The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP Final Thoughts

This picture of my office white board represents over half a year of work. Many of those countless hours were spent brainstorming and writing and editing for what started out as a tiny seedling of an idea back in May and grew into an entire series complete with thirty-one blog posts (including this one) and thirty Facebook videos.

But The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series wasn’t only about words and videos. It was about offering encouragement to anyone who struggles with reaching goals. It was about proving to myself (and therefore, to you) that progress and self-growth are indeed possible. Because as much as I was tempted to fall in to my old habit of starting something new with fresh motivation and energy only to wind up quitting, I didn’t. I stayed with it. And as a reward, I did accomplish goals, I did move out of the stale comfort zone that I had allowed myself to sink into, and I did learn and grow more than I had in years.

I learned that I am capable of more than I thought, but discovering those capabilities requires enough courage and confidence to test the borders of the mundane and the mechanical. Growth doesn’t come from feeding new goals with stagnant routines. It is born out of determination and the decision to try something different.

During the months and months that I struggled to make progress on my novel manuscript, I would repeatedly write word count goals on my calendar only to watch them slip away unattained. It wasn’t until I dared to share my journey on an author Facebook page and a blog and weekly video updates (thereby making myself accountable to others) that I started to see real progress. By reaching outside of my predetermined limits, I finally found the fortitude to move forward.

Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and perseverance and practice. It takes humility to accept that although small steps are best, they equal slow progress. When I recorded the first Facebook video in the series, I knew it wouldn’t be great. I’ve never been fond of public speaking (nor any good at it) and although there was no live audience, I still got nervous and anxious and worried about what I would say.

But I pushed through thinking it would get easier after a few weeks. Not so much. It took me about twenty-six weeks to see minor improvement, and even then, my level of discomfort only went from complete to mild. Small steps, slow progress. The key is to keep going, to look back one day and see that all those small steps actually added up to one giant leap.

The point I’m trying to make, my dear friends, is the same today as it was thirty weeks ago: progress is possible but we must be purposeful in order to make it happen. We must take the time to know ourselves. To understand our mindsets and motivations. To clearly define our big dreams and goals and callings. To identify the obstacles that tend to hold us back, as well as the supporters that will help us up when we fall.

It’s important to know these things and how they impact you, so that if your life has been taken over by others, you can learn to Build Balanced Boundaries. Or if it’s simply a matter of complacency, you can get out of that comfort zone by Daring to Do Different. Or if you’re like me, you can find a way to Quit Quitting on yourself.

Whatever it is that keeps you from accomplishing the things you want to do or growing into the person you want to be or living the life you want to live, I encourage you to be intentional in identifying it (What is it?), diligent in dissecting it (What is it made of? Where did it come from?), and mindful in manipulating it (What can you learn from it? How can you grow from it?). That is the recipe for self-knowledge. That is the path toward personal development. That is the definition of a purposeful work-in-progress.

A Purposeful WIP Zips with Zest

Over the last twenty nine weeks I’ve written about the importance of Acknowledging Accountability, Facing our Fears, and Owning our Opportunities. I’ve eXamined eXcuses and Disabled Distractions and Unpacked Uncertainty. But today’s topic may hold the most significance. Not only does it tie everything together, but without it, everything else that we may encounter on our goal-seeking journeys—the obstacles, the criticisms, the doubts—is just all the more difficult to overcome.

So, in this final installment in The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series, I am encouraging you as a fellow purposeful work-in-progress to Zip with Zest. What do I mean by that? Well, have you ever seen someone who has a real zest for life—someone who lives with gusto and exudes joyfulness—and wished you could be more like that? Me too. The good news is, we can. It’s true that some people may just be more naturally sunny than others, but as it turns out, nature is only partially responsible for our demeanor.

Since the end of September, I’ve been writing daily in The Positive Journal and in the prompt for the first day’s entry, the author, Nancy F. Clark, states that only 60% of our happiness is determined by our genetics and circumstances. Which means we are in charge of the other 40%. So although heredity and environment do have a hand in our disposition, we also wield some power.

Trust me when I tell you that my natural 60% inclines toward negativity, so I know how difficult it is to put on a smiley face when you’re just not feeling it. But I also know that when it comes to accomplishing goals, when it comes to growing toward our best selves and living our best most purposeful lives, a positive attitude can lighten the load, making the journey easier, more meaningful, and just plain more fun.

So whether you start today or you set your sights on improving your outlook in 2020, I encourage you to at least spend some time pondering the shifts you can make in your daily life to move in the direction of zest. These shifts don’t have to be huge because even the tiniest adjustments can create a ripple effect of change. That might mean waking up thirty minutes early to work out or establishing a journaling routine or spending more time with that certain friend who always leaves you feeling energized (as opposed to the one who leaves you feeling drained) or volunteering or going to church or trading twenty minutes of screen time for an uplifting podcast.

Think about the things that give you the most joy. Think about the people who add richness to your life. Think about the habits and hobbies that bolster your energy. Each and every day is filled with a plethora choices and chances to improve that 40%, but we must be mindful, we must be diligent, we must be purposeful to make it happen.

A Purposeful WIP Yards Yesterday

Do you ever feel held back by the past? Plagued by hurtful reminders of things done or undone, said or unsaid?  Me too. That’s why this week’s ABCs of a Purposeful WIP message is about Yarding Yesterday.

To yard something means to confine it to a restricted area. Like the fences we construct to keep our family and pets safe, yarding yesterday is important not only for protection but also for making progress. Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember or reminisce about the good times, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deal with the not-so-good ones, but it does mean that we shouldn’t dwell on them. Progress doesn’t live in the past, it lives in the present. And so should we. We cannot grow, we cannot progress if our mind is still gnawing on or scolding us for something that happened ten years ago.

Now, I am absolutely speaking from experience here as I am a recovering ruminator. I have a habit of replaying and rethinking through past events and past conversations until the memories become fuzzy and grainy like an overused VHS tape. I have a tendency to dissect and analyze every piece, every part, every word. I search in vain for meaning or explanation or answers as if in the process I can manipulate the past. But in truth all this ruminating does is suck the joy right out of the present.

This was one of the biggest obstacles I faced in completing my novel manuscript as attempting to create a well-paced and logical story while my mind was constantly assaulted with any number of shoulda, coulda, woulda or wish-I-hadn’ts from days long gone was like trying to drive straight ahead while looking in the rearview mirror: a near impossibility.

Naturally, we all carry some extra weight from the past. Our regrets and mistakes and those painful reminders of times when we didn’t behave as our best selves and hurt someone else as well as those times when we were the recipient of someone else’s unkind behavior. But even more detrimental than the initial event or action (or lack thereof) is the pain we continue to inflict on ourselves and sometimes on others by not letting go.

It’s no question that life is hard and given the choice each and every one of us would no doubt prefer to run through it unscathed, our hearts and bodies and minds fully intact and free from all wounds and scars. Unfortunately, that’s not a decision we get to make. What we can decide, however, is what to do with the memories of those scars and wounds. Do we hold on to them, dragging them around like an extra, unusable limb that just weighs us down and holds us back? Or do we learn from them, grow from them, and step away from them as better, wiser people?

If you’re feeling stuck in your life—in old mindsets, in unhealthy habits—or you just can’t seem to make any headway toward that goal you’ve been wanting to achieve for years and years, then my advice to you is this: Go ahead and sift through the memories that resurface most often. Gather the lessons learned, offer forgiveness wherever necessary—especially to yourself—but then cut the rest loose. Yard your yesterdays. Protect your present and propel your progress by keeping the past where it belongs.

A Purposeful WIP eXamines eXcuses

When I started The ABCS of a Purposeful WIP series, I had alliteration on my mind. I envisioned topics that resonated and titles that were memorable. In the beginning, it was simple. Finding meaningful words that begin with A, B, C, and D was easy peasy. Then I got to J and K and U. Eh, it was a bit more of a creativity challenge, but I managed.

But X? Impossible. The English language is severely lacking in the X department. In fact, the entire X section of the dictionary, which covers less than two pages, runs extremely short on purposeful nouns and verbs. And since I don’t feel that xylophones or xenon are particularly inspiring for a work in progress (unless of course you’re a musician or a chemist) I had to cheat a little. So although eXcuses don’t actually begin with the letter X they are an important topic to discuss here primarily because progress doesn’t really stand a chance unless we take some time to eXamine those eXcuses.

If you’re a parent or a teacher or maybe even a personal trainer, you’re likely very familiar with the area of eXcuses. You’ve probably heard them all: from the enduring, “my dog ate my homework,” to the generic, “I just didn’t have time.” We all, in fact, have at some point been frustrated or annoyed or just plain angered by someone else’s eXcuses.

But what about those we tell ourselves? What about those justifications that we refuse to tolerate from others but for which we repeatedly offer grace when they come from our own mouths (or minds)?

I’m just not good enough, talented enough, creative enough, [fill in the blank] enough to even try. Yes, I have this great big dream I’d like to pursue, but right now XYZ is more important [release giant sigh]. Oh, I’ll chase after that goal someday when the time is right, when life is less hectic, the kids are grown, I’m retired, etc., etc. I’d really like to do that one special thing I’ve always wanted to do, but I just don’t have the time, energy, resources to focus on it. And my favorite: I’ll get started . . . tomorrow. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam.

Another day, another month, another year goes by and that goal is still lying stagnant at the bottom of a drawer beneath a crushing load of eXcuses that we’ve heaped upon it. Why? Because progress is hard and eXcuses are easy, they’re safe. They take the responsibility off of us and place it on someone or something else. And even sneakier than that, at first glance, they can actually appear valid. Now I’m not saying that all eXcuses are created equal—some may very well be real—but for the most part, eXcuses are just clever ways to mask some underlying feeling. Like fear or insecurity or doubt.

My agenda is not to find remedies for your eXcuses, nor to judge you for having them—believe me, I have delivered eXcuses aplenty over the years for why I wasn’t making progress on my novel manuscript. But my purpose today is simply to encourage you to eXamine those eXcuses. Pick them apart and look at them closely. What are they made of? Are they built on truth or old beliefs that you’ve carted around for years?

For example, if you’ve always wanted to write a book, but you say you don’t have time, ask yourself if there really is absolutely no leeway in your schedule or if it’s possible that any free time you might have to write is just being eaten up by other less essential things. If you do find an open block, but you’re still resistant to writing, ask yourself why. See if you can’t uncover the real reason behind your eXcuse. Once I discovered that my own eXcuses for not finishing my manuscript were powered by a deep-seated belief that my words don’t matter to anyone, I was able to move forward by finding ways to counter that old story with new facts.

The truth is there’s very little room for eXcuses when it comes to making progress because, like any other habit—good or bad—we condition ourselves to accept them and the longer we do that, the harder it is and the longer it takes to break out of that cycle. And we have such limited time here on this earth as it is, so think about how you want to spend it. Do you want to keep making eXcuses? Or do you want to make progress?

A Purposeful WIP Wakes up to Worth

From the first moment that I was brave enough to announce that I was writing a novel, I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by many gentle cheerleaders. Those family members and friends and acquaintances who, anytime they saw me, would ask about my progress. Unfortunately, due to my perpetual lack of said progress, my answers were often vague and semi-evasive, which limited the likelihood of follow up questions and prompted the asker to move the conversation to safer, more comfortable ground. But only after reminding me of their desire to be informed once I completed the novel.

If you happen to be one of those people, let me first thank you for your encouragement. Although it may not have seemed like it at the time, your sincere interest and inquiries, kept me going. Secondly, in case you missed my post on Monday—which you should definitely go back and read—consider this your official notice: I have finished the novel manuscript. The big edit is done, as well as a final read-through, which provoked a few minor tweaks here and there. So as of today, the manuscript is resting peacefully while I am taking some time to focus on the upcoming holiday.

I’ll write more over the following weeks about what’s up next, but for now, I am kind of in a weird haze, vacillating between relief and disbelief. I’m not exactly sure what I expected—Tears of joy? An impromptu, celebratory dance? A sense of satisfaction?—but it certainly wasn’t this. After typing the words “The End” I didn’t anticipate that the first feelings I noticed would be the same ones that picked at me throughout the entire process: fear and doubt. Is it good enough? Am I good enough? Are my words worthy of publication?

Over the last many weeks, during The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series, I’ve talked about many things that can both fuel our journey toward our goals and many that can hold us back from reaching them. But I think a lot of the poor habits and automatic behaviors and negative thought patterns many of us fall into actually stem from underlying feelings of unworthiness. We don’t consider ourselves worthy of success. We don’t believe our gifts and talents and abilities are valuable enough to share with the world. Thoughts like these are unmotivating for sure. They keep us stuck. They keep us from trying. When we wrestle with the belief that what we have to offer is unimportant, then we are tempted to hide away. And when we get cozy in that comfortable little box we live in, with our comfortable old mindsets, it becomes really difficult to grow and change and make progress.

The trick is to remember that our value isn’t a function of others. Our worth isn’t dependent on approval and opinions, nor is it wrapped up in what we can do or what we accomplish or how much money we make. We have worth, innately and eternally, by our very existence. God created us each for purpose, for love, and we are worthy of that love, His love, without needing to do anything to earn it. (As an aside: Please don’t misunderstand this as an invitation to lean toward laziness because we are all called to contribute to the goodness of mankind through the use of our God-given gifts. We are all called to help each other using those same gifts.)

This is a tough concept for me, for us all, but it is especially difficult to accept when your work is, at its core, reliant on another person’s judgment. Whether or not my book gets published will be determined by someone else seeing the value in my words. But the value of my words will not increase or decrease based on that recognition. I still wrote them. I still benefitted greatly from having written them.

As another example, let’s say you make the decision to be healthier. You start working out, eating a more balanced diet, and soon you’ve shed those extra fifty pounds. You feel great, your treat yourself to a whole new wardrobe, and your overall outlook is incredibly improved. But what if no one noticed? What if no one called attention to how amazing you look? Would that change the value of your achievement? No. Naturally, we all get a little lift from praise and accolades, but even without it, even if no one remarked about your improved health, your body would still feel the positive effects of those new and better habits.

So when you think about that goal, when you think about taking the leap and doing that thing that’s been on your heart to do, don’t worry about gaining the approval and acceptance of others. Doing so gives away the power of your own worth, and while you may initially succeed in winning them over, people are fickle and will eventually move on to the next big thing, taking your power with them. Instead, wake up to your own worth. Believe that you are capable. Believe that you are loved. Believe that the light you carry inside is valuable, so let it shine courageously, confidently, and purposefully.