Before You Leap into 2014 . . .

The temptation is so strong to make a list of changes necessary in 2014. There are hundreds of ways to be better, kinder, thinner. We are never enough for ourselves. I have nothing against self-improvement, it’s a never-ending project. A renewable resource for your psyche.

11401998-largeBefore you make a six-volume improvement list for 2014, there is unfinished business in 2013. Take a seat. Take a few deep breaths, too. Then look back at 2013, and see what you did right. What you are doing better now than you did last January. What you struggled with, figured out and made progress on. What you conquered.

None of these victories have to be permanent to make them count. There are some improvements we have to make over and over again. Not unlike painting the trim on the house, rotating the car’s tires, or doing laundry.

Each year, you’ll meet the same problem over and over again until you understand it fully. Rather than becoming impatient and angry with yourself for “not fixing the problem,” give yourself some credit for recognizing and working regularly on the problem. Think over what you were bad at and see if you have made progress.

Look over what you were good at and see if you are doing more of it. Don’t start making a list of improvements just yet. Take a minute first to see how far you have come. That’s an important part of being strong enough to continue.

–Quinn McDonald has a feeling 2014 is going to be a busy year.

Day 22: It’s OK To Be Imperfect

Day 22: It’s OK to be imperfect.  (If you just landed here, you can catch up by, starting with the first post in the series.)

Brene Brown's book is a must-read for every imperfectionist. And perfectionist.

Wisdom from the comments:
Arlene Holtz noticed, “I have also skipped a couple of days of writing since I started – not deliberately (well, at least not consciously). . . . What was different for me this time, was I noticed I hadn’t written, and even “missed” the writing. In fact, I was really relieved to get back to writing the very next day. It feels like it is becoming a real part of who I am.”

Marianna Dougherty wrote, “I do sitting meditation and sometimes get great revelations as a result. Not during the meditation but later in the day or another day. It’s the process of quieting my mind and the daily practice that brings about results.”

Diane Becka had no problem with walking everyday, “On the days I don’t want to, I do it mostly because I haven’t missed a day. So even in bad weather I find a way to walk just so I can feel I’ve kept this commitment to myself,”  but hit a rough patch on the writing, “Journaling has been another matter. I just couldn’t make myself start. I bought more blank books, new pens. Nothing. Every day I would read how much the writing was helping others, all that you were learning from it, and the more I read, the harder it was. I let the expectations I had grow until there was no way I could meet them and it was overwhelming.”

Bo Mackison said, “I find it hard to do the writing and the walking, maybe if I had made the commitment to do one, got that down and then added the other it would have been easier. ANd I have no ambition to walk in cold or snow or sleet or winter mix. . .”

*     *     *     *    *

What causes most people to quit a new habit? The same thing that causes most people to abandon their New Year’s resolutions? It’s not that the goals are too lofty (unless made in a hurry under the influence of drink or peer pressure), but the mistaken belief that one mis-step “ruins it all.” It doesn’t. One mis-step, one missed day, one incomplete page is just that–an imperfection. It doesn’t invalidate the intention or the goal.

Quote from Brene Brown's book.

It does, however, make it easier to add another missed day to the stack. And that’s where the self discipline comes in. If you skip a day, be aware of it, be conscious, make it a choice. And the next day, make it a choice to return.

Change doesn’t happen all at once. Change happens when we replace one action with another. And the more often the replacement happens, the more likely we are to repeat, until we have a new habit. In an email I received, someone insisted that if they forgot one day, they would have to “start over,” they added, “with nothing.” I know that’s how AA does the counting, but I don’t think that’s true with journaling. You have something. You have begun to walk down a path. You are exploring your motives and excuses. That’s not nothing.

Of course, if you want something positive to happen, you will have to kick yourself occasionally to keep doing it, and you will have to do the work, but you will always do your work imperfectly, because that is the reason we keep learning–every imperfection is a chance to learn something new.

What have you been learning as you go along?

-Quinn McDonald is a journaler and creativity coach who is exploring the habit of journal writing with readers of the blog.

Image: the saying from Brene Brown is available for purchase from this site. I am not recommending it, I’m simply letting you know where it’s from.

Happy New Year 2012!

New Year comes at an odd time of year. It’s mid-Winter,  the shortest night of the year is past, but the coldest months are ahead. Spring makes more sense, when determined shoots push out, and so does Fall, when the harvest is in. But no one called me to ask, and Romans messed around with the calendars until it worked to their satisfaction, and so Filofaxes were invented. (I’m skipping a few years between the two. I learned that from Timeline on Facebook.)

Thumbnail moon from

In the years you start celebrating New Year’s at home because it’s more comfortable to tipple champagne in your jammies, you look at each new year and begin to wonder. If you will still be here next New Year. If it’s time to start working on your bucket list. What kind of regrets you might have if you woke up to very bad news. (Add your own here, we can scare ourselves best. Just don’t leave them in the comments, thank you.)

The question I ask myself more often is, “Have I really done what I was supposed to do?” A lot of my life seems routine, but it was a responsible life–earned a steady income while I was a single mom, went grocery shopping, cooked healthy meals, kept the house clean, oversaw homework, polished shoes, didn’t date seriously till I knew what I wanted.

Now that those days are over, I ask myself, “What do I need to do to live a life with no regrets?” It’s another variation of the question, “What is the purpose of my life?” (I don’t waste time with the inconsequential stuff like “What’s for dinner?”)

I decided I didn’t have to have the answer to that, actually. I turned the question around (I have a 5,700 year heritage is answering questions with questions), and said, “What does life want of me?” It seems easier looked at from that perspective. Life does not ask one thing of us. There is a different answer every time we ask. Just as there is not one “right” answer to “what is your favorite color,” or “what is your favorite song?”, there is more than one right answer to “What does life ask of you?”

Hand-marbled paper © by Rosefirerising

To dig out the answer, I put it in the surrounding that Victor Frankl, the philosopher and therapist did: At this moment, I can give the answer as if I were living a second time, and had made a wrong choice before. What choice will I make this time? This choice is made as if I can return to the past and make the change that alters the future. All by changing my perspective now. What life asks of me is to be responsible for my own answer.

And what’s the purpose of that? Here is what Frankl says:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . . . you have to let [success] happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run. . . success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”

I have the freedom to pursue the work of my heart, because the work of my heart makes meaning, and when I am making meaning, I know what I’m doing. I know where I am going. I’m striding out into 2012 not to pursue greatness, but to make meaning. How does that translate into action?

I’m choosing to teach classes that won’t please everyone, that won’t gather a huge audience. I’m not going to teach classes that let you walk away with a product–a pretty journal, or a gift for your sister-in-law. I’m going to teach classes that will give you an ink-stained heart, and write yourself whole.

I’m teaching classes that put you in touch with your creativity, that allow you to make meaning. I want to do this. I don’t have time to waste. You’ll leave the class with a new vision of your own, with having discovered your own creative heartbeat.

I’m a little scared, because it’s not what’s out there now. But I started with Raw Art Journaling, and I have to support what I started–that making meaning is the force behind living an artful life.

–Quinn McDonald is available to teach classes in meaning making through journaling. She has two classes scheduled in January.  She’ll teach others if asked.

Image:, under an Creative Commons agreement.

Change: It’s Stacked Against You

We are now six days into the New Year–almost a week. How are those resolutions coming? I’m not a fan, but I am supporting several people who made resolutions to change. They aren’t having a good time.  Because even when you want to change, it isn’t easy. What makes change hard? Two major factors: yourself and others. The rest is easy.

Change is hard unless you enlist your friends and family.

When you decide to change, you have your past to wrestle with. You choose the path to change and suddenly your inner voice pipes up. “What’s so wrong with who you are now?” “Love yourself the way you are, change is a sign of self-hatred.” “Can you really keep up this behavior?”

If you want to change a habit, you’ll have to substitute the new behavior for about two month. That’s as long as it will take you to establish the new habit in place of the old. No doubt about it, they will be the longest two months of your life. You will invent a thousand reasons to go back to the old behavior–it’s your birthday, you just started a diet, you are stressed, now is not a good time. But like having a baby, there is never a perfect time, you have to gear up, crank up your determination and get busy.

Just when you do, your friends will start chipping away at your resolve. They will give you excuses to fail. They will tell you they like you the way you are. They will whine that you don’t need to change. Why are your friends so focused on sabotage? Because if you change, they will have to change. They will have to get to know the new you, they will have to change the way they treat you . And your friends don’t want to change. It’s too much work. It is a lot less work to complain until you quit changing.

Your friends can be persistent and threatening. Most people don’t like confrontation, and they do like their friends, so they cave in and go back to being “normal.” And there goes the path to success.

If you are determined to change, tell your friends you plan ahead of time and enlist their help. Ask them to support you before the chorus of complaints begins. Often asking for support not only makes friends understand that this is important to you, it helps you be clear about what you want. And talking about the change helps you be clear about what you want for your future.

That doesn’t mean your friends will always support you, but it gives you a better start. And a good start is the best way to start toward a good finish.

-Quinn McDonald is a life coach and certified creativity coach. She helps people work through change and re-invention.

Journal Your Way into 2011

Happy New Year! Which custom are you bringing in the New Year with? Black-Eyed Peas? Entering the house on the right foot? Starting  a squeaky new journal?

For the last several years, it’s been very trendy to create journals with no writing–just lots and lots of thick, layered, colorful pages. I’m a fan of thick pages, but I must admit that a journal with no words is, well, empty for me. I understand their value as art pieces, but I’m a writer, so I want those meaning-making words. It doesn’t have to be page after manuscript page, but words are art, and my journals need words to be complete.

Top: pamphlet journal, Coptic journal (flowered cover), Rescued book journal, everyday journal (open), Japanese stab-bind journal (dark blue cover)

Putting my blog post where my heart is, here are some ways to keep your journal working for you this year:

1. Filling that empty first page. Don’t let it scare you. Here’s are five ideas for filling that first page. While I put those two arrows going in different directions on my first page, I also enjoy creasing the page in random places without tearing out the page, using washi tape to make a random design, or cutting a hole in the first page to peek through to the second page.

2. What should you write in your journal? Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write when you have something to say–but don’t be shy about what you have to say. Keep lists to get you started. Sure, you can keep a list of books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, but it might be far more interesting to keep a list of what people do to annoy you, the most outrageous outfit you see each day,  (where is the fashion police when you need them?), types of people you really don’t like, things you stopped to look at and loved, people you’ve kissed or hugged. Add a list of food you’d like to eat and one of food you actually eat. You might discover that you are an interesting landscape worth exploring.

3. What kind of journal? You have a lot of choices–explore them. Journals that look like books, journals in loose-leaf binders or spiral-bound composition books. Accordion-fold journals, open-spine journals that lie flat, like coptic journals. Fold-up journals that look like maps. Maybe they are maps. Make your own journal. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Design your journal to fit what you are going to put in it. Saving menus, movie tickets (what day did you see Tron? (The 1982 original.) You might need an envelope journal. Which brings up (but doesn’t beg) another question:

4. One journal or many? It doesn’t have to be either/or. I have one journal for ideas, notes, comments. It’s messy and not at all “pretty.” But it’s useful and used. From that I make other journals with more limited uses. For example, this year I want to keep a nature journal–an odd thing in Arizona, right? Not at all. We have four distinct seasons in Arizona, even on the desert floor, but they don’t look at all like the seasons in Connecticut or Washington, D.C. I want to know if the figs are early this year, and if what I remember about last year is true.

I live in one of the most beautiful states in the country–the vacation destination of many, but I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. I’d like to do short trips this year, the kind loved by those who own their business. Not gone too long, but enough to relax. So I’ll keep a map journal. I love maps, all kinds of maps, and I want more of them. You can keep an index card journal and take it with you.

You can keep journals of what you wore to all the weddings or baby showers you went to, what you were wearing when you heard good (or bad) news, what you were wearing on everyone’s birthday. You can keep journals just for yoga, just for hiking, just for keeping track of your music and what you listen to when you are in a certain mood. You can keep a journal of food you love to eat and food you hate, how many miles you put on your car and where you went, how long it takes to wear out a pair of sneakers and how you did it. There is no shortage of how you spend your time. In fact, that’s another journal. And don’t forget a journal about your favorite words. Or a one-sentence journal. That’s a start. You can keep going from there.

5. The point of journaling is to explore. You can do it everywhere and any time. The only thing holding you back is not doing it. Enjoy 2011 and take notes so you can remember the good parts.

–Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler who makes and keeps journals, teaches other people the joys of journaling and wrote a book about it. Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art comes out in July.

Letting 2010 Go

Yesterday, I went to a letting-go ceremony. It was held at Storm Wisdom in Phoenix, a store and learning center. We gathered in their meditation room and spent some time writing down what we wanted to let go.

The card I drew as my intention for 2011.

Letting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in hew air into our life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag us down. Things that hold us back.

We took our lists to a fire pit and one by one, threw them in. We watched the flame chew up our lists of discarded thoughts, emotions, loss.

We were then smudged with a sage bundled, blessed, and wanded with a crystal wand. When the cleansing was complete, we each drew a card to set an intention for next year. We chose the card without looking, knowing that this was the right one.

It was a kind and loving ceremony. I’ve never been cleansed or wanded, and it felt quiet and good.

I don’t know what kind of a year 2010 was for you, but I’m grateful to leave it behind. There are some lessons and people I will welcome into 2011, but frankly, 2010 was a year that I’m going to exhale from my system and be grateful that I can move ahead and away.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach.

Planning Your Resolutions

If you read my blog regularly, you know I am not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. This year, I’m amending that.  There are resolutions that are worthwhile and can work. I’m a big fan of planning, and the reason I didn’t like New Year’s Resolutions is that many of them are spur-of-the-moment. If you don’t mind a bit of planning and breaking down tasks into steps, resolutions work well.

2009 Brings Promise

2009 Brings Promise

For this article, I am using weight loss to represent any of your resolutions. Substitute your resolution, from getting more work for your freelance (more on that tomorrow) to creating better relationships.

Three success steps:
1. Make it specific. “I want to lose 3 pounds in a month” is specific. “I want to lose a lot of weight by summer” is not.
2. Make it achievable. “I want to lose 40 pounds in 4 months” is not achievable for most of us. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Make it easily achievable, and you will be more likely to continue on the path of success.
3. Break it into steps. Even if you really want to lose 50 pounds, start with a way to lose 5 pounds. Write a list of things YOU can do to lose weight. Look for non-traditional ways that you enjoy. If you hate doing something, it takes a lot more willpower to achieve it.

Joining a gym might be great for your best friend, but you might want to take up line dancing, hiking, or another form of fun exercise. Make a list of interesting steps and decide the starting point of each.

You will need willpower. Your friends and family love you, but they don’t want you to change, because it forces them to change, too. They either have to change their image of you, or they have to change how they react to you. Both of those sound like work. So your friends and family will often not support or help you, while swearing they are trying to do just that.

They will load up your plate, give you excuses not to exercise, tell you you aren’t fat, tell you they like you the way you are. If you begin to fight with them and tell them they aren’t supporting you, the argument will shift to some non-topic, such as that you are getting cranky from dieting. There are lots of people who tell you to surround yourself with supportive friends, my idea is that you have to bring your own resolve and support, becuase you will fiind people with the best intentions trying to sabotage you. Tougher, I know.

Because this is not an article on dieting, but on planning resolutions, there are three more tips that help you get to your resolution:

1. Take stock once a week. Evaluate your progress, then re-set your goal. If you are ahead of your goal, go ahead and stay ambitious. If you didn’t make the goal, get real with the progress. Was it too much for the time span? Did you find you had to do more work to get to the goal than you thought? Giving yourself a reality check once a week helps you keep your goal and assess your own progress in real time.

2. Set a reward that suits the job. Making cold calls when you hate them? Give yourself a reward after you make a certain number. I once told myself I had to get five rejections to a proposal before I could quit calling that day. On the fourth try I struck success, and my first flash of thought was, “Damn! I have one more rejection to go before I can stop.”

3. Hire a coach. Full disclosure: I am a coach. I also have a coach, which is why I know that they work. A coach helps keep your eye on the goal, keeps you motivated and accountable.  They help you when you stumble, don’t judge you, and are curious about your work. Pick a coach who works with your personality.


What the heck is coaching?
What does coaching do for me?

Ten questions you should ask your coach.
How to get the most our of your coaching session.

I do give free sample coaching sessions. They last 30 to 40 minutes and are not a demo, but a real coaching session. It’s a great way to see if coaching is for you and there is no pressure to continue. For more information contact me at QuinnCreative[at]Yahoo[dot]com

Tomorrow: Why the economy may be on your side as a freelancer.

–QuinnMcDonald is a writer and life- and certified creativity coach. She coaches people in many countries, because her coaching is done over the phone.

No More New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions? I’m against them. Why would a creativity coach be against something so apparently helpful? Because I don’t think New Year’s resolutions are helpful. Most of them are chosen randomly—losing weight, being nicer to co-workers, being more thoughtful in traffic. Many are vague (all three of the above are) and most are geared to work against the resolution-maker.

resolutionsSetting a goal brings with it the bothersome work of self-motivation, accountability, and self-judgment. None of that sounds intriguing, much less fun. It sounds like something to do until we get bored—on January 3.

When my clients charge into the New Year, fueled with determination to root out their bad habits, I suggest that bad habits are generally nothing more than good habits dialed up too far. Generosity, certainly a good habit, can be dialed up until it becomes the bad habit of overspending or buying someone else’s affection. Judging others sounds like a bad habit until we realize that explaining morality, ethics and response to bullying to our children involves judging in a good way.

A better way to tackle resolutions is not to dig out the bad habits—pulling out the roots of good behavior at the same time. Instead, resolve to increase things you do well. That nice feeling you get helping others? Get more of it. Let that car in the other lane get in front of you. Get out of line in the grocery store to pick up the item you forgot, instead of leaving your cart in line, forcing people to wait for your return. Smile while you do this.

Are you a good friend? When you hear that juicy bit of gossip, break eye contact, look down, then look the gossiper straight in they eye and change the subject. Refuse to pass on gossip, snarky remarks or that embarrassing email someone sent you.

Because you are already good at these tasks, finding more ways to put them into action won’t be hard. You are following your inclination to make the most of your talents, rather than working against yourself rooting out a bad habit.

And you’ll find yourself still doing well in July, instead of feeling guilty by the second week of January. It’s a great feeling.


–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She writes Imagination Works, a newsletter that supports creativity. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.