This website, and writing about my KindEdge approach to transformational life change, is more than a passion project. I’ve survived a frightening three-year divorce that would have left most broken and in pieces. Financial abuse, false facts and much more pulled me from a million-dollar life to at one point having only thirteen dollars in my hands while I somehow saw my son through his graduation weekend celebrations. A taste of my story can be seen here.
At one point every source of stability was being actively stripped (and gambled away), and emergency court injunctions took many months to make happen in the court system. During one extreme gambling episode, wherein I watched my bank account tick downward like a stock ticker on a bear-bound day, one of my therapists yelled uncle. “I can’t use talk therapy on you. You don’t have PTSD; there’s no P-for-post here. You’re in it. You’re in the war zone. Your fear is real and is calling you to action to save your life and the savings you have amassed over two decades. So I’ll just say this: as you see the bank account numbers drain, observe your feet on the ground. What you imagined safety to be is no longer a reality that you can access. But you can define a new safety in something you can access. If you can observe your feet on the ground, you are safe. You cannot know what your future holds, but you are safely standing on the ground right now.”
At times, when I was driving my car and I’d receive frightening bank alerts on my phone–that despite trying, I could do little to stop, I would stop the car, and step out and simply feel my feet on the safe, steady ground.
That is how I survived Act I of three in my divorce. It was a most basic form of survival, but it kept me centered, and peaceful and in flow at home as a mom to my boys. It oddly made me stronger. Letting go of fear and realizing I could feel good every moment in whatever hacked-together sense of safety I could make for myself, was truly the first in many mindset transformations that occurred throughout my divorce. My boys and I could be eating day-old pizza off a concrete floor and we’d still be safe, and laughing, and confident in our ability to build whatever it was we needed to build from whatever nadir we might meet.
You can read more about the longer journey here.
This morning, an internet-y friend, JD, shared that she needed help with change. Part of my new passion and purpose is to help others with change. I seek to codify the many systematic tools I built for myself to enable others to get where they are going faster. I want to arm people like me with simple, bite-sized steps to unlock the alternate ending to their lives. And I want to help them do it in a way that is realistic, sustainable, and that truly pushes through the denial and repeated patterns that keep us idling.
My website is still under construction, but JD’s request was like the universe tapping me on the shoulder saying: “Begin. Begin anywhere.” So this post is for JD.
Synopsis of JD’s question:
When self-confidence is getting in the way of you achieving your better life, what is the first tiny step toward bigger change?
As is described elsewhere in this website, KindEdge.com, large-scale transformational change is tough to fit into a life where all the trains have already left the station and must be kept in motion. We are all over-committed and constantly reacting to chaos or unpredictable demands in our days. Implementing massive change to achieve a new life is tough to do in that environment.
KindEdge.com is my forum for sharing my step-by-step process for creating visible change in our lives, in small steps that can fit into real life.
But that’s big picture stuff along a longer timeline. Before committing to a larger change journey, each of us needs to take actions to simply FEEL BETTER TODAY. Our grander goals will gain no momentum if we are lacking confidence, energy, and a little control over a few minutes in our days.
Big goals won’t be realized while you are holding your breath. Before any business plans get drafted for a new venture, it is critical to breath oxygen into our souls and get that source of oxygen stabilized.
Call in the therapists! Right?
We all turn to therapy and coaching for guidance. We schedule appointments, we spend thirty minutes finding parking, we spend an hour each week explaining our lives and expressing hope. And then hope goes on the shelf until the next week’s 50-minute session. In my case, this hope-filled oxygen-devoid process of leaning on therapists lasted for twenty years. There were FEW MATERIAL OUTCOMES.
Therapists have a different timeline… forever. And their deadlines are… never. I love and depend on my therapists, but therapy is like your stomach digesting food. It serves a critical purpose of processing and extracting value from a steady stream of inputs. But when you seek practical change, traditional therapy does not offer the structure and edge needed to push against the current.
Why does JD care about confidence as a part of moving forward? Well, for JD and for many of us, this is an invisible, easily-ignored barrier that slithers through our lives, and choices and decisions. It may cause us to delay reaching out to a friend. It may enable self-sabotage, leaving us responding to duty and guilt rather than our own needs and goals. Perhaps it causes JD to divert her eyes and hurriedly exit a shop when she notices an amazing man trying to make eye contact with her. Or perhaps it simply strips her of the ability to say “Kind thanks, but no. No really. I said NO.”
This confidence snake can slither into every part of our lives. Confidence can close you off from everything. And it can enable you to achieve absolutely anything.
So confidence. How do you go out and get it?
Step 1: Hire all the therapists and spend twenty years talking about the abundant lack in your life.
Step 2: Buy all the guru books and stack them on your bedstand as permanent symbols of undirected hope.
Step 3: Skip steps 1 and 2 for now… (I spent two decades testing them out for you and… lesson learned… they aren’t the whole solution.)
Step 4: Here we go… MAKE PROGRESS VISIBLE TODAY: PROVE TO YOURSELF YOU ARE THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR SHIP.
It always starts with a pen and paper. So do this now, today.
- ACTION: Go to Walgreens or CVS (no excuses – both are 24-hours in most cities).
- Purchase a journal or hard-covered notebook that you love. TODAY. Don’t order from Amazon for delivery tomorrow. Do this – TODAY.
- Also purchase a new pen that will be connected with this journal. Choose the pen carefully. I love fancy fountain pens, but with my KindEdge journal I use a white TUL pen with a pale pink band, and it writes smoothly and has no annoying cap that can get lost. I took a good hour to choose my perfect pen.
- Purchase a few f dry-erase markers in colors you like.
- And if you wish, get a set of mini sticky-notes to use as tabs in your journal.
Why is TODAY so critical? You must show yourself you can take action to feel better. You need to see visible evidence of changes you are making today. You need to carve a groove in mind that makes it easier and easier each day to prioritize and advocate for yourself.
By doing this you are scientifically retraining your brain. When you intend to take a positive action and your brain sees you seek out and fulfill that desire, your brain gets rewarded with a shot of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Any behavior that gives your brain this kind of reward will cause your brain to repeat this behavior in the future. We are designed to seek out sources of reward. Fulfilling your intent is a source of reward.
You can also add to the pleasure and rewarding nature by ensuring that the steps feel good to you. You may wish to pick up and flip through all the journals to really feel which notebook has a look and feel and utility that will please your senses. I personally have taken over an hour at times choosing pens, testing their function, the sounds they make (“click!”) and observing the colors.
So now, today, you have your KindEdge journal and pen in hand. Yay!
- ACTION: Ok … this is a tough step and most people can’t do this: Say “Good Job, JD!!!”
- Yup, this is another important behavior reinforcement and dopamine hit. And you gotta do this or you won’t as readily return to your KindEdge change journey.
- When I wake up at 5:30am and make it to yoga at 6, I say in the car “Good job, Mary. You are loving yourself and doing things that help your body feel good.”
- When I halt a negative behavior and turn towards a more positive one, I say “Good job, Mary, you are using your lessons learned to practice positive patterns.”
- When I don’t complete a goal in a day, I turn to my journal to write and reflect on what logistical, mental or emotional barriers pulled me away from my goals. I brainstorm, considering what new practices I might experiment with to improve tomorrow’s outcomes. The biggest step here is to do this without judgment or self-shaming. (This is a practice I call “infinite self-kaizen … I’ll write about it later). I wrap up this reflection on how to make improvements for tomorrow by saying “Good job, Mary. You are gathering invaluable lessons, continually growing, and doing it in a kind and sustainable way. Good job! You rock!”
- So JD. It’s your turn. Tell yourself: “Good job. Well done!”
Next step: The journal
- In the future, you might use your new journal to record your more complex big picture visioning and planning efforts. For now, we’re just doing a short-cut to identify what will give a little oxygen to your confidence tank today.
- ACTION: Pick a few blank pages and make a list of all the things you’ve been craving. What do you intuitively know would feel good if you started doing them? What do you see others doing that gives you a twinge of jealousy? For example, have you been wanting to:
- Go out more
- Start a hobby as a gym trainer
- Learn to kite board
- Look presentable more often so you can walk into Starbucks without putting a hoodie hood over your
- Lose weight
- Go on a date
- Start a girlfriends’ meetup group
- Stop letting chaos monkeys and asshats hijack the day
- Learn how to do calligraphy
- Sanction space in the spare room to have an organized workspace
- Join a network of poetry reading enthusiasts
- Rekindle an old hobby like ice skating or archery
- ACTION: Review your list and pick one of these intentions as a current focus. I’ll choose a few to use as examples.
Now we’re going to look at the big messy mixed-bag of hard-to-control steps that might be required to achieve one of those goals. And from there, we’re going to narrow all those steps down to two things: 1) Set the foundation by collecting all the right tools for success. 2) Commit to only one behavior that you will promise to complete each day. This repeated daily activity will carve the groove in your mind and will build space in your life for the time needed to achieve the bigger goal. Remember, we’re not doing a master project plan to achieve the final outcome. We’re digging the groove to bring the intention into action every day.
By ensuring you do this one small behavior consistently every day, you’ll begin to look in the mirror and see visible evidence of what you are, and not of what you lack. You will begin to say “I’m the type of person who can do calligraphy better than most people. I see visible evidence of this because I’ve tracked myself practicing calligraphy every day for thirty days and I see that I’ve invested in all the best tools for calligraphy. I’m becoming the calligraphy I wanted to become. Good job, me! I’m amazing! I never thought I could make the changes needed to get even this far!”
So here are the specific actions:
- ACTION: Allocate a new page in the journal to that one goal. List out all the steps you can imagine would be needed to make that a reality.
- ACTION: Prepare the toolkit:
- On another blank page, list out all the tools needed to start to pursue that activity.
- Block 4 hours on your calendar within the next 2 days and label it “Prepare my tools for doing X activity.
- During those hours, take a deep dive to research and select the best tools to support your new goal. This is another critical element of retraining your brain. If you plan to do calligraphy, watch YouTube videos wherein calligraphers review their pens and materials. Then place purchase orders for the best tools. If you feel guilt over this investment in yourself, reward that new brave behavior. “Good job, Mary! You are taking this goal seriously and ensuring you have the right tools to succeed. If this was your child’s hobby, you ensure they had the right tools. Now you are giving yourself the right tools to succeed and have fun doing this activity. Good job being brave enough to work past the guilt of spending money on this. Good job!”
- Ensure you have the right labels and storage for your ‘toolkit’ as your new activity needs to easily fit into your life. Organization is part of honoring your intent and ensuring it can be efficiently actioned.
- ACTION: Choose one daily behavior.
- This one is tough. For each goal, we are at risk of failing due to outside forces like weather, schedules and more. It is critical that we don’t overcommit and end up dropping the many commitments. We need to commit to only one behavior and be ready to fight to the death to continue that behavior on a daily basis.
- One example would be, if I want to start looking presentable every day, I can’t commit to always having my hair done, but I can commit to always having hair look decent, and face look presentable.
- Then I need to get this down to a sustainable system. If I’m running out the door in a rush, I’m going to fail. Here something I’ve actually done:
- I invested in mini-brushes, hair clips, mascara, lipstick and pairs of earrings.
- I have several small clear make-up bags that contain one of each of these. I placed one bag at my home office desk, one bag in my purse, one in my car, and one in an overnight back I keep in my trunk.
- This is a system that supports my goal. If I run out of time to fix myself up in the bathroom, I’ll be able to sustainably succeed at having my hair at least clipped up in a cute way, with earrings as adornment, and mascara and lipstick to make the face look face-y vs. zombie-like.
- Taking the time to collect these items is a huge part of arming yourself with systems for success. We will become failures or martyrs if we do not stop to prepare our tools.
- ACTION: Now, in your journal choose a double-page spread and create a little table of rows and columns, like spreadsheet. Note the next 30 days’ dates across the top. At the left, label the first row: “Starbucks-ready fresh face.” As of today, you are committing to achieving that goal every day for thirty days. Each day that you follow through, put a smiley face on that day’s square. If you do not follow-through on a given day, take a page in the journal to non-judgmentally reflect on what may have blocked you, and how you might make it easier for yourself the next day. These reflections can get very interesting. For years I shamed myself for continually delaying. But when I documented each day in an excel spreadsheet, I saw what was trumping me. I was living with disorder back then, and when I looked at the absolute root cause of why plan X turned into unplanned Z life hijacking… one name was always the cause. It took me a long time to see that the disorder I was living with was quite literally hijacking my life. I had to see the full stream of a good 400+ days to finally realize: “Oh. My. God. Our team of three therapists, and the two decades of therapy and programs is not helping me guard my time and my life. If I don’t lock that crazy down, the rest of my life’s minutes will continue to be flushed down this toilet bowl of dysfunction.” I had to see how much stronger my ability to say “No” needed to be. Instead of allowing the crazy events in my life to appear as anomalies, I finally saw they were the dominant culture and way of my household. The days wherein my plan played out as intended were actually the exception. I finally realized I was not really taking my goals seriously. I was not fighting for them the way I needed to. I was afraid because when I pushed, the push back at me was always aggressive and threatening. I finally faced my fear of that aggression when I realized the clear message in anything that shut me down was “Your goals are not worth my time.” It took data tracking to enable me to see and reflect you this reality. When I kept my goals silent in my head, nothing pushed back at me. But the excel spreadsheet behavior tracking list finally spoke out, loud and clear.
Hopefully others will identify barriers to progress that are less emotional and easier to resolve. In some cases, it might just require ensuring several back-up babysitters are available, or agreements about time allocation may enable you to regularly do a certain activity, or it may take saving up for a key purchase, like a race bike… but progress will begin, bit by bit, by documenting it all.
- For now, track only one goal. When you repeatedly achieve this goal, you may take on a few more goals. It’s not that the one goal will necessarily drive you to the finish line. It is more important to ensure your brain gets the reward of succeeding repeatedly. Rather than saying “I’m going to get back into running,” you instead are starting with the right tools: the best running shoes, socks and earbuds… and you are committing to a simple, achievable first level task, such as “Every day at 5:30am, I put on running shoes.” That is a first level, achievable goal. And when you commit and follow-through, you build confidence. Confidence in “just getting out there a for a short jog.” That may grow into confidence in running three miles most days of the week. And that may turn into confidence about how your rear end looks in tight running shorts. And that may lead to having enough confidence to join a running club. And that may lead to confidence to sign up for a race. And suddenly someone is asking for advice from you, asking how you became such a good competitive runner. And you’ll then feel more confident in every other part of your life because you are the TYPE of person who CAN do the things you challenge yourself to do.
- When your brain sees evidence of the idea in your head playing out in reality, it’s going to start to connect that to other parts of your life. Your brain will start to make really big assumptions. Instead of thinking “That girl on Facebook is doing something I’ll probably never do.” You’re brain’s going to apply a bit more ego and gumption; you’re likely to think “I could probably do that if I set myself to it.”
A core element in the KindEdge philosophy I applied to myself is the concept that change is a muscle. At one point in my journey, I had purchased what may have been the 500th book on championing dysfunction. I was explaining to my therapist how this book’s prescribed methodology was going to be the next new transformation in our household that would help fix the problems. I was busy highlighting and sticky-noting all the key points because I was the worker bee, and I needed to serve up the information in a carefully-curated way or it might just end up ignored by “Disorder”, like the other 499 books and methods.
I was deeply stuck in the belief that this new method represented change. That I was flexible and willing to grow and continually try new things, to partner to solve for the whole. My therapist halted me and explained, that no, this was not change. She asked me to step away from this new book, this new program. If I stepped far away from this one concept, it was not new. It did not represent change. It was a continuation of the pattern wherein I banged my head against the wall and twisted myself into a pretzel while dysfunction and disorder ploughed right over me, again. I had to sit with this for a long time. I had to really understand the emotional nature of change. And I eventually realized that change is a muscle I had to regrow. And I had to take action THAT DAY and every day. I had to stop looking past the cloud of dust circling me. I had to allow anger to surface and I had to prepare to start disappointing others, rather than myself.
This is all to say, committing to one daily act will be challenging. It may cost more money. It may cost some emotion. I may require “growing the muscle for change” and learning to do things like push, disappoint, say no, and more. But there is momentum in this silly-seeming set of activities. And the muscle for change grows.
What about the dry-erase markers?
Ok, those colorful dry-erase markers are to keep in your bathroom. Every day have fun writing on your mirror. Tell yourself what a good job you have done. Or draw a giant heart on the mirror so when you look at yourself you are framed with a symbol of self-love. Or document your focus for the day. You might write “Slow” or “Breath” or “There’s no crying in baseball!!!” Give yourself a word, a focus, a reminder, or kudos. Use your mirror writing as your personal cheerleading section. Good job, you. Good job.
Now that you’ve gotten this far…
- You are the type of person who can do challenging things.
- You are the type of person who can get started and change.
- You are the type of person who takes yourself seriously.
- You are the type of person who was already enough, and loveable, just as you were; and by setting goals and prioritizing yourself, you are just making use of all the amazing things you are.