Posts Tagged ‘planning’

When I was writing a nutrition book several years ago, I spent a lot of time not writing. I cleaned, napped, drank, anything to avoid what I knew I had to do (and actually really wanted to do!). I thought I was an expert procrastinator until I completed a questionnaire at the end of Robert Boice’s book Professors As Writers, entitled The Blocking Questionnaire. The Blocking Questionnaire is sort of a Myers & Briggs test for your writing personality. Based on your answers to multiple questions regarding overt, cognitive/emotional, and social signs of blocking (as in writer’s block), you are scored in several areas, including work apprehension, procrastination, writing apprehension, dysphoria, impatience, perfectionism, and rules. While all of these things are likely to affect writers to some degree, typically one quality predominates.

Based on my results, I found that what I thought of as procrastination was firmly rooted in perfectionism. I was finally able to complete my book once I heeded Boice’s advice: “perfectionists learn to laugh at their perfectionism and to put it in its proper place – toward the end of the writing process. They do so, at least in the short run, by confronting their internal critic and by writing around him or her.”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post called Practicing Imperfection. At that time, I had reached a tipping point regarding the unrealistic standards I hold myself to. In drafting my declaration of imperfection, I seem to have touched a nerve, with myself and several others. And, as often happens with me, it wasn’t until after I had written it that I realized just how true, important, and poignant this issue is.

I find that much of my internal monologue is about perfection, how I should be able to achieve it, yet how incapable I am of it. Case in point: for the past several years I have dreamed of writing a book about my experiences quitting drinking, beginning meditation, and learning to lean into my real (though messy, unpredictable, and often uncomfortable) life. While I have every logical reason to believe I am capable of this (past book writing experience, basic ability to string together sentences, an encouraging and supportive network), I have delayed the actual writing of the book.

My inner perfectionist doesn’t think it’s worth writing if it’s not a best-seller, if it doesn’t land of me on the present day equivalent of the Oprah Winfrey show, and if basically everyone doesn’t love me for writing it. Again, I spend much of my time and energy not writing this book. Instead, I do research so that I won’t omit any important information when I do finally commit to writing, I play with shifting the focus of the book proposal this way and that, and I furtively scan recently published book titles assuming one day I’ll find someone has beat me to it.

Who could live with these expectations? I would never place such pressure on someone I love…isn’t that a mouthful? While I can’t say that I will no longer be a perfectionist, I am committing to making imperfection a practice, much like meditation. What this leads to remains to be seen.

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“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.” ~Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


It’s been two months since my job ended. Since then I have tried to bring the structure of my working life into the vast abyss of my unemployment. Somehow I fill my days with errands and small tasks that must have gone uncompleted when I was working. That and I watch a lot of bad TV. I’ve become mildly obsessed with doing everything right – working out 5 times a week, cooking a variety of nutritious meals, using up all the produce in the fridge before it goes bad, getting the best price on bananas. At the end of the day I’m often not sure what happened. But I feel exhausted.

By filling in the time, I haven’t really been dealing with the fact that I’m confused and uncertain and scared. I guess I have felt this way for much of my life. Like a lot of people, I want to understand the meaning of life, the meaning of my life. To find a way to live that makes me relatively happy and also makes the world a little better when I leave it. I have tried on different personas to see how they fit. One of those personas involved drinking – the wine-savvy dietitian, the friend who was always ready for a cocktail. Before I quit drinking more than 5 years ago, it seemed that alcohol had become so intertwined with my very personality, I wasn’t sure what would remain in its absence. As it turned out, that wasn’t who I was at all.

Since then, and especially since I began to practice meditation, the question of who I am has become all the more poignant, scary, and unclear. As I unraveled the layers of behaviors and habits, there seemed to be less and less there. And yet I have felt more and more myself.

The other day I was standing on the corner of 60th and Lex waiting to go down into the subway. It was raining and I was on the phone with my meditation instructor, who was telling me not to be afraid of my confusion and lack of ground. As often happens when I hear something that feels purely true, I had tears in my eyes.

During the next few days, I realized that the things I’ve done in my life that have felt the most important – falling in love, working on myself in therapy, rebuilding a once-shaky relationship with my parents, quitting drinking, even writing this blog – I’ve done from a place of utter vulnerability. In each instance, I felt I had bottomed out, in a good way. That I was out of rationalizations, that I could only listen to my heart, take a risk, drop expectations, and see what came of it. I never knew how these things would turn out. It’s only in retrospect that each feels momentous.

So perhaps my confusion now is not something to shake or beat into submission. Perhaps, if I allow myself to feel its full weight, its bottomless-seeming depth, it will allow me to see what I need to see.



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It occurs to me as I continue to look at my life as objectively as possible that I often hold myself to unreasonable standards of perfection. As much as meditation has softened me to situations and other people, I continue to take an unforgiving approach to my own thoughts, experiences, and even my own body.

The following is a pact I have made with myself to practice imperfection, to embrace the things about my real life I often try to strong-arm into compliance, and to be gentler with my own damn self. Please feel free to add your thoughts or to create your own pact:

  1. I will no longer, at a distance of a quarter-inch from my bathroom mirror, try to rid my skin of every last blackhead, flake of dry skin, and stray hair that may or may not exist
  2. I will not try to “make good time” everywhere I go
  3. I will not maniacally remove an otherwise fine manicure because of a microscopic chip nor will I discard articles of clothing because of pulls, small holes, and other minute imperfections; rather I will wear both with pride
  4. I will not scuttle after every Darwin-colored tumbleweed of cat hair that rolls across our matching hardwood floors
  5. When I step on a piece of cat food, people food, cat litter, or other unidentified object, I will not obsessively retrace my steps with a dust buster
  6. I will not try to anticipate every food, beverage, and entertainment need of my significant other, cats, or houseguests; rather I will place the onus on them to “use their words”
  7. I will (try very hard to) not obsess over the size, shape, and texture of various parts of my body
  8. I will not chase with a lint roller anyone who sits on our cat-adored couch
  9. I will not insist on finding a 10th way in which I will practice imperfection

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Some people experience breakthroughs when they meditate. I am not one of them. While I endeavor to maintain perfect awareness on the breath, instead I seem to be trying to tame my wild-horse mind that sets off to the races the moment my butt hits the cushion. Occasionally, however, there are moments of clarity that make this effort worth it.

As I have mentioned before (here, here, and here), I am someone who finds uncertainty supremely uncomfortable and generally likes to know what to expect. Through what I’ve called emotional disaster-preparedness, I imagine the worst-case scenario under the faulty assumption that I will feel less pain/anxiety/upheaval when disaster really does strike. As I’ve also noted, however, I fail miserably to imagine what actually does happen in the future and in the process, make the present very unpleasant.

I’ve lived for a long time with this notion of disaster lurking just around the corner. The monster under the bed. The other shoe about to drop. These negative imaginings are much of what brought me to the meditation cushion in the first place. So, as I sat one day and heard myself silently say to myself, “in this moment, there is nothing wrong,” the earth moved.

The idea that taking the risk to be fully present (rather than stocking my emotional fallout shelter with rations and gasmasks) relieved me of the burden of imagining every possible thing that might go wrong and resting, truly resting, in awareness. What a relief!

I came back to this idea many times both on and off the cushion. Meditation had led me to the realization that oftentimes, if I stopped and noticed what was actually happening, there was nothing wrong. One day months later, while meditating, I recalled this notion, silently repeating to myself “in this moment, there is nothing wrong,” with the intention of labeling this thought – thinking – and returning to the breath. Instead, I heard myself answer “in this moment, there is nothing right, either.”

Full on, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: WHOA!


In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes the following about equanimity:

By practicing loving-kindness, compassion, and rejoicing, we are training in thinking bigger, in opening up as wholeheartedly as we can. We are cultivating the unbiased state of equanimity. Without this fourth boundless quality the other three are limited by our habit of liking and disliking, accepting and rejecting.

Cultivating equanimity is a work in progress. We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears—sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy. We welcome and get to know them all.

To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity. We train in staying with the soft spot and use our biases as stepping-stones for connecting with the confusion of others.

Though I’m far from cultivating perfect equanimity and I often find myself grasping or repelling, I’ve begun to notice this habit. And I’ve begun to recognize that I have the choice to stay with the raw vulnerability before it hardens into something else.


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Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

~John Lennon

Sure, I drank, but my drug of choice has always been planning.

What can I say? I love to plan. I plan my meals, outfits, workouts, workdays, weekends, vacations. You name it, I plan it. And, while I might not have been an extreme example of an alcoholic, I am an extreme planner.

Planning helps me feel (falsely) in control of my life. It’s one of the ways in which I try (and fail) to make life predictable. That plans fall apart and give rise to disappointment has not deterred me from trying to wrangle life’s uncertainties and secure them neatly in my iCal. That my planning causes me suffering – stress, distraction, an inability to stay in the present moment – suggests to me it is an addiction in its own right.

When you are a planner, it can be difficult to understand, let alone embrace, those who do not plan. My boyfriend happens to be one of those people. It’s not that he doesn’t plan; he plans quite a bit, in fact, and he’s very good at it. But he is selective, planning only what is necessary and leaving much of the rest to decide when necessary.

I don’t think this is a bad thing; it’s just a different style. But, when it comes to things that affect both of us, my planaholism and his planopenia clash like two Real Housewives from New Jersey.

Case in point, a significant birthday is approaching for him. I started thinking about what gift to buy him approximately 90 days in advance, about potential menu items should a party occur about 45 days in advance, and what I might wear to said party 14 days in advance. He actually decided to have a party about a week before the event and sent out an invitation a whopping 5 days before. Menu will be decided some time between now and when people start knocking on the door. And the party will be a great success.

“Discussing” our different styles the other night, he made a (maddeningly) accurate and revealing statement:

Jenna, you are very organized and plan things in advance. The result is usually very good but you stress out about it for weeks or months. I don’t plan until it is absolutely necessary so I don’t stress out except for the last 3 hours. And it’s usually pretty good too.

I hate it when he’s right.

Leo Babauta recently wrote a wonderful blog post about living with chaos, in which he suggests challenging the illusion of control and not making plans. This is a revolutionary – and terrifying – concept for me. But I must admit, what he says makes a lot of sense, which is essentially: plan what is necessary (and challenge the meaning of necessary) and as for the rest, be open to the unfolding moment.

Which has me thinking, maybe it’s time to switch to Plan B.

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