photo credit goes to my brother-in-law, Jon
Many of you know I'm a diligent journal keeper. No, diligent is too mild a word for it. Dedicated? Yes, but still not strong enough. Obsessed? There we go.
But have I ever told you about how that diligence/dedication/obsession came about? Probably not because, the truth is, it's a very short story.
I was a teenager, and, as usual, I was stressing about something (a characteristic trait that, unfortunately, has not changed in the last fifteen years). It was probably a lot of little somethings because I tended to let them pile up in my brain until I grew so overwhelmed I couldn't stand it. My dad was inspired to offer me some short and simple counsel: make a to-do list every night.
And so that very night, I did just that. It felt nice to write, and so I decided that as long as I had a pen in my hand, I would just write about the day, too.
And, just like that, in a single moment, a habit was formed.
I had experienced a Lightning Bolt.
In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin says, "Sometimes we're hit by a lightning bolt that transforms our habits, instantly. We encounter some new idea, and suddenly a new habit replaces a long-standing habit--without preparation, without small steps, without wavering--and we pass from before to after in a moment."
That's exactly what happened to me. I don't remember thinking, I'd like to be better about writing in my journal regularly. In fact, I don't remember thinking about my journal at all. I was trying to write out a to-do list. But then, suddenly, there I was, writing about my day every day.
The thing about this particular strategy is that it's unpredictable. Gretchen says, "It's practically impossible to invoke on command. Unlike all the other strategies, it's not a strategy that we can decide to follow; it's something that happens to us."
It's really too bad because, as you can imagine, it's actually pretty nice to just wake up one morning and find you've acquired a habit (but only if it's a good one). Gretchen says that big events can trigger Lightning Bolts but that it's often something small: "a passage in a book, a scene from a movie, or a casual comment by a stranger."
That last one? A casual comment by a stranger? That set off a Lightning Bolt for me a couple of months ago.
For a long time now, I've been struggling with how to prioritize my time, particularly as it relates to this blog. I get a lot of joy and satisfaction when I finish writing a post but that can be compounded by feelings of guilt and frustration if I sacrificed time I would have been spending with my kids to write it. For many months, I tried to write during quiet time, which we have every afternoon, but I found that there were still little interruptions throughout the afternoon, and those interruptions broke my concentration and irritated me.
Then, one evening, I was chatting with a new woman in our neighborhood. She's approaching eighty, and so naturally, the three of us who were visiting her wanted to hear all about her long life. At one point, someone asked, "What are your hobbies? Reading? Sewing? Cooking?"
This woman replied, "Oh, I used to sew a lot. When my daughters were young, I sewed all their clothes. But now I wish I hadn't. I was so concerned with getting things done, and it didn't really matter."
Many people express similar sentiments of wishing they'd spent more time with their children, but there, in that otherwise normal moment, hearing that regret hit me hard. I thought, I don't want to share similar thoughts when I'm almost eighty. So something has to change now.
That woman's statement cast an illuminating light on my situation, and all of a sudden, I realized that if I really wanted to write, I should be doing it in the early morning hours before anyone in my house was awake. I've always been a fairly early riser, but I shifted my wake up time even earlier so that I could have a solid hour and a half to two hours before anyone else woke up.
Almost immediately though, I ran into a problem. I have a tendency to stay up late, like 11:30ish, but now I was trying to wake up between 4:40 and 5:15 every morning. I often have interruptions in the middle of the night from the baby or Maxwell who needs to relate all of the details of his bad dreams in order to go back to sleep. I knew I wasn't getting a healthy amount of sleep, but I felt fiercely committed to waking up early, so obviously the change needed to happen on the other end, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
And then, on a Sunday evening just a couple of weeks ago, I was reading this article about how so many successful people follow a pattern of going to bed early and waking up early, and something finally fell into place. It was another Lightning Bolt, if you will.
The article mainly talked about the benefits of arising early when our minds are clear and our energy is replenished, but the reminder that this is only possible if you also retire early made me decide to move up my evening routine an hour earlier. I don't know if I was finally ready for the lesson or what, but suddenly I was able to make the change.
Because I've seen the wonderful results that have come because of these two recent Lightning Bolts, I've been trying to think if there are any ways to encourage them to occur more frequently. I believe what Gretchen says--that it's not a strategy we can "invoke on command"--but I also think there are certain things I can do to make Lightning Bolts more likely: read a wide variety of material (books, articles, current events) that will expose myself to new ideas (and maybe one of those ideas will be just the trigger I need); visit new places, regardless of whether they're near or far from home; chat with new people and glean what I can from their experiences.
And then, once the Lightning Bolt strikes, I can harness that energy by using some of the other strategies to hold it in place. A Lightning Bolt carries a lot of momentum with it, and sometimes it's enough, but it never hurts to secure it.
I'm very interested in hearing about the Lightning Bolts you've experienced in your life. What triggered those positive changes in eating or exercising or [fill in the blank]?