Small goals can keep you motivated and growing

Are you finding your days blending into one another as we all practice self-isolation during this pandemic?

Working at home full time was exciting for the first few hours until the whole family started to work from home and we are all trying to find nooks and crannies in the house that we never used before …and before long each day seems to blend into another. Its hard to distinguish between a work day and a weekend and even work hours vs. home hours.

Some people thrive on external motivation such as a promotion or a reward like “Employee of the Month” and during this period of self isolation those external motivators are severely limited with most of us working from home or not working at all. Compounded with some of the “internal stress” of family members having to be in close quarters for unknown period of time, it can feel like a real lock down.

Here’s an idea that I have been trying off and on for the past several years that may be even more relevant now than it ever was before. With all the time we have now, whether it is the couple of hours that we are no longer commuting or the hours at home because we are no longer working or in school or able to volunteer – why not set yourself a tiny, small goal.

James Clear calls this “atomic” size, in his book “Atomic Habits” where he describes how we can create new habits by taking a habit and breaking it down into bite size pieces. For example if you want to stop drinking pop at every meal – you start with drinking only half the amount at each meal or instead of drinking pop seven days a week you only drink pop six days…essentially look for the smallest action you can take to move you towards your goal.

I am slightly pivoting off James’s idea…with the additional time most of us have in this period of ‘shelter in place’, why not try something new that you have always wanted to try but never did…here are some ideas:

Try a new way to move and get your heart rate up – I started getting back into jump rope and am trying to learn how to do criss-cross with a jump rope. This is me who has not used a jump rope since my childhood years and really never used it to do these kind of moves…or you can get even bolder and try a mini tight rope walk right in your backyard like this guy below…

Try your hand at tight rope walking in your backyard

Or how about trying to handstand? Most of you probably did this as kids with the same ease as walking or running. Well, I don’t have any of that flexibility and am trying to teach myself to handstand…definitely not on the edge of the mountain cliff right this guys below…

Gardening– why not get some seeds online or through your local garden store if they are still open and try growing some plants from seeds. I had this idea last fall to try to grow flowering vine plants and have a vision of flowering plants that are vines which are working through my chain link fence and covering them with blossoms. Growing these plants from seeds – something I had never done before – gave me more joy than I thought it would and when that first bloom showed up, it almost took my breath away….we even had a day when we had two blooms in one day. Can’t wait for frost free days so I can plant these outside.

Try something new in the kitchen – why not try a new recipe, whether you are an accomplished cook or neophyte, there are a plethora of recipes out there that use simple ingredients (at least prior to pandemic times) that could easily put a smile in your stomach and your face. Here are a couple of recipes our family loves…

  1. Cheesecake Brownies
  2. Classic Lemon Loaf Recipe

Pickup a new skill– how about learning to paint, to play an instrument (especially if you already have it in your house and has been collecting dust)…

The options are endless, one thing to keep in mind is to focus on the process – how are you feeling while you are doing it, versus the outcome. The outcome is nice when you can do a perfect handstand or have a delicious cheesecake brownie. I recommend you focus on the small goals of gaining strength in your upper body, or germinating a plan from seed – these little things, will help give focus, a sense of progress, and help the days have some definition. I don’t see myself being able to do a handstand anytime soon, but if I did that would be a great thrill for me…still I enjoy the practice of getting stronger and being able to lift even part of my body weight even if the rest is supported by a wall.

Have you tried something new this season?

What you focus on grows

This post is written during the pandemic that is affecting us globally.

I have to confess two weeks ago, I was obsessed with what was happening in the news, especially as its effects became more evident closer to home – from checking the news every few hours to watching the stock markets more closely than I ever have and watching my savings shrink in value every day….and just when I thought that things could not go any lower, a new low gets established. All of a sudden all the post-apocalyptic zombie movies start to take on a whole weight of reality and I could sense the anxiousness building inside me. 

I realized that the more I focussed on livestream, twitter feeds and social media posts, the almost “addicted” feeling I got yet it did not leave me satisfied…it only left me more anxious and unsettled.

The ability to focus and maintain that focus over long period of time is an incredible skill to have. The key is to focus on the right things – things that improve your state of mind.

Young tree plant

Over the last year I have invested a significant amount of time and effort to find ways to still the mind by having a regular practice of solitude. This one practice continues to help me stay calm despite the changing situation that most of us are facing in these unprecedented times. One of the things that became evident to me is that what I focus on grows – here’s an example: you decide you need a new car and you have an eye on a red mustang. As you start to do your research, you start to see red mustangs everywhere – even a coworker or two have red mustangs. By the miracle of Google search everytime you surf the web or social media there are reminders of red mustangs following you online and as you drive on the roads it seems that red mustangs are everywhere. 

This can work both ways – if it is something positive, it can improve your level of positivity. For example, when I started to focus on what is working in my life – like the positive mood altering effects of deep breathing even if it is for a couple of minutes a few times a day. Or the mood altering effects of taking 5 mins off everything and just breathing in fresh air outside of your house or office.  This creates its own feedback loop that you want to invest more time in doing the activity. 

On a negative front, I have seen this work too – so obviously recommending not to use this technique to focus on things that lead to negative well being. So here’s an example: we have teenagers in our house and we are on a rotation to load/unload the dishwasher – however, the teenage timeline and sense of urgency to take care of this is quite different from the adults in the house – the result is that the sink starts to fill up with dishes which then triggers irritation, leading to harsh words and it spirals out of control to the point that the first conversation in the morning would involve the dishes. I am not saying to avoid having the real conversation and lay out expectations on how soon dishes need to be done…but the moment you let your mind fester on the dishes piling up, the sooner that just expands to fill the space you give it.

This is exactly the situation I found myself when I started to gorge on pandemic related information…it expanded to fill my thoughts that drove my anxiety level up. The more we operate from the place of scarcity, then less free our ideas, thoughts and presence will be. Freedom comes in the mind first before it is visible in our lives. The birds below are always aware of the danger that they are facing from predators, buildings etc. but they don’t let it limit them from soaring on the air currents, migrating to their nesting grounds and generally being who they are meant to be.


Practically the key is to be aware of the triggers and have your toolkit to redirect. 

Here are some things you can do to change your focus:

  1. Change your focus – seems easy enough to say but likely harder to do. Start to become aware of what leads you down the path – it very often involves several steps. In my case of the information hunt, I would first need to have access to a phone, computer or
    TV – so I limit my access to it. Keep in mind, I am not avoiding getting the info – I do want to be informed but I only check once a day for any new safety precautions that are recommended
  2. Go outside – thankfully we are still not in full lock-down so walk around your neighborhood, or even your own backyard. As winter unfolds into spring, you will be amazed at the changes that are happening … you will only see it if you look closely enough. 
  3. Be thankful for what you do have – I am so thankful for email, video conferencing that allows me to connect with friends and family so readily even though we are all self isolating as a country. I am thankful that I am surrounded by nature that is constantly surprising me.

What are you doing to be focussed on things that keep you positive?

Are you satisfied? Where does your satisfaction come from?

Is this all life is – Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed and do it all over again the next day? It can be quite depressing to think that we could be spending a large portion of our adult life doing exactly that.

I have been examining and reflecting on this for the past several years. In this post are my findings thus far on what does NOT satisfy:

  • Material things – cars, vacations,  houses or even your bank account will never satisfy. I have made a reasonable income in my career and with every promotion  and ladder climbing move I have thought if only I could make $× more then things would be good…. but it isn’t. Somehow expenses and desires catch up to the next income bracket and I found myself in the same net financial position than before the increase. 
  • Power, status and title – this too I have chased after. I start pining for the next title almost as soon as I get into the current position. This next title will really give me the autonomy I need, or will allow me to demonstrate my capabilities to my fullest extent. Trust me that this only drives more demands on your time both in and out of work hours. 
  • People pleasing – by making other people happy, I can be satisfied. I was adamant that I was not a people pleaser because I was never part of clique or followed trends etc. but I recently became fully aware of how much of a people pleaser I am in other ways. Unfortunately when you spend all your time meeting other people’s needs, there is rarely any time or energy left for meeting your own needs.

What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.

C.S. Lewis

Over the past year of personal transformation I have discovered that it is the simplest things that satisfy:

  • Being outside in the mountains, hills, valleys and smelling the fresh air and noticing the skies, the plants, the wild animals
  • That first cup of coffee in the morning.
  • Solitude and meditation
  • Watching the ‘snowglobe’ type snow falling from the comfort of the indoors or if the weather is not too cold, to walk in it.

Most of these things that bring satisfaction are simple and cost almost nothing. If you are in a similar situation of not finding satisfaction from the usual things, try this – carry a journal or you could use your cell phone to capture any moments (even the brief seconds) where you felt the sense of wanting the moment to last forever or having a sense of peace in your soul…I used to be a person who chased adrenaline – I still like adrenaline, but I realize that my contentment is not going to be a result of doing the high adrenaline activities…it is in the stillness that I find contentment.

At some point, you gotta let go, and sit still, and allow contentment to come to you.

Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love

This change in what I get satisfaction from did not happen overnight. It was a process of slowing down and noticing the moments that I felt joy and then expanding those moments from seconds to minutes. I don’t need to chase after these things, they are just there waiting for me to enjoy them when they come. 

We need much less than we think we need.

Maya Angelou

Have you considered what satisfies you?

Are you chasing after something that will likely never satisfy?

Do you want to find REAL satisfaction?

Competition -is it all it’s cracked up to be?

There is nothing like good competition to push you even further

Peter Economy, Inc. magazine

Inc. a leading magazine published an article collating the top quotes from successful business leaders on competition. Do these quotes make your soul sing?

Growing up in a country with more than a billion people, put competition in a whole new perspective –  you are competing for literally everything. Buses are generally over full and you try to hang on to anything you can get your hand on – including the window bars on the outside of the bus. The traffic jams are never ending.

The economic disparity between the rich and the poor increased the intensity of competition. There is a constant push to be the best so that you can get a spot on that bus, in that school, get the scholarship, get the job…This is further compounded by being a woman and a visible minority. My mindset has been trained to be better than everyone else so that I am the obvious choice in whatever race I am running.

So it was vitally important to out-compete the competition so that I can have a better quality of life for my family relative to the rest of society. I distinctly remember bringing home grades of 100% and my parents would ask “ why did you not get 105%?” – another bi-product of this level of competition is the lack of satisfaction even when you achieved the perceived goal ( but that’s probably a whole blog post on its own).

So for the last 40 years I have competed at school, at work, in friendships, finding the best deal and so it goes…

Paradox in a corporate organization

Having worked in a professional corporate job for over 25 years of my life, I see the corporate organization as an interesting paradox of co-opetition and competition. Your department has annual objectives to achieve which drives bonus compensation at the end of the year based on the extent of the objectives attained. In order to boost performance, companies have attempted to drive a 3-way split of the bonus from individual, department and company performance. However at the end of the day each person needs to fight for a portion of the same pie – so no matter how much you beat the “department mandate” or “corporate mandate” unless there are other constructs in place in the organizational culture to drive team behaviour, it is highly likely that  individual performance and focus on getting individual objectives is going to supersede department or company objectives.

A few months ago, the intensity of a competition mindset became loud and clear in a very simple situation  – I was getting off the commuter train to get to work when I realized my mind was assessing the other people getting off the train to determine who would get to the door first, which door would get me in the shortest, who will get up the stairs the fastest…and it continues. I was struck by the auto-pilot nature of it all – I had done this walk for the past couple of years to the same job location so I knew exactly how long it would take me on an average paced walk to get to my office – yet, here I am ready to outpace the perceived “competition”. 

Am I just a strange anomaly in this North American society? Anybody out there feel the same way?

Danish secret to happiness

The little book of Hygee” written by Meik Wiking who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen aims to showcase how the happiest people in the world live and identify the source of their happiness. He shares the following quote:

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”

Benjamin Franklin

Being first or having more than the next person doesn’t make the cut. You may be surprised to hear that it is the simple things in life that bring happiness to the Danish: baked goods, hot drinks, warm socks, candles, blankets,company of friends. In fact when people get together, which they do very often it is considered ill mannered to talk about your achievements.

 It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.”

Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

The Hygee manifesto contains the following elements – notice there is nothing that even remotely alludes to competition…

Competition and connection

I often listen to podcasts and audio books on my commutes to work . Emily P Freeman, author of “The Next Right Thing” notes the following:

“You can’t connect when you are comparing”.

Emily P Freeman, The Next Right Thing

It dawned on me that this is such a simple truth, yet I had not realized it. Aside from my family, I have few friends – is it because when I am busy comparing and out-achieving that there is little room for human connection to move from everyday banter to a soulful conversation?

Over the last few years I found myself seeking… even yearning for soulful conversation – but unfortunately these are hard to find. How do you drop a question on someone who you have had surface conversations on the weather, the economy to something deep and soul exposing, when you have never shared a real connection?

I am not against competition – there are many benefits to competition and in fact without it I would not be enjoying the lifestyle and its freedoms and choices that I do today. But when is it too far? What are we sacrificing at the altar of competition? How do we balance between nurturing the right level of competition and connecting with people at a human level?

We, in North America, are privileged to have the quality of life that surpasses many on planet Earth….and at the end of the day no matter what prestige we gain in our lives, how much money we make and how big a house we have, we all face the same inevitable end. 

Why not, be in community with a few people that you can have real conversations, who “already like you” just the way you are, who will be in community with you as you journey through the heartbreaks, health struggles, the inevitable aging…

What are we afraid of?

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle…one piece at a time

Over the last few years I have picked up a puzzle over the Christmas holidays that graces our main dinner table and gives all of us in the family a chance to put in a few pieces over the break. Sometimes we work on it for a few hours and at other times a few minutes as we walk by the dining table. We started with easier puzzles when the kids were young and now we attempt a 750 to 1000 piece puzzle….something that should not take us more than a week to complete off and on over the two weeks of holidays at the end of each calendar year.

As I was taking the picture of the finished puzzle, it reminded me of the following quote:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

Steve Jobs

When I looked at the finished puzzle it is easy to see how all the pieces fit, where the shades of green, grey, brown, black go. In fact, as we closed in on the last few pieces, the pace at which we were able to place the pieces increased rapidly – we were in tune with the artist’s shades of colour and with most of the puzzle already built, there were only so many spots that the remaining pieces could go.

I see the puzzle as a metaphor for life…each day is a puzzle piece to the full picture of what our life is meant to be. Looking at each individual piece it is hard to see how and where they fit – is what happened today really relevant to the grand scheme of my life? Is today a puzzle piece that is part of the background for the main story of my life? Or is it a key ingredient that defines my life like the tiger?

At least when working on the puzzle, I have the box image of what the finished puzzle picture should look like – the box shows the dimensions of the finished puzzle, the colors that belong to certain sections of the puzzle, the general location of the tiger….not so with my life! Only God knows how my life will turn out …and if my life could be summed up in one image, only He knows what that would be.

There are days when I consider if today was a “background” puzzle piece like the grasses at the foot of tiger or if tomorrow is going to be the key puzzle piece that defines where the central story of my life goes. Often I want to know where my life is going…am I building towards something or are the best days in the past?

I am convinced that each day (just like each of the puzzle pieces) is perfectly orchestrated by the God of the Universe who holds everything in perfect balance. Nothing is out of place. I rest in that – even if the events that unfold on some days just don’t make sense. Do they always have to make sense in the moment? Sometimes the gift of the “negative” event may not be seen for weeks, months and years to come. This past summer was one such event that changed the trajectory of my career. This event shattered everything I had built over the last 25 years, but I held onto the thought that “there is a gift in this”. It was not easy…there were many tears shed….but looking back now it was a pivotal moment in my life.

For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139 13-16

I can spend my time speculating about the puzzle pieces of my life…instead I am choosing to live each day – one at a time.

I would like to encourage you, if you are feeling like your life’s puzzle pieces are all over the place… to rest in the ONE who has it all worked out.

May Psalm 139 encourage you this day!

What I learned from watching sunrises and sunsets

I am not sure exactly how I got onto watching the movie “Wild” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book, but it came at a time when I had started my practice of mindfulness and daily meditations. The movie is based on Cheryl’s memoir of her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail starting at the Mojave desert and finishing at the Bridge of the God’s in Washington. As we are avid hikers and backpackers, watching Cheryl prepare for her first backpacking trip of 1100 miles was both hilarious and audacious. During the movie there are flashbacks of Cheryl’s life (building the reason for her crazy solo journey) and her epiphany after spending those many days on her own in reflection and introspection.

One quote stood out to me in the movie that is said by Cheryl Strayed’s mom:

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it…Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Cheryl Strayed

In that moment I realized how I had been so busy through most of my adult life that I had very rarely stopped look at the sunrise, sunrise or even the moon. I had taken all of this beauty around me for granted. Depending on the time of the year, I get the opportunity to witness magnificent sunrises and sunsets on my commute to and from work. This quote, inspired my daughter and I to go out to a nearby park bench by our house and sit and watch the sun actually set.

So here is what I learnt:

It is not instantaneous – rise and setting of the sun is a process.

There is a peak of sunrise and sunset each day – I don’t know how they determine it but the Weather Network ascribes a specific time each day for this event – but really it is a process, just like life. The colors come in and out from the hint of yellow, orange sometimes purple, pink to the bright blue sky.

We can all want thing to happen this instant…but it is a process. Growing a rose flower, starts from the seed, to the leaves growing to the bud forming to the flowers blooming. It is a process to start a new habit, to lose weight, to change my mind, to find a job, to slow down.

Each time I observe the process of sun rising/setting, it reminds me to be patient and give room for the process to occur not just in watching the sun’s movements, but in everything in life.

Each sunrise/sunset is unique – there are no identical sunrises/sunsets.

The dust particles in the air, the ambient temperature, the moisture in the air, the amount of cloud cover all create a unique combination of a melody of colors, moods and display.

It reminds me of my dog Chase who waits with eager anticipation everyday at mealtimes, a drop or two of drool as he watches my daughter grab the bowl, and fill it with the same amount of the same food he has eaten over the last two years for every meal – that is over 2,000 meals and counting. But he never fails to be expectant!

How many of us look forward to each day of our lives? Vacations, special occasions, of course we look forward to them but for most of us, we drag ourselves out of bed to do the same thing every day – go to work – do the same thing we did yesterday – get home – go to bed and start it all over again.

These sunrises/sunsets remind me to start/end my day with expectancy.

You cannot see the subtle differences day to day if we don’t slow down; if we are not looking for it. Its just like losing weight – yes one day your pants may hang loose around your waist, but to really stay motivated, you weigh yourself daily, take the measurements around your waist religiously and you start to see the numbers go down, a half a pound here, another pound, back up, and then down.

Photo by NO NAME on

Here’s a practice I recommend…and would love to hear what you thought of it:

– find out what time sunrise/sunset is in your area

– find a park bench, a balcony, a porch, or just go outside about 30 minutes before the time and just BE!

– perhaps you will make this a regular habit.

Savoring the moments or how to take 30 bites of one cookie

Slowing down even for a few minutes can change your perspective

I am a speed eater! No, I don’t compete in hot dog eating competitions!

As far as I can remember I was always starving as I got close to meal times and would inhale the food – at a rate of about 10 bites in a couple of mins, then having to drink some water to lubricate the food through my throat ( probably more than you ever wanted to know ) and I would be done before most people around the table would have even had a handful of bites. Of course this came in extremely handy when I had toddlers, especially after a long day at the office and then running off to school for night classes.

I was a mover and a shaker and I certainly had no time to slow down. One of my favorite expressions used to be ‘ Sleep is overrated ‘ and ‘ Time (and tide) wait for no one – attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer’.And then I met my daughter who knew the art of savoring the moment.

As a mom working full-time, I got to spend full-on mom time with my kids on the weekends. When my daughter was young, around 4 or 5 years old, we used to have a mid afternoon snack. Sometimes she gets to have a cookie. Weekends were jam packed with cooking, cleaning, “spouse time”, “me time”,hobby time and church. So snack time can sometimes be a time when I can multitask with other things because I knew my daughter would be fully consumed with her snack. Why am I telling you this?

She had an incredible way of enjoying her one chocolate chip cookie…she would literally take 30 bites of a small cookie. Did she know how to truly savour every bite of the cookie? Did she want to make the moment last as long as possible? Most of us would probably be done in two bites.

Over the last few months I have been learning to incorporate mindfulness in my life and to be present in this moment, and then the next moment and then the next moment. This is quite contrary to how most of our average days are where we are constantly on the treadmill, or multitasking to get as much done. My word for this year, which resonated all through the fall of last year was BE. In order to BE you had to actually STOP – see, feel, breathe, smell, taste. How often do you stop to just BE?

When I first read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, he talked about really slowing down the eating process as a way of incorporating mindfulness into the everyday busy lives. The first time I tried it was with a bowl of blueberries…to hold it in your hand first and feel how its skin and shape and color feel. Did they evoke any emotion? Before putting it in my mouth I would imagine what it would taste like and then as you bite into its juicy goodness you feel the sweet juice and the tender flesh and the nostrils filled with the smell of ripeness.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

This was quite the experience… this simple exercise has opened the door to incorporating being in the present more. Not only does it help me stay engaged, it also reduces the anxiousness of wondering what’s coming next because I am totally captivated in the present moment.

How am I incorporating this into my everyday?

When I have my morning shower I ‘force” my mind to take notice of the water temperature and how it feels as it runs down my body… really take in the smell of the soap and shampoos… this simple exercise has sometimes changed my mood for the day.

I “take a minute to arrive”…. as busy professionals our time tends to be consumed in meetings sometimes back to back. I try, when I can, to arrive a few mins early and just breathe…take in the smell of the room, the surroundings, look out the window…

I encourage you to pause and savor the moment…it could just change your perspective!

How do you savor the everyday moments?

Has the investment of slowing down for a minute or two made a difference in your life?