This year, I’ve learned to count my blessings along with my failures. Sometimes, when I fail to succeed at something, that’s all I can think about. But I often forget/ don’t give myself credit for the things I’m doing right.
When I read my dear friend Ashley Simmons’ Pep Talk, I realized that sometimes we take our failures too seriously and our successes too lightly. For Ashley, that meant that while she was feeling like a failure for not managing to stick to her NoExNo goal, she failed to give herself credit for being a new mom, a wife, a friend, a full-time employee, et al. Finally, she gave herself some credit for the fact that even though she didn’t get to exercise as much as she had hoped, she never let excuses get in the way of caring for her beautiful daughter.
This week, I ask you to briefly acknowledge what you need to work on, but to focus on what you are doing right. Are you working hard at your job? Are you a good friend? Mother? Son? Great at drinking wine? There are so many things you are succeeding at that you might be taking for granted.
So, if you feel like a failure, you’re doing it wrong. The point of NoExNo is not to condemn those who don’t complete their goals (who would cast the first stone?), the point is to encourage each other to do something brave. Well, today I am encouraging you to remember what you are doing right.
Give yourself a mini pep talk today, and remember: you’re doing it right*.
*That’s what she said.
It starts with the eyes. Eyes that widen and which somehow manage to force contact despite your best efforts to avoid them. The brows that frame them rise like a cobra right before it strikes. Their lips part and curl in an upward motion revealing a tawdry display of teeth and sometimes even tongue…
A smile. It’s terrifying. I know.
I’m kidding if course. Smiles are beautiful, ya know, provided good dental hygiene has been maintained. But apparently I lack whatever it is that causes people to do this without provocation. When I was a kid my mom would say, “What’s wrong?” I would quickly say, “Nothing!”, to which she would respond, “Well then tell your face.” I can’t even help rolling my eyes and shaking my head as I recall that memory.
I don’t consider myself an unfriendly or intimidating person, but for as long as I can remember friends and acquaintances alike have at some point or another told me that they initially thought I would be mean or that they were intimidated by me. Seriously?? I’m just standing here. Anyone who really knows me knows that I am the farthest thing from intimidating.
Unfortunately, this lack of friendly has begun to affect my work performance. And in a customer service industry, that’s a bad thing. On more than one occasion, customer reviews have reflected a similar notion. One lady went so far as to explain that she had no doubt that I was a good employee and that I was knowledgeable but that I was not friendly. Never mind the fact that it was the last hour on a Friday night, I was alone in the store and her nonstop chatter prevented me from greeting all other customers and answering the phone! Oh sorry, no excuses. Dang it.
I’ll be 28 in a few weeks and it seems I need to make an adjustment. Enter Allison Baker and NoExNo. I was fortunate enough to take part last year and since waiting until New Years isn’t an option I figured this was an area of my life that needed attention, like ASAP!
Everyday this month I’ve participated in activity which, until now, I’ve viewed with disdain. Small talk. Apparently like 88% (or some other real statistic) of you people respond to it, so I’m doing my best. I’m smiling at people that I accidentally make eye contact with, all the while thinking, “I hope I don’t look like a stalker. Oh no! They think I want to chat. Op, now we’re chatting”.
I have to admit it’s not bad. I’ve met some cool people in the process and I have a couple new Facebook friends to prove it. I’ve even had a couple guys at the gym ask me out! Wow. Who knew?
I promise I really am a nice person and ever mother of every friend I’ve been close with always calls me sweet. Always. But I do take some time warming up to people enough that it shows on my face. So if you see me at the gym feel free to say hi (as long as I’m not in the middle of a set) and I’ll happily force a smile. Please note it’s only forced right now because it’s not a habit yet. I still have to “tell my face” at this stage.
As a secondary goal for NoExNo Xica is learning to track her macros (macro nutrients: carbs, fats, protein). And since competing in her first figure competition (bodybuilding) this year and falling head over heals for Gym, she’s finally decided to get her certification for personal training. Perhaps the combination of a friendly first impression and a certification will allow her to have a career that doesn’t feel like work.
I set very reasonable goals for myself this year. Very reasonable. Things were going well, but I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “I can so do this, and I will even go above and beyond. This is going to be awesome!” Well, spoiler alert, it wasn’t awesome.
As many of you know I had the experience of carrying, birthing, and caring for a beautiful baby girl this year. Everyone tells you how hard it is going to be. Some really lovely people tell you how amazing it is going to be. And in truth, it is both. However, somehow my Husband and I ended up with a really wonderful child. She was eating on a predictable schedule and sleeping at minimum of 7 hours a night at 7 weeks old. There were a few bumps in the road, but really, it was great.
Fast forward to end of October. I have a 4 month old and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m thinking I have the hang of things as a full time working Mom. I was excited to getting back to being more regimented about my exercise routine and healthy eating habits (pregnancy had thrown me a bit off course). Then November rolls around and BLAMO! My daughter regresses. Now she is waking up every 3 hours at night, she refuses to take her naps, and she wants to eat, what feels like, all the time. To make matters worse, over the following weeks I got a terrible cold, followed by awful allergies, followed by my fifth and worst breast infection yet. If you have never had a breast infection (I have no clue if men or non-nursing women can even get them), think really bad flu/high fever/can’t get out of bed/want to die/lots of pain/but still have to feed and take care of a baby. I was distraught and exhausted. November was supposed to be my month. My month to get back on track. My month to have no excuses.
Now my goals were reasonable. I wanted to exercise 1-2 times per week and just cut out processed/refined sugars. I had cut out processed sugars before and it really wasn’t so bad. In fact, after a little while you completely stop craving them. Yet I found myself refusing to read certain labels because if I didn’t “know” that there was processed sugar in it, then I could somehow pretend that it was okay to eat. Yes, I somehow pretended away the sugar in Ketchup and BBQ sauce this month. As far as the exercise goes, 1-2 time a week was what I was already doing prior to November so no big deal. Ha! All of the sudden I would realize that the end of the week was here and I hadn’t even gone for a walk. So I would park my car further out at the grocery store. This way I could say I got some “exercise” while walking to and fro. I was carrying my 15 lbs daughter in her 13 lbs car seat, so that makes it a little better, right? Obviously this wasn’t how I wanted my goals to go.
I knew I could do better. But all the things that were happening were real, and felt real. I tried so hard not to let them become excuses. But some days I was just too tired to care (that’s an excuse right there…) that I was failing.
Then it hit me. It hit me in an exhausted stupor. There is one area that of my life in which I make no excuses. No matter how tired, sick, or discouraged I am I will always hold, feed, care for, and love my daughter. No excuses. She wouldn’t understand them anyways.
My NoExNo goals, my goals, may not being going as planned, but at least I know that I am capable of pressing forward through all the obstacles without excuses. Now I just need to work on transferring that skill to other areas. I won’t stop trying. No excuses.
Ashley is tired.
I hope all of you are navigating through November with a new-found confidence from meeting your goals. I wish this for you because I, Martha Caldwell, am 6 days into November and today I failed. And it sucks. I am confessing this to all of you because I am trying to not let this mistake break my own confidence and to convince myself that my goal can still be achieved.
How could I have failed so soon? Let me back up and explain myself. For No Excuses November, I decided to try and break my life-long habit of biting my nails. Call me ambitious. I’ve always been an anxious person and although the anxiety has manifested itself in many ways throughout my life, the one constant has been nail biting. Before you get all judge-y, the way I know so many people do when they find out I bite my nails, let me just say that I already know it’s gross. Let’s move on. Before it even crossed my mind that NoExNo was coming, a friend of mine had a lunch and nail painting party. I went primarily for lunch, but decided to give painting my nails a chance. I was really enjoying the results when Allison sent out the email about NoExNo the next day. That’s when I decided that I was going to give this a try, to submit this as my goal and head down the habit breaking highway. My nails were already painted and I would even have a few days head start. I was ready.
After sharing this goal with some people, I got a lot of advice on how to be successful: chew gum, keep your hands moisturized at all times and this gem from my brother– shock yourself with a 9-volt battery every time you’re about to do it. I appreciated the advice, had high hopes, and went for it. That first week was, in a nutshell, pretty flipping miserable. I spent the first few days (fine, it was a week) obsessively eating pita chips, sitting and staring at my hands for unacceptably long periods of time and going through packs of gum like it was my job. I wore gloves when I got home from work to keep myself from biting and generally felt and acted like a crazy person.
I started a new job three weeks ago and, like a lot of new jobs, the first couple of weeks were pretty slow and stress free. Perfect scenario for me, Ms. Anxiety, to kick my most long-running anxious habit in the butt. But like most things in life, not every scenario is perfect and there’s never ever going to be the “right time” to do something. Enter conflict. Five days ago, I was put in charge of a project by the Senior Vice President of my department (who, two days prior, I was told I never would work with directly) to fix a process I was barely just learning. Caveat: I had to fix it immediately because our new Corporate CFO (my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss) wanted to review it, like yesterday. Hooray! After learning this, I spent the next hour ripping off all of my pretty nail polish. I painted them that night and ripped all of the nail polish off again the next day. I still hadn’t bitten them, but I could tell this was quite a slippery slope.
This teetering on the edge went on for a few more days (painting and then demolishing) until today, I just couldn’t take it anymore and I bit off all of my nails. Hours later, the project was reviewed and resolved and things started to simmer down. Too bad the damage had already been done.
I confessed this to a friend, got a pep talk of my own, and decided that I did not want this to define my NoExNo experience. I tried! Things got stressful! I couldn’t help it! Breaking habits is hard! I could tell myself any of those things, but those are excuses, and excuses during these 30 days are generally frowned upon. No Excuses November does not mean that you aren’t going to fail. Clearly, I have proven that that isn’t true. If you miss a day, it’s not over. If you did something you weren’t supposed to, it’s not over. Using that mistake to give up on this month is an excuse. We don’t like excuses. To me, No Excuses November means that I am going to try for something, maybe suck at it, but try nonetheless. It’s not pretty or easy and it sure doesn’t make me feel better. But I will not make excuses. So that being said, I am going to accept this fall and start again tomorrow. I hope that if you veered off course too, that you start again with me.
To no excuses!
I spent the better part of 2013 making excuses for someone else. This was someone whose excuses I had listened to, assessed, and accepted when he made his case for why we should get back together the first time around, in February, after break-up number one. When we were back together, his excuses became—almost instantly—moot, and I filled his lack of excuses with made up ones of my own.
When someone is slipping away from you and you’re not ready to lose them, you will tell yourself anything. They are three hours overdue to your previously-scheduled hang out? They are self-employed and have a lot of work to do. You understand. They haven’t responded to a text message you know they read eight hours ago because they have their iPhone read receipts on? They must have gotten distracted and forgotten about it. They finally respond with a one word reply after hour ten? Well, at least you know they’re still alive. They never apologize for these breaches, or make any effort to make it up to you? At least the time you do get to spend together is good.
While making excuses for myself is an idle pastime I am capable of accomplishing without much thought (unfortunately!), making excuses for someone else turned out to be an endlessly draining and daunting task. I was tired of thinking so much, let alone having those thoughts and excuses serve as my “other half.” Why split myself into two, when my one-on-one with myself was essentially the same thing, and healthier?
For the year I’d started off in true single-person style as the “Year of Zero Fucks Given,” (thank you, Lady Gaga), I had sufficiently given one too many. It got to the point where I realized I had no more excuses left to give, and not a single one of the pre-existing ones were worth my time or effort. So I was gone, gone, gone—and it never felt so good.
While the mourning period for break up number two was significantly shorter, given that I had already been through the roughest parts during break up number one, the same principles and mantra remained: make no contact; do not waste any more of your time; do not dwell; no excuse is good enough; move on, move up, move forward.
As we kick off the second annual No Excuses November, remember: it’s for you. Do it because you’ve been putting it off, do it because you need to, do it because it feels good. But, above all: do it for you.
We’re 5 days into November, which probably means you are thinking (panicking) about how you will conquer your goal(s) before month’s end. If you’re anything like me (severely lacking motivation without structure), you may be trying to figure out the best strategy to ensure that on November 30th, you can confidently give yourself a pat on the back for completing your goal.
To make sure we all cross the finish line together, here are some of my tips for fool-proofing your NoExNo success:
Refine your goal.
I encourage you to make your goal as specific as you can. For example, if your goal is to “eat healthier,” try modifying it to something easier to keep track of, like “I will only eat whole foods,” or “I will not eat refined sugars.” The more specific you are, the more confident you will be that you have reached your goal.
One of my NoExNo goals is to “finish the Warm + Fuzzy Project.” For me, this means that I will write and send warm + fuzzy notes to the 60+ people who signed up to receive them this year. When I send off the last warm + fuzzy note, I will know that I have completed my NoExNo goal.*
Make your goal quantifiable.
Along the same lines, make your goal quantifiable, if possible. Last year, it was easy to know if I had completed my goal because my goal was to write 1,000 words every day. If your goal is something along the lines of “work out more,” “sleep more,” or “read more,” consider modifying your goal to make it easier to keep track of. How many minutes of exercise will you complete per week? How many hours of sleep per night will you get? How many books will you read? It’s much easier to throw in the towel if you can’t be confident every day that you are doing something to meet your goal.
Give yourself a plan of attack.
Once you have a clear idea of what it means to complete your goal, you can create a plan to accomplish it. For me, this means setting a daily or weekly goal to accomplish. In order to meet my goal, I have decided to complete 15 warm + fuzzy notes on a weekly basis. This may look different for you. Unless your goal is to help me complete mine, in which case: I love you.
If you want to complete a project, how will you make progress toward its completion?
Don’t be afraid to refine and modify your goal. If I learned anything last year, it’s that our goals were dynamic. They took on lives of their own. While I originally set out last year to complete a screenplay, I ended up starting entirely new projects and contributing Pep Talks to NoExNo. I invite you to be flexible and forgiving with yourself when you don’t meet your goal just as you planned. You can change your goal if you need to.
Good luck, NoExNos!
* you can make my goal even more challenging by signing up to receive a warm + fuzzy note.