of my self-designed self-help program and I’m “steepling,” the gesture of satisfaction that my old algebra teacher Mr. Lyon first alerted me to.

This person is neither me nor Mr. Lyon, but someone on a palmistry website.

This person is neither me nor Mr. Lyon, but someone on a palmistry website.

I suspect not all quarter-hour increments will yield the same pleasure as today’s has, but Day 1 goes into the win column. I’ll check in periodically to keep myself honest, though I won’t be blogging about this every day.

However, if you dug the concept of the 15-minute Commitment, I’d be curious to hear from you and, if you began yours today as well, how it went. I’ve come to realize that checking in with someone who’ll hold me accountable can be helpful, though that might not be necessary for you.

Regardless of whether I hear from you, best of luck to you on your 15-minute Commitment!

The 15-minute Commitment

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time? I’ve decided mine is.

Beginning March 15, I’m embarking on a self-help program of my own design, one that’s largely been pulled from the ether. Not entirely pulled from the ether, as it’s inspired by a recent chat over breakfast with an old friend who happens to be a school psychologist.

We were talking about our respective flagging motivation on some long-range projects and, in the course of conversation, I suggested that even 15 minutes spent on an activity of value is worthwhile. It might not yield enormous dividends — it certainly won’t, in the short term — but it’s proverbial money in the bank.

However, like a lot of my ideas, I put it on the back burner and, when I wasn’t paying attention, the flame went out. (Luckily this is just a metaphor. Otherwise, you’d be reading about a gas explosion in my neighborhood.)

This incremental-progress-toward-achievement plan has been dormant for more than a month but, after a brisk walk with the hounds along the Merrimack River today, the scales fell from my eyes. I had a muddy footpath to Damascus moment, if you will.

The 15-minute Commitment is simple: Pick something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but, for one reason or another, haven’t yet. Now spend 15 minutes on it, five times a week.

Want to get in shape, but can’t dynamite your ass off the couch? Grab a pair of dumbbells and spend just 15 minutes a day doing curls and overhead presses. I won’t say it will give you a banging beach body that’s the envy of men and women half your age, but at the end of Week 1(!) you’ll already see larger biceps and improved shoulders, chest and triceps. And at the end of a month, you’ll be well on your way to sporting a stronger and leaner upper body.

By summertime, even if you do nothing else but bicep curls and overhead presses for 15 minutes a day, you’ll be rocking a tank top like nobody’s business.

Similarly, are you worried about your cardiovascular health? Take a brisk walk or break into a slow jog for only 15 minutes a day. Congratulations: You’ve just traversed a mile a day, and it wasn’t that hard, was it?

Who’s got time to cook at home? Nobody, I get it. Well, spend 15 minutes a day prepping vegetables. Grab a pound of carrots, an onion, a head of broccoli and cauliflour and hack away at those superfoods like Russell Crowe’s Maximus character in “Gladiator” and stick the produce in a zip-top bag. After only two days, pick up a precooked rotisserie chicken at the grocery store on your way home from work and, if the spirit moves you, mix up a box of macaroni and cheese and you’ve got at least a couple of meals you don’t have to call the pizza guy for.

Still haven’t finished that furshlugginer novel that’s haunted you for a dozen years like someone I know pretty well? Grab a pad of paper and a pencil and start scribbling for a quarter-hour. Once you really get going, you might produce a page or more in that time and, at the end of a year, that’s a novel-length draft manuscript.

Or maybe you just need to relax, but can’t find the time. I promise, no matter who you are, you can find 15 minutes to take care of yourself. Pray. Meditate. Read “The Relaxation Response” and do one of the exercises. Hell, you don’t even have to read that book: Here’s one of the exercises for you. Watch the video twice, and you’ll still have a couple minutes left over.

If you’re into yoga, that TV show “Namaste Yoga” is really only about 24 minutes long. Perform the techniques shown for 15 minutes, then watch the rest of the show while eating a bowl of ice cream, if you’re inclined to snack in front of the tube. That way, you’re transforming a lactose-laden shame spiral into a trophy for thinking enough of yourself to spend 15 minutes making your life better.

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time?