Steve Woods

Looking in the Dark Places

In What Day is it? on October 19, 2009 at 1:06 pm

“The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”  ~ C. S. Lewis

Does work feel like this?

Does work feel like this?

You’re home sick for the umpteenth time, opening that familiar box of DayQuil and eyeing the remote control, box of lotionized Kleenex by the bed, ignoring the ringing phone.  Despite a beautiful, warm day, you refuse to open the box that has the swimwear in it, because your method of coming to terms with your weight is to simply accept it as fact.  Monday’s alarm clock is a clarion call of sadnesss, as you roll over and jam the blankets back under your chin, dreading facing another day at work…

Today is a day meant to remind you that no matter where you are in your life, you remain responsible for it, as well as where you go from here.  It’s a day to spend as much time as needed looking both at yesterday and today, in order to figure out the path for tomorrow.  It’s a day that could eventually lead to you re-inventing you.

Let’s first talk about the past and modifying what’s going on in the present.  Afterwards, I will talk a little about changing how you approach life in the future.

Let's learn to push ourselves...

Let's learn to push ourselves...


Modern marketing psychology tells us that in order to move people in a particular direction, you have to “sell” it, marketing in such a way that the message’s receiver decides for himself to change direction. Rather than filling this day with regret in acknowledging failings, spend the next few weeks in actions that just might inadvertently market to you a new way of looking at your life.  Let’s call it Accidental Self-Help

The Accidental Self-Help Process

Evaluate the Dark Places

We all have dark places.  These are the waystations of memories and projects, shoes and photographs, files and winter coats.  They are the purgatories of projects that once resided squarely on your desk, shiny with newness and prospect, making its way into the wire folder holder between last week’s other projects, last month’s other projects, eventually things to do someday, and finally into a drawer with the other clutter.  It’s time to bring these places into the light…

The Dark Places Where We Work

Do we need to keep everything?

Do we need to keep everything?

If you are reading this at your office desk, let’s start by taking a few hours and pulling out all of your folders, evaluating what you’ve kept.  Toss what you don’t need, and be liberal about the tossing, bordering on throwing caution to the wind.  When a co-worker asks you if you are leaving or were fired, you are moving in the right direction… Can you combine files?  Can you scan documents and keep on a shared server drive?

If you have a calendar program on your computer, quickly schedule a date to evaluate and/or kickstart completion of those items you have left undone. Was someone recently hired and looking to make a good impression, willing to run with one of your old projects to completion?  It is important to view this as work for work’s sake, another thing you are required to do for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness for your employer.  Do your best to leave your emotions out of it…

Consider purchasing plants or other ways to change how you look at your workplace.  Plants, funny saying calendars, photographs, cartoons, simple toys, interesting coffee cups, etc. will suffice to begin the process of re-inventing your workspace.

The Dark Places Where We Live

Time to drag out the memories...

Time to drag out the memories...

At home? Determine a good time to begin pulling out and evaluating items in your home’s dark places. Different from your work environment, allow your emotions to come into play during this process.  Start with someplace simple and easy, such as under the bed, or perhaps in a closet.  Leave the day-long dirty project of the garage for later.

As you go through your little boxes of mementos and chotskies, think about what you kept and why.  Are there hopes and dreams within these items, reminders of what you wanted to do, or where you wanted to go, in your life?  This is not time to fill your mind with regret; rather, think about the happiness you felt when gathering the items you stored, how you felt about those days, about creating those dreams, about the people you were with and may be still a part of your life.

The Re-evaluation Honeymoon

Journals always help to keep us on track...

Journals always help to keep us on track...

After tackling the cleanup at work and then at home, you may find yourself excited about so many things to begin again, or you may find yourself still dealing with regrets about procrastination.  Wait one week for your recharged mental life-change honeymoon to be over, then take out a journal and begin writing down what you are still interested in changing about your life.  Those things that still burn bright after seven days can be considered important, and worthy of another good try.  Bullet them and keep them short, like a PowerPoint for life change.  Be specific in writing down the changes you want (i.e., I want to weigh 135 lbs., or I want to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, etc.)

What Needs to Change Now

Go out for coffee or tea.  Get away from work or home.  Go somewhere neutral and quiet, like a coffeeshop or restaurant for lunch.  Go alone.  Re-open your journal and begin looking over the bullet points.  So what needs to change in your life to move in the “right” direction?  Do you need to start a job search or look into the requirements for returning to College? Do you need to make an appointment to talk to your doctor about starting a weightloss and workout regimen? Do you need to call a loved one and talk frankly to them for once about your desire to change?

Write down a flowpath to begin accomplishing just one of the things in your journal, listing the short steps you will have to take to complete it.  Close the book, and sip the rest of your drink, imagining yourself completing each step, and how you will feel in making that change…

The Power of the Post-It

Aren't Post It notes great?

Aren't Post It notes great?

I’m not offering you a life-coach, a virtual Richard Simmons clapping maniacally and shouting “Good job!!!!” shrilly every time you walk past the snack machine to get that little apple from the office fridge.  You will have to create your own coach, without the inappropriate shorts.  Thank the 3M Corporation for the simple yellow sticky, a pocket life-coach in a tiny 2-inch square.

You are going to need a lot of reminders to stay on your path. Take a post-it note pad and write down gentle, short reminders of what changes you decided to make, and why you decided to make those changes. Hang them everywhere, especially in those places where you might fall off the path… Use those little yellow squares as opportunities to re-commit yourself to your life-project, to keep yourself from ending up in the dark places.

A Little Help…

Tell your close friends what you are trying to change about your life now, and ask them to provide gentle support when needed.  Join support groups either in real life or online, and share often.  Tell your pastor, rabbi, or church elder about your desire to make a change, and ask them for advice and prayer.


The Divine Superpowers of the Five-Year-Old

We can learn from him.

We can learn from him.

It’s one thing to get ahold of things you’ve held off on, and another thing entirely to make sea changes in how you respond to and reside in the world around you.  Here are a few simple tips to change our lives, brought to us by the ever powerful five-year-old:

The Power of CuriosityWant to change directions?  Get curious again.  Take night classes, check out library books, or join groups that cover interests you have but are unsure about including in your life.  Turn on the TiVo, go for walks and take photos of nature. Look at maps and visit places you haven’t before, rather than staying home on weekends. Attend other churches, synagogues or mosques and learn a little first-hand about other faiths and the people who belong to them. Say hello to stranges and strike up conversations.  Visit those strange little markets rather than just the big box stores.

The Power of Honesty — Those of us who have gone through our children’s honesty stage have cringed at the manner in which they publicly fling open our closets and rattle the skeletons inside for all to see.  Any quiet and unassuming mother who has had their daughter shout out at at the lingerie section of Sears “Look, Mommy, they sell the little panties you like to wear!” knows what I mean.  Our children don’t have preconceived notions about what can be shared with others, and are simply proudly sharing what they know.  Is there a way to work toward living a more open, honest life, setting aside concerns of what others may think?  You may lose “friends” by living a more honest life, but the more open you are to others, the more joyful your life will be.

We can accept each other, too...

We can accept each other, too...

The Power of Not Knowing — As children, we swam through an ocean of the unknown, quick to question anyone who might have an answer, happily trying to figure new things out on our own. Experiences that came our way were exciting, and often scary.  As adults, it’s easy to get in a rut, thinking we already know everything needed to function in life, how the few individuals we interact with will respond in most situations, how the very mechanics of our tiny slice of the world works.

In order to open ourselves up to new (and life-changing) experiences, we have to stop seeking to get away from those exciting and scary places, and slowly (and at our own pace,) start moving out of our comfortable places, away from what we “know.”

The Power of Acceptance — Children will typically accept any other child that comes into their lives, unless blocks are put up to this process. If a new kid shows up at school in a wheelchair, he is sure to be immediately questioned over and over as to why he is in the chair, how fast can he go, can he walk a little, how does he go to the bathroom, etc.  To be sure, it is rather embarassing for the new kid, but the open-ness with which communication occurs among children also allows for rapid acceptance.  How much of what you “know” about others in your life is based on preconceptions, stereotypes, or misunderstandings?  Work on establishing a working level of communication with the “strangers” that frequent your life, in order to comfortably get to know and celebrate those differences with them.

Go ahead, try it on...

Go ahead, try it on...

The Power of Play — Are you having fun in your life?  We often go to the mall and set our teens off to enjoy themselves, while we get down to the business of shopping for them.  Why is it that they get to have fun while we feel we must toil?  Can you take the time to visit the bookstore and peruse the magazines too?  If you have a few more available minutes, can you take the time to try on an impossibly ridiculous outfit, and laugh at yourself in the dressing room mirror?  Figure out ways to simply waste time enjoying yourself, too…

I’m no scion of change or acceptance.  My life is not all-together.  I’m home sick today with a bad cold, having an intimate encounter with The Cough, and not loving the flavor of the only cough drops I could find behind the bottles of medicine.  I need to at least walk inside the local gym once to get some ideas.  I have stereotyped others, and still catch myself doing it from time to time.  There are a variety of places in my little town I have not frequented yet.  I don’t play enough in life either.  I consider this post a call to myself to be who I ought to be, who I’d like to be, who I need to be.  I call to you to join me in this process of change, to remove our preconceptions of adulthood and discover within ourselves the Divine Superpowers of the five-year-old.  Fly with me.

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