31 Days: The August Challenge

I haven’t been the best about updating my blog lately, but if you’ve read the last couple of posts, you’d know that there’s so much going on! I just haven’t made the time to focus on writing, but since I’m leaving behind a lot of folks in the Bay Area, one of the things I’m trying to make a commitment to is updating this a little more regularly. I’m not promising much, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

August for me is all about new beginnings. I’ve accepted the 31 Days, 31 Plays Challenge. I’m continuing the Artist’s Way practice of morning pages, and even trying to incorporate the Artist’s Dates more regularly. And even though I’ve written about it before and felt like I totally bombed, I’m trying to commit to at least five minutes a day of practicing kung fu and tai chi.

These three activities are intensely important to me, not just because I love doing them, but because they ground me and keep me moving forward. As I shift my life pretty dramatically in August 2012, it’s important for me to start it out right. That means building these three things into my everyday.

That being said, you gotta have goals. Certainly the top priority for me is just to be consistent and diligent about incorporating these three activities into my life, but without milestones, an assessment of what you do well and what you’d like to improve upon, it’s hard to really move forward realistically.

The morning pages, because they are already a part of my daily lexicon, were not hard to start out with. The kung fu practice and writing a play were a lot harder. So, I decided to do a little writing brainstorming about it. I took a page of my journal and divided it into three’s. One was titled “writing”, the next, “kung fu” and a third, I added called, “personal”.

I added the “personal” column because I realized that there were some larger ideas and concepts that I wanted to get better at in all of my life. In kung fu, we talk about reaching the next belt level and there are certain focus points that you should have attached to your training, whether that be balance and focus or clarity and confidence. For adults practicing the art, achieving another belt level is not as simple as passing a test, or this tangible thing that marks your progress into a more advanced level, but it can weave into something in your personal life that you are trying to work on.

For me, adding a “personal” column was a way to focus on the areas of my life where I would like to see growth. Instead of just wishful thinking, however, like “I wish I was more fit” or “I wish I didn’t get angry so easily” or “I wish I knew how to hold the nunchaku without constantly hitting myself in the head.” All these can be fuel for goals and are achievable when a bit of action is put behind it.

In this list-making exercise, I decided to free-write as fast as I could to get at the aspects of each of these areas of my life that I wanted to improve upon. After everything was written down, I noticed that in each column, and overall, there were certain ideas, activities and concepts that were a theme. These were the ones that I highlighted as I read back the list. Additionally, in each column, there was at least one goal that I had written that I gravitated towards, but was not necessarily a part of any pattern or reoccurring theme. I made note of those too.

The Things I Want to Get Better At
If you don’t know where to start, sometimes a self-assessment is the best place to begin.

My approach to goal-setting came from my work at the Food Bank where as the Grants Manager, metrics, goal-setting, and deliverables were part of my daily projects. In a lot of nonprofit work, there’s an idea of creating deliverables that are SMART (duh…), but in this case, SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely”. Even though I didn’t put my goals in this specific format, I thought it was a good way to think of what I wanted to carry out in the next month and not just set out to do something because it will be “good for me”. Well, something is only good for you if you understand what it is improving upon and if in practice, it is actually effective in moving you forward.

Once I had looked over the list and identified themes as well as what jumped out at me, I decided to make a couple of focus points/goals out of the results. Because I want these to be achievable over the next month, I picked only three in each group, with one “fun” goal that I added in as a marker for a personal best.

Here were my top three goals (and one fun goal) in each category:

Writing

  1. Consistency of writing practice (both in the morning pages and playwriting) and greater stamina in my practice. I would say I’m defining consistency as being able to write three morning pages every day and one play a day (that is at least one page and has a beginning, middle, and end by 31 Days, 31 Plays standards). I’m defining greater stamina in the morning pages by not stopping the morning pages until finished (not getting distracted by other thoughts or actions) and in playwriting I’m defining stamina as working towards an ending. So, whether it’s a one page play or a 15 page play, working towards an ending and going back to the play to finish it after taking a break.
  2. Incorporating wonder into my plays and writing about interesting topics. Admittedly, this one is a bit amorphous, but I figure part of this goal requires that I get out of my comfort zone with topics and perhaps take up one of Julia Cameron‘s Artist Way activities, “The Artist Date,” to fill my imagination bucket with images and experiences. I also find that Naomi Iizuka‘s list-making tool around objects, facts about oneself and the known universe are helpful in germinating a seed of an idea.
  3. Practicing heightening conflict and character development in my writing. So, this is something that has frustrated me in the past because it has often taken several drafts and several attempts for me to find the conflict that characters have with one another and in the play. I think focusing in on this aspect, asking myself what the conflict is while writing will help (hopefully).
  4. FUN ONE! So, this goal didn’t have anything attached to it, but in meeting my friend, Sean’s daughter, Shaye, the other day, I realized that I would LOVE to write something that young people like her, and kids would be interested in. So, I might try writing a couple plays that I think she (or her generation) would dig.

Kung Fu

  1. Truly knowing the material that I will need to test to first black over. This one is maybe my top priority in this category because I’ll be leaving soon and will need to take all the material I know and the couple of forms I don’t know yet with me. I want to have the material down to a point where I really feel like I’d be a good black belt. Like I really earned it. And to do that, I need to focus on my newest material and make sure the memory and application of it is there.
  2. Lowering my stances and building my endurance. Similarly to my writing practice, I want to be able to do more in my kung fu. I want to build up how much I can actually take. Right now, I know there’s a couple of things I could work on with my posture. For instance, sometimes I feel really wobbly and un-grounded and I could do the stance for a little while, but probably couldn’t hold it solidly for very long. I’d like to get better at that so that it’s not just show, but, yes, I can actually hold a low bow or bird stance or whatever and feel comfortable fighting from that position.
  3. Doing the breathing techniques I’ve learned in hou tien chi and hsien tien chi while doing the forms/techniques. I sort of turn this on and off now, and I wish it were a little more instinctual and natural to really feel the breath and energy moving through me the way that the forms are meant to be done traditionally. I don’t want to just go through the motions, but to think and focus on everything I’m doing. Breathing properly requires you to pay a lot more attention to what you’re actually doing.
  4. FUN ONE! I really want to try to get it so that I can do the Yang Tai Chi form in one hour. Right now, it takes me about 13 minutes when I’m moving slowly. I could probably go for even longer if I slow down even more. Going slower will also help with the memory, the stances and positioning and thinking about the applications too.

Personally

  1. Develop my focus and awareness in all areas of my life. I think, like a lot of people, I try to do too many things all at once, and I end up doing a not very great job at any of them. Rather than work that way, I’d like to try to really think about what I’m doing in the moment and be aware of what’s going on around me or within me as well. I feel like if I got better at this, I wouldn’t be so blind-sided by people’s actions sometimes.
  2. Getting better at “letting go”. As an example, I’m literally trying to give away, sell or get rid of a lot of the “stuff” in my life that I’ve accumulated over the years as I prepare for this move to Pittsburgh. It’s been hard knowing what I might need and what I might want in the future. I know I have had a tendency to hold on to things for too long. The thing is, that’s emotional energy that’s associated with all that physical stuff too. That’s more energy and time that I could be putting into the activities and people I really do want around me. I’m trying to get rid of as much as I can, especially before I leave the Bay Area, because I’m not sure when I’ll ever have this gift of time again. In the process I’m also trying to be a bit more choosy about what I do welcome into my life and my world. If it’s hard to deal with than I’m not as inclined to keep it.
  3. Taking better care of myself more consistently. July was rough. I ended a job I had for over five years and said good-bye to a lot of people who have had a profound impact on my life. I opened a play that I started writing over nine years ago. I did a double-test into a new belt level that is just one test away from black belt and hence discipleship into the art. A lot of huge things. In the midst of all this, I ended up eating crappier food than usual, not getting enough sleep, and not giving myself the quiet time and space to re-charge. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of myself, but I drop off the ball sometimes. I’d like to be consistent about taking care of myself when times are hard and stressful, because things will always get harder, while at the same time other things will get easier. I need to be able to truly be present to the people I love and the activities I do, and that starts by taking even better care of myself.
  4. FUN ONE! Reading more often. I don’t read nearly as much as I would like to, or probably should considering I’m going back into grad school. If I can read a bit of a book a day, I will feel much more aware of the world and hopefully that will enrich everything else I do too!

So, there you have it. My top goals/focal points for the moment. I’m trying to be better at using my blog as a tool by which to assess myself. Hopefully, it will happen!

Self-Transformation
Change is not only possible, it’s inevitable!
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