Fear of Criticism Was Keeping Me from Working on My Goals

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Photo by Skyla Design on Unsplash

The phrase, “What people think of you is none of your business” was confusing when I first heard it as a kid. But I’ve since realized it means that people are going to have whatever opinions of you that they have, and you can’t stop them.

No matter what I do, I cannot control how people perceive me.

I spend a lot of energy making sure I don’t step on toes, upset people, or hurt people’s feelings. I want people to feel welcome and loved around me. In the past, this has been to my own detriment. I’d light myself on fire to keep someone else warm.

I make compassion a regular habit but I am also getting comfortable taking up some more space. My level of compassion has not changed, except that it now includes myself.

Perception is reality

Everything has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

I had a boss who used to say, “Perception is reality.” I prefer to think that perception is a filter.

Everything that every person does or says is perceived uniquely by everyone around them. Because everything that every person does or says has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

An example: Age gaps in relationships. They make me extremely uncomfortable. My abuser was 40 when he met and groomed me to be his victim at 23. Age gaps of ten or more years make me feel sick to my stomach, but it doesn’t mean I think every couple with an age gap is experiencing an abuse dynamic. That’s my experience, my discomfort, my issue. And it’s my boundary to enforce if I don’t want to be around couples with a big age gap because it’s a trauma trigger.

It doesn’t mean I hate you. It doesn’t mean I have to get over it any faster for your benefit, either.

Another example: Weight loss. I can’t deal with people’s before and after photos because they send me back to the mental place I was in when I was deep in my eating disorder. Do I think everyone who has lost weight has an eating disorder? No. Do I think they’re fatphobic? Yes, actually, but that’s a post for another time.

I have unfollowed social media accounts that focus on weight loss or diet culture. It doesn’t mean I hate you.

Fear of criticism

She draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

It’s been almost two years since I left an abusive marriage, and I have met myself all over again. I’m discovering things I didn’t know I liked to do, because I never tried. I have a pretty active social life. I’m investing in professional services to make myself a better writer. I’m putting myself out there and promoting my work.

And it’s terrifying.

I have a professional coach whose favorite refrain is “What else?” I tell her how I’m feeling about something, she replies, “Okay, what else? What’s behind that? What’s the thought?”

Like the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams forces Ethan Hawke into reciting a sudden poem, she draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

Last night I said to her, “I’m afraid if I get too big people will criticize me.”

So, it’s fear. I procrastinate, I hedge my bets, I don’t push far enough — because I am afraid to tip the scales in any one direction. I’m afraid to invite criticism.

In the same call, I laughed about a one star review someone left about my book. He hadn’t even read it and the review is nonsensical. I told her I wanted to frame it.

It’s so clear that the one star review is from someone who the book isn’t for. He’s not someone I am trying to reach.

A friend recently pointed out that there were some parts of my book where they thought I didn’t go far enough. I completely agree. I was over-concerned with being agreeable to every reader. A 2.0 version would have a lot of updates and would be bigger, longer, and a lot more divisive. It would invite criticism, but it would also invite more fervent support.

And that’s what I was missing.

I can’t stay quiet anymore

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer.

I keep bumping into the fact that I try to smooth my edges to appeal to the masses. I censor myself because I’m too afraid of someone disagreeing with me. In conflict with a loved one, I soften my own pain so it doesn’t upset them.

I don’t have to be palatable. I don’t have to be perfectly portioned. I don’t have to be mass produceable.

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer. And it’s going to suck, at first.

I’ve already lost friends for reasons I don’t understand. I regularly invite feedback and am willing to sit in the discomfort of talking through an issue, so the fact that people who were once close friends have simply written me off is hurtful, but it’s honestly none of my business. If they wanted me to make something right, they’d invite me to do so.

Just like I don’t hate the people I’ve had to take distance from, they probably don’t hate me either. Their perception of me is getting filtered through what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. And that’s okay, even though it stings.

Like my one-star reviewer, some people aren’t going to be the people I’m here to reach. But by turning myself up to 11 and not trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll attract the people I’m actually here to connect with.

I’m not for everyone, and not everyone is excited for me to change and grow into this new version of myself.

And it’s honestly none of my business.

Ready to make a change in your own life?

I’m taking one on one coach clients this year and I have a few spots open in February. Send in a coach inquiry and we’ll decide the best way for us to work together on a ninety day goal!

 

How I Check My Email to Be a Better Writer

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I aspire to be a person who goes to sleep with zero unread emails every day.

It doesn’t always happen that way, because I’ll end up saving something as a to-do and then before you know it, that little red bubble on my phone says I’m slowly piling up emails again.

But I need these.

These are my Medium digests, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are emails from workshops, coaches, and courses I’m in, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are fourteen thousand emails from Shaunta Grimes.

These are business expense receipts, submission deadlines, and form submissions from my website.

These are, okay, that one is just a reminder that I need to skip this month’s MeUndies order.

Getting started

I set myself a timer and decided I wouldn’t check my phone or Facebook until the timer went off. Until then, it was just me and my inbox.

I powered through about 80 emails in 40 minutes and that little red notification bubble has (temporarily) gone back to hell where it came from.

To get started, I opened the following tabs in my browser:

I ended up opening a budget spreadsheet and WordPress as well, which I explain below.

I just started at the top of the email list and went through one at a time. And I took an action with each email.

  • Medium Digests: I opened each article that I wanted to read later and saved it to my reading list within Medium, then deleted the digest email
  • Mailing Lists: I unsubscribed if no longer relevant or simply marked as read if I wanted to stay on the list
  • Bills: I paid them, opened my Google Sheet where I track bills, and recorded the payment
  • Submission Calls: I put a card in my Shiny Object List describing the submission along with the deadline and link to submit — if I have time for shiny objects, I’ll submit during my next Shiny Week
  • Guest Posts: I get inquiries to submit guest posts to my website, so I responded to these with a no thanks or a tell me more
  • Account Confirmations: If I needed to click a button to confirm my email or reset a password, I took care of it in a few seconds and moved onto the next email
  • Valuable Emails: Emails that I want to keep handy but don’t have the focus to deal with right now got a label applied in Gmail so I can find them easily later

I also realized that I received a guest post inquiry through my coaching client inquiry form, so I hopped over to WordPress to adjust the verbiage and hopefully make it clearer what each form is for.

Building the new email habit

My goal is to handle my unread emails in this manner once or twice a day, but I’m not hung up on the zero as a marker of my success. What I want to get from this habit, however “successful” I am at keeping my inbox at zero, is a more intentional approach to my email inboxes and professional development.

It does me no good to be on mailing lists for writers and saving articles about writing if I’m not taking the time to read them, learn, and implement what they teach me.

Handling my email inbox is the first tiny step toward building the habit of improving my writing.

The 9 Books That Defined My 2019

Part of being a good writer is being a good reader

After what can only be described as voracious reading of fiction and fantasy as a child, I lost reading for pleasure as an adult and switched only to “productive” reading. Self help. Motivation. Business building. Personal development.

After several years, I let myself read fiction again. I read Outlander for a book club and consumed the rest of the series, my childhood appetite for fantasy rushing back.

I switch back and forth now in a relatively 50/50 split between stuff to make my brain smarter and stuff to make my brain relax and have fun.

They’re both necessary for me to be the best writer I can.

These are the books that defined my 2019

  1. The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner 

This book was the single most important book of the year for me, and honestly for every single person in the world. Go read this book. Caroline’s work changed me. I finally stopped hurting myself in the name of weight loss and thinness. I understood fatphobia and diet culture in a way I never had before. This book may have literally saved my life.

The F*ck It Diet provided the paradigm shift I needed to see the truth about my body and the fact that it’s okay to exist in it.

2. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Ph.D.

Before and after TFID arrived at my doorstep, I decided to read up on other body positive books. Health at Every Size helped solidify what Caroline Dooner had already begun to teach me: my body isn’t inherently unhealthy because it’s fat. I remember calling my sister in a rage while I was listening to it, angry at the lies that had been told to me as fact about my body for 30 years. Everyone should read this book.

3. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I heard about Dietland on the Unladylike podcast and felt compelled to read it right away. This fiction novel follows the life of Plum, a lifelong dieter who is saving up for weight loss surgery. She goes on a whirlwind adventure and makes a bunch of new feminist friends, while the narrative weaves back and forth between Plum and a series of murders that appear to implicate a new friend. It was a delightful read (even with the murdery bits) that has stuck with me all year. Highly recommend.

4. Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.

Like TFID helped me see the ways I was stuck in diet culture self-talk, Getting Past Your Past helped me see the ways my trauma manifests in repeated patterns linked through a lifetime of unprocessed memories. Francine Shapiro, who died in June this year, developed the EMDR method of trauma processing therapy. Just reading the book helped me start viewing my trauma in a new light, and entering EMDR therapy has helped me process my eating disorder, my abusive marriage, and traumatic memories from childhood emotional abuse.

5. The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation by Caitlin Fisher 

In 2016, I wrote a blog post about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head: The idea that millennials as a whole were being systematically gaslit by older generations and the capitalist systems at play in our country. In 2019, I published my debut book of the same title. Each chapter highlights an aspect of society that our generation has supposedly undermined and destroyed, with advice on how to keep killin’ it on a regular basis.

Maybe some parts of society suck and deserve to be dismantled.

6. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk 

Shockingly, this book is also about trauma processing. In The Body Keeps the Score, the author discusses the physical ways that trauma manifests in the body as chronic pain and illness. It turns out that neglect, emotional abuse, and other traumas can have lasting effects not only on the brain but on the entire human body. It was eye opening to learn about and helped me get a diagnosis for my fibromyalgia this year when I acknowledged the physical pain I had been ignoring in my body.

7. Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey 

When I was married, I read the first three books of a great sci-fi series, The Expanse. And then I didn’t read any books or watch any television that I had ever associated with him for eighteen months. No Expanse. No superhero shows. Not even the shows I had enjoyed by myself when I was with him. I was on media lockdown.

But in 2019 I met a friend who also loved The Expanse and he encouraged me to get back into the series. Reading Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in the series, was my first contact with husband-related media in a year and a half, and despite my fears it felt safe. I’ve continued to work through the rest of the books in the series this year and I’m all caught up on the TV adaptation as well.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have a list of things I’m going to do with my life, and they are: foster kids, rescue dogs, buy a house, and hug Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability and shame helped me realize that I’m worthy of love and belonging right now. Brené Brown also taught me to play and have fun (which helps me read fiction and schedule socializing with friends). Whatever way you can get your hands on any of her content, you should do so immediately.

9. The Animorphs Series by K. A. Applegate 

Re-reading this series that I adored as a child is doing some kind of healing in me that I don’t fully understand. I am amazed that I still remember major plot points and even lines of dialogue decades after reading them once or twice each in elementary school between fourth and sixth grade.

As an added bonus, reading them has strengthened my resolve to start a young adult science fiction series. I’ve allowed myself to return to the parts of YA sci-fi that I loved as a kid, and my brain just tossed a fully formed idea at me in the shower, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

My 2020 reading list

Looking over my 2019 list, I realize that I need to start branching out. Last year was about survival, this year was about laying the groundwork to heal, and next year is about becoming an improved version of myself. This will mean some of the same type of reading (and writing!) as 2019, but I also feel a deep need to read from more diverse authors.

I want to help all people, not just people who look like me and have similar experiences. And I am aware that I haven’t always examined my privilege closely and critically. In 2020 I want to open myself up to listen to the experiences of others so that I can be more aware.

Simply put: It’s time for me to stop focusing on reading work from white people.

Rather than continue to ask people of color to educate us about how we can better understand their experiences and be allies, we have to do our own work. Here are some excellent titles I’ve started researching that are on my 2020 reading list for a start:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

How do you measure a year?

In books, in words, in reconnecting with characters you thought you left behind a long time ago.

Get out of your own way and do something

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I’ve had a lot going on lately.

You know.

I left an abusive marriage, wrote a book, fell in love, moved in with him, broke up, settled back in Cleveland. The usual.

My office is still packed up in boxes, waiting for a wellspring of motivation to encourage me to put things on shelves and hang art and find a hot pink desk chair so I can have a place to write that isn’t propped against my bedroom wall in bed in my pajamas.

I’ve been writing, sporadically. I’ve been posting, occasionally. I’ve been working, a lot. Just not on this. Not on the things that set me on fire, make my heart pound, and make me pause for a break to say “Yes! This! Exactly!”

I love blogging. I love talking to you over this vast internet of so much happening in the world. I love the few minutes we share as you read what I have to say after I’ve had such a great time writing it.

And yet, the ideas tumble around in my brain like a pair of tennis shoes in the dryer.

Do a podcast. Teach a course. Write on a more consistent schedule. Work on your next book. Do more social media. Book speaking engagements. Do a book tour.

And I know I want to do all of these things, but it’s so hard to get started when everything is a great idea. That’s the trouble: I want to do it all, and I want to do it all well.

I get in my own way because perfectionism tells me I shouldn’t do anything if I can’t do it right.

And I am really not that great at Twitter.

So rather than figure out Twitter, I just don’t post anything on my social media. I am social media crickets right now, and I have a book out I need to be promoting and I have things I need to be saying for people who need to hear from me.

In the middle of last week, all these tennis shoulds bouncing around in my brain dryer, a post came across my Facebook feed that said:

That thing you’ve been indecisive about? The one (or 20!) things lingering in the back of your mind, taking up mental space, keeping you unconsciously stressed – what if you just decided NOW?

What if you decided and then implemented that decision? Right now. Today.

I was 100% called out by my friend Melanie, who is a professional coach. She’s amazing, and we met through some beautiful serendipity in 2015. She and I have worked together on and off through her various courses and opportunities to chat one on one about something I was working on.

I commented on the post:  I want to start a Patreon but I am not sure what levels and what rewards. I took tomorrow off as a mental health day. Perhaps I can launch a Patreon.

I’d had Patreon on my to-do list since at least 2017, so I’d been sitting on it for two years and never took action. I was paralyzed by the questions that prevented perfection: What do I have to offer that people would pay for? What if nobody signed up? What if?

I came back a few hours later with a Patreon link. I just made the damn thing. And I had two supporters within an hour.

I kicked imposter syndrome out of the way for two seconds and got something done.

I set up a Patreon page. 

And then I did something batshit amazing.

Today, I opened one of Melanie’s emails and saw a link to get on her calendar for a free one hour “clarity call” that promised to help me make a plan to get things moving. I just needed some guidance on what step to take next.

I scrolled through the week looking for a convenient time, and then realized I was putting it off for no reason. I booked a call tonight at 6:45pm. We talked until a little past 8:00 and I made the decision to book her for professional coaching for six months.

I am extremely privileged to be able to adjust my budget for professional coaching.

I completely acknowledge that not everyone can just rearrange their finances to prioritize paying a pro coach for a few months. It’s a huge deal, even to me. But the one simple action I took was setting up that Patreon page.

As soon as it was published, I felt great. Relieved. I can always tweak it later, it does not need to be absolutely 100% perfect at the time of launch. In fact, it never will be.

That feeling of elation carried over into the next day. I wrote some content for my Patreon page to give a preview of the patron exclusive content. I had a great weekend. I took a self care day Sunday and wrote all day. And that brings us to Monday, the day I signed up for a free call and decided to take the next right step — for me.

I took the next right step for me.

Me. This is what I need to hold myself accountable and advance my goals to their next level.

Because I know I will fall right back into the habit of being paralyzed by too many great ideas. And I also know that this notebook I used tonight to take notes during my call with Melanie is full of OLD notes that say “Get Melanie an outline by the end of the week” which I probably never did, since I never finished that project.

I had to take it to the next level.

What can you take to the next level?

Whether it’s your self care game, picking up one more client for your business, paying a bill you’ve been forgetting about, or asking for a raise at work, I want you to get out of your own way and just do ONE THING that’s been in the back of your mind bothering you for ages.

Tell me what it is in the comments. You can get it done!


Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

How to Simplify Your Life Right Now (And Make Room For What Matters Most)

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Image Source: Unsplash

Life can get overwhelming at times. We all have our own struggles that we deal with on a daily basis. We tend to waste a lot of stress and energy on things that don’t really matter. 

When you lose sight of what’s truly important, life can feel more hectic than it needs to be. Once you simplify your life, you will feel rejuvenated and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way. Simplify your life right now by following these life tips:

“Disconnect” to Connect

Living in the digital age brings many distractions. It’s easy to get sidetracked with social media and all the pressures that come with it. These anxieties can make your life much more complicated than it needs to be. 

It sounds cliche, but disconnecting from the online world will allow you to focus on real-life connections. Start by limiting your internet time each week, especially when you’re at home with family. Challenge yourself to be in the moment without your phone by your side. Once you re-evaluate how you spend your time, you can focus on what really matters.

Spend Time Alone

Spending time alone can do wonders for your mental health and well-being. Having “me time” allows you to focus on yourself completely, without being concerned with other people. Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your own needs, wants and passions. If that means saying no to people more often, then that’s okay too. 

Spend your “me time” doing whatever makes you happy. Find a hobby that has meaning to you, whether that be visiting an art gallery, doing charity work, or reading a good book. It doesn’t matter what the activity is – as long as it adds value to your life then it’s worth spending time on. Having this time away from others will encourage you to self—reflect, de-stress and clear your head.

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Image Source: Unsplash

Re-evaluate Your Relationships

The people you surround yourself with makes all the difference to your happiness. It’s important to invest your time with people who make you truly happy.  If someone is bringing unnecessary negativity into your life, it may be time to rethink what that relationship means to you. Your life will feel a whole less complicated once you cut the toxicity out of your life.

Eliminate Unhealthy Habits

A healthy body equals a healthier mind. When you feel good physically, everything else in your life will start to feel a little clearer. Pay closer attention to what you eat and drink on a daily basis. Try to cut out any unhealthy habits that are draining your energy and mood. (Caitlin’s note: for me, these habits include drinking more soda than water, and staying up too late). 

In addition to eating a variety of fruits and veggies for a balanced diet, make an effort to exercise more often in a way that makes your body feel joyful. The goal here is not to punish yourself or burn calories, it’s just to keep your body feeling good. Go for a hike, head to the gym or take up a new sport. If you’re into yoga or pilates or enjoy walking on the beach, try and go barefoot. Going barefoot has been found to have added health benefits such as boosting your immune system. So, if the environment permits, why not try it! Integrating exercise into your daily routine will boost your energy levels, mentally and physically. 

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Image Source: Unsplash

Set Clear Goals 

Setting goals for yourself is a great way to simplify your life. Goal setting helps you release what you truly want, what you need to change, and what’s most important to you. It also helps to bring structure into your life. Take a moment to write down just a few achievable goals for yourself, whether it be career-oriented or personal. Having these goals written down on paper will give you a clear path to focus on. 

When life gets hectic, the key is to stop and reassess your priorities. Remember that it’s okay to put yourself first and focus on what makes you happiest. Once you cut out all the unnecessary distractions in your life, you can make room for what matters most.

Johanna is a free-spirited creative writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. She likes escaping to nature to take a break from the daily hustle and bustle of city life. Read more about her work on Musings of Johanna.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Color Up Your Life

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Photo by Zaksheuskaya from Pexels

With springtime here (even though the snow came for a fateful April Fool’s Day prank), we start to see brighter colors and pastels pop up around us. Whether it’s through fashion, nail colors, or those springtime flowers that start to pop up, it’s time to say hello to brighter hues. As most people absolutely love the chance to include different colors into their life, it’s no surprise that colors have amazing benefits for us, both mentally and physically. Keep reading on to find out why no one should be afraid to include a little more color into their life.

Colors Have Health Benefits

It should come as no surprise that each color offers something more than just being an 

appealing hue. Each color of the rainbow offers beneficial health benefits. For example, there’s a reason why people love to fill their living space with house plants. They’re not only pretty to look at but there are also health benefits that come from surrounding yourself with greenery. Studies have shown that the color green has been known to stimulate healthy living while also relaxing the mind and body. As we’re surely about to be surrounded by pink with the arrival of spring, pink also has health benefits worth noting. Reports have shown that pink has a calming effect on our nerves while also being seen as intuitive and insightful. If you want to find out the health benefits of other colors, check out this informative article on how colors affect our health.

Colors Positively Affects You

Not only does color have the power of affecting you in a positive way, it can also be used to affect the people around you as well. Yellow is the best example of this, often depicting feelings of happiness and warmth. This affect from yellow colors is one reason people use light therapy as a way to avoid symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Orange is another bright hue that has been known to positively affect people and has been shown to be the color of comfort and confidence. With these positive side effects, incorporating brighter hues will make a world of a difference for you and the people around you. You can easily do this by adding more orange and yellow into your home as well as your office space. Doing so will have the people around you radiating with positive vibes!

It’s Easy to Incorporate Color into Your Life

With all the ways you can easily add color into your life, it’s simply silly to not include more color when the opportunity is presented. A simple way to add more color is through the use of flowers. Take advantage of all the vibrant flowers that are about to be blooming and incorporate them throughout your home. Colorful flowers not only instantly add a homey feel to your space, but they can add a floral scent throughout your home as well. (Just be sure to check and make sure they are pet friendly if you have furry friends… lilies are extremely toxic to cats!)

Another fun way to incorporate more color is through your appearance. If you want your hair to be matching those springtime feels, opt for coloring your hair a fun color from a brand like oVertone. Color conditioner company oVertone offers brightly hued hair colors, so the next time you feel like making a change to your hair, consider going bold with a yellow or a vibrant pink. If you’re not ready to dye your hair a bold color, stick with applying different colors into your outfits, makeup, or nail color. No matter how you choose to incorporate color into your life, you’ll no doubt be feeling color benefits for a significant period of time.

PS. I have not personally used oVertone, but I really want to try. If you’ve tried them, please let me know your results in the comments because I’m thinking of switching next time I need to re-up my color. I rock hot pink, in case you didn’t know!

13 Life Lessons from a Half Marathon

I recently did something way out of my comfort zone: I ran a half marathon. I spent weeks training, running miles and miles, preparing for this huge day. The day did not unfold ideally, but I learned a lot from the experience and hope any of you working on a fitness goal (whether or not it’s running-related), a business goal, or any goal can learn from my experience too. After all, it’s all about goals, progress, and pacing yourself.

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  1. Ask for Advice: I spent a couple of hours in the days before my race browsing through Pinterest, asking in my running groups on Facebook, and chatting with a coworker who has run several half marathons to ask the very important question: What do I need to take with me for race day? The answers varied but they were all really helpful and helped me to prep a race day kit that had all of my needs covered. I could have made up my own kit and flown by the seat of my pants without too much hardship, but asking people who had been there before gave me different perspectives and things to consider that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. For example: A long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt from a thrift store that you don’t mind never seeing again. Many people tossed their sweats along the path to be collected later (many race organizers donate the unclaimed items), but I stalwartly tied my sweatshirt around my body to hang onto it. A volunteer took it for me at the halfway point and said it would be in the finisher’s tent — but when I realized I had forgotten it as I got back into my car after the race, I couldn’t have made my legs go back out there if I’d wanted to. Goodbye, sweatshirt — and thank you, people who have done this before me.
  2. Nothing New on Race Day: This was said to me several times as I asked for advice. Should I wear compression socks for the race? Should I try an electrolyte drink I had never tried before? Should I do this, or that? The answer was always the same: Nothing new on race day. With this advice in mind, I picked an outfit made up of clothes that fit comfortably and that I knew I could run in. I packed snacks I knew I could eat on the run without upsetting my stomach. I ate a typical post-run lunch when I finished (spoilers: it was Chipotle). This advice relates to many aspects of life. Going for a job interview? Don’t wear brand new makeup you might be allergic to, or new shoes that pinch you in ways you didn’t anticipate. Getting ready to pitch your boss for a promotion or raise? Stick with your usual communication style vs. an approach that’s recommended in a one-off article you read about negotiating at work. Wedding day? Don’t skip breakfast if you usually eat it, or eat something if you normally skip. When it comes to a big day you’ve prepared for… stick with your routine. The time to try a different approach comes later, when it’s not all on the line.
  3. Find a Focus: I like to focus on a positive affirmation when I am doing something new, or difficult, or anxiety-inducing. For this race, my ongoing messages to myself included “I trained to finish” and “Unafraid of toil.” More on training to finish in the #4, but “Unafraid of toil” is derived from the description of Hufflepuff house in the Harry Potter universe. No matter what you’re up against, having a go-to positive message can help you remind yourself that the stress is temporary and you’ll get through it.
  4. Done is Better Than Perfect: When I repeated to myself, “I trained to finish,” it was a reminder that I had trained to be able to run 13.1 miles. I didn’t train to do it fast, I didn’t train to win, I trained to finish. And finish I did – dead last. I was dead last from almost the beginning of the race, and I didn’t mind a bit. I got applause when I crossed the finish line and it was just for me! It was awesome to complete a run longer than anything I had done before — and though I was exhausted, sore, and cold from the rain, I was also proud of myself. No matter what project you’re working on, remember that done is better than perfect. Perfectionism will paralyze you into not even trying, because why bother if you’re not going to get it right, or be the best? I weigh over 200 pounds, I run a 15 minute mile, and I just completed a half marathon — you can do that thing that’s scaring you.
  5. Get Your Head in the Game: I was really distracted during my half marathon, because I had just dropped my husband off at the airport the day before and he wouldn’t be there to see me finish like we had initially planned. It was a sudden change of plans due to illness in the family, and I felt not only worried but guilty for being out doing this half marathon for myself when I felt I should have been at home babysitting the phone for bad news and crying. I did end up crying, when I passed the ten mile mark, making this my official longest run even if I hadn’t finished. But my husband adamantly wanted me to complete the race and would have been upset on my behalf if I had decided to quit before I started. “You trained for this, you deserve to run it,” he told me. He believed in me enough for the both of us and got me through the moments when I was out of my head. Stay in your head!
  6. Make a (Flexible) Plan: When I set out to do a half marathon, my planning went something like this: I’m going to do a 10K. I found a 10K race in early October. Better look up a 10K training schedule since I’ve never run that much before. Should I do a half? I found a half at the end of October. Can I train for a half with this 10K in the middle? OH MY GOSH I CAN! And thus began my plan. Things did not go according to plan, as I totally nailed the first week of training, started skipping cross training in week two, and had given up both cross training and yoga days by the third week. So I ran a few times a week for several weeks leading up to my 10K, and then the subsequent three weeks leading up to the half marathon I was in rare form. I ran four or five days a week, including a long run on the weekends (eight miles two weeks before the race, and ten miles the week before). I made it happen even when training didn’t go perfectly — but having the built-in reality check of that 10K assured that I would have to show up and put in the effort on my way to the big goal. You can break down any goal into manageable baby steps and just go one day at a time until you achieve it. (A 90-day goal setting planner like BestSelfCo can help you break down big goals into weekly and daily targets – use this referral link to get $10 off any purchase until 12/15/17).
  7. Hold Yourself Accountable: An accountability plan is crucial to achieving your goal, whether it’s a race or a debt payoff or getting your degree. I actually kept my half marathon goal pretty quiet, telling only a few close friends rather than making a big announcement on my social media pages. I did announce my 10K plan so that my sudden uptick in weekly runs didn’t rouse any suspicions, but I kept the half quiet because publicly sharing your goals can actually hurt your chances of achieving them. So when you’re working on a big goal, loop a few close friends in to help motivate and keep you accountable to your plan (pick the friends that will actually hold you to your word, not help you make excuses), but try keeping the big announcement to yourself until it’s done. You can also hold yourself financially accountable (like I did when I spent money on my race registration or like someone who commits to applying to college might pay their application fee, or like somebody might sign up to attend a conference or book a vacation they keep putting off).
  8. Make Things Fun: Finding a way to put a little pep in your step is always better than the alternative! When running, I like to listen to music or run with a friend so we can chat. Since I had no friends ready and willing to run a chilly, rainy half marathon with me at dark o’clock in the morning, I loaded up a playlist with over three hours of music and set on my merry way. My phone died after mile 11. See #6 to make a flexible plan, and pack a backup battery and charger if you’re going to be running multiple apps on your phone. I used Charity Miles and Map My Run as well as Spotify. For non-running goals and plans, you could build in rewards (a new lipstick for each week you declutter one room of the house, a three day weekend vacation when you pay off a credit card, etc.) to keep things interesting and engaging. Because slogging along with nothing fun to do is, well, no fun.
  9. Hydrate: Just, all the time. Go get some water. Yes, right now.
  10. Find Your Power Groove: You might have a song that gets you super pumped up, a snack that gives you energy (try Delish Fish!), or a time of day when you work at your most efficient and effective. Whether you’re running a race, writing a book, or painting a bedroom, take note of when and how you do your best work. While you can’t guarantee conditions on race day, you can make the most of the things you can control and keep yourself in a positive forward-moving state of mind and body.
  11. Know When to Quit: While I didn’t end up quitting the race, at the back of the pack you tend to acquire a helpful cop or two driving by slowly to ask if you’re okay. “Yep, I’m good,” you will say — but for a moment you might just think about hopping in the car and considering 11 miles as good enough. There is a time and a place to quit running — if you are injured, if you are over-exhausted (especially in the heat), if you are violently ill. And there is a time and a place to quit on other projects too — if your goals change and the project no longer makes sense, if you leave one job to start another, if you decide that you don’t even like zucchini anyway so who cares if you stop weeding the garden this summer (true story). Know when it’s okay to quit and do it with confidence — but make sure you do it for a reason you won’t second guess forever.
  12. Get Professional Help: Between my 10K and my half marathon, I hired a running coach via Thumbtack, which is a great resource to find local professionals for basically anything. He ran and walked with me for a mile or two, observing my gait and pace, answering my questions, and giving me practical tips to improve my training for the half marathon. His most important advice that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own: run more frequently. Rather than running three times a week, he advised me to run upwards of five or six times a week in order to effectively improve my pace. And it worked — when I started to run more often during the week, my pace improved and my long runs didn’t seem as arduous. When it comes to planning for a goal, you can probably figure a lot of it out by yourself. Or you could spend a little money and get a professional to help you get back the hours you’d spend researching and planning on your own. See a therapist, hire a business coach, even hire a freelancer to help you handle day to day tasks for an online business or website. There’s always someone who can help make it easier.
  13. You’re Competing With Yourself: My first lap of the half, I was behind these two older women who were literally power walking the whole time. And I was behind them until about mile 5. Five miles of constant running from the start line and I start telling myself, “Really, you can’t outrun the power walkers?” But then when I did catch up to them, it was time for my first snack break and a quick recovery walk. I chatted with them and they said they were so proud of me and I was doing a great job, and they loved my hair and my headband, and I was gonna do great. I went from envy to appreciation in no time. They wished me luck as I finally pulled ahead and onward before they finished their lap (they did the two person relay but did it together instead of one runner at a time). The second lap, I was on the heels of a young woman in a bright yellow jacket. Yellow Girl, I called her. She had been just ahead of me the whole race. At one point I caught up to her and pulled ahead. “Hi!” I said to her, excited for a little human contact. “Hi,” she said back, with less enthusiasm than I mustered. She pulled ahead and I didn’t catch her again. She finished a couple minutes ahead of me and I completed my half marathon in 3 hours and 23 minutes, dead last. And 100% victorious. Because I wasn’t racing Yellow Girl or the power walking ladies. I was proving I could run 13.1 miles. Success. Now I have a time to beat, because I will definitely be doing another half marathon, and I will be even more prepared.